Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Patricia Cornwell's New Release: Depraved Heart

Kay Scarpetta and her crew are back. Depraved Heart was just released yesterday (10.27.15) in the States. It's the twenty-third entry by Patricia Cornwell in her ground-breaking Scarpetta series.
From the publisher: Dr. Kay Scarpetta is working a suspicious death scene in Cambridge, Massachusetts when an emergency alert sounds on her phone. A video link lands in her text messages and seems to be from her computer genius niece Lucy. But how can it be? It's clearly a surveillance film of Lucy taken almost twenty years ago.

As Scarpetta watches she begins to learn frightening secrets about her niece, whom she has loved and raised like a daughter. That film clip and then others sent soon after raise dangerous legal implications that increasingly isolate Scarpetta and leave her confused, worried, and not knowing where to turn. She doesn't know whom she can tell – not her FBI husband Benton Wesley or her investigative partner Pete Marino. Not even Lucy.

In this new novel, Cornwell launches these unforgettable characters on an intensely psychological odyssey that includes the mysterious death of a Hollywood mogul's daughter, aircraft wreckage on the bottom of the sea in the Bermuda Triangle, a grisly gift left in the back of a crime scene truck, and videos from the past that threaten to destroy Scarpetta's entire world and everyone she loves. The diabolical presence behind what unfolds seems obvious - but strangely, not to the FBI. Certainly that's the message they send when they raid Lucy's estate and begin building a case that could send her to prison for the rest of her life.
Depraved Heart takes place within 24 hours, much of that time is inside Scarpetta's head. The action picks up two months after the end of the last novel in the series, Flesh and Blood (2014). Scarpetta is recovering and still in pain from getting speared in the leg while scuba diving a wreck in the Bermuda Triangle during her last case.

The day starts with Scarpetta and Marino investigating what was initially thought an accidental death and morphs into a strange trip down memory lane. A trip that may have devastating consequences for some in the present. Videos are texted to Scarpetta's phone, videos that she can't pause or save. She's riveted to her phone and we're riveted to the page. Then there's an FBI raid on Lucy's estate. A law enforcement officer goes missing. It all seems to be a game, or trap, constructed by an old nemesis, someone the FBI has declared dead.

A colonial era home in Boston, Lucy's state of the art estate in Concord, agent housing in Quantico, and flash-backs to diving the wreck in the Bermuda Triangle are the back-drops of this story.

As usual cutting edge technology plays a central role. Have you heard of Data Fiction? It's when a hacker covers their nefarious tracks by creating false information that gives the appearance of the status quo. Say they do it with your bank account. You look at your account and see regular debits and credits, but in "reality" your money is long gone and by the time authorities are notified, so are the criminals. Or how about the idea of criminals creating their own invisibility cloaks using materials that render them invisible to the naked eye and security cameras? Harry Potter's invisibility cloak was fun and came in handy, but in the possession of a criminal master mind who also happens to be a depraved serial killer, it's not so cute.

Cornwell fans will be thrilled to read another entry in the series. I was left wondering exactly who is really responsible for what. Who is doing what and why? How much is the work of the old nemesis and how much does Lucy know? What has Lucy done? Is Janet going to become a bigger player in this series? And what's up with Benton? Sometimes I wonder why Scarpetta even stays with him.

I have no idea how this book would read to someone coming to the series for the first time. Would it be more gripping because you don't know the characters? Would it be confusing because much of what goes on hearkens back to prior books? I'd be interested to hear from readers whose first experience with Scarpetta is Depraved Heart.

So now here we go again: waiting a whole year to get some answers to these questions.

Title: Depraved Heart
Author: Patricia Cornwell
Publisher: William Morrow
Source: Review copy provided through TLC Book Tours.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Mount: Edith Wharton's House

On Saturday my friend Emily and I drove up to Lenox, MA for an evening storytelling event at Edith Wharton's house, The Mount.* We planned to arrive a couple hours prior to the event to visit the house and have dinner in town. I had to work earlier in the day and we arrived at The Mount only fifteen minutes before closing time.

The Mount viewed from the flower garden.
Still in bloom.
That's my friend, Emily, at the foot of the steps leading up to the east facade of the house. Although the house closed promptly at 5pm, the gardens remained open for visitors to enjoy.
This manicured limestone walk runs parallel to the east side of the house. At one end is the flower garden, which is more French and English in design, and at the other end is a walled Italianate garden that is much more rustic.
A picture taken just outside the Italianate garden, looking back at The Mount. I'm standing next to one of the columns. Can you see me?
The entrance or forecourt where carriages and later automobiles dropped off guests or waited to whisk Edith away for a drive in the country.
Forecourt wall detail.
The sign reads: "Edith Wharton at The Mount. 'We have to make things beautiful; they do not grow so of themselves,' Edith Wharton, The Decoration of Houses, 1897. Edith Wharton's short decade at The Mount (1901-1911) was a period of tremendous change, self-discovery, and personal turmoil. Amidst it all, she built a home, a persona, and a world rooted in beauty and structure. Always the writer, Wharton transformed even her innermost emotions into words that continue to be as fresh and compelling today as when first written."
From the staircase looking toward the gallery.
Edith Wharton's bed, from which she did much of her writing. It was here that she wrote The House of Mirth, one of my all time favorite novels.

The view from Edith Wharton's bedroom.
Edith and her husband Teddy often traveled with their dogs. Here's one of their carriers.
The dinning room table set for guests. The sign reads: The Inner Circle: Friends & Family: Edith Wharton liked her tables round, her lights low, and the conversation sparkling. The dogs were always invited.
Although we did see Wharton's famed library, the lights were already off so I didn't attempt a photograph. I am tantalized, however, by the idea of a private tour of Wharton's library.

A quick note of thanks to the kind docent who showed much patience with us as we dashed from room to room trying to squeeze in just a few more sights as she was trying to do her job and close up the house for the night.

I look forward to going back for an official tour of The Mount and spending some time soaking up the beauty and ambiance of this historic home and gardens. Tours are conducted throughout the day through October 31st. My next visit may have to wait until the spring when the house opens again in May.

Until you can schedule your own visit, or perhaps to refresh memories of your last visit, enjoy this introductory video to The Mount and visit for more information about Edith Wharton's house, life, and writing.

The Mount
2 Plunkett Street
Lenox, Massachusetts 01240-0974

*The storytelling event was a Speak Up event by Matthew & Elysha Dicks held at The Mount's stables.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Morgan Library and Hemingway Exhibit, Manhattan, NYC

My mom visited from Chicago a couple weeks ago and we went to check out the Hemingway exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan. I was excited to finally visit the Morgan Library. I first learned about Pierpont Morgan's collection and his library in the Newberry Library's seminar on the History of Library Architecture that I attended a few years ago.

Mom at the Morgan
Mom is originally from Germany and first read Hemingway in German as a young woman. I've been a fan of Hemingway's writing since she recommended I read A Farwell to Arms when I was in my early twenties. Mom's recommendation and my subsequent reading healed a wound from a high school English class reading of The Old Man and The Sea. I would like to note that while we both admire Hemingway's writing, the more we've learned about his behavior and character the less we appreciate the man. And while I loved my high school English teacher, I question his choice of The Old Man and the Sea when there are so many other Hemingway stories that are more accessible for teens. Sadly, my teacher passed away before we could have that conversation.

The exhibit focuses on Hemingway between WWI and WWII. It's a fascinating exhibit for those interested in Hemingway's writing--his life experience, subject matter, and process. The exhibit is at The Morgan through January 31, 2016 and after that it is heading to Boston. Hard-core Hemingway fans should definitely also make a pilgrimage to his birthplace and museum in Oak Park, IL.
The court of the Morgan Library and Museum building is a modern addition--beautiful wood floors with lots of glass, metal, and stone. The stairs leading to that small door is the entrance to Morgan's study and library.
It's rather a shock to walk through the cold and bright modern design of the court where everything is hard and echos into this warm, soft study where everything is muffled.
I can imagine how cozy this room must have felt with a raging fire in the fireplace on a cold winter's day.
The rotunda between Morgan's study and library.
George Washington's face, plaster cast, made in 1785 by the French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. On display in the rotunda. Washington was alive when this cast was made, it is not a death mask.
The library. Simply breathtaking.
These pictures do not do justice to the beauty and calm of this room.
Bookcase, brass door detail. Morgan collected a lot of Goethe.
My eye kept being drawn to this well-lit statue of St. Elizabeth of Schonau (1129-1165), a German nun who published three volumes describing her divine visions. Lindenwood with polychromed and gilt decoration. Early 16th century.
In a room where there are so many treasures, this one made me say "wow" out loud. The manuscript of Beethoven's tenth and last violin and piano sonata (op. 96 in G Major, 1815) completely captured my imagination. Morgan purchased it in 1907.
Mom in what was once the librarian's office--a smaller room off the rotunda, between Morgan's study and library. It now features artifacts from the ancient world.
Click here to read a room by room summary of Morgan's library and see some before and after pictures of a major restoration completed in 2010.

The Morgan Library and Museum
225 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Library Visit: Forbes Library in Northampton, MA

Forbes Library
20 West Street
Northampton, MA 01060

  • Built in 1894 by Judge Charles E. Forbes
  • Cost: $113, 993.48 (that's about $3,240,000.00 in current dollars)
  • Designed by William Brocklesby
  • Read more about the library architecture and see some historic photos.
  • Library geeks will be interested to know that the first librarian of the Forbes was Charles Ammi Cutter who created the Cutter Expansive Classification System.
Photo from the library's website (source)

This visit was a quick pit-stop on a drive from Connecticut to Vermont. We got off I-91 to stop at a visitor's center that we somehow missed. That was lucky for us as we stumbled upon this handsome library while driving around Northampton, MA.

Not only is the Forbes Library some delicious late 19th century architectural eye candy, it also houses the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum. Coolidge was the thirtieth president of the United States. The Forbes is the only public library to hold a presidential collection. Check out their Coolidge Museum Blog.

Cookies With a Curator is a new monthly program at the library. Historical documents, photos, and memorabilia are displayed for participants to view, learn about, and discuss. What a great way for citizens to learn about the history of Northampton.

I intend to return for a more leisurely visit, but for now here are some photos from this first visit.

Facade detail.
Foyer and grand staircase.
Now and then. Time changes everything.
A study area to the right when you walk in, across from the staircase.
I love the contrast of the graceful, curved white arches with the boxy dark book stacks.
Digital catalogs are amazing tools, but card catalogs still make make me feel warm and fuzzy.
The back of the library from the parking lot.
We'll be back to explore the library in more detail and also to visit some of the sites in Northampton like First Church, Jonathan Edwards's home church, and Smith College.
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