Pulse: 60-Second Critic: September 2008

Museum
Simeone Foundation Museum
6825-31 Norwitch Drive, 215-365-7233, simeonemuseum.org
The Simeone Foundation Museum, open since June, has concrete floors, exposed metal beams, makeshift partitions, and what is arguably one of the finest collections of race cars in existence. Philly-based Fred Simeone, a former neurosurgeon who’s been collecting cars since he was a teenager in the ’50s, shares with the public an assortment of autos that spans generations, from some of racing’s earliest conceptions (the 1909 American Underslung) to streamlined beauties (the sleek 1975 Alfa Romeo 33-TT-12), with dozens of models in between. What makes this museum remarkable isn’t just the thorough accounts of the evolution of the sport and its technology (narrated via plaques and a self-guided audio tour), but the cars themselves — painstakingly and beautifully preserved.

Fiction
In Hovering Flight
By Joyce Hinnefeld (Unbridled Books; $24.95)

In her first novel, Hinnefeld, an acclaimed short-story writer and a Moravian College professor, introduces Scarlet Kavanagh, the grown daughter of Tom, an ornithologist in southeastern Pennsylvania, and Addie, a famous bird artist and environmental activist who is dying of cancer. The crux of the story is Scarlet’s quest to find peace in her strained relationship with Addie, but Hinnefeld jumps from voice to voice to relate intertwined plots — the love story between Tom and Addie; the tragedies and friendships that have shaped the small family. It all adds up to a story that is deep and believable, largely because Hinnefeld seems to know (and love) that of which she writes — birding, the Pennsylvania countryside, the Jersey Shore, and her engaging characters.

websites
Philly.com

It’s the greenest thing I do: Rather than have a paper delivered, I rely on Philly.com for news. At first, I liked the site’s recent redesign — cleaner, brighter, ostensibly less dense. But about four months in, I realized I still had no idea how to read this homepage. I could click on the Inquirer or Daily News links, but Philly.com has a link up top: “news.” When I click on that, I can see “headlines” or “local news” or “weird news.” But wait. Next to the original “news” is a “what’s happening” link, and under that, featured news stories, and below those, the “latest headlines.” If I scroll down, I find “hot topics,” and under those, “express headlines.” As I keep going, I find everything but a clear news hierarchy or a navigable route that doesn’t leave me wondering what I’m missing — and where I can find it. Supposedly, this is how modern readers want their news — exhaustive, interactive, streaming — but before coffee, it’s just exhausting. Carbon footprint be damned; I’m going back to paper. 

Mystery
Deception’s Daughter
By Cordelia Frances Biddle (Thomas Dunne for St. Martin’s Minotaur; $24.95)

In her second work of fiction featuring unconventional heiress Martha Beale, Biddle (who also co-writes the Nero Blanc series of crossword-themed mysteries) skillfully evokes the elegant society salons and grubby streets of 1842 Philadelphia. The main plot here — the disappearance of the 19-year-old daughter of a wealthy family — is really secondary to the budding romance between Beale and the socially inappropriate mayor’s investigator, as well as to the lost world Biddle re-creates. The use of present tense is distracting at first, and several plot points that seem as if they’ll be important are left dangling at the novel’s end. But these small flaws detract little from a good read that will have you hearing creaking carriage wheels outside your window.