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A     B O O K L O V E R S '     P L A C E

Books, books, books!
Is there anything better than losing yourself in a good book,
whether fluffy novel or scholarly tome?
This blog is for long and short reviews of books read,
essays about book series, memories of books,
quotations, and anything else with a literary bent.

08 March 2014

Got Book?

James left early for his club meeting so he could give a disabled member a ride. I went back to the book sale; I was right about it being slim pickings: previously they had put out more books on Saturday and again on Sunday. I wonder if people are now taking their books to 2nd and Charles to trade for credit rather than donating them. Anyway:

book icon To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight, James Tobin (mostly for James)
book icon Cape Cod and the Offshore Islands, Walter Teller
book icon Christmas in Williamsburg, Joanne B. Young  and Taylor Biggs Lewis Jr
book icon Wandering Through Winter, Edwin Way Teale (this is part of a series of four seasonal travelogues through the United States, done before the interstates were built; looks fascinating)

and a brand new book that I bought as a gift.

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07 March 2014

Book Sale Tally

The semi-annual Cobb County Library book sale was today. I keep saying I'm not going to buy much. LOL. Actually, the pickings weren't all that good, but I did get a couple of goodies. Oh, and I did end up getting more of the World Book Christmas books, even if I'm not all that interested in Christmas in warm places.

book iconLouisa Alcott: Girl of Old Boston, Jean Brown Wagoner
book iconRocket Ship Galileo, Robert Heinlein (this for James, a hardback copy—don't think I've ever read this one)
book iconChristmas in...Scandinavia, ...Mexico, ...the Philippines
book iconChristmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters, Patricia C. and Frederick L. McKissack
book iconSears, Roebuck and Co, 100th Anniversary 1886-1986 (with photographs)
book iconThe Cuckoo's Calling, Robert Galbraith (::wink::)
book iconThe Art of Raising a Puppy, The Monks of New Skete
book iconHattie Big Sky, Kirby Larson (set during the first World War)
book iconSo Dear to My Heart, Jane Goyer (I read this as a library book ten years ago)
book iconPlace Names of the English-Speaking World, C.M. Matthews
book iconOne Dozen and One, Gladys Taber (short stories)
book iconSylvia's Farm, Sylvia Jorrin (I may have this already, but it was only a dollar)
book iconSanta and Pete, Christopher Moore and Pamela Johnson
book iconThe Dirty Life, Kristin Kimball (this was on my Amazon Wish List, so I'm chuffed)
book iconOver the Beach: The Air War in Vietnam, Zalin Grant (for James)

and a Gladys Taber book I already have, but I'm trying to get a blog friend to read Taber, so I'm going to send it to her. 

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31 January 2014

Books Completed Since January 1

There are Christmas book reviews here, here, here, here, here, and here, in Holiday Harbour.

book icon  The Race Underground, Doug Most
I fell in love with the T in 1979, on my first trip to Boston, and it’s always irritated me that I’ve never been able to find a history of the Boston subway system, the first in the United States. So happy this turned up, although the book’s promos seem a bit misleading: “Two Rival Cities, Two Brothers, Both With Plans to Build A Subway Underground. Who Will Be First?” (By the way, who would build a subway aboveground?) It seems to be playing up a rivalry between the two brothers, Henry and William Whitney, one in each city, but that didn’t seem to exist. The rivalry between the two cities, however, was quite real: both Boston and New York were determined to host the first underground transportation system. Traffic, like traffic today, was glacially slow, irritating, and clamorous, and made even worse by use of the horse, who deposited pounds of manure and quarts of urine each day (this fact is brought up regularly as the chapters progress, as if the author fears we will forget it). Horsecars were filthy inside and out, and there were dozens of different companies running transportation through the city streets. People wanted better transportation, but first they had to get over prejudices–most were afraid to walk to any transportation underground “where the Devil lived” and expected it to be dark and dank–and find a better propulsion fuel than coal, which filled the existing London “underground” with choking smoke.

Most takes us back to the first subway construction attempts in New York City, Alfred Beach’s pneumatic railway, which was blocked by “Boss” Tweed, who had money in the elevated system, and to the architects of both systems, who fear they may have to use coal, but really wish to use the cleaner invention of the time, electricity, which at first does not have the power to propel both cars and passengers. This is followed by the endless political wrangling in both cities, Boston’s eventual decision to build a subway using the cut-and-cover method, and the drama of that construction. The resulting, initial subway route was less than two miles, but did what it was intended to do: reduce traffic on city streets.

Most follows the personalities of each of the people involved: the two Whitney brothers, so disparate in their personalities; the inventors and engineers who devised the systems; the greedy ward bosses; the common laborers who worked on the construction; the ordinary people affected by the weather, the bad transportation, the social mores, the economic turns. There’s bid finagling, gas leaks and one explosion, protests from those who preferred an elevated system, and other drama.

I’ve been reading advanced reading copies for some time now, and know you should ignore the typos, but this volume has the most I’ve ever seen in an ARC, especially proper nouns without capital letters and missing spaces between words. I’ve no doubt they will be cleared up before publication, but I hope the mistakes are corrected along with them! On page 17, in a paragraph describing how horses are unnerved by traffic, the author oddly describes the nervous animals who “sometimes raised up their front legs.” Horses do have to “raise up their front legs” to walk! Does he perhaps mean “rearing,” in which the horse raises up the front part of its whole body? At the beginning of chapter three, the Whitney family of 1635 board a wooden sailing ship in England and arrive in Massachusetts “eight days later.” Maybe in 1935, but not in 1635! Could the voyage have taken eight weeks? There’s another howler a little further along in the book, but I neglected to bookmark it and now can’t remember what it was, but suffice it to say that I blinked and said “No, no.”

This criticism may lead you to believe that I hated this book, but I didn’t; it is filled with detail about the people and the events–there’s a harrowing description of a little boy sent out on an errand at the height of the Blizzard of 1888, for example–and despite the typos and errors it was quite enjoyable. However, small errors like these make you wonder if some of the larger facts are also inaccurate. Mr. Most is a heck of a storyteller, and at his best when he’s talking about the everyday life of the 19th century protagonists, but I’m not sure how seriously to take some of his facts.

book icon  Finding the Way, Mercedes Lackey
This was a surprise; I thought I had read all the Valdemar short story collections and was current with them, but, fishing in my to-be-read pile, I found this one, copyright 2010, and with a Borders ::sob!:: sticker still on it. I was even more delighted to read it, as usually I have a quibble with one or two of the stories. Surprise! No Scooby-Doo homages or vignettes passing for complete stories. All are solid and absorbing. The volume starts off at a gallop with the story of Sherra the hertasi, who meets a frantic Companion searching for her new Chosen at the edge of a swamp; Sherra must guide the Companion across the swamp in circumstances that grow continually more complex. Another excellent story concerns a new Chosen who refuses to believe she is good enough to be a Herald and must be convinced of the fact; yet a third story involves an elderly Chosen who has since stopped dreaming about adventures, only to be drawn into one by the arrival of a Companion. Several of the stories take place in the Arrows of the Queen era. Two new Ree and Jem stories are included, plus a story about Herald Jors and his Companion Gervase, who have figured in other tales in the short story collections. This is a great collection if you love Lackey's Valdemar universe.

book icon  Look to the Hills: The Diary of Lozette Moreau, A French Slave Girl, 1763, Patricia C. McKissack
This is the first in the newest batch of "Dear America" books I dug up at McKay's used books in Knoxville, Tennessee. It is told by Lozette Moreau, who is the "personal servant" (read "slave") of Marie-Louise Boyer, daughter of a French aristocrat. When the marquis, the father of "Ree" as Zette calls her, dies, older brother Pierre brings the estate to insolvency, and Zette is about to be sold into what is probably certain death in the West Indies while Ree is to be married off to an elderly nobleman. Ree forestalls this by accepting help from a male friend, fleeing to the colony of New York to search for her younger brother Jacques, a prisoner in the French and Indian War. It is there that Zette, who has always taken her slavery for granted, learns the importance of freedom, not only for herself, but even for Ree.

This is one of the better "Dear America" novels. Zette and Ree (both who have mastered fencing) are level-headed young women who manage their new freedoms well. The French and Indian War is a brief interlude in American history class and it's not only nice to see it addressed, but addressed from "the other side," so to speak, as the French were the enemies in this conflict. McKissack isn't afraid to address hard questions, either: once in the United States, are Ree and Zette still mistress and slave? Or have they become real friends, something that is a change from the way they were raised?

book icon  The 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, Bill Cotter and Bill Young
The memories dim a bit more every year, but I was there, and there was no way I'd pass up this Images of America volume of color photos from the Fair. From the Disney-designed pavilions and the other big business exhibits, the regional venues, the boulevards, the concessions, and the 1960s fashions, this is one big nostalgic journey for anyone who attended, and a window to the future we dreamed about in 1964 for those who didn't. Thanks to Bill and Bill and Arcadia Publishing for the memories!

book icon  To End All Wars, Adam Hochschild
As the 100th anniversary of World War I approaches, I'm reading various books based on the subject, and am always interested in a different point of view (the only point of view I'm avoiding, actually, is a straight narrative of battles, ground gained, and other facts of a statistical nature; I want narratives about people and lifestyles on the battlefield and home front). This volume concerns those who were opposed to the wars, specifically those belonging to the growing socialist movements in Europe, but also from the POV of the peacemakers and conscientious objectors. I understand from some reviews that the author is a socialist and that his narrative cannot be trusted, but I found the focus of this volume fascinating. Except for Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth, most of the first World War histories I have read either do not take a side for or against, or are "for" the war while making occasional comments about the carnage and its uselessness. I find it especially pertinent because for many years now I have been reading American children's series fiction cataloged on sites like gutenberg.org and munseys.com, where, in nearly all the books written from 1917-1919, the boys and/or girls in the stories are wholeheartedly for fighting "the Boche" and doing positive things to help the allies, and the books are so "gung-ho" it is a revelation to read this volume and know that so many people were actually against participating in the fighting (the author even mentions children's stories like this in his introduction).

There are some fascinating characters within: John French, the cavalry general who still believed almost until the war was ended that one good cavalry charge would still make a difference in a war of trenches and massive artillery, brother of Charlotte Despard, who became a socialist and one of the war's most vocal protesters. There were the "saber-rattlers" like Douglas Haig and Rudyard Kipling (the latter who so instilled patriotism in his children that his half-blind son begged to be sent into combat and his father found a way to send him). There were the famous suffragist Pankhurst women, mother Emmeline and daughters Christabel and Sylvia, who first opposed the war, but who were then estranged once Emmeline and Christabel joined the war effort. There was the Scots socialist James Hardie, who later became Sylvia Pankhurst's only love. Hochschild follows these personalities and others through each year of the war, interspersed with vivid battlefield horrors and the chronicles of antiwar movements in every country in Europe including Germany.

I found this book a great read.

book icon  Mr. Monk is a Mess, Lee Goldberg
In this next-to-last volume of Lee Goldberg's tie-in novels with the Monk series, Natalie and her former boss are on the way home to San Francisco, ostensibly to pack up their homes to move to Summit, New Jersey, where they've been offered positions on the police force. Monk is unsure he wants to leave, even though he has formed a bond with Ellen Morse, a Summit storekeeper who is nearly as OCD as he is. But when Natalie arrives home, she finds a dead woman in her bathroom; the investigating police then find marked money stuffed under her mattress. The FBI suspects she's guilty of the murder and involved in the scam the money came from. What's an almost newly-minted private investigator to do, especially when another mystery pops up: Ambrose Monk's new love-of-his-life Yuki has vanished and Monk doesn't want to find her.

This mystery has more knots in it than a kid's aged shoelace.Just when you think you have your finger on what's going on, another tangle appears. I like that in a mystery. Also, Goldberg is slowly wrapping up the threads of the story he has created following Adrian Monk and Natalie Teeger after the end of the television series. (Don't worry, Monk fans: after Goldberg's final book another writer is taking over chronicling further adventures.)

book icon  Louisa May Alcott, Susan Cheever
If you take a peek at my bookshelves, you'll see my biographical hobbyhorses: I have multiple biographies of Walt Disney, Theodore Roosevelt (and other Roosevelt family books)—and Louisa May Alcott, including a biography written about her in the 19th century by a family friend. Naturally, I picked up this book!

Sadly, I was disappointed. Cheever spends a lot of time trying to get into Bronson Alcott's head (sadly, no matter which biography of Louisa I read, I end up wanting to smack Bronson upside the head; he had educational ideas before their time, but as a husband and father I find him rather lacking), avoids even mentioning that Bronson once told wife Abba ("Marmee" of Little Women) that he didn't want to have sexual relations with her any longer, and tosses great chunks of Civil War events at us during that decade in Louisa's life (one must have some reference to the event, but four pages chronicling a specific battle seems unnecessary). Not only that, but in-your-face errors pop up in the book, the most egregious being that Elizabeth Alcott is several times mentioned as being the Alcotts' youngest daughter, when it was actually May (the original of "Amy" in Little Women). Cheever also digresses occasionally by trying to define the personality of a writer, which belongs in an introduction or in an afterward, not in the body of the text.

I'm still waffling about whether to keep this or not. There are several photos included that I haven't seen before. But the text is less than inspiring.

book icon  Blind Justice, Anne Perry
Oliver Rathbone, now a judge, is presiding over a rather ticklish case in court: a well-respected minister has been accused of gathering charitable contributions from his flock with such strong methods that some of them, including the father of a young woman who works at Hester Monk's clinic, have been driven to bankruptcy. (The case, in fact, was initially instigated by Hester, and corroborated by her clinic bookkeeper.) The case against the minister looks bad until one of his friends testifies, making all the witnesses—and Hester—look witless and childish. Rathbone, horrified, secretly uses one of the unsavory photographs left to him by his late father-in-law against the witness—and is even more horrified when the minister kills his wife and children, and then himself.

There's a rather clever crime involved here, but it's buried in pages and pages of Rathbone's wrestling with himself: should he use the photograph or not, how should he use it, and when it's found out, what will happen to him for using it. Hester and Monk take rather a back seat in the story until the last third, and Perry, in this entry, has a maddening habit of telling us things that happened rather than showing us (for instance, in one sequence, Scuff, the young slum child the Monks have unofficially adopted, talks to some servants hoping to find some evidence, and instead of showing Scuff doing so, as Perry has done previously so successfully with Gracie Phipps in the Pitt mysteries, we are only told the result of it later; this makes the story very static). The only thing that makes the soul-searching bearable is that Rathbone's officious wife, who was in denial and deserted Oliver when her "sainted" father was revealed as not-so-sainted in a previous novel, finally learns the truth about him.

This is not a good book to join the Monk series with. The Oliver/Margaret story goes back some previous novels and you need to have read them to understand what is going on with Arthur Ballinger and the legacy he left Oliver. I stuck with the story because I love the characters, but it was slow going for a while.

book icon  A Mourning Wedding, Carola Dunn
It's time for another wedding now that magazine author Daisy Dalrymple (from a once-titled family who fell on hard times after the first World War) has tied the knot with Detective Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard and the pair is expecting their first child together: Daisy's dear friend and former housemate Lucy Fotheringay is marrying Lord Gerald Bincombe. Daisy has no sooner spent her first night at the vast country home of the Fotheringay family than Lady Eva, whom everyone in the family knows collects gossip, is murdered. While everyone is quite horrified, no one is quite surprised, given the secrets that Lady Eva knew; they are more horrified that the killer must be someone in the family. Soon Alec is involved, and then another stunning event occurs.

Thankfully, there's a family tree at the front of this book so you can tell all the characters without a scorecard, as Lucy's family is quite large, with "poor relations," officious ex-Army officers, and distant female cousins. Quite a nice classic country house murder mystery is related here, while poor Daisy has to cope with morning sickness and Lucy's waffling about even marrying at all. We also find out what psychological damage Lady Eva's gossip-collection has done to some family members and their relations with each other. I was very glad that several characters were not involved in the crime, as I'd come to like them a lot. The ending is a bit abrupt, but all the loose ends are "well tied up," as the cliche goes.

book icon  A Boston Picture Book, Barbara Westermann
I was given this cute little children's picture book as a Christmas gift. Verse accompanies detailed little cartoon-like drawings of the city and its landmarks. Adorable, but oh, it is so very seventies! :-)

book icon  Hollywood's Top Dogs: The Dog Hero in Film, Deborah Painter
This is a small press book which I was given for Christmas. It's an overview of—what else, dog films, starting with the silents. While most filmgoers probably know the classic dogs, like Rin-Tin-Tin and Lassie, and possibly Strongheart, plus the more modern dogs like Benji, Old Yeller, and Beethoven, they're probably not knowledgeable about the first American dog star, Jean, a border collie that worked at Biograph studios, plus a whole horde of German Shepherd canine heroes like Peter the Great (who was tragically shot by an angry man gunning for his owner), Flash, Lightning, and Flame. There are summaries of many of the films of each of the dogs, including modern films like Benji: Off the Leash, and chat about the Lassie and Rin Tin Tin television series. The author also makes a point of addressing the continuing problem of people making a breed of dog popular because it was featured in a hit movie and discovering that the resulting dog doesn't resemble the well-trained animal in the film. I found it enlightening because I'd heard of some of the more obscure dog stars, like Flame, but had never heard of Peter the Great and Lightning, and was interested in the plots to the silent films, but this is a rather mediocre book at best. Persons looking for a solid book of film scholarship will be disappointed.

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31 December 2013

My Dozen Favorite Books of 2013

Once again, I had to make it a baker's dozen; in no particular order:

book icon  About Time, Volume 7, 2005-2006, Tat Wood and Dorothy Ail (What can I say? I'm a sucker for well-written and slightly snarky Doctor Who analysis; Amazon purchase)

book icon  A Study in Silks, Emma Jane Holloway (good even with the teenage angst; Barnes & Noble purchase)

book icon  Passion of the Purple Plumaria, Lauren Willig (finally! a love story with mature protagonists!; Amazon purchase)

book icon  Paris to the Past, Ina Caro (I'm not even an Francophile, but I loved this tour of historic France; Barnes & Noble purchase)

book icon  Thieftaker, D.B. Jackson (witchery and mystery in Revolutionary-era Boston; Barnes & Noble purchase)

book icon  Eiffel's Tower, Jill Jonnes (made me feel as if I were there; Barnes & Noble purchase)

book icon  One Summer: America 1927, Bill Bryson (captured the flavor of the era; Amazon Vine selection)

book icon  Among the Janites, Deborah Yaffe (and I don't even like Austen, but this was a fine study of fandom of any persuasion; Amazon Vine selection)

book icon  The Apothecary, Maile Meloy (page-turning young adult fantasy; Books-a-Million purchase)

book icon   Here is Where: Discovering America's Great Forgotten History, Andrew Carroll (if there's anything I like more than history, it's more history; Amazon Vine selection)

book icon  Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh and America's Fight Over World War II, Lynne Olson (America's greatest hero vs. the strong-willed President; Amazon Vine selection)

book icon   Eighty Days, Matthew Goodman (the rival races around the world between Nelly Bly and Elizabeth Bisland—I couldn't believe it when reviewers suggested there was "too much description" of the era in the text...that was my favorite part!; Amazon Vine selection)

book icon   Heidi's Alp, Christina Hardyment (a family in a camper goes looking for all the great children's lit sites and this great narrative is the result; Amazon Marketplace purchase)

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Books Finished Since December 1

book icon  The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, Alan Bradley
I'm sorry to admit it, but I was disappointed in this newest Flavia De Luce mystery. I’ve read the Flavia de Luce books since the first and still love her youthful enthusiasm crossed with her precocious chemical interests and attraction to murder scenes. In this latest book, we delve into the mystery of Harriet de Luce, mother of Flavia and her tormenting older sisters, who died eleven years earlier and who has just been brought home to the family’s crumbling estate, Buckshaw. While waiting for Harriet’s coffin at the railway station, Flavia sees a man struck down and killed, and is astonished to see that Winston Churchill is one of the people mourning her mother. What does it all mean, and why has an obscure cousin and her precocious child suddenly shown up?

While I enjoyed the unraveling of the details behind Harriet’s death, the book itself seemed rather erratic, with Flavia jumping from one thing to another in short succession. It’s also not the usual village mystery that has been one of the standards of the series, but that, not to be too spoiler-y, seems fated to change as well. However, we do get to know more of the backstory of Flavia’s parents and also of Dogger, her father’s former batman and now faithful retainer, who often takes Flavia’s part in her investigational escapades, and cunning Aunt Felicity makes a return appearance. Flavia’s cousin Undine also proves an able verbal jousting companion for her.

In short, glad to have solved Harriet’s demise, but not as enchanted with the tale-telling this time and am a bit skeptical of the series change upcoming. Warning: for all of this to make sense, you must read the earlier books!

The rest of the books I read this month are chronicled in my holiday blog, Holiday Harbour, marked with the legend "Christmas Book Review."

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25 December 2013

May Christmas Bring You Lots of Books!

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30 November 2013

Books Finished Since November 1

book icon  Dogs of War, Sheila Keenan and Nathan Fox
This is a graphic novel I found in the teen section of Barnes & Noble, but the stories are suitable for adults as well. There are three tales within: the story of Marcellinus "Donnie" McDonald, who is serving in the trenches in the first World War, along with his border collie Boots, who's been trained as a rescue dog. Separated from  his adopted father, he and Boots stumble into the trench of the Irish Fusilliers, and have some terrifying encounters on the battlefield. Loki is a trainee sled dog in Greenland during World War II who looks like he might be a dead loss, except for a trainer who has faith in him. Can Loki make a difference with the Nazis on their tail? Sheba is a soldier's best friend in Vietnam—but can her handler ever leave her behind, physically or mentally? It will take a small boy and a misbehaving beagle to find out.

All three stories are good, but the Vietnam story definitely packs a punch. Please note: this is a graphic novel about war, not some cutesy comic for little kids. There are deaths and blood portrayed. But the rewards at the end of each story are great.

book icon  The War That Ended Peace, Margaret MacMillan
The usual summary of the years before the first World War, that "War to end all wars," typically talks about a long golden summer of peace, punctuated by a few national rivalries, and exploded by an assassination in Sarajevo. But the peace was only on the surface; long-simmering discontentment from each nation involved had simply come to a boiling point, and Sarajevo was just that final, proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.

MacMillan does an excellent job of laying out the individual situations that became the trigger of World War I, beginning with a summary of Europe in 1900, and then examining, country by country, alliance by alliance, and finally event by event every step that led to the final declaration of war. Her narrative is highlighted by distinctive personalities: the Kaiser with his deformed arm and bombastic personality; avuncular Edward VII and later his son George V, the first of two kings in a row who had not expected the British monarchy to fall upon them; Nicholas of Russia, an autocrat with poor advisors whose personal life partially led to his undoing; the aristocratic Emperor Franz Joseph; the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who hated Hungarians and Serbians, yet his assassination killed a man whose opinion might have turned the tide against eventual war, as well as their advisors, ministers, and other military officials like Britain's Admiral Jacky Fisher and Otto Von Bismarck. Events outside of Europe—in Morocco, Libya, and South Africa among others—also contributed to the breakdown of relations.

This is not a difficult, obtusely scholarly book. Its prose is precise and understandable, but because of all the actions going on "behind the scenes," it is a dense book, and one that must be read with an attention to detail so that all of the actions and how they led to war can be grasped. If you are looking for a simple overview of the causes of WWI, this is not the volume for you; however, if you are interested in the period and can give your total attention to the text, it is illuminating and rewarding.

book icon  Dark Invasion, Howard Blum
Long before the United States entered World War I, we were still providing supplies to the countries of the Triple Entente (Britain, France, Russia) and not to the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy), and also not allowing German ships already docked in the United States to leave port. The Germans, chafing at these restrictions and knowing of the large German-American communities in the US who might support them, began a campaign of sabotage, particularly on the East Coast, run by German handlers living undercover. In 1915, mysterious explosions in munitions ships at sea convinced authorities to put New York police inspector Tom Tunney on the case.

I had heard of the infamous "Black Tom" explosion in New Jersey before, and knew there had been sabotage, but had never read about the subject in much detail before, and for that reason found this book fascinating. While the German objective was simply to keep supplies and transport animals from reaching the front, people were being killed as "collateral damage." Blum chronicles the exploits of some of the agents for Germany, including Frank Holt, a man who'd murdered his wife, disappeared, and then built a new identity for himself, and Paul Koenig, the security officer of the Hamburg-American shipping line, and the efforts of Tunney and his German-speaking agents to track them down. Particular details were both amazing and frightening: Agents built small bombs that looked like cigars into cargo holds, which often did not only start fires, but blew holes in the hulls so that the vessels sank, and men sneaked into stables at night to inject the germs of anthrax and glanders (a truly frightening-sounding disease) into the nostrils of horses and mules bound for Europe. One man even infiltrated financier J.P. Morgan's stronghold and shot him.

I might have liked this book a bit better had not two things bothered me. One was that I found the author's writing style a bit "choppy." The sentences did not seem to flow for me as well as they could have. The other was the habit of Blum referring to his protagonist by his first name, while everyone else is referred to by their last name. Why "Tom" and not "Tunney"? It felt as if Blum was trying to get me to feel chummy toward Inspector Tunney. However, neither problem interfered with my learning further facts about German sabotage in the First World War.

book icon  The Heir Apparent, Jane Ridley
I first became interested in the history of Edward VII after seeing the British drama Edward the Seventh in 1983. "Bertie," as he was known to the family, was, although she would not admit it, much like his mother, Queen Victoria: not much of a scholar and fond of amusements. But Victoria had fallen under the spell of her workaholic husband Prince Albert, and came to look upon her firstborn son as a pleasure-seeking wastrel, especially after he is caught consorting with a prostitute. When Albert died soon after this event took place, Victoria blamed her son for making his father ill, although Albert had surely been seriously ill before confronting his son about his indiscretion. This left Bertie with nothing to do but seek pleasure, as his mother refused to give him the responsibilities that the heir to the throne should have been entrusted with.

Ridley makes no apologies for the Prince of Wales. His affairs of the heart hurt his Danish wife Alexandra and showed the monarchy in a bad light, the very thing Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were trying to eschew, as their own royal pasts were riddled with sexual scandals. On the other hand, he was badly served by a mother, who continued to insist, even into his middle age, that he was irresponsible when she never gave him anything responsible to do, even though in his public appearances he generally made a positive impression to the public, who was growing tired of the Queen's isolationism after the death of Albert.

Not only a biography of Edward VII, this is also a portrait of the British monarchy at the time of Victoria and later Edward, and a view of society during that era: the elaborate country house parties at which huge quantities of food were ingested and appalling numbers of animals were hunted, the covert lives of the aristocracy, the complicated politics of Great Britain's relationship with the countries of Europe, especially after the ascendancy of Victoria's eldest grandchild, the man later to be known as Kaiser Wilhelm. Victoria's machinations of her own children's lives are vividly portrayed, and even as you shake your head over "Bertie's" excesses, you also consider his bleak childhood ruled by strict tutors, knowing that he was never favored over his more clever sister Vicky. Briskly, compellingly written and full of interesting facts and character portraits, this is an excellent biography.

book icon  Down But Not Quite Out in Hollow-Weird, Geoff Gehman
Today Eric Knight is known chiefly for his authorship of Lassie Come-Home, but in the 1930s he was lured away from his film critic job in Pennsylvania to work in Hollywood. Knight deplored the state of film in the era and hoped, as so many other writers have, that he might make a difference in the movie industry, but he immediately found his way blocked by uneducated studio executives who appeared as if they had never read a book in their lives. Knight expressed his frustration at these annoyances in long letters to his wife Jere, who soon joined him in Hollywood, and his friend Paul Rotha. Later, when World War II breaks out, Knight attempts to partner with Frank Capra in the "Why We Fight" series of films.

Like most people, all I know of Knight is Lassie Come-Home and mentions of his This Above All and The Flying Yorkshireman; I didn't realize he'd worked as a film critic or in Hollow-Weird, as he came to call the place, and I never realized he worked on "Why We Fight" (and indeed his credits were pulled from most of the project), so it was a great glimpse of someone whose name I've known all my life without knowing anything else about him besides that he loved dogs. I'm not sure I would have bought the book if I didn't have any interest in Knight.

book icon  Autumn: A Spiritual Biography of the Season, edited by Gary Schmidt and Susan M. Felch
I have to admit what called me about this book was the big maple tree on its cover!

These are essays and excerpts and even some poetry about the autumn season, ranging from the Book of Ruth in the Bible to The Rural Life by Verl Klinkenborg. One of my very favorites was an essay about autumn leaves by Thoreau. Klinkenborg provides an essay about October and there is also an excerpt from May Sarton's House by the Sea. I was very surprised that there was nothing at all from Gladys Taber, as this appeared to be the perfect volume to highlight some of Taber's essays!

I'm sorry to say that what with being sick and vacation, I wasn't able to give this volume all the attention it deserved. I hope to revisit it next autumn.

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