13 October 2019

A'Book Sale-ing...

It's hard to drag me out of bed these days. Except for two days ago; Friday I was up before the alarm, dressing, breakfasting, and "perambulating the pooch." What causeth such furor? What else? It was library book sale day!

Arrived there fifteen minutes early to find lines trailing out either end of the entrances to the Cobb County Civic Center. Since I've had such poor luck with the children's books since they moved from Jim Miller Park, I decided to start downstairs instead where all the nonfiction and hardback fiction was. Ended up in line behind an old hippie with a silvery ponytail wearing a cowboy hat. The usual complement of SAHMs and elderly were the majority of the crowd, dragging anything capable of holding a load: reusable shopping bags like me, luggage carriers, boxes on wheels, large suitcases, red wagons... The doors opened promptly at nine and off we went. After two hours upstairs and downstairs (finding nothing I'd hoped to find), there I was with

book icon  The Corfu Trilogy, Gerald Durrell (reading this already; just don't expect it to be a lot like The Durrells in Corfu)

book icon  Life Among the Savages/Raising Demons, Shirley Jackson (because I loved her short story "Charles" so much; part of a longer sequence in this book)

book icon  Neither Wolf Nor Dog, Kent Herburn (man tours West with Native American guide; figure if I'm watching Molly of Denali I should also be learning more about other Native cultures)

book icon  A Book of Christmas Folklore, Tristram P. Coffin (I've borrowed this from the library before, liked it enough to want to own it)

book icon  Memorable Christmas Stories (book of short stories from a Mormon publisher; Chicken Soup for the Soul-type stuff)

book icon  Letters from the Editor, the correspondence of Harold Ross (the original editor of "The New Yorker")

book icon  Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul, John Barry (one of the two Roger Williams books out there)

book icon  Crossing Antarctica, Will Steger (by dogsled in 1990)

book icon  Time to Be in Earnest, P.D. James ("fragments" of an autobiography, as she calls it)

If you know me, you also know that is never that. Yes, as soon as I finished all my chores today, I left James to his telephone calls and headed back over there about 12:30 p.m. Sunday is "box day," and no matter how big a box you bring in, you can fill it for $20. I just brought a shopping bag, and I'm a piker. I was in line behind the hippie with the ponytail again, and he had the box a combination TV/VCR came in (he must have been saving that a while!). Someone near the front of the line had a refrigerator box! In fact, several people in line had huge boxes and I feared for the books.

I needn't have feared: the people with the biggest boxes went straight to the CDs and DVDs and just swept them into the boxes with great sweeps of their arms and left the books alone. They are probably going to re-sell them on EBay, pawn them, or turn them in for credit or cash at places like 2nd and Charles or McKay's or CD Warehouse. (James thinks they are buying them for their own resale shops. I did always dream about having a used bookstore and picking up my original stock at library book sales.)

Anyway, the books were all left, in nice straight lines, for we searchers for the perfect read.

book icon  More Extraordinary Uses for Ordinary Things by Reader's Digest (love these books; they're like peanuts, so I get them cheap)

book icon  America Celebrates! A Patchwork of Weird & Wonderful Holiday Lore, Hennig Cohen and our old friend Tristram P. Coffin (wow! even Native American celebrations——all they missed was Day of the Dead)

book icon  Travels, Michael Crichton (which I've been looking for at a booksale for ages; now if I could have only found a book on Dorothy Kilgallen...)

book icon  Spice: The History of a Temptation, Jack Turner (not just for eating; the book opened to advice to guys on how to improve your sex life with a honey and ginger rub)

book icon  Boston: A Social History, Brett Howard (Alcott, Holmes, and even Ponzi!)

book icon  North to the Night, Alvah Simon (couple sails the Arctic Ocean)

book icon  A Country Life: Scenes from a Veterinary Life, Douglas Whynott (I adore vet memoirs; this one takes place in New Hampshire)

book icon  Thurber on Crime, James Thurber (the only fiction I bought, collection of Thurber shorts with a mystery theme, including my favorite "The Macbeth Murder Mystery")

I also bought, although it sounds kind of odd, a book called How to Care for Aging Parents. I am done with that, and James' mom is cared for very well and very ably by my sister-in-law, but I looked at it as "well, we're the aging ones now, so maybe there are some good tips for us." Maybe it sounds strange. Whatever.

30 September 2019

Books Completed Since September 1

book icon  Bonzo's War, Clare Campbell
I wish I could say this was a scintillatingly-written book, but it's rather pedestrian; however, the subject itself is fascinating: how London's pets made out during the Blitz and the remainder of World War II. Some jaw-dropping facts are contained here: that when it became inevitable that war would come, the British government recommended that pets who could not be taken safely to shelters should be put down—they were afraid animals would panic and harm themselves and others. The animal-loving English actually took this to heart and had so many hundreds of animals destroyed that veterinarians' offices were piled waist-deep with dog and cat carcasses, and they ran out of room to bury them!

There were protests, of course, and charities sprang up to rehome animals, and gradually the orders were rescinded. Other owners just ignored the instructions and found ways to keep their pets with them. To their surprise, some animals, once the first bombs were over, fell back into routines. Several even warned their families of air attacks—if a dog made a particular howl or a cat went to hide, the humans knew bombs were imminent.

Campbell has taken her stories directly from the newspapers and pamphlets of the day, and the writing is rather cut-and-dried. But it's such a novel subject about the second World War that if you are a pet lover or interested in more obscure details about a war subject, you might find this one interesting.

book icon  The Glass Sentence, S.E. Grove
This is an inventive first book of a trilogy for young adults in which an alternate Earth has experienced what they called "the Great Disruption" in the year 1799. Abruptly what we would know as the thirteen original states has become "New Occident" and remains on the East Coast. The remainder of the earth has reverted to other "ages"; prehistoric ages sit side by side with medieval times and Renaissance eras. Countries like France and Germany simply vanished. Ancient Egypt exists in Africa. Our protagonist Sophia Tims lives with her uncle Shadrack Elli in 1896 Boston, having no idea where her parents, explorers who vanished, are. New Occident has decided to close its borders to everyone but citizens, and as well as anyone without proper papers, which means Sophia's parents won't be able to return.

One day Sophia sees a boy from the western Baldlands being exhibited in a cage. Incensed, she returns hoping to set him free, but he's gone. When she returns home, Uncle Shadrack is gone and his map room—he is a cartologer, a special type of cartographer, with a collection of maps of all types on all materials—has been trashed—and the boy she was trying to free, Theo, is there. However, a special set of maps he entrusted to Sophia is safe in her room, and she finds a note: "Sophia, go to Veressa."

Soon she and Theo are on the run with horrifying men with scars around their mouths pursuing them, and with the tale of a terrifying being called a Lachrima ringing in their ears. They're helped by a brother and sister pirate team, but there's no doubt there will be a time they can't outrun their pursuers.

This is a super fantasy, with some fantastic world building. The idea of maps that can be only activated by certain interactions, and that maps exist that can let you experience a certain time and place are fascinating. The idea of an earth fractured into different eras, and a "United States" that followed a completely different evolution, is also intriguing. Sophia and Theo have many adventures, including in a frozen wasteland and in a cave full of rapidly growing vegetation. The only problem is that Sophia herself is slightly bland. She has this grand talent of being talented with the maps, and she bravely tackles all obstacles, but personally Theo, the brother/sister pirates, and even her Uncle Shadrack overwhelm her personality.

Looking forward to reading the sequels.

book icon  Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul, Barbara Reynolds
I started reading Lord Peter Wimsey in college, but had never read much about his creator until a few years ago when I read the first volume of her letters (the second is still very far down in a pile of books).

This book captures Sayers in all her moods: the precocious child who learned Latin at five, who was producing plays in her teens, who was the liveliest girl in her class at Oxford, who had two tempestuous love affairs (one that produced a son who was brought up by her cousin, a boy who thought Dorothy was his aunt), who wrote Peter Wimsey as someone who had what she had not (but soon tired of him), who became a scholar of Dante without planning to.

I was awed by Sayers' creativeness and energy, especially as a girl and young woman. I don't know when she had time to sleep! I envied her the time at Oxford. However it affected her writing, though, I'm sorry she let herself get entangled in two love affairs that sounded toxic, especially the first (a rich source for her when she wrote Strong Poison, but she was soundly lampooned in her lover's book using the same background). (Her later marriage started out well until her husband became an invalid and they began getting on each other's nerves.) I would have loved to have known her, although I'm sure if she would have found me quite shallow.

book icon  The Happy Hollisters and the Indian Treasure, Jerry West
In this fourth book of the Happy Hollisters series, a lost dog starts the kids on new adventures. Blackie belongs to Edward "Indy" Roades, a Native American originally from New Mexico and formerly a professional baseball player. When he tells Mr. Hollister that a member of his tribe is liquidating his store, The Chaparral,  Mr. Hollister wonders if he can't buy up the stock for his own store, The Trading Post. Of course the whole family travels out to New Mexico, only to find that The Chaparral was burgled the night before. The Hollisters feel sad for the proprietor and want to help find who stole his stock. They also wonder if they can discover the location of a lost turquoise mine that would bring the tribe much prosperity.

Of all the Hollisters' novels I've read so far, this one has aged the most in terms and some behaviors. The Native American characters are called "Indians" as they would have when the book was published, and "redskin" is used as a descriptor once,  as well as a joke about "going on the warpath," although neither is done in a disparaging manner. Several older Native characters speak in "Tonto" style. However, these are the story's worst faults. In my youth I knew elderly Italian people who spoke in "Tonto" style, too. All the middle-aged or younger Native characters speak the same grammatical English as the Hollisters and other white characters. The Yumatan tribe is treated respectfully, and the author consulted the governor of an actual New Mexico tribe as well as another Native source to make certain his characters were portrayed in a fashion that was correct and treated everyone with dignity. In fact, I was pleased that in one scene, some of the Native girls giggle when Pam and Holly join their brothers in shooting bows and arrows; they tell the girls it is a boys' game. Although both Pam and Holly wish to continue their archery, they decide not to because it would be rude to their hosts. Today perhaps they would make some "girl power" statement, instead they remain respectful of the tribe's customs.

These are nice adventure/mystery stories for younger children, with no mayhem/dystopia/death themes. The terms discussed in the previous paragraph would make a good springboard for talking with kids about how times and terms have changed, along with giving them a suspenseful story.

book icon  Re-read: Lassie Come-Home, Eric Knight
Lassie! Such a smarmy show! is a comment I've heard for years. (Not my opinion, thank  you!) So why would anyone want to read the probably smarmy novel that inspired it?

In a word, because it's not smarmy. Instead it's the story of an impoverished collier and his family during the Depression who finally must sell the one valuable thing they own to the local nobleman and dog-fancier: a tricolor collie named Lassie. Lassie, however, understands neither short funds or new owners, and keeps escaping the Duke's grounds to go home to her real master, young Joe Carraclough. Finally, the Duke takes Lassie up to his Scottish estate, but the dog never forgets her quest, and, once escaped, must make her way over more than four hundred miles of wild land, unfriendly people, savage guard dogs, and bad weather to return to the family she loves.

Knight, who was born in Yorkshire but raised in the United States, never forgot the poor colliers who raised beautiful dogs only to have to sell them to feed their families. The story is tough, uncompromising, and neither anthropormorphizes its heroine or makes her a sentimental figure.

I re-read this because I managed to find the version I read so long ago in my elementary school library, with the wonderful Cyrus Leroy Baldridge illustrations that show Lassie as Knight described her, not as the movies changed her. A wonderful edition to find, from the People's Book Club.

book icon  The Book of Dust, Volume 1: La Belle Sauvage, Philip Pullman
Before Lyra Belaqua came in possession of the alethiometer, indeed before she was ever a ward of Jordan College in Oxford, England, she was a sought-after baby looking for shelter. Her father, Lord Asriel, puts her into the keeping of the Priory of St. Rosamund, where she is befriended by Malcolm Polstead, eleven-year-old son of the tavern-keeper of the Trout. When authorities coming looking for baby Lyra, Malcolm becomes very protective of her. Soon there are other sinister things afoot, like an organization at Malcolm's school that rewards the children for tattling on their parents or other elders who disobey the Church.

But it's a flood of epic proportions that will put Malcolm and his little canoe "La Belle Sauvage"—and the Trout's scullery maid Alice, a sarcastic girl Malcolm dislikes—to the test when they must rescue Lyra from the priory and keep her away from the authorities tracking her down.

This is the first of a trilogy companion to Pullman's His Dark Materials series. It's very slow-moving, but if you are invested in Pullman's universe it is a fascinating look at Lyra's very earliest days and the first friends who keep her safe despite the odds. Malcolm is intelligent, steadfast, and quick-witted, but also caring and nurturing, and a joy to read about. There aren't as colorful characters as was in Northern Lights/The Golden Compass, no armored bears or airship captains, so the narrative is tamer, but I enjoyed it, especially the exciting second half.

(The next book will join Lyra as a student at Jordan College after the events of the first trilogy, and I wonder what adventures she will be facing.)

book icon  James Thurber, Robert E. Morseberger
I picked up not one but two books of commentary about James Thurber at the last library book sale, this one Volume 62 of Twyne's United States Authors Series. I've read Thurber since I fell in love with the series My World and Welcome to It in 1969, but have never studied his work, so I found this enjoyable. I had never thought, for instance, about his change of tone in his work from the years when he was in an unhappy marriage to when he was involved in a happier marriage. Chapters cover Thurber's imaginative work like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and other fanciful tales, his chronicles of the "eternal war" between the sexes, Thurber's animals (especially the infamous "Thurber dog"), his involvement in the "Red Scare" with his play The Male Animal (written with his Ohio State comrade Elliot Nugent), his complicated relationship with his relatives and upbringing in Columbus, Ohio, his cartoons, and his wordplay, especially the latter that occupied his mind as he slowly lost his eyesight. Much to think about...probably need to re-read everything!

book icon  Murder Lo Mein, Vivien Chien
In the third of the Noodle Shop mysteries, Lana Lee is enjoying her role as manager of the Ho-Lee Noodle House, even if her new romance with police detective Adam Trudeau seems to have cooled. She has entered the family's restaurant in Cleveland's Best Noodle contest, which will be held at Asia Village, and is certain that with Peter Huang doing the cooking, Ho-Lee is a cinch to win, even if one of the judges is picky Norman Pan, who hardly has a nice word to say about anyone.

It seems someone else has noticed that as well, since after the first day of the contest, Pan was murdered after receiving a threatening note in a fortune cookie.

Of course Lana and her best friend Megan Riley become involved with figuring out whodunnit, even if investigating detective Trudeau is less than pleased, especially after a second person is threatened. Will the killer be unmasked? Will the contest ever finish? And will Lana ever find out why Adam is holding her at arm's length?

I love this series because it's not about your typical white heroine in a quaint small town with a quaint small business, and Lana's dynamics with her go-getter mom, laid back dad, and law-student sister—and in this offering, her grandmother, who's a lot more than she seems. Enjoyable characters and fairly perplexing mysteries.

book icon  The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, Karina Yan Glaser
The Vanderbeeker kids (twins Jessie and Isa, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney) have always considered their upstairs neighbors Miss Josie and Mr. Jeet to be like grandparents, so they are devastated when Mr. Jeet has a second stroke. To take their minds off their worries, Jessie, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney (Isa is at music camp) decide to do as Miss Josie has always urged them, clean out the junk-strewn vacant lot between their brownstone and the neighborhood church to make a park out of it. When they try to get the minister's permission (it's church property) to do so, they discover realtors may be trying to buy it up. But the kids don't let it stop them—and so it's a race to finish their project by the time Mr. Jeet gets out of the hospital. If, however, he ever does get out, as his first days do not do well.

This is a good-natured take on a Secret Garden theme, emphasizing teamwork, the benefits of nature, and even the danger of judging a book by its cover, as happens with Oliver's bete noire, Herman Huxley. The Vanderbeekers are kids you'd love to know; even though they quarrel, get bored, and can act snotty like real kids, at heart they are good people who manage to make others (including old friends from the first novel in the series like Bennie at the bakery, Oliver's basketball-loving friend Angie, and even reclusive Mr. Beiderman, who pops up with more surprises in this go-'round) believe in their cause. Even though I wouldn't have wanted to grub around in a garden in midsummer, I was rooting for the kids all the way!

book icon  The President and the Assassin, Scott Miller
Having been slightly disappointed by The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City, I enjoyed much more this account of William McKinley and his assassin, Leon Czolgosz, told in alternating chapters. The book begins with McKinley's fateful last day of life at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, then segues to his campaign of 1896, which he conducted from his own home. McKinley, a Civil War veteran and middle-class family man, gets into politics via shrewd Mark Hanna. Leon Czolgosz (who also called himself Fred Neiman), was the rather indolent son of hardworking and hardscrabble Polish immigrants. McKinley ran for office and became President just as Americans, especially those of the upper class, sought to end isolationism and make the United States a world power; Czolgosz came of age resenting the upper class who forced the poor to work for pennies and became involved in not just revolution, but anarchism, taking as his hero the killer of Italian King Umberto I, Gaetano Bresci. As each chapter passes, the reasons the two men came together on September 6, 1901, become more understandable. Meanwhile, in the text is revealed the rise of American imperialism, the start and battles of the Spanish-American War, the conflict over whether to annex the Philippines and Cuba, the causes and the movers behind the anarchist movement, and portraits of historical figures like Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Hanna, and Emma Goldman.

As always, the political details sometimes made my eyes glaze over, but for the most part this reads somewhat like a novel in moving to its inevitable climax.

book icon  50 Best Mysteries, edited by Eleanor Sullivan
As a whole I enjoyed the stories in this book, especially the earlier ones. The fifty stories were picked from the 1940s-1980s issues of "Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine" and, as the editor explains, she tried to pick ones that had not become famous or had become anthologized often; she wanted fifty unique tales. The stories range from ones told by noted mystery writers—John Dickson Carr, Patricia Highsmith, Ngaio Marsh (featuring her sleuth Roderick Allyn), Ruth Rendell, Simon Brett, Peter Lovesey—to authors I had not heard of previously. There's a locked room mystery involving a movie star solved from miles away, a tale involving the practice of "phantom guests" (which I'd never heard of; apparently it was common at some hotels to start a new page in the guest book you signed in the old days with made-up names so that people would not think there was no one staying at the hotel and turn away), the story of a little girl who doesn't understand why a beautiful woman and her snobby little daughter are not received into society until her beloved uncle comes into the picture, an adventure of Ellery Queen and his secretary Nikki Porter (who was an invention of the Queen radio series) near the town of Gettysburg, the melancholy story of a monk who vows (despite his gentleness) to get revenge upon the man who ultimately caused his sister's demise, a jaunty puzzle taking place at a dog show (featuring a Kerry Blue terrier), and many more excellent pieces.

My only problem with these collections, and the annual Best Mystery Stories of anthologies, is that several of the stories are not mysteries to me, and I really don't enjoy them. To me a "mystery" is just that, whether it's Nancy Drew figuring out what's in the old clock or Temperance Brennan or Kilsey Milhone tracking down a murderer, there's a puzzle and there's a solution. Several stories here I wouldn't classify as mysteries at all, like "Dressing-Up," about a hit man and his moll making it big after he betrays his boss, "The Marked Man" about a man who's supposed to practice hiding from the enemy by hiding in a New York park, the very dark "Woodrow Wilson's Necktie" about a young man fascinated by a horror waxworks exhibit, "The Fix" about a down-on-his-luck horse player, and a couple more. They're not mysteries, and they usually involve creepy people, like "Loopy," the story of a guy who likes to wear a wolf's costume his mother made for him, which I consider a psychological thriller, which I really don't want to read (although I have to admit most of the stories of that type were compellingly written). I just wish when the title said "mystery" they'd stick to "mystery" and stick the weird ones in a separate book. If you don't mind stories of that type being mixed in, this one is a definite winner.

book icon  The Happy Hollisters at Snowflake Camp, Jerry West
In this sixth book of the Hollisters series, a lot happens before the family arrives at the titular Snowflake Camp. It's November and the kids are excited about a new club being started at their school, the Pet Club. Pam runs against perennial troublemaker Joey Brill for club president, and of course with Joey being involved, that can't run smooth. Also, Pam notices that there is something troubling her teacher Miss Nelson, who's the adult supervisor of the Pet Club, and there are two rather rough-looking men trying to talk to her as well. It all comes to a head at Gramp and Gram's Snowflake Camp in Canada, where the kids will encounter a ski champ and a sled dog race at the annual Trapper's Carnival that takes place over Thanksgiving weekend.

Again, major points for the teacher objecting to Joey Brill saying a girl can't be president of a club, and also for one of the Hollister girls excelling at a sport as well as a boy, as well as showing leadership skills and good sportsmanship. On the other hand, I'm at a loss why Joey gets to ride roughshod over the Hollisters and no one ever stops him. At one point Pete is so fed up with Joey insulting his family that he hits Joey, which may be troubling to readers today (however, Pete doesn't get into trouble over it, since it's clear to everyone, even adults, that Joey started the fight). I know this was written in the 1950s, but I don't know why Joey gets away with so much; maybe his dad is some kind of big bug in the city government?

Today's readers also may find the use of the word "Eskimo" troubling. The name is not used in a derogatory manner, and is what U.S. schoolchildren were commonly taught to call Arctic Circle natives at the time the book was written. Today we know it is a rather insulting term given to Inuits and Aleutians by another native tribe who disliked them, and who passed the word on to white explorers. The term is still used in Canada, from what I can tell. Again, a good discussion point.

Otherwise, a great lively book where the kids spend most of their time in outdoor activities, although they are shown watching television. When there's no snow they use their imaginations, and they snowshoe, ski, participate in dog training, help animals, and explore the woods rather than staring at video all day.

31 August 2019

Books Completed Since August 1

Much of this month is devoted to a perennial grade school favorite, Lois Lenski! Found a bunch of her books, including ones I had never read, on archive.org and Kindle Unlimited.

book icon  Journey Into Childhood, Lois Lenski
This is Lenski's autobiography (much of which she fictionalized in her first two books, Skipping Village and A Little Girl of Nineteen Hundred), which includes the backgrounds of how she wrote some of her books (the Davy books, for instance, were inspired by a small boy named Davy, and the Mr. Small books were written for her son). I wish she had talked about how she researched all of them. She did reveal that A'Going to the Westward was inspired by the true experiences of her German ancestors, and that there really was a little girl left behind like Betsy Bartlett!

The first part of the book is rather fun, where she talks about growing up in Ohio, her loving but stern minister father, and the rest of her family. She goes off to study art, and then suddenly she is marrying Arthur Covey, a fellow artist (a muralist) and a widower with two children. This portion of the text seems rather stilted and dry; she uses the old-fashioned reference of referring to her husband as "Mr.Covey" and while I can see that as an older woman not into "kiss and tell" she would not get deeply into her relationship with him, the descriptions of their relationship seems rather loveless. She seems much more taken with her stepchildren Margaret and Laird, and with their child together, Stephen.

book icon  The Outermost House, Henry Beston
This is a nature classic, published originally in 1928. Beston, the owner of a small cottage called the Foc'sle near Easton on Cape Cod, visits the cottage one August, and, instead of leaving after two weeks, he decides to stay the winter. Laying in supplies and wood, Beston settles in for a serene autumn, a wild winter, and the beauty of spring, observing the birds and animals of the shoreline, the fierce nor'easters, the spreading beauty of the night sky, the call of the gulls, the yearly migration of birds, the running of the alewife, the dying of the year and then the birth of the following one. Of wonderful interest is his chronicling of the courageous work of the coast guardsmen who patrolled the beach nightly, and went out to shipwrecks in roiling waves and blinding lightning to remove survivors from the ships.

Beston's beautiful prose is poetic and evocative, bringing to mind the crash of the surf, the mewling of the gulls, the endless swish of the grasses in the ocean breeze. You can smell the salt air and the fish, the tang of his wood fire, the scent of his coffee percolating on the stove. For anyone who wants  to know what it's like to live in close harmony with the sea.

(Alas, the little "outermost house," which survived the frightening storms Beston described, the whirlwind that was the Hurricane of 1938 and many hurricanes thereafter, was felled by the deadly winds and tides of the Blizzard of 1978. It lives on in this book.)

book icon  Underland, Robert MacFarlane
"Underground." It's always been a mysterious word in the English language. Underground can mean a root cellar, but it also calls up visions of caves, of tunnels, of hasty escapes, of the unknown and of mystery.

MacFarlane investigates all these aspects of "underland," from Bronze Age graves in Somerset, England, to an observatory for Dark Matter deep underground (where particles from Dark Matter are best distinguishable) to funghi on the forest floor. He also visits the underground labyrinth of sewers and rooms below Paris, where explorers find new levels all the time and tours exist, the underground Timavo River, caves in Slovenia in which hundreds of victims of the Nazis were interred, a dangerous journey into Norwegian caves to see prehistoric cave paintings, another Norwegian sojourn visiting a traditional fisherman and his wife, a visit to a glacier and a dangerous moulin (a vertical shaft within a glacier) in Greenland, and finally a radioactive materials' burial site in Finland.

I love reading MacFarlane's books. His words in Underland fit the mood he is trying to create: dark, mysterious, primal, evocative of the mood that deep darkness engenders. He makes you chill in the narrow moulin, feel the squeeze of a particularly tight passage in a cave, gape with wonder in the rooms under Paris. I was so sorry when the book was finished.

book icon  The Happy Hollisters at Sea Gull Beach, Jerry West
The Hollister children's Uncle Russ begins their next adventure by writing to them from a place called Sea Gull Beach. He's there making sketches for his cartoon work, but lets the Hollisters know there will be a kite-flying contest there soon and tells them about a pirate ship, the Mystery, supposedly lost in the sands. Then a lighthouse lamp Uncle Russ sends them is accidentally broken, and an emerald falls out!

This is only the beginning of the Hollisters' adventures as the family travels to Sea Gull Beach, where they make a new friend in a girl named Rachel who happens to be the granddaughter of the woman who made the lighthouse. A troublesome boy, Homer, who's like the Hollisters' neighborhood bully Joey Brill, also causes excitement, and the family befriends an old beachcomber named Scowbanger, who's also looking for the Mystery.

As always, the kids go from one breathless adventure to another, finding and then losing clues, competing with Homer, and having enough adventures in one week to last all summer. These books are so much fun to read and the author, Andrew Swenson, a.k.a. Jerry West, kept the usual 1950s sexist boys and girls stuff to a minimum, so the books are still very readable today, although today's kids used to organized activities and helicopter parents may gape at the freedom the Hollister kids have. They may end up wishing they were back in the 1950s!

book icon  We Live in the North, Lois Lenski
Lenski was most known for her regional book series, but she also did a series for younger children, Roundabout America, most of which are comprised of three short stories with a common theme. This volume takes place in Michigan, the first tale about a family of Polish-Americans whose father works in an auto plant in Detroit, the second relates the tale of a widowed woman of Finnish extraction who tries to make extra money as a cherry picker in Traverse City, and the final story is about a Christmas tree farm in Muskegon Heights. Wondering what today's kids would make of the hobby of the kids in the Detroit story: they have founded an animal cemetery where they hold funerals for both wild animals and pets. A subplot concerns the kids' Uncle Eddie, who won't settle down to a job and who's considering changing his name to sound more American. The Johnson kids in the cherry story have various adventures as their mom and their aunt pick cherries that reminds one of Judy's Journey. The last tale is just a year in the life of a Christmas tree farm family, and one of the daughters saving up the money she earns to buy a horse. Cute for the younger kids, but lacks the meat of the regionals.

book icon  Corn-Farm Boy, Lois Lenski
Well, I always wanted to read these when I was at school, so I might as well now that they're online. This is the story of Dick Hoffman, who lives on an Iowa farm where his father grows corn and they raise some cattle but more hogs. Dick is good with animals and is always either raising a runt farm animal or nursing a wild one who is hurt, and he hates when neighbor boy Elmer kills for fun, but what he wants most is to drive the new tractor his Uncle (who is half-partners in the farm with his father) Henry has bought; however, he's still sickly due to a bout with rheumatic fever. The story follows the spring and summer activities of the family, including wearying-sounding chores like getting cockleburrs out of the cornfields and de-tasseling corn (which is what Dick's older sister does during the summer to earn money for clothes). It chronicles all the fun—raising animals, summer picnics, playing with friends—and the trials—a farm injury, Dick's health problems, a little sister lost while playing hide'n'seek—of living on a farm. Not Lenski's most interesting, but definitely all true teaching children what hard labor goes into raising their breakfast foods.

book icon  Coal Camp Girl, Lois Lenski
Of all the Lenski books I have read, this has come the closest to touching me personally.

Christina Wilson and her family live in West Virginia, where her father is a coal miner. The children manage to have fun despite the ugliness of their landscape: the hills of discarded slate everywhere, the dirty air (the kids have to pull Mom's laundry off the clothesline every time a train comes by), Dad coming home black with coal and having to take a bath before he can even eat dinner. Tina would just like to have one of the pit ponies as her own, but her brother constantly gets in trouble trying to sneak into abandoned mines with his friends. They quarrel with one contentious neighbor kid, but otherwise manage to have fun—at least when their daddy is working and they have enough food.

My mom would have been born in and lived her early years in a place like this, only in Ohio. When my maternal grandparents came over from Italy with their young son Tommaso, my grandfather found work as a coal miner, and my uncle Tommy worked in the mine once he was old enough. Mom talked about her father having to wash up in a shed before he could come in the house, since he didn't want to dirty the inside with coal dust. They would have burned coal in their stoves, used scrip at the company store, and mom and her older brothers would have gone barefoot in summer and had to wash their feet before coming inside. What would Mom's life had been like if Grandma had not come down with "coal dust lungs"? Would she have also grown up to marry a coal miner and had her heart in her throat every time the whistle from the mine blared in a long, steady wail, signifying trouble?

Needless to say, among the other troubles the Wilsons endure in the book, there is a mine cave in. I cried at the outcome, thinking of Mom and of Grandpa.

book icon  Flood Friday, Lois Lenski
I grew up on the stories of the granddaddy of all New England hurricanes, the one in 1938, and its destructive 1954 successor, Hurricane Carol, but I had never heard of the horrifying flooding that occurred in Connecticut in August 1955 after not one, but two hurricanes within a week, Connie and Diane, caused rivers to overflow. Sally Graham lives in Farmington, Connecticut, with her family, and when the ground becomes saturated, her neighborhood, then her home, begins to flood. Sally and her friends and neighbors head to a school which is on high ground, and for days they must camp out on the floor, eat communal meals, and hear terrifying stories of homes swept away. Eventually they grow restless and wonder if they'll ever make it back to their homes.

Lenski paints a very realistic view of a natural disaster from a child's point of view, from seeing your home engulfed by water to living for days at close quarters with hundreds of people to returning home to find it filthy with mud. This is an unusual Regional as it deals with an event rather than a way of life.

book icon  Mama Hattie's Girl, Lois Lenski
This is probably the rarest of Lenski's regionals and one I didn't know existed for many years. Lula Bell is an African-American girl living in the south with her mother Imogene, a talented seamstress, and her grandmother, known to everyone in the Hibiscus Street neighborhood as "Mama Hattie." Imogene is tired of living in a small town where everyone knows her business, and longs to be up north with her husband. She's also frustrated with her mother falling for every slick salesman who comes around and buying yet something else "on time," and not taking care of her health (she has high blood pressure and insists on eating fattening foods with lots of salt).

To everyone on Hibiscus Street, "up north" is a wonderful place where good jobs are to be had and people have lots of fine clothes and furniture. So when Imogene finally gets fed up after a neighbor poisons Mama Hattie's plum tree and the local grocer won't give them any more credit, Lula Bell is torn: she wants to go "up north" where living is golden, but is going to miss her grandmother. She soon finds out "up north" is no prize either: the city streets are crowded and full of garbage, the kids in her new neighborhood bully her, and the landlord won't let her family stay with her aunt and uncle.

Lenski states in her introduction that she researched this book among children in both Northern and Southern schools, so I am guessing that the portrait she paints of both African-American experiences are authentic. However, the main problem with this book is that Lula Bell isn't really all that likeable. She brags to her friends on Hibiscus Street about going north, but misses them when she actually goes there. Once she finally finds friends in New Jersey, she's happy—but then when she goes back to Mama Hattie's home for a visit she is critical of everything: her grandma taking in boarders to make ends meet, the shabby old house she grew up in, and even her friends whom she formerly loved, and she snubs a little girl named Myrtle, forgetting how badly she was treated up north. It takes a series of disasters to make her realize how she's been acting. Lenski's leading girl characters are usually strong and speak for themselves, especially the pugnacious Judy Drummond, sometimes to the point of being occasionally rude, but Lula Bell is continually grumpy when things don't go her way. Maybe she was so contentious in order to learn a lesson about getting along with others, or a point is being made that she's not being set a good example by her mother, but it certainly doesn't endear anyone to her.

Really, the hero of this book is Mama Hattie, despite her personal weaknesses (and Imogene's perceived weaknesses of her mother). She's doing her best to keep a household together and provide a loving upbringing for her granddaughter.

book icon  The Holyday Book, Francis X. Weiser
Having procured Weiser's other two holiday books about Christmas and Easter, I thought I might complete the trifecta. The Holyday Book covers all those Christian holidays not covered by the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany season and by Lent and Eastertide: Sundays themselves, then the church calendar beginning at Pentecost. He also covers (though not a Christian holy day) Thanksgiving, and the holydays of Corpus Christi, Candlemas, All Saints and All Souls, the "Mary holidays" like the Annunciation and Assumption, and also various saints' days by season. Traditional customs all over the world are chronicled, including processions on certain saints' days, fasting, and feasting, and there are also profiles of saints such as St. John,  St. Catherine, St. Andrew, etc. For anyone looking for Catholic celebrations and traditions.

book icon  Joy of Nature, Reader's Digest Books
This is a big oversized volume from Reader's Digest books about enjoying nature. There are a few pages about animals, but most of it involves the earth itself: its climates, land areas (woodlands, deserts, rain forests, etc.), plants, topography, weather. There are chapters about trees, plants, mountains, deserts, tundra, geology, climate change, volcanoes and earthquakes, clouds, bird watching, butterfly study, and more, with multiple colorful photographs, maps, charts, and tables illustrating anything you need to know about the natural world. Each chapter is only two facing pages (crammed with small print), so this is perfect as a coffee table or bathroom book.

book icon  Memory of Water, Brian Eastman/Rebecca Tope
This is the final novelization of one of the stories from Eastman's Rosemary and Thyme mystery television series starring Felicity Kendal and Pam Ferris. Rosemary Boxer and Laura Thyme have been hired to restore an Elizabethan garden at an old country estate. The estate belongs to the Frazer family, but, because of the family setup, while Martin Frazer and his family live there in relative wealth, Martin's estranged cousin Jim lives in a old cottage in a corner of the estate. Rosemary is overlooking the river one morning when, to her horror, she sees Jim Frazer commit suicide by drowning himself. The body is later found, Jim identified and buried—then Rosemary sees the man she thought was Jim in the next town! Is Jim dead or not? And who was the man she saw fall in the river? Does Jim's death have anything to do with one of the convicts who are providing labor to restore the garden?

A humorous subplot has Laura trying to save money by having them camp in a tent on the estate. Rosemary is horrified at first, but comes to like it, while Laura, who was so enthusiastic, begins to hate it.

Tope adds many little details to what we saw on television: Rosemary making an enemy of Martin's boss, a disdainful QC, more scenes with the Frazer sons Toby and Timmy, and more scenes with Martin and his ever-patient wife Suzanne. If you enjoyed the series, you'll probably enjoy the books based upon the episodes.

book icon  Little Sioux Girl, Lois Lenski
This is another entry in Lenski's Roundabout America series for younger readers. Instead of being divided into smaller short stories as in We Live in the North, the entire book is a year in the life of Eva White Bird, a Dakota Sioux girl living at the Standing Rock Reservation with her family. Eva's winter home is in the hills, but during the summer the whole family moves to a small house they own near the river with the rest of the tribe, where the families fish and enjoy the foods of the fields. Eva enjoys being in school during the winter, but looks forward to the summer when she can run wild after completing her chores. However, rising waters cause a flood in the area and the family barely gets out ahead of the water, with many of their possessions missing. Once Christmas rolls around, there are new surprises for Eva and her family.

Again, not as compelling as the regionals, but a good portrait of Native American life in the 1940s.

book icon  St. Nicholas, Scribners (January - December 1880 (September missing)
Alas, I didn't notice years ago when I bought this that September was missing. Good thing there is a scan of it somewhere on Google. Otherwise this collection of "St. Nicholas" marks the first appearance in print of Louisa May Alcott's Jack and Jill. The usual collection of fascinating articles about child-life in 19th century America, with projects for children (usually boys) that would take the breath away from adults today, involving knives, saws, etc. But children in those days were brought up to be self-reliant. The 19th century travel articles are the most fascinating, seeing cultures that are untouched by American merchandising (foreign businesspeople often in American or British dress, but the average Joe in that country still in traditional garb living in traditional homes, alas, with snobbish opinions attached). Humorous but a bit sad to see them still decrying children who are "overscheduled" back then, enticed by societal influences like "big city lights" and alcohol, wondrous to read about great tracts of wilderness unspoilt by civilization.

book icon  Boom Town Boy, Lois Lenski
This has to be the saddest Lenski book I ever read.

The Robinsons live in Oklahoma on a farm that was part of the original Cherokee Strip. Work on the farm is hard, and a drought isn't making it any easier. It's the early 1920s, and oil has been discovered near their property. Grandpa Robinson is sure there is oil on their land as well and options the land to an oil company. Meanwhile, people begin to move into the area to work on the nearby oil wells. A shanty town explodes overnight, then even a town.

The story is told from the point of view of 11-year-old "Orvie" (Orville), and through his eyes we see the placid family farm which his older brother really loves working on and the creek bed where Orvie and his little sister play, sometimes alone and sometimes with their Native American friends on the nearby Reservation. As the oil men and workers move in, the wells despoil the countryside and the peripatetic oil workers strew trash, steal, and bring alcohol into the formerly "dry" countryside, and Orvie even learns the meaning of murder. Around the Robinsons, some of their neighbors "strike it rich," and the new "boom town" of Whizzbang seem exciting to Orvie. But he has hard truths to learn, and so do the members of his family, as the oil boom continues.

The Robinsons live a hard life without electricity or indoor plumbing, but the whole oil boom coming to town is like a trainwreck. Well-meaning wildcatters ruin the peaceful countryside and turn previously happy neighbors into rivals. Thankfully there's a ray of hope at the end.

book icon  My Love Affair With England, Susan Allen Toth
This is the first of three books Toth wrote about traveling in England. She became an Anglophile at an early age, and has retained a love of the country that continues into the present, despite the protestations of her daughter, who doesn't understand what Mom sees in the country. (Of course, as you read, you'll discover Jenny had a very different first experience in England, living as a student with a very odd family.) This is not a tourguide or a biography, but just a series of essays by Toth talking about various memorable visits to "old Blighty," including her first trip in the 1970s with a post airline flight complete with a hot meal, daytripping with the old London A-Z guide, and going to the theatre; a trip where she visited supposedly haunted homes; showing her husband the English countryside she loved for the first time; attending a real sheepdog trial (not watching it on the telly); the story of how she took students to England one year, beset by one problem after the other; walking the myriad walking paths through the countryside, and more. It's her love letter to England, and I truly loved it myself.

book icon  Re-read: The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
I went to put this Tasha-Tudor-illustrated hardback downstairs, and after reading the Toth book couldn't resist re-reading it first. Willows was another one of those children's classics that I never read as a child, since I preferred books about real animals (Call of the Wild, the Silver Chief books, Big Red and sequels, etc.) even if the animals talked among themselves as in Black Beauty and Beautiful Joe. Of course I'd seen Disney's Ichabod and Mr. Toad, but Toad always got on my nerves.

Well, Toad still gets on my nerves. I'm sure the naughty Toad is someone small children can identify with, but I find him very annoying, and think Rat, Mole, and Badger are very patient in trying to reform him. The only Toad adventure I find tolerable is the first one with the gypsy caravan (until Toad spoils it). My favorite chapters are about Rat and Mole's friendship and adventures, such as when the Water Rat follows the imprudent Mole into the Wild Wood, the lovely "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" story, the temptation of poor Rat by the seafaring rat (O I understand that call of travel!), and my favorite of all, "Dulce Domum," about Rat and Mole's Christmas. The little mouse carolers get me every time.

Best of all are Grahame's lovely descriptions of the countryside, and the darling little English cottage fixings in the animals' burrows. When I read these things I want to grab all my money and go find one, which is ridiculous because they're not owned by poor people anymore and I wouldn't have a tenth of the money I need. But they're sure pretty to read about, and Willows has lyrical, dreamy descriptions of animals, seasons, and nature that make you feel as if you are there. 

book icon  Dead Blow, Lisa Preston
Second in the "horseshoer mystery" story series, featuring Rainy Dale, the daughter of a rancher and a narcissistic actress who has worked through personal problems to become a skilled farrier, and who now lives and works in Oregon, where she's engaged to chef and foodie Guy. In Dead Blow, Rainy is hoping to get a new account at the ranch of Donna Chevigny, who has just become a widow; her husband Cameron (who had a roving eye) died recently after his tractor tilted and then rolled over him, an event originally considered an accident. As she helps Donna get her horses shod, Rainy finds an odd aluminum shoe on the land where Cameron died, and then Donna's goofy dog turns up a riding glove with a human hand in it. Soon a police officer named Melinda Kellan is sniffing outside Rainy and Guy's door, wondering if Rainy was one of Cameron Chevigny's conquests, and if she had anything to do with Cam's death. And then there's the crazy bull, Dragoon, who's on rangeland bordering the ranch. If Cam's death wasn't an accident, how did someone get past the bull?

I still like Rainy and her unorthodox narration and ways, but I have to admit this was not as compelling as the first book, where her history is peeled back little by little to show you why she is as she is. So while I still enjoyed the mystery, there was a little less meat to the characterization. In fact, she seems to have become more "country" since the original book. The mystery is reasonably perplexing, and you get a lot of the feel for ranching people rather than the urban Oregon denizens you usually see in the media, and of course there's Rainy's wry, often amusing commentary, which is a big plus to the narrative.

book icon  About Time: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who, 2008-2009, Series 4, the 2009 Specials, Tat Wood and Dorothy Ail
This covers the rest of David Tennant's tenure as Doctor #10 including the three "gap year" extended episodes, his appearance on the BBC "proms" concert, and even his guest appearance on The Sarah Jane Adventures, from "Partners in Crime" wherein the Doctor is reunited with runaway bride Donna Noble, to "The End of Time." As always, Wood and Ail supply a summary, a cast list and where you've seen the guest performers, the ratings, notes upon filming, and then long, long notes about episode events, inconsistencies, questions, etc. It's the most thorough dissection of Who ever, and each chapter also contains an essay about questions raised by the series and by individual episodes, like "What Constitutes a Fixed Point [in Time]?", "What Happened to UNIT?", "Why Can't Anyone Just Die?",  "What Were the Strangest Online Theories?", and the question that's been on every classic Doctor Who fan's mind for years: "Where's Susan?"

For the devoted Doctor Who fan, perhaps not always, but you definitely have to be interested in the series and know its past and its stories to truly appreciate these books.

book icon  The Secret Life of Movies, Simon Brew
A chill-out summer-read of a book about Easter eggs and other trivia about movie scenes. Was the big shocker in the Star Wars franchise hiding in plain sight? Sure was. In The Winter Soldier, what events did Steve Rogers miss while he was out of circulation? Depends on what country you watched the film in. What films were pioneers in CGI? The results may surprise you. What's the clue to the theme of Inside Out? Watch the physical features of the emotional characters!

There are interesting (and sometimes not so interesting) tidbits like that for films that range from the silent era all the way to Bohemian Rhapsody. Along the way you'll discover the story of a piece of rare artwork that turned up as a set decoration in a family film, what films surreptitiously photographed at places they weren't supposed to, the rather extensive changes a Disney animated film incurred before release, how a popular crime film features a Christ figure, how a spectacular action shot in the early war film Hell's Angels was filmed, and more.

Most of the info is taken from websites, so if you're a movie geek and particularly read many sites that feature this type of info, you'll probably know all these. Otherwise, it's a relaxing way to kill an afternoon.

Note to the publisher: Enjoyed the colorful look of the pages! But the ones with black type on dark purple backgrounds? Uh...no.

book icon  One Giant Leap, Charles Fishman
I missed reading this one in July because James bought it and had to finish it first, so it was at the tail-end of my other reading and I wondered what it might have to say that the other seven nonfiction books about the space program that I read last month didn't.

Surprisingly, I didn't find it all that repetitive. One chapter, for instance, delves into the "fourth crew member" of the Apollo missions, the spacecraft computer. There was nothing like it at that time: other computers were no smaller than refrigerators and took punch cards to program them. The Apollo computer was a new small design about the size of a big suitcase, and it took commands through keys punched and buttons that told the computer whether the operation was a "noun" or a "verb." He devotes another chapter to Bill Tindall, the man who thought of everything that could go wrong and then challenged the software and hardware people to make certain the astronauts could recover from all of those errors, in big long memos known to NASA as "Tindallgrams." Yet another chapter addresses the long debate about how to get to the moon and the final decision to use lunar orbit rendezvous, and a fourth talks about the decision to put the American flag on the moon (an idea very contested back then). But most of all Fishman talks about the "cost" of the space program, and how, based on what was budgeted for other things, it really cost very little and brought some startling developments to technology that we still benefit from today. If you use a cell phone, get satellite television, use a personal computer, depend on GPS, and many other technologies, you are using devices that were born from all the research put in and the technology developed for the moon landing.

Very much worth reading "yet another moon book."

book icon  Where the Lost Dogs Go, Susannah Charleson
In Scent of the Missing, Charleson told us of working with search and rescue dogs, including the training of her own dog Puzzle, a Golden retriever, and in The Possibility Dogs, we learned about her mission to turn shelter rescues into therapy dogs for anxiety sufferers. In this newest book, urged on by her father, Charleson adopts a sick, bedraggled Maltese dog before he's euthanized, and in trying to find little Ace's original owner, she delves into the world of lost pets: how your totally predictable dog may become unpredictable once thrust into unfamiliar situations, strategies for finding lost dogs, and her own stories of searching for, and mostly finding, missing animals.

Along the way, Charleson also tells us the story of her childhood with two parents who were loving of her and raised her to respect and love animals and abused or lost children, but who were both emotionally unstable. They moved house often to get away from debts, her mother suffered from panic attacks, her father was chronically insecure. She parallels her stories of growing up with her search for Ace's past, for it is obvious after a week that he was once a well-loved pet, probably owned by an elderly person, and her present-day dealings with both her parents, now divorced but still fiercely devoted to the saving of stray animals.

There's a nice balance of animal stories, biography, and "how to" in this book that I really enjoyed. A few other reviews said they wished there had not been so much of her past personal stuff and more about lost animals, but I enjoyed understanding what gives Charleson her drive to find the missing, whether human or animal, and see the past events that brought her to her present. Warning: there are many times you will tear up during this book. Have tissues handy.

book icon  Off the Map: The Curious Histories of Place Names, Derek Nelson
I picked up this slim volume at the library book sale because I've always loved maps and dreamed about being a cartographer (among other things) when I was a kid. Place names are fascinating. Some are just plain: Johnstown or Johnston, of course, was founded by someone named John; some are named by where they are (Avonlea = a "lea" is a meadown, so Avonlea is the meadow by the river Avon), and some get very descriptive. Take Dublin, Ireland: its full name is Baile Atha Cliath Dubh Lind or "town on the ford of hurdles on the black water"—the hurdles were wooden boards put in the river to help cattle cross. Some names are even insults! Inuits prefer being called that instead of "Eskimos" because the latter is an Algonquin pejorative for the tribe. The Sioux tribe prefers their own name, "Dakotah," because rival tribes called them "Nadowessioux": "little snakes"! The Mohawks called the Adirondak tribes "Hatirontaks," or "they eat trees," an insult that meant they were terrible hunters.

Nelson relays these facts and more, about explorers giving one place a name which already has another name (or places like the Falkland Islands, which is known as that by the British, but another by the Spanish) and the naming of places yet to be explored. An interesting little volume if you have a hankering for geography or names.

book icon  Saving Jemima: Life and Love with a Hard-Luck Jay, Julie Zickefoose
This book made me cry.

Zickefoose, a licensed bird rehabilitator and artist, had always wanted to raise a baby blue jay. When one was found, dehydrated and near death, under a tree, Zickefoose and her family (husband Bill, daughter Phoebe, and son Liam) pitch in to save the little mite, who has an infection contracted in the egg. Once little Jemima begins getting well, she becomes a part of the family. The Zickefooses allows Jemima to see birds like herself every day, but pretty much raise her like a tame bird rather than trying to deliberately avoid having her tainted by human contact: she interacts with the kids, teases the family dog, flies around rooms and perches on furniture. In return the family learns how really intelligent a blue jay is. But they always raise her with the intention of freeing her to the wild once she learns how to survive outside.

Life isn't always kind to Jemima: she contracts a second illness about the time she's being prepped for going into the wild, and Zickefoose must figure out how to medicate her without throwing off her timeline. One day she turns up bald! But the days are coming closer when Jemima must migrate or prepare to endure a long Ohio winter.

This is a book filled with love without being sloppily sentimental. The Zickefooses obviously adore Jemima, but want her to live a wild life. They all endure trials before their avian charge is free, including the breaking up of Julie and Bill's marriage. On their journey you will learn much about blue jays (and other birds) and their habits, and how one rehabilitates a wild creature. The book is liberally illustrated with photographs as well as Julie's lovely pieces of artwork that begin each chapter. Recommended for any animal lover, but warning that there are bird deaths/having to put sick birds down in the volume.

book icon  To Be a Logger, Lois Lenski
As the book opens, Little Joe wants, as he always had, "calk boots" like his logger dad; as he grows to be twelve and called "Joel," he still wants to be a logger more than anything. His dad begins taking him on the job in the forests of Oregon, where he and his companions work in a National Forest, but are often at odds with the forest rangers—the loggers think they know the forests better than the college-educated men running the tree harvests. The book chronicles Joel's (and his little sister Jinx's) adventures in the Oregon woods, where various experiences make Joel question his plans for the future. And then a disaster happens to his family.

Lenski has always done her best to describe in her books the occupations of the parents of the children who are her protagonists, but I find she almost does too much description in this, the last of her regional volumes. Some pages are nothing but chronicling how "Big Joe" Bartlett and his fellow workers operate construction equipment. It gets a bit tiresome. Better are the passages where Joel wrestles with his love of nature vs. his love of machinery, and his reaction when a fearsome thing happens to him. Jinx, his mischievous sister, also adds some levity to the story: she runs away from a chore, and does other funny things that liven up the text. The next-to-last chapter is a big commercial for the Forest Service, just like a mid-1960s Lassie episode.