25 June 2007

Books Read Since June 12

• America Celebrates, Ideals
This hardback compilation covers all holidays. The photography and essays are especially nice.

• Shamus in the Green Room, Susan Kandel
The third Cece Caruso mystery finds our heroine conducting a crash-course in the life and personality of mystery great Dashiell Hammett with a popular actor who will play "Dash" in a film. Cece is with the actor when he identifies a dead body of that of his ex-lover and of course then gets embroiled in "whodunit." More of Cece's odd friends, her growing relationship with the police detective, and an interesting mystery, but nothing truly outstanding.

• The Essential Dave Allen, Graham McCann
This isn't a biography, but some biographical data interspersed with a collection of Dave Allen's best stories. Allen's voice is very clear in this almagam taken from "Dave Allen...On Life" and his sessions on the stool from Dave Allen at Large, and, despite knowing his spoofs of the Catholic church, a surprising amount of hostility to his religious upbringing. Dave, we hardly knew ye.

• The Best Years of Our Lives, Good Old Days
Postwar memories, from returning soldiers to the baby boom. Another oversize hardback, this from the publisher of Good Old Days magazine. Many stories of doing-without-but-still-happy postwar marriages.

• Re-Read: Misty of Chincoteague, Marguerite Henry
This is still a lovely, haunting book about two children willing to work to earn the horse of their dreams, the Phantom, a wily mare who has escaped the annual "Pony Penning" event on Chincoteague Island off the coast of Virginia for the past two years. This edition includes Wesley Dennis' memorable illustrations—not just of the horses, but the ones that capture the essense of the characters: Paul and Maureen on the beach, Grandma hanging the laundry, the children and the "pully bone," plus the breathtaking sketches of wild Assateague Island.

• The Pawprints of History, Stanley Coren
Did dogs influence the course of history? Stanley Coren's book contains different episodes in history in which dogs played a part in either a good—the origial tale of Gelert; Freud's use of the original "therapy dogs"—and bad—the Spanish use of huge mastiffs to subjugate the Native population of the Americas. There are fascinating chapters about Napoleon's battles with Josephine's spoilt dogs, the development of the Pekinese as a royal Chinese symbol and how the breed survived a final massacre, Washington's hounds, Lincoln's dog Fido and more.

• Curse of the Narrows, Laura M. MacDonald
During World War I, the once moribund port of Halifax became a boom town again shipping war supplies. Just before Christmas in 1917, two ships, one carrying highly flammable explosives, collided in the harbor directly before the city. The volatile cargo exploded near a wharf, laying waste to the city and causing death and horrible injuries, plus a shock-wave engendered tsunami that destroyed and killed hundreds more. Medical crews and Red Cross representatives from Boston and other points south raced to the city, hampered by a blizzard that arose the evening of the explosion. Absolutely riveting account of the events and aftermath of this now little-known episode in North American history.

• First Friend, Katharine M. Rogers
This book can be a companion to Pawprints [above], also the history of the dog, from his shadowy domestication to the development of breeds, to his use in literature and art, and from working animal to family pet. Several of the events Rogers talks about are expanded in chapters in the Coren book, such as development of the Pekinese.

• Remembering Walt, Amy Boothe Green and Howard E. Green
If you are looking for a bio of Walt Disney, try Gabler or the others; this is mainly a photo memory book of Walt Disney, with comments by the people who knew him, from his wife and brother to the actors and animators who worked with him. The photos, some from private collections, are a delight; most I had never seen before.

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