22 September 2008

Books Read Since August 22

• The Other End of the Leash, Patricia B. McConnell
This one should have been on the list months ago, but I handed it over to James to read and forgot to add it to the queue. McConnell, an animal behaviorist (as she mentions quite a bit), discusses the difference between human/primate body language and the body language of dogs. If I have claimed at times that Willow was driving me crazy, I can see after reading this book that we are both driving Willow crazy by saying one thing with our voice and another with our body stance. I'm trying to correct myself and the dog does seem more responsive when I remember. Anyway, an interesting read with many illustrative behavior tales about McConnell's own dogs.

• A Poisoned Season, Tasha Alexander
Lady Emily Ashton, the young Victorian widow who has astonished society by being genuinely interested in Greek antiquities and text (and who drinks port rather than the more ladylike sherry), returns in this outing that revolves around thefts of relics of Marie Antoinette and the appearance of a man who may be the heir to the French throne. While Emily helps two of her friends with their very different relationship problems, not to mention deals with her mother about her unorthodox lifestyle, she also contends with a mysterious correspondent who seems to know her every move, while her romance with her late husband's best friend procedes afresh. An enjoyable narrative which supplies seamless period detail.

• Silent in the Grave, Deanna Raybourn
Lady Julia Grey first meets Nicholas Brisbane over the dying body of her husband, whose weak heart finally fails in the opening pages of the book. From Brisbane, Julia later learns that someone has sent her husband threatening letters, but refuses to believe him. It is only when, a year later, Julia finds one of the letters herself that she asks Brisbane to look into the now-cold mystery. An heady mixture of Victorian novel of manners, mystery tale, and gothic novel (Brisbane, with his dark, powerful looks and mysterious mein—which of course begin to attract Julia—comes directly out of the Wuthering Heights mould), this is an absorbing narrative if one has the patience to stick with it. Julia's unconventional family and servants provide a great deal of color to the novel.

• September Surprises, Ann M. Martin
It's back-to-school time for Flora Northrup, Nikki Sherman, and Olivia Walter, and this time it's a big step: from their elementary school to the big comprehensive junior/senior high school. Olivia, who has skipped a grade, is afraid she'll be bullied or ignored, and sure enough, a classmate begins demanding Olivia let her copy her homework. In the meantime, Ruby Northrup's class becomes pen pals/benefactors for a school in Florida destroyed by a hurricane, Min and Mr. Pendleton see more of each other (to Flora's dismay), Mr. Willet makes preparations to leave the Row Houses, and the girls' Aunt Allie has a disturbing secret. Yet another good story from Martin. What? There's not another until spring? Egad!

• About Time, The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who, 1985-1989, Tat Wood
The sixth and final volume in the volumnous Mad Norwegian Press episode guide/commentary to Doctor Who. I've discovered after reading this that I hardly remember any of the Colin Baker stories, so much was my dislike of his tenure, yet Wood makes them sound appealing. Almost. :-) I'll leave to your imagination what Wood said about the Paul McGann movie, or, as he refers to it, Grace: 1999. The movies Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks: Invasion Earth, as well as "Dimensions in Time" are covered here.

• The Worst Hard Time, Timothy Egan
You can look at the horrifying photos of "dusters" from the photo archives, or the pictures or newsreels of those affected, you can read the statistics about the land destroyed during the Dust Bowl—but nothing will quite equal the stories woven by Egan in this narrative of the dry times on the prairies that should have never been broken by the plow to such an extreme extent. Through the lives of the people who endured dust-choked homes, cattle dead with dirt in their stomachs, children with dust pneumonia, withered crops, blasted landscapes, and final defeat, Egan brings the Dust Bowl years to heartbreaking life. You will cry with these people and wonder how on earth they endured. Stunning.

• The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, Lauren Willig
Mary Alsworthy, once the belle of the ball and now a failed "relic" of several Seasons after her intended marries her sister (and even falls in love with her!), cannot face accepting payment from said sister to finance another Season and instead accepts the darkly seductive Lord Vaughn's business proposition: he is planning to use the tall, dark-haired beauty to bait the villainous Black Tulip, who tries to recruit ladies of her appearance. What starts out as a business relationship turns into more—this is a "Pink Carnation" book, after all!—as Mary and Vaughn's delicious verbal duels bring them closer together while circumstances contrive to drive them apart. But what is behind Vaughn's distance from the world? And what of the interested eyes Mr. St. George keeps casting Mary's way?

• From the Crash to the Blitz: 1929-1939, Cabell Phillips
This is subtitled "The New York Times Chronicle of American Life," but as far as I can tell this was the only volume produced in the "series," if one ever existed. This is a dense but readable overview of the decade between stock market disaster and invasion of Europe, with much emphasis on Government policies, broken occasionally by what was going on in the lives of everyday folks, chronicling their entertainment and means of living. What's really fascinating about this particular history, however, are the wealth of photographs and clippings scattered liberally throughout the book: famous people and events, record labels, menus, newspaper advertisements for stores, ice cream cup lids, fan magazines, baseball cards, sheet music covers, photos of radio performers, playbills, and other epherma that represent the everyday events of the era.

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