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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.
 

31 May 2016

Books Completed Since May 1

book icon  The Easter Book, Francis X. Weiser

book icon  How to Choose and Use Fonts & Typefaces, edited by Tony Seddon
This is a nice, simple book about the history of typefaces, the vocabulary associated with them (including the difference between a font and a typeface; they are not interchangeable), and which is appropriate to use in what situation. Liberally illustrated with examples and color photographs. I'm a font fanatic and really enjoyed this.

book icon  Harvest of Time, Alastair Reynolds
This is a super Third-Doctor-and-Jo adventure that features the Master and a very creepy alien race called the Sild. Once confined in a spaceship that is theoretically escape-proof, the Sild have used the Praxilons, another race led by their indomitable Red Queen, to free themselves. Then they make landfall on Earth and violently and pitilessly take over the body of a lighthouse keeper. That is only the first step in their takeover of Earth.

In the meantime, strange things are going on at an oil-drilling platform, and the Doctor, Yates, and Jo are sent to investigate, but now the rig's director, Edwina McCrimmon, says there's nothing wrong. But something is wrong: one of the men visiting an employee injured on the rig is a dead ringer for the Master, who at present is locked up in an impenetrable prison surrounded by water. And more mysteriously still, everyone at UNIT is starting to forget who the Master is. They have to write themselves notes and leave his photograph all over the installation to recall him at all. Even the Doctor is starting to forget him.

What a cracking great story! With the classic cliffhangers of the classic series mixed with modern imagery and ideas from the new series, this is a fast-moving thriller with appearances by all your favorites. The aliens are truly ruthless; this is certainly not a children's story by any means and in this resembles the present series rather than the classic series in which the Third Doctor appeared. The situation with the Master was also a more complicated situation than was ever postulated on the classic series. I found it a good mixture of old and new, and it was so happy to see all the familiar UNIT "family" again.

book icon  MASH FAQ, Dale Sherman
I really enjoyed this summary of M*A*S*H in all its incarnations, from the original book and the two "official" sequels written by Richard Hooker (and the additional sequels written by William Butterworth) to the final television sequels (AfterMASH and Trapper John, MD, plus the unseen W.A.L.T.E.R.). As with any good story, author Sherman starts at the beginning, with a short, concise history of the Korean War, which only lasted a quarter of M*A*S*H's eleven year run. In turn, the movie and the subsequent television series are also examined.

Some things that I really enjoyed: the summary of the later novels, as I pretty much bowed out after M*A*S*H Goes to Maine; the differences between the book and the movie (and the difference between Robert Altman's script and Ring Lardner's); movies and two television series associated with the film, including one with Humphrey Bogart; a list of recurring characters from the television series (like Spearchucker and Ginger Bayliss) who disappeared; and a discussion about fans' favorite periods of the show (the Blake years vs. the Potter years, or Burns vs. Winchester, etc.)—even a "featurette" chapter about the movies shown in the mess tent.

As a big fan of M*A*S*H, from Blake/Trapper/Burns to Potter/Hunnicutt/Winchester, I found this a great book filled with 4077th trivia of all kinds. Glad I spotted it!

book icon  Murder on Murray Hill, Victoria Thompson
Frank Malloy hopes his compatriots on the police force won't discover he's come into a great deal of money as he takes on a new case: a man with a missing daughter who did not come home the previous night. He's discovered the plain young woman was responding to a lonely hearts ad in one of the New York newspapers. However, his hopes are dashed when the truth about the money is exposed and Frank is kicked off the force. However, he still feels a responsibility to find Grace Thompson, as does his fiance, midwife Sarah Brandt. As further clues appear, they become very uneasy about Grace. Can Frank and Sarah still help with the case without the police putting them under arrest?

Thompson's Victorian "gaslight" mysteries always involve murder, and death in this "cozy" series is not always pretty. But the situation in which this plot develops into is a deeply disturbing story which may bother sensitive people (suffice it to say that the man who put in the lonely hearts ad is not a nice person) and the details are not pretty. If you have read the other books but are easily disturbed, you may want to skip this one. Frank and Sarah's relationship does proceed a little more in discussing making a life together, but it's the crime and its solution that takes center stage here. I did enjoy the story and the unique resolution, but some of the chapters were difficult to get through.

book icon  The Yankee Road, James D. McNiven
James McNiven wanted to write a Road Book, like his heroes Kerouac and Least Heat-Moon before him. And boy, did he write one—the first of a projected three, a thick tome about a fascinating westward movement.

McNiven's road trip takes us along US20, from the beginning of the route and the beginning of the race known as "Yankees," those tough New Englanders who settled the stony soil of the upper northeast of the United States. (The name supposedly came from the Dutch, who jibingly called the English "John Cheeses.") As he traces the route of the highway—in this volume covering the route through the Pennsylvania border of Lake Erie—he also touches on the history along the way that was influenced by the Yankee way of life, whether it was religion (the first communes and model communities, the "Great Awakening," plus movements in Syracuse and Utica), education (the Chautauqua movement and the birth of the American public school), or "good old Yankee ingenuity" in its myriad forms: the first textile mills (Pawtucket and Lowell), interchangeable parts (Springfield), and the first computer revolution (Route 128, the "technology highway"), not to mention time study (Watertown, MA, and Frederick Taylor) vs. individuality (Henry Thoreau at Walden Pond). It's 360 pages, plus another 120 pages of very readable footnotes with additional info) full of history goodness.

The big question is: when's the rest coming out?

book icon  Ghost Hero, S.J. Rozan
This appears to be the last in Rozan's series of Lydia Chin and Bill Smith detective stories that began with China Trade, introducing us to Lydia, a Chinese-American private investigator and her partner Bill, and alternated through a series of books where Chin and Smith appeared as leads. In this final (?) installment, Lydia's new client is asking her to look into supposedly new paintings rumored to exist from a famous Chinese painter and social agitator, Chau Chun, nicknamed "Ghost Hero Chau," who has been dead for some years. When Lydia tells Bill about the case, and her reasons for feeling something is awry, Bill takes her to meet Jack Lee, another "ABC" (American Born Chinese) private detective, who has also been asked to look into the mysterious new Ghost Hero paintings. Lydia, Bill and Jack pool their resources, resulting in an absorbing "caper" in which Smith poses as Russian Mafia wanting to possess the paintings (if they exist) and Chin and Lee team up, to Mrs. Chin's great delight, since she's afraid Lydia is in love with Bill.

I never much got into the Bill Smith books, but I loved Lydia Chin's world and am sad to see it disappear, especially the reactions from her traditional mother who wishes her daughter would settle down, marry, and have babies with someone else of Chinese descent. Jack, Lydia, and Bill together make a madcap team, and along the way we learn about traditional Chinese painting and the breakout artists of Chinese descent abandoning the traditional ways. The sequences with Bill pretending to be a Russian collector interested in rare Chinese art was worth the price of the book. I guessed one little secret a few chapters before the end, but no matter: being with Ms. Chin and Mr. Smith was the best part of the deal.

book icon  The Catholic Catalogue, Melissa Musick and Anna Keating
This is an essential and useful book for any Catholic family who wishes to know more about the Catholic faith (no, we don't worship saints; we venerate them—they provide intercession for us with God) and form traditions around the events of the church calendar to make the faith more meaningful. The book opens with explanations of the symbols and practices of Catholicism (novenas, scapulas, holy water, etc.) and a calendar of the church year follows, with saints' days and the Seasons of Advent, Lent, etc. The concluding chapters are about the seasons of a Catholic person's life, from childhood through the final days of your life.

The book is written in a nice, easy to read style with the occasional tongue in cheek remark (for instance, the first section is entitled "Smells and Bells") that still remains properly reverential. There are some simple ideas for family celebrations, appropriate hymns and prayers for each occasion, and even a few recipes. This is a nice book for a young Catholic couple just starting a family and wanting to establish traditions, or even an old Catholic looking for new insights on his faith.

book icon  Sweet Home Alaska, Carole Estby Dagg
I absolutely, positively adore this book.

It's the story of the Johnson family who are not-quite-but-close-to starving on their home farm in the fourth year of the Great Depression. They are living hand-to-mouth on the vegetables they can grow and the meager income from Mother's piano lessons, but those have now dried up in their poverty-stricken farming community. Luckily oldest daughter Terpsichore (Mrs. Johnson is named "Clio," and all the girls are named after the Muses) is an inventive cook, a perfect whiz with making creative dishes, especially from pumpkin.  The family makes the difficult decision to homestead in Alaska with a group of other farm families, with Mrs. Johnson giving them eighteen months to "prove up." Terpsichore rises to the challenge, taking all the hardships, including life in a tent and itchy mosquitoes, on the chin, helping the community to form a lending library with her new friends Gloria and Mendel. To do something that will keep her mother from voting to leave Alaska, Terpsichore takes a cue from one of her favorite books, trying to raise a milk-fed pumpkin just like Almanzo Wilder in Farmer Boy to win a prize at the autumn fair.

Based on a true story of farmers who were sent to homestead in Palmer, Alaska, during the 1930s, this is a delight to read, often funny, sometimes sad, and you will be rooting for Terpsichore and her plan to make her mother like Alaska.

book icon  Sherlock: The Facts and Fiction Behind the World's Most Famous Detective, Martin Fido
This is a nice beginner book overview of Holmes and Watson with color illustrations, opening with a bio of Holmes (and of Watson, of course); then a bio of Conan Doyle, a summary of each of the short story collections and novels, a chapter about detectives and criminals in the Victorian era followed by a history of detective fiction and a history of Holmes in other than his Canon. There are some photographs I haven't seen in other compilations about the Great Detective, but if you have one of those recent color compilations, this one may be redundant. (This is a British book, so you may enjoy the different POV.)

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