31 October 2022

Books Completed Since October 1

book icon  Distilled Genius: Quotations, Susan Branch
When Susan Branch fled California after her first marriage collapsed, she rented a little cottage on Martha's Vineyard in which she found her first book of Bartlett's Quotations. She pored over the book and marked out the quotations which inspired her.

This book is a "distilled" version of her favorites, done in her beautiful watercolors, on subjects ranging from "The Secrets of Life"  to "Friendship" to "Creativity" to "Writing and Writers"—and so much more! For Susan Branch fans or just fans of quotations done in beautiful style!

book icon  The Diabolical Bones, Bella Ellis
I loved the first mystery in this series that I couldn't wait to pick up the next.

This one is not quite as good from my estimation, but I may not have gotten the full impact out of it because I've never read anything by the Brontё sisters, since it was obvious in the first book that the people they meet later form the basis for their book characters. In this outing, it's before Christmas, 1845. Clifton Bradshaw, the master of Top Withens, has gone mad since the death of his wife. During a storm it's discovered that there are a child's bones in the chimney breast. The neighborhood people aren't surprised, because they're convinced Bradshaw sold his soul to the devil.

The Brontё sisters, of course, don't believe this for a minute, and they're determined to find out who the child was and why he was entombed in the chimney.

I notice the sisters argue a lot more often in this outing, like actual sisters would do, and after knowing what happened to Branwell it's sad the way they keep trying to distract him from his destructive habits, but he keeps backsliding. The best part of this series is the way the author emulates the style in which the books were written and makes it sound like the story was written in 1845 without getting into the proselytizing and gargantuan prose of the time. Very evocative of the mid-19th century and the bleak winter Yorkshire setting is quite compelling.

book icon  A Place for Everything, Judith Flanders
Since the beginnings of the Roman alphabet, alphabetical order has always been the natural and logical way to organize manuscripts!


You would have thought this book would be a natural for me, but I was really distracted while reading it and perhaps I should go back some day and re-read it, as I didn't get out of it what I hoped I would, especially since I usually love Judith Flanders. Hierarchy was the original "order" of keeping books (originally scrolls): books about God would be first, then about religion in general, working down to more base items, and this system actually persisted well into the Renaissance. The book is also a history of records' keeping itself, from antiquity and through the long period where monks at churches kept the history and the learning from dying out.

Again, I guess I just wasn't in the mood for it; if you are anyone interested in the history of libraries, reading, and records-keeping, this is a well-researched text from Flanders with much history revealed. I'll get back to it someday, because I'm a Flanders fan.

book icon  CSI: Body of Evidence, Max Allan Collins
This is the fourth in Collins' original novelizations from the television series; as in the other stories, two mysteries run concurrently: Catherine and Nick are called to an office where child pornography photos were found on one of the work printers, while Grissom, Warrick, and Sara are following clues after a witness sees a car stop, and a man pull out something from the trunk and leave it on the side of the road: a body wrapped in carpeting which turns out to be the mayor's missing secretary—and this is a touchy topic during an election year. The sheriff and his assistant will be drawn into the mystery before it ends.

The cybercrime is particularly twisty and Catherine having a child colors her feelings about the crime, so that it throws off the investigation. Again, these books are just like watching an episode of the series. The only thing that's a little off is that on the series they will visually show you a "re-enactment" of what the CSU people think might have happened. In the books it's shown as sort of a flashback type thing that Grissom or Sara envisions and it reads a little odd. Otherwise the characters' voices and the laboratory and police scenes are well captured. I wish someone had asked Collins to do Law & Order: Criminal Intent novels!

book icon  Just My Type, Fallon Ballard
This was the better of the two rom-coms I read from NetGalley, but they're aggravating me so much I probably need to stop reading them (I've always had a problem with chick lit; then every once in a while I find a winner—I enjoyed Love Hypothesis so much that I thought these might please me). The protagonists are so young and incredibly...angsty. (But, yeah, I gotta admit I got angsty when I finally fell in love (and stupid, too).

Lana Parker never got the love she expected from her academic mom (another neglectful academic mom? really?), so she was not only head over heels over her high school sweetheart, Seth Carson, she was in love with his supportive family. But Seth went off to college and left her, so now she's gone from one long-term relationship to the next with something always ending it abruptly. When her current long-term boyfriend breaks up with her instead of proposing, she's crushed (even though she really didn't love him). So Natalie, Lana's new editor out in Los Angeles, has this great idea: she'll pit Lana against the new employee to see who gets a coveted column—you guessed it, the new employee is Seth, who's never had a steady relationship. To win, Lana will write columns about being on the dating scene, and Seth will learn how to be a guy who a woman will want to set up a long-term relationship with.

Don't get me started. I was really upset that Lana makes one of the first things on her "challenge list" to "have a one-night stand." Really? Really? Do you know how dangerous that is in this day of roofies? I can't believe the author would do such a thing. At least there wasn't another flaky gay character in this one. Can't we please get a sensible gay character instead?

book icon  The Plus One, Mazey Eddings
This is apparently part of a four part series about a group of friends who fall in love (Lizzie and Harper are the previous two). Indira Papadakis is a young psychologist who loves her job, and who loves her brother Collin and his intended, Jeremy. The person she doesn't love is Jude Bailey, Collin's best friend, who's been her "enemy" since childhood, in town for Collin and Jeremy's wedding. But Jude has a secret: in order to get through medical school without debt, he signed up to be a doctor in emergency zones once he graduated, most of them in war-torn areas. He is suffering terribly from PTSD, and Collin and Jeremy's bonkers pre-wedding festivities (please, can we have some sensible gay characters?) are torture to him. Indira doesn't want to fix him, but she does want to help him, and so they pretend to be lovers (and you know how that turns out in romance books).

I really admire Eddings for tackling the problem of PTSD—Jude's frayed nerves notch up the plot on this one, and Indira's efforts to help, not fix—but Collin and Jeremy really wrecked the story for me. Their pre-wedding antics are so childish and stupid. As an introvert, I felt so sorry for Jude, continually dragged into "make the wedding favors" and other jerky activities. Apparently this was supposed to be funny, but I was just appalled instead. And this is Jude's best friend. Yeah, in the end he apologizes, but really.

The subplot about Indira and Collin's deadbeat dad was dead depressing. So tired of rom-com parent bashing.

book icon  Men Who Hate Women, Laura Bates
This is a genuinely scary book.

Bates, who has done research on "dark internet" sites has found chat groups and forums where men talk about raping and killing woman as if it's not only natural, but that it should be expected because women "deserve" to be raped and their only use is as sexual objects. I had been reading John Douglas' books about profiling and his observations about male rage piqued my interest, so I picked up this book. The chapters are "Men Who Hate Women," "...Prey on Women," "...Avoid Women," "...Blame Women," "...Hound Women," "...Hurt Women," "...Exploit Other Men," "...Are Afraid of Women," "...Don't Know They Hate Women," and "...Hate Men Who Hate Women," so there are many aspects of hate, all of them not only detrimental to women, but to other men.

Sadly, this is good reference if you're writing a crime against women book.

book icon  The Seasons of America Past, Eric Sloane
This is one of Sloane's numerous nostalgic books about America's colonial past, complete with his gorgeous pen-and-ink illustrations of old-time tools, toys, buildings, and farming methods. This one covers a year on a colonial-era farm, from spring sowing to winter repairs, summer planting and autumn harvest, and there's even period recipes in the final few pages. If you like to read about historical eras, Sloane's books are some of the best about the "old times."

book icon  Yours Cheerfully, A.J. Pearce
This is the sequel to Pearce's delightful Dear Mrs. Bird, finding Emmy Lake now firmly established at the magazine "Woman's Friend" under the supervision of Mr. Collins, the brother of her beloved boyfriend Charles. Emmy is now the editor of the new column "Yours Cheerfully," and the women's magazines have been pushed by the British government to step up and try to encourage more women to do war work because the war plants are understaffed. Emmy's glad to do so, until she meets some women war workers, including Anne Oliver and her precocious daughter Ruby and Baby Tony. Anne tells her how difficult it is for her to work with needing child care, and when another woman working in Anne's war plant is fired because she had to bring her daughters to work, Emmy is determined to Do Something.

This is a sweet followup to Bird, if with a less compelling storyline, although the problem of women war workers finding childcare was a very real one and many women did lose their jobs because they had to bring their kids to work. Emmy and Charles' romance is also very sweet, and the efforts Emmy and Bunty go through to help the war workers is both heartwarming and funny.

book icon  'Til Death, Carol J. Perry
Alas, this seems to be the last of Perry's "Witch City" mysteries, which means I won't be reading Perry any longer since her new series takes place in—yuck!—Florida. Anyway, Lee Barrett is finally marrying her long-time boyfriend Pete Mondello of the Salem Police, and they're looking for a place to live near her Aunt Ibby's house so they can share Lee's beautiful—and slightly psychic—orange cat, O'Ryan. In the meantime, Aunt Ibby is fixing the upstairs apartment where Lee used to live to make two smaller units for use as Airbnbs, and one of the renters just may be a murderer who did his prison time and changed his name! (Shades of Anne Perry here...)

In the meantime, Lee and Pete decide to travel New England on their honeymoon, and one of the first places they will visit will be Pirate's Island, owned by Lee's late father's sister and her husband. Lee discovered this is the location of the plane crash which killed her parents, so she wants to visit, perhaps place a memorial where they died. But there's something odd going on at Pirate's Island; her aunt appears to have some type of medical problem and sometimes she appears to be afraid of her husband.

So in one fell swoop we get Lee's engagement party and then wedding, her suspicions of Aunt Ibby's new lodger, househunting, her boss' insistence that she "do a little work" on her honeymoon, and her hope to find closure on Pirate's Island. Lots of things going on in this final book, but things are all wrapped up as the story ends.

book icon  Eloise and the Grump Next Door, Jenny Proctor and Emma St. Clair
Ho-hum. Part one of a three-book series about three sisters who inherit their grandmother's house on a small island off the coast of Georgia (I think; I've already forgotten). They are to turn it into a bed and breakfast and then either sell it, or one of them runs it and buys the other two out. Eloise is just out of college and didn't get into graduate school (this again), so she's the "free" one of the three sisters and gets the job of renovating. She's perky and cute and has her own Instagram following, so she's going to follow the process of the renovation on her Instagram page. Bad news: she has to deal with Jake, her grandmother's lawyer, a stuffed shirt in his early thirties who has to deal with his divorced sister and her bright son.

Well, of course they fall in love, but Eloise (call her "Lo" or she gets mad) keeps resisting it, and Jake thinks he's too old for her. He complains about this for the entirety of the book, and finally gets her the graduate position she wanted by talking to his mother (another neglectful academic—enough already). Everyone else in the book, including Jake's dad who runs the local bar, his supportive sister, etc. is cheering them on.

Complications arise when Merritt and Sadie, her pushy older sisters who treat her like a baby, arrive. People keep describing this as "swoony." I got through it only because my husband was in the hospital and it was something to pass the time.

I either have to quit reading rom-coms or find more intelligent ones

book icon  My Name is America: The Journal of Jedediah Barstow, An Emigrant on the Oregon Trail, Ellen Levine
This is a good entry in the Scholastic "Dear America" series, written for boys instead of girls. Jedediah is a 13-year-old boy whose parents, along with his younger sister, are heading for the Oregon Country in 1845, but as the book opens, the rest of his family are drowned while crossing the Kaw River just as the journey begins. Jed originally stays with Mr. Fenster, a Jewish man, but feeling uncomfortable, switching to traveling with irascible Mr. Henshaw and his wife and young daughter. Jed continues chronicling the trip in the journal his mother originally began.

The descriptions are a bit thin, but good portrayal of the hardships the pioneers faced, especially river crossings, dust storms, rattlesnakes (a character gets his leg amputated due to a rattler bite), etc. Jed also learns lessons about tolerance and forbearance on his journey, and becomes more open-minded. The epilog is a bit odd, though, as it's written in Jed's voice, when the epilogs are usually a third-person summary of what happened to the characters (which are usually positive, unless it's a Barry Denenberg book).

30 September 2022

Books Completed Since September 1

book icon  Love on the Brain, Ali Hazelwood
This is another one of Hazelwood's science-based rom-coms and it's a lot of fun, if not quite as good as The Love Hypothosis. Bee Konigswasser is a neuroengineer; her spiritual guide is Marie Curie (she even has a popular Twitter account called "What Would Marie Do?"), and she's just been offered her dream job, working on a project developing a helmet operation system for NASA. Except she'll have to work with Levi Ward, the hot guy she met in graduate school and who's never given her the time of day. They're archenemies, and that's it. Still, Bee wants to work on the BLINK project so badly she's willing to put up with "the Wardass." But when she turns out for her first day at work she finds she and her partner Rocio have no equipment.

It's a rom-com so you know what happens eventually, but in the meantime there are complications. Our heroes have their quirks—Bee is secretly searching for home (and a cat of her own), she has a peripatetic twin sister currently in Europe, her lab partner for the BLINK project is an offbeat conspiracy theorist, oh, and she faints when she gets stressed due to low blood pressure, and Levi has an overbearing gung-ho family tied to hunting and the military who think he's a loser even though he's a PhD because he's not in the Army (where do people dig up these crazy parents?—why do they even have kids if they're not going to love them as they are?). The climax to this story contains an element of suspense that was not part of Love Hypothesis.

BTW, I had no idea that it was so gruesome to get into graduate school! (See also Blame it on the Brontёs below.)

book icon  How Y'All Doing?, Leslie Jordan
I fell in love with Leslie Jordan after watching the sitcom The Cool Kids—even if it wasn't as good as I hoped—with Jordan as one of a bunch of retirees in a Western senior center (sorry, not liking him as well in Call Me Kat; he'd be the only reason I watched). After reading this book, I'm even more besotted: this is funny—his chapter on Ronnie Claire Edwards (whom everyone knows as prudish Corabeth Godsey from The Waltons) alone is worth the price of the book—and also touching (his tales about his dad). There's the story of how Debbie Reynolds called his mother, how he ended up being famous for hymn singing, his love of horses and how he worked with them for a while, and more. This book will make you laugh and cry. Enjoy!

book icon  The Way I Heard It, Mike Rowe
This is an adaptation of Rowe's entertaining podcasts akin to Paul Harvey's classic radio feature The Rest of the Story, where Rowe relates unknown tales about celebrities and other names in the news: the Jewish man who played music by Jewish composers directly into the Nazi lines;  the story of a Titanic survivor, or a man who invented a unique new tool, or a devoted husband and wife who wrote spicy letters to each other every day they were apart—in all, 35 tales about people you never knew, or thought you knew.

After each tale, Rowe tells his story, about his childhood, young adulthood, and how he got initially involved with The Deadliest Catch and then was given his own series, Dirty Jobs. If you love little unknown bits of history, or are a Mike Rowe fan, or both, this is the book for you.

book icon  Go Hex Yourself, Jessica Clare
Regina Johnson needs a job, and when she sees one that looks like she will be working on her favorite geeky card game, Spellcraft, she jumps at the chance. Instead she finds she's to be employed as a witch's familiar to Drusilla Magnus, an elderly woman who's clearly infatuated with all things Roman and who is clearly dotty—who believes in witchcraft anyway? "Reggie" is sure she can cope with Ms. Magnus and her fantasies, especially for $25K a month, since she has her parents' debts to pay off; it's the woman's handsome nephew Ben that's going to be the problem.

Basically, this is rom-com with magic, with a broody male protagonist who cultivates his bad rep and a female protagonist who has trust issues because of her dreadful parents, who basically have gotten her into debt by hacking into her accounts and running up bills on her credit cards. Drusilla is basically wacky old lady who's lived for centuries and is bored. Plus Reggie has a flaky gay roommate named Nick—who rates people's characters based on who they resemble on the series The Golden Girls—who's obsessing over a new flame, and there's a cat named Maurice who has his own secrets. It's cute. Some spicy sex. And a different witch's discipline than the usual Celtic goddesses. Probably best if you're a Golden Girls fan (I'm not; have never even watched it), but also for fans of stories with a magical twist.

book icon  The Shelf, Phyllis Rose
I picked this up for a dollar at Dollar Tree and it was actually an entertaining read. Rose, already an avid reader, decided to explore books as she hadn't before: she picked a row of fiction books at a local library and decided to read all of them, "off road reading." In this way she reads a Russian epic by Mikhail Lermontov along with The Phantom of the Opera, Rhoda Lerman, an author who wrote surprising books and now writes nonfiction about Newfoundland dogs, and from the nearly 800-page tome Gil Blas to the detective thrillers of John Lescroart. There's also an excellent chapter about how when women write domestic fiction it's considered "their place" but when men do it, it's considered notable and extraordinary, and another chapter about how books are culled from libraries (considering my recent complaints about our local public library having been horribly culled of books, this one hit the spot).

I wouldn't go out of my way to buy this book, but I did find it an entertaining read.

book icon  Blame It on the Brontёs, Annie Sereno
So here I am deep into another rom-com; this time about English professor Athena Murphy who's run into a roadblock with her university position: she either has to publish a book related to her discipline or she'll lose her tenure. She decides to dig out the truth about C.L. Garland, a popular writer who's done a series of spicy novellas about classic literature couples, someone she discovered lives her her old home town of Laurel, Illinois. But guess who's back living in Laurel: the man who broke her heart, Thorne Kent, who's given up his law practice to run a bakery/coffee shop. She can get through this, she's sure, even with working for some extra cash as a waitress at Thorne's business. But there's no way what they felt for each other in the past isn't going to come bubbling up in the present.

This is a nice enough rom-com; it revolves around literature and the protagonists are amiable enough. There's also an undercurrent in what's going on with Athena's separated parents about being true to yourself, and the fact that Athena and Thorne's story leads some other folks into happy relationships. But it's also one of those books where you want to shake at least once of them. Thorne has a good reason for what he's done, and Athena is supposed to be his best friend; why not let her in on it? His excuse is that he doesn't want some personal info to come out. So you love her, have sex with her, and still can't trust her? Also, this is the second book in a row where the female protagonist has a flaky gay friend (actually, in this case it's her brother) who gets hysterical at the least thing. And yet another small town with small businesses with cutesy poo names. I'm finding this in my cozy mysteries, too. Plus I've never understood the fascination with Wuthering Heights; from all that I can figure out, Heathcliff and Catherine had a very toxic relationship, so why is it considered so romantic?

Between this and Love on the Brain I am damn glad I am not an academic.

I had to admit I laughed during the bits with Athena's fake boyfriend Sergei. I was less enchanted with the Murphy pet pug, and I usually like a dog in a story.

book icon  Christmas Past, Brian Earl

book icon  Shenanigans, edited by Mercedes Lackey
This is the newest collection of Valdemar short stories. I missed the previous one, Boundaries, and noticed two things about this one: the books are now trade paper, which I hate, and this one, at least, seemed to be based around a single theme (pranks), which the previous collections were not.

I had mixed feelings about this collection. Most of the stories were okay or good. I quite enjoyed the opening story was about a pair of hertasi (sentient lizards who act as servants) who outsmart three highwaymen; "All Around the Bell Tower," told from the point of view of a youngster who seems to be autistic and who sees visions, which features Herald Wil; and the annual story featuring Lena at the Temple of Thenoth, which always focuses on animals (this time it's a dog) and also the annual story about the Iron Street Watch guards, this one featuring a very perceptive chicken.

I also enjoyed the two stories that had love stories between older people in them, "Love, Nothing More, Nothing Less" and "One Trick Pony," and a Herald-based detective story, "Of Ghosts and Stones and Snow."

Several stories are about deliberate or accidental pranks at the Collegium, most are sort of fluffy. My least favorite was "Trap Spell," which I found pretty blah.

31 August 2022

Books Completed Since August 1

book icon  Murder on Pleasant Avenue, Victoria Thompson
This is the 23rd in Thompson's "Gaslight Mystery" series starring midwife Sarah Brandt Malloy and her husband Frank Malloy, former New York City police officer and now a private detective. I've been reading these since the first book, and still remember getting them with points coupons at Waldenbooks! In this entry, when a woman is missing in a section on Manhattan called "Italian Harlem," Frank's partner, young Italian-American Gino Donatelli, decides to confront the prime suspect, a saloonkeeper named Nunzio Esposito, but when he arrives at Esposito's flat, the man is dead, and a police officer discovers Gino there: naturally "this eye-talian" must be the murderer! So now it's a race against time to prove Gino innocent as well as find the young woman, a settlement worker who is believed to be kidnapped by the Black Hand, a notorious Italian criminal group, to the dismay of the strait-laced man who worked with her and hoped to marry her.

This is a great paced entry in the series, which takes place chiefly in New York City's Little Italy. You meet Gino's family—there's a very funny scene where Maeve Smith, nanny and sometimes investigator for the Malloys, has to visit the Donatellis and a misunderstanding takes place—and learn more about the Black Hand itself (no, it was not a precursor to the Mafia, as many people believe).

From the decorations on the front cover, you might think this was set at Christmas; nope, it's just a great Italian church feast like I remember from my childhood, which is the setting for a rousing finale!

book icon  Mindhunter, John Douglas and Mark Olshaker
This is Douglas' original book about becoming an FBI profiler; he was the basis for Scott Glenn's character in The Silence of the Lambs and the inspiration for the name-changed main character in Netflix's Mindhunter series. Per Douglas' memoir, he was interested in the psychology of people from his teens, and was studying industrial psychology when he was recruited by the FBI; one of a group of men (no women FBI agents back then, per J. Edgar Hoover) who pioneered the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit (the BAU portrayed in the series Criminal Minds), the people who examine the evidence, try to figure out the motives, and finally draw conclusions about the perpetrator of a crime.

The first part of the book discusses Douglas's life and the early portion of his career, where he discusses some of the criminals he interviewed to develop a systematic approach to profiling, like Ed Kemper, an otherwise affable man who murdered young women as well as his own mother; Charles Manson, who needed to be in control of his followers; and rapist and murderer Richard Speck. The second half of the book talks about the cases he worked on with the BAU and how they reached the conclusions they did about the suspects and how they went about assisting the local police in finding the perpetrators. Several times, as he reluctantly relates, no justice could be found.

This is my third Douglas book prompted by watching Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Not pleasant reading, by any means, but interesting to know how real profilers work.

book icon  Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers, Tessa Arlen
This is the second book in Arlen's Women of World War II series, featuring Poppy Redfern, who is now working for a British film unit who make documentary films (read "propaganda") about the war effort. As the story opens, Poppy has herself a plum assignment: interview the members of an elite ATA group (Air Transport Auxiliary) of women pilots at Didcote airfield. Poppy quickly forms a bond with the group: self-assured Edwina, blonde Betty (nicknamed "Grable"), Annie, June, Letty, and the Polish freedom fighter Zofia, although initially she needs to prove himself with the group. Also in the mix is Poppy's now-boyfriend, the American flyer Griff O'Neal, who shows up with Poppy's Welsh corgi, Bess. But soon after filming starts, Edwina, the best of the pilots, crashes her Spitfire under suspicious circumstances. No one thinks it's an accident, but they're told to treat it as one.

The history about "the Atta girls" presented here is fascinating. As in the United States, no one in the military thought women could be competent pilots of such large and complicated aircraft. Instead the women proved to be fearless flyers and sometimes superior to the men that were being trained for the RAF. And the mystery is fairly good. But once again it's the protagonists who are disappointing: Poppy is too gorgeous to be true and what on earth is Griff doing there? Doesn't he have any duties on his American air base? He seems to be in the story just to follow Poppy around. Don't get me started on the "little dog." Welsh corgis are short, but they're not "little dogs" and people seem to heft her up with no effort. What's the dog even doing there? It made sense in the previous book when Poppy was solving a mystery in her home village, but now Griff brings her down to visit? That whole part of the story is too absurd to be true.

book icon  Spoiler Alert, Olivia Dade
This book called me because both the protagonists write fan fiction. Marcus Caster-Rapp is the good-natured, supposedly not-very-smart but good looking star of a series called Gods of the Gates (think Game of Thrones, but with Greek gods) based on a book series. The series has wandered far afield of the books and it turns out Marcus writes fanfic based on his Aeneas character from the books. April Whittier is an accomplished geologist who's also a fan of Gods of the Gates, and (unknown to her coworkers) she writes romantic fanfic based on the arranged marriage between Aeneas and Lavinia. She's also been bullied for years by her father and her compliant mother about her weight, but she's decided not to let it bother her any more. When she wears a Lavinia costume to a convention, there are catty remarks about how fat she is, and Marcus, a good guy at heart, invites her to dinner. Everyone thinks it's a publicity stunt, but Marcus really didn't like seeing her bullied online—and then when he meets her in person, he realizes she is really someone he'd like to get to know a lot better.

There's only one problem: Marcus and April are already friends, under pen names on Archive of Our Own. They beta-read each other's stories. And Marcus doesn't want to ruin what he has with "Ulsie" (his nickname for April's nom de guerre), so when they get further involved he decides not to tell her.

There is a lot to like about this book. We have fanfiction authors, we have an actor who, under his bland personality, is really quite deep, we have a geologist and fan who has finally decided to become comfortable in her own body, we have supportive friends, and a realistic fan community, from eager fanwriters to jerk Twitter posters. Our male protagonist has a secret about his past which is rather affecting. And we finally have a female protagonist who isn't your perfect gorgeous girl with a perfect figure who makes all the males in the story swoon.

Indeed, almost too much is made of April's weight. The author seems to go overboard pushing descriptions about her ample figure, as if daring the reader to belittle her. Plus we have two sets of absolutely crap parents, which is a trend I'm seeing in romance books. Does anyone have good parents anymore? Can there be no drama without these absolutely wretched parental units? Plus, while he's a supportive friend, I really didn't like Marcus' bestie Alex. I thought the character was grating—and there will be a sequel to Spoiler Alert starring Alex. Sorry, I won't be buying.

book icon  Phasers on Stun!, Ryan Britt
This is a fun book of essays (mostly original, a couple from online columns) about the Star Trek phenomenon from the creation of the original series all the way to the newest series like Picard and Discovery (Strange New Worlds is mentioned, but has not aired as of the publication). It, however, is not a history of the Trek universe as much as a study of aspects of the universe: for instance, the internet often promotes how progressive the original series was, but was it? Sure, it had an interracial crew, but how much did they get to do? Other topics: how Star Trek and NASA became intertwined; how Enterprise's much maligned theme song reveals what's wrong with the series; Star Trek and time travel (and how much the series almost defined time travel more than Doctor Who); how Star Trek fans first reject and then accept newer series; LGBTQ+ finally appears on Star Trek--and how the "death" of Hugh Culber ignited controversy; and a lot more Trek goodness.

Think of this as interesting footnotes to each stage of Star Trek history. Worth the read for fans.

book icon  Becoming a Writer, Staying a Writer, J. Michael Straczynski
Babylon 5, Crusade, comic book author, book author—Straczynski has written for all mediums. This isn't your usual book about writing: he's not going to talk to you about grammar, structure, formats, etc., but assumes you've already read a good, basic book about the writing craft. Instead he offers other advice, freely acknowledging his debt to fellow writers like Harlan Ellison: what situations build drama, how you should always accept constructive criticism and not act as if your story couldn't use improvement, how you must take chances and let your stories go and not endlessly edit them, how the past you choose for your characters develop who they are, finishing a project, summarizing your story, and other things hard learned from experience. He also talks about what to do once you finish: finding an agent, pitching your story, how to deal with "impostor syndrome" (that feeling you get that you're not good enough), and more. Enjoyable and written in lively style.

book icon  Forever Young, Hayley Mills
I grew up with the wonderful Hayley Mills, from her first performance in Walt Disney's delightful Pollyanna to her final film for Disney, That Darn Cat. She caught Disney's eye when she did a film with her actor father, the great John Mills, Tiger Bay, about a little girl and an escaped convict. This is her story from when she was chosen to do Tiger Bay through her divorce from Roy Boulting, the older man she married to the shock of her parents and her fans.

Hayley lived a magical childhood at two homes, a London house called The Wick, and at a farm, with her older sister, actress Juliet Mills (or "Bunch" as the family called her) and younger brother Jonathan. Her mother was Mary Hayley Bell, famous playwright and author. Along with her film appearances for Disney, she chronicles her childhood as well as meeting the famous actors, actresses, and other celebrities who knew her parents, people like Vivien Leigh, Sir Laurence Olivier, Richard Attenborough, Bryan Forbes, Roddy McDowall, and more, plus the non-Disney movies she appeared in. But as she grew older, separated from other children of her age, Hayley experienced dislocation and doubt. She also had a problem when she came of age and wished to withdraw the money put away for her from her films; due to her father's accountant, she pretty much was taxed on the total amount and actually received very little for all the work she did.

It's a quick-moving narrative, although her descriptions of her later work for Disney is lacking, and she dismisses one of her great characters, Mary Clancy of The Trouble With Angels, with almost no commentary at all. The latter part of her life, after she became the mother of two sons, is pretty much ignored; it's all the history of young Hayley. However, because it was young Hayley's experiences I was interested in, I wasn't really bothered by the latter much.

book icon  The Case of the Spellbound Child, Mercedes Lackey
In what looks like the last of Lackey's Elemental Masters series starring Sherlock Holmes (a mortal) and John and Mary Watson, who are both Elemental Masters, plus the magic-talented young ladies Sarah Lyon-White and Nan Killian and their bond birds Grey the African parrot and Neville the raven (respectively), plus their young ward Suki, the group help a ghost to his final resting place, plus solve the riddle of a girl who's been confined to an insane asylum before concentrating on the real meat of the volume: Lord Alderscroft has received a plea for help from a woman in Dartmoor, who punished her children Ellie and Simon by making them gather food on the moor, but they never returned from their errand. It turns out the pair, and many more children, are being held captive by a sinister presence they call "the Dark One" who keeps them shackled in a shed and puts them into a dark sleep often. Ellie is spared from this ordeal, but she is forced to do chores and baking instead; she tries to escape and finds herself physically shackled to the ruined cottage the Dark One lives in by magic.

As in all the Elemental Masters books, the story is based on a fairy tale which I have heard of, but can't remember the title. While the Watsons, the young ladies, and Holmes himself work to find the children, resourceful Ellie finds a way to improve her lot at the cottage and then finally to escape, only to run into more danger on the way. Ellie, in fact, is the best reason to read this offering; Nan and Sarah are always good, as is mischievous Suki; the Watsons are almost too perfect, and Sherlock isn't really in the story enough to matter.

Warning to anyone who dislikes dialect in a book: since this takes place in Dartmoor, many of the characters speak in the local dialect, and Suki has her own dialectical speech habits.

book icon  American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI, Kate Winkler Dawson
This is the story of Edward Oscar Heinrich, a driven man who trained as a pharmacist and then a chemist. Heinrich was no stranger to hardship: his father's hard luck culminated in the man committing suicide when Oscar was sixteen. He eventually began doing chemical work for both the city coroner and the police, then began studying crime and criminals, and was eventually dubbed "the American Sherlock Holmes" for his work in forensics. He also was an early pioneer of profiling, as he sought to understand what made criminals "tick." The book follows Heinrich's career by discussing his involvement in several notable deaths, including his investigation into the Fatty Arbuckle case, in which the famed silent comedian was accused of killing a young starlet, Virginia Rappe.

The cases themselves are pretty interesting, especially chronicling how crimefighting went from beating up "the usual suspects" and making them confess, to scientific means like fingerprints, ballistics, crime scene evidence, blood spatter patterns, etc. to track down miscreants. The big problem with this book is that Oscar Heinrich, for all his novel scientific deductions, was really a pretty dull person otherwise: he was married, had two kids, because of his father's financial difficulties was always worried about money, and pretty much had his nose to the grindstone 18 hours a day. He had no interesting hobbies or life outside his work, unless you count the fact that he blamed, like many people of his era, the movies for causing young people to go bad and seek sensation and perform criminal acts. So Heinrich's role in American forensics is quite remarkable, but don't expect a sparkling narrative about an unique man.

book icon  Uneasy Lies the Crown, Tasha Alexander
I've made no secret that, although I love Lady Emily, I still think she and Colin were brought together too quickly, and that occasionally I'm really bored by the alternate storyline Alexander has come to include in each book.

This time the alternate storyline is a rather ambling tale of a knight who fights with Henry V (think of the St. Crispin's Day rallying speech!) and his wife who lives with dubious relatives while he is abroad with the king, but the pair are Colin's ancestors, so this time the correlation between past and present is more firm.

On her deathbed, Queen Victoria summons Colin Hargreaves to her side and gives him a cryptic note. Several weeks after her death, a body dressed as the murdered king Henry VI is found in the Tower of London. followed soon by another body which shows up in Berkeley Square dressed as the hideously killed Edward II, and the clues lead the police to believe that this is a direct threat to the new king, Bertie—oooops, we mean Edward VII. (This is rather a running gag throughout the book.)

Dismissed by the Scotland Yard's investigator, who thinks investigating murders is no place for a lady, Emily and her cousin Jeremy Bainbridge begin following a convoluted trail of clues in a poor neighborhood that includes gangs, street kids, and a brothel. Jeremy, who's sometimes been an ass in past books, comports himself nicely in this one, and he and Emily make a good sleuthing pair. In the meantime, Colin continues to receive more cryptic clues that lead them on a scavenger hunt. There's a nice twist at the end, too.

book icon  A Courage Undimmed, Stephanie Graves
Yay to Netgalley for allowing me to read the ARC of the newest Olive Bright mystery! Olive Bright, daughter of the local vet and, like her father, a pigeoneer (one who breeds and trains racing pigeons), continues to help the British war effort by volunteering the Bright birds for messenger service. As a FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) volunteer, she also works at Bricktonbury Manor, headquarters of Baker Street, a top-secret World War II spy organization, under the aegis of Jameson Aldridge (her feigned love interest), but hopes to become an SOE agent who would be dropped into Nazi-occupied France.

Alas, Baker Street has a new commander, who thinks women have no place on the front lines; he not only tells Olive her pigeons may not be needed any longer, but assigns her to escort an annoying Royal Navy officer who's eager to interrogate a new resident of the village of Pipley, a Mrs. Dunbar who claims to be a spirit medium. In her first appearance in the village, Mrs. Dunbar said she was in contact with the dead souls of a British battleship on which several residents of the village served. Now everyone's uneasy, including the Naval representative, one Ian Fleming, who tells Olive that the ship is fine, but Mrs. Dunbar knows too many unique details for a civilian. But when Olive takes Fleming to a seance where Mrs. Dunbar dies, the question is whodunnit and why.

I love these books and the characters, but this latest one fell slightly short of the mark for me at the beginning. I think it's because I've read one too many mystery books centered around spirit mediums who are murdered. Plus Jamie is missing for the first half of the book, so a lot of the sparring between Olive and Jamie that brightened the previous two books is missing here. The solution to the mystery is rather pedestrian, too. Positives: we get a look behind the scenes at a wartime Christmas, and when Jamie does return he has a great surprise for Olive, and the training that Olive is observing is based on a real-life spy mission during the war.

book icon  I'll Be Right Back, Mike Douglas with Thomas Kelly and Michael Heaton
This is an easy read of Mike Douglas' memories of his long-running talk show. It's not strictly a biography, although he does tell you how he got into singing in nightclubs and how he met his wife Genevieve, and a little of his life after the show was handed over to a younger host (even though it was still getting good ratings).

Basically it's anecdotes about the people he met and enjoyed; if you read this book, there are very few people he didn't. Some readers of this book seemed to take umbrage at this fact, but he does criticize several people who didn't show up for their guest appearance (like Chevy Chase) or who were just plain rude, but he does it nicely. Apparently the readers were looking for more blood. Sorry, guys, these are just fun stories about movie and television stars, singers, dancers, even newsmakers and fellow talk-show hosts. There's also a daunting chapter explaining how "you," as this week's celebrity co-host, would be prepped for the show and what would be going on around you, as well as Mike's ten most outrageous or favorite happenings on his set (yes, one of them involves monkeys).

If you loved The Mike Douglas Show as I did, you may also love this book. But don't expect Mike to insult anyone. It's just the way he was.

31 July 2022

Books Completed Since July 1

book icon  The Bastard Brigade: The True Story of the Renegade Scientists and Spies Who Sabotaged the Nazi Atomic Bomb, Sam Kean
I really, really loved this book! It combines a varied cast of characters including Moe Berg, a talented baseball player who loved playing spy and whose sorties into Japan provided the only intelligence the US had at the beginning of World War II; Irene Curie (daughter of Marie) and her husband Frederic Joliot, attempting to keep radioactive elements out of the hands of the Nazis; Samuel Goudsmit who was trying to get his Jewish parents out of Europe and his good friend Werner Heisenberg (he of the Uncertainty Principle); Boris Pash, who escaped Europe early and worked for US Army intelligence; and a pilot named Joe Kennedy Jr, whose younger brother eventually ended up capturing all the glory. Jumping from France to Germany to the U.S. and Norway and more, this is the complex tale of the escapades and dangerous lives of the Alsos team, who were determined to keep the secrets of fission from the Nazis. One of the most mind-boggling narratives is about the continued efforts to destroy the Vemork power plant in Norway; it had been captured by the Nazis and was the only place in Europe that made heavy water. The team ran into numerous obstacles in trying to breach the place and the eventual raid was awe-inspiring.

This is a very bad review of a very good book; the chapters are so intertwined that the story is hard to describe, a combination of World War II history and the history of the development of the nuclear bomb. Moe Berg is an especially interesting character; I'd like to read a whole book about Berg, even though I hate baseball!

book icon  The Dead Romantics, Ashley Poston
Florence Day grew up in the family funeral home in the small town of Mairmont, South Carolina, with her parents, her sister Alice, and her brother Carver, and like her loving father, she's always had a special talent: she can talk to ghosts and is not afraid of them. She now lives in New York City, ghostwriting (naturally) for the famous romance author Ann Nichols, and her books are well received. But now, a year after her breakup with fellow author Lee Marlow, who abused her trust, Florence seems incapable of writing the final ghostwritten Ann Nichols book she was hired to pen. But her new editor, the tall and gorgeous Ben Andor, says she needs to finish it.

The final straw is a phone call from her mother, telling her that her father has died, and Florence returns to Mairmont in mourning for both her dad and her career. She's not home a day before she gets the shock of her life when opening the front door: Ben Andor is standing in ghostly form before her.

This was a delightful paranormal romance; I thoroughly enjoyed Florence's home town, the family funeral parlor that to her was a warm loving home, her neighbors, and her efforts to help Ben, whom she believes she is supposed to help to get to "the other side" just as she starts to fall in love with him. The only thing I didn't like was that Lee Marlow didn't get called on the despicable thing he did to Florence. I won't give it away, but it was thoroughly loathsome and he deserves to be horsewhipped.

book icon  Law & Disorder, John Douglas and Mark Olshaker
This was my first "Robert Goren made me do it" (from Law & Order: Criminal Intent) book about John Douglas, an early FBI profiler, the basis for the character Scott Glenn played in the film The Silence of the Lambs, courtesy the remainder shelves at Books-a-Million.

It's kind of a goofy title for the book, I think, and makes it sound not serious, but the contents are dead-on, especially when Douglas talks about the horrifying case of Suzanne Collins, a Marine trainee ready to go out on her first assignment who was brutally beaten and then raped with a tree branch by a sadistic jerk who felt diminished by his Marine wife, who then led the courts a lengthy trail of appeals before he was finally put to death. Douglas also talks about other cases he has personally worked on, plus weighs in on famous cases like the Jon-Benet Ramsey murder and the O.J. Simpson case, the Amanda Knox case in Italy and also a set of murders that were branded as "Satanic" because simply because one of the suspects doodled pentagrams on his notebooks.

If you watch crime series like Criminal Minds, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and even NCIS, you'll probably like this look behind how real profilers work.

book icon  Re-read: A Valiant Deceit, Stephanie Graves
Read this as an e-book and immediately wanted a "real" copy, the second in Graves' delightful "Olive Bright" series, which I enjoyed much more than the Barnes & Noble-pushed "Poppy Redfern" series, which has a similar theme (young British woman during the second World War who wants to do her bit).

In this entry, Olive must pick out three pigeons to accompany three Belgian informants being smuggled into occupied Europe; the birds will be vital in sending back information about the Belgians' efforts to mislead and sabotage the Nazi war effort. The Belgians are all pigeon fanciers, reassuring Olive that even though the birds will be in danger from enemy fire, they will be well cared for. She also has to cope with the pretend romance she's set up with her superior, Captain Jameson Aldridge, which she feels doesn't look realistic enough. Then one of the officers at the top-secret Station XVII facility is found murdered in a nearby wood. Olive can't help wondering who killed the young man, although Aldridge warns her off sleuthing.

If anything, this is better than the first book because the storyline is now established and the missions involving the pigeons can be begun. There's also an affecting subplot involving RAF officers who have been disfigured in plane crashes undergoing rehabilitation at a nearby estate, one of them who is now living in Miss Husslebee's former home (she was the victim in the first book). Olive befriends one of the pilots and is determined that these men be reintroduced into society without people making unkind comments about their appearance. Even though Olive makes one serious mistake, her instincts are sound, especially about the pigeons and their handlers, and I just love the people around Olive, like her mercurial Seigfried Farnon-like dad (who's even a vet), her stepmother Harriet who has MS, their young evacuee Jonathon, and the active young Girl Guide Henrietta.

book icon  The Hunt of History, Nathan Raab
Nathan Raab's father was an attorney, but his real love was collecting historical memorabilia, especially autographs, letters, and other papers written/signed by figures from American history. Eventually he quit his law practice and instead founded the Raab Collection, a premier collection of historical documents for acquisition or sale. Raab at first had no intention to go into his father's business, but eventually he joined him.

This is a well-narrated tale of Raab's introduction into the collecting world and the fascinating documents that he collects, and just why he collects them, as instructed by his father. That's the most interesting aspect of this book, how Raab's father taught him to distinguish what are the best historical documents to buy at auction. For instance, all autographed items are not the same, some, even from the most famous historical figures, are a dime a dozen, while others are not only autographed, but have special historical significance. One example I remember was of a Charles Darwin letter in which Darwin, unlike other white men of his time, significantly comments on the intelligence of black men and speaks against slavery, unique from his usual letters addressing scientific subjects, so the letter is more significant.

I found this on a remainder shelf, and sometimes they are the best books!

book icon  Bryant & May: London Bridge is Falling Down, Christopher Fowler
Well, dammit, now I'm crying...

I knew what happened in this book and didn't want to read it for months, but finally took the dive. The Peculiar Crimes Unit is officially closed, but the members aren't ready to pull themselves apart yet. Arthur Bryant goes searching for a case that can keep them going sometime longer, and finds the odd death of an elderly woman who suddenly "dropped off the radar" and was found starved and dehydrated in her flat. Ironically, this woman and her friends hold ties to the original formation of the PCU, and this brings them into the orbit of Larry Cranston, who has ties to the United States government, and who was just brought down for running over a young woman while driving under the influence of alcohol.

There are always twists in a Bryant and May mystery, but this one seems to have a triple complement of them as the dead woman's friends, all codebreakers during World War I, struggle to survive against an assassin determined to shake a secret from one of them and kill them all. And what about the ugly model of London Bridge each one of them seems to have; it appears to be tied to the important secret. Not to mention that many of Arthur Bryant's eccentric informants seem to be in danger as well.

The twists and turns turn into a satisfying conclusion...but, oh, that ending!

book icon  Journey Into Darkness, John Douglas and Mark Olshaker
This is the third book by Douglas and Olshaker; Douglas being the former FBI profiler who was the basis for Scott Glenn's character in Silence of the Lambs and who is being portrayed in fictional form in the Netflix series Mindhunter, based on Douglas' first book.

As in Law & Disorder, Douglas tells many different stories about the kinds of serial killers and other criminals he has dealt with. Several of the chapters in this volume talk about pedophiles and how they stalk children (and they don't look sinister or have a "creepy" manner; they generally take the form of friendly neighbors and sometimes even relatives), and several more chapters are devoted to a case which haunted Douglas for years, the murder of a young Marine about to go on her first assignment, Suzanne Collins, who was brutally beaten and then raped with a tree branch by the indolent husband of another Marine. When the man was finally found, he cheated execution for several years by filing appeal after appeal. Douglas also tries to explain how he assembles a profile dossier from the clues left behind at the scene of the crime.

I call this one of my "Robert Goren made me do it" books because I got interested in profiling after watching Law & Order: Criminal Intent. It's certainly not for the fainthearted.

book icon  A Serpent's Tooth, Craig Johnson
In the ninth Walt Longmire mystery, it's Homecoming time at the local high school when Walt learns his number and his best friend Henry Standing Bear's numbers are about to be retired. Just about this time a Mormon boy who's been kicked out of his compound turns up in Durant, accompanied by an elderly man who says he's the youngster's protector and also over 100 years old. This leads Longmire and his deputy Vic Moretti to investigate in the tiny town of Short Drop and a general store that also operates as a library, run by a woman with a lost daughter who may have ties to a rogue Mormon compound in South Dakota. There's a possibility the Mormon boy, Cord, may be her grandson. Longmire at first thinks the daughter's disappearance is the doing of the religious extremists, but soon it becomes obvious something much more sinister is going on.

Another great one from Johnson, with quirky characters, the growing relationship between Walt and Vic, and a corker of an ending that involves the invasion of a compound by Walt, Henry, and Vic. (Did I mention that Henry was in this book? A lot? Yes, indeed!)

book icon  Hard Road West, Keith Heyer Meldahl
When I saw this book's description, I was intrigued. Then when I finally received it, I rejoiced. Someone basically took my favorite episode of Alistair Cooke's America, "Gone West," in which he traced the path of westward travelers to the California gold fields, expanded it using pioneer journals, and then added geological information to explain how the landscape that the wagon trains crossed was formed. Maps and photos are included to explain some of the more scholarly geologic terms, especially having to do with how landmasses and mountains were formed.

If you love history and love earth sciences, this has got to be the book for you, especially if, way back when, you watched America and were fascinated by the "Gone West" episode. The author even opens with the Humboldt Sink, which Cooke talked about in length in the episode. The road was far more difficult than Cooke could describe in one television episode, and it's still amazing to think that due to the makeup of the rock and soil underneath the westward path you can still stop to see grooves in the rock. (I also don't remember passing so close to the Humboldt Sink on our two cross-country trips! It is due south of I-80 in Nevada.)

Please be warned it is very detailed about the geologic features and processes which built the landscape west of the Mississippi. If you're "not a science person," the narrative may prove daunting.

30 June 2022

Books Completed Since June 1

book icon  Clark and Division, Naomi Hirahara
I've really liked Hirahara's Elly Rush "bicycle police" books—been looking for mystery books that feature less "whitebread" heroines, as they are becoming boringly similar—and the news that she had done a post-World War II mystery involving a formerly interred Japanese family filled me with anticipation. I wasn't disappointed.

Aki Ito has always lived in the shadow of her beautiful, vivacious sister Rose. Brought up in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Tropico, Aki and her family are shattered when they are considered "alien enemies" and sent to an internment camp. Rose later goes to Chicago to pave the way for the Itos being resettled there. But when Aki and her parents arrive, they receive the news that Rose is dead, having committed suicide in front of a subway train. Aki and Rose were close, and the former cannot believe her sister would do such a thing. Settled in a dingy, horrible apartment, with Aki desperately seeking a job, she also resolves to find out what really happened to Rose.

This is several stories: Aki's tentative investigation, her making of new friends through a Japanese agency, her finally obtaining a job and learning to live in the grubby, crime-ridden Clark Street and Division Street neighborhood the Japanese had been resettled in, and, most importantly, Aki discovering herself and gradually growing into her own person, and perhaps even a romantic future. The end was kind of a twist, too.

A sobering look into the Japanese experience during and after the war with a mystery attached.

book icon  Entertainment Weekly's "The Ultimate Guide to Jurassic Park" and Hollywood Spotlight's "The Ultimate Guide to Jurassic World"
Well, they're big enough to be reviewed; two nice big magazines associated with the Jurassic franchise. They're alike (reviewing all three films) and different (the first one is basically chronological and the second starts with the newest film and then works backwards; it also refers you to dinosaur places (digs and museums) and alternative dinosaurs (like Land Before Time and Dino on The Flintstones). Both good reading. The second one has the best photo of Sam Neill. 😀

book icon  A Walk Around the Block, Spike Carlsen
Subtitled "stoplight secrets, mischievous squirrels, manhole mysteries & other stuff you see every day (and know nothing about)," this is a fun nonfiction book about the systems you take for granted every day that make your life simpler: plumbing, electricity, telephone wires, sewers, trash collection, streets and their traffic, parks, squirrels, even a chapter on pigeons, much more than "skyrats."

Prompted by a plumbing problem that left him without water for days, Carlsen realized he didn't know how the city kept its occupants in water, or how, indeed, the water was collected and purified. It set him looking into all the elements of our modern infrastructure that make life possible in the 21st century. Recycling? Bicycle lanes? Road markings? Mail delivery? Lawn worship? All here, told in enjoyable style.

book icon  See Something, Carol J. Perry
This is "Witch City Mystery" #11, and possibly the penultimate book in the series as Perry seems to be starting up a new one set in Florida with a cute dog instead of a cat. I'm sorry if the series is ending, but in a way I'll be happy as there are some newer elements in the series that I'm not so happy about.

Our protagonist Lee Barrett has been promoted from field reporter to program director, and she's juggling her various responsibilities, including developing a new local children's show. She decides to go with two performers she enjoyed in her childhood, Ranger Rob and Katie the Clown (who, under their characters, are good friends), just as a mystery turns up on her doorstep: she discovers a woman in the park across the street from her Aunt Ibby's house, a woman suffering from amnesia. In addition, a man's dead body has shown up at a nearby beach. Could these two events be connected? (If you say no,  you haven't read enough of these books!) And can Lee keep her mind on her new job rather than exercising her instincts as a reporter?

Besides the fact you can figure out the two things have to be connected, this is a good mystery mixed with Lee's ripening romance with Pete the police officer and her job developing the show for WICH-TV. My problems are still the "Charlie's Angels" thing they recently concocted with Aunt Ibby and her two classmates; I really liked Lee investigating crimes on her own with just some librarian help from her aunt, and also the show she's developing. A rodeo set with a cowboy and his horse, and a clown and a performing dog? This sounds like a 1950s kids' show—would modern kids even watch something like this? It seems a bit unreal.

book icon  A Little Girl's Gift, Lawrence Elliott
When I was younger I collected "Reader's Digest." I would even pick up old volumes, from the 1950s and early 60s, at book sales and flea markets. One of the best features of the old "Digest" was the book section, condensed versions of popular novels. But in 1963, a different story was published.

In 1959, eight-year-old Janis Babson of Ontario was diagnosed with leukemia. In those days, the disease was a death sentence, and Janis fought bravely for two years before dying. But she is remembered mainly for something that happened right before she got sick: she saw a documentary about eye transplants and vowed to her mother and father she would donate her eyes to the Eye Bank when she died, and her parents followed her wishes.

This is not written as a weepy "sick child" bathotic piece. Janis was an upbeat, happy child and most of the time she fought cancer with a quiet, stubborn courage, chronicled here. Her story first appeared as "The Triumph of Janis Babson" in a 1963 "Reader's Digest" concurrently with this book. I've been searching for it for years since my mom threw out my RD collection long ago, and it was recently republished. I am an organ donor today because of Janis Babson. Peace be to her soul.

book icon  CSI: Cold Burn, Max Allan Collins
The third in a series of novels based on the television series, it's Christmastime in Las Vegas when Ranger Ally Scott finds a nude body near Lake Mead, sopping wet. It turns out it's the corpse of a woman called Missy Sherman, who disappeared over a year ago, and it turns out her body's been stored in a freezer. Catherine Willows and Warrick Brown reinvestigate, immediately suspicious of Missy's husband. In the meantime, Gil Grissom and Sara Sidle have arrived in upstate New York to hold a seminar at a criminologists' conference, only to have a severe snowstorm blow in. Wouldn't you know that on the way to the hotel they discover a dead body? With the help of the hotel manager and the only other conference attendee who managed to make it to the hotel, a Mountie named Mortenson, they mount guard on the body until the snow stops and they can gather evidence.

Collins keeps the two parallel stories going well here, although maybe there's a little bit too much information how forensic information is gathered in the snow, and much of the latter story is told from Sara's point of view, which is enjoyable, especially at the end. Once again, he has a good handle on the characters and they sound as if they were speaking on the series.

book icon  The Science of Murder, Carla Valentine
Love mystery stories, especially those of Agatha Christie? Watch all those crime shows like CSI and Law & Order, and wonder how they gather evidence and interpret it? This is the book for you: the story of forensics as seen through the lens of Agatha Christie's novels, from Poirot and Miss Marple to Bobby and Frankie and Tommy and Tuppence: fingerprints (latent, patent, and plastic), firearms, trace evidence like receipts, vegetative and other fragments found at crime scenes, documents and other paper evidence, evidence found by the coroner during autopsy, etc. Valentine is engaging in her prose, sometimes, in my opinion, a little too referential to her sources, and clearly makes you understand how each aspect of forensics work—so you can now go back and understand Gil Grissom and his crew, or what Abby Scioto is driving at.

book icon  Re-read: Death of a Showman, Mariah Fredericks
Fourth and ::sob:: maybe final book in the Jane Prescott series. Louise and William Tyler have returned from Europe (to Louise's relief) after her sister's wedding, and lady's maid Jane Prescott is equally relieved to get back to normal life. But the first thing she learns upon returning is that songwriter Leo Hirschfeld, who she'd come to love during the previous summer, but who told her he'd never be married, has wed a chorus girl. But she'll have to see Leo a lot more than she planned, since he convinces Louise to be a "Broadway angel" for his new musical, produced by the great impresario Sidney Warburton. Warburton is certainly no angel, and both Jane and Louise get an education as they negotiate rehearsals where there's cast in-fighting, personality conflicts, multiple script changes, and arguments galore.

And then Warburton is shot, and there's no end of suspects, including Leo, the older actress whose lover Warburton barred from the set, the aging dance couple, and even drunken Roland Harney, the dipsomaniac performer with the little dog (you may see in Harney echoes of W.C. Fields). In the meantime, history goes on behind the scenes: Archduke Francis Ferdinand has been assassinated, and the bloody Ludlow massacre in Colorado has Jane's best friend, anarchist and activist Anna, enraged.

The main plot of the book reminds me of a similar Perry Mason episode about a discontented acting troupe, except it takes place in Jane Prescott's universe at the time when ragtime was capturing the America's imagination. It's a glimpse into early 20th century life backstage, in which people who didn't quite fit into regular society found a home in theater society—but also the story of how some of these people were exploited. While I didn't find some aspects of the plot as compelling as in the previous three books, the theatre setting was intriguing and seeing Leo again was a treat, even, alas, if he wasn't fated to end up with Jane.

book icon  Twelve Moons of the Year, Hal Borland, edited by Barbara Dodge Borland
Now this was what I was expecting from Hal Borland's Book of Days, a daybook of seasonal entries. These are 365 of Borland's favorite passages from over 2,000 "nature editorials written from 1945-1978, and the page-long entries make wonderful reading at bedtime, or as a day-by-day entry for the year. Borland's beautiful prose about birds, walks in the snow or through flowery fields or woods brilliant with autumn color, traditional ways of life, country chores, native plants, simple pleasures, and other aspects of country life for three decades.

The print equivalent of a walk through the woods; if you can't find a place to "forest bathe," Borland is a good alternative.

book icon  Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family, Sydney Taylor
This is the final of the five-book series about Taylor's "all-of-a-kind" family, five sisters in a Jewish family growing up in New York City, two years apart, Ella, Henrietta (Henny), Sarah (Taylor herself, since this is based on her life), Charlotte, and Gertie (in a later book the sisters get a baby brother, Charlie). The five books were the first series written about a Jewish-American family, the first place many readers learned about Jewish customs.

The final book, as the title implies, is about Ella, the eldest, who aspires to become a singer and takes weekly lessons. As the book opens, her boyfriend Jules returns from serving in World War I; they make plans to marry. Then Ella is offered the chance to perform in a vaudeville for a year, and she won't be able to see Jules as often. Will she choose the stage or a tamer life?

The story uses Sydney Taylor's real-life experiences in the theater in the early 1900s to make this a very vivid portrait of a vaudeville performer's rugged life: endless rehearsals, browbeating directors, dirty dressing rooms, loneliness even in the midst of a crowd. There are also chapters about Charlotte and Gertie getting into mischief while babysitting, the tale of when Henny runs against four boys in a class election, and a grim chapter when Charlie is badly hurt as well as an amusing one where he livens up the family Seder.