31 August 2023

Books Completed Since August 1

book icon  The Majic Bus: An American Odyssey, Douglas Brinkley
I bought this at the book sale because I was writing a story about a cross-country book tour and it looked fascinating. It is fascinating, but sort of disappointing at the same time. The book chronicles a course Brinkley taught out of Hofstra University on a six-weeks' odyssey on a tour bus: "An American Odyssey: Art and Culture Across America." They visited not only historical sites, but cultural sites, visiting people like Bob Dylan, Ken Kesey, and William Burroughs. They rented a bus from a strange but manic man named Frank Perugi, who didn't even have the bunks for the students to sleep in when they first started out. The students didn't seem to mind, though, and they have some nifty adventures. It just bothered me that they seemed to concentrate so much on cultural figures who were drug users or frequently bombed on alcohol. 

book icon  People We Meet on Vacation, Emily Henry
Poppy Wright works at a travel magazine and comes from a happy, messy family; Alex Nilsen is a teacher and comes from a fractured one; they meet at college discovering they both come from the same home town. One year they drive home together and then for ten years they go, as friends, on a summer vacation together—until they give in to romantic feelings.

Now Poppy feels dissatisfied: with her job, with her life, and realizes the last time she was happy was on her last vacation with Alex. So she invites him to take one more vacation to her, on what turns out to be a disastrous trip to Palm Springs, in hopes she can get him back. But even the course of friendship doesn't run smooth this time.

Not quite as good as Beach Read, but enjoyable.

book icon  The Book of Books, text by Jessica Allen
This is the book PBS put out when they did "The Great American Read" (which I'm still pissed at because they didn't include The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). It includes summaries of all one hundred books covered in the specials, plus pullouts about banned books, literary terms, famous book characters, movie adaptations, book covers, and more. I got it on a remainder table. It's worth that.

book icon  The Seven Year Slip, Ashley Poston
I liked The Dead Romantics so much I tried this one, and while I didn't like it as much, it's a sweet story about book publicist Clementine West, who is devastated when her beloved Aunt Analea dies. She's inherited her aunt's New York City apartment, which her aunt once told her had a magical component, a pinch in time. Grief-stricken Clem finds consolation in her job at a publishing house which specializes in cookbooks and who's trying to obtain a new author, the brilliant chef James Ashton.

And then one morning she wakes up to find a strange guy named Iwan in her apartment with a note from her aunt saying he's subletting the apartment for the summer while they're abroad, her aunt's old furniture back where it used to be, and a calendar saying it's seven years earlier. Iwan's time slip continues to pop in and out of Aunt Lea's apartment, and Clem becomes very fond of the young chef...and then more than fond.

It didn't give me the "feels" as much as Romantics, but enjoyable all the same.

book icon  Unmasked: My Life Solving America's Cold Cases, Paul Holes
As a kid, Holes loved the series Quincy, and that's what he finally decided to do for a living, work as a crime analyst in California. His single-minded devotion to his job cost him his first marriage; when he married a second time it was to a woman who also did crime work, so she could better understand him, but there were times even she was dismayed. Holes was there when Laci Petersen's body was found and knew there was foul play; he and a fellow officer were there when Jaycee Dugard was discovered, kicking themselves for having obvious clues. And he was the one who finally tracked down the infamous Golden State Killer, who turned out to be a police officer.

This is the story of Holes' career, from his early days working in a makeshift lab to the final days until his retirement when he picks up the loose ends about Joseph DeAngelo, of sleepless nights spent away from his family because he was so obsessed over catching criminals. It's a fascinating insight of how one man worked, yet sad, too, because so many times he couldn't make the connection, and there were more victims.

book icon  The Sign of Fear: A Doctor Watson Thriller, Robert Ryan
Alas, this is the last of Ryan's wartime mysteries featuring Dr. John Watson, and, as the book opens, he is worried about his old friend Sherlock Holmes, who is in the hospital after suffering a heart attack. Soon, however, he is involved in two mysteries: who has kidnapped members of a wartime board of governors who will decide how much pensions for wounded soldiers will be, protesting that no amount of money is comparable to what they have suffered, and also in the disappearance of an evacuee ship called the Dover Arrow, which was carrying Watson's friend Staff Nurse Jennings. Plus the Germans are plotting a new incendary bomb that threatens to wipe out London.

These are excellent, complex tales with grim wartime themes and this one is no exception; great reads, but the levels of violence are sometimes high—beware that as you go into them.

book icon  The Usborne Science Encyclopedia
This is ostensibly for older children, but I found it a great science refresher, starting with atomic structure and ending with the human body. It covers the elements, plant and animal life, electricity, geology, chemical reactions, and more. Plus the book contains QR codes which can be scanned to show additional videos about the subjects addressed.

book icon  The Secret History of Christmas Baking, Linda Raedisch

31 July 2023

Books Completed Since July 1

book icon  Boundaries, edited by Mercedes Lackey
Finally found, having not seen it in any bookstore, used! A much better collection than the next book, Shenanigans. There are several excellent stories that take place in Karse, where anyone with "magical" powers are burned at the stake. There are installments in the running sagas of Lady Cera of Sandbriar, Sparrow and Cloudbrother, the Haven City Watch (this one "The Beating of the Bounds" is particularly good), and Nwah the kyree. Several of the stories involve healers or bards along with the famed Heralds, and a baker is the protagonist of one dangerous tale. All in all a satisfactory read for Valdemar fans.

book icon  Oh, Florida!, Craig Pittman
It happens every day on the news: "Florida man" (or "Florida woman") does something bad, weird, way out, or hateful. Pittman, a Florida resident himself, pulls no punches talking about the crazy state of Florida politics, tourism, everyday living, land-rush past, Disneyfication, and anything else odd that happens in the "Sunshine State." (Me, I think they're all crazy with the heat and from the insect population.) Very funny book, but I'd find a used copy. Really, Florida isn't worth that much.

book icon  Something in the Heir, Suzanne Enoch
Emmeline Hervey doesn't want to leave the home she was brought up in, Winnover, but her grandfather, the stuffy Duke of Welshire, requires the home to go to someone who's married and will have a family. She's known William Pershing since childhood, and knows he's tired of being "matchmade" with suitable women. So, to keep the family home, she offers Will a proposition: they will be married, and she will live her life and he will live his, and she will support his future endeavors in politics. And for eight years they live a satisfactory life, until her grandfather bids them come to his birthday celebration and bring their two children, two children Emmeline made up to make him happy. So they decided to "borrow" two children from the orphanage for a while, and teach them to act like own—except the eldest, George, is determined he and his five-year-sister won't go back. And then their older brother James shows up, determined to make money from the sham whatever way he can. A fun little book, although I wasn't fond of the initial lie that started the plot.

book icon  The Electricity of Every Living Thing, Katherine May
I really enjoyed Wintering, so I was eager to read this one, too. What a surprise to find it was a journey not only of her walk of the South West Coast Path, but one of personal discovery. She had always felt she didn't fit properly into the world, and then she heard a broadcast on the radio, in which a woman being interviewed talks about being on the autistic spectrum. May realizes that the woman's revelations mirror her own, and she spends some of the book trying to understand herself as well as getting a diagnosis. I was very surprised to recognize I had some of the same traits, in a more muted form. I also love the fact that May's husband, "H" as she calls him, has such patience with the challenges she has. I love the way he respects her feelings and tries to see things as she does, and understands that she loves him and their son, but has a hard time with dealing with elements of the modern world. The hiking bits are also lovely.

book icon  Hot and Sour Suspects, Vivien Chien
Her best friend Megan convinces Lana Lee, now the manager of the family business Ho-Lee Noodle House, to host a speed-dating event at the restaurant. It works out well, too, except that their friend, Rina Su, who runs the Asia Plaza cosmetics shop, hooks up with a guy called Gavin Oliver. And very soon Oliver is murdered, and Rina is the chief suspect. It's the usual: Lana's police officer boyfriend tells Lana to keep her nose out of it, while Lana, Megan, and Kimmy Tran investigate behind the scenes. I think the killer eventually gives themself away in this outing, because it literally can't be anyone else.

book icon  Apollo 1: The Tragedy That Put Us on the Moon, Ryan S. Walters
Early warning: only about half of this book is actually devoted to the fire and the aftermath. About half is a history of the early space program up to the fire. However, the half of the book about the fire is very interesting and ties in with the From the Earth to the Moon episode "Apollo 1." We have a lot of books about the Apollo missions and many of the astronaut biographies, but there were still things in this book that I didn't know about the fire, including the controversy about the Block I capsule, the animosity between Joe Shea and Harrison Storms, and the results of the fire investigation and the hearings, especially the Phillips report.

book icon  The Golden Specific, S.E. Grove
The sequel to the fanciful The Glass Sentence, in which "The Great Disruption" divided Earth into different time eras: the U.S. is "New Occident" which never went beyond 15 states; the British Isles are trapped in the medieval era, Canada is trapped in prehistory, and the Papal States rule under an Inquisition-like government. Sophia Tims, who in the previous book rescued the orphaned Theodore Thackeray, asks him to accompany her on the search to Ausentinia, where she believes her parents are located. But she ends up sailing to Europe alone on a strange odyssey while Theo becomes involved in the murder of a government official; the accused killer? Sophia's uncle Shadrack the mapmaker. Just as wonderful and fanciful as the first book. The conclusion is The Crimson Skew.

book icon  Bones: A Forensic Detective's Casebook, Dr. Douglas Ubelaker & Henry Scammell
Just what it claims to be: a true-crime book by a forensic pathologist illustrating how different crime evidence points out what happened to the victim. For instance, criminals many times burn bodies thinking they can destroy the evidence, but even the smallest clue left on a bone can tell the tale. Each chapter is about evidence found on a certain part of the body, or based upon a certain kind of wound. It's lengthy and kind of dry, but at the same time interesting.

book icon  In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon, edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger
This is a collection of Sherlock Holmes-related stories that almost never puts a foot wrong. I was delighted, even if I felt as if the Ellison and Wilson entries were a bit disappointing considering what came before them. My absolute favorites in this volume: "The Adventure of the Laughing Fisherman" in which an at-sea young man takes his therapist's suggestion and gets into detection (maybe others figured out the twist in this one, but I didn't and was delighted), the stirring "Dunkirk" in which an elderly gentleman named Sigerson "does his bit," and "The Thinking Machine," in which the protagonist reminded me so much of Robert Goren on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Also of note: a coda to the story of Silver Blaze, told by the horse himself, and an amusing tale recounting The Hound of the Baskervilles in the style of Facebook. The other stories are good, too. But those three!

30 June 2023

Books Completed Since June 1

To anyone still reading this blog, I've realized in the last year or so I just don't have time to do the things I want to do and do big book reviews anymore. I still want to keep a monthly list of what I read and whether or not I liked it and if there was anything special about it, but I don't have time to do three/four/five paragraphs or more. So it's shorter stuff from now on.

book icon  The Education of a Coroner, John Bateson
The story of Ken Holmes, who started out in the Marin County (CA) coroner's office as an investigator and later was elected head coroner. Marin County was very popular back in the 70s after a series of films; it's an expensive place to live and gorgeous, but is also home to San Quentin State Prison and has above-average drug overdoses and lots of suicides, mainly jumpers off the Golden Gate Bridge. Yeah, more of my reading spurred on by Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Lots of interesting facts here, like that government coroner's offices like to hire former mortuary workers (Holmes was one; they are used to death and know how to talk to families) and that the state coroner doesn't even have to be a medical doctor; a lot of time sheriffs are appointed coroner. Also liked this because there were lots of times the crimes didn't get solves and Holmes is straightforward about it.

book icon  CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Killing Game, Max Allan Collins
The seventh in a series of novels based on the series, and we're back to the intertwining plots. This takes place after asshole Conrad Ecklie broke the nightshift CSI team into two teams, one working nights, one working mids—and makes me wonder if Catherine ever sees her daughter Lindsay because she's always on overtime; I can't blame "Lindz" for becoming a handful as she got older. Grissom, Sara, and newbie Sofia get a case in an exclusive neighborhood, while Catherine, Warrick, and Nick investigate one in a shabby apartment, and once again Collins works his magic and the two crimes are connected. I think you'll twig to one of the baddies right away when an antagonist for Grissom is introduced, so I'll give you that spoiler straight up. Why? Well, that's what you get when you read the book.

book icon  How to Speak Science, Bruce Benamran
Fun history of science, except after a while the author's constant jokes started to get on my nerves. We start with basic "matter" and work all the way through relativity. Your mileage may vary based on your tolerance for bantering narration.

book icon  Love, Theoretically, Ali Hazelwood
Seriously, I am so glad after reading Hazelwood's books that I am not in academia. It sounds even more hateful than Congress. Elsie Hannaway is a physicist who's stuck in a teaching job, but hopes to go into research. To earn extra money, she acts as a fake girlfriend, but she discovers her favorite client's brother is the man who discredited her beloved mentor. It's only as she gets to know him that she finds out why he did so, and by then she's starting to like him. Likeable story, and a good sex scene, but, again, the politics of academia give me a rash. If this is what university instructor life is like, I'll work in a factory any day.

book icon  Lost Providence, David Brussat
History Press' publication about the lost architecture of Providence, RI, my beloved "downtown." The buildings covered are even older than my memory; the building on the cover, the Butler Exchange, was razed to build the Industrial National Bank building, a.k.a. the Superman Building (it's not; that's Los Angeles City Hall) in the late 1920s. Covers some gorgeous buildings that were bulldozed for those ugly concrete and glass monstrosities (although luckily Providence didn't get anything as ugly as Government Center in Boston!). A delight if you like old buildings and architectural edifices and enjoy authors who aren't afraid to label ugly as ugly.

book icon  Together We Will Go, J. Michael Straczynski
A surprisingly upbeat story about a group of people who plan to board a bus driving to California—and then drive off a cliff when they get there. The passengers are varied, but all are done with life, including Lisa, the bipolar woman on whom drugs have never worked and she's weary of having no friends due to going from calm to manic in seconds; Vaughn, the elderly man who was happily married but still holds a dark secret; and Karen, who has been in chronic, unforgiving pain all her life and can't bear it any longer. Like it or not, they bond to each other in a series of picaresque events as they cross country—and then the police chase begins. I wasn't sure I'd enjoy this, but I really did and was in tears by the end.


31 May 2023

Books Completed Since May 1

book icon  A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L'Engle, Sarah Arthur
Where else but here in the U.S. could a woman who wrote a book with deeply Christian themes be accused of being non-Christian because she talked about "witches" and "unicorns" since they are obvious symbols of the devil!

But that's Madeleine L'Engle.

Title is as it says: Arthur's examination of the ways L'Engle's faith shone in her storytelling, even if certain "Christians" said it wasn't "real" Christianity because she didn't adhere to their particular brand of Christianity. In fact, L'Engle and C.S. Lewis were both listed as authors who wrote pornographic children's literature. Seriously?

Arthur isn't blind to L'Engle's faults, especially her disconnection between her family's memories of the past and her family as portrayed in her nonfiction, and that she couldn't really come to terms with her son's death from alcoholism. Enjoyable summary of L'Engle's portrayal of Christianity in her books and in her life.

book icon  Naked Heat, Richard Castle
While the Castle series, which I loved except for the loathsome final season, was on, a series of tie-in novels were published supposedly written by "Richard Castle" (the actual author was mystery writer Tom Straw), both his superspy "Derek Storm" books and his later series "Nikki Heat."

Basically the Nikki Heat books are Castle stories under a different name and a couple of tweaks. Kate Beckett becomes sexy Nikki Heat, Castle morphs into a magazine journalist Jameson Rook (Castle/Rook, get it?), Captain Montgomery becomes Captain Montrose, Ryan and Esposito are Raley and Ochoa, Laney Parish turns into Lauren Parry. Rook even has an actress mom; the only character missing is Alexis. The story begins when Heat, smarting over the article Rook wrote in the first book Heat Wave, is called to the murder of Cassidy Towne, a well-hated gossip columnist from the New York Ledger (the Ledger is also the newspaper that turns up in Law & Order: Criminal Intent). At Towne's apartment? Jameson Rook, who was doing a story on her.

Of course a gossip columnist has a lot of enemies, so Heat has her job cut out for her: the suspects include a singer and a baseball player. She doesn't remain unscathed, either; she's assaulted and almost killed. Rook is driving her crazy for half the story, but their attraction remains unmatched. And what's going on with another murder victim who was found with a coyote standing nearby?

Fun fluff, and good for Castle fans who were sorry the series ended on such a rotten note.

book icon  Re-read: Born Free, Joy Adamson
I was ten and a half years old when the film Born Free came out. I was a passionate animal lover (heck, at that time I liked animals more than people) and saw every film that came out involving a dog, cat, horse, etc. The story, about a lion cub raised by a game warden and his artist wife in the African bush in the 1950s and then their efforts to teach her to hunt so that they could release her to the wild instead of confining her to a zoo, enthralled me. Of course, I wanted the book. It wasn't a children's book, and I didn't care. Mom bought me the Bantam paperback with the Virginia McKenna cover and I read that book so many times it literally fell apart, and I ended up buying another copy as an adult.

The copy I recently re-read is the 40th anniversary edition and I jumped into it gleefully. There are a couple of cringey lines now (Adamson observing the lion cubs didn't like Africans but liked white people, except for the Adamsons' assistant Nuru and other employees), but otherwise it was still fascinating. I never realized as a child how much of the text was devoted not to Elsa, but to George's job of helping the local people rid themselves of predatory lions, about the natural features of Africa, and about the political situations that sometimes made the bush an unfriendly place for both whites and Africans.

Liberally illustrated by photos of the real Elsa and the Adamsons. There was a sequel, Living Free, about Elsa's cubs, and a third book about releasing the lions from the Born Free film to the wild as Elsa had been.

book icon  Two Wrongs Make a Right, Chloe Liese
Back in rom-com territory: Jamie Westenberg and Bea Wilmot don't exactly hit it off the first time they meet, but their friends conspire to match them up with each other. So they decide to get revenge by pretending to fall in love long enough to then dash everyone's hopes with a spectacular breakup. But in pretending to be lovers, guess what, Bea and Jamie start to learn about each other and, whaddya think: maybe they could be friends? Maybe they even could be...more.

This is the first of a trio of stories about the Wilmot sisters: Bea and her twin sister Juliet, and their older sister Kate, all based on Shakespeare plays (this one is "Much Ado About Nothing," Kate's story is next, based on "Taming of the Shrew," and I think you can guess who Bea's twin's story is based on). I liked Bea; she states she's neurodivergent and autistic, but she reminds me a lot of myself, so maybe I'm those things? I just thought I was shy.

The series is amiable enough. I'll probably check out Kate's book when it comes out.

book icon  Life in Five Senses, Gretchen Rubin
This is another enjoyable read in Gretchen Rubin's pop psychology universe. When, after an eye exam, she discovers that no one has ever told her she has a higher-than-usual danger of losing her sight due to a retinal problem, she realizes she's been going through her life not noticing the world around her. Indeed, it's a common problem today with the rise of social media; people pay attention to their gadgets and not what's unfolding around them.

These are basically experiences based around the five basic senses (there are others, Rubin explains, but these are what people think of as the primary ones): finding the newness in what one sees everyday (like what kind of clothes your husband prefers), finding what grabs you at a museum or on the street, discovering music as not just something to dance to but which revives memories or sets a mood, doing a scent tour and realizing there are scent memories, trying new tastes but rediscovering special tastes of the past, eating a meal in without seeing the food, the power of our sense of touch: not just comforting but sometimes rousing bad memories.

The end of the book has suggestions for different exercises to help you rediscover your five senses. As someone with her nose always stuck in a book or writing, I liked this in telling me to pull back and observe the world around me.

book icon  Re-read: A Courage Undimmed, Stephanie Graves
Once again, I got much more reading the non-ebook version. 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 (including a hint of what his real name is!), and the training that Olive is observing is based on a real-life spy mission during the war.


book icon  The Fourth Enemy, Anne Perry
I have just finished what turned out to be Perry's final book, which I hoped I could give a rousing review to, but, sadly, until the last third or quarter of the book, it frankly had me struggling through.

Gideon Hunter is newly arrived as a barrister at Daniel Pitt's law firm fford Croft and Gibson, just in time to prosecute a smug, ruthless man named Malcolm Vayne who is accused of fraud. (Basically, he has arranged an investment company that we would today call a "Ponzi scheme.") Worst of all, some of his investors are members of Parliament or other government officials, which gives Vayne much power over them. Since Vayne is now so powerful, it is dangerous to cross him, and he is so protected by certain investors that if the firm's prosecution case is not strong enough, it could destroy the firm.

The first 2/3 of the book is very slow, and the conversation is much about financial matters along with Perry's characters' usual soul-searching, except for a section where an elderly woman is threatened. The pace finally picks up near the end of the book, when the evidence against Vayne suddenly turns around and the case—and lives—are threatened. The last few chapters are very suspenseful and would make a good period thriller, but I'm afraid that the lead up is very plodding and you have to like the characters to keep going. Perry tried to give the new man, Hunter, and his wife Rose, some interesting personality, but they were very flat to me.

book icon  The Lady With the Gun Asks the Questions, Kerry Greenwood
Apparently I finished this ages ago and forgot to review it.

I first met Phryne Fisher through the novels, later watching the television series. The latter is fun, but, of course for money reasons several characters have been cut from the stories, and Inspector Jack Robinson has become a love interest (in the books he's married with children). This is a collection of Phryne Fisher short stories, based on the novels. Some are long and convoluted, some are short—one's even solved by the time Robinson and Phryne are done talking about the evidence—but as far as I'm concerned they're all enjoyable to read, just from the POV of Phryne's 1920s setting and the attitudes of the characters. Wish there were more stories that involved Dot, as she is my favorite character in the series.

Well worth it for Fisher fans.

book icon  A History of America in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps, Christ West
This is another interesting book I picked up for almost a song at Books-a-Million. West, a stamp collector, does exactly what he says, tells a history of the United States using 36 stamps curated mostly from the Smithsonian Postal museum, starting with the little revenue stamp that started the problems: a stamp from the Stamp Act. The stamps range from portraits of Presidents (Washington, Jackson, etc.), other important figures in U.S. history (Benjamin Franklin, Jefferson Davis, etc.), and finally, from the 1860s onward, other items significant in the country's history, the first being "the iron horse." It addresses some interesting bits of history you don't usually read about in other history volumes, like the Pan-American Exposition in 1901, the Golden Gate Bridge and Charles Lindbergh's flight, the Cold War, "Earthrise," and others.

Nifty little history volume from a different POV.

book icon  Diary of an Early American Boy: Noah Blake, 1805, Eric Sloane
Always lovely to find Eric Sloane books at the library sale as they are now out of print and fiendishly expensive. In 1805 (yes, 1805) a 15-year-old named Noah Blake was given a journal for his birthday. He kept very brief entries for a year, using homemade ink, and Sloane uses Blake's entries to chronicle the work on an expanding farm of the early nineteenth century. Together Noah and his father, along with help from a neighbor, build a working mill, build a bridge over the nearby creek, and expand the cultivated fields of the farm, all without benefit of power tools, cranes, etc. Sloane's beautiful pen-and-ink illustrations of Early American tools and structures clearly illustrate the ingenious and clever ways 1805 citizens improved their life. But Noah's life isn't all work: he talks about neighborhood frolics, and meeting a special girl named Sarah who is working for their neighbors the Adamses for a year.

If you're interested in historic lifestyles, this book and other of Sloane's volumes are for you!

book icon  War Animals, Robin Hutton
I grabbed this from the bargain book stack of Books-a-Million because I've loved Stephanie Graves' Olive Bright books and this has two chapters on pigeons used in war (the U.S. and the U.K.), plus some familiar characters from my childhood. There was this book by Patrick Lawson called More Than Courage, a Whitman book about horses and dogs, alternating chapters, one chapter about dogs and horses in war. It was there I met the acquaintance of Chips (who later had a vastly inferior movie made about him) the German Shepherd/collie/husky who won a Silver Star (only to have it taken away by commanders who said "that's only for humans) and also a Doberman named Andy.

They appear in this book along with other war dogs/rescue dogs/messenger dogs from World War II (including Smoky the Yorkshire terrier who has had two books written about her), Korea, and Vietnam, a short chapter on a ship's cat named Simon, another short chapter on horses, and the pigeon chapters. All the animals in this book received Britain's prestigious "Dickin" medal for heroic animals.

This is an easy read and you learn some great history about animals along the way.

book icon  Ship Wrecked, Olivia Dade
This is the third in a series of rom-coms taking place among the cast members of a television series called Gods of the Gates (think a cheap version of Game of Thrones). Peter Reedton is a character actor ready for his first big role, but it turns out his co-star will be Maria Ivarsson, the woman he wholeheartedly made love to right before the audition—who then walked out on him without a word. Still, he won't wreck his chance at the role. For the next six years, Peter and Maria work side-by-side, getting to know each other as friends. But both still have hangups...and both live in different places. Is their smothered attraction enough to carry them to the next level?

Of course. This is a rom-com, people. In general, I enjoyed this, although it featured yet another clueless dad (only this one wasn't evil like the dad in Hating Game; he actually turns out to be a bit pathetic). Peter and Maria both have secrets in their past that interfere with their getting closer. Enjoyable stuff: their teasing, Peter in Stockholm with Maria's family, Maria's body pride in which she refuses to lose weight or shave/wax for her role (both our protagonists are plus-sized, as the newest description goes).

I liked Spoiler Alert because it was neat to see protagonists who wrote fanfic, skipped the second because I didn't like Alex in the first book, but this one may be my favorite of the three.

30 April 2023

Books Completed Since April 1

book icon  Did I Ever Tell You This?, Sam Neill
Imagine you're in a pub, and suddenly actor Sam Neill strolls in and decides you're a genial companion for the evening. He sits down and begins telling you stories. Some are about his past, some are about his films, others are about people he encountered or his vineyards or things he likes and doesn't like, and others are about the dreadful news he received just after filming Jurassic World Dominion, where he found out he had a malignant cancer.

Reading this memoir is like sitting at the pub with Neill, having him tell you stories. You can hear his voice in the words, cheeky or sorrowful, opinionated or reflective. Granted, I'm not up on a lot of New Zealand or Australian slang and celebrities, so I had to do a bit of research on a few people, but those were minor problems. I've loved Neill since Hunt for Red October and this memoir is just Sam wrapped up all in a nice package and delivered with a pretty bow.

Comes with two photo inserts as well as photographs within the text. Sam Neill fans, this is a gift for you.

book icon  The Hating Game, Sally Thorne
Lucy Hutton is the daughter of strawberry farmers; she came to the Big City to fulfill her dream of working at a publishing house, and found her dream job working at Gamin Publishing. And it was perfect until Gamin, a failing concern, merged with Baxley Books, and she had to work every day with Joshua Templeman, Mr. Perfect humorless Josh, who wears his shirts in strict rotation and makes other employees afraid. Together, he and Lucy play what she calls "the Hating Game," trying to outdo one another in being spiteful to one another. And when their respective bosses tell them there will be a competition between them for the role of chief operating officer, the Hating Game only escalates.

If only Lucy wasn't becoming interested in Josh, and vice versa.

Yes, it's a rom-com and yeah, I did enjoy this one. (It was made into a film, which I'll probably avoid; apparently it doesn't live up to the book.) Nothing really memorably special about it, except for the interesting revelation about Josh's room; some nice steamy scenes, including one in an elevator. Oh, and that wonderful dinner in the end when Lucy makes a speech to remember to Josh's clueless father, who should be slapped (and hard). But worth reading for a kick-back-and-relax reading day.

book icon  The Bluebird Effect, Julie Zickefoose
I had been drawn to this book for years, even before I read Zickefoose's Saving Jemima, about her experience raising a blue jay. Zickefoose is a wonderful watercolor artist of nature and birds, and just her illustrations were worth the price of the book.

My husband bought this off my Amazon list and after I finished it, I went up to him, hugged him and thanked him. What a lovely experience! It's basically Zickefoose's stories from being a bird rehabilitator, and not just bluebirds: swallows, starlings, chickadees, wrens, hummingbirds, ospreys, titmice, swifts, grosbeaks, tanagers, phoebes, plovers, and more fill this wonderful volume along with pencil sketches, pen and paint, and watercolor pieces (a couple of fall and winter pics are breathtaking). She even talks about her beloved macaw, Charlie, who turned out at the end to be female.

If you love birds, this is a must have.

book icon  It's That Time Again 3: Even More New Stories of Old-Time Radio, edited by Jim Harmon
This is my third of this set of four books with short stories based on old-time radio series, and I think it's my favorite so far. The stories are all crossovers, too, as illustrated by the cover illustration which shows Jack Armstrong teamed up with Tom Mix. (I really enjoyed this story, too; my complaint was that it was billed as a "novelette" and it was too damn short!)

Other goodies: the spooky Whistler/Traveler tale, Sherlock Holmes coming up against A.J. Raffles, a swell story where Sky King gets mixed up with Captain Midnight and his team, an interesting team-up (if it's the word) between Paladin and Marshal Dillon, the mystery "Death in the Corner Office" wherein Casey, Crime Photographer meets the Man in Black from Suspense, and a funny story where Gildersleeve just wants a quiet place to read his newspaper. Most of the other stories are good, too, even though I still don't "get" Lum & Abner (although they mesh pretty well with Mary Noble!).

book icon  Revolutionary Roads, Bob Thompson
Thompson is not a historian. But when I looked through this book I decided it was just what I was looking for.

Schoolday history rarely goes into any depth about any historic event simply because there are only 180 hours a school year to address 400+ years (at least, only if you don't address the Native people here before the "discovery" by Columbus) of American history. What you learn are top names, dates, and quick descriptions, and you don't learn anything about the "average" American in history.

Thompson thus visits Revolutionary War sites, from the well-known—the inevitable "midnight ride of Paul Revere" and Bunker Hill—to the decisive battle no one remembers—Cowpens in South Carolina. He follows the career of Benedict Arnold to try to explain why this expert colonial leader turned traitor, we learn the truth (as my husband and I did) about Valley Forge (it wasn't the cold; it was mud and disease—and, oh, yeah, there were families there), you discover the real type of boat Washington crossed the Delaware River in (note it wasn't the kind in the famous painting), what was the Marquis de Lafayette's real contributions (also a nice write-up on Baron von Steuben), and actual narrative about Black and other minority fighters (including women). We meet the well-known like Arnold, Henry Knox, the British biggies like Burgoyne and Howe, Lafayette, and Francis Marion (cue "The Swamp Fox" theme on Walt Disney's TV show!) and the lesser known, like John Stark, Daniel Morgan, Henry Laurens, and Nathanael Green (well, unless you're a Rhode Islander). All in all, an entertaining, enlightening book that encourages you to go out and research history on your own.

book icon  Marmee, Sarah Miller
As Caroline was Little House on the Prairie (the book, not the television series) told from Caroline Ingalls' point of view, Marmee is the diary of Margaret March taking place during the narrative of Little Women. I was skeptical about this book initially because I'd read Geraldine Brooks' March, which was supposed to be a history of a young Bronson Alcott, and I never felt it jibed with Little Women. But this reads like it really is Marmee's diary, and, of course, all the things Alcott might not have wanted to mention in a children's book (for instance that Hannah stayed with the Marches because she was an unmarried pregnant woman when she came to them, or Marmee helping the Hummels and bonding with Mrs. Hummel) which seem plausible. As in most of these books based on Little Women, Miller works real-life Alcott events (the Alcotts taking in a runaway slave* which goes on to explain an event Alcott glosses over in Little Women, Mr. March being named "Amos" instead of "Robert" as he is in the book, etc.) into the story, but they're not intrusive and work seamlessly into the story. I can really imagine "Marmee" writing this journal and feel her personality as shown in this book matches the woman we saw in Little Women.

Recommended for fans of Alcott/Little Women!

*
Interestingly enough, the Japanese anime version Tales of Little Women from 1987 also uses this plotline.

book icon  Life on the Mississippi, Rinker Buck
If you're like me, your biggest connection with traffic on the Mississippi comes from Huckleberry Finn, the riverboats that pop up in literature and media, and Davy Crockett and the River Pirates, in which we learn about Mike Fink and the flatboat trade. (For me, also a book called A' Going to the Westward by Lois Lenski.) But before 18-wheelers, before the railroad, the main commerce lines in the United States were canals that led to the rivers, and the rivers which led the young U.S. to the big one: the Mississippi. Indeed, commercial boats still make up the majority of Mississippi river traffic. So Rinker Buck, who in 2011 rode The Oregon Trail in a covered wagon, now chronicles his months on a custom-built flatboat which he launches on the Monongahela, travels to the Ohio, and eventually merges with the Mississippi for the ride down to New Orleans. On the way, we learn the fascinating history of America's first westward movement and the role of the flatboat/keelboat (there were different kinds) in establishing commerce. (The flatboat/keelboat also goes further back than this first westward movement; the boats were used on New England rivers.)

This book is part travelogue, part history—and Buck doesn't stint on the cruel history of the Indian Removal Act or the spread of slavery to the horrible plantations of the western south—part adventure and part self-discovery, like traveling with incompatible co-pilots (the worst being a re-inactor more concerned with "how things look" than the journey) and broken ribs.

Plus, for me, there was joy in finding out what happened to his mother Pat, who I read about long ago in his dad's humorous memoir But Daddy! about raising ten kids.

I enjoyed this book so much—in fact, this was a grand month for reading. Everything was wonderful.

book icon  CSI: Binding Ties, Max Allan Collins
This is the first of the CSI books I haven't really, really enjoyed. I liked it, but the plot was simpler than usual, so it wasn't quite as an "aha" moment when everything came together. Usually the plot involves part of the team working on one mystery and the other group work on a different case, and they end up being related; this is just a straight mystery involving the whole team: ten years earlier, Jim Brass' first case in Las Vegas came a cropper and a serial killer called CASt got away. Now crimes matching the CASt killings begin to surface. Brass and the CSI team headed by Gil Grissom enlist the reporters who covered the case and Brass' old partner on the case to finally catch the perp--but they soon realize the new CASt is a copycat.

That's it. Oh, it's convoluted enough, but I twigged on one of the bad guys as soon as he was introduced. The perp was a bit of a surprise, or, rather the reason the perp became the perp, and how the last murder was committed. So, good, but not as complicated as previous books.

31 March 2023

Books Completed Since March 1

book icon  To Write Like a Woman: Essays in Feminism and Science Fiction, Joanna Russ
You cannot read books about Star Trek fanfiction without seeing Joanna Russ mentioned: she was a feminist and science-fiction writer who was also a member of the LGBTQIA community. She not only wrote essays about whether science fiction and fantasy are legitimate literature, but ones where feminism and misogyny are addressed. This is a collection of those essays. The few that justify SF&F as lit are interesting, but the meat of the book comes where she begins talking about feminist issues. One essay addresses "feminist" books written by men, in which the ruling class of women turn out to be just as corrupt as men, and end up being "tamed" by the healing power of male sex! Another points a finger at Harlan Ellison's "A Boy and His Dog," although she admits the movie is more at fault than the story.

My favorite essay in this book is her essay about the very popular "modern Gothic" novels of the 1970s. I remember these things all over the bookstores, with the pretty heroine always marrying some type of brooding male who was hiding some secret (shades of Mr. Rochester!). It's pointed and humorous at the same time.

book icon  The Belle of Belgrave Square, Mimi Matthews
Julia Wychwood is a heiress with a problem: her sickly parents expect her either to nurse them through their (usually psychosomatic) illnesses or make a good match. Julia, an introvert who prefers her books and horse riding to socializing, hates going to parties, and just wants to be left alone to read. But her parents believe reading novels is "inflaming" her and keep having the doctor bleed her, sometimes until she is totally debilitated.

The "notorious Captain Jasper Blunt," the harsh hero of Waterloo, is in search of a bride, or more appropriately, a bridal dowry that can replenish his Yorkshire estate and provide for his two bastard children. Why would Julia Wychwood not do as a bride? They both love books—in fact, the same author's books—and he agrees that he will let her live her own life (and rescue her from her parents) if she will take care of his children. But her parents have found a more appropriate—older, with better social connections—match for her and they will manipulate her as much as they can. In the meantime Julia and Jasper grow closer, but one of them is harboring a secret.

This is an enjoyable takeoff on Beauty and the Beast with two book lovers from different worlds, but who bond over their love of books. I kind of guessed the secret one of the protagonists was keeping about halfway through the book, but it didn't ruin my enjoyment of the story—except I wanted to beat the crap out of Julia's parents, who considered her some hired slavey, just given birth to provide them comfort.

book icon  Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, Anne Boyd Rioux
This book illustrates my problems with e-books. I read this first as an e-book, and dismissed it. Then I picked it up as a remainder book, and enjoyed it a lot more. Rioux first talks about Alcott's history and the reason she wrote the book—her publisher requested "a book for girls." This perplexed Alcott, as she claimed she didn't "know any girls," except for her sisters, so she wrote her story around her family life—and her simple narrative became a hit.

Over the decades, Little Women has remained popular, although its audience has changed: boys, for instance, were also readers of the book in its early days; now it's considered "too girlie." Others believe that with today's mores Little Women, with its themes of traditional femininity, having nothing to say to modern girls, while Rioux refutes this, since both contemporary men and women need to learn lessons of controlling their temper, keeping house, etc. Media versions are also considered, and modern girls' stories as compared to Alcott's classic.

If you're an Alcott fan, and I am, this book will exactly suit.

book icon  Murder at Crossways, Alyssa Maxwell–
In this seventh book in Maxwell's Gilded Newport series, it's the summer of 1898, and Emma Cross, distant relative to the Vanderbilts (the poor side of the family) is working as acting editor-in-chief at her fiance's paper, the Newport Messenger. When she must fill in for the society editor at the wealthy Fishes' Harvest Festival, she, like the rest of the crowd, is awaiting the arrival of the guest of honor, Price Otto of Austria. But he never shows up, and then turns up in the garden, dead, his method of death very close to a man who was found on Bailey's Beach a few days earlier. When Emma investigates the beach death, she is stunned to discover the victim looks familiar—in fact, like her half-brother, but older. Could this be his father?

In the meantime, a series of mishaps at the Messenger convince Emma that someone is trying to sabotage the paper, or at least her editorship of it.

Mamie Fish, the eccentric—and she and her husband are based on the true-life Mamie and Stuyvesant Fish, who really were loving and eccentric as portrayed in the novel—owner of Crossways joins Emma as she investigates both crimes, and she's a definite plus in this story. Oh, and Emma finally has a new horse and poor Barney is finally retired.

book icon  Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady, Susan Quinn
You can't read anything about Eleanor Roosevelt without a mention of Lorena Hickok, the brash woman journalist Eleanor met when her husband Franklin Delano Roosevelt was on his original presidential campaign trail. She and "Hick" became best friends—in fact, in reading their letters you might say they were more than just best friends.

Whether you believe or not that the two women also had a physical relationship or that they were platonic lovers, but lovers indeed, they did share intimacies over the course of their friendship that helped the First Lady break away from negative influences. Hick had her own bad habits: she was a chronic workaholic, smoked heavily, and didn't take care of her diabetes, and eventually her possessiveness—since Eleanor eventually had many friends, including those Hick was jealous of—strained their friendship to the breaking point. This is a vivid story of two women, one (Hick) who had to be strong after being thrown out of the house at age fourteen and the other (Eleanor) who was raised "with a silver spoon" that nevertheless came with a bleak childhood and an adult experience that included her husband cheating on her, having a child die, and having to nurse her husband through polio.

Very enjoyable especially if you are an Eleanor Roosevelt aficionado as I am.

book icon  Into the West, Mercedes Lackey
Kordas Valdemar and the people who have followed him to escape the cruelties and the smothering rule of the Empire now take steps to move beyond the lake they emerged from through a magical gate.

This is the next part of the "Founding of Valdemar" saga, and it was a good read, just not as compelling as the first book. A lot of the story is about Kordas' good faith efforts to be a just leader, and his learning to become a good leader as the Valdemarian expedition searches for a permanent place to live without displacing any of the people already there. The mage storms have left their mark, and they are attacked by deadly, unusual creatures who were melded together by weird magic, and come upon a sinister forest that projects malevolence.

While the statecraft bits can make the book drag a little, Delia, Kordas' sister-in-law, undergoes a transformation in this book, from little sister with a serious crush on Kordas to an explorer and much-needed member of the scouting team, her own person.

With a little help from the Hawkbrothers and the hertasi, Kordas and his people find a place to spend the winter. Could this be the place to settle?

Looking forward to the next volume! Have come to love Kordas and his people.

book icon  All That Remains, Sue Black
I bought this because in looking through it discovered Black, a forensic scientist, using her skills to identify dead bodies found at crime scenes. However, this is so much more: the author discusses death itself, the nature of our fears about death, and about working with corpses and how she is thankful for the people who donate their bodies to science so that she can learn about the human body from real remains rather than computer simulations, which she states are poor imitations of learning anatomy from bodies. She even tells a story about a elderly man who is preparing to donate his body to her institution who insists on coming into the anatomy laboratory and watching the students dissect a body so he will know everything that will happen to his corpse—definitely a braver person than I'll ever be.

I'm pretty squeamish about death (having been afraid of dying since I was quite young), but I found this fascinating reading, if even a little comforting, but I would definitely not read if things like this trigger you. There are some very explicit scenes of dissection and discussion of preserving bodies for dissection.

book icon  The Crocodile's Last Embrace, Suzanne Arruda
I hadn't read the rest of my Jade del Cameron books in ages. This one, number six, is an action-fan's dream. Jade's great love, the movie maker Sam Featherstone, has not yet returned from the United States, and the once fearless Jade had, in the interim, gone back to France and seen an eerie vision of her dead fiancĂ© David Worthy, killed in the carnage of The Great War. Now back in Kenya, she is receiving notes from David and seeing visions of him. Her friends tell her she needs to relax and hope Sam will return soon; then Jade almost witnesses a car accident at a bridge in which a car was deliberately pushed off the side. This is only the beginning of a murder investigation and more—in which Jade begins to suspect her one true foe: David's evil mother Lilith.

This book gets off with a bang and never quite stops moving. I figured out part of what was causing Jade's distress almost immediately, but it didn't spoil the rising tension and the heart-stopping climax. I'm sorry there's only one of these unread left. Probably the best of the books since the first, Mark of the Lion.

book icon  For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts' Advice to Women,  Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English
I had to pick this up for Women's History month. In general I enjoyed it, although it was more scholarly than I expected. The basic premise is that although most society was patriarchal in the past, men had their roles and women had equally as important, but different, roles. However, with the coming of industrialization came masculinism, which infantilized women, drove away "wise women" and midwives who knew the workings of women's bodies, and turned them over to male doctors, who had all sorts of fantastically weird ideas, like that menstruation messed with a woman's sense of reason, that all women automatically wanted to be nurturing wives and mothers, and that women's brains were not fit for more complicated reasoning—studying things like medicine, physics, chemistry, etc. would make them "less womanly" and might even burn out a woman's brain! (And with that came the "rest cure" as Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote about in "The Yellow Wallpaper," which would drive anyone stark raving mad.) Just the change in nurturing children between 1900 and 1960 (going from treating kids like miniature adults to considering children as small angels to keeping children to rigorous time schedules even as babies and then Dr. Spock says "For heaven's sake, cuddle and love them!") switched back and forth so quickly that you were liable to get whiplash.

Illuminating and infuriating, but be prepared for much quotation from medical texts.