16 March 2019

Yet Another Book Sale--Coda

James went to his club meeting, so I went back to the book sale. (Yes, incorrigible is my middle name.) Ran into Clair and Daniel Kiernan there, in fact. Yes, I found more books.
  • The President and the Assassin, about McKinley's death
  • Curious New England, about odd things up in the northeast corner (and yes, Nibbles the Blue Bug on top of the New England Pest Control building in Providence is there)
  • Mary Russell's War, all Laurie King's Mary Russell short stories
  • Two, count 'em, two, books of commentary on James Thurber's work (Long and Mossberger)
  • 1939: the Last Season of Peace, about the (social) season in Great Britain before the war broke out
  • a book about Gus Grissom, ostensibly for James
and finally, Susan Allen Toth's My Love Affair With England—I thought I had this, but it was actually Toth's sequel, England as You Like It, which I got at a previous sale and which I almost read a week or two ago, but decided on another book. Now I'm glad I didn't start it, so I can start from the beginning. And, oh, heavens, there's a sequel to the second one...

15 March 2019

Yet Another Book Sale

Every year my mantra is "I'm only going to buy the books on my list," and every year I break the rules.

Well, granted, some of the books on my list are very recent and perhaps I shouldn't expect to find them at the book sale. They're about to come out in paperback, or they just have come out in paperback, so I have found books like that at the sale before. But, alas, not today. I found only Craig Johnson books I didn't need, no Victoria Thompson in the Gaslight series (although I did find the second book in her new series), alas no Gladys Taber, no Jodi Taylor books, nor The Silver Gun, etc. But I still managed to come home with A Stack fifteen inches high.
  • Jesus and His Times, a "Reader's Digest" book that seemed appropriate for Lent or the approaching Easter season
  • Firehorse, about a teen girl who moves to Boston right before the great fire
  • Hattie Ever After, the sequel to Hattie Big Sky
  • Anything for a Laugh, another Bennett Cerf collection
  • Here's England, a tour book of England from 1950 by a husband and wife team
  • My Sherlock Holmes: Untold Stories of the Great Detective, pastiches
  • City of Secrets, a sequel to Victoria Thompson's City of Lies
  • A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer, which will go into my Christmas reading pile
  • America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines, which seems perfect reading for March
  • Good-bye, Mr. Chips and Other Stories (I had no idea James Hilton had done other Chips stories! This collects all of them, and is illustrated to boot)
  • Victoria's Daughters, which I've wanted for ages
  • a hardback edition of The Wind in the Willows with no cover but Tasha Tudor illustrations
I'd taken time out to go to the rest room and then look at dismay out the open cargo doors of the civic center; it was pouring as if heaven were emptying out and a whole family, mom and three kids, including a very sopped baby, were drying off in the bathroom. So I went back and looked at the kids' books again—there were still lots of picture books and elementary grade reference books left, but the middle-grade books were practically stripped—and then the young adult and trade paper books, and there in the middle of the YA amongst the vampires and supernatural and steampunk were two books by Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. There are currently two biographies about Fermor in the travel section at Barnes & Noble; in 1933 he left home at eighteen and walked from Rotterdam to Istanbul. The books, which chronicle his journey, are supposed to be classics. Well, I'm game. If he can write like Laurie Lee, that will be a definite plus!

I also bought something for Alice and Ken, and a curiosity for Rodney.

I finally got done at the civic center at quarter to noon; it was still raining, but lightly, so I stacked the two bags of books one on top of the other and got them out to the car without getting them wet. It took me a while, but I got down to Tin Drum despite lunch-hour traffic, picked up lunch for both James and I, and got home without incident.

28 February 2019

Books Completed Since February 1

book icon  A Forgotten Place, Charles Todd
The Great War is over, but not for its men: they now face the repercussions of their injuries in their return to civilian life. Bess Crawford is serving as a nurse to these men, including Welsh soldiers from the same mining town. These men know that with missing limbs they will be unable to make a living anymore; too many are depressed. One man commits suicide, and Bess and the other hospital staff try to give the others hope. After they are shipped home, Bess is disturbed when she gets a note from the Welsh company's captain saying that another man has committed suicide. He asks if there is any way she can come to help them. Bess, good soul that she is, decides to use a few days of her leave to do just that. But by the time she arrives, all but a few of the men have died and Captain Williams has moved to a remote village. To make certain he's all right, Bess has a driver take her to this village since it is off rail or bus lines—and then the driver leaves her stranded. Captain Williams and his sister-in-law take her in, and Bess is sure she can find some way to get back to Swansea, until she realizes that the mysterious citizens of the tiny community are determined she not leave.

This is a slow-moving atmospheric entry in the Bess Crawford series, akin to a Gothic novel, with bodies washing up on the shore and mysterious burials, a strange tale about a sunken ship, violent acts in the middle of the night, and Bess' sensation that she is always being watched. The sea and the changeable weather add more fillips of mystery and atmosphere. You need to be patient with this entry in the series as it's written more like a 19th century suspense novel, but the spooky setting and ominous villagers make it well worth reading.

book icon  Seven Letters from Paris, Samantha Vérant
In 1989 Samantha and her madcap best friend Tracy went to Europe, stopping briefly in Paris. There they befriended two Frenchmen around their age who took them on a dream tour of the city. Jean-Luc Vérant and Samantha hit it off immediately, and he begged her to stay in Paris. Samantha was nervous and the next day she and Tracy continued their tour. But Jean-Luc did not forget her and wrote her seven letters which she kept for the next twenty years. In 2009 Samantha's world fell apart. She was laid off from her job, she and her husband were on the verge of divorce, and she had no idea what she was going to do. But she'd kept Jean-Luc's letters all those years. She thought that, in having to start her life all over again, that she would at least contact him to apologize for never writing back.

Instead, something magical happened. Jean-Luc wrote back. And 20 years later, he was still interested.

This is, indeed, a modern-day fairy tale: attractive woman relegated from art director at a big corporation reduced to dog walker and moving back home after a divorce finding out not only did the handsome French guy she once befriended is still in love with her, but he's even free to marry her. Alas, Samantha has no confidence in herself and keeps shooting herself in the foot, but Jean-Luc is persistent. And when she visits Paris again, she finds everyone loves her—Jean-Luc's kids, Jean-Luc's parents, Jean-Luc's friends...Alors! Really, I'm glad it all worked out for her, but reading this is like reading a romance novel. I actually bought it because I was interested in her second book, in which she learns to get used to living in France.

What I really found annoying was the recitation of clothes and other stuff she bought or sold or Jean-Luc got for her by their brand names. Do women really know what all of these things are by their brand names? Sometimes I didn't know if she was talking about a dress or shoes. In fact, I found her brand name dropping rather intimidating. Plus she promises Jean-Luc's children, who suffered through a snooty stepmother, a cat, and even though she's nearly broke, she spends her cash on an expensive purebred cat. You couldn't have adopted a cat from a shelter? Sheesh. Talk about conspicuous consumption.

book icon  Choices, edited by Mercedes Lackey
This is the latest edition of short stories set in Lackey's Valdemar universe. The stories, as always, range from stand-alone stories like "With Sorrow and Joy," the tale of a Herald who goes home to solve thefts and possibly make peace with a resentful cousin and "Of Crows and Karsites," where young Herald Rinton and his Companion sense a Gifted person on the other side of the Karse border, where Gifted people are viewed as demons, to stories with a continuing character who has appeared in other collections (Kitha and Hadara, a change child and a blind gryphon; Lady Cera of Sandbriar, trying to rebuild a shattered community; Kade and his companion Nwah the kyree; and more).

Sometimes the qualities of these stories waver back and forth between great and meh, but this was a particularly good collection: I quite enjoyed the first story mentioned; the final story, written by Lackey herself, which involves the sword "Need" who will only respond to a swordswoman to save other women; another entertaining and humorous tale with the Iron Street gate guards of Haven; "Letters from Home" in which a young trainee struggles with her Gift; "The Right Place" about a young orphan who can read animals and knows a horse and her foal are being abused; and "The Letter of the Law," in which a Herald must find out a way to save a family's prized ram in a city where the ruler will not bend the law. But they were all good this time, and perfect for fans of Valdemar.

book icon  Re-read: In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, Bette Bao Lord
Since it's once again the year of the boar (these days they call it a pig), I had to pick this delightful book for a return engagement. Young "Sixth Cousin," otherwise known as Bandit, knows only that news that's come to her Chinese home has made her mother smile and her grandparents sad. Her college-educated father, she discovers, isn't coming back: he's made a new home in the United States, and he's sent for Bandit and her mother. Grandfather decrees that Bandit shall have a new name before she departs and she decides on an American one: Shirley Temple Wong.

Soon everyone is getting used to their new home in Brooklyn—including Mother, who discovers that with no servants, she will need to learn to cook, clean, and do laundry—and Shirley is off to the fifth grade, where the kids seem friendly at first, but then ignore her. It's due to her sudden encounter with the biggest, toughest girl in class that Shirley's status suddenly changes, and it's through her classmates that she becomes a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers and their newest player, Jackie Robinson.

I had forgotten some of the events in this book, including the sad period when Shirley had no friends and the chapter about the family's homesickness, and also some of the laugh-aloud funny things that happen, like when Shirley volunteers to change a fuse. It's a sweet-and-sour look at the experiences of an immigrant child in the late 1940s, heartwarming and humorous.

By the way, did anyone notice what happened in the principal's office? Shirley told the principal she was ten, but if you went by the way she counted, she was only about eight and a half. She still learned English well enough to pass the fifth grade! I'm impressed!

book icon  Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Books as an Adult, Bruce Handy
This book is about...well, just what the title says it's about: Handy goes back and looks at classics and sees them with adult eyes, still admiring most of the texts. He begins with picture books, painting a surprising portrait of Margaret Wise Brown, whose Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny may give people the impression she was some warm and wise granny. Instead she was a lively young woman with a creative way with words, who allowed herself to be bullied by her female partner.

There are chapters on Dr. Seuss, Charlotte's Web, Beatrix Potter (and other animal stories), Beverly Cleary's imp Ramona, the Little House books and Little Women, and more, all with entertaining information, such as Green Eggs and Ham was written after Ted Geisel was challenged by publisher Bennett Cerf to write an interesting book using just fifty words (the chapter also chronicles the difficulties he had writing a book using less than 300 simple words considered understandable to children; the result was The Cat in the Hat). I disagreed with him occasionally, but life would be pretty boring if we didn't have differing opinions!

Really enjoyed this, except I got tired of Handy suddenly pulling a fact that had nothing to do with the books he was commenting on out of midair and issuing an apologia for the author. The book is still good despite the author's political or personal leanings at another time of his/her life, and hopefully he/she learned better as they grew older.

book icon  Death in St. Petersburg, Tasha Alexander
Lady Emily and her dashing husband Colin Hargreaves are in St. Petersburg, Russia, for Colin's newest assignment, monitoring political situations between Great Britain and Russia. They are at the Mariinsky Theatre to watch a performance of Swan Lake, with the lead role taken by the prima ballerina Irina Semnova Nemetseva. But during the interval, the crowd emerges from the theatre to find Nemetseva lying dead in the snow. Soon after she dies, an ethereal ballerina wearing Nemetseva's costume begins to appear at various locations in the city. What does it mean? Is her ghost haunting St. Petersburg? And who killed her? Was it her best friend Katenka (Ekaterina Petrovna Sokolova), who was her understudy, and who finished the Swan Lake performance to enthusiastic applause? Or someone else?

I enjoyed the story, despite the tongue-twisting Russian names, and immersing myself in pre-revolutionary Russia and examining the value the Russians placed on the ballet. I really liked the setting. But I am getting a little tired of the format Alexander has been using of alternating the Lady Emily and Colin (and Cécile) narratives with chapters about one of the persons involved with the mystery. In this case it was Katenka's narrative in fleshing out their pasts and their intense friendship. But she used to be able to keep the entire mystery narrative in Lady Emily's voice, and I don't find the newer books with the alternating chapters as crisp and clever as the older books without it.

book icon  About Time: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who: 2007, Series 3, Tat Wood and Dorothy Ail
So we're now on volume eight (!) of Mad Norwegian Press' in-depth look at Doctor Who, this covering "The Runaway Bride" through "Voyage of the Damned" along with the seven-minute "Time Crash" and the animated serial "Infinite Quest." Once again, each episode is examined by summarizing the plot, noting the characters, fitting the story into Who continuity, and then posing questions about inconsistencies and other things that just don't make sense. Interspersed with the episode examinations are the usual essays, ranging from "What Were the Best Online Extras?" to "Which are the Most Over-Specialized Daleks?" to "Why Should an Alien Love Cricket?" (There are seventeen essays in total.)

These are truly books for people who really, really love Doctor Who, so don't come into them thinking they are introductory volumes for the series. Wood and Ail point out the tiniest detail, which won't make a whit of sense unless you're familiar with the other seven volumes and the whole history of the series. If you are that Who lover, welcome aboard, but start from the beginning!

book icon  Re-read: Heidi Grows Up and Heidi's Children, Charles Tritten
Since I re-read Heidi last month, I thought I would follow up with two sequels written by Johanna Spyri's French translator. Supposedly children kept writing to Tritten asking what happened to Heidi and he obliged them by writing a sequel (and then others, but only the first two were translated into English), stating that Spyri could never refuse a child and probably would have written a sequel or two if possible. Heidi Grows Up partially incorporates Spyri's own experiences with a cruel schoolmaster. Now fourteen, Heidi goes to the same finishing school that Clara attended. She makes fast friends with the other girls, save for snooty British girl Eileen, especially a Hungarian girl named Jeanne-Marie, known as Jamy. At school she continues the violin lessons she began in Dorfli, and is mercilessly teased when her grandfather sends her a gift of a little goat cheese. But it is when Heidi comes home for vacation accompanied by Jamy that things begin to happen and Heidi considers returning to Dorfli when she graduates to become the new schoolmistress.

The sequel title makes it obvious what happens at the end of Heidi Grows Up, but also features Jamy's little sister Marta. Both girls were raised by their sweet but sad grandmother, and after she passes away Marta doesn't wish to stay with their socialite parents, who spend most of their time partying and traveling for diplomatic purposes, leaving Marta alone. Instead she comes to live on the Alm with Heidi and her family, to the consternation of the Grandfather, who eventually comes to love her and she ceases to fear him. But she is constantly in fear of other things, and believes in all sorts of superstitions, which makes her especially nervous as Heidi's time arrives.

While these don't have the special touch that Spyri gave to her original, these are sweet, creditable sequels, and the source material is actually partially hers: Tritten borrowed incidents from other Spyri stories to incorporate into both tales (an incident with Jamy and Peter is taken from Moni the Goat Boy, for example). I only wish the other two volumes, Heidi: Grandmother and Heidi's Country, had been translated.

Here are the full verses to the song Peter sings that Marta likes so much.

book icon  Finding Dorothy, Elizabeth Letts
I enjoyed this fictionalized account of the life of Maud Gage Baum, wife of the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The novel switches back and forth between 1938, in which an elderly Maud wangles her way onto the MGM lot to make certain the movie moguls don't ruin her husband's magical story and becomes interested in young Judy Garland, who is being pushed (to the point of being mistreated) into stardom by a rapacious stage mother and a lecherous studio executive, and Maud's memories of meeting, marrying and living with L. [Lyman] Frank Baum, who was a hard-working but mostly impractical dreamer, who skipped from being an actor and empresario to selling his family's oil product to managing a general store in the Dakota Territory to an unfulfilling job back in New York state until beginning his literary career with the first of many Oz books.

Maud lived a slightly unconventional lifestyle for a girl of her time, encouraged to run around with the boys by a suffragette mother who would write articles, papers, and books with Susan B. Anthony. Maud is sent off to Cornell University to be one of its first coeds and must face the harassment of male students; later her sister Julia marries badly and ends up suffering through bad times on a claim shanty in Dakota. Frank's dreamy ways and fun personality attract Maud immediately, but she ends up being the practical one of the family; while Frank works hard, disaster always seems to strike his enterprises, but he always takes time for dreaming and bringing up his four sons—they never had the daughter they so badly wanted—with happy memories.

Letts spins the tale of the Baums and of Frank's famous creation with a lively text. Maud herself is a bit of a stiff character, but Frank's magical qualities shine out from every page, and Letts' brisk portrayal of Matilda Gage is equally entertaining. She also brings her settings to life, whether it's Christmas at the Baum house or the bleak Dakota prairies (that stood in for Kansas) or the Gage neighborhood in New York. There are also memorable scenes in the 1938 narrative having to do with "Over the Rainbow" and its meaning to Maud, Judy Garland, and others who work on the film. The "star" system at the big studios of the 1930s is also given a grim once-over: it ruined Garland's life as it made her a star.

Not a perfect book, but the good parts outweigh the bad, and it does a good job of capturing the various eras.

book icon  Food Will Win the War, Rae Katherine Eighmey
I've been looking for a book about the World War I homefront in the United States for a couple of years now and pretty much been unsuccessful until I found this book while looking for something else. It's not everything I wanted, but it gives a partial view of homefront America 1917-1918.

Eighmey, who wrote the historical cookbook Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen, consults diaries, news stories, and personal letters to bring the First World War in a farming community to life. She covers the buildup to war and then the continual effort put into rationing food for the public so that it could be saved to ship to the men (and few women) in the American Expeditionary Force and displaced citizens in Belgium and France. If you've heard of WWII Victory Gardens and thought they were only a WWII "thing," you'll learn differently here. Eventually the government suggested "wheatless meals" and "meatless meals," with only three meals a week with no restrictions. People were encouraged to grow potatoes for the war effort and eat rice instead, add nuts to meals to replace meat protein, and have egg dishes as a main course at supper.

While this book concentrates on Minnesota and particularly its rural community, it is representative of the sacrifices ordinary families made to support the war effort. This could be California or New Jersey or Texas. The volume is full of photographs, posters (complete with Columbia wearing a Liberty Cap, something that vanished in WWII ads), advertisements, and cartoons from the era, and of course filled with vintage recipes, some which sound interesting, and others which will make you wonder if people today could give up their hamburgers and steak and eat dishes like "rice au gratin" and creamed chicken instead. If you are interested in wartime homefront histories, food history, or both, you'll find a good deal to like in this book

book icon  Attachments, Rainbow Rowell
I am just not cut out for chick-lit.

I admit, I picked this up based on the fact I mostly liked Fangirl and wanted to like Carry On, but found Simon too whiny, and that I found a quotation about autumn given by one of the protagonists: "October. My favorite month...[t]here's a chill in the air that lifts my heart and makes my hair stand on end. Every moment feels meant for me...I was born in February, but I come alive in October...October, baptize me with leaves! Swaddle me in corduroy and nurse me with split pea soup. October, tuck tiny candy bars in my pockets and carve my smile into a thousand pumpkins. O autumn! O teakettle! O grace!" How could you not love a woman who talks like this? And I love epistolary books and half the text is e-mails.

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder work at the same newspaper, the Courier, one that has just made the jump to computers and the internet. Beth's living with a musician and reviews films. Jennifer, a copy editor, is happily married but is worried about fulfilling her husband's next wish: a child. Management is so fearful of the employees wasting time surfing for porn and goofing off on the web that they hire Lincoln O'Neill to read any e-mails flagged with "certain words." Lincoln's supposed to report Beth and Jennifer's brisk and funny (and irreverent) e-mails to management, but he can't. A bachelor still living with his mother years after the breakup with his first love, Lincoln enjoys the repartee between the two women, and especially loves Beth's wit. Soon he's falling in love with her and even checking out the club where her boyfriend performs.

I am so on the fence about this book it's not funny. Rowell has a way of writing about her that I enjoy, and it kept me turning pages to see what would happen, but I was irritated by the narrative. All these folks seemed to talk about was relationships and marriage. Okay, Beth likes good movies. Lincoln's an appealing geek who also likes movies and plays D&D. He's in contention with his sister, who wants him to move away from his clinging mother. Jennifer's afraid to get pregnant. Beth wants to tie the knot with her enigmatic guy and she's trying to save an old movie theater. Everything's awash with emotions. No one ever talks about anything but relationships, especially the women. I guess this is common in what's supposed to be a romance. As in all the romances, all the guys are adorable and all the gals are cute. It is so emotionally exhausting.

In the midst of this waterfall of emotions, two of my favorite parts are reliving the Y2K fracas (the story takes place 1999-2000) in the computing industry, and visiting Lincoln's friends Dave and Christine, who have this lovely warm marriage. The other stuff is so unreal: loud rock music, clubbing, buying expensive baby clothes and designer women's products. I could not relate to these people, except to the geeky side of Lincoln. The e-mails are a hoot, though.

book icon  Smoky the Brave, Damien Lewis
Bill Wynne was attached to the 26th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron in World War II when he met a dirty mite of a dog that had been found in the jungles of the New Guinea island where he was stationed. Wynne loved dogs and took the fearless little animal that he named Smoky to his heart. She remained with him all during his war service and became known as the 26th's mascot, immortalized by a photo of her in Wynne's helmet in an issue of "Yank" magazine. Wynne taught her tricks and she kept up the morale of the squadron, and became the first known "therapy dog" taken to hospitals to amuse injured soldiers. In one instance, she even helped the squadron string telephone wire through a pipeline under a runway.

Lewis not only tells the story of Wynne and Smoky, but of the 26th and the essential work they did during the war and the dangers and hardships they faced outside of the Japanese troops trying to kill them: jungle insects, heat, varmints, thirst, tropical illnesses. Wynne lost friends, survived a serious fever, endured hurricanes and bombings, but always Smoky was there as his partner. She also endured illness and danger, plus the real threat of being left behind once the war was over.

This is well-told with a few gaffes by a non-American writer (no "fourth base" in baseball), but summarizes Wynne and Smoky's postwar adventures in about eight pages, devoting the whole book mainly to their wartime experiences. It's a good companion to Wynne's own story about Smoky, Yorkie Doodle Dandy, in which the last third of the book is devoted to their postwar experiences on local television and in Hollywood. Pick up this one to learn more about life in the European theatre and the work of the photo reconnaissance squadrons, but Wynne's book is a more personal look at their experience.

book icon  The American Agent, Jacqueline Winspear
This newest of the Maisie Dobbs' mysteries begins a little slowly as Winspear immerses you in the sights, sounds, smells, and terrors of the Blitz. Maisie and her old friend Priscilla Partridge have volunteered for the ambulance corps and as the novel opens, they are being observed by young American reporter Catherine Saxon. Next day Maisie receives a shocking telephone call from her intelligence colleague Robert MacFarlane: after Saxon left them, she was murdered in her apartment. MacFarlane wants Maisie to investigate the crime, to be assisted by Mark Scott, the American agent who helped get her out of Munich. Maisie is also juggling a personal issue: her adoption of Anna, the young refugee living with her father and stepmother, is about to come up for review.

Once Maisie is on the case, the mystery deepens: who was the man Catherine kept meeting and fighting with, the man called "Scotty"? Could he have a connection with Mark Scott, who is uncharacteristically letting Maisie investigate on her own. And who was her "Stage-Door Johnny," as her roommates called Catherine's boyfriend, and could he have something to do with her death? Or could it be one of the roommates, or her landlady, or someone she's made an enemy of via her career?

While Maisie's investigation takes center stage, the Blitz and the reaction of ordinary British citizens to the hellfire is just as important as the mystery. Winspear brings the hellish nights vividly alive, and intertwines them into her plot, especially in the subplot involving the Partridges and young Tim's adjustment to his disability (see the previous book). She also emphasizes the yeoman work of the war correspondents and the women who fought to join "the boys' club" and prove themselves as competent as the men. And once again, Winspear is not allowing Maisie's life to remain static.

Not the best entry in the series mystery-wise, but outstanding in its portrayal of London and environs during the Blitz.

book icon  Cool Hand Lou: My Fifty Years in Hollywood and on Broadway, Lou Antonio
Back when I was a teen with odd tastes, I didn't get "crushes" on contemporary music stars or actors; I preferred men, not boys. The cute series The Snoop Sisters provided me with Lou Antonio, with his nice dark hair and quick dark eyes (I'd seen him earlier, on Star Trek, but nothing clicked under the makeup he had to wear), and I have enjoyed his performances and his directorial efforts ever since. Recently I was listening to a podcast where the host interviews actors, but not the usual tired "pop" stars everyone else interviews today. When I was finished I scrolled through other episodes and was pop-eyed to find Mr. Antonio included on one, and was even more pop-eyed when I listened and realized he'd written a book! I read his book and rewatched The Snoop Sisters at the same time.

What a career! He actually wanted to be a ballplayer until a dislocated pitching arm killed that dream. Should he just stay in Oklahoma City and run his dad's chicken fried steak place? No, instead he went to New York City, studied acting under Lee Strasberg, and did stage and television series filmed in NYC until that option went away, then he moved to Hollywood and made a name not only in acting but in directing. His acting credits included Cool Hand Luke, four guest star appearances on the critically acclaimed Naked City, Route 66, The Defenders, Gunsmoke, and more. His director credits include The Partridge Family, Owen Marshall Counselor at Law, McCloud, McMillan and Wife, Something for Joey, Silent Victory: The Kitty O'Neill Story, and more. He's worked with stage greats like Geraldine Page and Colleen Dewhurst, and directed George C. Scott, Lee Remick, and Elizabeth Taylor. You follow him from struggling actor to noted director, from the gritty to the greats, with many goofs and triumphs along the way.

It's all written in an informal, conversational style that I found enjoyable, as if you were seated across from him at dinner and he's telling you stories. I could almost hear his voice as I read. Great book!

book icon  Stirring the Pot With Benjamin Franklin: A Founding Father's Culinary Adventures, Rae Katherine Eighmey
Call it a biography of Benjamin Franklin with culinary interruptions.

Once again Eighmey tackles a historic figure in a different way, as in Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen, by seeing what foods and drink that figure would have eaten during their lifetime, taken from mentions of food in their journals as well as typical menus of the era. In this way, we see a typical colonial/revolutionary diet across the boards, from Franklin's childhood as the son of a fairly poor soapmaker and chandler to his time in the salons of Paris eating nouvelle cousine. Eighmey extracts Franklin's diet from his legendary diary entry about arriving in Philadelphia with three loaves of bread to his name to the Franklin family's grocery orders to Franklin's letters home from Europe mentioning fashionable dinners. Each chapter is followed by a selection of foods from the era taken from cookbooks published at the time.

I didn't like this one quite as well as the Abraham Lincoln book. She has to do a lot of extrapolation and sometimes the recipe connections are tenuous, like the ones that accompany the chapter on Franklin's electrical experiments. However, if you're interested in "cookery," as the British say, or historic recipes, this should please.

31 January 2019

Books Completed Since January 1

book icon  Goodness and Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, edited by Michael Leach, James Keane, and Doris Goodnough

book icon  Preparing My Heart for Advent, Ann Marie Stewart

book icon  A Victorian Christmas Treasury, edited by Moira Allen

book icon  Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days That Changed Her Life, Lucy Worsley
Published in Britain as Queen Victoria: Daughter, Wife, Mother, Widow, this is, rather than an in-depth biography, a book that hits the highlights of the long-lived monarch's lifetime, from the wedding of her father (one of the sons of King George III) and mother in order to beget a blood heir to the throne of England, through her childhood, ascension to the throne, marriage and childbearing, and old age, touching on historical events like the Irish famine and personal scandals like the Queen's friendship with ghillie John Brown at Balmoral Castle. So you could call this "Queen Victoria's Greatest Hits" and it is the perfect starting ground for anyone who's become interested in the Victoria series running on television, but who's not ready to attack an in-depth biography such as Julia Baird's or A.N. Wilson's. (Becoming Queen Victoria is also good, not particularly a bio, but explains how Victoria entered the line of succession.)

Folks not fond of scholarly biographies will probably like Worsley's conversational tone; she can even be quite flip, as when she refers to Victoria's mother as "the dotty Duchess" several times. If you've seen any of Worsley's historical documentaries (and if you haven't run to YouTube immediately! they are swell), you can hear her voice as you read the text. A good deal of text is taken from Victoria's own diaries and letters as well as the diaries and letters of others, so we hear these historical people "in their own words" rather than by hearsay.

In short, a nice intro to the complicated personality that was Queen Victoria.

book icon  Bryant and May: Hall of Mirrors, Christopher Fowler
Those quintessential British detectives, eccentric Arthur Bryant and his erudite partner John May, have solved any number of mysteries with historical aspects (London's rivers, old pubs, theater lore, etc.), but they haven't tackled the quintessential British mystery form, the country house murder—until now. When they accidentally sink a barge in the pursuit of a criminal named "Burlington Bertie," the Peculiar Crimes Unit is, as always, up on the chopping block, and the two men get stuck babysitting a witness in a criminal negligence case. Unfortunately their charge is determined to go to a weekend house party held by a flaky Lord who wants to be a hippie who's planning to sell his estate to an American businessman.

And then the murders start happening.

While it is fun seeing the guys in 1960s gear—naturally John wears the latest fashions while enjoying the whole swinging scene and Arthur sticks with the classics—and coping with hippies, nobility who are now out of fashion, cheating businessmen, and a re-encounter with Maggie Armitage, it misses the fun of the whole current PCU team working together (although Janice's mother Gladys—originally a policewoman—is helping the guys on the sly and Roger Trapp appears to be the Raymond Land du jour.) We also find out how Arthur acquired his car and his red-and-white scarf, and why there's a marijuana plant growing under his desk. Begins and ends with a framing sequence from the present where Fowler once again muddies the waters about our guys' ages and who writes the stories. Whatever decade, Bryant and May are always worthwhile visitors!

book icon  Re-read: Heidi, Johanna Spyri
I had Heidi from when I was very small, in the "Whitman Classic" edition. Who could not help but be enchanted by the story of the small, determined girl who is unceremoniously dumped on her bitter grandfather by her neglectful aunt, and who comes to love not only the old man but her life in the Alps—until her aunt returns to take her away again, this time to Frankfurt, where she is to be a companion to a girl confined to a wheelchair. (Anyone who thinks Heidi is a "wimpy story" and a "wimpy girl" hasn't read the books.)

In the 1980s I fell in love with a beautiful illustrated edition (color and black and white by Donna Pacinelli). It turns out that this edition is taken from the original text published in 1881 in two volumes. I had known my Whitman edition was abridged, but it took this edition to show me how much! The original text is much longer, with all the Grandmother's hymns preserved intact. I really appreciated this edition, which did not translate any of the German titles or names, so that you got a better flavor of the story. The goats are still Schwänli and Bärli, rather than Little Swan and Little Bear, she's still Fraülein Rottenmeier and not "Miss," and they haven't called Heidi's grandfather the eyebrow-raising "Uncle Alp" as I saw in one edition. In fact, the unabridged version has some lines that made my eyebrows arch, as in when Grandfather tells the Doctor that he wants Heidi provided for properly because she has only one relative who "will take advantage of her." You know he's talking about snobby Aunt Dete, and that certainly wasn't in my abridged edition!

If you're reading Heidi to a younger child, you might want to find a simpler edition that is not too highly abridged; if you're looking for the full flavor of the story, check into the genuine unedited article. (If you can find it, find the one with the Donna Pacinelli illos, as they are truly beautiful.)

Incidentally, I still can't figure out why Heidi is almost always portrayed onscreen as a blond. She is described as having dark curls and dark eyes several times in the book! Apparently all Swiss kids must have blond hair and blue eyes in films. Ugh!

book icon  Liquid Rules, Mark Miodownik
I want to go to whatever school it is where Mark Miodownik teaches.

I'd never heard about "material science" when I went to school, but biology left me cold, chemistry was absorbing in the laboratory, but the mathematical portion of the course was over my head. Needless to say, after that, physics was out. :-) But earth science I loved, and I would have loved a course on material science.

In his previous book, Stuff Matters, he covered solids: concrete, paper, glass (yes, it's really a very slow moving liquid, but it's perceived as solid), etc. This one concerns the other material in our lives: liquids. Using the framing device of an airplane journey from London to San Francisco, Miodownik opens with an obvious choice: jet fuel to represent the explosive liquids (including gasoline). We're then on a journey through the rest of the family: alcohol, water/the ocean, adhesives, paint/liquid crystals, bodily fluids, coffee and tea, soap, freon, ink, moisture in the atmosphere, magma, and sustainable liquids. Liberally illustrated with drawings to illustrate chemical molecule structures and other concepts, he makes scientific principles understandable and the science fun to learn.

The only thing I did not like about the book was Miodownik's attempt to incorporate the woman sitting next to him on the plane into his narrative. In chapter six it's very clumsily done (he falls asleep on "Susan's" shoulder and, regrettably, drools). I'm guessing this is his attempt at keeping the narrative light and not pedantic, and it falls really, really flat, especially when he keeps making an idiot out of himself in front of her. I wish he'd do a rewrite of the book and get rid of all the twaddle with Susan (it's perfectly okay for him to interact with her, but the schoolboy humor really is annoying). He could have included far more scientific material instead!

The book is still worth the read; just ignore the framing. And I look forward to his book on gases (there has to be one coming, right?).

book icon  Re-read: Christmas Past, Robert Brenner (Rudolph Day reading)

book icon  A Symphony of Echoes, Jodi Taylor (The Chronicles of St. Mary's #2)
Jodi Taylor's "St. Mary's" books present a setup similar to Connie Willis' Doomsday Book, Blackout, All Clear, etc.: a university sponsoring trips into the past to learn more about real history via some kind of mechanical process that is not explained. However, while Willis' books are mostly serious studies of time traveling (well, save for To Say Nothing of the Dog), Taylor's books are (occasionally madcap) action-adventures. This entry begins with her protagonist Madeleine "Max" Maxwell traveling with Kalinda Black on Kalinda's final mission, to see/catch Jack the Ripper in the act. They are only there to observe—until they end up being stalked.

As in all the St. Mary's books, there are several adventures which usually culminate in them being interconnected. In this case the crew later journeys to a future version of St. Mary's where the facility has been compromised, and a finding there will take them back in time to, as Voyagers! used to put it, get history back on track—in this case history being altered by a rogue force.

The books are a fast, usually fun mix of action, history, and the absurd (there are dodos in this book; don't ask why), plus following Max's growth from an earnest but maverick operative to a trusted figure—and a personal betrayal that hurts Max (and the reader) to the very quick. These books aren't meant as serious commentary on observers returning to past history; they are adventure books—and it must be mentioned, with adult themes—with a varied cast of eccentric characters. Try the first, and, if it's your cup of tea, journey on and enjoy—I sure have!

book icon  The Bowery Boys Adventures in Old New York, Greg Young and Tom Meyers
Have I mentioned lately how much I love history? This explains why I picked up this book—apparently based on a podcast—which is a tour book of New York City's historic places (still existing or now vanished), starting at the original city site at the Battery and working north neighborhood by neighborhood as the city once did as it grew, from New York Harbor and Bedloe's (now Liberty) Island all the way to Washington Heights (which, ironically, is the site where Peter Minuet "bought" Manhattan from the Lenape tribe).

I confess, a big reason I bought this book was that it was Advent and one of the chapters of the book discusses the Moore family and its most famous member, Clement C., a theologian now known only as the author of A Visit from St. Nicholas (a.k.a. "The Night Before Christmas")—that is, if we haven't made a mistake for 200 years and the poem was written by Henry Livingston as the Livingston family states. Moore's estate was named "Chelsea" and where it spread is now the neighborhood known as "Chelsea." But the book is full of historical tidbits like that, from sad reminders like the old New York slave market area to the chain of small parks (Washington Square, Bryant, etc.) that culminated in the magnificence of Central Park, the old "Ladies' Mile" shopping area to the still unfinished Cathedral of St. John the Divine (known to me as the place where Madeleine L'Engle had a little office where she wrote).

Whether you love NYC or not, the historical journey through the city mirrors the growth of the United States, and gives you a whole bunch of great places to visit besides the usual tired standards.

book icon  Louisa on the Front Lines, Samantha Seiple
This is a short but engrossing book about Louisa May Alcott's service in nursing during the Civil War. Taken from Louisa's diary and other family documents and previous biographies, Seiple introduces us to Louisa and her eccentric and poverty-dogged family (including her hapless father Bronson, with his philosophical and pedagogical ideas before his time), and also to a blacksmith named John Surhe, who would become the central character in Louisa's first successful work, Hospital Sketches, and also to the tough, independent hospital matron, Hannah Ropes, and how this experience "made" Louisa, but also ruined her health.

Seiple's narrative is brisk, engaging, and enjoyable as she introduces the various "players" in Louisa's war experiences and recounts her difficult nursing situation (bad food, suffering patients, endless duties). Using Alcott's own words as much as possible gives us a better idea of the unusual woman she was: for equality of races, for not pigeonholing women into motherhood, even for recreation (Louisa's favorite exercise was running, which was unheard of in a woman of her age; she'd probably jog and run marathons today).

However, I hope this is edited before it is published in February. The author states that General Ambrose Burnside invented "a carbine for [my emphasis] guns that would help the cavalry load their weapons faster." Evidently Ms. Seiple knows nothing about firearms. A carbine is a rifle, albeit a shorter barrelled one. Burnside invented a new kind of carbine that fired more quickly because it had a cartridge rather than a bullet that had to be loaded with loose gunpowder and then tamped down with a ramrod. A carbine is not some sort of attachment for a rifle to make it load faster, which is what the sentence makes it sound like. (I looked this up; somebody else with something to do with this book could have as well.)

book icon  Triple Jeopardy: A Daniel Pitt Novel, Anne Perry
I enjoyed the first Daniel Pitt novel, especially the character of Miriam fford-Croft, but did not find it outstanding. This second novel in the series is a different kettle of fish altogether. Daniel Pitt, son of Sir Thomas and Charlotte Ellison Pitt, now in his twenties and a lawyer, is asked by his visiting brother-in-law Patrick Flannery to look into a case he considers particularly reprehensible: a young woman of Patrick and Jemima Pitt Flannery's acquaintance had a man invade her bedroom in their home in Washington, DC, rip a necklace given to her by her godmother from her neck, and then flee. Her father identified the man as a Philip Sidney, who the family knew and who worked at the British Embassy. What is worse, the Embassy gave him immunity and then shipped him home. The young woman is now terrified. Could Daniel, wonders Patrick, see if something could be done about Sidney despite diplomatic immunity? Daniel reluctantly agrees, only to find out that Sidney is suddenly being charged with embezzlement from the Embassy. He talks his law firm into letting him defend Sidney in court, at which time the home invasion could be brought up and Sidney could be punished. But once Daniel meets the young man, he slowly realizes he doesn't think he's guilty at all.

There are many twists and turns in this story; no sooner does Daniel get one thing possibly sorted out than another rears its ugly head, and the plot turns out to involve much more than embezzlement and much more than a clumsy home invasion. Indeed, it's possible the Government itself may be involved.

This starts out slowly, but if you have been invested in the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt novels, and remember Jemima Pitt's New York adventure and eventual marriage to Patrick Flannery, New York City police officer, you will enjoy seeing what's happened to them and meeting their children. Jemima and Daniel's supportive sibling relationship in the face of the mounting evidence makes this novel, as is the reappearance of Miriam fford-Croft, daughter of Daniel's senior partner in the law firm, as she tackles growing forensic evidence. In the last two-thirds of the volume each chapter races along to a new disappointment or a new hope, culminating in an exciting ending. Recommended, especially if you are a fan of the Pitts.

01 January 2019

Favorite Books of 2018

Once again it's a baker's dozen, and I've cheated a little by putting two similar books by the same author as one listing. C'mon, it's Alistair Cooke...

book icon  Christmas: A Biography, Judith Flanders
The history of Christmas by British historian Flanders.

book icon  Red, White, and Who: The Story of Doctor Who in America, Steven Warren Hill, Jennifer Adams Kelley, Nicholas Seidler, and Robert Warnock, with Janine Fennick and John Lavalie
Hefty trade paperback with everything you ever wanted to know about Who broadcasts, fandom, etc. in the U.S. If you've been an American Who fan since way back when, this is the book for you.

book icon  Becoming Madeleine, Charlotte Jones Volkis and Léna Roy
Madeleine L'Engle's granddaughters present a children's version of her biography, with rare photos and facsimiles of Madeleine's art and diaries. ::swooon::

book icon  To Die But Once, Jacqueline Winspear
The latest (so far) Maisie Dobbs mystery novel, now set in the years before World War II.

book icon  One Man's America, Alistair Cooke & Talk About America, Alistair Cooke
Published, printed essays from Cooke's regular BBC radio series "Letter from America," which ran from the 1940s until his death.

book icon  Space Helmet for a Cow 2: The Mad, True Story of Doctor Who, Paul Kirkley
Sequel to Space Helmet for a Cow (surprise!), but this time from the new series. More snark, more fun.

book icon  The Whole Art of Detection, Lyndsay Faye
Incredibly good volume of Sherlock Holmes pastiches by Faye. She has the voices down pat.

book icon  The Book, Keith Houston
A book about...books (by the same guy who gave you the book about punctuation).

book icon  America and the Great War, Margaret E. Wagner
Text and photos/posters/advertisements/propaganda in one seductive volume.

book icon  The World of All Souls, Deborah Harkness, Claire Baldwin, Lisa Halttunen, and Jill Hough, with illustrations by Colleen Madden
For fans of Diana Bishop and Matthew Clermont, a book about their universe, including historical research used for sources, plus chapters that were edited from the trilogy, accompanied by wonderful ink illustrations.

book icon  The Prisoner in the Castle: A Maggie Hope Mystery, Susan Elia MacNeal
American-raised cryptographer turned British spy, Maggie knows too much, and is confined to an island with others in similar straits—until it all goes Agatha Christie.

book icon  On Trails, Robert Moor
Super nature text about trails and how they are formed, while Moor walks some of the most famous trails in the world.

book icon  The Morville Hours, Katherine Swift
Beautifully written chronicle, based on a medieval book of hours, of Swift's restoration of an estate's gardens.

With an honorable mention to Mary Mason Campbell's The New England Butt'ry Shelf Almanac. I loved Campbell's essays in this book and wish there were a book of more of them.

31 December 2018

Books Completed Since December 1

book icon  Re-Read: Christmas After All, Kathryn Lasky

book icon  Re-read: Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol: The Making of the First Animated Christmas Special, Darrell Van Citters

book icon  Re-read: Christmas in America, Penne Restad
book icon  Re-read: The Battle for Christmas, Stephen Nissenbaum

book icon  Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Wonder of Christmas, edited by Amy Newmark

book icon  The Christmas Book, Francis X. Weiser

book icon  The Ghost of Christmas Past, Rhys Bowen

book icon  Top Elf, Caleb Zane Huett

book icon  Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors, adapted by Frances Frost

book icon  Re-read: Sleigh Bells for Windy Foot, Frances Frost

book icon  Re-read: The Victorian Christmas Book, Antony and Peter Miall

book icon  Santa Claus: A Biography, Gerry Bowler

book icon  Christmas Ideals 2018, from Worthy Publications

book icon  Christmas in Greece, from World Book

book icon  Christmas in Finland, from World Book

book icon  Merry Christmas!, Karal Ann Marling

book icon  The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, Karina Yan Glaser
In the tradition of The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright and the Penderwick books by Jeanne Birdsall is this tale of a family living in Harlem. There are scientific Jessie and her musician sister Isa, twelve; nine-year-old Oliver, bookworm and basketball fanatic; Hyacinth, age six, who loves yarn and fabric, and four (and three quarters) Laney, who loves to hug and adores her bunny Paganini (there's also a basset, Franz, and the cat, George Washington), plus their mom, a baker, and their dad, a computer expert who also operates as the super for the brownstone they live in at 141st Street. Right before Christmas, their crabby landlord, Mr. Beiderman, says he won't renew their lease at the end of the month and they have to move immediately. The kids love their neighborhood and their home and don't want to move, and work up some plots to warm up "the Beiderman" so they won't be evicted, while their parents scramble to pack and find a new place to live. Plus they're getting ready for Christmas and things are afoot among their close-knit neighbors.

While set at Christmas, this isn't particularly a Christmas book as it is the both funny and at times sad story of a lively family of imaginative kids, their friends and neighbors, and their earnest but sometimes offbeat efforts to get the landlord to like them (which, of course, go all wrong). Sometimes the story seems a bit old-fashioned (the kids call their parents "Mama" and "Papa") and some reviewers have expressed disbelief that they are so friendly with everyone in their neighborhood (I assure you, this type of thing did used to exist and no reason exists why it still shouldn't take place), but altogether it's full of fun and warmth.

book icon  Re-read: The Cottage Holiday, Jo Mendel