22 October 2007

Books Read Since September 12

• Mark Twain, Ron Powers
An enjoyable biography of Sam Clemens, with some facts I did not know, including the tragic, violent death of his younger brother. Powers profiles Clemens as the first media superstar and a much more complicated person than folklore portrays him.

• California Demon, Julie Kenner
• Demons are Forever, Julie Kenner
Books two and three in Julie Kenner's fantasy/mystery series about Kate Connor, former demon hunter for an organization operating out of the Vatican. Kate, whose daily adult routine had her caring for attorney/rising politician husband Stuart, teenage daughter Allie from her first marriage, and her baby son with Stuart, Timmy, has now been plunged into new demon hunting duties without Stuart's knowledge. These are fun, light reading, even with the complication of an old relationship coming to the fore in the third book.

• Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City, Kirsten Miller
Improbable, but amusing girls' adventure book about social misfit Ananka Fishbein, whose tenure at an exclusive private school with snobbish classmates takes an unusual turn when she notices a strange girl climbing down into a mysterious sinkhole. Ananka discovers not only a mysterious underground city, but an amazing girl named Kiki Strike who's hiding an astonishing secret, and, via Kiki, becomes part of an all-girl "strike group" consisting of other misfits.

• Shadows at the Spring Show, Lea Wait
This was a $1 acquisition from the Borders Books bargain table, a mystery involving antique print dealer and history professor Maggie Summer. Maggie is helping with a charity antique show being held to benefit an adoption group and is mystified as the next person when threatening notes demanding the show be canceled start arriving. Then one of the adoptive mothers is shot and one of her children disappears, becoming the chief suspect. I enjoyed this book, but found it nothing special. YMMV.

• If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name, Heather Lende
Offbeat book about life in a small Alaska town; since the author is in charge of the obituary column in the local newspaper, there are several chapters about life and death in the Northlands. The book is considerably more sober than the cute cover of a moose on a city street would have you believe.

• Sheetrock and Shellac, David Owen
Another "book for a buck," the story of Owen's adventures in DIY, starting with a renovation in a New York City apartment and then growing to a major kitchen renovation in the rural colonial home he and his wife purchased, culminating in the building of a weekend cabin at a nearby lake. Owen's narration is friendly and holds the interest, even about things as mundane as concrete and the titular sheetrock and shellac. His weekend cabin sounds like a dream come true.

• Re-read: Flicka's Friend, Mary O'Hara
I grew up near two small and ultimately mediocre libraries; fortunately my junior high school library was a goldmine of discovered classics. One of these was Mary O'Hara's Wyoming Summer, a diary of her life on the ranch that she brought to fictional life in My Friend Flicka. On the other hand, I did not know about this autobiography of O'Hara until I stumbled upon it in a used book store twenty years later. Ms. O'Hara led many lives more than the woman who brought modern ranch living to life: a pampered wealthy childhood in Pennsylvania, marriage to an arrogant politician-to-be, mother of two children, "photoplay" writer in silent movies, musician. Fascinating from beginning to end.

• In Like Flynn and Oh Danny Boy, Rhys Bowen
Fourth and fifth in Bowen's series about Molly Murphy, an Irish lass who came over to "Gaslight" New York City to escape a murder charge, who becomes, without totally meaning to, a private investigator and the apple of the eye of Daniel Sullivan, NYPD captain. I actually read Oh Danny Boy first, having forgotten to pick up a copy of Flynn. In the latter, Molly investigates two spiritualists preying on the grieving wife of a local politician and finds out her flight from Ireland was premature. In the fifth book, Molly tries to clear Daniel Sullivan of bribery charges, once again involving herself with New York gangs, the seamy side of Coney Island, and corruption in old-time New York. Sometimes the language is a bit anachronistic for the time, but Molly is so feisty and determined that it's forgivable.

• Re-read: Flambards, K.M. Peyton
I'm a big fan of the miniseries adaptation of Peyton's first three Flambards novels, but the books are jolly good reads as well. In this, the first, orphaned Christina is sent to live at her Uncle Russell's gloomy estate Flambards. Russell was crippled in a hunting accident and lives vicariously through his older son Mark, who is a fearless rider, and loathes his younger son William, who hates horses and is involved in the new science of aviation. Peyton paints a memorable portrait of Edwardian England and the changes that come during the era with lively characters.

• The World of the Golden Compass, ed. Scott Westerfield
A series of essays about Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, examining the nature of "Dust" and Demons, heroine Lyra, and the dark adults that inhabit her world. Made me eager to go back and re-read the entire trilogy, of which the first, The Golden Compass (known as Northern Lights in Great Britain), is the best.