22 December 2008

Favorite Books of 2008

Since several of the other book blogs have done a list like this, I thought I'd take a look back at my favorites as well. Out of all of them, only three fiction entries. Heh. (Okay, I have to 'fess...I did enjoy the hell out of the four "Pink Carnation" books by Lauren Willig.)

• Inside the Victorian Home, Judith Flander (nonfiction, history)
• An Incomplete Revenge, Jacqueline Winspear (mystery)
• The Time Travelers and The Time Thief, Linda Buckley-Archer (young adult; arrgh! the third book isn't out until June!!!)
• A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson (nonfiction)
• Wait Till Next Year, Doris Kearns Goodwin (memoir; I hate baseball, but I loved this book)
• America 1908, Jim Rasenberger (nonfiction, history)
• In the Shadow of the Moon, Francis French and Colin Burgess (nonfiction, space program)
• Color, Victoria Finlay (nonfiction)
• Only Yesterday, Frederick Lewis Allen (nonfiction, history ["Roaring" 20s])
• The Worst Hard Time, Timothy Egan (nonfiction, history [Dust Bowl])
• Crusader Nation, David Trexel (nonfiction, history [1898-1920 US])

16 November 2008

Books Read Since September 23

• Re-read: Friday, Robert Heinlein
I'm sorry, I like this book. Yeah, Heinlein was obsessed in his later years with sex, especially young, always sexually receptive women, and Friday is definitely that, but I see the story as a young woman looking for a home. Embarked on a series of truly "picaresque" adventures, as my junior-high English teachers would have categorized them, Friday, an "artificial person" raised to think of herself as less than human and a special operative for a mysterious organization run by an elderly man known as "Boss," loses a family but finally gains another as she avoids one danger after the other.

• Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters, Lesley M.M. Blume
I don't know what to say about this book: the summary, about a girl whose pianist mother overshadows her life and who finds a friend in an elderly neighbor who traveled the world as a young woman sounded delightful. And truly, the story of Cornelia, her feelings of inadequacy next to her mother, her friendship with Virginia Somerset and her awakening sense of self-esteem is delightful. I was less delighted with Virginia's stories—they all seemed to be about four spoiled sisters who went into foreign places where they weren't wanted, although I had to admit the story with two of the sisters' rivalry while taking painting lessons was pretty funny. But for the most part, the sisters' behavior reminded me why so many Europeans label those from the US as "ugly Americans." I guess I'm reading too much into something that's just supposed to be a kids' book.

• Mad for Decades
This is one of two MAD magazine compilations being sold at Barnes & Noble; this is the one with the television and movie spoofs, which includes one of my all-time favorites, "Lizzie the Wonder Dog," a laugh-a-panel spoof of Lassie.

• Deja Demon, Julie Kenner
What's next for Kate Connor, the the supposedly former demon hunter who's now the wife of an respected attorney running for office? She's already adopted a half-crazed elderly demon hunter who helped her when demons invaded her home town, is raising a toddler and a teenage daughter from her previous marriage who knows her profession and who is training at her side, and, oh, yeah, she somehow brought her late husband, whose spirit has been residing in the body of the high school's new gym teacher, back to life, and he naturally wants to be part of his daughter's life. How can Kate fight demons, keep her daughter safe, ignore her love for her ex-husband, and keep her present husband out of the loop—not to mention help make a bunch of Easter baskets for a civic project! Action, tongue-in-cheek dialog, and some interesting relationship questions in this series described as "Buffy the vampire slayer grown up."

• Marley and Me, Josh Grogan
A long time on the bestseller list and now about to be a motion picture, this is the story of the Grogan family and their delightfully loopy golden Labrador, the obedience school dropout. Marley will worm his way into your heart.

• The Adams Chronicles, Jack Shepherd
This is a novelization of the television miniseries, highlighted by numerous engravings, paintings, and documents from the lives of four generations of the Adams family, starting with second President John Adams. I enjoyed it, but it's not light reading.

• The Dance of Time, Michael Judge
This is a short book I picked up on the remainder shelf about the cycle of the year and the holidays and seasonal changes that accompany each month. The prose is lyrical and provides lovely reading, although the information imparted may be a bit thin for some.

• The Tale of Hawthorn House, Susan Wittig Albert
Imagine Beatrix Potter's surprise when she wakes up one morning in the new annex at Hill Top Farm and finds a baby sitting on her doorstep and an elderly woman disappearing over the stone wall! At the same time, young Emily, a servant girl, disappears from her position in order to take a job in London, one less grander than she was led to expect. As care for the child passes on to Dimity Woodcock, the voices of gossip begin spreading in the neighborhood, about Beatrix, Dimity, her brother Captain Woodcock, and the unfortunate Major Kittredge, not to mention baby Flora. In the usual animal subplot, Jemima Puddleduck is wrestling with her attraction to the evil fox who tried to seduce her into a dinner plate. These are charming little whimsical tales; beware if you are a procedurals fan!

• The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey
This is one of the classics of mystery fiction, and I have to say I quite enjoyed it. Inspector Alan Grant is hospital-bound due to an injury sustained in the line of duty. Bored out of his mind, he is intrigued by the face of a portrait his girlfriend brings him, a sensitive face that turns out to be that of the "murderous" Richard III. With the help of history books and an unassuming American history scholar, Grant sets out to prove who really killed the little princes in the tower. The supporting characters, including Grant's two nurses, are really a plus!

• Death at La Fenice, Donna Leon
This is the first of a series of police procedural mysteries about Commissario Guide Brunetti, who works as a detective in the city of Venice. While he's married to a warm loving wife and has two children, Brunetti's work life is a little more tense: his superior is a rather stupid and very vain and imperious know-it-all. When a famous German conductor is poisoned between acts at a performance at the famed Venice opera house La Fenice, Brunetti's superior is insistent that the crime be solved quickly. But the longer Brunetti investigates the evidence, the more he discovers that the conductor's past was not as exemplary as anyone would like. I had a bit of a struggle to get through this. I enjoyed the characters very much, and the mystery was well-plotted, but I'm just not a police procedural fan.

• A Foreign Affair, Caro Peacock
Just as young princess Victoria inherits the throne from her deceased uncle, a young Englishwoman named Liberty Lane receives a shocking note that her father was killed in a duel in Calais. Knowing that her father abhorred dueling, she travels to Calais to claim the body, only to be swept up in intrigue. Finally Liberty is coerced into "going undercover" as a governess to uncover the activities of Sir Herbert Mandeville. I enjoyed this one a lot, but couldn't help thinking the story was a bit of deja vu, as this is the third novel I've read about pretenders to the throne in two months! My main quibble is that Liberty lives up too much to her name for a 19th century woman...much too much wandering about unescorted, a big no-no for a woman in those days. But I can't help liking a woman who chooses what path she's going to take because of a horse!

• All Shots, Susan Conant
When a mysterious biker shows up on Holly Winter's doorstep looking for Holly Winter, "our" Holly knows he must be looking for the other Holly Winter in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a Holly who loathes dogs. But while "our" Holly is on a mission to find a lost dog, she discovers a murder victim...who's also named Holly Winter. And this Holly looks she might have been involved with something illegal. Frankly, the combination of Hollys make this outing rather confusing.

• The Neandertal Enigma, James Shreeve
Fascinating book about the newest theories about Neandertal man and what happened to them...although much of the book seems to be about feuds between anthropologists and their theories!

05 November 2008

Vacation Books

I always find books, no matter where. These are books I picked up at the Book Warehouse in Pigeon Forge, TN:

Shadows in the White City, Robert Walker: 1893 Chicago-set detective story (second in series; haven't read the first).

The Avion My Uncle Flew, Cyrus Walker: originally published in 1946, now in a Puffin edition, young-adult novel about an American boy overseas in postwar France.

The Adventures of Tintin, Volume 1, Hergé: Would you believe I've never read any Tintin? This is a compilation of three different stories.

Crusader Nation, David Traxel: the US between 1898 and 1920.

The other two books I bought were gifts. My order from Hamilton Books also came while we were gone. Again, two of the books were gifts, but I also bought a volume called Cross Stitch Greeting Cards (for only $3!) and A Great and Godly Adventure: The Pilgrims and the Myth of the First Thanksgiving by Godfrey Hodgson.

14 October 2008

Book Meme

What was the last book you bought?

A book called Christmas Curiosities by John Grossman, about Victorian images of Christmas that we would now find rather grotesque.

Name a book you have read MORE than once

You mean...just one? Are you serious? LOL. I'll just name a few: Gladys Taber's Stillmeadow books. The Harry Potter novels. The Lord Peter Wimsey books, Little Women and Louisa May Alcott's other juvenile novels. The Horsemasters, The Open Gate, The Secret Garden, Friday, Heinlein's juveniles, Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy, A Christmas Carol, The Cottage Holiday, Sudden Sea, Wyoming Summer, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Addie Pray, Red Sky at Morning... That's just a sample. :-)

Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?

I can't think of one, although I always remember what Mary O'Hara says in Wyoming Summer: "Happiness hangs by a hair."

How do you choose a book? eg. by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews

It depends. I have been seduced by covers and then been delighted by some and disappointed by others. The same with recommendations and reviews. I have found some of the best books by accident in the bargain book dumps at Borders! I do find that being able to page through the book and read the first few pages helps. That's why I am wary of buying books online that I cannot read samples from.

Do you prefer Fiction or Non-Fiction?

I read anything that strikes my interest. I am always interested in good historical nonfiction if it's in an era that I'm interested in (and a well-written book in an era I'm not interested in may snag me as well).

What’s more important in a novel - beautiful writing or a gripping plot?

I'd say the latter; all the beautiful writing in the world isn't going to make up for an inane plot. But I am tempted by beautiful writing...Laurie Lee's prose, for instance, was close to poetry, and Gladys Taber's writing often painted lovely New England portraits.

Most loved/memorable character (character/book)

Another unanswerable question—if I chose one, what about the others? I'd feel as if I was being unfair. I can say that Mary Stewart's Merlin has ruined me for any other Merlin portrayal, he is so real to me. But so are Peter Wimsey and Jo March and Kip Russell and the Preston family...

Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?

If I want to be pedantic, I think the only book on my nightstand right now is a bound issue of St. Nicholas (and two bound issues of Wide Awake that I have no other place for). However, my to-be-read "pile" consists of five shelves in a bookcase next to my bed (and the three Sherlock Holmes volumes under the nightstand, and the pile of new Christmas books behind the sofa).

What was the last book you’ve read, and when was it?

I finished Caro Peacock's A Foreign Affair this morning.

Have you ever given up on a book half way in?

Oh, several. My best friend gave me Asimov's Foundation trilogy way back when we were in high school...she loved the books...I staggered to a stop after five pages. In college I was halfway through Joyce Carol Oates' Wonderland before I threw the book against the wall in disgust. Right now I'm stuck halfway in the second Jade del Cameron book, Stalking Ivory. Ideally it's a period piece I should like, but there's something about the writing I find annoying.

From "BooksPlease" via Dani Torres' blog.

29 September 2008

Found on Google Books

Four bound volumes (at least) of St. Nicholas magazine have been "digitized" and placed online at Google Books!

November 1878 through November 1879

November 1893 through April 1894

November 1914 through April 1915 (with vintage ads!)

May 1921 through October 1921

Also, here are a couple of bound volumes of other vintage children's magazines:

Wide Awake, June though December 1888 (Volume AA)

Our Young Folks for the year 1873

As for what adults were reading while their kids were having fun with St. Nicholas:

Century May 1899-October 1899 (with vintage ads!)

22 September 2008

Books Read Since August 22

• The Other End of the Leash, Patricia B. McConnell
This one should have been on the list months ago, but I handed it over to James to read and forgot to add it to the queue. McConnell, an animal behaviorist (as she mentions quite a bit), discusses the difference between human/primate body language and the body language of dogs. If I have claimed at times that Willow was driving me crazy, I can see after reading this book that we are both driving Willow crazy by saying one thing with our voice and another with our body stance. I'm trying to correct myself and the dog does seem more responsive when I remember. Anyway, an interesting read with many illustrative behavior tales about McConnell's own dogs.

• A Poisoned Season, Tasha Alexander
Lady Emily Ashton, the young Victorian widow who has astonished society by being genuinely interested in Greek antiquities and text (and who drinks port rather than the more ladylike sherry), returns in this outing that revolves around thefts of relics of Marie Antoinette and the appearance of a man who may be the heir to the French throne. While Emily helps two of her friends with their very different relationship problems, not to mention deals with her mother about her unorthodox lifestyle, she also contends with a mysterious correspondent who seems to know her every move, while her romance with her late husband's best friend procedes afresh. An enjoyable narrative which supplies seamless period detail.

• Silent in the Grave, Deanna Raybourn
Lady Julia Grey first meets Nicholas Brisbane over the dying body of her husband, whose weak heart finally fails in the opening pages of the book. From Brisbane, Julia later learns that someone has sent her husband threatening letters, but refuses to believe him. It is only when, a year later, Julia finds one of the letters herself that she asks Brisbane to look into the now-cold mystery. An heady mixture of Victorian novel of manners, mystery tale, and gothic novel (Brisbane, with his dark, powerful looks and mysterious mein—which of course begin to attract Julia—comes directly out of the Wuthering Heights mould), this is an absorbing narrative if one has the patience to stick with it. Julia's unconventional family and servants provide a great deal of color to the novel.

• September Surprises, Ann M. Martin
It's back-to-school time for Flora Northrup, Nikki Sherman, and Olivia Walter, and this time it's a big step: from their elementary school to the big comprehensive junior/senior high school. Olivia, who has skipped a grade, is afraid she'll be bullied or ignored, and sure enough, a classmate begins demanding Olivia let her copy her homework. In the meantime, Ruby Northrup's class becomes pen pals/benefactors for a school in Florida destroyed by a hurricane, Min and Mr. Pendleton see more of each other (to Flora's dismay), Mr. Willet makes preparations to leave the Row Houses, and the girls' Aunt Allie has a disturbing secret. Yet another good story from Martin. What? There's not another until spring? Egad!

• About Time, The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who, 1985-1989, Tat Wood
The sixth and final volume in the volumnous Mad Norwegian Press episode guide/commentary to Doctor Who. I've discovered after reading this that I hardly remember any of the Colin Baker stories, so much was my dislike of his tenure, yet Wood makes them sound appealing. Almost. :-) I'll leave to your imagination what Wood said about the Paul McGann movie, or, as he refers to it, Grace: 1999. The movies Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks: Invasion Earth, as well as "Dimensions in Time" are covered here.

• The Worst Hard Time, Timothy Egan
You can look at the horrifying photos of "dusters" from the photo archives, or the pictures or newsreels of those affected, you can read the statistics about the land destroyed during the Dust Bowl—but nothing will quite equal the stories woven by Egan in this narrative of the dry times on the prairies that should have never been broken by the plow to such an extreme extent. Through the lives of the people who endured dust-choked homes, cattle dead with dirt in their stomachs, children with dust pneumonia, withered crops, blasted landscapes, and final defeat, Egan brings the Dust Bowl years to heartbreaking life. You will cry with these people and wonder how on earth they endured. Stunning.

• The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, Lauren Willig
Mary Alsworthy, once the belle of the ball and now a failed "relic" of several Seasons after her intended marries her sister (and even falls in love with her!), cannot face accepting payment from said sister to finance another Season and instead accepts the darkly seductive Lord Vaughn's business proposition: he is planning to use the tall, dark-haired beauty to bait the villainous Black Tulip, who tries to recruit ladies of her appearance. What starts out as a business relationship turns into more—this is a "Pink Carnation" book, after all!—as Mary and Vaughn's delicious verbal duels bring them closer together while circumstances contrive to drive them apart. But what is behind Vaughn's distance from the world? And what of the interested eyes Mr. St. George keeps casting Mary's way?

• From the Crash to the Blitz: 1929-1939, Cabell Phillips
This is subtitled "The New York Times Chronicle of American Life," but as far as I can tell this was the only volume produced in the "series," if one ever existed. This is a dense but readable overview of the decade between stock market disaster and invasion of Europe, with much emphasis on Government policies, broken occasionally by what was going on in the lives of everyday folks, chronicling their entertainment and means of living. What's really fascinating about this particular history, however, are the wealth of photographs and clippings scattered liberally throughout the book: famous people and events, record labels, menus, newspaper advertisements for stores, ice cream cup lids, fan magazines, baseball cards, sheet music covers, photos of radio performers, playbills, and other epherma that represent the everyday events of the era.

How Can So Many Memories Fit Into One Little Book? #2

LOL...this is #2 because I began it last year...
My mother asked me, "Now that you're working, what are you going to do with 'all that money'?

It was, for 1978, quite a good deal of money, considering I was only working in a factory! I was living at home, paying $25/week rent, $5/week for gas, $5/week as an allowance I gave myself (since paperback books were then about $1.50, this seemed a great deal). The rest (as of the time I was laid off in 1981, about $90) went into the bank. A "big treat" back then was grabbing a book at Waldenbooks and then going to the Roast House at Lincoln Mall for "the turkey sandwich special": an all dark meat turkey sandwich on a Kaiser roll with gravy, a bowl of turkey soup, and a large coffee milk, all for about a dollar and a half. I had to pack jewelry to earn it, but there were much worse jobs (like retail and fast food) and the company was nice.

Still, now that I had money, I wanted to do something special. I wanted to go to a Star Trek convention. Ever since I'd read about them in TV Guide, it had become a dream. Specifically, I wanted to go to a Star Trek convention in New York City.

Dad was not the one to ask about this. Our vacations, now that Mom was working and we could afford it, were myriad and varied, but we never went into cities on our own. The one trip to Washington, D.C. was as part of a Colette bus tour. Dad had enough with cities driving my grandfather to Boston occasionally when Papá took his yearly trip to Italy "on the boat."

Mom said she would go with me. This was the first of three trips we took to New York City together, twice for Trek conventions and once at Christmas. To those who goggle in amazement at anyone over the age of twelve who goes somewhere willingly with their mother: Nyah! Mom and I always had a great time together, even in the so-called "difficult teens." (Did we argue? Um, sure. Lots. But we still had fun together.)

I hadn't ridden a train since I was three years old, so the entire first experience was awesome from beginning to end. We boarded the train at 6 a.m. and swayed through the length of Rhode Island and into Connecticut before the train stopped for the ten-minute-layover in the dark where they switched the engine from diesel to electricity. We passed the suburban commuter platforms that I'd only seen in movies, then descended into dark tunnels, not seeing New York until we climbed from the depths of the platform at Penn Station with our suitcases and emerged out the front door—and looked up, and up, and up! Wow, talk about the little country girl going to the city for the first time—and I was only from the suburbs!

The hotel for the convention was directly across the street from Penn Station: what was then the Statler Hilton, having previously been—and is now again—the Hotel Pennsylvania, made famous by the Glenn Miller song about its phone number, Pennsylvania 6-5000. Compared to its most recent facelift, it was pretty dowdy back then, but I was impressed, as it was the first time I was in a real hotel. The ballroom and convention floor were starting to become downtrodden, but to me the red carpets and straight-backed plush convention chairs were like something out of a fairy tale. On the stage of the ballroom I watched people I'd only read about appear in real life, including the famous Dr. Isaac Asimov, who could talk...and talk...and talk.

One of the speakers we saw at the convention was a lady named Joan Winston, who, with others, formed the original "Committee" that threw the first few Star Trek conventions. (The ones we attended were professionally run, but someone named Townsley, who didn't seem very revered.) Ms. Winston had written a book about her experiences helping with throwing the original conventions, and she was so amusing and her tales so compelling that I told my mom, "I really want to buy this book!" Alas, all the copies she had bought to the convention had been sold!

So Mom and I consulted a telephone directory and walked all the way down (or rather up!) to the Doubleday bookstore on Fifth Avenue, with me trying not to gape at the canyons of the NYC streets. We passed some of the grand old stores on the way: Gimbels, Macys, Korvettes. And when we reached Joan Winston's autograph table after her second panel, I was able to proudly say, "We walked all the way to Doubleday's for this," and she scribbed one of the best autographs ever: "Linda, I've heard of going to the ends of the earth for something...but MY book?"

When I open the book now it's as if I get two stories, the one that Joan Winston wrote and the one Mom and I wrote, from the Union Station platform to the hotel ballroom to the "sidewalks of New York" and then back again. In a rush it all comes back: the heavy scent of the train tunnels and the New York tarmac, the savory odors of Chinatown Express and La Trattoria across 33rd Street (I recall shouting out during the Penn Station scene in Moscow on the Hudson, "Look, there's La Trattoria!"), the wooden-stepped escalator and the embellished red carpet, the narrow aisles of the dealer's room and the spotlights on the guests, and that one wonderful meeting room with the fanzines for sale that, quite unknown to me then, started me for better or worse on a whole new life. How that little book doesn't burst apart from the memories I don't know!

21 August 2008

Books Read Since July 14

• The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwick sisters—responsible Rosalind, unpredictable Skye, literary Jane, and little sister Batty, along with their Latin-quoting widower dad—are back at their home on Gardam Street after an eventful summer, but autumn appears to be even more eventful: their aunt has produced a letter from their late mother, requesting their father start dating again. So the resourceful sisters form a club to sabotage the dates. A sweet, funny throwback to those simple novels by Beverly Cleary and Eleanor Estes, with the memorable sisters, especially novel-writing Jane and sister Skye, who are embroiled with a deception in school. Yeah, you can see the ending coming a mile away, but who cares? Wonderful stuff.

• Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture, Jon Savage
The term "teenager" and teen culture really only date from the late forties, but the rebelliousness of youth has been eternal. Savage returns us to the late 1800s when rebellious Marie Bashkirtseff's published diary astounded the world that a young Victorian lady would have such unladylike thoughts and a "boy murderer" killed several little boys near Boston. As the new century progressed, more of these "twisted" teens emerged: the young ladies who left sedate walking for suffragette marches and then became flappers, the discontented young men who became Apaches in Paris and swing fans in Nazi Germany; how both sexes experimented with sex, tobacco, and freethinking. Savage's readable text chronicles the shifting face of youth in the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and other areas of Europe.

• About Time: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who, 1980-1984, Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles
More commentary, trivia, pointed barbs and insights, inserted essays, and everything and anything else you'd want to know about Tom Baker's final Doctor Who season along with the Peter Davison years. Strictly for fans of the good Doctor, sharp, funny, sarcastic.

• The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, Lauren Willig
Graduate student Eloise Kelly has lucked out in her research about the flowery-titled English spies of the post-French Revolution like the Scarlet Pimpernel and his cohort the Purple Gentian: Arabella Selwick-Alderly, descendant of the Purple Gentian, Richard Selwick, over the protestations of her nephew Colin, has allowed Eloise free rein in her private papers, where Eloise hopes to find out the identity of the most mysterious of the spies, the Pink Carnation. Suddenly she is plunged into the story of half-French/half-English Amy Balcourt, who has rushed to France, unfortunately encumbered by her cousin Jane Wooliston and their chaperone Gwen Meadows, to join the league of the Purple Gentian to avenge the death of her father in the Revolution. Make no mistake, first and foremost this book is a romance novel, for when Amy meets Richard, sparks fly...and not all of them are in anger. Much swash buckles in this page-turner, along with some decidedly anachronistic vocabulary, but it's all done in such fun, just play along with it.

• Words Words Words, David Crystal
A small collection of essays by linguist Crystal. Not as enjoyable as Crystal's larger books like Stories of English.

• Only Yesterday, Frederick Lewis Allen
After having this volume recommended by several people as well as several books, I picked up this history of the 1920s written in 1931. It is a remarkably contemporary account for a history book written over seventy years ago, as opposed to the often turgid historical prose from that era. Allen examines all facets of the 1920s, from the average home life of the time to the flappers to politics of the era to finally end with a chronicle of the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. And finally a comprehensible explanation of the Teapot Dome affair! I enjoyed this so much that I want to find Allen's book about the Great Depression.

• The Masque of the Black Tulip, Lauren Willig
Secondmost, this series of books, if you are in the mood for the amusing romances spun within, are as addictive as peanuts. I bought the first three at bargain book prices and then purchased the fourth in hardback with coupons—and I don't even like Lord Vaughn! In this outing, Sir Richard Selwick's sister Henrietta, who thinks of her brother's best friend as an adopted brother, and his best friend Miles, who has always acted as "Hetty's" protector, discover that there's something more to their relationship when they're embroiled in a search for the deadly "Black Tulip," a French spy who has dispatched more than one of the Purple Gentian's cohorts and who has now set his (or her) sights on the Pink Carnation's operatives. Meanwhile, Eloise Kelly and Colin Selwick clash once more...and you know what that means...

• The Deception of the Emerald Ring, Lauren Willig
Eloise Kelly's research leads her to a further surprise as she descends back into her research into the workings of the Pink Carnation: Richard Selwick's cohort Lord Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe, who has spent years writing love poetry to aristocratic Mary Alsworthy, actually married Mary's red-headed sister Letty. In a slight homage to The Scarlet Pimpernel, Geoffrey treats Letty with scorn, thinking she has tricked him into marrying her by compromising them together, when she was only trying to prevent her sister's elopement. When Geoffrey leaves for Ireland directly following their honeymoon, Letty stubbornly follows him, unwittingly becoming embroiled in his spying mission. More swash, more buckles, and of course the inevitable romance. More fun from Willig.

• Accomodating Brocolli in the Cemetary, Vivian Cook
A tidbit of a gift book about the English language concerning spelling mistakes, spelling reform, and even grammatical wrangles. Nothing special, but okay for a bargain book.

• Jewels, Victoria Finlay
In the tradition of her previous Color, Finlay takes us on a journey around the world, from mines in Australia, England, the far East and the American West, and most places in between to trace the history and use of amber, jet, pearl, opal, peridot, emerald, sapphire, ruby, and diamond, profiled in order by their order of the Mohs hardness scale. Finlay visits places that are still exotic and/or isolated today, some which appear to be very dangerous, whether from the terrain or from the population. It is amazing to think that some of these places still exist in today's electronic world. "Fascinating" is the only word.

• Re-read: A-Going to the Westward, Lois Lenski
Lois Lenski has always been most well-known for her regional children's novels, such as Strawberry Girl, but she also wrote several historically-based novels, starting with her first books A Little Girl of 1900 and Skipping Village, based on her own childhood. Westward is the story of twelve-year-old Betsy Bartlett, who, with her parents, younger brother, and an aunt, sets across country via wagon in the year 1811 for the first westward movement, to the Ohio country. Accompanied by an irritating neighbor family, the Bartletts endure bad roads, bad weather, frightening river fords, thieves, and other dangers as they begin a new life. Since most books about pioneers emphasize the later migration across the Plains and the Rocky Mountains, A'Going to the Westward remains a unique, absorbing narrative of the first western movement. Although written for children, Lenski's vocabulary is never restrictive.

• No Dogs in Heaven?, Robert T. Sharp DVM
Don't expect the poetical prose of James Herriot, but if you love anecdotes about days in the life of a veterinarian, this book may just be your cup of tea. Dr. Sharp talks about the most memorable patients in his career of taking care of pets and farm animals in Ohio. Perfect for a bedside read, with short chapters.

• Hounded to Death, Laurien Berenson
Melanie Travis (Driver) is back for a new outing, but this time she is sans new husband and young son, as well as her beloved poodles, to accompany her aunt Peg and sister-in-law Bertie to a weekend symposium where she hopes to relax. Of course, this being a Melanie Travis mystery, you know that can't happen; after making an astonishing keynote opening speech, a well-known and respected dog judge turns up murdered in the conference center's hot tub, and Melanie, Peg, and Bertie are involved up to their eyebrows since they discovered the body. Worse, Melanie's reputation has preceded her and all sorts of people are demanding she ferret out the killer. No better or worse than any of the other books in the series, although an event at the end is rather terrifying considering Melanie's pregnancy. Recommended as always for dog lovers and fans of cozies.

"People Who Watch TV Don't Read A Lot of Books!"

Apparently this is supposed to be a truism from educators and psychiatrists, and it does seem via reports that children—and adults!—spend large amounts of time lolling in front of the television and don't care to read books.

On the other hand, I've found that television and movies have "turned me on" to books. When I was seven years old, my parents bought me a World Book encyclopedia. If we watched television and I asked about something, whether it was on a reality series like Wild Kingdom or a fact presented on Lassie, my mother would always suggest, "Why don't you look it up in the encyclopedia?" I therefore grew up knowing that books could provide a wide horizon beyond television and always loved what they offered.

I have been trying to make a list of literature, novels, and short stories I have read due to having seen programs on television about the individual or subject. I'm sure this is incomplete, but this is what I have finally come up with:

• My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, Green Grass of Wyoming, Wyoming Summer and Flicka's Friend by Mary O'Hara (via the Flicka TV series; I didn't see the movies until I was an adult)
• Lord Peter Wimsey stories/novels by Dorothy L. Sayers (via the Ian Carmichael versions which were on Masterpiece Theatre)
• National Velvet by Enid Bagnold (via the television series, not the movie, which I didn't see until I was in my twenties)
• James Michener's books (via Centennial)
• Spencer's Mountain/The Homecoming/You Can't Get There From Here by Earl Hamner (via The Homecoming and subsequently The Waltons)
• Thomasina and The Poseidon Adventure by Paul Gallico (via both films, also Gallico's The Abandoned)
• Airport, Hotel and other Arthur Hailey books (via Airport--yes, Hailey wrote potboilers; they're still books <g>--also Hailey's bio by his wife Sheila)
• Christy by Catherine Marshall (via the TV movie)
• Margaret by Janette Sebring Lowrey (via the original MMC serial "Annette," somewhat different from the serial)
• By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleischman (via Bullwhip Griffin)
• The Moon Spinners and other Mary Stewart thrillers like My Brother Michael, Airs Above the Ground, and Nine Coaches Waiting (via the Disney film)
• Ivanhoe (via Anthony Andrews/Sam Neill version)
• The Anne Shirley books by L.M. Montgomery (I didn't read them as a kid, but post-Kevin Sullivan's Anne of Green Gables)--also all the "Emily" books, the "Golden Road" books, Magic for Marigold, the Pat books and Jane of Lantern Hill after I saw the film
• The Railway Children by E. Nesbit (via the Jenny Agutter film)
• Cross Creek (via The Yearling, both film and book, and before the film)
• The Fox and the Hound by Daniel P. Mannix (via Disney, and, as you can imagine, much more serious than the film)
• The Taran books by Lloyd Alexander (via The Black Cauldron)
• The Narnia books by C.S. Lewis (via the BBC production of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe)
• Big Red and other Jim Kjelgaard books (Irish Red, Outlaw Red, etc., via the Disney film)
• Mother Carey's Chickens by Kate Douglas Wiggin (via Summer Magic; I'd already loved Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm from childhood)
• Sherlock Holmes (via The Seven-Per-Cent Solution with Nicol Williamson)
• Captain Grant's Children, Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (via In Search of the Castaways and the other two films)
• The Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder (via the television series; we had only Little House in the Big Woods in our elementary school library, but I never withdrew it)
• The Flambards series by KM Peyton (via the TV series, though most times I'm sorry I even read Flambards Divided )
• Mister Roberts by Thomas Heggin (via the movie)
• James Thurber (via My World and Welcome to It)

Plus multiple books about:
• Queen Victoria and her family (via Edward the King)
• Old Time Radio (partially via parents' old radio stories and some radio tapes, but also Remember WENN, The Night That Panicked America, 1940s set movies and TV series)
• World War II (partially via parents' stories, but also Remember WENN, Goodtime Girls, Remember When [WWII-set TV movie with Jack Warden], PBS documentaries, etc.)
• History of television and old-time radio (somewhat due to being a TV watcher, but also via documentaries like Television, films like The Night That Panicked America, and Remember WENN)
• Space program (via televised launches; my first were Appointment on the Moon by Richard Lewis and We Reach the Moon by John Noble Wilford, both purchased when I was twelve years old)
• Sidney Reilly and spies (via Reilly: Ace of Spies)

Of course, there were also books I was into long before they appeared in the media: anthropology/archaeology long before Indiana Jones, the Harry Dresden books many years before The Dresden Files, and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials/Sally Lockhart novels long before The Golden Compass and Billie Piper in The Ruby in the Smoke.

I would be interested in hearing from anyone else who read certain books or became interested in certain subjects due to their being presented as a television series/movie/documentary or a film/documentary. Please note that I am not talking about "TV tie-in novels" like those based on Monk, CSI or Doctor Who! Did you start reading Elizabeth George because you caught an Inspector Lynley episode? Did you become interested in "debunking" literature by watching Mythbusters or James Randi on the Tonight Show? Did catching The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man on TCM start you reading Dashiell Hammett novels?

10 August 2008

100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century

Copied from Dani Torres' blog:

It is "The 100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century, as selected by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association's online members (compiled in 2000)."

I've also bolded the one's I've read. Some of them, however, I really wouldn't read.

Allingham, Margery. The Tiger in the Smoke (no, but I've read Pullman's Tiger in the Well, which is a great thriller)
Ambler, Eric. A Coffin for Dimitrios
Armstrong, Charlotte. A Dram of Poison
Atherton, Nancy. Aunt Dimity's Death
Ball, John. In the Heat of the Night
Barnard, Robert. Death by Sheer Torture
Barr, Nevada. Track of the Cat
Blake, Nicholas. The Beast Must Die
Block, Lawrence. When the Sacred Ginmill Closes
Brand, Christianna. Green for Danger
Brown, Frederic. The Fabulous Clipjoint
Buchan, John. The 39 Steps
Burke, James Lee. Black Cherry Blues
Cain, James M.. The Postman Always Rings Twice
Cannell, Dorothy. The Thin Woman (sigh...I've tried Cannell twice--I really don't like her)
Carr, John Dickson. The Three Coffins
Caudwell, Sarah. Thus Was Adonis Murdered
Chandler, Raymond. The Big Sleep
Christie, Agatha. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (other Christie, but not this one)
Connelly, Michael. The Concrete Blonde
Constantine, K.C.. The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes
Crais, Robert. The Monkey's Raincoat
Crispin, Edmund. The Moving Toyshop
Crombie, Deborah. Dreaming of the Bones
Crumley, James. The Last Good Kiss
Dickinson, Peter. The Yellow Room Conspiracy
Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Hound of the Baskervilles
DuMaurier, Daphne. Rebecca
Dunning, John. Booked to Die (I like his Two O'Clock Eastern Wartime)
Elkins, Aaron. Old Bones
Evanovich, Janet. One for the Money
Finney, Jack. Time and Again (and the sequel, too!)
Ford, G.M.. Who in Hell Is Wanda Fuca?
Francis, Dick. Whip Hand
Fremlin, Celia. The Hours Before Dawn
George, Elizabeth. A Great Deliverance
Gilbert, Michael. Smallbone Deceased
Grafton, Sue. "A" is for Alibi
Graham, Caroline. The Killings at Badger's Drift
Grimes, Martha. The Man With the Load of Mischief
Hammett, Dashiell. The Maltese Falcon
Hare, Cyril. An English Murder
Harris, Thomas. The Silence of the Lambs (never, never, ever--too creepy)
Hiaasen, Carl. Tourist Season
Highsmith, Patricia. The Talented Mr. Ripley
Hill, Reginald. On Beulah Height
Hillerman, Tony. A Thief of Time (I saw the Mystery presentation—does that count?)
Himes, Chester. Cotton Comes to Harlem
Innes, Michael. Hamlet, Revenge
James, P.D.. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman
Kellerman, Faye. The Ritual Bath
Kellerman, Jonathan. When the Bough Breaks
King, Laurie. The Beekeeper's Apprentice
Langton, Jane. Dark Nantucket Noon
le Carre, John. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird (wonderful book!)
Lehane, Dennie. Darkness, Take My Hand
Leonard, Elmore. Get Shorty
Lochte, Dick. Sleeping Dog
Lovesey, Peter. Rough Cider
MacDonald, John D.. The Deep Blue Good-by
MacDonald, Philip. The List of Adrian Messenger
Macdonald, Ross. The Chill
Maron, Margaret. Bootlegger's Daughter
Marsh, Ngaio. Death of a Peer
McBain, Ed. Sadie When She Died
McClure, James. The Sunday Hangman
McCrumb, Sharyn. If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O
Millar, Margaret. Stranger in My Grave
Mosley, Walter. Devil in a Blue Dress
Muller, Marcia. Edwin of the Iron Shoes
Neel, Janet. Death's Bright Angel
O'Connell, Carol. Mallory's Oracle
Padgett, Abigail. Child of Silence
Paretsky, Sara. Deadlock
Parker, Robert. Looking for Rachel Wallace
Perez-Reverte, Arturo. The Club Dumas
Perry, Thomas. Vanishing Act
Peters, Elizabeth. Crocodile on the Sandbank (all of the Amelia Peabody books, thanks)
Peters, Ellis. One Corpse Too Many
Pronzini, Bill. Blue Lonesome
Queen, Ellery. Cat of Many Tails
Rendell, Ruth. No More Dying Then
Rice, Craig. The Wrong Murder
Rinehart, Mary Roberts. The Circular Staircase (I think I may have read this; it could be The Bat)
Robinson, Peter. Blood at the Root
Rosen, Richard. Strike Three You're Dead
Ross, Kate. A Broken Vessel
Rozan, S.J.. Concourse (I've read the Lydia Chin books, but not the Bill Smith ones)
Sayers, Dorothy. Murder Must Advertise (all of Lord Peter Wimsey books, thanks!)
Sjowall & Wahloo. The Laughing Policeman
Stout, Rex. Some Buried Caesar
Tey, Josephine. Brat Farrar (I have Daughter of Time to read, though)
Thomas, Ross. Chinaman's Chance
Todd, Charles. A Test of Wills
Turow, Scott. Presumed Innocent
Upfield, Arthur. The Sands of Windee
Walters, Minette. The Ice House
White, Randy Wayne. Sanibel Flats
Woolrich, Cornell. I Married a Dead Man

21 July 2008

Unexpected Find

The last time we were in Book Nook, James picked up a copy of L. Neil Smith's The Nagasaki Vector; he had all the "Win" Bear/North American Confederacy books at one time, but about half of them disappeared in the course of three moves. I said impatiently "Well, why haven't you looked for them online?" and clicked around on Amazon.com and found a bit worn but acceptable copy of The Probability Broach, which arrived Saturday and which he's been reading ever since.

Happily, we also found another in the series, a later publication (2001), which he didn't even know about, The American Zone. That arrived in today's mail and there was a gleam in his eye about having found a new book in a series he already loved...so understandable to me after finding Verney's Samson's Hoard and Frost's Fireworks for Windy Foot, not to mention L'Engle's last novel. It's like finding a long-lost family member.

17 July 2008

A Book Meme

I found this on Dani's book blog; she got it from Stefanie, who picked it up here and there:

Do you remember how you developed a love of reading?
Unlike many chronic readers, I didn't know how to read before I started school. Someone told my mom it was bad to teach children to read early. But I always had some Little Golden Books and small paper-covered picture books, like the story of the little girl bathing who kept losing the soap. Once I started to read my mom bought me what she could afford: Whitman books. These 29¢ volumes came in different varieties: classics, television-based novels, and series books. Once I began to read, nothing could keep me from it.

What are some books you loved as a child?
Animal books: Black Beauty, Beautiful Joe, Call of the Wild, The Green Poodles, the Windy Foot books, Anne H. White's books (Story of Serapina, Junket, A Dog Called Scholar), the Silver Chief books, and anything Albert Payson Terhune wrote about collies. Oh, how I wanted to write like APT, with his wonderful words! Also some of the Danny Dunn and Miss Pickerel books, Donna Parker, and the Lassie TV-tie in novels.

What is your favorite genre?
I don't know if I have a favorite genre, although when I read fiction I usually read "cozy" type mysteries. Really, I read anything that interests me.

Do you have a favorite novel?
This is like asking Olivia Walton which of the seven kids was her favorite. :-) I can list some favorites: Red Sky at Morning, Addie Pray, Little Women and Eight Cousins, Murder Must Advertise, The Secret Garden, Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy, Wyoming Summer, Have Spacesuit Will Travel and several other Heinlein juveniles, A Wrinkle in Time, Huckleberry Finn, Airport, Up the Down Staircase, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, QB VII, Cheaper by the Dozen, Life is a Banquet, Understood Betsy, A Christmas Carol, National Velvet, To Kill a Mockingbird, Dear Enemy, 84 Charing Cross Road, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Johnny Tremain, Christmas After All, the Harry Potter books, Gladys Taber's Stillmeadow books, just about anything written by Madeleine L'Engle and James Thurber...oh, yeah, and Albert Payson Terhune...and I'd better quit now.

Where do you usually read?
I think it would be easier to list where I don't read, like in the shower or in front of the stove or when I'm driving.

When do you usually read?
Any time I'm not doing anything else, including during what Frank Gilbreth always called "unavoidable delays."

Do you usually have more than one book you are reading at a time?
Yes. It's usually inevitable since I see something else I want to read while I'm reading something else I picked up while I was reading something else.

Do you read nonfiction in a different way or place than you read fiction?
I don't think so, although when I am reading nonfiction I will often jump from the book to the Internet or to the encyclopedia or to one of my other reference books to check a fact or read further on something I have just read.

Do you buy most of the books you read, or borrow them, or check them out from the library?
I buy most of them, usually new. Our library doesn't carry many of the mysteries I like to read, or obscure books. When I can't find it at a bookstore, Amazon is my friend, or especially Amazon Marketplace and that most evil of websites, www.bookfinder.com.

Do you keep most of the books you buy?
I'd say I keep most of them. I'll keep them if I like them.

If you have children, what are some of the favorite books you have shared with them?
I don't have children, but I often buy books for my friends' children...not to mention for my friends. :-) I don't remember anything particular I've shared with the kids. I have bought friends series that I liked, like the Nick O'Donohoe "Crossroads" books for my best friend.

What are you reading now?
A book about adolescence as a culture before the 1940s designation of "teenager," Teenage by Jon Savage.

Do you keep a To Be Read List?
I keep a few books on my Wish List on Amazon, but my "To Be Read List" is actually a big bookcase stuffed with books near my bed.

What’s next?
Wow, not sure. Maybe I'll actually finish The Gun Seller or Death at La Fenice or the fifth volume of About Time or maybe I'll start something new. Maybe I'll buy Victoria Finlay's Jewels, which I'm wild to read after her Color. Or maybe I'll pick up a St. Nicholas, which I haven't done in a while.

What books would you like to re-read?
Er...all the ones up there listed as my favorites. No Ordinary Time. Swing.

Who are your favorite authors?
Madeleine L'Engle. Gladys Taber. James Thurber. Louisa May Alcott. David McCullough.

13 July 2008

Books Read Since June 26

• Murder in Chinatown, Victoria Thompson
The latest Sarah Brandt/Frank Malloy mystery in paperback finds Sarah not trying to become involved in the case of a vanished child: a fifteen-year-old Chinese/Irish girl who disappeared after she discovered her father was planning to marry her off to a 40-ish Chinese merchant. As always, Sarah finds herself involved no matter how hard she tries to stay aloof, and the result is a tense and often disturbing story. I also found intriguing the little-known historical fact about Irish girls marrying Chinese men (since Chinese women were forbidden immigration).

• An American Album: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Harper's Magazine (anthology)
I found this massive volume on the remainder table for $5—why not? It was crammed with short stories, editorials, and nonfiction articles from Harper's from its inception in the 1850s through 2000: Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sherwood Anderson, Thomas Hardy, commentary on the death of Dickens, President Clinton's impeachment, World War I and II memoirs, stories including Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter" and Mark Twain's "Extracts from Adam's Diary and Eve's Diary," an examination of the Battle of Antietam and the massacre of My Lai, depressing and rather horrifying memoirs like "Users, Like Me" (very gross scene of a baby playing with broken glass while its mother gets high) and "The Rake," about children abused by their stepfather. A panorama of the American experience, both good and bad, and absorbing historical perspective all in one volume.

• Three Bags Full, Leonie Swann
Early one morning a herd of sheep, including the clever Miss Maple, head ram Sir Ritchfield, Mopple the Whale with his prodigious memory, and other members of the flock find their shepherd George dead in their field, with a spade through his chest. As humans gather, discuss George's secrets and his life, and attempt to break into his caravan, the equally puzzled sheep try to solve the mystery of who killed him. This is an offbeat, often funny and intriguing novel in which the sheep are not cartoon animals, but simply try to figure out what happened to George as if they were real sheep with sheep thought processes, overwhelmed by grazing needs, herd memory, thoughts of food, fear of the butcher, the incomprehensibility of human behavior, and their own terrors of the mysterious wolf they fear stalks them. By the time you're done, you may want a sheep of your own.

• Her Royal Spyness, Rhys Bowen
Pure romp! It's 1932, and is the tale of Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, otherwise known as "Georgie," daughter of the late Duke of Glen Garry and Rannoch, and 34th in line for the throne of England. Her half-brother Hamish (otherwise known as "Binky") and his wife Hilda (otherwise known as "Fig") have cut off her allowance now that she's turned twenty-one and she faces either an arranged match to Prince Siegfried of Romania, whom Georgie refers to as "Fishface," or striking out on her own, which will be difficult because as a minor royal she has no idea how to support herself. Still, on a pretense, she flees to the family townhouse in London, where she visits with her loveable grandfather in Essex (her mother was a commoner), gains support from her old school companion Belinda Warburton-Stoke, and meets equally impoverished—and devastatingly handsome—Irish peer Darcy O'Mara. Then suddenly there's the matter of the strange Frenchman who claims to have the deed to the family estate and is found dead in Georgie's bathtub... Just fun all around, with delightful characters...if the mystery's light, who cares?

• Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, Barbara Kingsolver
My grandfather, my dad's father, used to claim I wasn't really Italian: I didn't like pepper, or red wine, and especially gardening, since every Italian family we knew had some sort of small vegetable garden somewhere in their backyard. Dirt and sun and worms and I just never got along. However, this doesn't keep me from enjoying reading nonfiction about people who have farms, and I truly enjoyed this narrative about the author's family's effort to live for one year on a Virginia farm, only eating whatever they could grow or raise on their property or buy locally (although I still can't understand all the excitement about eating vegetables...LOL). Each chapter is highlighted by a sidebar written by Kingsolver's teenage daughter, who places a younger perspective on the family's search for self-sufficiency. There are some interesting recipes included, and some very humorous chapters about the younger daughter's chicken-raising operation and their turkey-breeding efforts.

• Re-read: The Saturdays, Elizabeth Enright
Books about animals were my delight as a kid, so I didn't read any of Enright's Melendy family books until I was an adult. Now I'm enjoying them, as much for the period details (the books were written, except for the last, during World War II, so scrap drives and Victory Gardens pepper the narratives) as for the adventures of the four children: Mona, almost fourteen, future actress; Rush, twelve, aspiring pianist and engineer; Miranda, known as Randy, ten, into art and dance, and six-year-old Oliver, who loves bugs, dirt, and toy soldiers, like any boy of that age at that time. In this first of four novels, the children pool their allowances so that each Saturday one of them in turn will be allowed a fantastic excursion: Randy goes to an art exhibit for the first adventure and befriends Mrs. Oliphant, an elderly widow whom previously the children thought was boring, Rush goes to the opera and finds a surprise on his way home, and Mona...oh, Mona does something shocking—at least for a thirteen-year-old in 1941! The kids are normal kids, not prigs, the adventures are fun...highly recommended for whatever age!

• Re-read: The Four-Story Mistake, Elizabeth Enright
The Melendys are moving, lock, stock and their beloved housekeeper Cuffy and handyman Willie Sloper, to a house in the country nicknamed "the Four-Story Mistake." It's an eventful year, in which Randy learns to ride a bike and makes more friends in town, Mona finds a career in radio, Rush builds a tree house and gives music lessons...and that's only a few of the things the Melendy children do in their first nine months in their new home. Simply fun from first page to last.

• The Joys of Love, Madeleine L'Engle
This formerly unpublished young adult novel recently released by L'Engle's granddaughters is the story of Elizabeth Jerrold, an orphan being raised by her straitlaced Aunt Harriet, who has been lucky enough to get an apprentice job with a small theatre group in New York for the summer. Along with helping out in the troupe's cafeteria, typing and running errands for the theatre owner, and practicing small parts with her fellow apprentices and other members of the troupe, Elizabeth, tall and coltish, has fallen head-over-heels in love with the company's Swedish director, who seems to be responding in kind. But four days in midsummer will completely change everything: the way she thinks of her fellow actors, the profession, of the actress she idolizes, and even the man she loves. I don't find this the best of L'Engle's stories, but it's a welcome addition to her body of work, and interestingly, since L'Engle has always intertwined her characters from one book to others, she mentions Ilsa Woolf, the heroine of her most difficult-to-find novel, Ilsa, in her story of Elizabeth as the woman who nurses Elizabeth's late mother through her last illness.

09 July 2008

How Can So Many Memories Fit Into One Little Book? #3

When I was a small child I drew on everything (well, except walls; despite what they show on cleaning commercials—I was certainly not allowed and wouldn't have dared do so!) and I was crazy about colors, all colors. I loved multicolor Christmas tree lights and displays, fireworks, rainbows, and the fractured lights from prisms (my favorite scene in Pollyanna is stil the one where she discovers the prism crystals on Mr. Pendergast's lamps). I had coloring books from a young age, reveled in the sublime odor of Crayola crayons (nothing quite smells like a Crayola, not any other crayon), and drooled over the 64 color box when all my mom would purchase me was the 48 box. (The 64 box had copper in it! And yet more colors! One of the first things I did when I finally got an allowance was to buy myself a 64 box of Crayolas and I would buy myself one for Christmas for years thereafter.)

I was never a watercolor fan, but preferred oil paints. Watercolors never worked for me, as I always seemed to puddle them. Yet I had a wonderful paintbox that I remember to this day. Forget the meager little eight-color or twelve-color cake plastic boxes you see for kids nowadays, with a big rough plastic handled brush. Somewhere Mom found me an English paintbox, possibly a Windsor and Newton, or perhaps a Page, with dozens of colors—I have seen a paintbox online with 32 colors and mine had more than that...possibly 64. It was in a big tin with an impressionist painting on the front, a Monet, I believe, the one of the people picnicking. When you opened it there were rows of cakes of colors, a groove for the brush (included—a fine camel-hair brush with a wooden handle), a little indentation for some water. The most fascinating thing were the color names printed in sans serif capitals under the cakes, not ordinary names like "green" and "red" and "yellow," but enchanting names like "crimson lake," "rose madder," "yellow ochre," "red ochre," "verdigris," "carmine," "ultramarine," "indigo," "cobalt blue," "Prussian blue," "lampblack," "raw sienna," "umber," "white lead," and "saffron yellow..." (Here's a smaller English children's paintbox that shows similar cakes with the wonderful color names.)

Which is why I was so delighted to find Victoria Finlay's Color. Her text brought back the wonderful painbox, the sweetish scent of the wet cakes, and the evocative names. At an early age, she also fell in love with the paintbox and the mysterious color names within, and in this volume, she travels to the places where the colors come from. She first addresses the artists and the colors they worked in and the famous Windsor and Newton paint plant. She then travels to Australia, to find the original colors: the ochres, red and yellow and black and white. Then in turn she visits the rest of the paintbox colors, before the discovery of analine dyes: charcoal and the other blacks, graphite, soot, and oak galls. Logwood for browns. White lead (which turns red with heating) and the insufficient chalks. The carmine reds made from the blood of insects: cochineal. (Did you know cochineal, the blood of white insects that live on cactus, is still used to color Cherry Coke, blush and lipstick?) Reds from cinnabar, the mercury derivative. Stradivari's mysterious orange dye, which may have lent the special sound to his violins. Indian yellow (supposedly produced with the urine of cows who have eaten only mango) and saffron (the stamens of purple crocuses) grown in Spain and Iran. The greens of malachite in China and verdigris. The heavenly ultramarine blue of Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan. The dark blue of woad and indigo. And finally the violet dye that comes from murex, a shellfish (which leads us to the first of the analine dyes created by chemistry, mauve). This is an enthralling book of travels around the world, of the people Finlay meets, from Aborigal artists to deep sea divers to the pickers of the rolling fields of purple saffron crocus, and the origins of the colors. I must hunt up her book Jewels, in which she gives the same treatment to precious stones. Wonderful, wonderful book if you are "into" art, exotic travel, or just colors, colors, colors.

25 June 2008

Books Read Since May 12

• And Only to Deceive, Tasha Alexander
Victorian period piece about Emily Bromley, who marries Philip Ashton, a young nobleman, simply to get away from her mother. When Philip dies soon after their wedding, Emily is unmoved—until she begins to read his diary, learns of his interest in antiquities, and discovers a man she wished she had known. But was the Philip she now puts on a pedestal really an art thief? Can she trust his best friend who claims he is trying to protect her? Who is the man shadowing her, even as she travels to Paris? An entertaining combination of novel of manners and mystery.

• Re-read: America 1908, Jim Rasenberger
I loved this book so much from the library I had to go hunt myself up a copy (and only paid one third the cover price, too, for a brand-new book!)—as marvelous the second time around.

• Murder Most Crafty, edited by Maggie Bruce
A generally entertaining collection of mysteries revolving around crafts, including a China Bayles short story from the series by Susan Wittig Albert and a Gillian Roberts tale not involving Amanda Pepper, although I found the basketweaving story rather depressing. Each story comes with a craft project for papermaking, lanyard weaving, wreathmaking and more.

• Show Business is Murder, edited by Stuart M. Kaminsky
A generally cynical collection of stories revolving around the performing arts. I enjoyed most of the stories while reading them, but find I can't remember any of them, except the story about young film fans and the frustrating talking dog story.

• About Time: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who, 1963-1966, Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles
Call this "everything you wanted to know about Doctor Who but were afraid to ask because it would take too long to explain." This is the sort of book about a television series that leads non-series fans to bellow "Get a life!" Of course usually these are people who can recite you baseball stats and wait with bated breath at basketball and football drafts. The "About Time" books aren't episode guides as much as they are examinations of each story: inconsistencies, notable performances, links to other stories, historical references, critiques...plus insights into the scriptwriters, original scripts, music, set design, and more. The unique part of these books are sidebar articles that cover everything from "When did the UNIT stories take place" to examinations of the Time Lord stories to pairings in the TARDIS to the chronology of the Daleks to examinations of how the series came to be. For fans of the Doctor, a good read...this particular volume covers the William Hartnell episodes.

• About Time: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who, 1966-1968, Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles
Second verse, same as the first, but for the Patrick Troughton years.

• Mr. Monk in Outer Space, Lee Goldberg
In this original outing based on the television series, Monk has to solve the murder of Conrad Stipe, creator of the cult science fiction series Beyond Earth (a very thinly disguised Star Trek). As a plus, this novel features Monk's brother Ambrose, who turns out to be a fan of the series and the author of a number of trivia books about it, to Monk's horror as he considers the wildly dressed fans cultists. The interactions between the brothers is nicely done, but the bulk of the book seems to be Monk drowning in his phobias, which have multiplied so much that it becomes annoying, plus we get the "stupid Randy" version again.

• About Time: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who, 1975-1979, Tat Wood and Lawrence Miles
This one is the Tom Baker years (the Pertwee years volume is presently out of print, but due to be reprinted this year) except for the final season, which the authors think fit thematically more with the Davison episodes.

• French Women Don't Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano
I picked this up with a coupon because it sounded intriguing, but it basically boils down to the fact that French women don't get fat because they eat smaller portions and less processed food—pretty much a "duh" factor. However, the author's stories of her childhood and eating experiences are engaging and well told. Several recipes are offered.

• On the Wings of Heroes, Richard Peck
This is the simple story of young Davy Bowman, whose older brother Bill joins the Air Corps after the attack on Pearl Harbor. While Bill trains for the service, then goes overseas, Davy takes part in scrap drives, copes with a new teacher, and makes a new friend in an elderly neighbor. As usual with Peck's novels, there are many humorous touches, but World War II always looms over the Bowmans' lives. A great story for younger children about the hardships of wartime.

• Really Truly Ruthie, Valerie Tripp
In conjunction with the release of the American Girl "Kit" movie, this involves Kit's best friend Ruthie, a dreamy girl who loves fairy tales and who's never taken seriously, taking place directly after the third book in the Kit series. When Ruthie discovers that the Kittredges are going to be evicted not on January 2, but on December 28, before Mr. Kittredge makes it home with the mortgage money, she devises a wild scheme to travel to the hills of Kentucky to borrow the money from Kit's Aunt Millie. While you have to admire Ruthie's spunk, she's simply not as an engaging character as Kit.

• Main Street: The Secret Book Club, Ann M. Martin
On the first day of summer vacation, four packages are dropped off at Needle and Thread, one each for sisters Flora and Ruby and their friends Nikki and Olivia. Inside are two books which they are to read and discuss, after which interesting things will follow. This is a page-turning series despite the age level, because Martin also covers the lives of the adults associated with the children: Flora and Ruby's guardian grandmother Min, Olivia's grandmother, the girls' dour aunt, the elderly couple whose lives are being broken apart by the wife's Alzheimer's disease, Nikki's suddenly independent, formerly abused mother, etc. The girls don't sit around like princesses and wear designer clothing, and they argue, grow bored or excited, and suffer anxiety like real kids, especially Olivia, whose fears about being the youngest in her class next September seem to be already coming true. Oh, and the last paragraph of this volume is quite an eyebrow raiser! Incidentally, the girls end up reading The Saturdays, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, The Summer of the Swans, and Understood Betsy, the latter being an especial favorite of mine.

22 June 2008

Wow, Check It Out!

I didn't know about this; must order it!

A previously unpublished Madeleine L'Engle novel: The Joys of Love

18 June 2008

Why Haven't They Ever Made a Movie of...?

Have you ever wondered that about some books? For this post, I'm specifically thinking of a favorite book, Jean Webster's Dear Enemy, which strikes me as the perfect book for a film.

Dear Enemy is the sequel to Daddy Long-Legs, in which orphan Jerusha "Judy" Abbott was sent to college by a kindly benefactor, an older man whom she later unwittingly falls in love with as the cousin, Jervis Pendleton, of one of her roommates. In Dear Enemy, Judy has purchased her "alma mater," the unhappy John Grier Orphanage, and places it into the hands of her other roommate, Sallie McBride, fresh from college. Sallie thinks of herself as a flibbertigibbet and arrives at the school with her pet chow dog and a personal maid, determined to stay only a few months until she can marry her fiancé, an up-and-coming young lawyer/politician. However, Judy is wiser about Sallie than she is about herself, and Sallie grows to love her position, releasing the children from the institutional regime that they have previously followed and devising all sorts of new schemes like camps for the older boys that will help the children when they eventually go out into the world.

Sallie also runs afoul of the orphanage's dour physician, a Scotsman named Robin MacRae, but as the story progresses, they become each other's ally as well as antagonist.

The book contains, unfortunately, the unsettling and bigoted theories of eugenics as practiced in the early part of the 20th century. It's a bit startling and depressing today to hear college-educated adults like Sallie and Dr. MacRae talking about heredity as something that overwhelmes upbringing, so that an alcoholic's child will always need institutionalizing because he will "naturally" crave alcohol, and watching Sallie sending handicapped children away to asylums because they don't belong with "normal" children. But this was the prevalent attitude at the time, and it doesn't keep Sallie or MacRae from actually breaking from the trends of the time. In particular, there is a girl named Loretta who is what we would call today "mentally challenged." Instead of banishing her to an asylum, Sallie sends her to live with a kindly farm family who basically act like one of today's residential homes for people with Down syndrome. Loretta is treated kindly, blooms into a happy young woman, and learns to do many things rather than spending the rest of her life rocking back and forth in an institution.

With all the eugenics twaddle disposed of, what a great story is left: spoiled college socialite finds a social conscience and career, helps children, and eventually finds love with a man who has had some tough times in his life. There is a appealing subplot about three children who have just become orphaned, and a couple want to adopt just the little girl, not her older brothers. Sallie and MacRae quarrel because she at first thinks having the little girl adopted without her brothers would be an accomplishment, but as the doctor protests, Sallie slowly realizes that she cannot break up the siblings, who are very close, even if she loses the little girl a good home where she will be given all advantages. There is also a fire at the orphanage to provide excitement and Sallie's growing dissatisfaction with her fiancé, who merely expects her to be ornamental and amusing, to add conflict.

Maybe Hallmark will make it as a movie some day, as their original films run in a similar vein.

(Frankly, I'd love a version of Daddy Long Legs that was more faithful to the book, as I have never been fond of the Leslie Caron/Fred Astaire musical.)

03 June 2008

Kit in the Movies

Here's a trailer for the new film Kit Kittredge: An American Girl with Abigail Breslin in the title role. It's a theatrical release rather than the previous made-for-television efforts.

12 May 2008

Books Read Since April 24

• Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen
This book really should have another post. I've wanted to read this for years, but just in paging through it I realized the author had an agenda. I didn't know if I wanted to pay full price for "agenda." However, bargain table was more reasonable (it was remaindered because Mr. Loewen has a new edition out).

Despite the agenda, which is more fully realized in the final chapters, I found the book interesting, even though as a history buff I didn't learn too much that I didn't already know. What surprises me is that I learned history in the moldy-oldy 60s pre-Vietnam protests and I was quite surprised that the texts hadn't changed all that much, according to Loewen. But then I know the textbook lobby is quite powerful—look at the recent flap about creation science.

Loewen declares that schoolchildren find history boring and I can remember why: at times it seemed to be an endless parade of names, dates and events. Not many students besides myself were interested enough to do the further reading I did, which brought out the interesting bits behind the data: the people, the times, the social climate. Luckily, I had several history teachers who strove to keep it from descending into an endless blur of facts and tried to put faces and personalities on the two-dimensional figures as they raced along with the weeks of the semesters. There are also times Loewen downright flabbergasts me: in one chapter about history teachers themselves he mentions that an older teacher is surprised when he tells her that the story of George Washington and the cherry tree isn't true—a teacher in the 1990s still believes that old chestnut? Way back in elementary school we were told that legend with the implicit instruction that IT WAS NOT TRUE. My teachers then were all in their 50s. Surely this teacher he mentions was not typical?

I have several quibbles about his tendency to wander off on tangents while talking school history textbooks and teachers. Sometimes he talks about "social studies" and "history" as being the same thing, and, unless things have changed since the late 60s and early 70s when I had these subjects, they are not. Frankly, "social studies" as it was taught in elementary school was a damned bore. We happened to get new social studies books in sixth grade and, instead of the old-fashioned early 1950s geography books they replaced, with their interesting chatter about the areas of the world and of the United States and how the climates and land topography influenced how people worked and lived, the social studies books were endless litanies of country names, populations, and statements of gross national products. They looked like yearly stock reports from a large corporation rather than showing children the interesting and changing world outside their boundaries. I remember being so glad to get to real history when we entered junior high to get away from the remarkable ennui of "social studies."

The one thing I remember from this book among all the things that Loewen points out is that he hates Gone With the Wind. I mean, it really stands out, and what I don't get is why it's there so often. In one chapter, Loewen does talk about enriching history texts with good, well-written historical fiction. I can see GWTW entering his text there, but why is it referred to so often in other chapters? In one paragraph in the chapter about the causes of the Civil War, he goes off on an extended diatribe about how it is amazing that it is still a best seller despite its racist attitude. Eh? Gone With the Wind is a novel. Not only that, it's a novel that was written in the 1930s by a Southerner brought up on old tales of the "brave knights and fair ladies" of the Confederacy. He later mentions 1930s textbooks that are also racist, but says it is understandable since they are products of their time. GWTW is also a product of its time. And, again, it's a novel, not a textbook, so why is it here? No one reads GWTW as a textbook, nor do they (at least I hope!) take its racist text about "childish darkies" as legitimate history. People read GWTW because it tells a good story, not because we agree with its racial or social philosophies. It's an epic fiction about a spoiled young woman who matures due to conflict but who clings to a silly dream that ruins her life, not a legitimate history.

• The Medical Science of House, M.D., Andrew Holtz
Another grab from the remainder pile. Boil this down and it's "a real Gregory House would be fired" and "a lot of it is TV." (Like "Where are all the nurses on House?) Procedures in diagnosing a patient complaint is covered and the skinny behind some of the rare diseases House treats is also offered. Enjoyable, but not essential.

• Lord of the Nutcracker Men, Iain Lawrence
Ten-year-old Johnny's father, a London toymaker, volunteers to join the army when World War I breaks out. Before he leaves for training and then the front, he gives Johnny a set of soldiers from his toyshop. When Johnny's mother goes to work in a munitions plant, she sends him to the country to live with his strict aunt. In the garden behind his aunt's home, Johnny fights endless battles in homemade trenches with his toy soldiers, including the ones his father carves and sends him weekly in letters. The figures grow more realistic the longer his father is at war and Johnny comes to believe that his actions on his fictional battlefield somehow presage his father's fate. Lawrence brings the uncomprehending mind of a child to light in this novel that is simple enough for a "tween" to understand but holds truths about the realities of war.

• Dearest Friend, Lynne Withey
A very readable biography of Abigail Adams, although I found everyone at arm's length.

• Hummingbirds: My Tiny Treasures. Arnette Heidcamp
Three books: A Hummingbird in My House, Rosie: My Rufous Hummingbird, Hummingbirds: My Winter Guests
Arnette Heidcamp became known in her area as "Hummingbird 911" as she learned to observe and then care for injured and late migrating hummingbirds, starting with "Squeak," the "hero" of A Hummingbird in My House, who spends the winter on Heidcamp's specially outfitted sunporch. If you are a bird lover, you should enjoy these tales, complete with full color photos.

• The Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood, Susan Wittig Albert
The third in Albert's fantasy/cozy mysteries involving Beatrix Potter and her life in the village of Sawrey after she buys a small farm. In this outing, Beatrix is still shuttling back and forth to London due to the demands of her overbearing parents, but finally has come to relax a few weeks at Hill Top Farm when one of the local landowners, a war veteran, suddenly marries, to the villagers' astonishment and gossip, a actress. Into the mix come three schoolchildren searching for fairies and the usual animal subplot, this time having to do with a rat invasion at Hill Top. Those looking for thrills and mayhem may go elsewhere; this a leisurely cozy.

• The Thief Taker, Janet Gleeson
It is late 19th century London. Widow Agnes Meadowes has worked for many years as the head cook in an upper middle class household of silversmiths to support her little boy who lives with a friend. At the same time that she finds out her friend cannot care for young Peter any longer, an expensive "bespoke" piece that her masters have been working on for a local nobleman is stolen, an apprentice is killed, and one of the housemaids disappears. Her employers enlist Agnes' help in recovering the piece and speaking to the "thief taker" they hope will find the miscreant, but Agnes' own passion about the theft, the missing girl, and the fate of her son draw her into the dangerous underworld of London. Another remainder find, this book was quite enjoyable, despite and with its unsanitized view of the hazards of household service and criminal machinations.

• Little Heathens, Mildred Armstrong Kalish
Kalish's simply written, yet absorbing memoir of growing up on the farm during the Depression. There are no revelations, just a look back at the chores, pranks, and other day-to-day living in an era when picking berries was a treat, the weekly wash took all day and many hands, everything from clothing to furniture was recycled, kids made their own fun (and sometimes nearly got killed doing it), and working hard was rewarded with a roof over one's head and three square meals. Many old-time farm feast recipes are included.

• Tumbling Blocks, Earlene Fowler
The latest in Fowler's Benni Harper Ortiz novels, it's Christmas in San Celina and while Benni prepares for a special art exhibit at the museum she works for, she also scrambles to get ready for the visit of her mother-in-law. Surprise! mom shows up with a new husband, which causes even more contention between Gabe Ortiz and his mom. I know Gabe had it tough after his father died and he and Benni are still suffering repercussions from the events of the previous book, but I think I'm a bit in agreement with the reviewers on Amazon.com who say they are tired of Gabe's moody tantrums.

08 May 2008

Successful Searches

I took some time at lunch today to do some book searching on Amazon Marketplace and was pleasantly pleased. I had a list of three books I was looking for and found them all for less than $20 (that's with postage). One was Gladys Taber's Harvest of Yesterdays: My Life Before Stillmeadow, which will fill in the gaps between Especially Father and Harvest at Stillmeadow, the first Stillmeadow book. Another was the Christmas book I found at the library last fall, Jack Newcombe's New Christmas Treasury. The copy I found was only 27¢! The third book I was looking for, Christmas From the Heart of the Home by Susan Branch, I actually found on Barnes & Noble's equivalent to Amazon Marketplace.

Despite having a 30 percent off coupon to Borders, I took the opportunity to order America 1908 from Amazon Marketplace as well. I found it for a price that would basically be equivalent to having a 30 percent off coupon when the paperback comes out next fall.

While I was searching I thought about other books I had not been able to find and went searching for Mary Ann Madden's Son of Giant Sea Tortoise. The title needs explaining, I'm sure. :-)

Many, many years ago, when I was in high school, I was in the Woolworths at Garden City Shopping Center and, in a rack of remainder books, found a book called Thank You for the Giant Sea Tortoise, edited by Mary Ann Madden. Apparently New York magazine (not The New Yorker) used to—or maybe they still do—would host these clever little contests in each issue. Sometimes it was asking for clever anagrams, or creative casts and/or titles for movies (Henry Fonda in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? or Michael York and Burt Lancaster in The War of the Roses, for example), or appropriate names for products ("Kiddy Foil" and "Ova Kill" for contraceptives), but as I read through the book (of course I bought it; it was only a quarter) my favorites became the contests in which they asked people to write something.

Some of these were (1) a composition written about a pet by a celebrity at age eight, (2) epitaphs for the famous, (3) various prose items in the style of a famous writer (for instance, a weather report by A.A. Milne or Shakespeare or a letter of resignation by Dr. Seuss, in rhyme, of course), (4) typical final dialog from two different movie genres, etc. These entries were always by far the funniest and also showed brilliant cleverness on the part of the person who entered.

Thank You for the Giant Sea Tortoise, incidentally, came from the contest "unseemly greeting cards for unlikely occasions." Over ten years later I found another book in the series, Maybe He's Dead, so today I searched about and found out there was a third book (actually the second of the three), called Son of Giant Sea Tortoise. How could I resist?