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guides as much as they are examinations of each story: inconsistencies, notable performances, links to other stories, historical references, critiques...plus insights into the scriptwriters, original scripts, music, set design, and more.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.