10 February 2009

Books Read Since January 19

• Moving Targets, and Other Tales of Valdemar, edited by Mercedes Lackey
This is the fourth collection of short stories taking place in the Valdemar/Velgarth universe created by Lackey back in the 1980s starting with Arrows of the Queen. Sadly, every story in this anthology is interesting except for Lackey's humorous titular offering. There's nothing wrong with humor in the Valdemar universe; it's been done before—but a Herald's story that is a spoof on Scooby-Doo? With the four young people (and their version of a van) accompanied by a kyree (usually telepathic catlike wolf-creature) who speaks like Scooby? ::sigh:: I would have loved a humorous story from Lackey, but not this one. Worth buying for the other stories, however.

• Sojourn (Time Rovers, Book 1), Jana G. Oliver
In the future, time travel is possible and tourists and researchers embark on time travel vacations with the help of an escort: a time rover who places them in the past and then returns to extract them. Jacynda is a rover sadly in need of some off-time (she's starting to have hallucinations, a side effect from crossing too many timelines in quick succession) who is sent back to Victorian England right before Jack the Ripper strikes the first time to bring back a missing tourist. But he's vanished, and in the course of her search Cynda becomes involved with two gentlemen of the period who have a rather unusual secret. If you are fond of fact-based fantasy, this one's a real page turner, with enjoyable characters. There are two sequels, Virtual Evil and Madman's Dance.

• Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town, John E. Miller
This is a slim but interesting volume about the town of DeSmet, where the Ingalls family finally set down roots, basically a biography of the place where Laura Ingalls became an adult and was married. If you are a LIW fan, you may be interested to know more about her eventual hometown.

• Degrees of Separation, Sue Henry
In the newest Jessie Arnold Alaska mystery, Jessie is awaiting the first snowfall so she and her dogs can begin training again after her enforced rest after knee surgery. Unfortunately she and the team run over a dead body on their first outing. The victim turns out to be a young man whose family is well-known in a nearby town; he has a reputation for being a little wild. Then someone deliberately tries to kill state trooper Phil Becker, partner of Jessie's significant other Alex Jensen. Are the crimes related? Nature isn't cooperating, either, as a series of earthquakes rattle the area. Interesting thing about this outing: all the "strings" aren't neatly tied up at the end.

The book features a large cameo by Maxie McNabb and her dachshund Stretch, the protagonists of Henry's other mystery series. How well you tolerate this depends on your affection for these characters; I didn't mind much, but I prefer Jessie and Alex on their own.

• FDR's Splendid Deception, Hugh Gallagher
Most biographies of Franklin Roosevelt mention is polio only in brief, as a stumbling block to his political career and his road to the White House. Some note Roosevelt's efforts to cover up his being wheelchair-bound, and a couple mention his fear of fire, possibly engendered by having seen one of his aunts burn to death after a terrible accident with an alcohol lamp. I heard Gallagher speak in the documentary FDR: A Presidency Revealed and immediately found a copy of this book, which is the only volume to detail the struggle Roosevelt faced with his polio, which was not as "painless" as he always made it appear. Even if you disagree with his political decisions, it is difficult not to admire the man for coping with the daily struggle he had to put up to appear fit. Today we have associations that help the disabled to take their place in society; back then each "differently abled" person had to fight just to be treated as something other than a half-wit unable to function at all. A look at Roosevelt from "a different angle."

• Europe 101: History and Art for the Traveler, Rick Steves and Gene Openshaw
This is an entertaining summary of European history through its art and politics for the casual, non-history-buff tourist who visits Europe and wonders what all those statues and paintings are all about. For people a little more well-versed, it's a fun review—unless you can't stand Steves' atrocious puns. Well-illustrated and a good guide to art galleries and sites.

• Harry: A History, Melissa Anelli
Anelli was just a high-school student when she read the first couple of Harry Potter novels. She then forgot about the series as she arrived at college, decided that journalism, not pre-med (as her parents wished) was her forté, and got back into the series. As a lark, she wrote a few reviews for a new website devoted to Harry Potter, The Leaky Cauldron. And that's what this book is all about, Anelli's introduction into Potter fandom, her growing involvement with the website, her encounters with author Rowling and others involved in Potter fandom (including a very offbeat chapter about "wizard rock"), all interspersed between the story of the buildup to the seventh and final novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even if I have no interest in wizard rock. I've read reviews of it which complain about Anelli's "name dropping," about other websites being left out of this tale of "Harry Potter fandom," and other "sour grapes" comments that sound all too familiar—they are the same sort of thing leveled at author Joan Winston after her book The Making of the Trek Conventions. For all I know Anelli is a real creep—or not. This book is labeled very clearly as "a personal memoir." It makes no claim to be the be-all end-all history of Harry Potter fandom with promises to mention every single website a lot and praise a lot of people. This is Potter from Anelli's POV and as such it is enjoyable.

• Silent in the Sanctuary, Deanna Raybourn
In the second of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries, Julia is spending time recovering from the loss of her home and her husband by living in Italy with two of her many brothers, Plum and Lysander. When the three are summoned back to the family estate, ostensibly because Lysander has married a tempestuous Neapolitan girl who needs to be introduced to the family, they travel reluctantly, accompanied by the bride Violetta and a friend, Antonio. It is only when they arrive at the March family home, an old abbey, that Julia discovers that her father has also invited Nicholas Brisbane, the intelligent but reclusive "inquiry agent" who helped Julia solve the mystery of her husband's death, and whom Julia found herself attracted to. But Brisbane is now engaged, and if that little fact wasn't enough, one of the Christmas guests at the abbey is murdered. Deliciously convoluted plot involving Brisbane's fiancee, two poor relations, a gathering of Romany people on the estate, and much creeping about in dark halls, with the Wuthering Heights business between Brisbane and Julia a bit softpedaled, thankfully. If you love Victorian mysteries with unconventional characters and period detail, this one's for you.

• Country Matters, Michael Korda
In the 1980s writer Korda (nephew of the famous Hungarian director Alexander Korda) and his wife bought a weekend country house where they could relax from the tumult of life in New York City and ride their horses. The rambling old farmhouse they buy, of course, is a fixer-upper, and, in the course of repairing the house and grounds, the Kordas meet all sorts of country types, including the handyman who prunes and bulldozes the yard, neighbors in trailers, etc. A few reviews mention that Korda seems to look down on his nose at these folks, who are not the "horsy set" across the river, and he does sound a bit supercilious at times, but he also makes a good deal of fun at himself at not knowing how to cope with events that his neighbors find so easy, wryly observing how they make fun of his prolifigate spending on things like a riding arena, and of the friends who sometimes invite themselves to his "country estate" over the weekend expecting to play tennis and swim and who instead find themselves on a farm where things must be cleaned, horses must be tended, and pigs must be fed. Seems to me Korda makes almost as much fun of himself and his snooty friends. Anyway, I enjoyed it, but it is more a library book to borrow than to own.

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