30 June 2010

Books Finished Since June 1

book icon  Alphabet Juice, Roy Blount Jr.
Some kids play with their food. Roy Blount plays with words. And if you're a logophile, as I am, you'll probably be delighted with this volume where Blount occasionally talks about word origins, but more often talks about how they sound, how they've evolved, how they are misinterpreted or misused, and anything else that takes his fancy about spelling, grammar, and phonics. Some entries are brief, others natter on for a page or two. In the process he makes his words skip, slip, snake and slide, and even turns in the occasional shaggy dog story. My only quibble: the intrusion of political humor. I know this is part of Blount's ouvre, but it badly dates the book, and frankly, I see linguistics books as a refuge from the eternal bickering over politics. YMMV.

book icon  The Sound of Music Companion, Laurence Maslon
This is a lovely coffee-table book crammed to the brim with photos which follows the story of the musical story, from the real-life of the Von Trapps (some wonderful family photos I'd never seen) through the writing of the musical play and the filming of the movie, down to modern day and a reality show search for a new Maria for a remounted London production. The photos do not overwhelm the text: there is much about the differences between the play and the film, the writing of the songs and the choosing of the original cast,and the difficulties of filming some of the movie's most memorable scenes. Found this on Hamilton Books' site for a great price, and so glad I did!

book icon  About Time: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who, Expanded Second Edition (1970-1974, Seasons 7 to 11), Tat Wood, with additional material by Lawrence Miles
Well, there's a mouthful! This is the third in the six-volume "About Time" series published by Mad Norwegian Press chronicling Doctor Who from 1963 through 1989, covering Jon Pertwee's tenure as the Doctor. If you want exhaustive synopses, commentary on the curiosities and inconsistencies in each episode, filming and soundtrack notes, and trivia behind each episode, not to mention numerous inserts on everything from UNIT to the political/social atmosphere of Britain at the time to essays that try to square the original series with the 2005 revival, you've found it here...in fact, if Doctor Who is your cup of tea (or time-flow analogue gadget made with tea leaves), these books certainly will be.

book icon  Mr. Monk and the Dirty Cop, Lee Goldberg
What's a private consultant to do when the money runs out? That's the problem facing Adrian Monk and his trusty (underpaid) assistant Natalie Teeger when police department funds run out and they can't be called in on crimes any longer. Not to mention that Captain Stottlemeyer has been made to look like a fool at a conference which reveals that most of the San Francisco police's sterling solved-crime rating actually belongs to Monk! With no money coming in, Monk takes a job at a private firm called Intertect (for those of you who remember 60s detective dramas, this name is a delicious in-joke, and a related joke occurs in the plotline as well), where Monk and Natalie are "wined and dined" with a fancy office, a company car, and a personal assistant. But Monk being Monk, he just can't help prying into police cases, even if it's by calling in anonymous tips. Many intertwined plots for your mystery pleasure. Unfortunately the Diaper Genie subplot get tiresome, and Randy Disher is at his most annoying. But the positives outweigh the negatives.

book icon  Twilight at the World of Tomorrow: Genius, Madness, Murder, and the 1939 World's Fair on the Brink of War, James Mauro
As a schoolgirl I attended the 1964 New York World's Fair, which was held on the same site as the famous 1939 Fair which featured the first appearance of television, Billy Rose's "Aquacade," and the sphere/cone symbol of the "World of Tomorrow" theme of the fair, the Perisphere and the Trylon (and played a big role in the first season finale of Remember WENN to boot!), so I've always been fascinated in this other fair and gladly swooped up this offering, originally entitled Einstein at the World's Fair. It's an engaging narrative, mixing the preparations and execution of the Fair's events and its optimistic futuristic view against the growing violence and militarism in Europe, along with the arrival of Albert Einstein to the United States and his growing fears about the atomic bomb, and the day-to-day lives of the policemen who guarded the Fair against increasing bomb threats. The Fair narrative is fascinating, and the police subplot covers a little-known event at that Fair, the explosion of a home-made bomb, but the Einstein subplot is oddly tacked on and it's no wonder the title was changed. By far the most fascinating thing about this book, besides the wonderful descriptions of the different pavilions, like the famous "Futurama," is the portrait of the Fair's (and New York's) official "greeter," Grover Whelan, a middle-class New Yorker who worked himself into high society and a fixture in the city. I found this book very enjoyable, and even the Einstein parts are interesting, but in parts the narrative isn't very cohesive. Still, enjoy your visit to the "World of Tomorrow," but I'd advise it on library or remainder table terms.

book icon  Haunt Me Still, Jennifer Lee Carrell
In Carrell's sequel to Interred With Their Bones, Shakespearean aficionado Kate Stanley has been asked to direct a small production of Macbeth, starring Lady Nairn, a direct descendant of Lady Macbeth, in her family home near Dunsinnan Hill (the same Dunsinane as in Macbeth). Kate wishes to stay away from the trouble which plagued her during her last adventure, but as soon as plans begin for the production of the Bard's most unlucky play, odd things begin to happen, events that include a rune-engraved blade, a mirror, a cauldron, and the restless granddaughter of Lady Nairn, whom Kate sees murdered...or was it only an illusion? I have to admit that I raced through this book to see what happened, a conglomeration that would do Dan Brown proud, but once the book was finished I don't remember all that much about the characters. So it's a fun read if you like mysteries with an occult touch.

book icon  101 Golden Rules of Birding, Marcus Schneck
This is a little book I found in B&N's bargain section, and, while I'm not a "birder" as such, this little volume of short articles has many pieces just about birds themselves, feeding birds, things to look for, creating bird habitats, migration, and other tidbits for bird lovers.

book icon  Death at Glamis Castle, Robin Paige
In a sequel (of sorts) to Death in Whitechapel, reluctant House of Lords member Sir Charles Sheridan and his wife Kathryn (the former Kate Ardleigh, American, also known as Beryl Bardwell, writer of mystery stories) are happily excavating archaeological items at Hadrian's Wall when they are summoned north by King Edward VII. They arrive at Glamis Castle in Scotland to discover that a mysterious guest living there—a person thought dead for years—has vanished, and a housemaid has been murdered. Did the guest, who has always been characterized as unbalanced, kill the maid in order to escape? And if he didn't escape on his own, who helped him? Another Paige novel which takes a speculation from Victorian history and turns it into an atmospheric mystery in which early Edwardian mores mix with the threat of upcoming war, and gives a kinder fate to a much-maligned historical figure. The villainous character is pretty obvious, however; nevertheless, if you like cozies set at the turn of the last century, this will probably please you.

book icon  How The Scots Invented the Modern World, Arthur Herman
If you have anything modern and inventive, or are reading something philosophically modern, pull it out and paint it plaid, because the Scots were probably behind it. Okay, that's being flip, but after reading this book it does seem that way. Herman has done an exhaustive study of the innovations the Scots made in philosophy, architecture, modern business practices, urban planning, inventions, modern politics (the Scottish movement behind the American Revolution, for instance, based upon the beliefs of Patrick Henry, John Witherspoon, John Paul Jones, etc., all Scots), although they were a poor country under the thumb of the English. The opening chapters of the book, dealing with the philosophers, educators, and theocrats are occasional hard slogging, but once into the Scottish Nationalism movement and the rebirth of Scottish heritage engendered by Sir Walter Scott, the pace picks up a bit. Herman seems to go out of his way to link everything to the Scots, however—I was a bit astonished to read that the terms "redneck" and "cracker" are actually Scottish terms!—and by the time you finish the book you will probably feel as though it's all a bit much. Still, much to like and much of interest in a country that had its share of innovators.

book icon  Nick of Time, Ted Bell
Wow, what a book! Remember those rousing old children's adventure stories, where ingenious, sturdy boys and their intrepid sisters or companions explored, sometimes ran afoul of bad guys, sailed, spied, and amazed the adults with their cleverness? Bell takes us back in time, literature-wise as well as chronologically, to 1939, where Nick McIver, age 12, spends his days in his sailboat enjoying the sea surrounding Greybeard, one of England's Channel islands, where he lives at the lighthouse with his father, mother, and little sister Katie. When his father's job is threatened due to a secret activity, and when Nick and Katie find a mysterious sea chest while picnicking, their lives will never be the same. A marvelous, nonstop adventure story for all ages, involving German submarines, 19th century pirates, mysterious time-travel devices, Lord Nelson, kidnapped children, British spies—and one of the pluckiest little girls ever, as young Katie has her own role to play while Nick travels back in time to prevent disaster. If you remember how much fun adventure books used to be, this is the story for you!

book icon  Ariel, Steven R. Boyett
I don't ordinarily like dystopian novels, but this one grabbed me when it was first published in the 1980s and I still found it enjoyable second time around (republished before its sequel, Elegy Beach, came out). I did note bemusedly that Our Hero is without the titular unicorn on the cover of the reprint, unicorns having gone in the intervening years from being creatures from a cool medieval bestiary to cute sparkly pinky-purply things adored by little girls everywhere. Make no mistake, Ariel the unicorn is capable of violence in protection of her human companion, Pete Garey, an ordinary guy who managed to survive after "the Change" silenced all machinery and electronics on Earth, and brought magical creatures, including fearsome griffins and manticores, to life. But others are envious of Pete's aristocratic familiar, and once the Necromancer wishes to possess Ariel's horn, neither of them will know peace until he—or they—are defeated. Boyett wisely didn't fiddle with the story (except for adding an extra chapter), first published when he was only 21; it isn't a complex tale, but, still, a nice solid fantasy.

book icon  The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Epic Story of the Map That Gave America Its Name, Toby Lester
Sometimes the things you find in the remainder bin are the absolute best, and this volume proves it. This is an absolutely fabulous book about maps and the exploration of "the New World," beginning with the rediscovery, in 1901, of the 1507 Waldseemuller map which was the first to designate the unexpected lands that the westward-sailing Europeans kept encountering as "America." From that starting point Lester introduces us to the cartographers, philosophers, explorers, and mariners—and the printers, booksellers, religious figures, and invaders, not to mention the famous and those who have vanished into time who all contributed to making that map, a map that progressed from the old vision of the world of three parts (Europe, Africa, Asia) to one with four. If you think a narrative about dusty old maps might be dull, think again: the personalities here are lively, the narrative illuminating, and in a painless way you will learn all sorts of historical goodies. Quite a long narrative about Amerigo Vespucci, about whom history books mention briefly by name and no more.