30 November 2010

Books Finished Since November 1

book icon  Good Old Dog: Expert Advice for Keeping Your Aging Dog Happy, Healthy, and Comfortable, ed. by Nicholas H. Dodman BVMS
Since our dog has passed her twelfth birthday, I thought this book would provide some good information on what we can expect in her old age, and I was not disappointed. As the title suggests, each aspect of your dog's aging process and how to cope with is covered: tooth care, feeding (did you know that some "senior" foods for your increasingly sedentary dog are actually more fattening, causing him/her to gain weight?), joint problems, exercise, illnesses due to aging (heart failure, incontinence, loss of appetite, etc.), cancer and other surgical problems, hearing and sight, and more. Also discussed is how to make more difficult decisions, like amputation and the possible inevitable euthanasia, as well as options if your budget does not cover an expensive procedure. The text is written in a simple, but not simplistic style, and the reader is encouraged to do his/her own research, with other books—and second opinions—recommended. An satisfactory overview.

book icon  Turn Coat, Jim Butcher
Warden Donald Morgan, who has never had much respect for "Chicago's only practicing wizard," Harry Dresden, now a Warden himself, abruptly shows up at Harry's doorstep, injured and needing protection from his fellow Wardens, who are hunting him down for murder. Harry's astonished as anyone, but formulates a plan to save him. He knows Morgan wouldn't murder someone...but who would? It must be an inside job.

In the meantime Harry senses something evil and utterly powerful shadowing him. Is it related to Morgan's crime?

I have to confess I've been reading Dresden since they began and after so many books I'm starting to forget who did what in which book and sometimes find following Butcher's now huge cast a bit daunting (so thanks to whomever did all those synopses on Wikipedia!). But this outing offers a taut murder mystery with fantasy and horror trappings, as always a page-turner. Once again Harry's world turns upside down at the end. If you are an urban fantasy fan, I would give Harry's adventures a try, but do start at the beginning (Storm Front)!

book icon  The Big Book of New England Curiosities, Susan Campbell & Bruce Gellerman
The one thing that puzzles me about this book (and there may be other state instances that I don't know about) is that the authors mention the Big Blue Bug ("Nibbles Woodaway"), but don't put it in the book because they say everyone knows about it. What was it gonna take, a page? I mean, how can you do a book of New England "curiosities" without Nibbles?

Anyway, this is just as the title says, a state-by-state collection of unusual, odd, or just plain strange places and things, from haunted properties to odd landmarks to peculiar attractions: a life-size chocolate moose in Maine, a statue of Samantha Stephens (where else, in Salem, MA), dinosaurs in Connecticut, Rudyard Kipling's American home (Vermont), and more. It's a liberally illustrated, brief, humorous, and a fun read.

book icon  The Sherlockian, Graham Moore
In 1893 Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes, determined never to write another Holmes story again. But in 1900, he brought him back in a "flashback novel," The Hound of the Baskervilles, and then resurrected him. Why bring Holmes back? Doyle was a consummate diarist and his journal from that year might tell the tale—but is missing.

In January of 2010, a guest at the annual meeting of the Baker Street Irregulars states he has found the missing diary and will reveal its contents. He's also extremely nervous and fears he's being followed. The newest member of the Irregulars, Harold White, a shy, slightly chubby, nearsighted man in his early twenties, can't believe his luck being admitted to the society just as this revelation will be made. Then the man is found murdered in his room, with Harold as one of the witnesses to the body's discovery, along with Sarah Lindsay, a journalist reporting on the Sherlockians. As Harold is drawn into investigating the crime, a parallel story is told in alternating chapters: of Arthur Conan Doyle's investigation into a true crime, with the help of his friend Abraham "Bram" Stoker. The two investigations keep pace with each other, leading both Harold and Arthur into territory they begin to wish they never had penetrated.

Even as you wonder how the two crimes 110 years apart may relate, Moore keeps both narratives going at a good clip. I found the Doyle mystery a bit more compelling than the White (Moore's Victorian London is quite vivid and often disturbing), although Harold, as much as he resembles a Sherlockian "Trekkie," comes across very well and gains confidence as the story progresses. I would recommend this story to any Sherlock Holmes fan, but admit it might not be of interest of anyone who is not a fan of the Great Detective.

book icon  All Clear, Connie Willis
This book and its first half, Blackout, are a veritable fountain of words, very Dickensian, and probably at least a quarter of them could have been cut. But this didn't keep me from turning page after page after page to follow the adventures of Polly Churchill, Merope Ward, Michael Davies, Mary Kent and her partner Paige Fairchild, Ernest and his partner Cess, the boarders at Mrs. Rickett's, Sir Geoffrey and his amateur thespians, Mr. Dunworthy, and Colin, not to mention the mischievous urchins Alf and Binnie, plus the others populating Willis' massive epic about 21st-century time travelers stranded in Blitz-era London.

As their hopes fade that their own "drops" will open to return them to 2060 Oxford, Polly, Merope, and Mike attempt to find fellow time-traveler Gerald Phipps, who has been assigned to Bletchley Park, without interfering with history, fearing, as more time passes, that not only is their time travel itself is the cause of the slippages that keep the drops from opening, but that they have changed history somehow, even perhaps causing the Nazis to claim victory. As Mike searches for Phipps, Polly's appearance in plays put on in the subway to raise morale leads her to a job as a chorus girl where she becomes wartime sweetheart "All Clear Adelaide" and Merope becomes more emotionally involved with the scamp Hodbin children. In the meantime, other time travelers in "future" World War II (1944 and 1945) are trying to avoid Hitler's V2 rockets and participating in the elaborate cover-up that diverted the Axis eyes from the Normandy landings.

Willis' vision of wartime England is so vivid that she may be slightly forgiven for the barrage (pun intended) of description, characters, and incidents that comprise All Clear. I thoroughly enjoyed it all, but be warned there are more than half-a-dozen time travel streams to contend with, and you won't understand a word of what's going on without having read the first half of the story, Blackout, first.

book icon  The Leopard's Prey, Suzanne Arruda
Photographer/travel writer Jade del Cameron, back with her friends Madeleine and Nevelle Thompson in British East Africa, comes much too close to a leopard as she helps men collect animals for zoos. Nor can she relax once she is done, because when she returns with the Thompsons to their coffee plantation, the dead body of a storekeeper with a bad reputation is found in their just-delivered coffee dryer. Inspector Finch appears to want to pin the crime on one of Jade's friends, especially her off-again, on-again love interest Sam Featherstone, since he had a violent argument with the man days earlier.

Jade, of course, can't help being involved in the mystery, especially when Sam is accused. Trouble is, there is no lack of suspects: the victim had an unsavory past, and not many people liked him. Were his business partners involved? Or one of his customers? And did a baby the Thompsons almost adopt figure into the crime? Jade faces danger from every angle in this outing, including in the air, a challenge she meets, as always, with bravery and aplomb. Note: pay attention to Sam's aerial report; it contains a vital clue.

book icon  The Water Room, Christopher Fowler
The Peculiar Crimes Unit is just about to re-open (after the explosion that occurred in Fowler's first PCU novel, Full Dark House) when Benjamin Singh, an old friend of senior detective Arthur Bryant's, asks if he will look into his sister's death. He found her sitting in a chair in her basement, dressed, dry, but with her mouth full of river water. Bryant, his longtime partner John May, and the rest of the team start asking questions in her tiny neighborhood, where more odd deaths occur.

In the meantime, a young woman has moved into Ruth Singh's old home as London suffers through endless deluges of rain following an unusually hot summer. Why does she keep hearing water when she goes down in her basement, and why do wet spots keep appearing on the walls even though they are dry to the touch? Who is the street person who keeps peering into her window?

You will likely learn more than you might have wanted to know about the watercourses of London's rivers and of its sewage system in the course of this book; however, the mixture of mystery, neighborhood characters, and the eccentric Peculiar Crimes Unit (and its most peculiar member, Arthur Bryant) make the information not only painless, but downright absorbing. Bryant is in fine form in this second PCU outing, and the combination of puzzle and humor is delightful.

book icon  Especially Spaniels, Gladys Taber
This is a short book Taber wrote in the 1940s about raising cocker spaniels. It's interesting reading, even today, due to the things that have changed, like advising giving aspirin to dogs, and the use of products that don't exist anymore. What hasn't changed is her practical outlook on raising dogs, the dangers of strangers spreading illness to dogs, the stories of her own animals, and the lovely pictures of her spaniels taken by her longtime friend Jill.

book icon  Seventy-Seven Clocks, Christopher Fowler
In this third installment of the Bryant and May mysteries, Arthur Bryant's interview for his memoirs take the reader on an expedition back to 1973, as the Peculiar Crimes Unit is moving into new digs and England is moving into the Common Market. Then the scion of an influential businessman walks into a museum and ruins a priceless painting; later he dies under mysterious and bizarre circumstances. An attorney staying at the Savoy hotel dies from the bite of a snake not native to England. As more improbably crimes pile up, Bryant and May attempt to unravel the mysteries as the newspapers jeer the police, and a young woman who discovered one of the bodies and who suffers from frightening nightmares is drawn into the case by her own design.

The mystery in this one is quite complex, to the point where it ends up being a bit improbable. Still, I love Fowler's descriptive language and the partnership and characters of Bryant and May.

book icon  The Attenbury Emeralds, Jill Paton Walsh
In this new mystery featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and his novelist wife Harriet Vane, Jill Paton Walsh is on her own; she has neither an unfinished manuscript as in Thrones, Dominations nor the framework of letters written by Dorothy Sayers as in A Presumption of Death. Instead she harks back to what was briefly referenced as Lord Peter's first case of detection, the matter of the Attenbury emeralds: after Peter tells Harriet the story of the mystery surrounding the jewels, the newest Lord Attenbury shows up on their doorstep, where they discover the emeralds are still causing conundrums—and deaths.

I think I enjoyed this story more than the previous two, although as always it is evident Walsh is not Sayers. Her Sayers "voice" is better in this outing, but perhaps she feels incapable of writing in the sort of detail that Sayers did, precise descriptions of people and settings, and sharp commentary on the situations surrounding her characters (or, perhaps, her publishers think that modern audiences are not interested in reading such details any longer, a sad commentary if that is true). Every once in a while, what I feel is a too-modern sounding word or phrase intrudes, and the first half of the book, where Peter and Bunter are telling the tale of the emeralds instead of Walsh showing what happened, was awkward to me. Perhaps Walsh didn't feel comfortable writing this prequel in flashback form knowing she could not write it with Sayers' style; more likely she wanted Harriet included in that part of the narrative.

This did not keep me from reading on to discover what the purpose of all the intrigue around the emeralds served, or to find out how Peter and Harriet meet a second challenge later in the book. I would recommend with the reservation that you keep in mind that this is Walsh and not Sayers, and do not expect the level of detail of the latter.

book icon  Death at Wentwater Court, Carola Dunn
The Honorable Daisy Dalrymple's family has fallen upon hard times. Her father has died, leaving the family title in other hands, and leaving her in thin financial straits. Her fiancee, along with her brother, perished in the Great War. But Daisy is a resourceful, emancipated girl of the newly minted "Roaring '20s." She gets a position writing for the noted magazine "Town and Country" and her first big story will be written about Lord Wentworth's ancestral home. But all is not well at Wentworth Court: elder son James is resentful and suspicious of his new, young stepmother; his sister Marjorie is shamelessly chasing a handsome guest of the family; and the aformentioned stepmother is wan and secretive.

The morning after Daisy's arrival, the handsome guest, Lord Stephen Astwick, is found floating in the skating pond. At first everyone thinks it is an accident, until one of Daisy's photographs for her article reveals otherwise.

This is a bright, light English cozy mystery. The characters, including Daisy and the Scotland Yard inspector, Alec Fletcher, are lightly sketched, with not much depth to them. However, the story has a nice 1920s flavor to it, with the contrast between aristocracy and commoners, traditional characters and the "flappers" and "fast gentlemen" of the time, with a nice ear for 1920s dialog and slang. Daisy is an engaging heroine, neither precocious nor dense. In short, don't expect an introspective, complicated whodunit, but it's all enjoyable nonetheless.

Also check out my blog Holiday Harbour for November 2010, for my reviews of the Christmas and other holiday books I have read.