30 June 2011

Books Finished Since June 1

book icon  A Dog's Life, a "Chicken Soup for the Soul" book
Enjoyable reading for the dog lover, with 101 stories following dogs from puppyhood to old age. Several are amusing, but most are touching, and many will make you cry. If you are familiar with the "Chicken Soup" format, you will know what to expect. Sentimental scoffers need not apply.

book icon  Treason at Lisson Grove, Anne Perry
While Thomas Pitt and his partner Gower head to France in pursuit of a murderer of an important informant, Pitt's superior in Special Branch, Victor Narraway, is dismissed in disgrace for embezzling money that should have bought an Irish informer's freedom and instead spelled his death. When Charlotte is told what has happened, she realizes she must help Narraway since Pitt's professional future depends on his keeping his post. Posing as his sister, she accompanies him to Ireland, where he hopes to ferret out the person from his past who blames him for a family death and who would gain the most satisfaction from his dismissal. It is not long before Narraway, Charlotte, and Pitt all learn they don't know who to trust, as it becomes evident both men were lured from London for some nefarious purpose.

One would not have expected Pitt's career to stay static, and after some years social gossip would have given away the identities of Charlotte and her sister Emily helping Pitt on the society-crime cases of the earlier books. Still, the stories have lost appeal since Pitt went from police detective to national security investigator. Missed is the investigative interaction between Pitt and his former partner Tellman (now married to Gracie Phipps, who makes a welcome cameo in this book), and the ways Charlotte, Emily, and the imperious yet sympathetic Lady Vespasia found to assist him. It also seems out of character for Charlotte to take matters in her own hands to quite the level she does, and the characteristic Perry examination of the supporting characters' underlying emotions, strengths and weaknesses has become quite superficial. For those of you joining this series on this, or the previous book, Buckingham Palace Gardens, please go back to the initial Pitt/Charlotte novels, starting with Cater Street Hangman, to read what this series had going for it in the past.

book icon  Demon Ex Machina, Julie Kenner
Once upon a time Kate and Eric Crowe fought demons together, but they abandoned that life for a normal life raising a child. But there was a secret Eric never told Kate: a demon had been bound to him from childhood. And then Eric was killed when their daughter was nine years old.

Now Kate is remarried and she and her husband Stuart, an attorney, have a toddler son together, and daughter Allison is nearly fifteen. Some time earlier demons had come back into Kate's life and one by one Allison, Kate's best friend, and finally Stuart became aware of it. And Eric returned, his spirit reborn in schoolteacher David Long. And now the demon inside Eric is growing stronger, and with the help of a Demon Hunter gone rogue, is about to escape.

This is a nonstop—except for past exposition—action entry (it looks like the final book) in the series of Kenner's "demon-hunter soccer mom," where Kate realizes that to eliminate the demon she will probably need to kill Eric as well. Repercussions to Kate's marriage, to her relationship with her daughter; to Allison's relationship with her best friend and with her father are all into play here. Definitely suspenseful, although for regular readers of the series the exposition may become tiring.

book icon  Angel With Two Faces, Nicola Upson
In this second of Upson's mysteries based on the real-life mystery writer Josephine Tey, the author is visiting friends in Cornwall for the summer while starting work on a new mystery. Nearby, her friend Inspector Archie Penrose has come back to home soil to attend the funeral of a friend, an accidental death which seems less accidental the more he investigates. Both Josephine and Archie become entwined with those closest to the case: the victim's twin sister and younger sister, a well-loved neighborhood schoolteacher, a young minister full of doubts, and more.

I did not like this second book so well as the first. One of my delights about the first book was how much like a 1930s-written book it was in language and attitude. This one seemed less so, and several events happen which all the characters, including Archie and Josephine, treat with a modern-day sensibility instead of the way people of the 1930s would have reacted. I did find the mystery fairly absorbing, and also enjoyed the description and information about Cornwall and the real-life Minack Theater, but there were reactions to relationships that I didn't understand the protagonists' calm acceptance of.

And while I hate to give spoilers, even though the relationship was consensual, this is NOT a book I would give to read to someone who has familial sexual abuse in their past. Please be warned about this aspect if you purchase this book for yourself or another.

book icon  Once and Future Giants, Sharon Levy
History is about to repeat itself. The prehistoric giants, mammoths, dire wolves, aurochs, saber-tooth tigers, etc., all met their end the same way, at the hands of the two-legged predators known as man. And now man is once again encroaching on the last of the giants, like elephants and whales.

I was raised on theories of mammoths and other megafauna having been made extinct by climate change, so the theory that man may have caused their demise was a new one to me. I used to devour books like this as a child and was similarly absorbed by this theory, plus the concept of rewilding to possibly return damaged ecosystems back to a healthy status. The idea of transferring endangered African species like elephants, lions, and cheetahs to replace their extinct counterparts in North America was intriguing. Also of interest were the chapters about the extinct megafauna of Australia, something I had done little reading about, and a surprising chapter about Nazi attempts to breed aurochs (wild cattle, whose forms were painted by prehistoric hunters) and tarpans (wild horses).

book icon  Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920, Jackson Lears
The period of history that this book covers is my favorite in American history, with its combination of the progressive ideas of a group of reformers and the inventions and urbanization that changes the United States from an agrarian to an urban nation. I own several other books covering this period of history and was looking forward to the paperback publication.

In seven chapters, a prologue and a conclusion, Lear examines the highlights and issues of the era: the turning of the Civil War from a conflict chiefly to do with slavery to a romantic vision of battle, the deterioration of the rights of the freed slaves until "Jim Crow" firmly holds them in its grip, the rise of the wealthy industrialists and the "trust busting" that did little to break them, the "taming" of the West (and the inevitable subjugation of the native tribes), the sting of the eugenics movement, the rise of leisure time in the middle class, efforts to help the poor, the jingoism of rising imperialism, women's rights, and finally the destruction that was World War II. It's all presented with numerous anecdotes of the figures of the time, not just Theodore Roosevelt, John Rockefeller, Jane Addams, and William Jennings Bryan, but little mentioned but then well-known personalities like William James, Henry Adams, and the progressive southerners Tom Watson and Henry Grady.

Despite all this, I got the impression it was rather tossed at me pell-mell; not confusing as much as bouncing from one thing to another without taking a breath. Also, a running theme of the militaristic effects of "muscular Christianity" tied much of the anecdotes together.

book icon  A Bitter Truth, Charles Todd
This third in the Bess Crawford mysteries has returned to the complexity of the first volume, after what I thought was a disappointing second book. Bess has briefly returned to her London flat on Christmas leave, preparatory to joining her parents for Christmas. But as she arrives home, she finds a battered woman trying to warm herself in the doorway. Lydia, as Bess discovers through questioning, has been struck during an argument with her Army officer husband; Lydia also immediately clings to Bess and persuades her to accompany her back to her husband's home to confront him. Bess has no sooner arrives than she realizes Lydia's family by marriage is haunted by the death of a child years earlier. But it is when a man is murdered after a family gathering that Bess is drawn into something much deeper than dysfunctional family members.

This is a happy return to a complex family mystery as in the first volume. Bess' investigation into the family mystery seems much more natural than in the previous volume, and she is joined in a search in France by an intriguing Australian soldier. Her father's assistant Simon Brandon is again pivotal in the novel as well. I also enjoyed the atmospheric descriptions, whether it be of Bess' cold return to London, the bleak country surroundings she finds in Sussex, or the smoky battlefields and appalling fate of the war wounded. Bess herself is a favorite of mine; she is practical, if with a tendency to get caught up with anyone who asks her help, and reminiscent of Maisie Dobbs without as much of the introspection.

book icon  A Boston Miscellany, William P. Marchione
This is the delightful anecdotal book I first saw in the National Park Service bookstore in downtown Boston, and bought for myself at the Harvard Coop, a short history of the Hub from its founding to the 1920s, starting with William Blackstone, who later fled to Rhode Island and had several geographical landmarks named after him. Did you know that Beacon Hill used to be a very unfashionable address, containing the town workhouse and jail? That railroads began as a way to haul granite for building? That the prestigious addresses of Newbury and Marlborough Streets were once a fetid swamp? You'll read about Lafayette's visit to Boston, the construction of the first bridges to span the Charles River, the destruction of all but one of the hills upon which Boston was built, and more.

07 June 2011


It was only a matter of time until I bought an e-reader.

Actually, I've been reading e-books since 2002 when I got my HP Jornada. Three years ago, a couple of our friends showed up at Timegate with Kindles, more friends have purchased various brands in the interim, including Phyllis, who bought a color Nook, and a few months ago, unable to resist the price at a Borders liquidation sale, James bought a Kobo. I have all three of the "name" book reader apps on my Droid: Kindle, Nook (which is a whopper at 12MB), and Borders, plus Google Books reader and Aldiko, which reads the new e-book darling, .epub format (taking the title away from Mobipocket and Microsoft Reader, which were the two leaders when I bought the Jornada).

I'd always had an interest in a Kindle, as Amazon just sells so many books, but when the color Nook came out, I was intrigued. It functioned not only as an e-reader, but had a browser, and you could get magazine subscriptions since it was in color. And, to be frank, it had other allure: it's an Android operating system and you can hack them to make them operate like a Droid, or even boot off an micro SD card and operate on a Droid. (I'm twisted that way, but it would give me a giggle to use a Kindle app on a Nook. <g>)

Not to mention the fact that it's upscale. My dad used to say that if you asked me to pick out a certain electronic, I'd invariably head for the one with the most buttons and the highest price (he also claimed I could sense a bookstore at five miles <g>).

However, I've pretty much been fence-sitting since after Christmas. I still don't like the price of most new e-books. Printed books have an entire pile of expenses having nothing to do with the writing or editing of a volume: costs to produce paper and ink, cost for the printing, cost for the cover graphic and the book cover (and the hardcover if it's a hardback). An e-book must still be written and edited, but the formatting doesn't take any of the labor or the cost of printing (I know, since I've formatted e-books myself with ReaderWorks). So why do e-books, especially paperbacks, cost the same as a printed book? If I knew the author was getting that extra profit, it would be different, but I know they're not.

So I think you know the answer to this one: I bought the color Nook last Friday. Most of the apps cost money, so I have a couple of the free ones: the calendar, Word of the Day, and GoodReads. I downloaded Evernote but you need an SD card for it. It comes with a crossword app, Pandora, and a sudoku app (I hate sudoku).

And nope, I haven't bought any books—yet. Every Friday, Barnes & Noble's Nook blog features a free e-book. Lots of vampires and paranormal stuff, it appears, which I'm really not into. I did download a reprint of a 1930s Fodor's guide to Europe and a chick-lit type thing. Read a few samples. Mostly I have downloaded some stuff off Munseys.com, Gutenberg, and ManyBooks (a bunch of Angela Brazil books, which I've just discovered and as many of the ten Hildegard Frey Camp Fire Girls books as are online—I have the other two; one I scanned and one I bought) and the three James Potter books by G. Norman Lippert. (I just discovered these. They are fanfiction originally written for Lippert's family. Apparently they were put on line and at first J.K. Rowling's lawyers tried to have them taken down. But she found out about the contents, realized they didn't infringe on anything she'd already written, and said she didn't mind it. So evidently she has no intention of writing about James Potter [Harry's son, not Harry's dad]. So far as I've read, which isn't much, they're well written, but lack that little bit of mischievous humor that make the Harry Potter books a bit different.)

On the other hand, I may be investing in a few e-books soon. I've become interested in the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries after reading about them on a book blog, and bought the first three of the British editions really cheaply from Hamilton Books. They're light mysteries set in England in the 1920s. Trouble is, Daisy is up to book eighteen now, and nine of the "middle books" are out of print (they were published in the 1990s and early 2000s) and some of them are going for as much as $45 used (yes, for paperbacks!). I thought of ordering them from Amazon.co.uk (they are just being published in England) and really, £26 was not bad for six books—until I saw the postage, which was nearly as much as the books. £21! For the slowest postage they have. Yow! But I managed to find the fourth book on Deep Discount, and Barnes & Noble carries the rest of them as e-books for the same price as a US paperback. So...maybe I might be persuaded to pay that silly price after all.