31 October 2011

Books Finished Since October 1

book icon  A City So Grand: The Rise of an American Metropolis, Boston 1850-1900, Stephen Puleo
John Winthrop's "city on a hill" becomes a leader in things technological and sociological in this engrossing read by Puleo, bookended by two rail events: the railroad exposition of 1851 and the building of America's first subway in 1899. In the intervening years, Boston becomes a leader in antislavery movements, precipitated by the return of a refugee under the Fugitive Slave Law; the amazing landfill of the Back Bay is begun, most of the business district is destroyed by fire, and the once-despised Irish gain a social foothold in the city, followed by the Italians.

I have other histories of Boston, but this one presented even more facts and stories I had never heard of in a highly-readable, but never condescending style. A must for anyone who loves the city or late 19th-century American history.

book icon  The Sherlock Holmes Companion, Daniel Smith
This is a lovely glossy coffee-table-like book that I found on the remainder shelf at Barnes & Noble. It contains synopses of all the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels (sans spoilers), but the big draw is the variety of illustrations: from the stories themselves (Sidney Paget and otherwise), covers of different Holmes editions (including an American paperback from the 1950s where the woman character resembles a dance-hall girl from a saloon), playbills, movie and play posters, and more. You'll see William Gillette (who popularized Holmes' wearing of a deerstalker and smoking a calabash pipe, not Conan Doyle), Jeremy Brett, Basil Rathbone, etc. Also included are inserts by people who have had to do with Holmes, including both David Burke and Edward Hardwicke from the Brett series. Recommended for Holmes fans!

book icon  Mysteries of Animal Intelligence, Sherry Hansen Steiger and Brad Steiger
I have a much-read book called The Strange World of Animals and Pets and I thought this might have a few more good stories about animal instincts and intelligence, so I gave it a try. Sadly, it's a bit dull, even for the age group it's written for (9-12). Some phrasing is awkward, and some of the stories seemed pasted verbatim from Chicken Soup for the Soul-type books. Still, there were some stories I had never heard, so it wasn't a total loss.

book icon  Royal Blood, Rhys Bowen
When hated relatives show up, what do you do? This is the problem for Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, otherwise known as "Georgie," 34th in line for the throne, and in no position to quibble because the townhome she's living in belongs to the visiting relatives, her actual amiable brother "Binky" and his annoying wife "Fig." Georgie seeks escape in any way she can, and accepts an errand from her cousin Queen Mary: to go to Romania for the marriage of a minor prince, since the bride is an old school friend. But Georgie finds more than she can handle: not only her handsome "sometimes beau," but the odious German prince they keep trying to marry her off to—and suspected vampires, not to mention the death of an unmannerly general!

I found this outing much more appealing than the last; Georgie is more proactive even as she displays her usual talent for falling into mysteries and murder. Introduced is the clumsy country maid Georgie's affable grandfather supplies to accompany her to the wedding, and a great deal of the humor is supplied by Georgie trying to make a proper lady's maid of "Queenie." Flamboyant best friend Belinda also manages to turn up along with all the regulars. A fun romp with a not-bad mystery thread woven throughout.

book icon  Scout, Atticus & Boo, Mary McDonagh Murphy
Disappointing. I was hoping for some literary criticism and also examination of each of the main characters along with commentary, but this book is pretty much an introduction which sums up the narratives which follow, which are basically well-known writers and other celebrities talking about how much To Kill a Mockingbird meant to them. It is a litany of "oh, how I wish Atticus was my father" or "oh, how I loved (or wanted to be) Scout." I'm not saying that the various authors of the essays had nothing to say, but I was expecting a little more "teeth" to them. For instance, I understand there are African-American critics that dislike this book because it is about yet another powerful white man who tries to save poor black people, with the implied meaning that people of color will always need white people to rescue them. You won't see that opposing viewpoint here.

There are certainly worthwhile bits, including Mary Badham's memories of filming the movie, but I would certainly wait for a remainder sale or a paperback version.

book icon  Mr. Monk on the Road, Lee Goldberg
All's well for Adrian Monk—as well as it can be, anyway, when you are as obsessive-compulsive as the San Francisco police department consultant can be. Now that he's solved the mystery of his wife's death and his horizons have widened after finding her daughter, Monk wants to do something to help his agoraphobic brother Ambrose, who hasn't left the house voluntarily since he was a child. So with his reluctant assistant Natalie Teeger in tow (Monk doesn't drive), he rents an RV, drugs his brother on his birthday, and takes him on the road to see some of the sites he's missed during his lifetime.

Since it's Monk, you know somewhere along the road there will be a mystery or two to solve. This is a funny and sometimes touching entry in the series, as Ambrose—without leaving the RV but once!—experiences the wonder of the world around him, including his first "sleepover" and a visit to the Grand Canyon. For some reason Natalie is saddled with what I thought was a kind of dippy phobia that is only integrated into the book as it concludes, and one of the mystery elements is introduced rather late into the story. Still, more fun than frowns in this outing, especially in Goldberg's introduction of Lt. Disher's replacement and in Ambrose's blossoming (within reason, of course).

book icon  A Rather Curious Engagement, C.A. Belmond
Cousins Penny Nichols and Jeremy Laidley, now owners of an English townhouse, a French country villa, a vintage car, and not a small amount of money from the inheritance left them by their Aunt Penelope, decide to form a business together as well as buy the townhome and repair the villa. Guided by their attorney, not to mention a couple of relatives, they decide also to indulge in one big "splurge," a small 1920s era yacht. But no sooner have they purchased Liesl's Dream when the boat is stolen, propelling them into yet another mystery.

Again, a slow, amiable mystery that is as much Mediterranean travelogue and food feast, as well as love story. Jeremy's ex-wife Lydia has appeared, clearly appearing to have designs on him again, and the couple are exploring their own feelings for each other while delving into the mystery of a missing (if it exists at all) aquamanilia (a metal sculpture also used as a vessel for liquids). Slow-moving but enjoyable if that's what you're in the mood for.

book icon  More All-of-a-Kind Family, Sydney Taylor
I was delighted to find this at a charity booksale; long ago you could find the "All of a Kind" family books in inexpensive Dell Yearling editions, but they sadly went out of print, only to be reprinted some years back as very expensive paperbacks, then vanishing. Some of them, especially the final book, are now selling for up to $170 each!

This, the second book in the series, continues the adventures of the "steps-and-stairs" sisters Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie, growing up with their Papa and Mama and baby brother Charlie on New York's Lower East Side. There's nothing earth-shaking about these books; it's just the day-to-day lives of the family, taking place in 1917, with a lively subplot about Uncle Hyman's romance with a merry lady named Lena. Taylor's books about the family are taken from her own childhood memories, so the stories have the ring of truth while surrounding you with warmth. Curl up with a hot drink and this book, and visit 1917!

book icon  A History of the World in 6 Glasses, Tom Standage
I don't think I got as much out of this book as I would have if I had sat down and read it in one go; instead, my reading was spread over some months and I probably lost threads of ideas in the interim parts. However, when I was reading it I did enjoy what I read, even if beer (how do you drink anything that smells that bad?) and cola (::shudder::) are not my favorite things to read about, except in a historical perspective. I especially enjoyed the coffee chapter and the stories of how the coffeehouses became social centers and even businesses (re Lloyds of London). Also interesting portions on the Roman drinking habits (wine diluted with water).

In fact, you can judge by this lackluster review how I should have done this book better justice. Perhaps if I ever get through my mounting to-be-read pile I'll have a go at it again. The subject certainly deserves better, although the prose is a bit plodding, which may have contributed to my desultory reading.

30 October 2011

Books Bought on Vacation

book icon  A Ball, A Dog, and a Monkey, Michael D'Antonio -- 1957, the space race begins

book icon  From Birdwomen to Skygirls, Fred Erisman -- about aviation as portrayed in girls' books in the early 20th century

book icon  Pledging Allegiance: American Identity and the Bond Drive of World War II, Lawrence R. Samuel

book icon  Picturesque Story of Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland -- This is the story of the store itself. I also bought Sharing Joy 365: An Autobiography of Wally Bronner

book icon  The World of the Trapp Family, William Anderson -- Lovely book with lots of photos!

book icon  An Old-Fashioned Christmas: Tinsel, Gingerbread Men & Raggedy Ann, Rochelle Pennington and Nicholas Pennington -- Nostalgic photos and text...what else could you want in a Christmas book?

Oh, and the new Christmas Ideals, which I've previously only bought at Borders. ::sob:: (We went past a closed Borders as part of our travels...sad.)

14 October 2011

Fall Library Book Sale Tally

•  New England: Land of Scenic Splendor, National Geographic Books

•  This Fabulous Century: 1870-1900, Time-Life Books (I bought this, thinking I might already have it, and I do...but the copy I have is almost 100 pages fewer...not sure if there are parts cut out, print made smaller, or what...)

•  A book for James: S.M. Stirling's Ice, Iron and Gold (short stories from different times)

•  June Allyson, by June Allyson (Heavens, I had to...how many times have I sat through Strategic Air Command with James? Anyway, I like June Allyson!)

•  Tales of the New England Coast (This is a compilation of stories from old magazines from the turn of the 20th century; I used to look at it at Oxford Too, that's how long it's been around!)

•  The Literary Guide and Companion to Northern England, Robert M. Cooper (apparently there's one for Southern and one for Middle England as well; anecdotes about literary locations and writers)

•  American Country Christmas, Mary Emmerling and Chris Mead (A little gift book, with wonderful old-fashioned home decorations)

•  Dear America books: Journey to a New World (Pilgrims), Winter of the Red Snow (Revolutionary War), When Will This Cruel War Be Over? (Civil War)

•  Anna All Year Round, Hahn DeGroat (based on a true story, Baltimore before World War I)

•  Sword of the Wilderness, Elizabeth Coatsworth (Colonial era; Coatsworth always treated her Native American characters with more respect than many writers of her time)

•  A Christmas Companion, Maria Robbins and Jim Charleton (this is mostly recipes, but does have some customs around the world)

•  Say It With a Simile, William Safire (Which I've taken out before; I can tell the way the pages are riffled)

•  The Night Journey, Kathryn Lasky (based on a true story)

and a book I already have, but I know someone who will love it. And my best find:

•  More All of a Kind Family, Sydney Taylor

You could get the All-of-a-Kind Family books for less than a dollar years ago, in Yearling book editions. Then they went out of print, and when they did reprint them, they were $17 apiece. Now you can't find them again, except at conflated prices. (The cheapest one of them is selling on Amazon Marketplace is $17! One is going for over $100! Good heavens!)

All for $22.50!