31 January 2015

Books Completed Since January 1

Oh, good grief. If I wait until I have time to post complete reviews I'll never get this entry up. I'm going for notes...

Christmas book reviews here, here, and here.

book icon  A Dangerous Place, Jacqueline Winspear
I've been with Maisie Dobbs since her first case, and I have to admit, it was difficult for me to read this newest mystery. She is one of my favorite mystery protagonists and the turn her life had taken was painful.

In the years since she left England to explore the world, Maisie has experienced her greatest happiness and her most terrible sorrow. Now, on her way back to England to see her aging father, she feels she can't face the sympathetic faces of her friends quite yet. When her ship stops at Gibraltar, she debarks and takes residence at a hotel, where she immediately notices she is being followed. Then a Jewish man is killed in the streets with only the sketchiest of police investigations. As anyone who has met Maisie previously, you know this is something she cannot let rest. And little by little, by working again, Maisie begins to work through the pain of the past year.

Most of Maisie's original cases consisted of events that were repercussion of the Great War. Now her mystery leads her to contact with newest conflict that is developing in Spain, a prelude to an even greater war. While the mystery in this story is moderately complex, I was more interested in Maisie's story and how her involvement in the mystery leads her to a new path. I also enjoyed the way the past years in Maisie's life were revealed gradually, as her emotions open in the course of the case.

I will always miss Maisie's post-WWI cases, but I take hope in her finding a new purpose in her life.

book icon  A Passion for Books: A Book Lover's Treasury, ed. by Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan
It's a collection of essays about reading, books, and collecting books, serious and comic, from such notables as Ray Bradbury, Umberto Eco, and Christopher Morley. A few of the essays are about collecting books for their value, which I find absurd, but it's altogether an enjoyable read.

book icon  The Afterlife of Little Women, Beverly Lyon Clark
I collect Louisa May Alcott biographies and books about Little Women, so when this was mentioned in a blog I had to rustle up my own copy. It reminds me of another book I have, The Life and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge, which chronicles how interpretations of A Christmas Carol have changed over the years based on societal conceptions. It opens with the novel's reception by its 19th century audience, where it was almost as popular with boys as it was with girls—but astonishingly wasn't accepted by some Sunday schools because there wasn't enough religion in it! It discusses the illustrations in the various editions and similar novels like the "Katy" books. A hit play is later made of the book, a silent film with no longer exists, the three movies familiar to all Little Women fans, and finally a Broadway musical. Even more interesting is the chapter about nonfiction and fiction books about the Alcott family. Little Women and Louisa Alcott fans should enjoy; I certainly did!

book icon  Doctor Who: Engines of War, George Mann
I quite enjoyed this one, although some of the War Doctor's lines don't quite fit his particular personality. The Time War nears its end as the TARDIS crashes on the planet Moldox, a wasteland being harvested by the Daleks and their mutant companions, where he meets the Dalek hunter Cinder, a girl grown old in trying to survive. Together they elude the Daleks and try to rescue the rest of Moldox's citizens. As always the Doctor "steps in where angels fear to tread," gets himself captured, endures hair-raising escapes—and has his heart broken. Cinder is a resourceful, appealing companion in his adventures, slightly resembling Ace.

book icon  Sheer Folly, Carola Dunn
Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher and her old friend Lucy are working on a book about follies (the structural kind) and are visiting Appsworth Hall, an estate now owned by a plumbing executive named Pritchard, which boasts a particularly fine folly. He has other guests at his home, including Lucy and Daisy's old schoolmate Julia, and the very rude Lord Rydal. Pritchard is in the process of restoring the famous Appsworth grotto, but while the guests are visiting it, one of them slips and is injured. No sooner is she recovering than an explosion rocks the grotto and part of it is destroyed, leaving a dead body behind. Once again her husband, police inspector Alec Fletcher is called in to investigate, but as always it's Daisy's nose for trouble that solves the crime. Yet it's the conflict between the guests at the country house that almost overwhelm the crime! A rambling cozy with a full cast of British country-house-mystery types.

book icon  How to Be a Victorian, Ruth Goodman
Super book by Goodman, who is a historian as well as a historical re-enactor, and who has appeared in the British history series Victorian Farm, Wartime Farm, Edwardian Farm, etc.. She doesn't just tell you how people lived in the Victorian era, she lives them herself, dressing in authentic corsets, taking sponge baths, cooking, reading, etc. just as they would. She's used Victorian menstrual pads, cooked over coal- and woodstoves, eaten foods that both the poor and the rich would have consumed, participated in girls' "sports," read cookery books and medical treatises of the time, so that many of the customs and products she describes are from first-hand experience. If you are a history freak like me, you'll dive into this book and only come up for air when you're done.

book icon  Lassie: Hayloft Hideout, Marian Bray
This is the fourth and penultimate book in Bray's quintet of religious-based stories about Lassie and her family, the Harmons: Pastor Paul Harmon, his wife Ruth, 13-year-old Jimmy, and 10-year-old Sarah. Lassie is primarily Jimmy's dog, but in this book he is so occupied with a school project to raise money for a foster home, Lassie is spending a lot of time with Sarah, who is feeling particularly bad about herself. It's on one of Lassie's and Sarah's hikes that they discover a family of children living in an abandoned barn. Sarah soon finds herself stealing food and clothing and money from her family's home to help the kids.

The note at the beginning of these books state that they are based upon incidences in the television series, but, unlike the other books, this only has a brief sequence straight from the Timmy episode "Trapped." (Although there is what may be a reference to a sequence from one of the Lassie Whitman novels.) The storyline is almost like a Boxcar Children book, except that one of the children indulges in shoplifting to get supplies. The story is mainly Sarah's and it is well told, her guilt rising after each deception given to her parents and her brother, even though she is doing so to keep the six Freedman children from being split up into foster homes. The inclusion of the religious theme is natural and does not overpower the story. Very odd to read one of these and not have Jimmy be the protagonist, though!

book icon  Lassie: Danger at Echo Cliffs, Marian Bray
This last of Bray's Lassie stories doesn't seem to be based on a television story either, unless it's one of the Neeka stories that hasn't been rerun. Jimmy and his younger sister are on a camping trip with their Uncle Cully and some of his graduate students, riding horses from their grandparents' mustang ranch. When their inexperienced guide leads them to the wrong canyon, the kids, Cully, and one of his students are separated from the rest of the group, blocked from returning by a flash flood. This is a rather ambling adventure with some derring do for Lassie, who saves Jimmy from a snake and helps rescue a horse; later in the story she's temporarily blinded by falling stones. The best aspect of the story is the Southwestern setting and the tidbits about the Native tribes that lived in the area.

book icon  Anti-Foreign Imagery in American Pulps and Comic Books, Nathan Vernon Madison
This is a fascinating study about how foreigners—primarily Asians and chiefly Chinese and Japanese—were portrayed in old comics and the pulp magazines from 1920 to 1960. Later in the book Communists, both Eastern European and Asian, are addressed. Even though I had not read pulps or comics from the era, I had read children's serial books from the time which are full of negative stereotypes of most minorities, including Asians, so while the revelations weren't a surprise, they were still startling and sobering in the ferocity of their hatred. While the occasional Asian man was shown to be a good character, most often they were sinister and cruel, and Asian women waivered between being scheming seductive "Dragon Ladies" and helpless victims. If you've never read about any of this before it will probably be an eye-opener. Not for those sensitive to racial slurs.

book icon  No True Way, edited by Mercedes Lackey
A nice solid collection of stories this time, with stories that include a tale of a widowed Herald who must choose between his way of life and endangering his child, the story of how Cera (the widow of a disgraced noble) finds a purpose for her life once more, the adventures of a boy who nurses a kyree back to health, how vultures solve a mystery, a puckish tale involving the Haven Guard and some books, and a new story involving Herald Vanyel and the healer Vixen. In addition, there's even a startling, chilling horror story much different from what is usually published in these Valdemar collections. It pleased even as it gave one the shivers.

book icon  If Walls Could Talk, Lucy Worsley
The original home, even for the most wealthy, was "the hall," everyone living in one big room. Eventually individual rooms: ones for sleeping, one for living, one for cooking, and finally, brought inside, one for washing and eliminating. This is a dandy social history of the home, complete with intimate details of the unhygenic past; from straw beds to charcoal for tooth brushing, candles to exotic dinners, social diseases and chamber pots. A bright lively narrative. Wish I'd seen the television program it was based on!

book icon  Inside Charlie's Chocolate Factory, Lucy Mangan
It's Roald Dahl goodness in this book devoted to all aspects of the story of Charlie Bucket and his visit to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, starting with the seminal book and covering both films, a play, and even an opera. There's a chapter on the illustrations in various editions and covers in many languages (including a new Penguin release that's downright creepy child-molester looking). I was especially intrigued on the evolution of the tale from a short story about a boy who is enrobed in chocolate through different characters touring the chocolate factory. Even after publication the book had to change, as the original Oompha-Loomphas were considered racist. If you're a fan of the book or either movie, definitely recommended.

book icon  A Rather Charming Invitation, C. L. Belmond
This is the third in the four-book series about Penny Nichols and Jeremy Laidley, who met and fell in love after both inheriting from Penny's eccentric aunt. After establishing themselves as "finders" of lost treasures, they're ready to be married, but where? Jeremy's family wants the ceremony in London, while Penny's French relatives (her father's family) want them to be married in France, in front of a famous tapestry in the family for hundreds of years. Until, of course, it's stolen during the rehearsal.

Part romantic adventure, part mystery, part European travelogue, this one has an even more intriguing fillip than the last—apparently there's a code in the tapestry that leads to a treasure. I love all the characters and the tapestry mystery was intriguing. I'm just sorry there's only one book left in the series.

book icon  Laura's Album, William Anderson
I've been dying for a copy of this book since it was released. Thank you, Hamilton Books, for finally having it at a reasonable price. Anderson has collected photographs and other historical documents about Laura Ingalls Wilder, like Laura's teaching certificate and calling card, a map she made of the city of DeSmet, legal documents filed by Charles Ingalls, etc. If you've ever wondered "what the real Ingalls and Wilders looked like," this is the book for you.