31 July 2015

Books Completed Since July 1

book icon  Companion Piece: Women Celebrate the Humans, Aliens and Tin Dogs of Doctor Who, edited by L.M. Myles and Liz Barr
From the folks at Mad Norwegian Press, who brought you Chicks Dig Time Lords, Chicks Unravel Time, etc., yet a new book of essays about Doctor Who! MNP's books are like peanuts—I just devour them happily. Certainly there are some essays I like more than others, and this edition is no exception, however, all the essays are notable even if they're not my cup of tea.

Some of my favorites in this volume: "Where in Eternity… is Josephine Grant Jones?" since Jo Grant is so often dismissed as being a featherhead (she's also loyal and courageous), "Mouth on Legs," which discusses Tegan, a tribute to the Doctor's first woman companion in "The Barbara Strain," thoughtful pieces on the much-maligned Peri and the vastly underused Turlough, even a nice essay on Harry Sullivan, who, despite being a bit out of his league, was never an idiot. Both Liz Shaw and ZoĆ« get their scientific due, as does the first incarnation of Romana, who spent a large amount of time, IMHO, in the shadow of Lalla Ward's succeeding interpretation. Your favorite is here, from Susan to Victoria, Sarah Jane to Ace, and into the 21st century with Rose, Jack, Martha, and Donna.

Doctor Who fans will enjoy. Mad Norwegian, keep slinging out those peanuts!

book icon  Heirs and Graces, Rhys Bowen
Georgina Rannoch thought she would have a few months to relax and help her flashy mother, a former actress, work on her tell-all memoir, until her mother goes running off to be with her current lover during a time of crisis. Still without a penny to her name and disinclined to go back to live under the thumb of her overbearing sister-in-law, "Georgie" is relieved to get an assignment that seems right up her alley: to prep a newly-found Australian heir to a Dukedom to the proper protocol of running a ducal estate. The Australian turns out to be a bright, handsome young man who's more than a little puzzled about all the hoops his English counterpart has to jump through, and the current Duke, who hasn't supplied the family with an heir because he's "that way," takes an instant dislike to him. He'd rather proclaim his valet the heir instead. Soon after he says so, he's found dead, with his Australian nephew's knife in his back.

This is a fun outing in the "Royal Spyness" cozy mystery series, although you really don't care if the rude Duke has been murdered or not! More fun are his male "followers," and Jack, the Aussie heir, is a good partner for Georgie's sleuthing. The mystery is reasonably complicated and the country house setting comfortable and familiar. A few anachronisms and inaccurate turns of phrase creep in, and for the life of me, I seem to remember a similar story in another mystery series. Still, another enjoyable visit with one of my favorite mystery characters.

book icon  The Story of English in 100 Words, David Crystal
Books about "100 Things" have been popular on the shelves since the release of the phenomenally popular BBC's radio series and tie-in book The History of the World in 100 Objects. This is Crystal's lively entry in the pack, as he examines the history of the English language from the first word written in runes on a deer's bone ("roe") in the year 400 to the 100th word with a very modern feel ("twittersphere"). In between are words that came from other languages ("street" from Latin, "brock" from Celtic, "skunk" from American, "dinkum" from Australian, "trek" from Boer Dutch), words derived from invaders ("pork" from Norman French), words to describe new technology ("garage"), words from Shakespeare, fiction, imports turned sideways, two words from different regions which eventually became represented by one ("eggs"), etc. A fascinating dip into a bag of assorted words for the linguistically-inclined among us.

book icon  The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly
As Calpurnia Virginia Tate (Callie Vee to family and friends) continues to struggle against the inexorable customs of turn-of-the-century Texas, where girls are brought up to be good housewives and mothers, while her only interest is to grow up and study the sciences like her aristocratic Grandfather has done, she finds a curious ally in her younger brother Travis, who is a friend to all animals great and small, from the armadillo he drags home in the first chapters of the book to the young half-coyote dog Callie helps him hide from disapproving parents. Callie is also expecting great things from the new year 1900, but all it appears to bring her is an unhappy cousin who was flooded out of her home when the savage hurricane hit Galveston.

This sequel to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a bit more episodic than the original, but still holds some surprises and truths for Callie Vee, who eventually gets to help the new veterinarian in town and who finally declares her intention to go to college somehow, even if it's not in the "game plan" of a young woman of the early 20th century. Perhaps the must frustrating thing about this book is living with Callie's inequality of being female, which is hurtfully illustrated in a chapter about money given to her for Christmas—you simply want to go and give her father a piece of your mind, but it was common thinking in those days about girl children. Callie's continued friendship with her grandfather is muted a bit this time as she attempts to help sensitive Travis navigate his life's shoals, but she is still the same likeable, determined character she was in her first outing, and her further adventures are a joy to read. I love her because she is not a depressing girlie character obsessed with clothes and shoes and looking pretty. I hope in the future to spend more time with Miss Calpurnia Tate.

book icon  The Dance of Time, Michael Judge
I bought this book on a whim from Hamilton Books, and a very happy whim it was. Make no mistake, while this is a book about our Western calendar, it is no scholarly tome brimming with dates and data of how the calendar developed. Instead, it is a whimsical (to go with that whim I had), poetically written story of the calendar year, the different seasons, and the holidays, secular and pagan and from various religions, and of those ties to the stories told in the constellations and in folk tales around the world. As the earth revolves so the atmosphere moves from frosty to flowery, from caressingly warm to mustily cool, from the rhythm of the farmer following the planting signs of the seasons to our clock-obsessed world. It's a book to be read at bedtime, or on a screened porch daily as nature and time flow around you, awakening you to the magic of the waxing and waning year around you. People of a poetic bent will probably appreciate this book the most. It's a good one to daydream by.

book icon  Sand Witches in the Hamptons, Celia Jerome
Sadly, this seems to be the end of Willow Tate. Oh, she's not dying, but she's headed for happily ever after through a bumpy road—and frankly it's about time after the way she's been treated in her hometown of Paumonauk Harbor on Long Island. The book picks up where Life Guards in the Hamptons left off, with Willow exhausted after saving the town from a hurricane harboring an evil sea monster in its midst. She is suffering from a rash and a chronic nosebleed, receiving more warning calls from her delightfully daffy father who gets his psychic clues mixed up, and ends up returning to the Harbor after discovering many of the residents are also suffering from rashes and nosebleeds. Add to the magical mayhem the fact that her new lover Matt, the dashing veterinarian, is coping with his ex-wife staying with him.

It's the typical fun urban fantasy themes for this series, which again build to a dramatic ending. Willow's neighbors finally seem to gang up on her far less in this outing, but it's still up to her to find out what is behind the otherworldly symptoms while battling normal problems like jealousy. Many old friends show up, including cousin Susan, Oey the half-bird half-fish that Willow's "visualization" powers have created, the eccentric residents of Paumonauk with their odd psychic talents, plus one menacing magical adversary that may spell the end of Ms. Tate.

The story is almost stand alone, but you would be better served in this series by starting with book one and enjoying Willow's voyage of self-discovery of her powers and the various men in her past. If this is the final book, it's a worthy wrap up. But I sure will miss her.

book icon  Behind the Shattered Glass, Tasha Alexander
If having Lady Emily's mother as a guest wasn't bad enough, one evening their neighbor the Marquess of Montagu staggers through the French doors of Anglemore Park, home of Emily and her husband Colin Hargreaves, and falls down dead. As Colin (and Emily) probe what might have caused this event, they uncover layers about Montagu that reveal someone completely different from the man they thought he was.

After the last, Venetian-set mystery with its tedious parallel love story, I was glad to see Colin and Emily back on "home ground," so to speak, with a more classic British-set mystery. The story's been told before, of the public face of a man being completely different from his private one, but the investigation was interesting. Less interesting was a subplot where the couple's friend Simon, Lord Flyte, has fallen in love with one of the housemaids. He gently courts her by taking her on picnics and encouraging her singing. It's sweet, but it has the expected result of making the other servants resentful of her special treatment. Granted, the murder mystery and the "downstairs" plot do mesh eventually, but I wish it had been in some other way. I also wish there were some way this series could get back the edge it had when it first started (I have wished from the beginning that author Alexander had not brought Colin and Emily together so quickly), but, as you see, I'm still reading...

book icon  To the Letter, Simon Garfield
Several months ago, the BBC did a radio production with Benedict Cumberbatch called "My Dear Bessie," an epistolary romance between a World War II soldier and the woman who later became his wife. These are now collected in a book, but first became known in this, Garfield's salute to the dying art of letter writing.

Garfield goes back to Roman days, where surviving letters have shown us that people haven't changed much over the years—they kept tallies, wrote their families, complained about their postings in foreign climes—and then examines the noted letter writers like Heloise and Abelard, Lord Chesterfield, Madame de Stael while also presenting a history of the postal system, from post riders to post boxes, stamps and stationery, and of course touching on the most famous letters of all, love letters.

Like most people, I was an avid letter writer until the advent of e-mail, so reading this book made me feel alternately guilty about not writing and eager to write more than the one Christmas letter a year, but I doubt I'll have time for it any time in the near future. As in all his other books, Garfield's writing is engaging and fun, with many wonderful personalities and facts popping up on each page. I haven't been disappointed by a Garfield book yet.

book icon  Mystery of the Mooncusser (Mystery at Boulder Point), Eleanor M. Jewett
This is a neat little children's mystery about Marty (Martha Ann Atwater) a motherless girl who lives in a coastal town where her father is the town doctor.  She and her terrier Skipper love to explore nearby Boulder Point, where old shipwrecks still dot the landscape and the legend of a Mooncusser (a thief who deliberately ran ships aground to steal from the wreckage) still remains alive; sometimes Marty pals around with Michael, a classmate who helps his widowed mother support the family by doing odd jobs, but his real love is art. Marty is overjoyed when a painter and his younger sister, about her age but blind, move into an old cottage on Boulder Point. But there are signs that someone is hanging around the old wreck—is it a ghost? or some threatening person? It will take a test of the weather to solve the mystery.

This is the kind of kids' adventure story I remember from my childhood, with no vampires and otherworldly characters, with just plain folks as the main characters, no snooty rich people or abusive/distant parents, and a coastal setting that reminded me of the shore in Rhode Island, especially the fishing towns of Galilee and Jerusalem. Marty is no shrinking, squealing girlchild or clothes- or popularity-obsessed kid; she explores with the best of them. While Jewett is no Augusta Hueill Seaman, she writes with love about the sea and the children who live there. You can almost smell the salt air.

book icon  As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Laurie Lee
I can't tell you how many books I have read because their excerpts appeared in my school readers. From "The Most Dangerous Game" to Amos Fortune, Free Man to The Singing Cave, they were numerous. One narrative, about a British lad growing up in the "olden days," I particularly adored; I'd never heard prose that sounded so much like poetry. Later, I found the book, The Edge of Day, in a used book store and it became a treasured thing.

Only much later I found out its original title was Cider With Rosie and it was considered a classic of British literature. And while I had read another of Lee's books, I'd never seen the one that was his most critically acclaimed, the story of his leaving home and making his way to Spain, where he works his way across country as an itinerant musician.

It's a gritty portrait of a world that began to die while Lee was still there, as the first battles of the Spanish Civil War began, all described in Lee's characteristic poetic prose: as he describes the countryside, from bleak to bursting with vegetation, and the ancient villages, he encounters other wayfarers like himself, the plain peasants and grifters he meets in each town, all melding with the changing landscape of Spain as he travels from Galacia through the center of the country through Madrid and Toledo, and finally to Andalucia and the Mediterranean coast. I have to admit, although it's a classic, I didn't find it as enchanting or enduring as Cider With Rosie, but it was a fascinating tour through a vanished era.