30 November 2016

Books Completed Since November 1

book icon  The 10¢ War, edited by Trischa Goonow and James J. Kimble
While I am not much of a comics reader, I am a World War II homefront buff (and my Dad, uncles and cousins fought in that war) and was fascinated by the subject of this book. I have read "teen era" children's series online from sources like Project Gutenberg and once  1917 rolled around, ALL of the books had youngsters and teens trying to help the war effort--amazing reading! This practice continued during World War II and the literature used to rally the children now included comic books.

I was particularly interested in the chapters about portrayals of women in the war, and Chapter 1 admirably covers this topic. While some comics portrayed women as treacherous spies or objects to be rescued, others featured women like Yankee Girl, Blond Bomber, Black Cat, and Flyin' Jenny who were contributing to the war effort by fighting the enemy. Predictably for the era, they faced razzing from men and often needed rescuing, yet their presence in the war effort was novel for the time. Another chapter addresses the liberties given to Wonder Woman, who, in a time when good guys did not resort to torture, was allowed to use her Lasso of Truth on enemy soldiers in a way that violated their rights.

Some modern adults might be appalled at the ideas espoused by the 1940s "Captain America" comics, in which young teen Bucky Barnes and his multi-ethnic gang of friends help "Cap" battle Nazis, but Chapter 3's review of some of their exploits provides a much-imitated template that goes back to those 1917-era series books.. (Sadly, Bucky's gang includes a stereotypical "colored" boy named "Whitewash"--stereotypes are also addressed in a chapter about the Flying Tigers and their brave but quaint Chinese sidekicks, and also about the stereotyping of the Nazis and especially the Japanese, who were portrayed as little more than monkeys with buck teeth.)

Two of my favorite chapters address two different brands of comics that I had never heard of. "True Comics" tried to explain the ideology of the Nazi party and debunking ideas of certain races being superior and others being inferior, and discussing the concept of the scapegoat and paralleling that to the treatment of Jews. "Novelty Press" eschewed superheroes and showed "regular kids" contributing to the war effort: buying war bonds with money won from a bond drive rather than spending the funds on candy or fripperies, going without new toys or clothes, contributing to scrap drives--and if occasionally they thwarted a Nazi spy ring, well, that was okay, too.

If you have ever been curious about children during World War II, their reading materials, and their war efforts, you may enjoy this examination of the message of comics during the era. Please note, however, that this is a scholarly book and the essays reflect this.

book icon  Martians Abroad, Carrie Vaughn
I liked this book better when it was called Podkayne of Mars, a juvenile adventure story by Robert A. Heinlein.

It's a pretty similar setup at first: Polly Newton and her "twin" brother Charles have been born and raised on Mars. Charles is quiet and smart; he can hack into any computer system made (he's not the sociopath Podkayne's brother Clark is, although he'd like people to think so). Polly is independent and also smart; she can figure out guidance trajectories and wants to be a space pilot. Their mother, a big muckety-muck on the Mars colony, derails Polly's plan to intern at the Mars spaceport and sends them both to Earth to go to an elite school called the Galileo Institute, where all the kids "from the finest families" go. Of course, as with all boarding school stories, there is conflict between the Newton kids and several other teens sent to the school from other places rather than Earth and the Earth kids themselves, who think the off-Earth kids are all "colonial rabble," kind of like the reaction to Indian-bred British children sent to English boarding schools. Clark—I mean Charles—advises Poddy—I mean Polly—to keep her head down and just try to fit in, but Polly feels trapped at school and is used to being more independent. She just manages to make one Earth friend when the whole class is sent on a "team-building exercise" (a term that can even make adults shudder) to Yosemite. The kids will be under surveillance at all time and nothing can go wrong--or can it? When something frightening happens, it puts Charles and then Polly on guard.

There are so many other parallels to the Heinlein story that I don't know where to begin: Polly and Charles' mother is another self-absorbed executive who I guess loves her kids but who doesn't spend much time with them (Podkayne and Clark's mom is a scientist), so the theme is once again the tiresome trope of children versus parents. They are twins because Mom had her ova frozen and decided to have them thawed and born at the same time (just like Podkayne's little triplet siblings Grace, Duncan, and Elspeth). The Genesis Institute reminds me a little of the Martian boarding school in another Heinlein juvenile, Red Planet, with the adults suspected of being up to something sinister behind the kids' backs. Several sinister things happen to the Newton kids, culminating with a dangerous situation.

(Incidentally, the names of the kids really threw me at first: is the author a Madeleine L'Engle fan? Because Polly and Charles are the eldest children of Calvin and Meg Murry O'Keefe.)

This book is at its best when Polly talks about her feelings about being on Earth--things that we raised on Earth, of course, take for granted: seeing the open sky, encountering breathable air, rain, going in and out of buildings without having to dust off, seeing birds, encountering mosquitoes for the first time. Used to living in pressurized tunnels, Polly, Charles, and the other off-Earth kids get agoraphobic the first time they see "outdoors." On a field trip to New York City—which is apparently now a working museum—and walking through endless galleries of ancient art, Polly has only one wish: to see a real live horse as portrayed in the paintings. Also, the author mentions how the physiology of the children would be different since they were born in places with different gravity: the off-Earth kids are lean and tall, and they have to take supplements and do additional exercises to make them strong enough to endure Earth's gravity.

The conclusion of the book—after the dangerous situation mentioned—is a real letdown. Despite the fact that Podkayne is a teen's book, the stakes which arise in the novel are played for real. The strange events in Martians Abroad happen for the stupidest reason at the instigation of an adult. And what is it with this boarding school? Will places like this still exist in the future, with elitist rich students versus intelligent middle class students? Why does the Board of Directors still allow this to exist in a future where there are colonies on the Moon, Mars, Jupiter's moons, and space stations with families? And why on earth don't the school personnel realize that the off-Earth kids might need time to adjust to Earth conditions and might like to see what the planet has to offer on a regular basis, rather than keeping them so sequestered? At one point Ms. Stanton, the chief "baddie" at the school, tells Polly that Genesis is a school, not a prison. Gee, you could have fooled ME.

Despite the fact that "the glass ceiling" shows up for Podkayne, something that does not occur for Polly, I'd recommend reading that book rather than this. There's a lot more suspense, science, and real consequences, rather than a lame ending. Certainly had I read Martians Abroad at the same time I read Podkayne of Mars (late teens), I would have picked Poddy for the win. Polly's an interesting protagonist, as is her brother, but Martians Abroad is okay, nothing more.

book icon  Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, Max Hastings
This is a thick, meaty book about the "Great War" just in the period from its inception to December 1914. Hastings first discusses the brewing rivalries underneath the veneer of genteel Edwardian charm, then the trigger event itself, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, and then the realities vs. the expectations—men confidently marching away to a "glorious battle" that would be "over by Christmas" by December already astounded by casualties and the descent into the first of the trenches, where the British and French found squalid digs as opposed to their opposite number.

Hastings uses actual manuscripts and records from the time to try to bring his personalities alive, from the mighty to the small, but the case of characters is quite large. This is not an easy read but not an oblique one, either. A welcome inclusion is a focus on the Eastern front as well as the usually covered Western front.

The book includes a photograph section and also battle maps, but one probably needs to be familiar with the structure of battle maps before interpreting them. I found them small and a bit confusing. As always for me, the book dragged a bit when chronicling the political machinations, as I am more interested in the day-to-day life of the everyday person caught up in the maelstrom. Your mileage may vary!

book icon  Murder on Amsterdam Avenue, Victoria Thompson
Frank Molloy and Sarah Brandt are finally to be married, if the remodeling of the house that Frank has purchased will ever be finished (an issue with malingering contractors which is still felt today that becomes a mild running gag in the story). In the meantime, Sarah accompanies her mother to pay a condolence call on the Oakes family, whose adult son Charles has tragically died. The family is little called on because Charles' mother is felt to be a standoffish Southerner whom Mr. Oakes married when he served during the Civil War. The Oakes are not only heartbroken at his death, but puzzled at why Charles' temperament changed drastically in the past few months. Then it turns out that something was indeed wrong: Charles had been poisoned with arsenic.

With the help of Sarah and Gino Donatelli, an old comrade from the police force, Frank has to sort through the puzzle that is Charles' death: where did the poison come from? Why the personality change? Why did he stop sleeping with his spoiled, complaining wife, whom he suddenly refused to take to Newport for "the season"? Has the appearance of Jenny Oakes' former servant from her Southern days something to do with Charles' death?

I guessed what had happened about two-thirds of the way through, but kept reading to see just "whodunit." In the meantime, the secret to getting the home remodeling finished is dealt with in a trice. And finally Sarah and Frank are married!

book icon  Righting the Mother Tongue, David Wolman
I have a bumper sticker on my car that states the following: "English doesn't borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over, and rummages through their pockets for loose grammar." Wolman, who admits he's had spelling problems for years, evidently agrees with this sentiment in this short, often humorous survey of English spelling.

Once upon a time, he tells us, English speaking people weren't hung up on proper spelling. Shakespeare himself spelled his own name several different ways. But then the bugaboo of "proper language" invaded the old country, care of several scholars including Jonathan Swift, and the race for proper spelling was on. When the inhabitants of the United States broke off from Great Britain, Noah Webster roamed wholesale through vocabulary, removing the useless "u's" in colour and favour, and even Presidents of the United States like Theodore Roosevelt pushed for simplified spelling: "good" to be "gud," for example.

If you've ever wondered why those silent letters were in words (like the "h" in "ghost," for one), or what a Great Vowel Shift was, or which writers threw their hats in the Simplified Spelling ring, this book will prove a treat.

book icon  Christmas 1914, John Hudson

book icon  Away in a Manger, Rhys Bowen

book icon  There I Go Again, William Daniels
I pounced on this book the moment it was offered in NetGalley; I’ve been a William Daniels fan since St. Elsewhere and watch 1776 each Independence Day. I was not disappointed: I fell in love with this book from the first paragraphs of the Acknowledgements, where Daniels states “I wrote this manuscript in longhand on yellow legal pads, so I have to first thank Rachael Lobermann, who spent many hours typing it all up. I have excellent handwriting, but I don’t know a damn thing about computers.

“Laurie Horowitz took the typed pages and made them resemble something that looked like a book, with paragraphs and everything.”

If you are a Daniels fan, the narrative of this book will draw you right in--it sounds exactly as you would expect it to sound: matter-of-fact, brisk, and often acerbic and, sadly, sometimes a little bitter. The bitter comes in during the story of his early life, which began in Brooklyn, where he suffered from having a stage mother who would put Mama Rose in Gypsy to shame. By the time he was ten, both he and his sister had been treading the boards for years and appeared in two different radio shows, while his education was neglected and his childhood lost. Even when he was fearful or sick, Mama Irene taught him the show—and he—must go on.

The book opens with the story of Daniels’ brilliant years as the blustery, sarcastic and selfish Dr. Mark Craig on St. Elsewhere, a part, he admits, was partially based on the surgeon he shadowed to give his performance an authentic touch, and partially on his own personality. He’s up-front about himself the whole way, as he chronicles his life as a performing artist forced into appearances by his ambitious mother to his first role on Broadway as an understudy in Life With Father and then to independence after his service in the Army, plus his marriage to fellow actor Bonnie Bartlett, which nearly gave his mother apoplexy.

The subsequent chapters discuss everything you would expect: his noted roles of John Adams in 1776 and Mr. Feeny on Boy Meets World, and how he did Knight Rider for years without ever performing with David Hasselhoff. (People still ask him about being the voice of the “intelligent vehicle”; one man at an autograph session even asked him where they had him stashed in the car!) He talks about working with Broadway legends like Jerome Robbins, Sandy Dennis, Barbara Harris, and Jason Robards (where the one important thing was not to allow Robards to wander off and get drunk). He even chronicles his two-year stint as President of the Screen Actors Guild. The book is rounded off with photographs from Daniels’ collection, from himself as a child through all of his most memorable roles. I particularly loved the photo where he is posing as John Adams next to a painting of the man.

As a bonus, the Appendix is a reprint of New York City Center’s interview with Daniels chatting with Lin-Manuel Miranda of the hit musical Hamilton!, discussing the similarities between this new play and 1776 and Miranda’s appreciation of the John Adams and Mr. Feeny roles. A must for William Daniels fans or perhaps even for someone who wants to see the behind the scenes machinations of setting up and producing plays.

book icon  The New England Image,Samuel Chamberlain
I found this 1962 photoessay book at a book sale for a dollar, but it's worth so much more. Not only did author and photographer Chamberlain take all of these photos from 1935 to the publishing date of the book, but he took them with what I call a "real" camera, the kind that you have to duck under a dark cloth to frame your image, which is is captured on glass plates! Plus these photos preserve a New England destroyed by the Hurricane of 1938, Hurricane Carol, and the most virulent hurricane of all, urban renewal, a place of Cape Cod homes and fishing shacks, clapboard churches and Colonial frontages, ivy-covered colleges and rocky seashores. I remember some of the buildings which survived into the 1960s only to be bulldozed down for malls and strip shopping centers. Made me sad, but happy all at once.

book icon  Thanksgiving: The Holiday at the Heart of the American Experience, Melanie Kirkpatrick

book icon  And three more Thanksgiving books!

book icon  Broadcast Hysteria, A. Brad Schwartz
Even non-radio buffs have heard about the infamous 1938 broadcast of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds: Orson Welles changed all the names to American places, broke ground by doing the story as a series of news bulletins, and hundreds of thousands of people panicked thinking Martians were invading.

Well, not really...even though the later Welles talked as if he were the hands-on writer of the play, the book reveals he had little or no input into the story (he was mounting a Broadway play at the time) except to tell scriptwriter Howard Koch that it was dull and he needed to spice it up a little and make it sound more real. It wasn't the first radio fiction story done in a series of news bulletins. And only a few hundred people panicked, and most of them didn't think we were being invaded by Martians—they were antsy due to rumblings of war in Europe and thought any invaders were from Europe.

Schwartz covers the whole story of the "hoax" broadcast from the early days of enfant terrible Orson Welles and The Mercury Theatre of the Air (named after H.L. Mencken's popular literary magazine "The American Mercury") through its performance and then the aftermath via the mail that was received on the subject by CBS, Congress, and individual radio stations. He makes a great parallel to the "how stupid could people be" view of this event to hoaxes which are passed along the Internet every day. Really enjoyed hearing about the conception and performance of the play (and Welles' slow downfall afterwards) and the comparisons to today.

book icon  The Shattered Tree, Charles Todd
The book opens with a terrified man making his way to the shelter of a bomb-damaged tree, half dead with cold, exhaustion, and exposure. He is brought to the aid station where Bess Crawford is one of the nurses, and while Bess is on wards, he speaks in German although he was wearing a French uniform. Bess reports the incident but is told the officer is probably from Alsace-Lorraine, one of the contested areas between France and Germany. Still, even after she is wounded by sniper fire and sent to the hospital with a fear of infection, she keeps thinking about this man—and, since he was held in the same hospital as she was, decides to investigate further, a move that introduces her to a nun with a secret and a priest who knows something more than he's telling, not to mention a family that was shattered by a murder years earlier.

Although the mystery is pretty convoluted, Bess spends a lot of her time driving back and forth between places during her recovery (and in the process retards it a bit; as a nurse she should know better!) in the company of an indulgent captain and eventually kept under surveillance. The plot is very slow moving until the end, but I was interested enough in the mystery of the missing man, and I like Bess, even if her usual supporting cast (Simon and her dad and mom) appear only briefly. I'm also wondering if the series will be continuing as the end of the book took place in November of 1918. Granted, even after the Armistice the mopping-up still needs to be done; allied troops were in Europe until 1919.

31 October 2016

Books Completed Since October 1

book icon  Re-read: Rilla of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery
Technically a re-read, but a new edition which is the complete book as published originally, not the edited version that was released in 1985 in the Bantam set of "Anne of Green Gables" books republished after the success of the Kevin Sullivan miniseries.

Anne's youngest daughter, Rilla—Bertha Marilla Blythe—is now fifteen. Like most girls her age, she is active, vivacious, and mostly carefree. She's also pretty and knows it, and is beginning to see her old playmate Kenneth Ford as something else than the boy she used to romp with in Rainbow Valley. Anne wonders if she will ever be serious. But on the night Rilla is invited to her first dance, a night in which her feelings for Ken Ford begin to change, it is announced that England has declared war on Germany after the slaying of Archduke Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Suddenly life changes for everyone: Rilla's brothers and older male friends enlist except for Walter, her dreamy and artistic sibling, who is afraid his reluctance to kill will endanger his compatriots; her sisters volunteer for the Red Cross; and her mother and Susan Baker roll bandages and hold teas. And then Rilla, who is not fond of babies at all, rescues a newborn whose father has gone off to war and reluctantly takes him on as a responsibility.

There are now many books around about homefront life during World War I, since they have been written to commemorate the 100th anniversary, but Rilla of Ingleside was a rara avis of its time, and still one of the few novels written from a Canadian homefront point of view, written by someone who endured it. While there are humorous moments (Susan's sparring with her pessimistic cousin, the Blythes' mercurial cat Doc, youthful mistakes in raising her "war baby"), this book brings life in homefront WWI to vivid life: the dread of waiting for telegrams, the fearful perusal of the newspaper, the knowledge of knowing that any moment you may receive a missive telling you a loved one has died, being a man who has just received a white feather [a symbol that since he isn't serving he's a coward]. One particularly touching subplot in the book involves Jem Blythe's little dog Monday. A beautiful book.

book icon  Back to the Front, Stephen O'Shea
It was natural for me to go from Rilla to this book. The author is a Canadian who admits right off that he he is not a "history buff" (just as Rilla moved in her own small sphere) and had no interest in the First World War until he moved to Paris in 1981 and accompanied a friend on a weekend trip to the Somme battlefield. O'Shea was flabbergasted to find that not only can you still tell where the battles were fought 64 years later, despite the population having grown and the fields having been cultivated (not to mention another war occurring), but that French farmers still plow up supplies from that war: gas masks, horse harnesses, shoes, hip flasks, ammunition, even the occasional live mine, etc. It inspired him to make multiple visits to France from 1985 through 1995 and walk the entire Western Front from Nieuport, Belgium to the Swiss border.

O'Shea proceeds from battle site to battle site, observing the current physical site and then adding the historical detail of pompous, know-it-all officers who sent men to their deaths (if you are a Douglas Haig fan you should avoid this book) and the many times bored and vermin-ridden soldiers in the trenches with the horrifying fates that awaited them: festering wounds, burned-out lungs from poison gas, crippling injuries, dismemberment and death, surrounded by screaming horses and mules shattered by shrapnel and bullets, and appalled by the bored tourists who visit the sites just because it's something to do.

Keep in mind that this is a memoir of his experience and not a real history. His descriptions of the battlefields and the war are real and immediate, but even after having lived in France he has a poor opinion of both the French and the Belgians and he often sounds snooty. His descriptions of how the officers in all the armies wasted human lives turn into lectures against war; the descriptions themselves should have been left to stand as a monument to that waste. This is an interesting way to acquaint yourself with the major battles of World War I, but be aware that there are some prejudices involved.

book icon  Re-read: The Singing Tree, Kate Seredy
Since I had already re-read Rilla and continued with World War I reading with the O'Shea book, I thought I would complete a circle and reacquaint myself with another favorite, Seredy's sequel to The Good Master, the story of the two cousins Jansci and Kate Nagy, who live on Jansci's father's big ranch on the puzta, the Hungarian plains. Jansci, fifteen, is old enough to have his own small herd of horses, and Kate, a year younger, is growing into a young woman interested in going to dances. As the story opens, they are preparing for a neighborhood celebration, the wedding of Peter Hodi and Mari Vidor—but as they head home from the event, news comes of the assassination of an archduke in faraway Sarajevo.

Rapidly, things change: the Nagy horses and herders are conscripted into the Army, and finally Kate's father and Marton Nagy as well. Spoiled Lily Kormos comes to live on the ranch, but after a bumpy start, the cousins find her a good friend. Women and children and the elderly must get in the harvest on their own, and the cousins are called to drive up to the mountains to fetch Mother's elderly parents and there, among a crowd of refugees and the presence of an Army hospital, come face to face with the real horror of war.

This is a wonderful book which portrays war as terrible without going into hurtful details, with memorable supporting characters: Moses and Sarah Mandelbaum, the Jewish owners of the village store; Mother's stalwart parents; the six Russian prisoners of war who work as farmhands and the six German children that are sent as refugees from Berlin. When I read this again as an older child, I realized from my history lessons that if I had lived at that time, Jansci and Kate would have been my enemies, since their government was fighting against the Allies. A sobering thought, and one Seredy makes throughout the book, as when one of the German boys writes a puzzled letter to his mother wondering how the Russians can be enemies when "they are just big men like Papa," that behind bellicose politicians and generals there are just plain people who, like their "enemies," want to make a living, raise their children, tend their crops or business, and not wage war at all. Worth reading whether you are a child or an adult.

book icon  Re-read: Beautiful Joe: an Autobiography, Margaret Marshall Saunders
I've had a copy of Beautiful Joe since I was old enough to read Western Publishing's line of Whitman Books. However the version I originally read was light years away from the original story.

Saunders was brought up in an animal-loving 19th century Canadian family and the rampant animal abuse of the era horrified her. When an American humane group offered a prize for the best novel portraying kindness to animals, Saunders wove a tale around a real-life Canadian dog who had his tail and ears chopped off by a cruel owner, set her story in Maine, and wrote a classic that all who have read it will not forget. But the book has gone through several changes throughout the years, the outright portrayal of the animal cruelty being excised from my children's addition, some of the farm chapters tossed out in favor of a chapter about a pet crow, and modern editions which remove the Victorian symbolism. I went through each edition until finding the Applewood edition, which was the complete novel as originally written, and this, the Broadview edition, is even more expanded, with footnotes, the crow chapter included in an appendix, and even a sequence where Bruno the farm dog is saved instead of destroyed.

I doubt very many parents would allow their kids to read the original edition today, although it was considered instructive and wonderful for older children in the 19th century, and even today, the story is not for the fainthearted. I'm an animal lover, and as hard as it is to get through some passages, I have loved all the characters since childhood—the Morris family, Cousin Harry, the Woods, the other Morris dogs Jim and Billy, Fleetfoot the wise colt, and more—and I love having the chance to have all aspects of the story complete with some additional material supplied about the humane movement in America. This is a classic in every sense of the word.

book icon  The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910, Esther Crain
I am a history buff, but my favorite period of history has always been what is called the late Victorian/Edwardian era in Great Britain and the Gilded Age/Progressive Era here in the United States, so you bet I grabbed this book the moment I saw it. Much of the information in it I already know, having other history books about it, but I still found this book captivating because of its huge complement of photographs and woodcuts from the time period.

Crain divides the volume into different sections which talk about a specific topic: how the wealthy lived (and the difference--and feud--between "old money" and "new money"), the emerging middle class, and the poverty-stricken. There are sections about amusements of the era, with photos of Coney Island that I've never seen before, another portion devoted to crime and punishment, and, throughout the various sections, just how New York itself grew as a city from the tip of Manhattan Island to finally fill up the space once devoted to tenant farms and open land. With that in mind, the final section devotes itself to Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx, which eventually came together to form the New York metropolitan area. Special pullouts (a tiny bit hard to read with white ink on black paper) are devoted to things like famous crime of passion cases (think Evelyn Nesbit), the violent conflict between the old Metropolitan Police and the new City of New York Police, the Blizzard of 1888 which convinced the city to finally build a subway, Tammany Hall politicians, etc.

I must, must, must reserve some praise for the hand-colored black-and-white prints included in this book. Even if you are a history buff, it is sometimes hard to see past the flat, monochrome photographs that were taken in that era, and garish, badly hand-colored photographs are not my cup of tea. But the ones included in this book have been done by a talented professional and the result is that the photos have come alive to the point where you can almost hear the pedestrians chattering, the horses clopping, the iron-clad wagon wheels clashing against the pavement, the pushcart sellers hawking their wares, and feel the breeze coming off the bookended rivers. You immediately notice a striding woman with a scowl on her face--what's gone wrong with her day? you wonder--and children's faces, and flags fluttering in the breeze, and the attractively-colored signs on the shops and stores. Wow.

book icon  Doctor Who: The American Adventures, Justin Richards
I admit, I was disappointed in this book. I didn't realize it was written for children (or if it wasn't, it certainly reads like it was). The narratives in all of the stories were rather simplistic: something odd would happen during a historical period in the US, the Doctor would show up, and then he'd find something to remedy the situation. He runs into some people who live in a world of horse-drawn vehicles and firelight and they don't seem more surprised that he has gadgets that light up that they've never seen before. The family in the Oregon Trail is particularly perplexing in this regard. And, perhaps it is hard to develop character in short stories, but all the characters in the stories seem particularly two-dimensional, especially the young girl in the Oregon Trail tale, as if she was just thrust in the story for some "girl power."

My favorite story in this collection was the modern one, taking place in Florida at an amusement park. There was an element of mystery and danger missing from the other stories. "Ghosts of New York," taking place during the construction of the subway, also isn't bad, with the Doctor and a "sandhog" trying to solve the mystery of deceased people turning up in the tunnels. The others are just pedestrian, and there's nothing particularly that marks these as 12th Doctor stories as, say 5th Doctor stories, except for references to his eyebrows.

I am rating this a 3 because children might enjoy it. It is more like a 2 - 2 1/2 for adults, depending on how much you want some new WHO tales.

book icon  A Study in Scarlet Women, Sherry Thomas
"What if Sherlock Holmes was a woman?"

That's the interesting premise of this book and it begins with a foreboding prologue--and then suddenly the narrative seems to turn into a Victorian farce with a philandering husband and an innocent young girl. The story is then picked up from the point of view of the young woman's sister--but don't get too interested in her; she disappears (except for mention by the main character) for the remainder of the book.

Charlotte Holmes is an intelligent young woman in an era when a woman should be either ornamental or maternal (she is of the former school, a picture-book-perfect Victorian heroine). She eschews society and parties and instead desperately wants some higher education and longs to become headmistress of a school. Her father tricks her into thinking that if she is not married by age 25, he will sponsor her education. When he breaks his word, Charlotte takes desperate measures to make sure she is not marriageable, hoping this will force her father to keep his promise. Instead, all she does is create scandal, and therefore she is forced to make her own way in the world.

The most interesting character in the book, sadly, is not Charlotte, but the widowed Mrs. Watson she meets, who will pick up the threads of Charlotte's messy life and give it some purpose. For some time, Charlotte has been secretly posing as a gentleman named Sherlock Holmes, forwarding her suspicions via mail to the local police when facts reported about deaths in the newspapers don't make sense. Inspector Treadles of the police investigates the crimes based on her letters and usually finds he's--uh, she's--correct. In this case, "Sherlock" suspects that three unrelated deaths (including the unexpected passing of the woman who accused her of adultery) are indeed the work of one person...but can the police make the connection?

When you are reading a book whose synopsis sounded fascinating, but which you eventually approach with the attitude of "Oh, God, I have to finish reading this book because I promised," things are not good. Charlotte is intriguing, but her character never seems to come to any type of life--even the humorous asides about her healthy appetite don't round her out, and the romance portion of the book is pedestrian. Plus it seems inconceivable that Charlotte, while socially awkward, would not have known that the situation she got herself in would result in more problems for her--and her family--rather than forcing a decision. I can't believe that she thought it was her only solution.

In addition, one of the key aspects of the original Holmes stories is that he had more imagination and reasoning powers than the police; frequently they were shown at odds. No one could dislike Inspector Treadles; he's good-natured but persistent at his job, a good husband who thinks his wife is entitled to intelligence and outside interests, but his investigations are no different than any other "dedicated cop" character than I've read in other books--certainly not the slipshod investigators the classic Holmes despises.

Once Charlotte was finally "in place" in Baker Street, the story did pick up a bit, but I was actually relieved when I finished the book, and at this point I can't even remember "whodunnit." The characters and plot did not excite my imagination as it should have, and I would not recommend this book to a Sherlock fan.

book icon  Houseboat Girl, Lois Lenski
Patsy Foster was born upon a houseboat in the Mississippi River, but now, at eleven, she's been living in a small town near Paducah, Illinois, for two years, attending school and making friends. So it is initially difficult when her restless father, a "born riverman," buys a new houseboat and uproots the family—Mother, older sister Milly, younger siblings Dan and Bunny, Patsy's pet chickens, and a dog they were given—so they can run down the Mississippi and he can earn his preferred living, catching and selling fish. Then Patsy comes to love her life, learning to swim, the ever-changing riverbank scenery, meeting new people (and even making some enemies that become friends when they stop for a while and her father incurs the wrath of a man who thinks he owns the fishing rights to the area)—but she still longs to be settled. Is there a way she and her father can compromise?

Children today might be surprised that in the era of early television, rock'n'roll and Elvis Presley, the beginnings of the Space Race, and the Cold War that people still lived such a relatively primitive life (Mrs. Foster does have a washing machine and electric lights, but they can only be used when they are moored somewhere with electric wiring). Patsy and her family and friends amuse themselves simply and use their imaginations in play, running barefoot unless they are visiting town. Watching television is a rare treat mentioned in one chapter. Not one of Lenski's best, but a book addressing a little-known part of society.

book icon  In Search of Centennial: A Journey With James A. Michener, John Kings
This is a coffee-table sized but thin book written by one of the research assistants that helped Michener research his epic novel Centennial, my favorite of the Michener books that I've read. If you are at all interested in the writing process of a historical novel then this is quite revealing. Michener and his two assistants did research in Colorado and elsewhere for more than 18 months before he even sat down to start writing, and even then he confirmed things as he wrote and had assistants and family (his wife also did a great amount of the research) continually looking up facts and figures. He drove along the cattle trails written about in "The Longhorns," visited with the Native American tribes he was writing about to get the details of their 18th and 19th century lives correct, visited St. Louis to make certain the Bockweiss segment was factual, etc. The book includes numerous photographs, including ones taken by Michener in 1937 when he first considered writing a book set in Colorado. The final chapter is about his input into making the miniseries Centennial. Plus there are pages from his voluminous notebooks and four corrected typewritten pages from "The Longhorns."

Probably just for Centennial or Michener fans, but still a great insight into the craft of writing.

book icon  The Land of the English People, Alicia Street
Not sure why I bought this slim volume for children that is part of a people and places series for different countries and cultures, but I certainly did enjoy it. It's a combination geography/sociology/history book that was originally written after World War II and updated in the late Fifties, with much of the text still applicable to postwar Britain. It does a nice job of explaining how the different elements of the English countryside determined how those people would live, and has a neat job, using a fictional American ex-soldier and an Englishman to explain why Americans and English see the world so differently. Interesting look at England before the Cold War heated up and smog was banished from London.

book icon  The Happy Hollisters at Mystery Mountain, Jerry West
The Hollister clan is still traveling in a schoolbus they acquired on a previous adventure as Mr. Hollister looks for more Southwestern items to stock his store The Trading Post at the Hollister home town of Shoreham. When Mrs. Hollister buys little Sue a cowboy outfit in New Mexico, all the other kids—eldest Pete, Pam, Ricky, and Holly—want one, too, which precipitates them on two new adventures: to find some ancient stone dolls in a secret mountain location as told to them by their new friends Helen and Jack Moore, and to discover what's happened to the stolen sheep of their father's old friend Frank Vega, whose wife Maria makes the cowboy outfits the kids like.

The Hollisters never quit moving! Besides the mysteries involved, the kids take an airplane ride, attend a fiesta at a school, and go on a trail ride that precipitates them into danger—and there's even a kidnapping! They sure don't spend their time face down with their eyes on a tablet or staring at a television, that's for sure.

As a modern reader, I'm still impressed by how egalitarian these books are. Yeah, okay, Delores Vega and Helen and Pam get to rustle up the food on the trail ride while Jack and Pete make the fire, but since they have lost their supplies (their horses were deliberately let loose), Delores must find food for the kids using wildcrafting, and she manages admirably, plus she's been entrusted with the safety of the other children on the trail ride, where in most 1950s books a boy would be given that task. (Her brother Diego has had to stay home and ride fence.) When the kids have their airplane ride, all of them are invited to take a turn at the wheel, not just the boys, and Ricky is ribbed for his bad flying just like Pam. Plus the Vega family and their foreman Truchas don't have stagy Spanish accents or speak some dialect gibberish that approximates a Mexican way of talking. If something is referenced like a Mexican hat dance, it's part of celebrating the Vegas' Hispanic heritage.

These books are simple to read but yet full of adventures, with each chapter ending on a cliffhanger so you just want to go on. And you will.

(For Hollister fans: this is the book where the family acquires Domingo the donkey.)

book icon  Christmas in the Crosshairs, Gerry Bowler

book icon  Victoria, Daisy Goodwin
I think when most people think of Queen Victoria, they envision the faded monochrome photographs of the overweight, dour woman in black who gave her name to the latter half of the British 19th century and who imperiously and humorlessly reigned over an empire. It is such an ingrained icon that it may be difficult to imagine that once Victoria was a romantic young girl like many teenage girls, one who loved to dance and stay up late at parties, to get up at noon and try on new dresses and hairstyles, chafing against a domineering parent. Known as "Drina" (her first name was Alexandrina) as a girl, she was under the thumb of her ambitious German mother and her mother's British advisor Sir John Conroy, who hoped that Victoria's uncle William would die while the girl was still in her minority so that they could be appointed as regents. Victoria, as she told everyone to call her after she became queen, despised Conroy and the influence he held over her mother. Yet Victoria would also fall victim to the influences of a man—one who was reluctant to do so—her beloved "Lord M," William Lamb, Lord Melbourne, the prime minister.

This is Goodwin's book based upon the research she performed, with major input from young "Drina's" journals, while writing the new British historical series Victoria, written as a novel, which covers Victoria's life from her sixteenth birthday (in the prologue) to her marriage proposal to Albert. Both the new television series and the book play up Victoria's attachment to "Lord M." as more an at-first daughter/father relationship (since the Duke of Kent, Victoria's father, was not even a memory to her) that became a real-life romance (at least in Victoria's mind), than the straight queen/advisor always portrayed. Goodwin's prose is brisk and literate, always leaving you wanting just one more page, and Victoria-the-girl determined to be a good queen against a host of naysayers including her "Uncle Cumberland" who would love to declare her unfit to rule are absorbing. As a story that humanizes the young Victoria and simplifies some of the early goings on in her court ("the Bedchamber crisis") for instance), this is a good starter. However, it is fiction and if you are looking for a comprehensive biography, this is not the book.

book icon  Brooklyn on Fire: A Mary Handley Mystery, Lawrence H. Levy
By the time I was about a third through with this book, I had to go back and check to see if the author was indeed a guy. Otherwise I would have wondered if our heroine's name was Mary Sue Handley.

I picked this up as a Vine book because I read many Victorian/Edwardian/early 20th century mysteries. A young woman setting herself up as a "consulting detective" (like her hero, Sherlock Holmes) in 1890 New York sounded like just the ticket. I hadn't read the first book in the series, Second Street Station, but the characters seemed pretty self-explanatory. Mary is from a middle-class Irish family; she has a policeman brother whom she can outwit at chess; her mother complains about her not being married; she's blonde, blue eyed and pretty and basically has educated herself via her brother's encyclopedia and reading voraciously (thus references to Maisie Dobbs—trust me, this is no Maisie Dobbs-type novel), and in the previous book she solved something called the Goodrich mystery and now all of New York knows who she is. But it's been quite some time since the Goodrich case and she's relieved when a woman named Emily Worsham appears asking her to find out if her deceased uncle might have been murdered.

In a trice, Mary is catapulted into a mystery involving—although she doesn't know it at first—the real-life fight between New York and Brooklyn (Brooklyn wishes to remain its own city; New York wishes to annex it) which includes (of course) dirty politicians, a few New York millionaires (Levy involves just about every famous name in his story: the Vanderbilts, the Carnegies, the Rockefellers, Leland Stanford, etc.), an elderly lady who talks with her cats, a flipped-out method actress and her adoring friend, a supposedly dead husband, an OCD lawyer—and, if all these characters were too tame for you, a character who seems to come from another book entirely, one of those Law & Order: SVU creepy people by way of a noir mystery, a hired killer who gets sexually aroused by murder and fire. (And yes, it's described in detail. Ew.)

Our Mary forges on, especially when she discovers the coffin of the "dead uncle" is filled with rocks. She follows clue after clue, fends attackers off with ju jitsu which she learned from a Chinese instructor (and then later in the book it's revealed she also knows "the French art of kickboxing known as savatte), is so plucky that most people have no problem with the fact that it's 1890—a time where a woman can't walk down the street unescorted without being looked at askance—and she's a "lady detective," and is so brave and forthright that George Vanderbilt falls madly in love with her and at one point is willing to give up building his dream home, Biltmore House, for her. Or that in another chapter Mary is shot in the back and the bullet hits nothing vital and the blood transfusion she gets from George works even though doctors back then didn't know about blood typing and there's a 50 percent chance she might have died. (Incidentally the guy who shot her runs away into the woods and gets killed by a bear...honest.)

Let's not leave out the fact that Levy peppers his text with myriad little facts about the era or quotes from writers as if he couldn't bear to leave any of his research behind (in one chapter, Mary and George go to Richmond, Virginia, where Mary brightly observes that Richmond has electric trolleys, the first ones in the United States, and Manhattan is so behind the times). Or that no matter how much research he did, modern verbiage pops up to kick you out of the story (like the gay character who refers to himself as gay when that wouldn't be a term until 80 years later).

I'd give this book two stars, one because Mary was kind of a neat character who needed a much different author (Carolyn Keene would have done, since I kept thinking of Nancy Drew), and the other star for the laughs it provided to my husband and I when I discussed it with him.

book icon  A Newbery Halloween, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Charles G. Waugh
There are a dozen more-or-less scary (for children) stories in this neat volume that followed A Newbery Christmas. It includes a Madeleine L'Engle short story I had heard about but never read, "Poor Little Saturday," in which she drew on her Southern roots and ghost tales from her relatives to produce a story about a haunted house. Some of the stories are more nostalgic than scary (even if there is a little frisson of danger when Ramona Quimby puts on her "baddest bad witch" mask), like ""The Baddest Witch in the World" and the Halloween chapter from Eleanor Estes' The Moffats. There are creepy stories the don't even involve Halloween, just mysterious spirits, taking place in China, Japan, and Genoa, Italy. Elizabeth meets the fey Jennifer on Halloween night in Konigsburg's "A Halloween to Remember, and Virginia Hamilton recalls an African-American family's tense Halloween in "The Year Halloween Happened One Day Early." The creepiest story in the collection is "The Witch's Eye," in which two girls attempt to get rid of the titular object.

Another great Newbery collection with just the right mix of treats and tricks!

15 October 2016

Browse Among the Books

Book Sale, Take 2 (and final)

book icon  A Newbery Hallowe'en (has a Madeleine L'Engle story in it I've never read)

book icon  The Land of the English People (this is a juvenile published after World War II)

book icon  My Pride and Joy by George Adamson (brand new, too!)

book icon  Christmas on the American Frontier, 1800-1900 (apparently the library is getting rid of all their copies)

book icon  The Map That Changed the World by Simon Winchester

book icon  Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint (another bad cover, but I used to love the Danny Dunn books)

Plus two older books for James that I thought he'd get a kick out of: one about the "modern sport" of model rocketry and another about rocket science that looks like its from the 1950s.

14 October 2016

Notes from This Year's Fall Book Sale

$20 and a bunch of goodies.

book icon  A Treasury of American Heritage (articles from the magazine)

book icon  In Search of Centennial: A Journal With James A. Michener (about the making of the television miniseries)

book icon  America's Historylands: Landmarks of Liberty (collection of "National Geographic" articles)

book icon  Christmas Ornament Legends (a little book about the significance of figural Christmas ornaments—the pickle, grapes, rabbits, etc.)

book icon  The Stories of English, a nice big fat linguistics book by David Crystal)

book icon  The Story of Santa Klaus (a facsimile of a 1909 book)

book icon  Houseboat Girl (a Lois Lenski book I don't have! Dreadful cover, but the inside is intact)

book icon  The Happy Hollisters and the Mystery at Missile Town and ...at Mystery Mountain

And because I always come home with one goofy sort of book,

book icon  Night and Day (a collection of articles from a British magazine printed in 1937, rather "New Yorker" like—the column fonts even look familiar—and supposedly it went out of business after being sued by Shirley Temple ??? !!!)

Also bought two books for James I hope he doesn't have and two books to tuck in with Juanita's retirement gift. I also bought one I already had, but I can try to find it a good home, and if not, it only cost me a dollar and I will put it in the box to take to McKay's later this year.

30 September 2016

Books Completed Since September 1

book icon  Theodore Rex, Edmund Morris
I can't believe how long it took for me to get through this book, even though I practically galloped through The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt; once again this is because once the book begins to discuss politics and its machinations, I find it tough going. And of course politics is the meat of this volume because it is about Roosevelt's presidency and there can be no ignoring the subject. I enjoy more the discussions of the man himself, his passions and his hates, his family dynamics and his adventurous side.

Nevertheless, I learned much during the political portions of the text: for instance, I did not know that the United States almost went to war with Venezuela in the early 1900s. Nor was I knowledgeable about Roosevelt's role in arranging peace between Russia and Japan after the Russo-Japanese War, especially with tensions growing in Europe that would lead to the first World War. We tend to see Roosevelt as a loved proponent of the Progressive movement without remembering how many political enemies he had, nor what unpopular decisions and actions he carried out, especially inviting Frederick Douglass to the White House (his mother's Southern ancestors, the Dixie newspapers cried, would have been appalled—and that was the kindest of the criticisms!) and mediating and finally shutting down a massive strike among the coal miners.

This is a dense, but quite absorbing book—pardon my political narrative prejudices!—which should please both Roosevelt fans and foes alike.

book icon  Star Trek Legacies, Book 1: Captain to Captain, Greg Cox
In this first of three books (written by different authors), the story goes back to Star Trek roots. While serving on the original crew of the Enterprise, Una (her real name is very long), otherwise known as "Number One" in the original pilot episode, is serving under Captain Robert April, the first captain of the legendary starship. Investigating new, unsavory developments on a technologically primitive planet, Una and her landing party run into a ruthless race from another universe determined to enslave ours.

This story is told in flashback as now Captain Una visits the Enterprise, ostensibly on a friendly reunion, but in reality on a mission to retrieve a hidden object in Captain Kirk's cabin, an artifact which has been hidden and passed down from April to Christopher Pike to Kirk.

Number One has been rather a forgotten crewmember in the Trek annals, and she gets good exposure in this novel by Cox—though occasionally she  does seem a bit more superheroic than may be possible. We saw her so briefly sketched in "The Cage" that it's nice to find a fully fleshed person in there, with strong commitments to her work and loyal friendships to her crewmates, including the man she considered her best friend. It's also great to see an appearance by Robert April and his wife Sarah, the ship's medical officer, first introduced in the animated Star Trek episode "The Counter-Clock Incident," working partners as well as lovers. The aliens, who are basically sentient snails, come off as a bit Doctor Who, chiefly all paranoid militants except for one scientist figure, but they ooze [sorry...] evil and are genuinely menacing in most of the text.

Yes, the appearance of a new supporting character is as obvious as you think it is, so it isn't much of a surprise when the end of the first volume is reached, but I enjoyed Una's adventure enough to see how it comes out in the concluding books.

book icon  The Annotated Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson, Simon Barker-Benfield
Um, wait, didn't you say you hated Treasure Island? Um, yes, I did. I was dragged, summarily bored, through this book in seventh grade and haven't read it since. I simply don't "get" what people see in pirates. They are dirty thieves on ships. I know lots of people have romantic notions about them—how they are "free souls" who wander the seas—but, really, only a tiny subset of pirates (if any) lived like this. Otherwise they were on par with the Mafia.

And, specifically to Squire Trelawney, I always wanted to belt the guy, even at twelve years old. He let Long John Silver hoodwink him so easily!

However, here was this annotated edition really cheap in the bargain bin. Maybe I'd enjoy it more if I knew the background and history beyond the story and could figure out all those nautical terms? Well—no. Certainly the annotations made fascinating reading, and now I even know who Admiral Benbow was. I still don't like Squire Trelawney any better, but he was a good fighter during the siege on the island. However, even I have to appreciate what timeless and memorable characters these are. I remembered them all, even Mr. Arrow, too fond of the drink, and the fearful Israel Hands, and the creepy blind beggar Pew, and Stevenson sure could write a rousing adventure yarn. If you're a fan of Treasure Island, I certainly recommend this book!

book icon  Return to the Secret Garden, Holly Webb
Emmeline Hatton has known nothing but an orphanage all her life. The matrons are kind, but they can’t make up for having a place to really belong, and Emmie seems to be always in trouble. Her secret place, an old fire escape, is her only refuge, and it is there she befriends a small stray cat she names Lucy, something finally her own. But this is England, on the eve of the second World War, and when the children are evacuated from the Craven Home for Orphaned Children, Emmie is not permitted to take Lucy with her. Unhappy and resentful, she slowly begins to take an interest in things at her new “home,” Misselthwaite Manor, especially after she meets an inquisitive robin and finds a girl’s old diaries in her room.

This is lively, absorbing, and plausible sequel to the Burnett classic, which, unlike the sequel to A Little Princess which made excuses for all the bad characters as their just being unhappy, manages to capture a good deal of the appeal of its source. While the more modern vocabulary is not quite as rich as Burnett’s prose, the narrative does well describing the physical settings, and author does not shy away from realities, and the uncertainty of the evacuated children, the effect of the war on those at Misselthwaite, the atmosphere of a country at war (such as when a character talks to Emmie about the fate of animals in evacuated London), and best of all, creates plausible "futures” for the protagonists of the original novel, and creates parallels between this sequel and the original. There are also some wonderful, emotional scenes: a character’s belated reaction to bad news, Emmie’s realization upon meeting this person later that in her quest to find someplace to belong that she has made no allowances for the pain of others, a child hiding emotional pain behind a sarcastic front. If I have any complaint, it is that I would have loved more descriptions of the actual people: we know Emmie is thin and thinks herself “ugly,” that a certain character resembles their parent, that one character is short, that another wears a knitted cap and a little girl has a teddy bear. I would have liked to know more how these characters looked: the coloring, height, build of Arthur, Joey, and Ruby, for instance, and the matrons Miss Dearlove and Miss Rose. I scarcely know whether Emmie herself is brunette or blond. Burnett did such a good job of describing all her characters in a few succinct passages that I can see them clearly in my mind; I find I can’t do that with many of the characters in the sequel.

As an adult reading this book—the children reading it probably won’t care—I wish Ms. Webb had dipped into a few books of old British slang or even a couple of Enid Blyton novels to completely capture the speech and vocabulary of the era. There are some good strong references (“fish paste” sandwiches, candles as nightlights, blackout curtains, bread and butter for snacks), but at various times a modernism pops up that I find jarring: one character calls another “weird,” which is not a word a British child would have used in 1939, and another piece of dialog refers to someone having a “panic attack”; surely there were British slang words for that condition that would have been understandable to a modern child. (In The Secret Garden, Mary Lennox uses “hysterics,” which would have been fine.) Also, people are always listening to “the radio” when the word at that time would have been “the wireless,” another word that could have been explained in short order.

Although the protagonist of this story is a girl and the book is a sequel to what many define as a “girl’s book” (I disagree) despite the fact that there are two strong male characters in it, Return to the Secret Garden should be enjoyable to all children, especially as a read-aloud book. with its combination of both girl and boy characters and no frilly “princess” nonsense. It could lead to discussions about the feelings of children who have parents in the armed forces, and also is a historical introduction to World War II and the children evacuated from London. Other children’s fiction to read on this subject include Carrie’s War, The War That Saved My Life, and Back Home.

book icon  In Such Good Company, Carol Burnett
Imagine that you are flying to Los Angeles to New York, and for weather reasons, your flight is delayed several hours. To your surprise, at the airport you find yourself sitting next to Carol Burnett. You introduce yourself politely and tell her how much you loved her classic variety show. To your utter delight, Carol not only acknowledges your compliment with a smile, but she wants to continue the conversation! And you forget about the flight delay as Carol regales you with stories about behind the scenes at The Carol Burnett Show.

This is the feeling you get from reading this book, as if you and Carol are sitting together having a cup of tea and she’s reminiscing. It’s written in a friendly, conversational style that anyone from 8 to 80 can enjoy. Along the way you find out a little of Carol’s background and her time on The Garry Moore Show, about the early careers of her regular cast, and them fun stories about the gestation of some of the most memorable skits, from the recurring—“Mr. Tudball and Mrs. ‘Hwiggins’”—to the memorable—“Went With the Wind” and other hilarious movie parodies. There’s also a chapter about the unique costume requirements of the series—yes, including the curtain dress! She devotes a whole chapter to the development and life of the “Mama” skits, including a sobering tale about reading one of them straight instead of playing it for laughs. Plus there are riotous stories chronicling Tim Conway’s eternal mission to break up Harvey Korman—they used to wager on the set just how long it would take Conway to make Korman laugh—and the story behind the skit that has become an internet favorite, the “elephant story.”

If you were one of the thousands who waited for Saturday night just to spend an hour with Carol, Vicki, Lyle, Harvey, Dick, Tim, and the other members of the company, this is the book for you. It can be read at any time, but is a perfect bedtime book, to conclude your day with a smile!

In addition, the book includes an index of all episodes and the guest stars.

book icon  A Mile of Make-Believe: A History of the Eaton's Santa Claus Parade, Steve Penfold
Today on Thanksgiving everyone tunes into the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC with scant glance toward whatever is running on the other channels, but I remember Thanksgiving Day in the 1960s, when CBS broadcast something called “The Thanksgiving Day Parade Jubilee,” featuring four parades, including Macy’s, Gimbels parade from Philadelphia, J.L. Hudson’s from Detroit, and a fourth parade from Toronto, Canada, the Eaton’s [department store] Santa Claus Parade. As I grew a little older, I realized Eaton’s parade wasn’t really broadcast on Thanksgiving—Canada’s Thanksgiving is in October; CBS announcers always did tell you that it was “pre-recorded”—and it was an “odd duck” compared to the others, with floats devoted to fairy tales, including the always wonderful “Mother Goose” float which opened the parade, a woman dressed in old-fashioned garb riding the back of a huge, beautiful white goose. Even the fairy tales were a little different—perhaps British or French, I thought when I saw stories that I did not recognize.

This is a scholarly book about the history of the Eaton’s parade, from its simple beginnings when Santa Claus came to town riding on the back of a truck in the early years of the 20th century, through its golden years in which Eaton’s held other Santa Claus parades in Montreal and Winnipeg (among others), and finally of its fading years to the year a failing Eaton’s finally gave up sponsorship of the parade (1982; the parade still continues under the aegis of the City of Toronto). It’s the story of how a shopping promotion quickly became “a tradition” which generations of children and parents observed, how nationalistic tendencies changed the parade in various cities (the Montreal parade always had more French associations than its Toronto cousin and there were often protests that French heritage was not acknowledged enough; in addition, shifting attitudes to people of color and First Nations people changed how these elements were portrayed in the parade), how the management of Eaton’s once insisted that commercial endeavors (like Disney or television characters) stay out of the parade—although that was eventually rescinded, and how the parades affected city traffic, people’s memories of Christmas, and what was seen as the increasing “commercializing” of the holiday.

Once television enters the picture, there is also discussion of how television coverage changed the route of the parade, and how attendance fell when people thought they could have a better view of the parade—especially children who had to peer over the shoulders of rude adults who blocked them—at home on their color television than braving traffic, crowds, and often freezing and inclement weather. (There is actually brief discussion of the CBS broadcast and puzzlement from Canadian viewers on “what a Santa Claus parade had to do with Thanksgiving.”)

If you were an American CBS watcher, like me, who fondly remembers the Santa Claus parade from its Thanksgiving Day heyday, you may enjoy this peek behind the scenes history.

The text is liberally illustrated with vintage black-and-white photographs of the parade.

book icon  Brute Strength, Susan Conant
After All Shots was released in 2007, I didn't see one of Conant's "Dog Lover's Mysteries" again. I thought she had finally given them up to co-author a set of cooking mysteries with her daughter. Which is why I was flabbergasted when I was looking up one of Laurien Berenson's mystery books (also involving dogs) and found not one, but two newer books that I had never seen in any bookstore or found on Amazon (but then I had quit looking after a couple of  years). The moment I had more Amazon points, I sent for both. (I noticed she had a new publisher, which might solve the mystery of why I hadn't seen them.)

Dog trainer and writer Holly Winter is busy making enemies (she works for Malemute rescue and often has to turn down applicants, who don't like her very much for doing so) and refereeing a quarrel between her best friend and her newest boyfriend as the story opens, so she happily makes a new friend on one of her walks, a woman named Vanessa who owns an attractive female Malemute and who loves Jane Austen. Holly no sooner meets Vanessa's family, including golden boy son Hatch, colorless daughter Avery, and hypochondriac father Tom, than Vanessa's future daughter-in-law Fiona dies in a car crash. Unfortunately, that's not the end of the strange events happening within Holly's circle of friends and family.

As soon as I started reading, I was home again: Holly, husband Steve, Rowdy and Kimi and all the other dogs of the pack, best friend Rita, neighbor Kevin and his mother, Holly's eccentric father Buck and her ever-patient stepmother Gabrielle. To be frank, I suspected a certain character from the first, but didn't care because I wanted to know why the person was acting this way. It's a lively mixture of Holly's usual dog-centric commentary, mystery, suspense (involving obscene phone calls being made to Malemute rescue), and the delightful Cambridge neighborhood in which it all takes place. Conant even finally addressed one of my sore points in the last few books: Holly's cat Tracker, who has to stay confined to her office, explaining that the cat's temperament makes her unadoptable and reclusive.

And the best part is that I still have another one to read!

book icon  Like the Willow Tree: The Diary of Lydia Amelia Pierce, Lois Lowry
Lowry, most well known for her award-winning book The Giver, takes a turn at a "Dear America" entry with the story of the Pierce children, Lydia, just turned eleven, and rebellious Daniel, fourteen, who live a quiet middle-class life in Portland, Maine in the closing months of World War I—until the Spanish influenza sweeps through the city, taking their parents and baby sister. Sent to live with an uncle and aunt already overcrowded with six children, they are finally given over to the Shakers, the simple-living industrious Christians who live at Sabbathday Lake. Lydia comes to love her guardian, Sister Jennie, and her "sisters" (the girls she lives with), but Daniel soon runs away.

This is a very sweet book about a girl early coping with loss and being taken in by the pacifist, celibate Shakers (who, despite their simple lifestyle, Lydia discovers are not without humor and allow the children to play as well as work), but nothing really happens during the story except Lydia's worry over her brother and talk about her chores and new friends. It's not a boring book, but to me it seems more like an adult's book, and that mostly only quiet, retrospective children would have the patience to read it all the way through. For my part, I found it more compelling than the San Francisco earthquake story, with its artificial mystery element and sinister villains.

Most of the Shaker adults in the story were real people and I enjoyed the way Lowry brought them to life.