31 December 2018

Books Completed Since December 1

book icon  Re-Read: Christmas After All, Kathryn Lasky

book icon  Re-read: Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol: The Making of the First Animated Christmas Special, Darrell Van Citters

book icon  Re-read: Christmas in America, Penne Restad
book icon  Re-read: The Battle for Christmas, Stephen Nissenbaum

book icon  Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Wonder of Christmas, edited by Amy Newmark

book icon  The Christmas Book, Francis X. Weiser

book icon  The Ghost of Christmas Past, Rhys Bowen

book icon  Top Elf, Caleb Zane Huett

book icon  Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors, adapted by Frances Frost

book icon  Re-read: Sleigh Bells for Windy Foot, Frances Frost

book icon  Re-read: The Victorian Christmas Book, Antony and Peter Miall

book icon  Santa Claus: A Biography, Gerry Bowler

book icon  Christmas Ideals 2018, from Worthy Publications

book icon  Christmas in Greece, from World Book

book icon  Christmas in Finland, from World Book

book icon  Merry Christmas!, Karal Ann Marling

book icon  The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, Karina Yan Glaser
In the tradition of The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright and the Penderwick books by Jeanne Birdsall is this tale of a family living in Harlem. There are scientific Jessie and her musician sister Isa, twelve; nine-year-old Oliver, bookworm and basketball fanatic; Hyacinth, age six, who loves yarn and fabric, and four (and three quarters) Laney, who loves to hug and adores her bunny Paganini (there's also a basset, Franz, and the cat, George Washington), plus their mom, a baker, and their dad, a computer expert who also operates as the super for the brownstone they live in at 141st Street. Right before Christmas, their crabby landlord, Mr. Beiderman, says he won't renew their lease at the end of the month and they have to move immediately. The kids love their neighborhood and their home and don't want to move, and work up some plots to warm up "the Beiderman" so they won't be evicted, while their parents scramble to pack and find a new place to live. Plus they're getting ready for Christmas and things are afoot among their close-knit neighbors.

While set at Christmas, this isn't particularly a Christmas book as it is the both funny and at times sad story of a lively family of imaginative kids, their friends and neighbors, and their earnest but sometimes offbeat efforts to get the landlord to like them (which, of course, go all wrong). Sometimes the story seems a bit old-fashioned (the kids call their parents "Mama" and "Papa") and some reviewers have expressed disbelief that they are so friendly with everyone in their neighborhood (I assure you, this type of thing did used to exist and no reason exists why it still shouldn't take place), but altogether it's full of fun and warmth.

book icon  Re-read: The Cottage Holiday, Jo Mendel

30 November 2018

Books Completed Since November 1

book icon  Victoria & Albert: A Royal Love Affair, Daisy Goodwin and Sara Sheridan
This is the second companion volume to the BBC Victoria series, focusing on series two. As in the first volume, it traces what happens in the episodes and explains the actual history being portrayed. It also talks about what in the teleplays has been changed to create more drama or to better illustrate an event. (For instance, in the episode about the Irish famine, Dr. Traill, the Protestant minister who tried to help the starving tenant farmers, did not visit the queen.) While the book is filled with lovely color photos from the series and many behind-the-scenes glimpses are given, from children on the set to how the food scenes are portrayed to what the sets are really built of, the best bits are the inserts which talk about the historical backgrounds: they explain who the Chartists were and why they were rebelling, talk about the sociological issues of the time (child labor, poverty, the Corn Laws, sexual license, and more), explain what the Victorians ate, how they dressed, how they addressed pregnancy and motherhood, sexual inequality, and compare Victoria and Albert to a more modern "power couple," their great-grandchildren Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip. Daisy Goodwin also talks happily about how her research led her to discover unknown facts about the royal couple: the scene in the Christmas special where Victoria saves Albert when he falls through the ice was not made up for dramatic effect: it actually happened. Also, apparently the queen loved her food and ate very fast; she could eat seven or eight courses in half an hour, and she didn't keep her nails clean! You won't see that on TV!

I confess, I waited until this went on remainder: $30 is just too much. $8 was much better for a series overview and history lesson.

book icon  The Vanishing Man, Charles Finch
I began reading the Charles Lenox series with the first book, A Beautiful Blue Death, and have pretty much enjoyed the series even when a few things niggled at me (with all the money Charles had, couldn't he get a decent set of boots?). As the series has proceeded, I've enjoyed the development of Lenox's detective agency and his family life, but have been slightly wistful for the days when he investigated crime with the help of his former scout Graham and the advice of his best friend Lady Jane. Happily, Finch has delivered in the second of what I understand are three prequel novels featuring Lenox.

In 1853, Lenox is summoned to the home of the Duke of Dorset, ostensibly to locate a stolen portrait of one of the Duke's ancestors. But as Lenox continues to investigate the crime, he realizes there's much more to the Duke's request. The case will eventually involve William Shakespeare and a hidden facet of the Catholic persecution in past centuries. And as he puzzles over the Duke's mystery, he also tries to help a man who claims he is falsely being held in "Bedlam," London's insane asylum.

I really enjoyed this flashback to the "old days," the mystery is convoluted and takes several twists, and Finch also introduces a fascinating character, Thaddeus Bonden, a gentleman who is known for his ability to find anything. A delightful addition to the story is Lenox's twelve-year-old cousin Lancelot, who is turning his household upside down with his pranks, and who has a great scene where he confronts the Duke of Dorset. (I haven't read the first prequel novel, so Bonden may have been introduced there.) I'm looking forward now to reading the first book and also to the release of the third.

book icon  One-Night Stands with American History: Odd, Amusing, and Little Known Incidents, Richard Shenkman and Kurt Reiger
Not sure why, but I didn't enjoy this as much as Shenkman's other two books, Legends, Lies & Cherished Myths of American History and I Love Paul Revere, Whether He Rode or Not, perhaps because it seems a jumble of less interesting facts, the first two books having used up all the "juicy" stuff. However, there are still fascinating tidbits within, so perhaps my problem was reading it as a whole book rather than putting it in the bathroom and reading it a bit at the time. (Or it could be that I've read so many American history texts since I read the first two books that a lot of the material was already known to me.) For instance, the Puritans outlawed church weddings. They saw marriage as a strictly secular matter that "belong[s] to the realm of government." Or that, while Sally Hemings was not much chronicled by scholars until the mid 1970s, rude verses about her status as Thomas Jefferson's mistress were bandied about by his contemporaries (rude verses included).

I found the last chapter, mostly about the 60s, kinda dull, but then I lived it once and didn't really care to rehash it.

book icon  Murder Between the Lines, Radha Vatsal
This is the second book in the Capability "Kitty" Weeks series, and it remains as intriguing as Vatsal's first entry. Kitty, reporter for the Ladies' Page on the New York Sentinel, is sent to visit a girls' school famous for the scholarship of its graduates in an era when girls were usually trained to be ornamental. She is intrigued by Elspeth Bright, a budding scientist, who is working on genuine scientific projects at the school. But right after Kitty speaks with Elspeth, the girl is found frozen to death in the snow after a bout of sleepwalking. Kitty is unhappy with this verdict and as she digs deeper, finds much more going on.

Interspersed with the mystery plot is Kitty's interview with wealthy Alva Belmont, once married to one of the Vanderbilts, who is an ardent suffragist, and the fate of one of the other girls from the school, Georgina Howell, who is fascinated with Kitty's profession and ready to escape the stultifying atmosphere of the school. Vatsal deftly mixes Kitty's investigations (plus a personal matter involving her father) with the suffrage movement and Woodrow Wilson's involvement with it, and also the advances in militarization as (what we know and Kitty doesn't) the Great War approaches. Progress even comes to the Ladies' Page by the end of the book.

One of the reasons I love this series is that in most other historicals that I've read, the woman protagonist is often just a 21st century woman dressed up in 19th or early 20th century clothes. She's for suffrage, she talks back to authorities, she believes in modern ideas. Kitty still hasn't turned twenty in an era where it was thought women's health suffered if she studied or read too much. When a doctor tells her this, she actually believes it for a few days until both another doctor's input and her own common sense tell her it's not true. She's not sure if women should vote. When sometime terrible is about to happen, she doesn't suddenly make like a superhero and fix it herself. She more truly embodies the young woman of the "'teens" who's embracing the ideas of what women can actually do.

book icon  Peter Pan and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, J.M. Barrie
Sometimes I can pick up a children's book now as an adult and get as much enjoyment out of it as I would have as a child. This happened with Sawyer's Roller Skates and Grahame's Wind in the Willows. So I decided that I should make up for having never read Barrie's Peter Pan, and bought this edition, which also contains the chapters on Peter from Barrie's novel The Little White Bird.

I guess I came to this too late. Barrie seems to have inserted a lot of sly jokes for adults in the story, as in the opening chapter where he chronicles how Mr. and Mrs. Darling met, and the absurdity of having a Newfoundland dog as a nurse (because the children drink so much milk and they don't have the money), but that still didn't help. Peter is a petulant brat—I much prefer the lost boys, who are at least nice to Wendy—and, although I can usually get around racist attitudes in old books by reminding myself this was another time and managed to get through the references to "redskins," but when the Indians "prostrate" themselves before Peter, and Tiger Lily talks in what is stereotypical Chinese dialog ("Peter Pan save me, me his velly nice friend"), it was a bit much. Wendy gets to do nothing but tell stories and mend the lost boys' clothing, and there are bits of narrative that are more misogynist than any of the series books that I've read.

The Kensington Gardens portion is a bit of whimsy about how Peter Pan came to live in that famous London park as a baby whose "mother shut the window against him" and wouldn't allow him to come home, replacing him with another baby. This will strike you as some cruel abandonment until you realize (and what Peter doesn't) that Peter is actually a baby who died. As he becomes a fixture in the park, he helps a little girl named Maimie.

Sorry to be a killjoy, but I was not enchanted by this, and would not buy it for a child.

book icon  America and World War I: A Traveler's Guide Mark D. Van Ells
It took me ages to read this book, not because it's shallow, but because it's so dense. This is not your average travel "tour book" with notes of historic sites and then good restaurants and hotels. It is basically a history of the United States' participation in the first World War as illustrated by landmarks and tributes left behind, both in the United States and in Europe. Van Ells covers everything: the outbreak of the war, the primary general of the war (Pershing, including his excursions against Pancho Villa before we joined the fight), training camps, the trenches, the battles, the small French and Belgian towns, digressions to cover the battles at sea, the new war in the air, and the treatment of people of color who fought, and finally of the last battles and the Armistice.

Photographs, cartoons, drawings, battle maps, tables, and other printed media are used to enhance the details of this incredibly detailed book that includes visits to memorials, battle sites and other significant places, museums, statues to the famous and to the now unknown, and to cemeteries still tenderly cared for. A bibliography and a list of the sites close the volume.

Don't expect a brief description of each site. This really is more of a history book than a travel book, but if you're looking for a WWI history that leads you to historical sites, you'll be pleased with this.

book icon  Posh and Prejudice, Grace Dent
Oh, my gosh, how did it take me eight years to read the next Shiraz Bailey Wood book? Shiraz is just your average "chav" (a British insult word for what we might call "trailer trash"; she lives with her working class family in Essex, wears lots of makeup and bling and also hoodies, and the family has the stereotypical chav Staffy—Staffordshire terrier; think "pit bull"—as a pet. She's always looked forward to quitting school at sixteen and getting a job, but in the first book in the series, her English teacher has inspired her to continue with her education if she passes her exams. She and her best friend do pass the exams, and are off to the Sixth Form, where she is quite happily studying Latin and classic novels and Shakespeare—but she's also still mad about her working class boyfriend, until a sarcastic but well-to-do rich boy in her class starts showing an interest in her. Now she's conflicted: does she stay with the boy she's always had a crush on, or the new guy who makes her heart go pitter-pat, but is so far above her station? And as much as she loves studying, she's still not longing to be university—she's tired of being tied down.

Amusing, sometimes dead funny, and occasionally poignant, Dent shows us a girl on the cusp of maturity, unsure of her future, but knowing there's something more out there. By the way, ignore the awful American covers; Shiraz, despite her craving for bling, is much more than the image shown. In the vein of Adrian Mole, but she doesn't whinge anywhere near as much.

book icon  Legacies: Collecting America's History at the Smithsonian, Steven Lubar and Kathleen M. Kendrick
You find the most intriguing things at book sales. Take this book: it was a dollar, a big coffee table book about the Smithsonian. But not just the run-of-the-mill book where galleries are shown, or artifacts, or perhaps a history is told using those artifacts. This volume is different: it's about how the Museum of American History (once the Museum of History and Technology) has changed over the years, how the collection of artifacts has changed, and how they have been differently interpreted.

For instance, did you know the Smithsonian was originally founded only to hold items of scientific import? So some of the best loved items in the museum, like the Fort McHenry flag we refer to as "the star-spangled banner" and painted portraits of the famous were not considered acceptable in the original museum. They were held here and there until it was determined that the Smithsonian would not have just one focus and more than scientific instruments would be accepted. At first the historical artifacts had to come from noted, often wealthy Americans and usually concerned the founding of the U.S.: George Washington relics including silver tea services, bullets from the Revolutionary War, uniforms and weapons of officers. Later items began to then be accepted, but still from the noted. It was only in the 20th century that the notion of displaying artifacts that came from "just folks" and had to do with ordinary life or culture (like Julia Child's kitchen or Archie Bunker's chair or a teenage girl's jeans) might tell a very different story about our culture. At first only the First Ladies' dresses and other clothing were displayed; modern displays also touch on what that First Lady did with her time and her title. Displays are also constantly being reinterpreted: a suit of buckskin worn by a Native American and common clothing of a pioneer might have been displayed in the old days as a curiosity about a conquered people and how frightening settlers found the "savages," next to the attire of the area's "real" heroes. A modern display will discuss the displacement of Native Americans and their mistreatment by some of the pioneers during the days of Manifest Destiny.

It's a really fascinating look into how museums develop displays and how changing attitudes changes the historical interpretations and therefore the displays. Contains large color photographs of items in the Museum of American History, from Washington's silver to that pair of jeans.

book icon  Tails, You Lose, Carol J. Perry
In this second of the "Witch City" mysteries, Lee Barrett is rebounding after a house fire which destroyed the top story of the house in Salem, Massachusetts, where she is living with her Aunt Ibby. Having lost her job at WICH-TV, Lee will start anew after Christmas as an instructor at "the Tabby," the Tabitha Trumbull Academy of the Arts, located in the old Trumbull Department Store, which is reputed to be haunted. Christmas is hardly over when Lee learns from her boyfriend Pete Mondello, police detective, that the handyman at the Tabby has disappeared; he went down to the basement and vanished.

Lee and her students get thoroughly involved in both the mystery and their class in television broadcasting, and of course her latent clairvoyant tendencies pop up to guide and confuse her. When someone in the story mentioned bootlegging, part of the plot clicked into place for me—that's not a spoiler, but pretty evident if you remember your history lessons from school. Otherwise Perry weaves an interesting puzzle around her main characters and supporting actors.

These books aren't great literature, but they are fun, and I enjoy them.

book icon  Thanksgiving: The True Story, Penny Colman

book icon  Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Robert M. Grippo and Christopher Hoskins

book icon  Re-read: Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday, James W. Baker
James W. Baker has written the very readable Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday. This works very well as a companion piece to Diana Appelbaum's Thanksgiving, but is an easier read without being simplistic. It also touches more on things like images, writings, and films about Thanksgiving, changes in menus in the intervening years, and parades and football games. The one thing that this book makes very clear is that the "iconic" Thanksgiving imagery of Pilgrims and Indians only became emphasized at the very end of the 19th century and during the early decades of the 20th, back when the United States became flooded with non-English speaking immigrants whom the schools wished to impress upon some idea of the country's heritage. Previous to that it was just a New England holiday which spread as New England residents moved westward, and involved reunions with family and friends. Even stories about Thanksgiving mostly emphasized reunions between estranged or long-parted relatives; Pilgrims and Indians were not mentioned.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to read more about the history of the Thanksgiving holiday and its changing face over four centuries. 

book icon  The New England Butt'ry Shelf Almanac, Mary Mason Campbell
I found this on Archive.org and became enchanted with the Tasha Tudor drawings, so wanted a "real book" of my own. It is divided into the same sections for each month: a section opening page drawn by Tudor, a one-page list for your birthdays and anniversaries, the flower of the month, the bird of the month, an essay for the month finishing with recipes, and finally an essay on a New England personage ("Snowflake" Bentley, Emily Dickinson, Gilbert Stuart, Sarah Josepha Hale, etc.), with a smattering of color Tudor illustrations inside.

Where has Campbell been hiding? As far as I know, this, The New England Butt-ry Shelf Cookbook, and Betty Crocker's Kitchen Gardens are her only three books. The portraits of the New Englanders are interesting, but I love the essays—she sounds a lot like Gladys Taber and I could have read much more about her country home, following old customs like May baskets, etc. Heck, even her cooking chatter was great to read. No more exists; what a pity!

31 October 2018

Books Completed Since October 1

book icon  The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, Leonard Goldberg
I am on the fence about this book. First, it's always neat to see what is a new take on the world after Sherlock Holmes. In this novel, Watson is an elderly retiree, and his son, another John, is also a doctor. In the spring of 1914, a woman turns up at Watson's old digs at 221B Baker Street, looking for justice for her brother. It is said he committed suicide by leaping out a window. However, a woman and her young son were there when the man fell, the boy witnessed the event, and they are convinced it was not suicide. When Watson Sr. discovers that the woman witness was named Joanna Blalock, he becomes excited. Truly, the game is afoot, because based on young Johnnie Blalock's testimony, it could not have been suicide. Not only that, but the man who supposedly "committed suicide" leaped out of the window of the house of Christopher Moran, a noted gambler, and son of the notorious Sebastian Moran.

I think I like the idea of this book better than the execution. I haven't yet figured out why Goldberg has named his protagonist the same name as the protagonist of a contemporary series he wrote some years ago. Why is it said Sherlock Holmes died in 1903 when we know from the stories in "His Last Bow" that he was alive at least up until 1914 (with his line about the deadly wind from the east)? How did a photograph of a 10-year-old Sherlock Holmes get in a monograph? (There was photography in Sherlock's lifetime, but who might have taken such a thing, and how would it end up in a monograph and why?) And I'm really iffy about just how Joanna was actually conceived. The story makes it sound like she came to pass after a private love-in.

The story and the personalities are reasonably okay, and the growing attraction between Joanna and John Jr. very low key. They actually solve the mystery well before the novel ends and use the remaining time to spring a trap for the culprit. All in all, it was okay (much better than the Sherry Thomas books!), but not at all one of the best pastiches ever. (Scroll down to Robert Ryan's book for a better suggestion.)

book icon  Re-read: From Holmes to Sherlock, Mattias Boström
Upon finishing this, all I can say is "wow."

I read this originally as an e-book, which was very badly formatted, so I was happy to find a remaindered copy recently. It was just as impressive as I remembered.

If you think this is your run-of-the-mill "how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes" yarn,  you'll be in for a surprise: while the beginning of the book does follow that formula, the rest of the story follows how Holmes became a literary phenomenon even after Doyle's death, and the people who kept him alive: a boy named Kit who devours all the stories and grows up to be Christopher Morley; Doyle's sons Adrian and Denis, who hope to make a living off Holmes while keeping their father's memory alive (neither of them come off particularly well in this book—Adrian is money grubbing and Denis an alcoholic and spendthrift, with a Russian wife who's just as bad) while the boys' half-sister, daughter of Conan Doyle's first wife Louisa is pushed to the background; the Baker Street Irregulars and their anti-female attitude,;actors like the noted William Gillette (whose silent film Sherlock Holmes was rediscovered and restored just recently; it was Gillette who originated some of the symbols that we know Holmes by, such as the calabash pipe), Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, Peter Cushing, Arthur Wontner, even the 1980s Russian Holmes (which became famous due to videotapes recorded in the 1980s before the Berlin Wall fell); women like Edith Meiser, writer for the classic American Holmes radio series, just one of Holmes' female fans who fought to break into the "old boys club" that originally was Holmes fandom; collectors and enthusiasts such as John Bennett Shaw and Vincent Starrett; and even Eve Titus, who wrote the "Basil of Baker Street" pastiches for children, finally ending with Robert Downey Jr, Jeremy Brett, all the way down to Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat plotting out a modern-day Sherlock on a train. (The author misses almost nothing, even to noting the portrayal of Holmes by "Wishbone," only forgetting the animated Sherlock Holmes in the 23rd Century.) And all the time the rights to the stories and the estate bounce from one member of the Doyle family to the next.

There are lots of interesting tidbits tossed your way in this book, but you must be a Holmes fan to completely appreciate it. Boström has done an enormous amount of research and it shows, but the writing (or perhaps the translation) is at times almost too cut-and-dried. Rewards abound if you stick with it.

book icon  A Study in Murder: A Dr. Watson Thriller, Robert Ryan
In this third of Robert Ryan's World War I-set novels of John Watson serving as an Army doctor, the story picks up where it left off. Watson, who was captured by the Germans while driving a prototype tank, is at first assigned to a reasonably comfortable prisoner-of-war camp. But involvement in an escape attempt and the machinations of an old foe have sixty-year-old Watson shipped off to Harzgrund, the worst German camp of all. Upon arrival, Watson finds his possessions stolen, the prisoners set against him, and no cooperation among the troops, only a raw fight for survival, since the mercenary commander makes the prisoners pay for any "privileges" like Red Cross packages. However, he also finds out that prisoners believe there's a means of escape. The truth will be more gruesome than he realizes, as is the reason he's been transferred to Harzgrund.

I don't know what superlatives I can attach to these books that I haven't used before. The plots are tense and complicated, and Watson is competent in working out what's going on once presented with the clues. But most importantly, they bring the real horror of "the Great War" to life. Harzgrund, the terrible POW camp portrayed in this book, was based on a real POW camp where the commander made the prisoners pay for what should have been theirs by rights, like those Red Cross packages. The portrayal of escape attempts and escape methods are based on real events. Some of the revelations will give you chills of horror. It's only in the climax to this book that the plot gets a tad fanciful, as Mrs. Gregson seems to be able to manage to do impossible things. But...recommended, recommended, recommended!

book icon  The Annotated Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett, edited by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina
When I had finished up the annotated version of Charlotte's Web, I recalled I still had this lavishly illustrated annotated volume in the spare bedroom. In that Charlotte's Web review, I noted that editors chose to emphasize different things in their annotations: "Some annotated books use their annotations to point out unfamiliar terms, or expand on the history behind events in a story, or to point out the morals and mores of the time. [The author of this annotated volume] uses them most to point out White's careful choice of words, his edits of the text, and (forgive the pun) how he spun his web of words to create his classic novel." Gerzina uses her annotations chiefly to emphasize the secret garden's rediscovery and rebirth to symbolize Mary's and Colin's reformation from spoiled, selfish, brooding children to purposeful young adults who greet the future with anticipation.

This wonderful edition is illustrated with almost all the famous illustrations from different editions of The Secret Garden since its publication, including Ernest Shepherd and of course the iconic art of Tasha Tudor, plus photographs from media products of the book (the 1949 Margaret O'Brien film, the television version with Kate Maberly, etc.). The book also contains a short biography of Burnett and her successes and setbacks, a timeline of her life, and an essay she wrote called "My Robin" about the bird she adopted at her home in England. A must for any Secret Garden fan.

book icon  Journal of a Solitude, May Sarton
Ms. Sarton's books, especially this one, were recommended on another book blog that I read, and this appeared to be one of her most noted ones, so I picked it up when I saw it. I can't say I was disappointed, but it was different from what I was expecting. Sarton, a poet and essayist, chronicled her thoughts about living alone—she found she could not concentrate on her poetry when surrounded by family, friends and day-to-day tumult, so she would stay solitary between book tours in order to concentrate on her art. She talks frankly about her bouts of depression and the positives and negatives of a solitary life. However, I think I was expecting something more like the Stillmeadow books. (It seems I spend a lot of time searching for someone else who "sounds like Gladys Taber.")

Still, this is a nice quiet introspective book, perfect for a relaxing day's read with a favorite beverage and a cat in the lap, perhaps cuddled in a favorite afghan.

book icon  Howards End is on the Landing, Susan Hill
One fall afternoon, while looking for a book she wanted to read in her extensive collection, Susan Hill discovers other books she purchased but hadn't read, or books she'd even forgotten she'd purchased, along with books she realized she wanted to read again. Hill resolves to buy no new books (except for volumes she needs to read in connection with work) until she plows through her to-be-read and begging-to-be re-read piles.

This slim but delightful volume reminds one of her nature volume The Magic Apple Tree, but with books instead of the countryside, allowing her to review her life with books. She wanders happily from her old "Observer" books on trees and airplanes and how good titles entice you into a literary world and the magic of Dorothy Sayers to Shakespeare, Dickens, and poetry to the joy of finding things in used books to the favorites she turns to along with the strange volumes she's found around the house. Even if you are young and American and recognize few of the titles and authors you cannot but help be caught up in her memories and recollections and obvious affection for certain writers and her books. A delight for any bibliophile.

book icon  Caught Dead-Handed, Carol J. Perry
This is the first book in the cozy "Witch City Mystery" series. Lee Bennett, young widow and native of Salem, Massachusetts, has returned home lined up for a job interview with the local cable station WICH. Unfortunately, the position is filled by the time she gets to the interview; while returning angrily to her car, she spies a body lying in the tide line. It's Ariel Constellation, WICH's spooky movie host, who also runs a psychic hotline. In a bind, WICH offers Lee the host position, and she figures any "in" to the station is better than nothing. She even makes some friends at the station: Janice, the program manager, and her brother George, Marty (who, like others at WICH wears lots of hats), and even Scott Palmer, who was the guy who got her job. Soon she'll meet Detective Pete Mondello and a friendly cab driver named Jake, not to mention Ariel's cat Orion—Lee calls him O'Ryan—whom Lee and her Aunt Ibby adopt.

And discovers someone has tried to kill the cat, and then later tries to kidnap him. Like it or not, Lee is drawn into the puzzle of Ariel's dead, and suspects another murder, that of a woman with an abusive husband, is part of the same puzzle.

Okay, about two thirds of the way through the book I realized what was going on, but it didn't matter because I already like Lee, Aunt Ibby, Pete, and Jake, and since I bought the book because it was set in Salem, it was already pretty satisfactory. Lee puzzles her way through the clues intelligently for the most part, and does not do what annoys me most in most cozies: determines that she is going to be the one to solve the mystery due to some misguided idea that it's her responsibility. The other thing that may be a problem for some people is that about halfway through the plot takes a turn which indicates child abuse is involved. The chapter which this is finally explained is pretty strong stuff. There's also sort of an instant romance in the story, which is common for modern cozies, and of course the pair are both gorgeous. So far this one isn't all that annoying.

I confess, I went ahead and bought the rest of the books. No redeeming social value, just sent in New England and enjoyable fluff.

book icon  Make a Nerdy Living, Alex Langley
I'm sorry I bought this book.

This is nothing against Alex Langley. It has a catchy cover and graphics, and the people interviewed in the various careers (comics artist, blogging, podcasting, video game design, etc are all cool and nice, but it was an impulse buy and just so very, very basic for the price and catchy graphics. I would have preferred more content (at least two people interviewed for each profession) and lots more words and fewer graphics. This would be perfect as a $2.99 e-book, but it was an expensive mistake.

book icon  A Knife in the Dark, Bradley Harper
The first few "Jack the Ripper" murders (at that time referred to being performed by a man known as "Leather Apron") electrified London. In Portsmouth, England, struggling physician Arthur Conan Doyle, having written the first Sherlock Holmes story some time earlier, is asked to come to England's capitol by Prime Minister William Gladstone to investigate the killings. As his partner, he will have Dr. Joseph Bell, whose sharp observational style formed the basis for Holmes. He is even offered an unconventional guide, a woman author of good upbringing named Margaret Harkness who nevertheless lives in Whitechapel among the poor. Together Doyle, Bell, and Harkness follow the trail of the Ripper, but he seems to know their every move, and has even sent threatening notes to Doyle.

This is a very good semi-Sherlock Holmes pastiche. Doyle's narrative is descriptive but brisk-paced and very few anachronisms are noted. The "Three Musketeers" partnership he forms with his old teacher and the writer Harkness (Margaret Harkness was an actual writer who exposed the dismal and often fatal lives of the poor in London slums) seems very real, and the narrative follows a realistic pace. Too, Miss Harkness is not a 21st century woman in 19th century dress. My only problem with this book—and perhaps then I should not have chosen it to read—is that I've never been all that interested in the minutia associated with the Ripper murders, despite having attended panels about it at conventions (I confess it's because I liked the writers on the panel). Much of the evidence is detailed as Bell, Doyle, and Harkness investigate the crime. Anyone who holds a fascination with the mystery surrounding the Ripper might enjoy this novel.

book icon  True North: Exploring the Great Wilderness by Bush Plane, George Erickson
So I saw this book: guy flying a Tundra Cub; hey, it might be a good book for James. But it appealed to me, too, and I started on it almost as soon as I got home from the book sale. It's indeed about Erickson's trip across Canada and a bit of Alaska from his home in northern Minnesota and has many flying stories, but I'm not sure James would enjoy it, as it's so much more. It's a history of Canadian exploration (and, sadly, longtime mistreatment of the First Nations people), it's a paean to nature full of quiet lakes, pesky mosquitoes and blackflies, polar bears and black bears, caribou, ravens, beautiful trees, cold, rain, wild swimming; his encounters with the people who live year after year in remote locations; adventures in fishing; and the intrusion of industrialization on formerly natural areas.

Not only that, but Erickson loves one of my favorite books ever, A Natural History of the Senses!

Sometimes the flashbacks aren't as well delineated as they should have been, but in total this is part travelogue, part history book, all wonderful!

book icon  Nine Lessons, Nicola Upson
This is a great installment of Upson's mystery series built around mystery writer Josephine Tey (Elizabeth MacIntosh) that treats her as both a real person (using her actual books and plays) and as a fictional character (to her friends, of course, she was not "Josephine" as she is here). This time Inspector Archie Penrose gets a chance to shine as he investigates the particularly horrific murder of a church organist in Hampstead; the man was evidently buried alive with a photo of a manor house and a cryptic note. As more murders occur, Archie realizes they are all associated with King's Chapel in Cambridge, just coincidentally the city where Josephine and her lover Marta have just taken up residence. But there is no ease for Josephine when Marta goes to the States in conjunction with the release of her movie, as there is a rapist loose in Cambridge attacking young ladies living on their own—indeed, the crime strikes too close to home when one of Josephine's new neighbors, a nurse, is attacked.

And what is Josephine to do with the news that Archie has a long-lost daughter? The girl's mother wants to break it to him in her own time, but can't seem to do it.

Lots of good, solid investigating in this outing for Archie, who learns more about the famous "Monty" (horror writer M.R. James) who was once provost of King's College and who served as mentor for the murdered men. Josephine helps him in his investigation, but it's all solved by good old fashioned detecting and footwork, although she comes up with a solution for another problem.

Incidentally, a clue to the mystery may be found if you are familiar with any mystery short stories by Thomas Burke. (Yes, that's a spoiler.)

book icon  The Years of the Forest, Helen Hoover
Helen Hoover and her husband Ade (Adrian) anticipated the back to nature movement way back in the 1950s, when she quit her job as a metallurgist and he his job as an artist to move to a log cabin/summer house arrangement in Minnesota off the beaten path: no plumbing, no running water, no electricity, no phone. She wrote of their earliest experiences in A Place in the Woods; this volume is a summary of their experiences in the years they lived in Minnesota before moving to the Southwest.

After reading this book, I'm not sure whether I would want to hug Hoover or shake her. Her writing about the forest, the lake, the animals, all of the nature she experiences so beautiful it nearly overwhelms everything else. Her nature narrative rivals some of the best I've read.

However, on a personal level, these are two of the worst "babes in the woods" people I've ever seen. They make no provision for eating (they don't hunt) other than buying groceries in bulk before the delivery truck quits making its rounds for the season, and start a garden and then don't protect it from the animals. At one point they are so low on food that Helen (at least) gets scurvy, but they take what's left of their food and feed the wild animals because the animals are having a tough time during the winter. Except for the articles Helen writes and some notepapers that Ade designs, they've got no way of making a living, plus at the beginning of their stay, they did nothing to dissuade their neighbors (except for one Native family) from thinking they're kooks, so no one ever asks after them except for two people. When strangers claim a shipment of their food, they end up still having to pay the bill for it because the local grocer knows them so little that they can't prove they weren't the ones who picked it up. They crashed their car and have no way to get into town when Helen gets a fever. Finally after a few years they start to talk to their neighbors and are so surprised at how generous they are! They take pride in living as naturally as they can so not to spoil the woods (a constant theme is the progress bringing hunters and campers to their woods), but all their food comes in cans! They've got to be throwing those cans somewhere, having no way to portage them out, so they've still despoiled the woods! And it's very sweet that they feed the deer, including Peter, the deer Helen wrote a book about, and the groundhog, and the rabbits, but by doing so they allow the animals to rely on them and also lead hunters right to the deer!

Gorgeous prose, and Adrian's pen-and-ink drawings are stunning, but their lifestyle choices left a lot to be desired.

book icon  The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel, Alyssa Palombo
I should have read up on this book before I bought it. Having watched the series Sleepy Hollow, I thought this might have been yet another reworking of the Washington Irving story which has Katrina as a witch and bought it as something to read for Hallowe'en. Sadly, it wasn't to be. As in the Irving story, Katrina is the gorgeous young daughter of the community's richest man, who's being courted by the muscly Brom Van Brunt ("Brom Bones"), when schoolteacher Ichabod Crane comes to town. However, in this version Katrina is well-read and well-educated (Brom still comes off as Gaston from Disney's Beauty and the Beast) and the moment she and (slightly jug-eared but) handsome Crane with his green eyes lock glances they are in love. Soon she offers him her virginity and they tryst in the wood and once at her friend Charlotte's house while trying to keep their relationship a secret (though Katrinia's ex-slave nursemaid knows pretty much immediately, unlike her clueless parents). Charlotte is known to have witchlike powers and reads the tarot cards for her, and it shows the relationship will end in disaster, and yes, Katrina still persists. So what happens on Hallowe'en when penniless Ichabod plans to ask for Katrina's hand in marriage (and he has to do it soon, because Katrina forgot to take the pregnancy prevention tea Charlotte brewed up for her)? Yeah, you can guess.

So basically this is historical chick-lit with a couple of torrid sex scenes in a romantic wooded glade and Charlotte's visions tossed in for good measure. Katrina also has nightmares that turn out to be precongnition, but so symbolic that she can't understand it till the grim end. There is no spellbook, just a diary in which she records her dreams. I have to admit that at times the narrative is very good at setting a scene, but most of the narrative is Katrina twittering or worrying over Ichabod. Frankly, I would have preferred a book about Charlotte and her mother, who are herbalists and midwives. If you want a romantic version of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," this is the book for you; otherwise steer clear.

Oh, yeah, I liked Katrina's dog, but unlike Lassie, even he can't save the story.

book icon  Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History, Lesley Pratt Bannatyne

book icon  Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, Nicholas Rogers

book icon  The Halloween Encyclopedia, Lisa Morton

30 September 2018

Books Completed Since September 1

book icon  Celebrate the Wonder: A Family Christmas Treasury by Kristin M. Tucker and Rebecca Lowe Warren

book icon  Unplug the Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli

book icon  The Christmas Survival Book by Alice Slaikeu Lawhead

book icon  Boldly Writing: A Trek Fan and Fanfiction History, 1967-1987, Joan Marie Verba
I thought I had or had read every book out there about fanfiction until I attended a panel at DragonCon about female Star Trek fans and this book was mentioned. I ordered it practically when the panel was over.

Don't expect academic erudition (like Henry Jenkins and Camille Bacon-Smith, who wrote the seminal fanfiction studies Textual Poachers and Enterprising Women, respectively) or examination of individual stories like The Fanfiction Reader, or a great big overview like Fic. This is a cut-and-dried narrative by Verba, who, through her own collection and collections of others tried to list as many of the Star Trek zines before 1987 (when Usenet reared its head and stories began to be posted online instead of on paper) as possible. As much as possible, she points out significant things about the zines, like it was the first issue, or the first photocopied issue versus mimeographed issue, or the first appearance of a certain storyline ("Night of the Twin Moons" being solely Sarek and Amanda tales, for instance), or perhaps at what convention a zine first appeared. She also mentions her own stories being published, or any fannish experiences she had. Letterzines and fan feuds are also discussed.

If you have any interest in the history of Star Trek fanfic or even fanfiction in general, I would grab a copy of this book. Despite the often pedestrian writing, it was full of interesting facts and tidbits about the fic and the fans.

book icon  West, Edith Pattou
When Pattou's East, based on the fairy tale "East of the Sun and West of the Moon," was released in 2005, I was immediately drawn to the cover of the young woman in the company of a polar bear. I was fascinated with the society Pattou portrayed, one in which the compass direction a child is born into is said to determine his or her character. Rose, the heroine of East, was actually born facing North, which means there would be traveling in her life, and to make certain her child did not leave home, her mother swore she was facing East when she gave birth. Still, Rose fulfilled her destiny by helping the white bear—an enchanted prince named Charles—escape the enchantment he was under, falling in love with him in the process. Now they have a child named Winn and Rose is visiting her parents for the first time since his birth. The portents are bad—sickness is creeping in on her parents' community—and then Rose receives devastating news: the ship Charles was on ran aground, and he was killed. But she refuses to believe it, and travels to the town where he was reportedly found dead, while her parents and the baby's nursemaid care for Winn. Worse, she has no idea that the Troll Queen that she defeated to save Charles the first time is still alive.

Once again Rose is on an odyssey, but now the stakes are higher—because Winn is also now threatened. She must keep her wits and use all her courage to find her husband and save her child.

I wasn't enchanted as much by this sequel as I was by the original story. I found the choppy text a little bit annoying and longed for subordinate clauses. And it seemed as if the author was just putting Rose through all these ordeals to prove how faithful, courageous, and strong she is, a mirror of the quest of the first book. Still, Rose is still an admirable character and there's a decision she makes about halfway through the novel that makes me respect her all the more. Plus I found the subplot with Neddy and Sib enjoyable. On the whole, not as good as the original, or maybe I just wasn't in the mood for a fairy tale again.

book icon  The Great Hurricane: 1938, Cherie Burns
I've avoided this book for years because of the bad reviews, but when it turned up as a booksale find for a dollar—well, why not? It's not as bad as I feared; it's pretty much a print version of the American Experience segment about the hurricane, complete with the story of the couple who were getting married the day of the storm. Burns tells the stories of the people she chose to concentrate on well, including the experiences of the Moore family who rode out the storm on the attic boards of their home on Napatree Point and whose experiences are covered in the two definitive books about the hurricane, A Wind to Shake the World and Sudden Sea.

Protests against the book include the "irritating" way she refers to the storm as "GH38" (hurricanes didn't have names back then and it's an easy shorthand to refer to it) and the overuse of the comparison of the storm to the attack of a big cat (which is rather overused), and also the way she refers to it as a "Category _" storm when that term didn't exist back then (again, easy shorthand to portray the storm strength).

This is basically a simple overview of the hurricane that remains in New England's legend; if you feel you want to read more, Everett Allen and R.A. Scotti will give you much, much more.

book icon  Live Long and..., William Shatner, with David Fisher
For years there were a lot of jokes about William Shatner, his ego, his dramatic pauses when he spoke, the infamous Saturday Night Live  "Get a Life" skit. It was great to watch him in Star Trek reruns and T.J. Hooker had a respectable run if fan-favorite Barbary Coast didn't, but mostly the actor himself was set back on a shelf. However, a few years ago I started attending his panels at DragonCon, and I was surprised. He wasn't just some addled actor riding on his fame; in fact, when people asked him about some of his roles he would briefly answer and then go on to a subject that fascinated him: the composition of the universe and stars and planets and comets, communication between man and animals, advances in medical science, new scientific discoveries of all kinds. Here was a guy in his 80s who could kick back and rest on his laurels, and his greatest determination was to keep learning.

That's what this slim book is about: what William Shatner has learned in 85 trips around the sun. There's nothing earth-shaking here or profoundly philosophical, yet at the same time it struck a deep meaning to me. On our [husband and I] vacations, we like to go to museums. Not to beaches to loll around in the sun, or mountains to loll around in hammocks, or spas to loll around getting massages. We go to science museums and military museums and history museums and even quirky places like the American Helicopter Museum and the National Christmas Center. (I want to live at Greenfield Village myself.) I want to learn something every day until the day I die. And this is Shatner's philosophy exactly.

He also talks about keeping trying even when you're down to the lowest you can go (there was a period after Star Trek when he was living in his car with his dog), about keeping up your curiosity, even about his failed relationships and the fact that he alone was responsible for them; about his love for his horses, about things that have been dangerous (like parasailing) that he was afraid to do and tried anyway, because he was more afraid of regretting not having done it. About his beliefs, and about his tenure with Priceline, sometimes simply about life. All in a very conversational style in the words of a man who knows the threads of his life will someday come to an end and he doesn't want to regret it when he gets there.

I enjoyed it. You may, too. Worth trying.

book icon  Death on the Sapphire, R.J. Koreto
I kind of ignored this book when it was first published since it looked like just another Edwardian mystery with a female heroine who was before her time and solved a mystery that sounded like it concerned a ship. However, it was different when I found the hardback for a mere $4. To my surprise, I enjoyed it more than I expected.

Lady Frances Ffolkes is indeed a forward-thinking Edwardian woman. Her family were liberals and no one takes it amiss when she attends suffragette meetings and has thoughts outside kinder, kuche, kircke. She even lives in a women's hotel. Like her brother Charles, she is saddened when Major Danny Colcombe, a friend of the family, dies, but doesn't think more of it until Danny's sister arrives at the Ffolkes home to report that Danny's war manuscript has vanished. He made her promise to take care of it and make certain it was published, and she feels she has let him down. So Frances promises she will help locate it, taking with her her new ladies' maid, June Mallow, who was formerly a housemaid at her parents' home. She reports the crime to Superintendent Maples of the police, who brushes it off. But as Frances and Mallow persist, ugly truths come to the fore. Something happened at the Sapphire River when Danny fought in the Boer War, and what he wrote about it may be the reason the manuscript is missing. Perhaps it's also the reason Danny died?

I actually enjoyed this. Frances and Mallow (she insists on being called by her last name, as a proper lady's maid would be; it is a sign of her rise in status among the servants) have a more realistic relationship than Phoebe and Eva in the Lady's and Lady's Maid mysteries. While Frances has an inquiring mind, she also enjoys the company of the two men who become interested in her during the course of the book. Mallow is also a terrific character, yet she never steps out of the Edwardian character of a lady's maid. I can see her being played by Nell Hudson, who plays Miss Skerritt on Victoria.

book icon  Lies Sleeping, Ben Aaronovitch
I've been a fan of the Peter Grant/Rivers of London series since the first book and practically shrieked aloud when the publisher accepted my request to read it via NetGalley. I sat down and immersed myself until it was finished.

In this seventh novel in the series, all the stops are out at the Metropolitan Police and its esoteric division The Folly (dedicated to magic and the supernatural) to catch the sinister Faceless Man (recently identified as Martin Chorley) and renegade police constable Lesley May, who was formerly Peter Grant's best friend and fellow "probie" on the force. After a member of a magical club is attacked by a "killer nanny" and later dies, The Folly learns about the existence of a giant "drinking bell" as well as the thefts of artifacts from various archaeological sites. Chorley—and by extension Lesley—is planning something big and presumably catastrophic involving both. It's up to the team to determine what will happen, and then stop it before it "goes down."

Almost all of the series regulars reappear, including Peter's teenage neighbor and fellow apprentice Abigail (and the pair of foxes she speaks to), fellow constable Sahra Guleed, the intimidating Miriam Stephanopolos, Alexander Seawoll, and Father Thames and his riparian contingent, and of course Peter's "governor," the enigmatic Thomas Nightingale, head of The Folly. Sadly, Toby the ghost-sensing terrier and Nightingale's odd housekeeper Molly are very sparely used; however, Molly has a wonderful scene near the end. The story moves quickly, from one revelation to the next, yet there is time for psychological insights into the Faceless Man, Lesley, and even the hysterical Mr. Punch from the opening novel when his past is revealed. Plus there are surprises until the very final page (but no cliffhangers, thankfully, other than there is much more story to be told), and with the usual complement of inside jokes: the obligatory Doctor Who references, not to mention Back to the Future, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and, to my delight, one from one of my favorite caper movies, Sneakers.

No spoilers, but here's one titillating chapter title: "Of the Captivity of Peter."

In short, fans of this series should love it. If you are new to the series, you really need to read (at least) the other six books (there is also a novella, a short story, and five, so far, graphic novels that are all part of the canon) to understand how Peter Grant began his career with The Folly and his relation to all the other characters. Trust me, if you like urban fantasy, reading the other six will be enjoyable and no chore at all—you'll willingly find yourself searching for the rest!

book icon  The Morville Hours, Katherine Swift
This is the last of the nature books (Wind in the Ash Tree, A Small Country Living Goes On, Wild Hares and Hummingbirds, and The Magic Apple Tree) I bought for summer reading. I enjoyed the latter two, I loved both the Jeanine McMullen memoirs, but I left this for last, and it truly was the icing on the cake. Let me reiterate again that I didn't inherit the Italian gene for gardening; I don't like to work in the dirt, I hate bugs, worms make me queasy, and I hate being out in the sun. But I love reading memoirs of this sort, especially when the author has a way with words as does Swift.

Basing her memoir on a medieval Book of Hours (a religious work that delegated what prayers and activities should be performed at certain hours in a monastery—Vigils, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and, at the end of the day, Compline), Swift recounts her years restoring the Dower House garden at Morville Hall in Shropshire, England. Part history of the Morville area, part garden redesign, and part memoir of coming to terms with her lopsided upbringing and past relationship with her parents, this is a beautifully written account of her days duplicating the different gardens that would have graced the Dower House in different eras of English history: a traditional knot garden, a cloister garden, a turf maze, a wild garden, and more. Her description of the flowers, the plants, the seasons are all exquisite. A glorious pleasure to read, especially for those who love nature and gardening (or just, like me, enjoy reading about it).

book icon  The Librarians and the Pot of Gold, Greg Cox
This is the third, and possibly the last (since the series has been cancelled) of Cox's original novels based on the TNT fantasy series The Librarians. In 441 AD, the Librarians' deadliest enemies, the Serpent Brotherhood, led by the sinister Lady Sibella, has tried to wrest a pot of gold from a reluctant leprechaun and sacrifice an innocent infant to their malevolent cause. With the help of a Librarian, his Guardian, and the man who would later become Saint Patrick, Sibella was destroyed and the plot thwarted. Now a new leader, Max Lambton, a amoral Englishman who has taken over the Serpent Brotherhood with a curious partner who can create magical objects, wishes to finish the job Sibella began. It's up to Eve Baird, Guardian; Librarians Jacob Stone, Cassandra Cillian, and Ezekiel Jones; plus the caretaker of the Library Annex, Jenkins (Flynn Carsen is missing in action in this outing), to stop him.

With the action revolving around St. Patrick's Day, the plot moves swiftly from Ireland to Paris (where the Librarians face off against the Phantom of the Opera) to Oregon to Chicago and even to an colony of leprechauns near the Annex. The plot, however, isn't quite as tight as the previous two. There is one character who appears whom you almost immediately guess who the person is. I was also quite disappointed that there was seemingly no way to save another character, who seemed promising and might prove an interesting project for Jenkins. However, the entire book is worthy of  a Librarians episode as Cox works his own magic on the familiar characters. Once again Cox does a great job making each character sound just like his or her television counterpart; you can hear John Larroquette speak when you read Jenkins' lines.

BTW, when Jenkins mentioned one of the items in the library was Prufrock's Peach, I nearly spit out my drink. Not only media asides, but literary! Good one, Greg!

Great stuff, especially for series' fans.

book icon  The Prodigal Tongue, Lynne Murphy
I buy more books because of podcasts (either "Travels with Rick Steves" or "A Way With Words," this one due to the latter). Most books about American English vs. British English are like dictionaries: "boot" is what Americans call the trunk of the car, explaining Cockney rhyming slang, etc. This book takes a different tack: what words are British that people think sound American? and vice versa? Is British English somehow more correct than American English (as so many British pundits declare)? Is one "better" than the other? And who has the accent? Is the Midwestern accent Americans use for newscasters so much worse than the "Received Pronunciation" that's de rigueur at the BBC? And what about those different spellings?

This is a topic that's fascinated me as an Anglophile and a reader of older British books and magazines. The chapter about British English changing is particularly noted because I notice from the British magazines I read today that British spelling has changed, even from the 1970s and the 1980s when I saw my first "Radio Times" and read "Woman and Home." Brits no longer refer to the "wireless" or spell it "tyre" or "kerb." But is the evolution the fault of American movies "invading" the Great Britain, or just a natural progression of the language?

I think you would really have to be a word nerd and Anglophile to get the most enjoyment out of this book. As you can expect, I did!

book icon  Adulting (updated edition), Kelly Williams Brown
For some reason I've been looking at this book since it came out, so long, in fact, that the author updated it recently to add another 90 or so tips. Kelly Brown bases her tips on what she's learned going out on her own. While her tips are serious, they're told with a big dollop of humor that keeps the book moving and from sounding too pretentious. Most of these are common-sense tips—but, as they say, sometime common sense isn't. Brown has something to say about almost everything, from stocking a starter kitchen and good eating habits—hubby and I laughed ourselves silly when I got to the cooking chapter  and read him the passage where she's talking about basic weekly shopping items: #9 is "chicken thighs," with the notation "chicken breasts are for chumps! So dry! The meat equivalent of a PowerPoint presentation that no one asked for!"—to making friends and having relationships to just plain being kind.

The only thing that bothered me was that she spends a great deal of time talking about it's okay to have sexual relationships just for a good time (so long as your partner does not consider it a commitment either, and that you break up politely and properly—no e-mail breakups!—when it's over), but doesn't add a reminder or two to use protection. Very important, both for pregnancy prevention and for STD protection.

book icon  Re-read: Understood Betsy, Dorothy Canfield Fisher

book icon  Re-read: Charlotte's Web, E.B. White
The one children's book that keeps coming up (along with Harry Potter) on The Great American Read and at one point had George Lopez crying over it. For all White's years of essays in "The New Yorker" (several collections exist; all are recommended) along with his updating of William Strunk's famous English usage guide The Elements of Style, this is usually considered his magnum opus, the story of a runt farm piglet who befriends a canny barn spider, who cleverly works out a way to keep her pal Wilbur from becoming bacon and pork chops. Charlotte's solution: write messages about her porcine buddy in her web.

While this is a tale told simply enough for children, it has many pokes as the gullible nature of human beings, especially adults, and the nature of fame, plus is a lovely, nostalgic paean to farm life and children growing up. While the animals speak to each other, they are not "talking animals" of the humorous sort. Garth Williams' illustrations, never cartoony and based solidly on nature, accompany White's precise yet descriptive prose like a beautiful harmony complements a melody. Filled with charming characters you will never forget, and definitely an American classic for both adults and children.

book icon  The Annotated Charlotte's Web, E.B. White, Peter F. Neumeyer
Who knew Garth Williams was once controversial?

I bought this at a used bookstore where the cashier had never seen an annotated book; me, I love them and have collected a few. Some annotated books use their annotations to point out unfamiliar terms, or expand on the history behind events in a story, or to point out the morals and mores of the time. While Neumeyer's annotations explain a few terms, he uses them most to point out White's careful choice of words, his edits of the text, and (forgive the pun) how he spun his web of words to create his classic novel. The animals and farm life (including the magic of a county fair) he lived (he and his wife lived on a saltwater Maine farm), but he did close research into spiders—one of the delights in this volume is being able to see White's notes on spiders and other aspects of the book, and drawings of the places that inspired the book locations. There are also photographs of the White farm, a chapter on Garth Williams' illustrations (apparently his The Rabbits' Wedding, which had a black rabbit marrying a white rabbit, was seen in pre-civil rights America as encouraging miscegenation 🙄 ), letters from White to his editor about the book, the different versions of the manuscripts, reviews of the book, White's own comments on the book, even White's essay "Death of a Pig."

Charlotte's Web fans and admirers of White's wonderful prose will enjoy immensely!

book icon  The Bartered Brides, Mercedes Lackey
This is the third in Lackey's "Elemental Masters" sequence featuring a very mortal Sherlock Holmes and John and Mary Watson being elemental magicians (John is Water and Mary is Air) and the fifth novel (after two introductory short stories) featuring Sarah Lyon-White, a young medium, and her companion Nan Killian, psychic and Celtic warrior in a previous life. The story opens with the characters in mourning for their old friend Holmes, who was drowned at the Reichenbach Falls while fighting the evil Professor Moriarty, who also died. Only they know Holmes is still alive, hoping to track down the rest of Moriarty's cohorts.

Unfortunately one of his cohorts is also an Elemental Master who is coercing young women to marry him and then, when they have accepted him willingly, kills them and removes their heads, transporting their spirits into bottles that will provide him a "battery" to perform his final, most ambitious spell. In short, he is that most dangerous of magicians, a necromancer, and one with no remorse as he expands his collection to fulfill his scientific dreams. In the meantime, the bodies of his brides are turning up in the Thames, to the bafflement of the police.

Much better than the last villain in this series who was so irritatingly ignorant of what his actions were doing that his assistant was smarter than he was; this one knows exactly what he's doing and has no care of whom he hurts to do so. John Watson also has some great scenes, especially a terrifying sequence where he summons an evil spirit to help him track down the source of the bodies. Sarah also acquires an unquiet spirit who helps the group achieve their ends.

While I love Nan and Sarah, their young ward Suki, and the Elemental Masters versions of Watson, Mary, and Holmes, I am tired of them (although I love the birds Grey and Neville, the latter who gets some good scenes here) and would like Lackey to go back to creating original characters for this series (as long as it's not the German world from Blood Red and From a High Tower, which I found deadly boring).

book icon  Re-read: Autumn: A Spiritual Biography of the Season, edited by Gary Schmidt and Susan M. Felch