31 January 2018

Books Completed Since January 1

The last of the Christmas books in "Holiday Harbour":

book icon  Christmas: A Biography

book icon  December 25th: The Joys of Christmas Past

book icon  A Book of Christmas

book icon  Truman Capote's Southern Years, Marianne M. Moates
I bought this book because I had read both of the G. Neri "Tru and Nelle" books, and wanted to see just how much had been extracted from this memoir, which is based on the recollections of Jennings Faulk, Truman's cousin. It is indeed revealing, if sadly so. While it's fun reading about all the imaginative things Truman got up to with "Big Boy" (Jennings' nickname), Nelle Harper Lee, other cousins, and even an African-American boy named Edison, the book is also unflinching about Truman's neglectful mother and manipulative biological father, and even some of what would be considered cruelties today, like Nelle teasing a horse with a stick so badly that it finally grabbed her by the head. You'll learn what really happened with "Odd Henderson," who Sook Faulk invited to Thanksgiving dinner, and what really caused the break between Truman and his beloved cousin Sook, the friendship portrayed so beautifully in "A Christmas Memory." Gritty, sad, illuminating portrait of Capote's early life and the 1930s and 1940s South.

book icon  Pathways and Other Tales of Valdemar, edited by Mercedes Lackey
This was a satisfactory collection of Valdemar stories; even a sequel to Lackey's Scooby-Doo takeoff was decent, even giving the "Shaggy" character Arville a bit of depth. This volume had quite a variety of protagonists who were different in some way: shaych, a mute woman, a blind girl, a princess unwilling to accept her fate, a boy with visions, and other new characters, as well as sequels to the continuing sagas of Lady Cera, senior novice Syrriah, Kade and Nwah, Lena (a really strange story about her wanting to be a trapeze artist more than anything), the Haven City Watch, and other old friends.

book icon  The Happy Hollisters on a River Trip, Jerry West
As the book (the second in the Happy Hollisters' book series written in the 1950s and based on the author's family) opens, a fishing expedition which briefly acquaints the Hollisters—a lively brood of five kids, two parents, and pets—with a little boy who flees a gruff older man spawns an idea to promote Mr. Hollister's new store The Trading Post, a fishing contest in which the customer who catches the largest fish will win a prize. Later, the children find out that the little boy, Bobby Reed, has run away from the cruel farmer who is caring for him. When the children's Uncle Russ shows up, they find a clue that Bobby has headed for the river, and the children clamor to take their uncle's cabin cruiser, "Sweetie Pie," down the river to search for him. Of course the kids and their parents have many adventures—including a frightening storm—on their mission to find the ten-year-old boy.

The titular "river trip" doesn't really show up until the book is half over, but the contest, another mystery about tagged "clown" fish (not like Nemo), and the actual events that make Bobby run away all build up in the first portion. This is a more lukewarm entry in the series, I thought, not up to the more exciting adventures to come.

book icon  Rhode Island Radio, John Rooke
From the "department store wars" to the death of Rhode Island icon Walter "Salty" Brine, this Arcadia picture book covers the history of radio stations in the Ocean State. The first radio stations were owned by the big department stores: WEAN by the Shepard Company (later bought by the Providence Journal) and WJAR by the Outlet Company. Fully a third of the photos come from the collection of legendary broadcaster Ed Pearson, and other various stations' photos have been provided. Missing, sadly, are photographs from WJAR radio's early history, especially of its talk show days, save for one photograph of Jack Comley, one of the pioneers of talk radio, "the mouth that roared." (Comley, an attorney by education who wandered into sportscasting, died prematurely of cancer in 1974 and a memorial exists for him in downtown Providence.)

Lots of happy memories here, but wish there had been more of WJAR and WLKW.

book icon  The Book of Festival Holidays, Marguerite Ickis
This is a slim seasonal volume written in the early 1960s for children. Not surprisingly, while Christmas holds the lions' share of the volume, a large chapter is devoted to Jewish holidays, and some older holidays, not much celebrated in the 60s anymore, like May Day and winter carnivals and fortune-telling at Hallowe'en parties. A charming little volume to read if picked up at a discount.

book icon  Shadow of a Doubt, Skylar James
This seemed a natural for me: the story of a girl who helps raise a colt who defeats great odds to become a racehorse who not only wins a great race but becomes a symbol of "the common man." Yet I was dissatisfied more and more as the narrative continued. This may be, people will point out, because it's a children's book being read by an adult, but I've read all manner of children's books since becoming an adult, and I'm rarely disappointed by one as I was by this book.

Children's books with animals who talk among themselves are classic: Charlotte's Web, for instance, Black Beauty, Beautiful Joe, and a host of others, all done with so much charm that I've been taken in by it and could believe they actually did speak to each other. Shadow the colt also has a barnyard contingent who cheer him on, but the whole setup seems phony; the farm animals have cutesy names, Oats the pony is Eeyore in all but name, the cow and the pony "cooperate" to help with the chores like plowing (huh? as if the humans are harnessing them together?). Our human protagonists include Fyfe, the plucky little girl who raises Shadow (who's later injured, twice, so that she becomes partially disabled), her disabled ex-jockey father who can't make the family farm pay, and a neighboring horse farm owner who is so relentlessly evil that he becomes cliché before the book is half over. The narrative is done in a dogged folksy accent that was, I expect, supposed to be evocative of a warm legend told around a Kentucky country campfire. After a while, it just became tiresome, and the relentless push, push, push of the moral of the story—don't ever give up, ever!—gets hammered into the reader on every page.

I would have really preferred this book if it had been told "straight," like a Marguerite Henry book, with Fyfe and Roscoe working with Shadow of a Doubt, undergoing punishing training and beset by bad luck, with much less of the foaming-mouthed stereotyped Colonel Epsom. Shadow talking with the barn animals and with his foster mother would have been fine in small doses and done with much less anthropomorphism; instead they remind me of the ludicrous "Barn Gang" in the new Lassie cartoon.

Sorry, Shadow, but I'm sending you back to the paddock.