31 May 2018

Books Completed Since May 1

book icon  Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8, Robert Kurson
After the devastating Apollo 1 fire and investigation, NASA planned a new sequence for the planned trip to the Moon, and originally Apollo 8 was supposed to test the command and lunar module in low earth orbit. But the lunar module would not be ready by the anticipated launch date. Instead an audacious plan dreamed up by head engineer George Low was put into plan: the command and service module would orbit the Moon, reconnoiter landing sites, and return, all during the Christmas holidays.

The year 1968 was full of turmoil for the United States. Both Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Protests against the Vietnam War and against racism raged on college campuses and in large cities. Soldiers were dying every day in Southeast Asia. President Lyndon Johnson faced increasing criticism each day. And at NASA personnel were still reeling from the capsule fire that had taken the lives of Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.

Kurson follows the Apollo 8 mission from inception to splashdown, with asides talking about the history of the "space race," the troubles besetting the country in 1968, and the lives and careers of the three astronauts headed to the moon, especially the sober and driven Frank Borman, who was determined to go to the Moon to strike a blow at Communism. It also follows the emotional reaction of Susan Borman, who put on a brave face to the world but who was consumed with fear that NASA was proceeding too quickly.

This is the third book I have read about the Apollo 8 mission (others were by Jeffrey Kluger and Robert Zimmerman) and I can't decide if I like this or Kluger's book more. They are both super overviews of the "heady days of the space program," missions I remember watching avidly on television. I would definitely recommend both this book and Jeffrey Kluger's if you are interested in a history of the Moon missions.

book icon  Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon, Bronwen Dickey
As a child of the 60s, I watched police officers on television sic "police dogs" (mostly German Shepherds) on protesters. Despite the reruns of Rin-Tin-Tin still showing, we kids were warned against GSDs; they weren't like you saw them on TV, we were told. They were unpredictable and vicious. Then in the 1970s everyone forgot about GSDs and it was Doberman pinschers that were treacherous. Following that were Rottweilers. Today it's the "pit bull" (a designation that covers several breeds with shortened noses; some boxers are even classified as "bullies").

Dickey presents a history of the pit bull, going back to their original use, herding cattle. Unlike sporting dogs or lap dogs, they were considered working-class dogs, and when imported to the United States, continued to be working-class owned. Unfortunately their high energy and protective qualities also made them suitable as fighting dogs. While many pit bulls projected positive images (Stubby, the World War I mascot; Pete the Pup from the Our Gang shorts; Jack, the bulldog from the Little House books; Helen Keller's dog Phiz; Luke, a silent film performer), as the years went on they became known for violence.

Dickey tries to remain neutral on the pit bull issue—she debunks the "nanny dog" myth that has proliferated online and does take account of pit bull attacks—but it's pretty clear she's more on the side of the pit than against it. Personally I am not convinced that a pit bull, or a German Shepherd for that matter, or a Doberman, Rottweiler, or Akita, is inherently bad. A dog is only as bad as its owner. As the text exhibits, any dog can bite; it is only pit bulls that make the news. Dickey cites Labradors, Golden retrievers, and even Weimaraners who have killed people. I remember a German Shepherd from my childhood that was gentle and friendly, until its owner had it "trained" as a guard dog. I'm not sure what kind of training the poor dog had, but it was soon lunging and snarling at any strange human's approach, even when not on guard duty, bit someone, and was euthanized.

I found the historical narrative most interesting. I had no idea there was a war against spitz-type dogs in the U.S. in the late 1800s, when they were branded as "rabies carriers" and destroyed, or that a breed called the "Cuban bloodhound" was later vilified (Dickey notes that she believes this Cuban dog was the basis for the "gigantic hound" that terrorized a client of Sherlock Holmes). Of course mentioned is the violence toward dachshunds during the first World War. (Albert Payson Terhune also noted in some of his books that at one point collies were accused of being snappish and dangerous to children.) Absorbing reading for the most part.

book icon  Superfluous Women, Carola Dunn
In the latest Daisy Dalrymple mystery (there is a newer book coming out soon), Daisy is in the country recovering from bronchitis after a particularly bad London smog. Staying at the local inn and being cossetted by the friendly maid Sally, she finally feels fit to join up with an old school friend, Willie Chandler, who just bought a house nearby with two friends of hers, practical Izzie and teacher Vera. The three young women are, like thousands of others after the Great War, now considered  "superfluous"; they will have to make it on their own since there are no corresponding young men to court them, but the three determined women are not about to let stereotypes rule their lives. When Daisy finally visits their house accompanied by husband Alec (a Scotland Yard detective inspector) she finds the company delightful until her friends ask if Alec might "break into" the home's cellar: the lady who owned the house didn't leave them a key and they believed there might be a wine cellar. Unfortunately, all Alec finds is a woman's dead body, and Daisy's friends are the prime suspects by the local copper, who seems lazy and unimaginative. Alec's determined not to be dragged into the case and he wants Daisy to recover, not sleuth.

But sleuth she does and dragged into it he is, enlisting the always invaluable Ernie Piper as well as the talents of the recently retired Tom Tring, not to mention his wife. The first task will be identifying the woman—could it be the owner of the house, Judith Gray? But she has reportedly gone to Europe and no one knows how to contact the friends she went to visit. And why didn't Daisy's friends notice the stench from the body, which had been there some time, if they were innocent?

I loved all the characters in this book (even the nasty ones who came to a quite satisfactory end) but the obvious suspect was so skipped over that it was aggravating. The problem could have been solved had this person been asked first. But, as the saying goes "Either that or the story ends here." Not the most satisfying Daisy mystery, but enjoyable characters, including something of a romantic sort starting up for a Daisy regular!

book icon  The Genius of Birds, Jennifer Ackerman
Sure birds are pretty (or most are), and flying is neat, and they eat insects which would otherwise overrun us. But they're not very smart, are they?

Well, really, yes they are. Not just the instinctive cleverness that takes them thousands of miles through migrations (and with all their studies scientists are still not certain how the birds do it!), but problem-solving skills that still amaze: crows that use tools to get treats and who can problem solve better than apes plus they can recognize people who have wronged them even in disguise, sparrows who have figured out how to skim the cream from milk bottles and bullfinches who have learned to steal sugar packets and extract the sweetness inside, birds who are given treats and return little thank-you gifts, Alex the gray parrot who know colors and shapes and who could pick them out when asked. In my own experience, we had a budgie named Merlin who realized "Hi!" was a greeting word. He would fly up to you and say "Hi!" and if you ignored him he said it louder and louder until he was acknowledged.

There are also fascinating chapters about how birds learn birdsong (and how some learn to imitate other things; some wild birds are now imitating cell phone ringtones) and about birds who create art, such as the bowerbird, to get a mate, and even one about the bird spreading around the world: the sparrow, who can now even be found in Africa.

One sour note: the chapters about bird migration do talk about experiments done on migrating birds. I know they do these things to learn but stories about cutting nerves made me a bit squeamish. Be advised.

book icon  Dark Detectives, edited by Stephen Jones
Since I love mystery and enjoy some fantasy, I thought this book looked like a perfect combination. However, a month later I find that I can't really remember most of the stories, except for the serial stories based on The Jewel of the Seven Stars, a book written originally by Bram Stoker of Dracula fame. Most of the stories are very pulpy, often violent, and veer more toward horror, so they were not really my "cup of tea."

However, I was appreciative of several things:
  • The introduction, "The Serial Sleuths," was very interesting and I enjoyed learning the background of the stories.
  • "The Jewel of Seven Stars" stories were one of the most interesting, especially as they spanned the years from the origin of the stone (it caused the plagues of Egypt) through Victorian times (involving the Diogenes Club and Mycroft Holmes) and up to modern times.
  • I had a chance to read another of Peter Tremayne's Sister Fidelma mysteries.
  • I've finally read a Solar Pons story! Interesting, and would like to try a few more.
book icon  Children of Time: The Companions of Doctor Who, edited by R. Alan Siler
Imagine standing in a line to get autographs from about thirty people involved with this book! Yep, I did so at WHOlanta with a long line of other people. I was barely home from the convention before I started to read it.

Children of Time is a tribute to all of the companions of the Doctor, from granddaughter Susan to the amazing Bill Potts, encompassing even companions from the audio adventures and the Virgin Publishing "lost adventures." So along with television standards like Ian and Barbara, Jo Grant, Sarah Jane Smith, Ace, Rose Tyler, Donna Noble and the rest, we also have a shape-shifting penguin named Frobisher, the immortal Bernice Summerfield who (having left the Seventh Doctor's company) went on to her own novels, eighth Doctor companions Charley Pollard and Lucie Miller who joined canon via "The Night of the Doctor," and more—down to the mysterious "grandchildren" of the Doctor, John and Gillian, in a 1960s newspaper comic. Various drawings and cartoons enliven the texts. Plus there's an interview with Katy Manning and one with Matthew Elliot and yet another with Daphne Ashbrook.

Just a few of my favorite essays: Barbara's love letter to Ian by Clay Dockery, the outlandish tales of an Indian orphanage run by Ben and Polly Jackson by Logan Fairchild, a paean to Jo Grant by James Callaghan, Leela's final diary entry by Alan Siler...no, I can't do this. I love them all. Fans of Doctor Who should, too!

book icon  The Secret Life of Cows, Rosamund Young
This is a slim, pleasant volume about Young's experience at her farm, Kite's Nest, in England, with her livestock, mostly cows that are pasture-raised and then slaughtered humanely. People tend to think that cows and other herd animals are stupid creatures that sit around eating all day, and, indeed, in man-made feedlots, that's really all they do. Left to graze naturally the animals' true personalities come to the fore, just as Margaret Marshall Saunders wrote about so lovingly in the farm chapters of her classic dog book, Beautiful Joe. Some cows are gregarious, some loners; some still remember their calves after years, others don't want the responsibility. They hold grudges, change their mind, have their favorite friends and grazing spots.

Young also tells tales about clever sheep and pigs, and even some stories about hens. It's very pleasant reading for any animal lover.

I think my only quibble about this book is that the publishing price is $23 for a bunch of sweet animal anecdotes you could probably find just by surfing the internet.

book icon  America's Forgotten History by the editors of "Readers Digest"
I love reading these compilation books by the "Readers Digest" company; they're the book equivalent of snack food, true, but I love the snacks. The newer ones aren't as dense as the older ones used to be. This one has the merit of being (a) about history and (b) of being in bite-sized pieces just long enough to get a little interesting reading in without feeling like you are being left behind. In sections about family, food and drink, pastimes and games, fads, intellectual pursuits, country and city life, moving west, business, transportation, and technology, these are short pieces about little known bits of American history.

Reading this book has made me wonder why we've abandoned history stories on American television in favor of endless police, fire, and doctor (but mostly law-enforcement) series, frankly stupid sitcoms for the most part, and tedious "reality shows" which are really overgrown game shows. I would love to see some television based on unusual historical figures, especially since many of them don't fit the old "square-jawed heroic white guy" mold. How about some Western series based on characters like Stagecoach Mary or Nat Love? Surely if the Brits can do neat series about their particular history (like Downton Abbey about the end of the country house era and The Tudors), certainly we could do that unique American art form, the Western, about little-known people who lived unique lives? Wouldn't a series about the Harvey Girls be cool? Or a woman tavern-keeper during the Revolutionary War?

Alas, no imagination in Hollywood any longer.

book icon  Dear America: My Heart Is on the Ground, Ann Rinaldi
I've tried to read all of these books because I love historical tales about girls, but I didn't want to buy this one full price because of what I had read about it. When it turned up at the book sale for fifty cents I thought that was low enough.

The purpose of the "Dear America" books is to show girls that their ancestors in the past had the same feelings and ambitions as they do today. Some of the books work pretty well, like my favorite Christmas After All, or are passable because the historical view is so good even if the girl character is too much a modern girl wrapped in a long skirt and a bonnet. (And then there are Barry Denenberg DA books, which are simply depressing.) Unfortunately, Rinaldi's story about a girl who wishes to excel—an overriding theme in all the DA books—not only runs counter to what a real Native American girl would have experienced, but attempts to turn the Federal-run Indian schools into a positive experience when virtually all real-life memoirs have stated it was not. In the story, Nannie Little Rose goes to live at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania to be tutored in the life and ways of white people, having everything she knows stripped from her, including her long braids and familiar clothing. She makes friends of girls from other tribes and enemies of others, and worries about her rebellious older brother, who longs to go back to the Dakotas. While Rinaldi tries very hard to show the progression of a young girl learning a strange language and customs, in writing a positive narrative for modern American girls, she has covered up the school abuses as well as misrepresenting Native life (apparently she also resurrects an old legend about the school that is not true). I had to see if the narrative was indeed as bad as was stated, and sadly, found it was true.

This is a thorough review of the book's problems.

(Canada also had "residential homes" for Natives well into the 1960s, and I understand their "Dear Canada" volume has been written by a First Nations woman who experienced one of these homes first hand and is therefore more accurate.)

book icon  Final Resting Place: A Lincoln and Speed Mystery, Jonathan F. Putnam
Politics rears its ugly head in this 1838-set installment of the Lincoln and Speed mysteries.

If you think politics is dirty now, it was all the more so in frontier America. Springfield is embroiled in a hot election race, the Whigs (they would not change their name to Republicans for some years yet) versus the Democrats, and there is more name-calling, dirty tricks, and prying into private lives than anyone could ever want, plus drunken men well lubricated by candidates. One of the Whig candidates is Abraham Lincoln, running for re-election to the state legislature, against a short, plump rising star named Stephen Douglas. But the most contested seat in Springfield that year is for county land agent, between the incumbent Early and his opponent Truett. Well, until, during a fireworks display at the home of a wealthy landowner, Early is shot and Truett is caught there with a weapon. Lincoln is asked to defend the latter, although they are from different political parties, but the "tall drink of water" is just about to leave on his assigned circuit court tour. So Joshua Speed and his determined sister Martha help investigate, but the more they find out, the more they are confused. What was the evidence of "irregularities" at the land office? And was it they that caused Early's death, and not his rivalry with Truett?

If there wasn't enough trouble for Lincoln, his rather indolent father and equally indolent stepbrother have arrived in Springfield, ostensibly looking for a business venture, but instead passing around childhood stories about "lazy Abe" and an inference that he has something to do with the death of the girl he was courting, Ann Rutledge. Lincoln is deathly afraid this will cause a break between himself and the young woman he is courting, Miss Margaret Owens, sister of the town pharmacist.

The mystery was reasonably convoluted, although one wonders how Speed runs his general store if he's busy questioning people, riding off into the countryside to investigate rumors, and squiring a pretty young lady around, when she's not hanging around the tent show of an itinerant preacher. The best part of the story is the vivid portrayal of frontier politicking and the capriciousness of practicing law (having to defend a man and fulfill his other legal demands and run for office, not to mention the varying qualities of the judge!) in the era. I was a little disappointed in that Putnam seems to have eased his efforts to make the characters speak as authentically as possible, as in the first novel in this series. Perhaps he had complaints. I was a bit taken aback when Lincoln talked about his "pants" when I believe the term "trousers" was the common usage of the time. I wish he would put some of the period language back in his future stories.

book icon  The World of All Souls, Deborah Harkness, Claire Baldwin, Lisa Halttunen, and Jill Hough, with illustrations by Colleen Madden
This is a gorgeous companion book to Deborah Harkness' "All Souls" trilogy, A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life. As such, it is tremendous. If you have no interest in the books, you probably won't be a fan of this volume either. For trilogy fans, you have a treat awaiting!

After an interview with the author and synopses of all three books, Harkness describes the different "creatures" of her universe (humans, witches, vampires, and daemons) and a listing of the characters follow. Then the real treat comes: we learn the history behind the organizations and locations of the story, an explanation of magic and witchcraft lore as portrayed in the book, a history of Matthew Clermont, and sections on alchemy, decorative arts, and lifestyles in the series. The book ends with a list of books important to the series and translations of foreign words used.

Some companion books for series are so much rehashing of plots and fluff like recipes (okay, there are recipes in this book, but only eight pages out of 483); this one is a real treat because of the research Harkness put into the books and which is passed on in this volume. All this and there are deleted chapters from the books that were cut in the interest of moving the plot along, and also beautiful pen-and-ink wash illustrations throughout the text of characters, places, and items, along with photographs and maps, plus some color inserts. Truly a must for All Souls fans, especially if you are a history or fantasy buff.

book icon  The Prisoner in the Castle: A Maggie Hope Mystery, Susan Elia MacNeal
Maggie Hope "meets" Agatha Christie in a reworking of Christie's classic And Then There Were None in this newest Hope mystery.

Because Margaret Hope, born in the United States but now working in Great Britain during World War II (first as secretary for Winston Churchill and later as a spy for Britain's SOE operations), refused to accept her next assignment, she has been transported to the Isle of Scarra on Scotland's wild northern coast, to a "training facility" for British agents who have been trained but who are too unstable—like the newest arrival on Scarra, a young woman who killed a team member on a training mission—to be released to the wild. Maggie knows the definitive plans for the invasion of Europe, and they are terrified if she goes on another mission she will talk, so she has been detained there with a motley group of other "problem children" including a promising spy who spoke English when he talked in his sleep, a gentle older man whose passion is fly fishing, a doctor of Indian descent, a mute shell-shocked operative, a seductive showgirl, and a gay man who's chosen to carry a stuffed fox with him. They are housed in a moldering old castle once belonging to a hunting-mad wealthy man with Scottish servants who seem to resent them, and no way of communicating with their families or friends. But once the newest arrival shows up, the captives suddenly start to be picked off, one by one, along with the captors who are keeping them on the island. Plus it's possible one of them is a German spy. All this is reported to their superiors, but the weather has turned brutal and no boats can make it to the island.

Complications have also arisen in that "the Blackout Beast," the murderer Maggie apprehended in the previous novel, has suddenly pled "not guilty" at his hearing. It means DCI James Durgin will need her to give evidence at a trial. Together, he and Maggie's closest friend David Greene follow a twisted path to track her whereabouts.

Maggie has a lot on her plate in this tense, claustrophobic narrative. The house itself is sinister and practically a character of its own, especially the cold game larder and rooms upon rooms lined with animal trophy heads and taxidermied bodies, and it turns out its walls are holding more secrets than those held in the restless bodies of SOE internees. The stormy, unsettled weather adds an additional fillip of gloom and menace. I found myself racing to read each chapter, and wondered if Maggie would truly make it out of this one.

book icon  The Magic Apple Tree: A Country Year, Susan Hill
Dani made me do it. "A Work in Progress" is one of my favorite blogs, but it always makes me hare off after new books. Well, it happened again: she was talking about wanting to read some nature books this summer, and three of them stood out; as quickly as you could say "points" and "Amazon Marketplace," I had used copies of them (and ordered the other two Small Country Living books as well).

I hate to garden, hate being out in the sun, and worms make me ill to look at. As I point out to people, "the Italian gene for gardening passed me right by." However, I love reading books (and magazines; half the fun of Country Living UK are the stories about people making a living on their smallholding) about people who live on small farms, especially when they speak eloquently of the beauty of the countryside, the nature of the beasts, and even the tough realities of rural living—apparently my early love for Gladys Taber buried itself into my brain. I chose to read this one first because of the intriguing title.

Hill lives in a small Oxfordshire community, in a house called "Moon Cottage"—just the name sounds appealing!—and tells the story of one year living in view of the titular apple tree, a gnarled veteran of years of growth. It's a simple memoir of village life, cottage life, the foods they eat grown from their own garden, the wildlife just outside their pastures, the animals in their life, raising food, enduring the weather—or enjoying it, the neighbors, the village events, cozy nights by the fire and hard work in the fields and kitchen. The text is sprinkled liberally with recipes, and each seasonal section and then each chapter is illustrated by wonderfully old-fashioned woodcuts by John Lawrence.

While Hill's book won't set me outside to recreate her happy pleasures (for one thing, she's in a much better climate!), I can imagine I'm there page by page. I look forward to reading the other books I ended up with: Wild Hares and Hummingbirds, The Morville Hours, The Wind in the Ash Tree, A Small Country Living Goes On, and Hill's Howard's End is On the Landing.

book icon  The Penderwicks at Last, Jeanne Birdsall
In this last [::sob::] of the Penderwicks books, the original four Penderwick sisters are all grown: Rosalind is preparing to marry her childhood sweetheart Tommy, Jane is waiting tables while she finishes her first novel, Skye is in California studying astrophysics, and Batty, now nineteen, is studying music in Boston. Lydia, the youngest, is eleven, loves to dance, and keeps getting killed off in her older brother Ben's amateur movies. Then Rosalind drops a bombshell: instead of getting married at home she wants to be married at Arundel, the estate they vacationed at fifteen years earlier, where they met their "honorary" Penderwick brother, Jeffrey Tifton. Jeffrey, in Germany studying music, now owns the house and thinks it would be a beautiful venue for the wedding. Luckily, his formidable and Penderwick-hating mother will be out of the way.

Except guess who shows up the first day Batty and Lydia arrive at Arundel to start cleaning the house before other members of the family arrive? Together with Alice, the daughter of Cagney Pelletier, who had been a caretaker at Arundel when the family originally visited and now lives on the grounds with his family, Lydia tries to run interference with Mrs. Tifton, help Alice one-upsman her older brother who got to visit cousins in Canada, avoid being in Ben's movie, and of course help her family prepare for the wedding. When Batty's ex-boyfriend shows up with his Great Dane, Hitch (someone Lydia loves more than his owner), the summer turns into a delightful adventure (or it would be if Mrs. Tifton would quit showing up).

This is a fast, funny romp with a lot happening. I thought the subplot with Lydia and Alice reading to the sheep was kind of dumb, but the rest was enjoyable, especially the storyline that began on page 159. Lydia is a great protagonist and I find myself so envious of her summer: countryside, fireflies, nature walks, animals! I read a couple of reviews that said Mrs. Tifton had lost "her teeth," but I think that is expected. In the first book she is a total villain from the POV of four children, the eldest only twelve. Now that the original girls are so much older (although Batty is still terrified of her from her four-year-old memories) and Lydia has been raised with stories of her and observes her from a different angle, she can be seen clearly for what she is: a discontented social-climber who actually lives a very unhappy life being unable to orchestrate everyone's lives and having been betrayed by the poor choices she made in male companions, ironically except for the one man she pushed away, Jeffrey's father. Her outlandish efforts to avoid him at the Penderwick wedding showed she never had "teeth," she was always pathetic; she just seemed like a monster to four little girls.

I know this is "the last of the Penderwicks," but maybe, just maybe in the future, Ms. Birdsall, we might hear more about that little subplot that began on page 159? Please?

book icon  Rudolph Day reading, May 2018: Christmas in Canada, A Pioneer Christmas, and Christmas With Anne and Other Stories

book icon  Re-read: Wyoming Summer, Mary O'Hara
This was one of my favorite books which I first read in my junior high school library. Several years later I found a book club copy on a charity sale table at a local shopping center. It remains one of my favorite reads.

O'Hara, most well known for her Ken McLaughlin trilogy of My Friend Flicka, Thunderhead, and Green Grass of Wyoming lived on her own Wyoming ranch with her second husband Helge Sturge-Vasa in the 1930s, where they first raised sheep and then raised horses for the Army Remount Service (since the Army still had cavalry horses then) and held a summer camp for boys. She was a copious diary-keeper and created this book from several summers worth of diary entries, condensing them into one long narrative about her and her husband's hope to also start a boys' school during the winter.

O'Hara talks about the Wyoming country with love: the harsh life among the beautiful mountain ranges, the horses and their varying personalities (including the several horses, one a lovely sorrel filly, who served as the inspiration for "Flicka"), the boys' camp, her siblings and nephew Jerome, her relationship with her husband (here called "Michael"), her "Mary Dairy" of cows, her musical studies, even thoughts about faith and family. Her beautiful language and narrative has always captured me from first word to last, things like this: When the moon rises, we see it first over the cliff there—just the thin gold edge. Then as you watch, it pushes up and in less than a minute it is sitting there, a big round golden Japanese lantern with the black branches of the jack pines laced across it. There is also the reality of ranch life in the 1930s: injured animals (some which won't survive before the advent of penicillin), unexpected deaths, freezing weather in a house lit only by fires, sudden hailstorms, essential equipment that won't work. The tale at once exhilarates and makes one thoughtful. Always a treat to re-read, forever a blessing that I found it.

book icon  The Art of Beatrix Potter, Emily Zach
If all you know about Beatrix Potter are Peter Rabbit and the other cute little books with animals in clothing that you might have read as a child, you don't know her at all.

Potter was born into a well-to-do family "in trade," something her mother tried to cover up all their lives. While she and her husband hoped son Bertram would go out into the world and make something of himself, Beatrix was considered by her mother to be the person who would take over the odious duties of running the household from her. Even when she was older and engaged to be married she was always running home to help her mother with one thing or the other.

However, she and her brother were both indulged with a childhood filled with nature. They were allowed to keep wild pets and both took art lessons. Beatrix became an accomplished natural artist of a level that she could have illustrated numerous botanical books—that is, if most people ignored the fact that she was a woman. (She did in fact illustrate a scientific book on mushrooms and other fungi.)

This is a beautiful big coffee table book of all aspects of Beatrix Potter's artistic career, from the preternaturally mature drawings of animals she did when only nine or ten years old to her concept sketches for "the little books" as her small children's books were know to her detailed botanical prints to lovely watercolors of the countryside and of country home interiors (there's a breathtaking print of a library that Potter did when she was only sixteen years old here that I would love to have as a painting on the wall). Fans of Beatrix Potter should love this gorgeous book.

book icon  Babylon 5 Season by Season: No Surrender, No Retreat, Jane Killick
Killick's "Season by Season" recaps of Babylon 5 were much appreciated when the series was first aired. While the web site "The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5" was the place to go for B5 stuff back then, it was wonderful to have seasonal recaps as well. We managed to collect the first three in their British editions at a convention, then found the season five volume in an American edition. But since their publication in 1998, we have been missing the fourth season recap, until I scanned the "media" table at the library book sale this spring—and there it was! (They had no other Babylon 5 books, not even the novels. Weird!)

Like the other volumes, this contains a synopsis of each episode and then a section telling how the episode was conceived (or in some cases, originally conceived and then changed), any filming notes, or notes about performers and characters, giving you insight about what the story was supposed to accomplish, how the actors saw their characters, etc. Eight pages of color stills are also included.

These are really a must for B5 fans! Now that the series is showing on Amazon Prime, people may be interested in what they have to say once again.

book icon  Murder on Location, Cathy Pegau
I haven't seen a new one of the Charlotte Brody books come out this year, so I'm not sure if Pegau is taking a break or if she has stopped writing this series. The story: a film crew has come to Cordova to make a movie set against the Alaskan wilderness. The film is already in trouble because a native rights group has seen the script and doesn't wish to be portrayed as the usual "ignorant savages." While the writer of the script would like to make the portrayals more authentic, the production company really doesn't care, and the director just wants to make an exciting movie. When they go on location, Charlotte and her ward Becca go with them, Charlotte to get a story for the town newspaper and Becca to be an extra, and do get a spectacular performance: but from the director, who dies from falling down a crevasse.

Look, I know there were people back then who spoke up for the Native Alaskans and tried to make things right for them, and certainly the author doesn't want to make any of her lead characters out to be racist. But even into the 1960s schoolbooks called Native Alaskan people "Eskimos," so it's really distracting and not correct historically to have everyone, even the ignorant Hollywood people, refer to the Native characters in this story by their tribal name. I think it trivializes the long struggle the individual tribes had to be called by their actual name and not a blanket term like "Eskimo," which was considered repugnant, but which was so common as to be standard. This could have been a habit Charlotte could have deplored in the book with much frustration at the strangers' inability to "get it."

Also, the crime is considered "more dangerous" because it happened a long distance train ride from Cordova and "the law," but they sure do seem to get information and personnel back and forth pretty quickly via that train!

I thought the murderer was kind of obvious, although there's another aspect to the death that doesn't come up till the end. Enjoyed Charlotte coping with both a new relationship plus care of a teen child. While the book talks a lot about stereotyping of natives in films of that era, Charlotte preaches a lot less, which is a definite plus.

book icon  The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia, Michael Booth
You know the stories: Danish people are the happiest people in the world even though they have the highest taxes, Scandinavian people have the best healthcare, etc. Indeed, all the countries have admirable qualities. But living in Scandinavia isn't the happy-go-lucky life the media paints it to be, either.

Michael Booth, an Englishman by birth, has lived in Denmark for years, and by his accounts, they don't seem to be all that joyful. And each Scandinavian country ceaselessly criticizes the other for the way they live or carry out business. There are areas of Denmark that have high unemployment, low wages, poor health care, and bad schools. Danes traditionally don't save money because they expect the government to support them if hard times come and individualism is not encouraged. Rural areas of Sweden and Finland are not supported by their more urban neighbors. Alcoholism is rising in Finland and Finns have a high rate of depression; according to other Scandinavians, Finns are downright surly. Norway's terrorist attack still haunts them, and a rising number of Norwegians are right-wing Islamophobes. Rape and other violent crime has risen in Sweden. Casual racism still exists in several Scandinavian countries that continue to portray Africans as primitive tribal peoples.

This book is meant to be one man's look at Scandinavia and what leads people to think life there is "perfect." Booth treats the subject with a light touch, but, again, this is only from his point of view. In the end, it seems Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland are just like most every other country: they have fine things—universal healthcare, appealing cultures, individual quirks that make them interesting—and not-so-fine things (rising unemployment, increasing mental illness, right wing twits, etc.)., belying the relentlessly sunny articles you see in magazines that do not mention the negative aspects. Like anywhere else, you can't have hygge without SAD.

book icon  Thrice Burned: A Portia Adams Adventure, Angela Misri
In this second installment of Misri's Portia Adams stories, Portia is still recovering from the surprising news about her heritage. In her initial adventure, she discovered she was the granddaughter of Dr. John Watson and his first wife, and then also is presented with more astonishing news: she is also the granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler (who has disguised herself as Portia's guardian, "Mrs. Jones"). As in the previous book, three cases are presented: in the first, Portia teams up with disgraced journalist Annie Coleman to find an arsonist; in the second a brazen thief threatens to steal a famous classical statue only loaned to the British Museum—or is that really his game?; and in the third Portia tries to find out what has happened to prostitutes who were "saved" by a hellfire preacher.

Portia is learning her craft, both in the law by studying at Somerville College and by continuing to solve crimes. She has also developed a bit of a crush on her downstairs neighbor, constable Brian Dawes, and is fighting both her attraction to him and the fact that she does not want to be involved with anyone while she studies and performs her work. But it's still a bit of a blow when the handsome policeman appears to have a new relationship. However, Portia's emotions don't get in the way of doing what she does best, solving crimes! While she occasionally follows the wrong clue, her strong skills turn her around again.

Portia continues to delight. The mysteries are fairly complicated, but you can follow the clues and work along with her. She's not superhero nor saint, just someone with keen observational skills.

At the end of the book an event occurs that will change her life still further. I am staying "tuned" to the next adventures!