30 June 2018

Books Completed Since June 1

book icon  The Making of Home, Judith Flanders
I loved Flanders' The Victorian Home and The Victorian City, so it was a cinch I would pick up this volume. I was not disappointed.

In this volume, Flanders chronicles what changed to make the old-fashioned medieval hall, where everyone slept together (the king and the queen perhaps on a dias separated perhaps by a curtain) turn into the home with specialized rooms as we use it today, and a fallacy that we have about old homes which have been remodeled over the centuries, thinking that they looked the same 500 years in the past. (One example is that of the hallway with doors opening off onto rooms; this home feature really only goes back a couple of centuries. Previously rooms led one into the other, so that on your way to your bedroom you might walk through public living areas, your sister's bedroom, your parents' bedroom, etc. The "shotgun house" is an example of this.) One of the most fascinating parts of this book is how she talks about paintings by Dutch and English masters which portray "homes that never were," idealized portraits of well-to-do people showing them with furniture and furnishings that they actually did not have (not to mention views out the window that did not exist). There's also the concept of "invisible furniture"—for instance, in most cases in the past people spit all the time (a popular habit which was only quelled by posters everywhere when they figured out that tuberculosis was carried in spit), and most rooms had spittoons in them. But you do not see them in paintings because they were not considered something you'd want other people to see; you just wanted them to see the pretty windows or curtains you had. Curtains were another thing: they show up in paintings long before they were actually common on the windows of homes. Before that they had lattice screens to let in air and uncurtained windows to let in the light.

As reviews have pointed out; this is very Eurocentric but also includes the US and Canada. You would need to look elsewhere to find the history of Asian, African, or South American homes. Otherwise a fascinating survey of how we did live versus how we now live.

book icon  A Colonial Williamsburg Love Affair, Debra Bailey
This short but delightful book is Bailey's love letter to Colonial Williamsburg. A self-professed history geek and science fan, Bailey has been going to "CW," as she calls it throughout the book, since she was a small child, vividly recalling in the first chapter the day in 1965 she, aged ten, and her older sister were left alone to explore the colonial area while her parents were at the pottery shop. (Yes, back in the 60s it was perfectly safe to do this if your kids followed the rules and knew to run for help if accosted by strangers—do I envy her!)

In subsequent chapters she talks about different trips, some with her family (one year they stayed at one of the Williamsburg houses) and later with her husband. As she got older, she enjoyed doing things she would have eschewed as a child: going to the art galleries, or taking time out to relax at a spa. She takes us from the Governor's Palace to the House of Burgesses to the different restaurants and into the various homes and shops, and, in one chapter, talks about how the methods of restoring the buildings and cataloging the artifacts have changed from the 1930s to modern times (in the 1930s they were strictly interested in restoring the businesses and threw the artifacts away!).

I'm not sure if anyone else but those interested in historical recreations, colonial history, or specifically Colonial Williamsburg itself would really be a fan of this book, but if any one of these categories are intriguing to you, you will probably enjoy this memoir. Keep in mind it's not a guidebook, or a be-all end-all reference to Williamsburg, but one woman's personal affection for a magical place in her childhood that continued to provide her with special memories for the rest of her life.

At the end of the book Bailey provides suggested things to see in CW as well as a bibliography of books about the restored area. Williamsburg geeks like me will love!

book icon  The Corpse at the Crystal Palace, Carola Dunn
In this latest (or perhaps last, considering what happens at the end) in the Daisy Dalrymple Fletcher mysteries, Daisy has guests for a few weeks: her newly-found cousins are visiting. While half the family stays with her mother, she keeps the two boys, Ben and Charlie, and arranges for a visit to the Crystal Palace with them along with Alec's daughter Belinda, twins Oliver and Miranda, their nursemaid, and the redoubtable Nanny Gilpin, who Daisy is still crossing swords with about being allowed more time with the twins. When Nanny doesn't return from a visit to the ladies' room, Daisy goes to find her, and instead discovers a dead nanny inside one of the stalls. Meanwhile, Belinda, Ben and Charlie are following Nanny Gilpin; they lose her temporarily and then find her floating unconscious in a fountain. When Nanny Gilpin awakes, she has no memory of having taken out across the property.

This time Alec must accept a little help from Daisy as she is a witness and the children are involved. Everyone is afraid Nanny Gilpin knows something or has something to do with the murder, but she swears she can't remember. Then examination of the corpse turns up another big surprise.

By now I'd say this is standard Daisy fare. The kids comport themselves very well and are not annoying, and once again a retired Tom Tring offers assistance. My only quibble with this is historical: both Ben and Charlie are from Trinidad, and while people of color were not treated the same in England as they were in the United States, the British of that time still showed considerable prejudice toward anyone who wasn't light-skinned—all the mystery novels written in that era show that. It just seems unrealistic that everyone accepts Ben and Charlie and no one is ever rude to them.

book icon  The Librarians and the Lost Lamp, Greg Cox
This is the first of Cox's two books (not sure if there will be any more since TNT has cancelled the series) based on the fantasy series The Librarians. The Library is a wonderful place where magical artifacts are stored so that mere humans will not misuse them. Flynn Carsen, a nebbish perpetual student, was once the only chosen Librarian, but when he went missing three more potential Librarians were called: Jacob Stone, a working-class man who is also an art historian; Cassandra Killian, a woman who can see numbers and formulas due to a tumor in her brain; and Ezekiel Jones, a brash Australian thief. They are cared for by ex-military Eve Baird as their Guardian, and assisted by the patrician Jenkins, who hides a secret of his own.

Half the book is a flashback to one of Flynn's assignments: keep the Genie's Lamp from "the 40," the descendants of the gang of Forty Thieves in "Aladdin." Along with Dr. Masri, a modern scientist who is a descendant of Scherezade, Flynn must use clues in an original manuscript of the Thousand and One Nights, to find the Lamp, chased by the Forty. In modern-day Las Vegas, the three new Librarians and Eve keep their eye on a man with incredible luck at a hotel called Ali Baba's, not knowing that soon the two stories will collide.

As I said about the second book, Cox really has a talent for reproducing the tone of the series. All the characters sound like themselves, including Jenkins, who gets in some good lines. We also see the origins of the series from the three movies with Noah Wyle as Flynn Carsen; again, he has Flynn's unorthodox methods and his charming yet adversarial relationship with Library seniors Charlene and Judson spot on. It's a whirlwind adventure through the lands of the Arabian Nights and the glitter of Las Vegas that any Librarians fan will appreciate.

Oh, and I really appreciated The Night Stalker original film/novel reference, too!

book icon  Elementary: Blood and Ink, Adam Christopher
Sherlock Holmes is inclined to be dismissive when he and partner Joan Watson are called to consult about a CFO's murder—until Holmes finds out the man was stabbed in the eye with a very expensive pen, clearly sending a message. When they discover that a similar crime happened some years ago and that the man responsible for it is in New York City, it seems an open-and-shut, and very boring, case for Holmes...but there's something about it that's still not right.

Not quite as interesting as its predecessor, The Ghost Line, Christopher, like Greg Cox of The Librarians novels, has a great feel for the characters of the Elementary series. Sherlock sounds like Sherlock (insufferably so sometimes), Joan is consistent with television Joan, Gregson and Bell conform to their media counterparts. The story itself, about the murder of a financial officer and what it has to do with a motivational speaker and his assistants, is just a little more pedestrian than the previous story. The mystery is reasonably complex, but becomes easier to figure out as you get closer to the end of the story.

book icon  The Art of Tasha Tudor, Harry Davis
Like many people, I fell in love with Tasha Tudor's beautiful work via The Secret Garden. Her lovely sketches of birds, flowers, and the children even led me to trade my paperback version in for the hardcover, which contained color plates. Her exquisite work gave me joy. Then I discovered her Christmas art. Even better, I found out her Christmas art was based on her actual lifestyle: she dressed in old-fashioned clothes, lived in an old-fashioned house, and celebrated holiday feasts in the simple ways of earlier years.

This volume is a collection of her art (plus a few stunning pieces by her mother, who was also an artist), but also talks about her life, some of which was rather sad. She always thought she was unattractive, and ended up marrying the first man who asked her because she was afraid no one would ever want her. Her husband ended up living off her work and they eventually divorced. She also regularly destroyed artwork which she didn't like, even if others told her it was good! In fact, until an exhibition of her artwork was done in Williamsburg, Virginia, she didn't even consider herself a successful artist, although she had illustrated many books by then and was in demand!

The book contains 150 pieces of her artwork, both the watercolors she was known for and her lesser-known and exhibited oil paintings, plus sketch studies and partially finished works. It is a delight just to page through and look at the illustrations. A must for any Tasha Tudor fans!

book icon  The World of Louisa May Alcott, William Anderson with photos by David Wade
William Anderson is perhaps now best known for his books about Laura Ingalls Wilder, but this is an early 1990s volume of the same vein as The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder, presented mainly via illustration and photographs, starting with the meeting of Amos Bronson Alcott and Abigail "Abba" May.

This is a nice overview of Alcott's life if one is not interested in reading an in-depth biography, and the photos of the different places she lived (Fruitlands, Orchard House, Hillside, Beacon Hill in Boston, etc.) are the best part of it, since Orchard House, at least, does not allow visitors to take photographs, so it was a nice memory of the visit I took in 2005. Photos of the "real Marmee," "Mr. March," and "Meg" and "Amy" (sadly there were no photos of the real "Beth," who died at age twenty-three), and of course the "real Jo" bring the family to life. There are even photos of the two nephews for which Louisa wrote Little Men and an adult photograph of Lulu, May Alcott Nieriker's daughter who was brought up for ten years by Louisa. There are also profiles of the important people in the Alcotts' lives, such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne.

Readable by both child and adult fans of Louisa and her works!

book icon  The Edwardian Lady: The Story of Edith Holden, Ina Taylor
Who remembers Upstairs, Downstairs? It was the Downton Abbey of the 1970s, broadcast on Masterpiece Theatre, and suddenly everyone was following the adventures of the Bellamy family and their servants. Collaterally, people suddenly became interested in the Edwardian era, and books related to the era began to be written or rediscovered. In 1977, Edith Holden's 1906 hand-drawn hand-lettered nature diary was published. The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady became a cottage industry almost unto itself: there were Country Diary mugs, journals, writing tablets, painting sets, tea sets, coasters, tea towels, etc. A decade later, a lesser nature diary of Edith's, Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady, was discovered and published.

Edith Holden herself was not a famous person or internationally noted artist, simply a middle-class young woman of the late Victorian/Edwardian era who kept, as many young ladies did in those days (it was considered an accomplishment) a nature journal. Her father ran a successful business, the family supported the cause of the poor, and most of her sisters were artistic; she collaborated with one of her sisters on several projects. Although she had artwork exhibited in art shows and children's books published, they are now forgotten and she is only known for the Country Diary. This is a quiet, thoughtful book about Edith's life and Edwardian times which might be of interest to people who are interested in the Edwardian era, women in the arts, and/or nature-oriented art. Because all we know of Edith is from her two diaries and some letters, she doesn't really come alive in this book, but the illustrations are lovely and the life of a young woman in Edwardian times is well-shown.

book icon  Rivers of London: Cry Fox, Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel, Lee Sullivan, Luis Guerrero
The fifth in Aaronovitch's Peter Grant graphic novel series has Peter's magic-talented niece Abigail taking center stage. While Peter, Nightingale, and Varvara go to a pub frequented by the demimonde to threaten them, Abigail, who's awaiting her weekly lesson, is left cooling her heels. On the way home she encounters a fox who asks her to help a girl return to her mother. Unfortunately it's a trap by Reynard Fossman to get the money he thinks he's owed by the Russian couple arrested in the previous Night Witch. He's not only keeping the mate and kit of the fox in captivity, but is working with two thugs and a weird mother/son pair in order to get his satisfaction.

Let's say I'm really familiar with the short story referenced in this tale—it forms the basis of my favorite Get Smart episode—so I knew what Abigail was in for the minute she spoke with the squirrelly son. I was very happy to see some action for Sahra Guleed, one of my favorite supporting characters, but the end of this story was too abrupt! After all the buildup, the suspenseful part  wasn't long enough. I would have liked to have seen the electronic device not work and have a little more suspense building up to the denouement; it seemed like the exciting part of the story just got started and, whap, there's deus ex machina Nightingale there for a quick ending. Maybe a smaller subplot involved in the story that had to be solved before they could get to the main plot, the mother/son having a larger estate, etc. which would have called for another issue with a longer suspenseful ending.

Still—love the foxes, love Abigail and Guleed, love the use of that short story, and the inserts about fox lore were great as well. And as always, the short "Tales from the Folly."

book icon  Wind in the Ash Tree, Jeanine McMullen
I realized after reading McMullen's A Small Country Living last year and loving it that I just had to get the two sequels, so I made good use of some spare Amazon.com points to get used copies of them.

Wind takes up where Living left off, with native Australian McMullen struggling to make ends meet on the small Welsh farm she bought with her former boyfriend. "The Artist" is now out of her life, but her eccentric mother "Mrs. P" helps keep house and keeps up her spirit, until her beloved whippet Merlin dies. Then she finds herself struggling to keep up her homestead and not slip into a bereaved depression, all the while trying to assemble a radio show for the BBC about living in the country.

As always, McMullen's daffy animals have delightful cameos: Doli the draft horse who feigns lameness; the oversexed flock of goats headed by the wild Dolores who fall for a stinky billy named Ghandi; Absolute Bliss, the gorgeous rooster who knows it; a sheep called Hetty and her daughter Sadie, who feud and bond to feud again; a very angry pig named Blossom; and the "farm-bred" chihuahua named Winston that she buys for her mother, who ends up being the leader of the pack.

There's also a fairy named Bw Bach haunting the chimney, various adventures with her friends, and a visit by a septic tank lorry that goes disastrously wrong.

By turns sad, hilarious, and magnificently descriptive of the Welsh countryside, another winner from McMullen.

book icon  The Autobiography of James T. Kirk, edited by David A. Goodman
I read a review of this book that said it was about the reboot-Kirk and was inclined to pass it up until I found it at bargain prices.

No, not high art, but an interesting version about the formative years of Captain Kirk and how he came to be. We see his youth in Iowa, where his father runs a small farm and takes care of Kirk and his brother while his mother serves in Starfleet; his time on Tarsus IV and life under Kodos "the Executioner" ("Conscience of the King"), his time in Starfleet Academy where he meets Ben Finney ("Courtmartial"), Finnegan ("Shore Leave"), and John Gill ("Patterns of Force"), along with others named in the series, his affair with Carol Marcus that cumulates with the birth of their son David and Carol's realization that Kirk will not leave his career for a family. The second half of the book gives a Kirk's-eye view of his command of the Enterprise, but becomes somewhat choppy as the story skips some of the Trek episodes, although there is an amusing treatment of the substandard film The Final Frontier that aggravated some but made me laugh. We also learn little things like why Janice Rand left the Enterprise (which makes sense when you think about it) and see Kirk's periodic visits to Earth to visit his family and his internal struggles over decisions he made and also his decision to stay out of David's life.

In places kind of pedestrian, but I enjoyed the way the "editor" worked in the Trek glimpses of Kirk's past and gave them a little life. Most Star Trek fans should at least like.

book icon  A Scandal in Battersea, Mercedes Lackey
Lackey returns to the world of Elemental Masters with a second novel featuring both young telepath Nan Killian and young empath Sarah Lyon-White along with Dr. John Watson and his wife Mary, and of course Sherlock Holmes.

It's Christmastime with all the fun and food that involves, and Nan, Sarah, and their young ward Suki are looking forward to it. But Christmas Eve is also the time when the barrier between the seen and the unseen world is the thinnest, and this year it will also be in the dark of the moon. Nan has agreed to communicate with a young woman in an insane asylum who is seeing terrifying visions of a blasted, lifeless alternate London, and she is horrified when she realized it's a possible future. Is some rogue magician about to conjure up this frightening future?

Yes, he is; his plan is presented in alternate chapters where you want to grab this dude and bellow "What are you doing?"

The "monsters" Nan, Sarah, and their friends are fighting this time are quite creepy. I have heard this book described as "Sherlock Holmes meets Cthulu," and indeed the scenes in the alternate future will make you crawl. However, Sherlock is named more than present; he is there at the confrontation at the conclusion of the book. Don't read this if you're looking for Sherlock; instead read it if you are interested in an unsettling fantasy novel and two courageous young women battling a coming evil.

book icon  The Private World of Tasha Tudor, Tasha Tudor and Richard Brown
Richard Brown first met artist and illustrator Tasha Tudor when he was assigned to do a photographic feature about her garden. They got to be friends, and the result is this pretty book of photographs behind the scenes of Tudor's life. An individualist, Tudor lived in an old-fashioned home with little modern comforts, always dressing in long skirts and other fashions from out of the 1800s (she said she always felt she lived once before, in 1830), painting not in a studio but at one end of a farmhouse table in her kitchen. The house was hand built by her oldest son.

Dividing the book into four parts to correlate with the seasons, Brown films Tudor at work at her painting and in just taking care of her beautiful flower garden—her flowers were truly stunning, like a fairy-tale English garden come to life—and her animals, vintage clothing she owns, and going through household tasks with her pets, including an African Gray parrot. There are also several dozen pictures of Tasha's art, including preliminary sketches. The text is by Tudor herself, told in her blunt, forthright manner.

If you are a Tasha Tudor fan, you should love this look into her life and home.

book icon  The Strange Case of Dr. Doyle, Daniel Friedman, MD and Eugene Friedman, MD

I'm not much of a fan of the Jack the Ripper conundrum, although I have attended panels at conventions where the subject was discussed because both the panelists had some knowledge of the investigations. I'm wondering now if either of those panelists had read this book.

The authors, both medical doctors, present the volume as fictional chapters of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle escorting a group of people (including two women) on a tour of the five verified Jack the Ripper sites and soliciting their opinions of the evidence and the clues to see if they can come up with an analysis of the character of the killer (apparently Conan Doyle took a tour like this in 1905, five years before this story takes place). Alternating are biographical chapters about Conan Doyle from his miserable childhood to his marriage and the publication of A Study in Scarlet that emphasize his physical strength, his bizarre sense of humor and penchant for practical jokes, his ambivalence about his profession, his homesickness for a home life that was decidedly abnormal, and how ashamed he was of his father, who was an alcoholic and possibly mentally ill as well. About halfway through the book I realized what the authors were getting at.


This is definitely a Jack the Ripper analysis that reaches a novel conclusion. The authors did a lot of research, and their conclusion is definitely not proven, but if you've ever been curious about the identity of the Ripper, this one presents a definitely different view of the murders!

book icon  The Legend of Holly Claus, Brittney Ryan

book icon  Christine Kringle, Lynn Brittney

book icon  On Trails. Robert Moor
On the surface this is Moor's story of his love of hiking, and it opens with his experience hiking the length of the Appalachian Trail. But as he hiked, Moor became curious: how do trails develop? Is there a logic to how they are placed (actually, there is)? Why do people use trails? Are human trails and animal trails formed for the same reason? And what about animal trails—how do animals mark trails? Is there a difference in a trail formed by an ant and one formed by an elephant? Following Moor's opening hiking memoir, he takes us on a search for trails: ones formed by extinct animals, barely traceable in the landscape, ones made by insects, African trails formed by elephants and migrating zebra, the earliest trails formed by the Native Americans—Moor visits with both Cherokee and Navajo to see how their trails were used, hikers who migrate from trail to trail for the different experiences they get out of the walk, and even a chapter about extending the Appalachian Trail through Europe and down through Morocco under the tutelage of a unique female guide, among people who thought hiking was a waste of time.

I was frankly glued to this book during the entire narrative, whether it was talking about Moor's different hikes or about the scientific research into why insects, animals, and man creates trails. Moor even likens the Internet to the newest effort of humans to establish a trail, this time not a physical path but a connection through technology. I especially enjoyed his fossil-hunting tale, as I enjoy learning about Earth's physical past, and his stories about herding sheep for the Navajo and hiking with walkers of Cherokee extraction, so that I could learn more about different Native American cultures. The "Tuckamore" landscape of Newfoundland sounded fascinating; I would love to see it someday.

An engaging read mixing nature, history, and prehistory.

book icon  Rocket Men, Robert Kurson
This is reviewed in the May 2018 entry. I wanted a hard copy and of course could not resist reading it again.

book icon  London Rain, Nicola Upson
I loved the first "Josephine Tey" mystery by Upson because she had the vocabulary of 1930s crime fiction down pat; while I had a problem with the second one I have mostly enjoyed this series featuring a fictionalized Tey (real name Elizabeth MacIntosh), her Scotland Yard inspector best friend Archie Penrose, and a romantic triangle she has inadvertantly fallen into. In this entry, Tey is visiting BBC Broadcasting House to oversee a radio performance of one of her historical stories and meets Vivienne Beresford, married to one of the BBC's most well-known announcers. When Arthur Beresford is murdered after his segment on the Coronation of King George VI, Tey is drawn into the twisted tale of the death and the reasons for it, especially when she discovers Vivienne killed her husband.

I was happy that for once Josephine's love affair fit into the story seamlessly; in some of the books it seemed tacked on. Archie's long-lost love Bridget also appears as it seems everyone in the story has secrets of his/her own.

The real stars of this story for me were Upson's fabulous descriptions of the BBC's famed Broadcasting House and the atmosphere around London and the pageantry of the celebration surrounding the Coronation. She perfectly describes the up-to-date recording facility and the difference in the building of spaces for the executives and for the workers, and the excitement of the people on the street as they prepare for the Coronation after the bombshell abdication of King Edward VIII. You can practically see the homemade decorations and the banners and the flags flying, smell the rain that spoils part of the procession, sense the excitement of the crowds, Upson brings it so vividly to life. I was absorbed in the mystery, but the atmosphere was the best part of this sixth book in the series.

book icon  The Hills Have Spies, Mercedes Lackey
In this first book of the "Family Spies" series, we join former mine slave Mags and his wife Amily fifteen years after the end of Closer to the Chest. They now have three children, Peregrine (known as Perry), Abi, and Tory. Because of Mags' employment as a royal spy and Amily's rank as King's Own, the children have all been taught self-defense, and thirteen-year-old Perry is particularly talented at learning spycraft. When Mags is asked to check on Herald Arville's reports of odd occurrences in a village near the Pelagir Hills (people have disappeared and when Arville asks after them they have been forgotten), he takes Perry with him. They find out that something truly sinister is going on a day's journey from the village, but when Mags demurs to do anything about it before he checks with instructions from Haven, Perry and his new friend, the kyree [feline-like wolf] Larral, take it into their heads to infiltrate the sinister place.

Yes, that is indeed "Herald Arville" who first appeared in Lackey's Valdemar short story about four Heralds that closely resemble the gang from Scooby-Doo. Now elderly, he is used to good effect here. Of course headstrong Perry gets in over his head, but his training serves him well in the frightening situation he's tossed into. He comports himself quite well, but knowing his son is now the captive of a madman causes tension and heartache for Mags. With the help of a King-Stag dyheli [intelligent deer-like creature] whose herd-member Perry saved (his Gift is Animal Mindspeech), it will take all of Mags and his Companion Dallen's cleverness to rescue him.

I did like this. No one got kidnapped, Mags no longer sports his country-boy dialect speech, Perry is a particularly level-headed kid despite going dashing off without his father's permission, and the villain makes your skin crawl. There are some neat scenes with Perry communicating with birds and other animals, as well as some dogs he trains. (I wish he'd come train Tucker!) They receive help from an unusual source which is not so unusual coming from the spell-ridden Pelagirs.

The biggest puzzle about this book is why the description on the dust jacket (and, apparently, the description on the back of the paperback) doesn't match the plot of the book. Perry is called "Justyn" and the plot elements described don't jibe with what happens, except that he meets the kyree. It's almost like the publisher used an early synopsis of the book. Perhaps the plot described happens in the next book?