31 July 2018

Books Completed Since July 1

book icon  The Wars of the Roosevelts, William J. Mann
You will come away from this book with one overwhelming thought: it was tough to be a Roosevelt. No one showed pity on Elliot Roosevelt when he developed a debilitating illness that drove him to drink; instead brother Theodore told him to buck up, and when he didn't, confined him to an asylum. Indefatigable "Teddy" fagged out his own children by taking them on cross-country hikes from an early age and reminding them that they had to "go through" and were not allowed to take an easier route. These outings terrified little Eleanor Roosevelt when she came to visit. In adulthood the children of T.R. never thought they were good enough; eldest son Ted spent years and health trying to live up to his father, and son Kermit never did. Daughter Alice did not know until when she was older how much her father had loved her mother, and grew up feeling unloved herself, which only hardened her resolve to be "on top." Nor could her belittled cousin Eleanor Roosevelt, with all her good works, ever live up to what her mother-in-law thought her son Franklin deserved.

The big reveal in this book is the story of Elliot Roosevelt Mann, Elliot's illegitimate son by Katie Mann, a housemaid; the case turned over to Theodore, Katie Mann was supposed to receive money, but the man he picked to do so was a thief and kept the money for himself. Despite never having received funds, the tough woman made sure her son had a good upbringing and as an adult he was a self-made man who lived a good life.

I'm a big admirer of Theodore Roosevelt, but this book reveals a lot of his failings; while he has my respect in his public life, some of his private life left much to be desired, as did his cousin Franklin. This book vividly portrays the rivalries of the two branches of the Roosevelt family and how spiteful they were to each other, and how difficult it was for Eleanor to forge a rewarding life for herself.

book icon  Re-read: A-Going to the Westward, Lois Lenski
Having once again watched the "Gone West" episode of Alistair Cooke's America, I felt the urge to re-read this historical by Lenski. She is most well-known for her regional novels like Strawberry Girl, Prairie School, Judy's Journey, etc. and the similar "Roundabout America" books for younger children, but she also did a half-dozen or so historical books, the best known which is Indian Captive.

Everyone seems to know the story of the pioneers who crossed the prairies to reach the Gold Rush, or to settle the "Great American Desert," and of the settlers vs. the cowboys, but there was an earlier westward movement, which Cooke mentions in "Gone West," the journeys of the new Americans who traveled to "the Ohio Country" or the Western Reserve. The Bartletts are just one of these new American families "a-going to the Westward" to join an uncle, and twelve-year-old Betsy must handle the grief of leaving her home and best friend. They are joined by one of their church deacons, cobbler Joel Blodgett, Reuben Bartlett's other brother Robert, and the redoubtable Matilda Stebbins, a spinster who is on her way to Ohio to be reunited with her niece, and,  unfortunately, by the rowdy Perkins family: coarse and often drunken Jed, ever-ill Parthenia, and their two children Ezekiel and Florilla. Jed is glad to be leaving Connecticut with its Blue Laws and strict Calvinist teachings, and he has a burning desire to best the Bartletts and their "annoying piety."

Today this would be considered a very strange children's book, but I've always loved it from my teens because Lenski tries hard to stick to the child-rearing and stoic customs of the times. The children do not expect to be hugged and coddled unless they are very ill, and the adults do not comfort or support them as they would today. No one is told it's okay to cry, or to shirk on chores in an emergency; Betsy is always knitting or sewing—no playing dolls for her. At one point Betsy is left behind and, while her parents do worry, they fully expect responsible Betsy will fall in with another family going west and will join them in Pittsburgh. Lenski is also unstinting about the hardships of the western trail: there are no merry days picking flowers and enjoying nature, but there are many days when the breakdown of their wagons, or a stopover at a dirty inn with drunken men, or long days of rain sorely test the resolution of the family. Conniving Jed Perkins is also determined to sabotage the Bartletts' progress and is a continual thorn in their sides.

Another aspect of the story is the Connecticut Yankee meeting strange and new cultures on their journey. As they travel through Pennsylvania they meet the Ermintritt family, a hard-working clan of "Pennsylvania Dutch" heading west as well, and while the adults initially distrust the German-speakers and think they are continually swearing at them, Betsy makes a new friend in twelve-year-old Lotte. Once arrived at their homestead, they must get used to the Kentucky-bred Scruggs family who distrust book-learning and think the Yankees are snooty. There is also as much story about the adults as there is about the four children; "Aunt" Matilda and merry Joel and bookish Uncle Rob and Reuben and Roxana Bartlett, plus characters like Herr Ermintritt, the German innkeepers, their flatboat pilot, and the elderly German man Betsy meets all have their stories and their experiences on swollen rivers, in crowded wayside inns, riding in wagons that overturn or jounce teeth against teeth as they bounce through the ruts. This book is worth reading even if just once to see how the first westward pioneers endured and prevailed on the trail.

book icon  Sire and Damn, Susan Conant
I'm guessing this is Conant's last Holly Winter mystery; this is one of the two I accidentally found last year while looking for another book. The cast of characters is kind of confusing, so here's the handy guide: Holly is married to Steve Delaney the vet, of course; her dad Buck and stepmother Gabrielle appear briefly at the end (Holly's cousin Leah and one of her malemutes, Kimi, are offstage). The majority of the plot concerns Holly's friend and former tenant Rita's upcoming wedding, marrying Quinn Youngman, who saved Kimi's life in the last book. Quinn's parents, MaryJo and Monty, are coming to the wedding, as are Rita's mother Erica and father Al (who arrive late in the book); staying with Holly is Rita's cousin Zara and her psychiatric service dog Izzy, also on hand is Zara's vituperous mother Vicky (Erica's sister, hence Rita's aunt) who is married to Dave (who isn't in on the action) and also Uncle Oscar (Vicky and Erica's uncle) is staying with Rita. Also there is Rita and Zara's cousin John. Got that all now?

Anyway, the first odd thing that happens is that someone tries to swipe Izzy while Zara is walking her. Then, while most of the family is at a nearby restaurant, someone breaks into Rita's house and takes her little Scottie Willie, but he's found the very next day. Unfortunately, a bloody fireplace poker is also lying in the room where Rita and Quinn were keeping their wedding gifts. The person who was hit with the poker is soon found in the Charles River, a smalltime crook named Frankie Sorenson.

And then someone does indeed steal Izzy. But what does it all mean? Why would someone steal a shelter dog? And who caught the burglar in the act and...acted? Sure, Uncle Oscar was home, but Monty took a long time in the men's room and both Vicky and Zara went back to Rita's house during dinner and John didn't come at all.

All I can say is that I know why Rita became a psychiatrist and Zara needs a psychiatric dog with this bunch of nutcase relatives. The family wangling is more convoluted than the mystery plot, and there are enough shenanigans to make Freud run away screaming. It's nice to have Holly and her wonderful dogs back for one more performance, but the mystery lacks in this one.

book icon  The Gilded Age: 1876-1912, Overture to the American Century, Alan Axelrod
This is a gorgeous coffee-table-type illustrated book about what Mark Twain first called "the Gilded Age," that era between the Centennial celebration and 1912, when the United States became a world power and the antics and the actions of the wealthy "one percent" of the era captured the fancy of the press—also a time of industrialization and great poverty especially in the cities, revealed by the photography of Jacob Riis and others.

The volume is divided into two sections, people and things, and form and reform. In the first you'll learn about the cast of characters of the era: the robber barons, the yellow journalists, the society people who built multiroomed "summer cottages" in Newport, Rhode Island, the scientists and the inventors, the department stores and the electrical dynamos, the Statue of Liberty and the dangerous factories.  In the second, the movement for black rights and women's rights, worker reforms, the rise of the Progressive party, the closing of the American Frontier, imperialism and the Spanish-American War.

Liberally illustrated with old photos, chromos, prints, advertisements, and artwork; a grand overview of this time of great change. In addition, Axelrod compares the Gilded Age with our own modern era of "the one percent."

book icon  Murder at Rough Point, Alyssa Maxwell
Having just finished a book about the Gilded Age, this was a natural follow-on. This is the fourth in Maxwell's "Gilded Newport" series starring Emma Cross, newspaper reporter and one of the Vanderbilt "poor relations." Emma has been asked to cover a house party of artists and writers at Rough Point, the estate owned by a distant Vanderbilt cousin. To her surprise and dismay, two of the guests are her footloose Bohemian parents, who, after leaving Emma and her brother for years, all of a sudden want to make up with her. And then one of the guests is found dead at the bottom of a cliff. Emma must watch her own back, worry about her parents, and wonder if her new friend, the novelist Edith Wharton, had any part in the death.

This is a very atmospheric entry in this series, which is set at the home that was later the estate of heiress Doris Duke. I have to hand it to Maxwell for describing the storm that traps the occupants of Rough Point so well. She made it sound very ominous and claustrophobic. However, as the story goes along it develops a little Agatha Christie overtone. Emma and Edith make a good sleuthing pair. In the meantime, Emma's relationship with Jesse takes another step forward. A solid entry in this series, with the modernisms at a minimum.

book icon  Edward & Alexandra, Richard Hough
I've been interested in Edward VII since I saw the British series Edward the Seventh. Certainly "Bertie" was not an ideal person, but he was handicapped from childhood by his mother Queen Victoria's insistence he be just like his father Prince Albert. He was not a scholar like his father or his sister Vicky; in fact, in his youth he was a lot like his mother, who loved to dance and socialize until her husband exerted his influence over her. His faults were many, but I always wonder what would have happened if he was trained to his strengths instead of his weaknesses and if Queen Victoria had allowed him to take responsibility for some court business, since he was a natural at socializing.

This is the story of his relationship with his wife Alexandra, who, despite her austere upbringing as the daughter of the impoverished King of Denmark, could also be spoiled and thoughtless as well as generous and patient. Hough vividly paints "Bertie's" sad childhood and dissolute adulthood as he longed to do something useful other than stand in for his mourning mother at ceremonial functions and was not permitted. He wasn't even allowed to be alone when he spent time in an army barracks and went to university. He could only choose his wife from a limited stable of suitable royals. If anyone praised him, Queen Victoria scoffed at the fact he could be bright at anything. Alexandra, for her part, was long-suffering with the matter of her husband's mistresses and the scandals he was mixed up in (most of them not being his fault). On his deathbed, she invited his current mistress to visit him.

I enjoyed reading this "dual biography" that gives more attention to Alexandra than most books that concentrate solely on Edward VII.

book icon  The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson
I don't usually buy "chick lit" but I found the cover and the summary of this book intriguing and decided to try it. It typifies mostly why I don't like "chick lit."

Beatrice Nash has been offered a job teaching Latin in the small English town of Rye, mainly on the recommendation of one of the town's female "movers and shakers," Agatha Kent, who has a rivalry with the mayor's wife. She also befriends stolid and dependable Hugh Grange, Agatha's nephew, and his cousin Daniel Bookham, a poet and dreamer. Until school begins she tutors three teenage boys, including "Snout," the grandson of a Gypsy family who tries not to let on he really likes Latin and schooling. But it is the summer of 1914, and in July comes the terrible news that war has begun in Europe.

There's a lot to like about this book: it shows small-town life and rivalries one hundred years ago, and how the small towns mobilized for the war by throwing patriotic parades and having women knit and taking in Belgian refugees who yet are still considered with distrust. It portrays the disparity between the treatment of men and of women and will infuriate you, and how the Roma people were marginalized and distrusted by the village population. It is especially heartbreaking what happens to one of the Gypsy population. There is also a subplot about a young woman and her professor father who have been rescued from Belgium, and a townsman who is pressing them and other refugees for propaganda stories. On the other hand, the plot is quite predictable. Beatrice is intelligent and independent, but trapped by male mores. Hugh is in love with the doctor's daughter, who ends up using her wiles, as did many young girls back then, to push men into going into the army by handing them a white feather for cowardice. David's friendship with another young man can be interpreted as something else. Even sweet-tempered Agatha has her social snobberies—and her secrets. And so on.

I did like the portrait of small-town England in the first few months of the first World War, but otherwise, except for a few final chapters which take place in the trenches and are horrifyingly real, the plot is rather mundane.

book icon  Fly Girls, Keith O'Brien
Once the Wright Brothers and their other American, French, and British compatriots proved that aviation was the new frontier, other men longed to fly—and so did women. As with other pursuits at the turn of the twentieth century, like driving an automobile or voting or doing anything else men thought was solely their purview, the women were told this was impossible: they weren't athletic enough to fly one of the unstable devices, or didn't have enough brain power to remember all the skills needed, and that flying a plane would make them less feminine. Still, a group of women persisted, including the most famous name in the panoply, Amelia Earhardt, and other female flyers with even more experience than Earhardt, includeding Florence Klingensmith, Ruth Elder, Ruth Nichols, and Louise Thaden, who worked for aircraft design pioneer Walter Beech. It's also the story of Cliff Henderson, the founder of the Reno Air Races, and his decision to allow woman to compete in air races.

Competitive flying in those days, for both men and women, was not for the faint-hearted. Along with the triumphs of the "aviatrixes" there were terrible crashes, aborted excursions, and always the damnation of the majority of men (not to mention other women) who said flying was too strenuous and simply too much for poor little women. Battling the same equipment failures, bad weather, poor maps and navigation aids, and money problems as the men, plus their prejudices, the women nevertheless set aviation records, participated in long-distance races, and even challenged the men in speed races. With hairsbreath escapes and stubborn courage, they won their place in aviation records, but nevertheless most of them, except for Earhardt due to her mysterious disappearance, have vanished from memory. This book brings them vibrantly to life, and chronicles their failures and triumphs in brisk, vivid prose. A perfect choice for aviation buffs and those interested in women's advances during the 20th century.

book icon  The Hammett Hex, Victoria Abbott
Jordan Bingham, bookfinder for Harrison Falls' most reclusive citizen, Vera Van Alst, has a chance to go to San Francisco with her policeman boyfriend, Tyler Dekker. To placate Vera, who doesn't want her to take a vacation, she promises that while she is in Dashiell Hammett's hometown she'll track down a signed first edition of his famed book Red Harvest. She has less success placating the uncles who raised her—while they've been sweet to her, they have had dealings on the wrong side of the law and don't really trust her new beau.

Then once they get to San Francisco, Tyler surprises her by asking if she would go with him to visit his grandmother. His parents were estranged from her and he just recently renewed her acquaintance. Jordan's afraid this is just a prelude to a proposal and she's not sure she wants to be tied down yet. But when on their first night there she's almost run down by a car, and then on the second day she's pushed off a cable car, both of them realize there's something else going on.

The change of venue from Harrison Falls to San Francisco gives this series a neat lift and Grandma Jean is positively one of the best characters ever, as is her slightly ominous companion Zoya. Add to that a threatening turn at the hotel, hidden bugging devices, and a ditzy Yuppie mother named Sierra, and this becomes a very entertaining mystery. Even Jordan's loose cannon Uncle Kevin is used to good effect rather than just offbeat as he's been presented in at least one of the other books.

Sadly, I haven't seen a newer book than this for two years, which makes me believe the series has ended. I'm sad, because I've quite enjoyed these stories.

book icon  Dark Tide Rising, Anne Perry
In this newest William Monk mystery, head of the river police Monk is asked by frantic land developer Harry Exeter to help him deliver a ransom for his kidnapped wife Kate. Exeter has managed to scrape together the money but is unfamiliar with the locale for the trade-off, a fetid neighborhood called Jacob's Island. Since Exeter is allowed to bring someone with him, Monk arranges for his most trusted colleagues to go with them, including his assistant Hooper, who he's come to like, but who is hiding a secret he fears will be revealed by Monk's investigation. But Kate is murdered savagely once the money is delivered and disappears, even after certain changes were made to the plan to deliver the ransom, and Monk realizes one of his men must have betrayed them. Who was it? And who was the person who murdered Kate? The lowlife who went around his neighborhood flashing money? The bank manager? The cousins who would have inherited the money used for the ransom?

This entry in the Monk series concentrates on Monk and his men; Hester appears merely as support and we have a brief scene with Will (formerly Scuff) and Crow. Hooper takes center stage as Monk agonizes not only over the crime—still smarting from Hester's own kidnapping (Corridors of the Night)—but over the perceived betrayal. When a young woman who's a bookkeeper at the bank finds irregularities in the money that Exeter used for the ransom (now missing), the plot thickens further.

This one has an interesting twist that Perry has not used previously. The plot was complex enough to keep the pages turning, but it is only an average Monk novel instead of one of the more compelling ones.

book icon  Marooned, Joseph Kelly
This is a new history of the Jamestown colony making the case that it was the early Jamestown settlers, especially those who went to live with or those who learned to get along with the native occupants of the region, who were the original independent Americans who would later set in motion a bid for freedom, not the Pilgrims, who are usually cited as our forefathers with the publication of the Mayflower Compact, and the later Puritans, who wished Boston to be that "city upon a hill."

Jamestown usually gets "short shrift" in American history class. You learn about John Smith, and you might find him cast as a bit of a rebel, or a bit of an authoritarian due to his proclamation "those who do not work will not eat," painting the other settlers as lazy. You will perhaps learn of Powhatan the Native chief (Powhatan was actually the name of the tribe; Wahunsonacock was the man's actual name) and the now-mythologized Pocahontas (if you've seen the Disney film, this book will tell you what a fairy tale they created of the real story, including portraying Smith as a virile and sexy hero when the real man had been close to being a pirate and was middle aged), and that how the colony was finally fortified and became successful. Then the action moves to Williamsburg. This book is an in-depth history of the Jamestown settlement and the actual events, which are complicated and often bloody. It takes a bit of a strong stomach to read about the privations and the tortures (both by the English and by the Natives) and the amazingly painful injuries some survived that were endured during this period. It also profiles the fate of the passengers of the "Sea Venture," one of the resupply ships for the colony, which ran aground in Bermuda after a storm. Interestingly, one of the passengers on this ship was a Stephen Hopkins who later went back to England, and then sailed on the "Mayflower" and was one of the founders of Plymouth, Massachusetts.

I hadn't read much beyond the Jamestown presented in school history classes and was quite absorbed by the narrative. Again, be warned: the grotesque punishments and tortures are pretty graphic.

book icon  Origins: Human Evolution Revealed, Douglas Palmer
This is a nice coffee-table book about the scientific origins of humankind, from the extinct "proconsul" to homo sapiens, with color reproductions of all stages of evolution, photographs of fossils and artifacts, and diagrams. There are also some great drawings of prehistoric animals. Anthropology was always one of my favorite sciences and there was never enough of it in school.

book icon  Death by Dumpling, Vivien Chien
I grabbed this when I saw it because I'm really tired of whitebread cozy books and had enjoyed Naomi Hirahara's Ellie Rush stories. After a bad romantic breakup and a nightmare job exit, Lana Lee is working at her family's noodle shop while she puts her life back together. Her Taiwanese mother is firmly of the opinion that this is where Lana should be working and that she also needs to get back into the dating game. As the story opens, Lana is asked by Ho-Lee's best cook Peter Huang to deliver lunch to Mr. Feng, who runs the plaza Asia Village where the restaurant is located. A short while later, Lana and her family are told Feng is dead after eating shrimp-filled dumplings from their restaurant; they are in shock because his allergies were well known and they always cooked his food using separate equipment. It looks like the police, including a rather attractive young detective named Adam Trudeau, want to blame the death on Peter. Lana's convinced Peter couldn't hurt a fly, and she and her roommate Megan (a bartender) decide to play Nancy Drew. But there are so many suspects: Feng's wife was heard fighting with him a few days before the death, Lana's friend Kimmy Tran was furious because she understood Feng was going to raise the rent on her parents' video store, Peter had indeed had an argument with Feng some time before, and several of the other occupants of Asia Village are acting out of character.

This wasn't a bad introduction to Lana and her world. She's a typical young American woman, fussing about her hair and her clothes, into pizza and doughnuts, but she also has a good heart and is dedicated to her family and her friends. She and Megan pretty much creep around playing Trixie Belden and Honey Wheeler in a good cause; some of it is slightly farfetched, though. Still, the cozy mystery cliches pop up: matchmaking mom, the obligatory cute pet (a pug) with a cute name related to the protagonist or setting ("Kikkoman"), the sleuth sneaking into places she doesn't belong, the overprotective police detective attracted to the sleuth, etc. I am hoping sequels will focus more on Lana's unique Taiwanese culture because I'm really tired of standard romances in mystery books.

book icon  The Brass Ring, Bill Mauldin
I picked this up especially from a book sale because for years I have found quips from this book appearing in Bennett Cerf humor compilations, and also because Mauldin was probably the most famous cartoonist from the World War II era, and my dad, a WWII veteran, spoke well of him. The enlisted men loved him and the officers hated him (he once got chewed out by Patton) because his soldiers looked like they really were: tired, unshaven, unkempt, slightly profane, and always cynical.

Bill Mauldin began life as a "mountain kid" in New Mexico with a Tom Sawyer-ish way of life and a thirst for art, chiefly cartooning; he wangled his way into art schools with money from parents who thought a boy should go to work and not draw for a living. By sheer persistence and budding talent he got his early work published. In the late 1930s he joined the National Guard, and when war broke out, astonished everyone by requesting to go into the infantry. He and his buddies dodged bombs and published company newsletters (with his accompanying cartoons) on transport ships, at the Battle of the Bulge, and in Sicily. His cartoons finally made "Stars and Stripes" and his fame was assured.

This is a great book. Mauldin has an easygoing, casual style, very blunt about his shortcomings and his experiences, yet at the same time expressive about the world around him, especially when the narrative switches to a war setting. If you are interested in reading an "I was there" memoir from a typical "grunt," you will probably enjoy this immensely. I know I did.

book icon  Hark the Herald Angels Slay, Vicki Delaney

book icon  The Twelve Slays of Christmas, Jacqueline Frost

book icon  'Twas the Knife Before Christmas, Jacqueline Frost

book icon  Death Comes to the Fair, Catherine Lloyd
Miss Lucy Harrington and Major Sir Robert Kurland can't wait for their wedding to take place, but first they must endure the meddling of Lucy's aunt, who wishes they be married in London. In the meantime, Lucy talks her intended into judging the produce contest at the local fair. Instead of being diplomatic and picking an assortment of winners from the farmers of the countryside, Robert takes Lucy's "judge the best vegetables" advice to heart, which means all the awards go to Ezekiel Thurrock, the church verger, and the farmers from around the area are muttering angrily about favoritism, especially as the Thurrocks are disliked by many in the neighborhood.

But was someone angry enough to kill him with a stone gargoyle?

Also dealing with Ezekiel's prying and pushy brother, who claims some Kurland land is his own, and the two Chingford sisters (one of whom is Robert's ex-fiancee), the major and the rector's daughter have their hands full solving this perplexing mystery, which ends up involving a charm found on the victim, the Romany, Cromwell vs. King Charles, two "wise women," a clumsy maid, the Witchfinder General of old, and a supposed treasure. What begins as a puzzle turns sinister.

I can't put my finger on it, but I didn't like this as well as the first three. Maybe it's because the relationship has been finalized and it was more fun when they were fighting with each other.

book icon  The Annotated Huckleberry Finn, Samuel Clemens, introduced and edited by Michael Hearn
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been one of my favorite books for years. Each time I read it I am astounded at Huck's transformation from village bad boy with the typical prejudices of his time to a staunch young man who will defy all the teaching from all the adults he has trusted, defy not only the laws of his own state, but laws he believes are set by God, to keep his companion Jim from being taken back into slavery. This despite not only the fear of being "lowered" by his friendship with Jim, his fear of being imprisoned, and his terror of burning in Hell. Finn has always been controversial from when it was published; even though it was published post Civil War, some libraries thought it taught "bad morals" to children and many of the population still did not believe in the freedoms it sought to champion.

If nothing else, this is an eye-opener of a novel about antebellum Missouri society, about the charlatans who wandered the countryside, about supposedly "good Christians" who are misguided and others who are plain evil, about country superstitions and everyday life. Sometimes it's sad, as when Jim talks about his little daughter, or when the end of Huck's stay with the Grangerfords is marked by tragedy. And sometimes it's just plain funny, like when Huck trolls for information by pretending to be a girl, or Tom Sawyer forms a "band of robbers." But the most emotional moments still follow Huck's growing friendship and dependence on a man who is "only a slave," and his realization that Jim, too, is a human being, just like him.

This annotated edition not only provides background for the language/slang, history, locations, backgrounds, and other unfamiliar references that may be in the text, but talks about the changes Clemens made in the manuscript, which, in the appendix, includes two larger portions that were excised from the novel, a shorter sequence when Jim talks about his past as slave for a young man who went to medical school, and a longer sequence where Huck sneaks aboard a flatboat and watches the crew at leisure, which includes a tall tale about a "haunted bar'l" (the latter is now chapter three of Life on the Mississippi). Liberally peppered with all the original illustrations by E.W. Kemble (including the "obscene" one that had to be pulled before the book was released) and other maps, and prefaced by a 150-page introduction to how the novel was conceived, abandoned, taken up once again, finally completed, printed, and became a subject of controversy, this is the best way to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

book icon  Mine For Keeps, Jean Little
This is another one of those children's classics that I missed because I was reading books with animal protagonists. Sarah Jane Copeland is finally coming home. She has cerebral palsy, and has been away at a special school for many years, only coming home on holidays. But now that her family has moved to a new city with a therapy center nearby, "Sally" is home for good, and is attending a standard elementary school. At first she is fearful of having new friends, then, having made a friend, is chagrined when she makes a terrible mistake first day of school and two potential new friends ignore her. To cheer her up, her brother suggests she get a dog. And with the help of a shy West Highland West terrier, Sally not only succeeds in gaining independence, but in helping another child in need of a good dose of hope.

For 1962 this is a remarkable book. Sally is given assistance (easy to wear clothes, a short haircut, rugs that won't slip under her crutches, etc.) to make things easier, but her parents and her siblings expect her to do for herself. Her teacher gives her extra time to complete tasks, but expects the best from her. And she's left on her own to make friends, with the teacher not making any speeches about accepting her.

The best part of this book is that Sally is a real kid; she's neither a saint nor a troubled soul, she has bad days and good, sometimes related to her CP and sometimes just because she's a kid and has kid problems. While CP is part of her life and causes her problems, it does not define her. She's allowed to make mistakes and to work out what to do to make up for them, sometimes with gentle guidance and sometimes on her own. Her parents are refreshingly supportive without being smothery, and the whole book is suffused with optimism without being a trite stereotype. Still very readable after 56 years!

book icon  How New England Happened: The Modern Traveler's Guide to New England's Historical Past, Christina Tree
I read about the author of this book and the book itself in a recent issue of "Yankee" and was lucky enough to find an inexpensive copy on E-Bay.

This is a different type of tour book. Most other travel books work by telling you about the attractions by region or by city. Lee tells the story of the New England region chronologically from the supposedly primitive setting of "Mystery Hill" in Salem, New Hampshire, to the Victorian hotels and mansions of the late Victorian era. Chapters cover pre-colonial, colonial, Revolutionary, early republic, Civil War era, and finally stopping at the late 1800s. Tree claims that this is when all the New England "tropes" were completed, but I would have liked to have seen them go into the 1920s and 1930s with the arrival of immigrants replacing the old Yankee types. These immigrants also changed the face of New England and made it what it is today. Otherwise the history portion was excellent even if the book (published in the 1970s) is no longer current on where to contact the various sites chronicled in the book. Great for U.S. history buff, especially those who love New England.