30 September 2018

Books Completed Since September 1

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

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

book icon  The Christmas Survival Book by Alice Slaikeu Lawhead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great stuff, especially for series' fans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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