31 March 2019

Books Completed Since March 1

book icon  Look Both Ways, Carol J. Perry
Her aunt's house now intact after a terrible fire the previous autumn, Lee Barrett is slowly furnishing the upper story, which Aunt Ibby has made over as an apartment for her. She spots an antique bureau on a local Salem, MA, television shopping show, available at one of the town antique shops and identical to the one that used to be in her bedroom, complete with secret drawers. At the shop she buys the bureau, but spots a few more antiques she might like and returns, only to find the proprietor dead. Her new guyfriend Pete Mondello, a Salem police detective, heads the investigation team. But even as she gets involved with the town theater group for the summer, Lee wonders if she's also in danger—the bureau once belonged to a woman who died.

This is the third of the "Witch City" books and as equally enjoyable as the first two, even if Lee's preoccupation with furnishing her nest provides a lot of extraneous text. Lee and Pete make the usual handsome leading couple, but it's the supporting characters that give it a fillip: Aunt Ibby, her gentleman friend Rupert Pennington, practicing witch River North, and of course the former witch's familiar, Lee's orange tabby cat O'Ryan. And once again Lee starts seeing visions of the type she's had since she was a child, but these are of a woman and a little dog, with the woman appearing to beckon Lee to help her—the former owner of the bureau. An ex-con, a ditzy blonde, the nephew of the former owner, and the former partner of the shop owner also figure.

I quickly narrowed down the suspects after finally discarding two red-herrings, but there's some properly spooky goings on for Salem to coincide with Lee's visions in the final chapters. These books aren't great art, but they're fun to read.

book icon  The Roosevelts and the Royals, Will Swift
One of the supposed great faux pas of the day, 1939 America couldn't believe it when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain made a tour of the United States and stopped at President Roosevelt's home in Hyde Park, NY, and the President and his perambulating First Lady Eleanor fed them hot dogs! Surely this was a black eye in social hosting!

This is the story of the two "royal families" of the World War II era, the shy and stammering "Bertie," great-grandson of Queen Victoria, who became King of Great Britain when his older brother David, a.k.a. Edward VIII, abdicated the throne to marry divorcee American Wallis Warfield Simpson, and his supportive wife Elizabeth Bowes-Lytton, and the "squire of Hyde Park," Franklin D. Roosevelt, confined to a wheelchair due to polio suffered as an adult, and his determined wife Eleanor, who grew up considered an ugly duckling and who became famous for her social causes. Alternate chapters chronicle the history of both couples, the desperate event that made them friends (World War II), and finally their futures after the combined forces of the U.S. and Britain withstood Adolf Hitler's and Tojo's bloody war machines.

I'd wanted this book since I saw it on the stacks and was not disappointed. No, you won't get the complete saga of the U.S. and Britain in the war, nor complete biographies of the four particulars, but it's a fine summary of the two couples and their parallels (Bertie to Eleanor, and Franklin to Elizabeth). I found it a great read, and it's a good starting place if you are interested in either of the families.

book icon  Dear Mrs. Bird, A.J. Pearce
No sooner do I say in at least two reviews that chick-lit is not for me than this book shows up and I fall in love with it.

Emmy Lake and her best friend Marigold "Bunty" Tavistock, along with William, Bunty's fiance, have known each other since childhood. Now they are living in Blitz-battered London, where Bunty works for the War Office, William is part of the fire brigade, and Emmy is a secretary. Emmy's secret longing is to be a Lady War Correspondent, and when she sees a situations-wanted advert for a writing job with a publisher who runs a London newspaper, she thinks this is her Big Chance. Unfortunately it's only after she's quit her old job and taken the new that she realizes she will be working for the old fashioned "Women's Friend" magazine, screening the letters for famed "agony aunt" Henrietta Bird.

But as she reads the letters, Emmy realizes times are changing. So many women want to know what to do about their feelings of loneliness while their husbands serve, or about girls who are resisting the urge to send off their boyfriends to war in a special way, subjects Mrs. Bird deems Unpleasant and not fit for publication. Surely they need answers, too? And since Mrs. Bird mainly has her eye on her own war work and doesn't even look at the column after its published, why can't Emmy consult her own feelings and the work of other agony aunts to help the correspondents her superior ignores?

Emmy's upbeat, lively narrative in the face of appalling destruction and loss of life make this one a winner. Even though in her innocent youthfulness she makes simple gaffes and one terrible error in judgment, her big heart is in the right place. You want to cheer with her even as you realize she's headed for trouble. Plus I could hear her enthusiastic narration in the voice of Emer Kenny, who plays a character coincidentally named Bunty in the Father Brown television series.

It's also a great tale about how people Carried On during the Blitz. So very much recommended!

book icon  Why We Eat What We Eat, Raymond Sokolov
I picked this up because March was National Nutrition Month and the subject looked interesting. It was pretty interesting. I don't like cookbooks, but I do like books about the history of food. This one is about how the European arrival in the "New" World changed both the cuisine of the Americas and of other countries. For instance, what we think of as "French cooking" or "Italian cooking" only exists because of foodstuffs brought over to Europe from America after 1492—tomatoes, of course, form the base of classic "Italian cooking" and there were no tomatoes in the Old World until after the 1500s. (Heck, even into the late 1700s they were looked on with suspicion.) Also, now you find tortillas or variations thereof all over the world, but corn (maize) was solely a New World product at one time. A fairly absorbing chronicle of cross cultures, more interesting if you are a foodie.

book icon  Victoria's Daughters, Jerrold M. Packard
I found this book at the library book sale just as season three of Victoria was ending, a perfect antidote to the compelling but sometimes very sweetened (especially in Victoria's attitude to her eldest son) version of the queen as played by Jenna Coleman. The book follows the fortunes of Victoria's five daughters: Vicky, the bright eldest child whose fairy-tale love story with Frederick of Prussia would turn into horrible misery; Alice, the Prince of Wales' staunchest ally in his formative years, and who devoted her life to good works as she mourned having a husband who she felt no kinship with; plain Helena (Lenchen) who married for love of an eccentric husband who agreed to live with the Queen and Prince Albert; talented Louise, who restrained her artistic leanings in order to please her mother, but who still rebelled in marrying a lowly Scottish duke; and "Baby," little Beatrice who the Queen expected to stay by her side through her lifetime, and who did until she rebelled and found a husband to free her.

Much is written about "the playboy Prince" of Wales, but this is a nice glimpse into the distaff side of Victoria's household. I'd learnt a lot about Vicky (and her painful later life with her disparaging son who would become the villain Kaiser Wilhelm of the Great War) through the miniseries Edward the Seventh, and also a little about Alice, but the younger three girls rather disappeared into the woodwork. Louise now has a book devoted to her life, which I would like to read sometime.

book icon  Death at the Seaside, Frances Brody
Private inquiry agent Kate Shackleton has seen off her partner and her landlady on August holidays and arrives in the seaside town of Whitby (known for the famous Whitby jet, a gem used in mourning jewelry) for her own time off; this is with a great deal of nostalgia, as she and her late husband were in Whitby when Gerald bought her wedding and engagement rings. In fact, the same jeweler still has a shop there. So after arranging to see an old friend, Alma, who lives in Whitby, and checking into the Royal Hotel, Kate walks to the jewelry shop—only to find the jeweler dead. Worse yet, Kate discovers Alma appeared to be in love with the jeweler, Jack Phillips, and that Alma's missing daughter, Felicity, was one of the last to see him alive.

In alternating chapters, we follow the adventures of Felicity, who, along with the young man who's sweet on her, has gone out in an old boat to find her estranged father, whom she is certain is living nearby.

I didn't enjoy this entry in the series as well as some of the previous ones. I found Alma intensely irritating, with her "sight" and the descriptions of her little fortune-telling booth left me claustrophobic. I didn't like the way she used Kate, nor the way Kate seemed to daydream her way through the mystery, at least until Jim Sykes and Mrs. Sugden show  up to help her. My favorite part of this book was the recreation of the peaceful seaside life of a 1920s English resort, with the cool breezes, piers, rock candy, summery cottages, wooden fishing craft, laid-back summer attitude, and other relicts of a bygone age. You can almost hear the wind blowing and the ships creaking in harbor as they sway in the tide.

book icon  On Her Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service, Rhys Bowen
Now that her lover Darcy's father has been cleared of murder (see previous book), Georgiana Rannoch must clear one more hurdle to marry him: remove herself from the line of succession to the throne of England ("Georgie" is 35th in line and can't marry a Catholic if she remains there). So she approaches her distant cousin Queen Mary to help her, only to have the queen send her on a secret mission while Darcy is away: she's to attend a country house party where the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII) will be with his American lover, the odious Wallis Simpson, and make sure the two aren't planning to elope. Luckily this party is in the same Italian town where Georgie's best friend Belinda has gone to hide until she gives birth. Georgie also finds out that the hostess of the party is none other than an old schoolmate.

Georgie tires me out in this book: she's continuously sent to and fro until she can locate Belinda, arrive at the party in a ladylike manner, and then has to keep an eye on her Cousin David and the imperious Wallis. All is not well at the estate, either: Georgiana's often childlike and always demanding mother and her German husband are attending the same party, along with some prominent Nazis, who are meeting in an old outbuilding for what Georgie believes may be treasonous reasons.

Again, you may spot the culprit from the beginning: the fun is watching Georgie negotiate each new obstacle thrown in her path, if not with aplomb, at least with ingenuity. I especially enjoyed Georgie's growing friendship with Camilla, the old schoolmate she once regarded as kind of a drip, but who possesses strength and depths Georgie would not have dreamed of when they were at school. A series of somewhat improbably adventures occur (the sequence in the marble temple comes immediately to mind), but it's all in fun and sleuthing.

book icon  The Children's Hour: Favorite Mystery Stories (Volume 7), edited by Mathilda Schirmer
When I was "knee-high to a grasshopper," I used to play with a friend whose older brother owned a set of the Collier "Junior Classics," a set of books of short stories, each volume around a common theme. I confess to the many times I snuck out of playing some boring girlie game on the excuse of using the bathroom and instead crept upstairs to read a story out of "The Animal Book." This volume of The Children's Hour, a similar set of books that I didn't know of, consists of mysteries from "stories for younger readers" to "stories for older readers." Frankly I found the stories for the younger kids more entertaining; most of them were about a brother and sister falling upon some type of puzzle and solving it. One story takes place in Australia and includes a youthful aborigine hero, another is a chapter from Homer Price where Homer and his pet skunk Aroma capture bank robbers, and the prize here is an Augusta Heuill Seaman novella, The Strange Pettingill Puzzle. It's so cool watching free-range kids canoeing, horseback riding, studying birds, and generally relying on their own smarts instead of being in organized activities and fixated on electronics.

The stories for older children are a tad more conventional: two Sherlock Holmes adventures ("Blue Carbuncle" and "Red-Headed League"), Poe's interminable "The Gold Bug" (read by me for the first time and not understanding why everyone loves it), and a couple more. "Miss Hinch" is an interesting tale about the titular female criminal and her pursuit, including by a successful female detective. The other exciting tale is "The Adventure at the Toll Bridge," about a gang who try to escape but hadn't reckoned on the youthful custodian.

I quite enjoyed this, and discovered that all the books are available on Archive.org's Open Library: The Children's Hour library

book icon  The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo and Yuko Uramoto
Chiaki is a bright young woman almost "thirty-something" who works in an office and lives in a hopelessly untidy small apartment. She meets her handsome young neighbor only because she keeps forgetting to take out her garbage and the smell is wafting over to his apartment, so he comes over to complain. She thinks her untidiness is hopeless but she truly wants to change, so she calls in "KonMari."

If you've been curious about all the kerfluffle of the Marie Kondo/Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up conversation flitting about talk shows and social media, this is the most fun way to learn what Kondo's philosophy of paring down your possessions to only the ones which "spark joy" is all about. Illustrated are Kondo's signature clothing-folding tricks (although the fitted sheet trick isn't included; it's online, so check it out) and her method of sorting by category, not by room, and by leaving sentimental items until last, when you have learned how to sort and discard other items. The text and illos are light and often amusing, imparting a lesson while giving an enjoyable read.

I really enjoyed this, and there's even a psychological twist to Chiaki's story.

book icon  Marilla of Green Gables, Sarah McCoy
I've been wanting to lay my hot little hands on this since I heard of it and finally borrowed it from the library, not wanting to wait for the paperback. This is McCoy's version of the early life of Marilla (and also Matthew) Cuthbert, before Anne Shirley entered their lives, opening when thirteen-year-old Marilla, helping her mother Clara prepare for a new baby, meets her mother's twin sister Elizabeth "Izzy" Johnson, a dressmaker in St. Catherines, for the first time. Marilla already knows her own mind, but her entire world revolves around Green Gables, and Izzy helps to widen her experience, as does her growing friendship with a neighbor boy, John Blythe.

McCoy tells a good tale here, prompted by Marilla's revelation to Anne late in Anne of Green Gables that John Blythe was once called her beau. McCoy also paid attention to the books (unlike Budge Wilson, who admitted when she wrote Before Green Gables that she never actually read the book!), so the Avonlea folks are all as we expect them, and she gives a great portrait of young Rachel White, who will become Rachel Lynde. It's also possible that the political story that is woven into the last half of the book could have happened to Marilla and Matthew. However, it's revealed in Anne that Matthew said he'd never "gone courting" when in this book he does, and also Matthew says to Marilla at one point in Anne that there was no reason for them to raise her as austerely as they had. The little romance Matthew almost has is quite in character, but although Matthew and Marilla do have some bad things happen to them in the course of the novel, their childhood apparently was far from dark: even their stern Presbyterian father seems nice. So it is a bit of a diversion from the original background as presented by Montgomery. However it did not make me all that unhappy, and McCoy's writing was quite lovely. I was just sad about the fight that broke up John  and Marilla, too close to current events for my taste.

16 March 2019

Yet Another Book Sale--Coda

James went to his club meeting, so I went back to the book sale. (Yes, incorrigible is my middle name.) Ran into Clair and Daniel Kiernan there, in fact. Yes, I found more books.
  • The President and the Assassin, about McKinley's death
  • Curious New England, about odd things up in the northeast corner (and yes, Nibbles the Blue Bug on top of the New England Pest Control building in Providence is there)
  • Mary Russell's War, all Laurie King's Mary Russell short stories
  • Two, count 'em, two, books of commentary on James Thurber's work (Long and Mossberger)
  • 1939: the Last Season of Peace, about the (social) season in Great Britain before the war broke out
  • a book about Gus Grissom, ostensibly for James
and finally, Susan Allen Toth's My Love Affair With England—I thought I had this, but it was actually Toth's sequel, England as You Like It, which I got at a previous sale and which I almost read a week or two ago, but decided on another book. Now I'm glad I didn't start it, so I can start from the beginning. And, oh, heavens, there's a sequel to the second one...

15 March 2019

Yet Another Book Sale

Every year my mantra is "I'm only going to buy the books on my list," and every year I break the rules.

Well, granted, some of the books on my list are very recent and perhaps I shouldn't expect to find them at the book sale. They're about to come out in paperback, or they just have come out in paperback, so I have found books like that at the sale before. But, alas, not today. I found only Craig Johnson books I didn't need, no Victoria Thompson in the Gaslight series (although I did find the second book in her new series), alas no Gladys Taber, no Jodi Taylor books, nor The Silver Gun, etc. But I still managed to come home with A Stack fifteen inches high.
  • Jesus and His Times, a "Reader's Digest" book that seemed appropriate for Lent or the approaching Easter season
  • Firehorse, about a teen girl who moves to Boston right before the great fire
  • Hattie Ever After, the sequel to Hattie Big Sky
  • Anything for a Laugh, another Bennett Cerf collection
  • Here's England, a tour book of England from 1950 by a husband and wife team
  • My Sherlock Holmes: Untold Stories of the Great Detective, pastiches
  • City of Secrets, a sequel to Victoria Thompson's City of Lies
  • A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer, which will go into my Christmas reading pile
  • America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines, which seems perfect reading for March
  • Good-bye, Mr. Chips and Other Stories (I had no idea James Hilton had done other Chips stories! This collects all of them, and is illustrated to boot)
  • Victoria's Daughters, which I've wanted for ages
  • a hardback edition of The Wind in the Willows with no cover but Tasha Tudor illustrations
I'd taken time out to go to the rest room and then look at dismay out the open cargo doors of the civic center; it was pouring as if heaven were emptying out and a whole family, mom and three kids, including a very sopped baby, were drying off in the bathroom. So I went back and looked at the kids' books again—there were still lots of picture books and elementary grade reference books left, but the middle-grade books were practically stripped—and then the young adult and trade paper books, and there in the middle of the YA amongst the vampires and supernatural and steampunk were two books by Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. There are currently two biographies about Fermor in the travel section at Barnes & Noble; in 1933 he left home at eighteen and walked from Rotterdam to Istanbul. The books, which chronicle his journey, are supposed to be classics. Well, I'm game. If he can write like Laurie Lee, that will be a definite plus!

I also bought something for Alice and Ken, and a curiosity for Rodney.

I finally got done at the civic center at quarter to noon; it was still raining, but lightly, so I stacked the two bags of books one on top of the other and got them out to the car without getting them wet. It took me a while, but I got down to Tin Drum despite lunch-hour traffic, picked up lunch for both James and I, and got home without incident.