31 December 2019

Favorite "Dozen" Books of 2019

Once again, there's the difficulty of having to narrow these down to a dozen; I usually end up with the traditional baker's dozen [thirteen] instead. If this was a "best books," maybe the Griffo wouldn't be on here, because there's a bit in the story that's on the edge of credulity. But, being a "favorite," it needs to stay, because I was just so delighted with the protagonist being a retirement-age Italian granny. So I guess my "dozen" will have to be fifteen entries and sixteen books this year.

book icon  The Bowery Boys Adventures in Old New York, Greg Young and Tom Meyers (taken from a podcast about historical areas of NYC, both still extant and now demolished)

book icon  Cool Hand Lou: My Fifty Years in Hollywood and on Broadway, Lou Antonio (an autobiography of the actor and director)

book icon  A Forgotten Place, Charles Todd (the latest Bess Crawford mystery, written in a Gothic style)

book icon  Dear Mrs. Bird, A.J. Pearce (a young British girl survives the Blitz while working on a stodgy women's magazine)

book icon  Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul, Barbara Reynolds (biography of the Lord Peter Wimsey author)

book icon  Underland, Robert MacFarlane (MacFarlane's tour-de-force about places underground from caves to crevasses to the catacombs of Paris)

book icon  Saving Jemima: Life and Love with a Hard-Luck Jay, Julie Zickefoose (Zickefoose's story of the rescue and raising of a blue jay)

book icon  The Rise of the Rocket Girls, Nathalia Holt (great story of the women who would work with the first rocket programs)

book icon  A Death of No Importance/Death of a New American, Mariah Fredericks (the first two books in Fredericks' new series taking place in the 1920s, with a heroine who is not a 21st century woman in 20th century clothes)

book icon  How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, Chris Taylor (the film series from George Lucas' original idea to hark back to the old movie serials to the present, with chapters on SW fandom)

book icon  Moonbound: Apollo 11 and the Dream of Spaceflight, Jonathan Fetter-Vorm (the American space program that put man on the moon, told in a graphic novel—perfect!)

book icon  Murder on Memory Lake, J.D. Griffo (starting new series with an unconventional heroine: a 60-ish Italian grandmother—when she exclaimed "Ah, Madon!" I knew I was home)

book icon  A Gentleman's Murder, Christopher Huang (British murder mystery with an unconventional narrator, a biracial man, post First World War)

book icon  The Body on the Train, Frances Brody (the latest in Brody's Kate Shackleton mystery series, and, if not the best, probably in the top three—great story!)

book icon  On the Map, Simon Garfield (another great book from Garfield, this time on the history of maps and mapmaking)

What's next? Oh, as Betty Roberts would say with delight, so many things! I have three ARCs to read first, one the latest Maggie Hope mystery story, and then I have Nathalia Holt's new book about the women at Walt Disney's animation department, The Secret Commonwealth as well as Philip Pullman's book about writing, and I still haven't gotten to Tony Horwitz's final book...

Books Completed Since December 1

book icon  Light of the World, Amy Jill Levine

book icon  Re-read: Santa Claus: Last of the Wild Men, Phyllis Siefker

book icon  A Lakes Christmas, compiled by Sheila Richardson

book icon  The Case of the Missing Auntie, Michael Hutchinson
I admit, I still watch cartoons if they're good cartoons. And earlier this year PBS debuted a dynamite new series, Molly of Denali, about a Native Alaskan girl and her family and friends. The series opened with a sobering story called "Grandpa's Drum," about Molly's Grandpa Nat, who hasn't sung with the tribe since his childhood, and what happens when Molly finds out why. This entry in "the Mighty Muskrats" series travels similar ground.

This, the second in a new series by Hutchinson, who is a member of the Cree community, revolves around four children, Samuel, Chickadee, Atin, and Otter, cousins who call themselves "the Mighty Muskrats," who live at the Windy Lake reservation. Chickadee's grandfather admits to her that his younger sister Charlotte was taken away from his family in the late 1950s in what they called "scoops"—native children who were adopted (mostly to act as servants) for white people. Now with the Muskrats heading into the big city to go to an exhibition fair, a disturbed Chickadee thinks their first mission should be to try to track down their missing aunt, but the boys are full of anticipation about visiting cousins, going to the fair, and Otter just wants to see his favorite Native band perform.

No sooner are the kids at the much vaunted mall in the crowded, confusing city that they run into Brett, a boy who used to live on the "rez" and who Chickadee secretly had a crush on., and things start to go a little haywire. But Chickadee is still determined, no matter what, to find missing Auntie Charlotte.

This reads like an old-fashioned kids' adventure—the covers even look like a Happy Hollisters book—with modern sensibilities (internet, cell phones, etc.), real-life problems (Native people still coping with terrible laws once enacted by white settlers), and the problems of a usually-overlooked culture. The kids meet good and bad people of all cultures, cope with bureaucracy, find out some hard truths about their past, but also that they can help overcome it.

Maybe because I didn't read the first book the kids don't seem to be as individually fleshed out as I'd like, except for Chickadee (I still don't think I know how old each of them are, except that Atin is the eldest). Otherwise I found this really enjoyable, and a great way to introduce non-Native children to one aspect of Native culture. (The story is set in Canada, but the "residential homes" mentioned were just like the "Indian schools" like that in Carlisle, PA, which ended up with such an evil reputation, and for good reason.)

book icon  A Christmas Party, Georgette Heyer

book icon  The Book of Christmas Folklore, Tristram P. Coffin

book icon  Bells, Spells, and Murder, Carol J. Perry

book icon  Re-read: Merry Midwinter, Gillian Monks

book icon  A Fenland Christmas, compiled by Chris Carling

book icon  Re-read: The Story of Holly and Ivy, Rumer Godden

book icon  Re-read: Sleigh Bells for Windy Foot, Frances Frost

book icon  Re-read: The Tuckers: The Cottage Holiday, Jo Mendel

book icon  Re-read: Dear America: Christmas After All, Kathryn Lasky

book icon  Carols From King's, Alexandra Coghlan

book icon  Ideals Christmas, from the Ideals Publication

book icon  Re-read: A Little House Christmas Treasury, Laura Ingalls Wilder with colorized illustrations by Garth Williams

book icon  Re-read: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson

book icon  Re-read: The House Without a Christmas Tree, Gail Rock