Remember the rule: all books read during the Christmas season are Christmas books, and all the reviews are in Holiday Harbour. Just click on the links!
A Berkshire Christmas, compiled by David Green
Season's Greetings from the White House, Mary Evans Seeley
A Cheshire Christmas, compiled by Alan Brack
Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings, Liz Ireland
Rivers of London: Monday, Monday, Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel, illustrated by Jose Maria Beroy and Jordi Escuin Llorach
Yes, every once in a while I break my "only Christmas books during the holidays" rule—anything "Rivers of London" will make me do it.
"Monday, Monday" is the sweet, sometimes silly, and adventurous story of a robbery taskforce operation, headed by hardass Miriam Stephanopolous, that has one weird quirk: an operative who caught a teen boy who snatches purses suddenly can't remember anything, but mumbles something about a werewolf. Of course "Falcon" (the Met code for Peter Grant, Thomas Nightingale, and the rest of the "weird lot") is called in, something Stephanopolous hates. Each part has an individual thread (part 1 shows Stephanopolous' world, including her home life, part 2 has flashbacks about Nightingale's "Hogwarts" training and later WWII experiences, part 3 shows Peter as an adjusting dad—and a concerned son, and part 4 has a "caper" story with Abigail and Foxglove), but all four parts intertwine in a cleverly told story with a rather joyful ending. All the individual stories, even Stephanopolous's, give you more insight into the characters; Abigail's fox friends reappear, as does Foxglove, and also Peter's parents; and we also get a look at Peter and Beverley's new twin daughters. A fun romp with food for thought.
Seriously, if you are not a person who reads "comic books," you need to read these. They fill in lots of characterization gaps and are great fun and sometimes touching.
A Lancashire Christmas, compiled by John Hudson
Here Comes Santa Paws, Laurien Berenson
Christmas Crackers: Tom Smith's Magical Invention, Peter Kimpton
Ideals Christmas 2021, from the editors of "Ideals"
A Derbyshire Christmas, compiled by Robert Innes-Smith
The Blessings of Christmas, Amy Newmark
31 December 2021
Remember the rule: all books read during the Christmas season are Christmas books, and all the reviews are in Holiday Harbour. Just click on the links!
The Sound of the Sea, Cynthia Barnett (the story of seashells, their use in commerce and in adornment, their place in the ecosystem, and their future with global warming)
The Seine, Elaine Scioline (it's not just the river that runs through Paris; the Seine in social, geological, and historical perspective)
Beyond (The Founding of Valdemar, Book 1), Mercedes Lackey (Lackey's finally back on track with this story of how Baron Valdemar escapes a ruthless regime with his people)
The Enigma Game, Elizabeth Wein (a biracial girl in World War II Britain looks for a place to serve; features a wonderful lead in Louisa and also Jamie Beaufort-Stuart from Code Name Verity)
Northland, Porter Fox (Fox canoes, rides aboard ship, and travels along the US/Canadian border)
The Secret History of Home Economics, Danielle Drellinger (not just for girls, but a fascinating book about how home economics studies led to women's freedom)
A Valiant Deceit, Stephanie Graves (book two in the Olive Bright, Pigeoneer, series, and even better than the first)
Uncle Tungsten, Oliver Sacks (Sacks' "chemical upbringing" in a decidedly non-stereotypical British family)
The Vanished Bride, Bella Ellis (the first of Ellis' Brontё sisters mysteries, where Charlotte, Emily, and Anne manage to keep their characters and virtues while playing detective)
Birder on Berry Lane, Robert Tougias (a year in the life of birder Tougias in just exploring the countryside around his home)
This Hill, This Valley, Hal Borland (excerpts from Borland's long-running nature column in the "New York Times"; Gladys Taber suggested that everyone should have this book at their bedside)
Bryant & May: Oranges and Lemons, Christopher Fowler (the penultimate in Fowler's delightful mystery series, with the elderly pair and their gang of misfits investigating a mystery that involves a nursery rhyme)
Honorable mentions to:
The Consequences of Fear, Jacqueline Winspear (next in the Maisie Dobbs series, so always good)
The Mitford Murders, Jessica Fellows (governess to the famous Mitford sisters helps solve a murder)
The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places, Neil Oliver (British place hopping always good!)
Once Upon a Wardrobe, Patti Callihan (a little boy with a heart condition and his older, maths-obsessed sister seek to find out "where Narnia came from")
30 November 2021
This Land is Their Land, David J. Silverman
For hundreds of years, different Algonquin tribes lived in the area we now call "New England": the Narragansett, the Wampanoag, the Massachusett, the Abenaki, the Mohegan, and the Pequot among others hunted, farmed, and fished, traveling to water areas in the summer and winter quarters as the weather grew colder. They had no great cities or even towns, but were self-governing (with not just male but female leaders) with lawful inhabitants. In the 16th century they began being visited by ships from across the ocean inhabited by men who wanted to trade but who also wanted to steal or capture Natives for slaves. In the early 17th century, these interlopers decided to settle on land that was part of these Native tribes' fishing or hunting grounds. Early dealings were mainly peaceful, and the Natives helped these new settlers, but as they began overrunning the land and taking it by trickery, relationships soured, leading to "King Philip's War" (Philip being the name for the Wampanoag sachem Metacom) and the eventual subjugation of the New England tribes.
It's not a pretty story, but it's pretty much the history of the world, with one civilization overrunning another without regard to feelings or mercy. The Wampanoag took the English at their word, as did the Narragansett and the Mohegans, and allied themselves with the English to defeat their traditional enemies, not knowing the people they were trusting would eventually take their land by trickery or by their new laws, and having no way to fight off a burgeoning English population.
The book corrects many misconceptions, such as the Indians having had little contact with the English before the landing at Plymouth except for a couple of trade ships (they had much more contact and were therefore wary of the new settlers), and that Indians "vanished" from New England after King Philip's War (in fact they did not and were further badly treated when they began to intermarry with former slaves and thus considered no longer "Indians" but "Negroes" with even less status).
The subtitle of this is "The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving," but it does acknowledge that the traditional "Thanksgiving story" several generations of children learned in school was invented by Victorian-era Americans endeavoring to teach American history to the new flood of immigrants coming into the country in the late 19th and early 20th century. An unflinching look at a Victorian-made myth that has stained the history of Thanksgiving with blood.
Weetamoo: Heart of the Pocassets, Patricia Clark Smith
This is part of Scholastic's "Royal Diaries" series, which like the "Dear America" books, involve a 10- to 14-year-old girl in historic settings. (The Royal Diaries are not, however, reserved to the United States: there is a book about Queen Victoria, another about Marie Antoinette, etc.) However, this book features a rare American character, Weetamoo, daughter of the sachem of the Wamponaug people who lived on the land that is now part of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Smith, a descendant of the Micmac people of New England, has used her own heritage as a basis for this story of the Native American people and how they lived just as the "Coat-men" (English) are arriving on American shores. As with all these stories, Weetamoo faces the usual growing pains while learning her responsibilities as a member of the tribe.
This is a sobering book to read after the Silverman volume, since one of the men Weetamoo married was the ill-fated Wamsutta, brother of Metacom, who was later known as "King Philip" and savagely defeated in the English/Native conflict known as "King Philip's War." She met a sad end by drowning fleeing her now English enemy, but was spared the fate of her sister, who married Metacom and was sold into slavery at a sugar plantation along with her son.
The fact that Smith has done her homework as well as incorporating her own heritage makes this a better than usual entry in the series.
Doctor Who's Greatest Hits (Remastered), R. Alan Siler
Here's my original review:
Okay, I admit I'm a little prejudiced about this book since I know the author. On the other hand, I love books of lists, and since this is a book of lists about Doctor Who episodes, it's now a triple threat of goodness.
The one novelty about this book is that the author includes episodes of the series that aren't usually included in lists of this kind; "The Gunfighters," for instance, never makes a list of 10 (or 25, or whatever) "best episodes." But then these aren't always the "best," but episodes Alan finds notable for reasons he explains ("The Gunfighters" for its setting and for William Hartnell's delight in his role and also because it's one of the historical episodes that were later dropped from the show).
My favorite part of this book is that I can hear Alan's voice in it; it's a nice informal countdown of his favorite bits, characters, etc. and he doesn't mind telling you straight out about things that bother him as well. Doctor Who fans should certainly enjoy.
And now for the reboot:
Can I squee? Thirty brand-new chapters, including a new chapter on the show's origin. New Illustrations! Each story "placed in its Cultural Context"! Recommended viewing of other episodes similar to or related to the one reviewed! Up to date through the 2019 episode "Resolution"! Best of all, lots more of Alan, and it's been edited so well you can't tell which is the old and which is the new. Doctor Who fans will still enjoy!
Murder at St. Winifred's Academy, J.D. Griffo
The title makes this sound as if it's about a death at a school, but actually takes place at the theater at St. Winifred's, where the local repertory company is about to do a production of Arsenic and Old Lace. The theater company director, Nola Kirkpatrick, who the "Ferrara women" (65-year-old Alberta Scaglione, our protagonist; her sister the ex-nun Helen; her former sister-in-law Joyce; and her granddaughter Gina, known as "Jinx") cleared of murder recently, has scored a coup: former child actress Missy Michaels will play one of the leads in the play. The Ferrara gang, Alberta's boyfriend Sloan, and Helen's nemesis Father Sal were all big Missy Michaels fans, so they wait to welcome her with open arms, only to find her dead in her dressing room, presumably of suicide—until Alberta takes a close look at the corpse and knows it's murder!
These cozies with the Ferrara ladies are written as serio-comic, but this one seems more madcap than usual, with Father Sal turning out to be a complete fanboy, Helen jockeying for the lead opposite Missy, and even dependable Vinny D'Angelo, the local sheriff (and the kid Alberta used to babysit), involved in some secret project of his own. The Missy Michaels movies cited seem to be based on Shirley Temple, but read as really out of place for a series of films that began in 1957. The titles sound more like Whitman kids' books (like Trixie Belden or Donna Parker) than 1950s-1960s movie titles, and the films sound more like something that would have been hits in the 1930s or 1940s. Add Nola's frenetic director boyfriend Johnny, a directionally-challenged actor named Kip, a secret room, and a main character who's not introduced until the final third of the book, and you have a story that's rather scattershot, although the mystery is fairly complicated.
Luckily I love all the Italian characters, although I don't know how they stay healthy with the monumental meals they keep eating!
Once Upon a Wardrobe, Patti Callahan
Once again I haven't been reading a lot because I've been writing.
31 October 2021
Two reasons: I spent the first half of October pretty much reading Goren and Eames fanfiction (ooops, sorry...on this mad Law & Order: Criminal Intent jag this month) and writing, plus I've been so tired at bedtime I have not been doing my fifteen minutes of reading.
The Ghost and the Haunted Portrait, Cleo Coyle
After Coyle's awful Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller, I wasn't even sure I wanted to read the next book in the Haunted Bookshop series, but this one seems to be back on track, dealing with pulp magazines and their cover illustrators. Penelope Thornton McClure is hosting an event with rare pulp magazine covers at her Aunt Sadie's Quindicott, Rhode Island, bookstore. A collector of rare covers contacts her, and the next thing she knows, she and her hometown friends Seymour Tarnish, the local mailman, and Brainert Parker, college professor, are driving to the man's home to see his collection. Seymour falls in love with and buys a rare painting by Harriet McClure (an ancestor of Penelope's husband). Soon afterwards the collector is found dead. Well, it turns out Jack Shepard, the ghost of an NYC private eye who, due to the circumstances of his death, is tied to the bookstore, has a connection to this case, and as they track down the culprit (and try to keep Seymour safe), Jack is able to take Penelope back into the past to solve part of the mystery.
The characters seem to be back to normal in this outing, even though Coyle's ersatz "Yankee" characters give me hives, and Jack back to his charming self after being a positive SOB in the last volume. The big fascination here is the look into the pulp magazine industry in the 1930s-1940s and how the cover artists became famous but never got their due because of rapacious publishers. The flashbacks to Jack's world in 1947 are a delight as well.
Drawn From New England, Bethany Tudor
This is Bethany Tudor's portrait of her mother, Tasha Tudor, whose career as an illustrator spanned decades, known for her beautiful watercolor usually illustrating 19th century and early 20th century lifestyles. Tudor was born Starling Burgess, but her father called her Natasha, shortened to Tasha, and she was introduced so often as "Rosamund Tudor's daughter Tasha" that she eventually changed her last name to her mother's maiden one (her mother was a noted artist, and her great-grandfather was Frederick Tudor, the man who became wealthy from selling ice cut from New England ponds before the age of refrigeration). It is Bethany's story of Tasha's life and how she and her sister and brothers grew up in Tasha's eccentric household: Tasha always thought she was born in the wrong century, wore long skirts and sunbonnets, wove her own linen, and lived a generally old-fashioned lifestyle.
Unfortunately the book is rather soured if you know that when Tudor died, she had essentially disinherited all her children except for the eldest, Seth, and her kids are apparently still fighting over her estate.
Very prettily illustrated with photographs and Tasha's artwork, this was released in 1979.
There and Back Again, Sean Astin
I wanted to like this book more.
Sean Astin has a nice, easygoing writing style, and I enjoyed all the behind-the-scenes stuff from the Lord of the Rings films. I also liked him talking about his growth as an actor—he's very honest about times he screwed up or was thinking only of himself—and about his family life, both with wife and daughter, and being the son of Patty Duke and John Astin (his biological father was not Astin, but he considers Astin his "dad" and I loved the way he talked about him). But there's a lot of repetition to it, too.
Still worth reading if you're a fan of Sean Astin or a Lord of the Rings film series buff.
Re-read: Olive Bright, Pigeoneer, Stephanie Graves
I enjoyed this so much I had to get this book in print. Originally I got this book from Netgalley not long after I read Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders, and the two of them have a little of the same vibe: young woman in her twenties living in a small English village as World War II rages—Poppy has trained as an air-raid warden, Olive is the 22-year-old daughter of a veterinarian and pigeon fancier. I liked Poppy Redfern, I love Olive Bright more. The story opens as Olive's best friend George is just leaving the small village of Pipley to join the RAF, and she too wishes to do something for the war effort. Her father has volunteered their homing pigeons to the Army's National Pigeon Service's for courier duty; unfortunately the recruiters know of Dr. Bright's mercurial tempers and are avoiding the Bright loft. Instead, two other, secretive Army officers approach Olive, saying they would like to use the Bright pigeons, but for super-secret war matters they can't tell her about. Eager to get the pigeons in action and without asking her father, Olive challenges the two men to put the Bright birds to the test.
Graves already has a sequel out which I've read on NetGalley, and it's even better than the original. Olive Bright forever!
08 October 2021
It's been two whole years, but finally there I was, back in line at the Cobb County Civic Center. (Unfortunately, in the sun.) It seemed like forever, but finally all of us (for there was a long, long line) were inside, doing what we do best, looking for "The Book" (what "The Book" is depends on the reader; it could be Western history or Jodi Picault or sewing books), that one that will just make your day. These were my finds:
Ella of All of a Kind Family, Sidney Taylor (the last in Taylor's series about a Jewish family circa World War I in NYC)
Weetamoo, Heart of the Pocassets and Victoria, May Blossom of Brittania, two of the "Dear America" "Royal Diaries" series
The Journal of Jedediah Barstow: An Emigrant on the Oregon Trail and The Journal of Brian Doyle: A Greenhorn on an Alaskan Whaling Ship, two of the male journal versions of the "Dear America" books
The Road to Somewhere, James Dodson (a man and his son tour Europe)
The Thing With Feathers, Noah Strycker (from my Amazon wishlist, about birds)
There and Back Again, Sean Astin's book
An Irish Hostage, the latest in Charles Todd's Bess Crawford mysteries
Atlas Obscura (Yay! Finally got one!)
Drawn from New England, Bethany Tudor (Tasha Tudor's picture-and-word portrait of her mom)
and two Christmas books:
Moravian Christmas in the South and Season's Greetings from the White House, the latter a history of the annual White House Christmas card