31 December 2021

Books Read Since December 1

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!

book icon  A Berkshire Christmas, compiled by David Green

book icon  Season's Greetings from the White House, Mary Evans Seeley

book icon  A Cheshire Christmas, compiled by Alan Brack

book icon  Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings, Liz Ireland

book icon  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.

book icon  A Lancashire Christmas, compiled by John Hudson

book icon  Here Comes Santa Paws, Laurien Berenson

book icon  Christmas Crackers: Tom Smith's Magical Invention, Peter Kimpton

book icon  Ideals Christmas 2021, from the editors of "Ideals"

book icon  A Derbyshire Christmas, compiled by Robert Innes-Smith

book icon  The Blessings of Christmas, Amy Newmark

My List of Dozen Best Books Read in 2021

book icon  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)

book icon  The Seine, Elaine Scioline (it's not just the river that runs through Paris; the Seine in social, geological, and historical perspective)

book icon  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)

book icon  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)

book icon  Northland, Porter Fox (Fox canoes, rides aboard ship, and travels along the US/Canadian border)

book icon  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)

book icon  A Valiant Deceit, Stephanie Graves (book two in the Olive Bright, Pigeoneer, series, and even better than the first)

book icon  Uncle Tungsten, Oliver Sacks (Sacks' "chemical upbringing" in a decidedly non-stereotypical British family)

book icon  The Vanished Bride, Bella Ellis (the first of Ellis' Bront—Ď sisters mysteries, where Charlotte, Emily, and Anne manage to keep their characters and virtues while playing detective)

book icon  Birder on Berry Lane, Robert Tougias (a year in the life of birder Tougias in just exploring the countryside around his home)

book icon  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)

book icon  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:

book icon  The Consequences of Fear, Jacqueline Winspear (next in the Maisie Dobbs series, so always good)

book icon  The Mitford Murders, Jessica Fellows (governess to the famous Mitford sisters helps solve a murder)

book icon  The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places, Neil Oliver (British place hopping always good!)

book icon  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

Books Completed Since November 1

book icon  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.

book icon  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.

book icon  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!

book icon  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!

book icon  Once Upon a Wardrobe, Patti Callahan

Once again I haven't been reading a lot because I've been writing.

31 October 2021

Books Completed Since October 1

This review page will spur a question:. "You only read four books this month?"

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.

book icon  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.

book icon  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.

book icon  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.

book icon  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.

In the meantime, with the village women rallying around the war effort, overbearing busybody Miss Verity Husselbee is being more of a martinet than usual. While everyone is annoyed by her, they're also shocked when she turns up murdered next to the Bright pigeon loft, found by Jonathon, the Brights' young evacuee. Is her death tied to the secret movements of Jameson Aldridge and his partner Danny Tierney, the officers who wish to use Olive's pigeons? And, if not, who in the village would want Miss Husselbee dead?

I really, really liked the fact that even to the end of the book there was no effort made to pair up Olive with Jameson Aldridge as Poppy had been paired with the American officer. They are contentious with each other through the end. There's a Welsh corgi in this story as well, and it's called a corgi, not "a Welsh herding dog." I thought the pigeon angle of the tale was a fresh one, something not involving spy training, American bases, or anything else that has been used in historical mysteries before, and enjoyed the fact that the birds are all named after book characters, and Olive herself is a devotee of Agatha Christie mysteries and still is a bit of an innocent at heart. There's also a subplot about Olive's late mother that turned out to be not what it seemed, and I liked that Olive had a good relationship with her stepmother, who is gamely battling multiple sclerosis. Upon rereading in paper form, I picked up on even more detail, especially the small dramas built around the village women. Also, Olive's father reminds me of Siegfried Farnon from All Creatures Great and Small.

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

At Last, The Book Sale

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:

book icon  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)

book icon  Weetamoo, Heart of the Pocassets and Victoria, May Blossom of Brittania, two of the "Dear America" "Royal Diaries" series

book icon  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

book icon  The Road to Somewhere, James Dodson (a man and his son tour Europe)

book icon  The Thing With Feathers, Noah Strycker (from my Amazon wishlist, about birds)

book icon  There and Back Again, Sean Astin's book

book icon  An Irish Hostage, the latest in Charles Todd's Bess Crawford mysteries

book icon  Atlas Obscura (Yay! Finally got one!)

book icon  Drawn from New England, Bethany Tudor (Tasha Tudor's picture-and-word portrait of her mom)

and two Christmas books:

book icon  Moravian Christmas in the South and Season's Greetings from the White House, the latter a history of the annual White House Christmas card

30 September 2021

Books Completed Since September 1

book icon  The Orville Season 2.5: Launch Day, David A. Goodman, David Cabeza, Michael Atiyeh
Imagine comics that make you think!
These two stories set in The Orville universe are apparently a bridge between second season as aired on the Fox network and the upcoming third season which we'll see at the end of the year (we hope) on Hulu. Both are thought-provoking: the first "Launch Day" has some of the crew investigating a society that turned its back on the Union years earlier. A society consumed by paranoid leaders, the Alibar are now planning something that may send other systems to war—certainly the Krill are ready to fight them already. In the second, "Heroes," Lieutenant Keyali returns to a pastoral society she visited years ago, only to find the population under subjugation. She must find a way to free them, but even freedom won't bring back the innocence the society has lost...
I was skeptical about Orville when it first premiered, but it soon seduced me with its mixture of good stories and offbeat characters. The comic issues just add more good material to a great source.
book icon  Uncle Tungsten, Oliver Sacks
I've heard of Oliver Sacks, neurologist and writer, but had never read one of his books until the title of this one caught my eye. Sacks, born in northwest London, grew up as the precocious child of physicians and loving, not biology, but chemistry; the elements fascinated him. From a large family (his grandfather married twice, so he had many uncles and aunts, some almost two generations older than him) in which some sort of science or manufacturing played a part in their lives, Sacks grew up in a scientific environment, but his favorite uncle was David, the titular "Uncle Tungsten" because he ran a factory that made tungsten light bulbs. Uncle Tungsten fascinated him with chemical experiments, which Sacks duplicated in his own home laboratory, and gave him chemicals back in those days that would horrify adults today. (He regularly set things afire and burned fingers and eyebrows.) For Sacks it would have been paradise, except for it was World War II and he was evacuated to a horrible boarding school where he was bullied and beaten. Only his visits home and his experiments kept him from unraveling.
I am not a science person, but this book was so fascinating and so readable (except for poor Sacks' terrible stories about Braefield School!) that it kept me glued to its pages until the end. It's part an account of growing up during the Blitz, part the story of being Jewish in a chiefly Christian society (where you were forced to say Christian prayers in school), and all about his fascination with the elements, which he conveys in such an interesting fashion you can't help learning a little in the process.
book icon  Exploring Space: 1999, John Kenneth Muir
This is Muir's episode-by-episode commentary of the 1970s series Space: 1999, created by Gerry Anderson after his groundbreaking work in children's adventure series starring marionettes, like Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. Space: 1999 was initially conceived as being the second season of Anderson's space thriller UFO (it was the same moonbase), but eventually morphed into a series of its own, one in which nuclear waste (a hot subject in the 1970s) stored on the moon causes it to blast out of orbit and head into space. The residents of Moonbase Alpha must then survive and also seek out a new place to live. In the second season, Fred Freiberger (the guy who ruined Star Trek) was brought in to make the stories more action packed and less cerebral. Well, we know how that worked out!
Muir generally has good points to make on each episode, but he seems to need to run down Star Trek (and sometimes other sci-fi series) to do so; there are times he seems downright scornful. Plus he gives a lot better reviews to second season that I ever would, seemingly convinced that shape-shifting Maya was a brilliant character (I love Catherine Schell, but Maya never seemed very real to me, and her romance with Tony Verdeschi was a real turn-off). Your mileage will definitely vary, and Muir as always writes very well. 
book icon  Doctor Who: Deadly Reunion, Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts
I picked this up used because there's nothing better than I like a story involving the Brigadier, and this one has it in spades: the whole first part of the book involves maneuvers performed by the Brig when he was a second lieutenant in the second World War, assigned to the Greek islands. He meets and falls in love with Sephie, a beautiful Greek girl, who is, with her younger brother Hermy, under the care of her grandmother Mrs. Demeter—only to realize "Sephie" is really Persephone, the goddess doomed to live in Hades six months of the year, and he's the only one who can rescue her. Years later, the Doctor and Jo Grant are in the British village of Hob's Haven, where a massive rock concert is due to take place, when evil things begin to happen. As the Brigadier and Captain Yates struggle to get to the town and help them, the Doctor is approached by the Master...who pleads with the Doctor to help him; he's gotten in over his head with someone he's discovered is Hades, god of the underworld! Need I mention Sephie, now known as "Sophie," and her family reappear?
Reminiscent of "The Daemons" in places, you have to have some patience to get through the World War II bits as the authors get really into making the British Naval manuevers sound realistic, to the point where it's more like a British war film than a Doctor Who story. But it's nice to see the Brig in his salad days, before the mustache and the swagger stick, when he was a young man capable of falling in love. And with a threat big enough to make the Master fearful, anything can happen...
book icon  A Valiant Deceit, Stephanie Graves
I was delighted to be offered this as an advance reader copy, the second book in the Olive Bright series, which I enjoyed much more than the Barnes & Noble-marketed "Poppy Redfern" series, which has a similar theme (young British woman during the second World War who wants to do her bit).

In this entry, Olive must pick out three pigeons to accompany three Belgian informants being smuggled into occupied Europe; the birds will be vital in sending back information about the Belgians' efforts to mislead and sabotage the Nazi war effort. The Belgians are all pigeon fanciers, reassuring Olive that even though the birds will be in danger from enemy fire, they will be well cared for. She also has to cope with the pretend romance she's set up with her superior, Captain Jameson Aldridge, which she feels doesn't look realistic enough. Then one of the officers at the top-secret Station XVII facility is found murdered in a nearby wood. Olive can't help wondering who killed the young man, although Aldridge warns her off.

If anything, this is better than the first book because the storyline is now established and the missions involving the pigeons can be begun. There's also an affecting subplot involving RAF officers who have been disfigured in plane crashes undergoing rehabilitation at what once was Miss Husslebee's home (she was the victim in the first book). Olive befriends one of the pilots and is determined that these men be reintroduced into society without people making unkind comments about their appearance. Even though Olive makes one serious mistake, her instincts are sound, especially about the pigeons and their handlers.
book icon  Doctor Who: Celebrating Fifty Years, Alan Kistler
You would think that with all the Doctor Who books I have, I couldn't possibly get anything of use out of another one, but this was a very enjoyable history of the series up until the departure of Matt Smith (Peter Capaldi had not yet been chosen for the role when it was published). There are some facts here still that I didn't know, and interesting interstitial chapters that talk in depth about the comics (including the Doctor's in-print grandchildren, John and Gillian, who are often forgotten) and the music (while Ron Granier is usually acknowledged as the creator of the iconic theme song, this is the first book I've read that credits Delia Derbyshire as adding the effects that make the music so memorable) and even whether the "new adventures" and the "continuing adventures" books are canon or not, and why non-television characters like Benny and Frobisher have their fans just as much as Sarah Jane and Leela have theirs. Everyone's favorite humanoid villain, the Master, gets his due as well—none of this almost sole emphasis on Daleks and Cybermen!—which is fine with me as I hate Daleks and love the Master!
book icon  Murder on Trinity Place, Victoria Thompson
It's New Year's Eve 1899 and Frank and Sarah Malloy are sitting in their new motorcar near Trinity Church waiting for the church's famous bells to ring in the new year. They recognize their neighbor Mrs. Ellsworth's in-law Mr. Pritchard, a dairy owner, wandering around belligerently trying to convince people they should be celebrating the new millennium (a particular hobbyhorse of his), and try to stop him, but he wanders off. Next morning they find out he has been strangled. Theda Ellsworth pleads with Frank and his assistant Gino to find out who killed her father.
I found this entry in Thompson's Gaslight series to be full of twists and turns, with things going on that Mr. Pritchard and most of his family had no knowledge of. You also learn about the horrible conditions under which New York City received "fresh milk" in those days, with "swill dairies" operating in disgusting barns where cows were fed spoiled garbage and gave milk so thin it was bulked up with things like plaster of paris!!!
Plus there is an interesting subplot in this entry about a "ruined" wealthy girl who has taken refuge at the maternity clinic Sarah Malloy has established. She can't go home, but can Sarah find her a new one with an unexpected character who will respect her? This subplot is equally as interesting as the murder mystery.
book icon  The Shepherd's Life, James Rebanks
This is an offbeat book about Rebanks' life, in which he at first resisted higher education in order to live the life he really wanted: to be a Lakes Country shepherd like his father and grandfather. A difficult teen who rejected school always to work on the farm, Rebanks later did go to Oxford and discovered he was more intelligent than anyone had ever given him credit for, including himself. Still, like the Herdwick sheep he raised (the breed preferred by Beatrix Potter, whose royalties preserved so many unspoiled areas of the Lakes District), he found himself "heefed" to the land.

The Lakes District is now a great tourist area, and Rebanks took quite a few years to figure out why these "silly people" invaded the land where he worked and struggled to prosper. Now that he is older he has acknowledged that tourism has profited the area, but he spends much of the book, especially in the part of the memoir of his growing up, speaking disparagingly of travelers who come for the scenery. For him, the land is all about his work with the sheep.

An interesting read because, unlike a tourist brochure, Rebanks is not trying to lure you with scenery; instead you read of the hard life of the sheep farmer and of the disasters, especially during lambing time, that can hit at any moment. After reading this, perhaps you will think of the people who actually work in the area you are visiting on vacation, and realize how differently they view the place where you're having fun.
book icon  The Moment of Tenderness, Madeleine L'Engle
This is a recent publication by L'Engle's granddaughters of manuscripts they found in L'Engle's "Ivory Tower," her writing room at her Connecticut home, Crosswicks. Some of them had been sold to magazines, some have never been published, many are autobiographical, and they all show her progress as a writer. Several of the stories, like "The Birthday" and "The Mountains Shall Stand Forever" were revised and incorporated into two different novels, two other stories were incorporated into her nonfiction.
The stories vary in quality; some are merely vignettes that reflect aspects of L'Engle's life, from when she lived in Europe to when she went to boarding school and was bullied. "Summer Camp" talks about the difficulty of peer pressure. Then there's "Madame, or...", which is a very surprising story for L'Engle to write, about a young woman living at a residence for young ladies. "A Room in Baltimore" recounts L'Engle's real-life adventure of being on the road with a theatrical troupe and having difficulty finding a place to stay due to the fact that she took care of a miniature poodle that appeared in the play. "Julio at the Party" I found very strange.
"The Moment of Tenderness" of the book title is actually a very sweet story about a long-married woman who develops an attachment (but nothing physical) with the family physician. The one story I had read in this collection was "Poor Little Saturday," which was included in a Newbery Winners book of short stories with a Hallowe'en theme, about a young man who meets a "witch woman" and a sympathetic girl in the woods.
The one really big surprise in this collection is "That Which is Left," about a son returning to his home for the first time in years, which really, really packed a punch.
book icon  Emily Makes A Difference: 1893, A Time of Progress and Problems, JoAnn A. Grote
This is part of the "Sisters in Time" series by a Christian publisher recounting the adventures of girls around age twelve in different points of American history. Emily Allerton lives in Minneapolis in 1893, just as two big events occur: the Chicago World's Fair (the World Columbian Exposition, to be official) and the Panic of 1893, which was a smaller, less dire version of the Great Depression. Emily and her best friend and cousin Ted Kerr witness a run on the bank, and then she has to be rescued from the trolley tracks by a poor boy named Erik Moe, who's had to go to work because his brakeman father lost his job after losing fingers operating the dangerous couplings on railroad cars. Emily, who is rather heedless, runs into one scrape after another as the cousins struggle to make sense of the Panic and also negotiate the World's Fair.
This is not a great entry in the series. Emily is really scatterbrained and never thinks about the consequences of her actions, and even though she ends up doing good in the end, it takes her a long time to mend her ways. Ted is much more sensible, and it makes Emily look even worse. The other problem is the info dump the author does about the time: this is not a period of history very much covered in history, so we get great quantities of information about railroads (specifically a certain railroad that runs from Minneapolis to the west coast for lumber), the Fair, and the Panic. I love books that explain historical details, but this one has almost too many, and the ending comes off as sappy as a Hallmark Christmas film.