31 August 2022

Books Completed Since August 1

book icon  Murder on Pleasant Avenue, Victoria Thompson
This is the 23rd in Thompson's "Gaslight Mystery" series starring midwife Sarah Brandt Malloy and her husband Frank Malloy, former New York City police officer and now a private detective. I've been reading these since the first book, and still remember getting them with points coupons at Waldenbooks! In this entry, when a woman is missing in a section on Manhattan called "Italian Harlem," Frank's partner, young Italian-American Gino Donatelli, decides to confront the prime suspect, a saloonkeeper named Nunzio Esposito, but when he arrives at Esposito's flat, the man is dead, and a police officer discovers Gino there: naturally "this eye-talian" must be the murderer! So now it's a race against time to prove Gino innocent as well as find the young woman, a settlement worker who is believed to be kidnapped by the Black Hand, a notorious Italian criminal group, to the dismay of the strait-laced man who worked with her and hoped to marry her.

This is a great paced entry in the series, which takes place chiefly in New York City's Little Italy. You meet Gino's family—there's a very funny scene where Maeve Smith, nanny and sometimes investigator for the Malloys, has to visit the Donatellis and a misunderstanding takes place—and learn more about the Black Hand itself (no, it was not a precursor to the Mafia, as many people believe).

From the decorations on the front cover, you might think this was set at Christmas; nope, it's just a great Italian church feast like I remember from my childhood, which is the setting for a rousing finale!

book icon  Mindhunter, John Douglas and Mark Olshaker
This is Douglas' original book about becoming an FBI profiler; he was the basis for Scott Glenn's character in The Silence of the Lambs and the inspiration for the name-changed main character in Netflix's Mindhunter series. Per Douglas' memoir, he was interested in the psychology of people from his teens, and was studying industrial psychology when he was recruited by the FBI; one of a group of men (no women FBI agents back then, per J. Edgar Hoover) who pioneered the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit (the BAU portrayed in the series Criminal Minds), the people who examine the evidence, try to figure out the motives, and finally draw conclusions about the perpetrator of a crime.

The first part of the book discusses Douglas's life and the early portion of his career, where he discusses some of the criminals he interviewed to develop a systematic approach to profiling, like Ed Kemper, an otherwise affable man who murdered young women as well as his own mother; Charles Manson, who needed to be in control of his followers; and rapist and murderer Richard Speck. The second half of the book talks about the cases he worked on with the BAU and how they reached the conclusions they did about the suspects and how they went about assisting the local police in finding the perpetrators. Several times, as he reluctantly relates, no justice could be found.

This is my third Douglas book prompted by watching Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Not pleasant reading, by any means, but interesting to know how real profilers work.

book icon  Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers, Tessa Arlen
This is the second book in Arlen's Women of World War II series, featuring Poppy Redfern, who is now working for a British film unit who make documentary films (read "propaganda") about the war effort. As the story opens, Poppy has herself a plum assignment: interview the members of an elite ATA group (Air Transport Auxiliary) of women pilots at Didcote airfield. Poppy quickly forms a bond with the group: self-assured Edwina, blonde Betty (nicknamed "Grable"), Annie, June, Letty, and the Polish freedom fighter Zofia, although initially she needs to prove himself with the group. Also in the mix is Poppy's now-boyfriend, the American flyer Griff O'Neal, who shows up with Poppy's Welsh corgi, Bess. But soon after filming starts, Edwina, the best of the pilots, crashes her Spitfire under suspicious circumstances. No one thinks it's an accident, but they're told to treat it as one.

The history about "the Atta girls" presented here is fascinating. As in the United States, no one in the military thought women could be competent pilots of such large and complicated aircraft. Instead the women proved to be fearless flyers and sometimes superior to the men that were being trained for the RAF. And the mystery is fairly good. But once again it's the protagonists who are disappointing: Poppy is too gorgeous to be true and what on earth is Griff doing there? Doesn't he have any duties on his American air base? He seems to be in the story just to follow Poppy around. Don't get me started on the "little dog." Welsh corgis are short, but they're not "little dogs" and people seem to heft her up with no effort. What's the dog even doing there? It made sense in the previous book when Poppy was solving a mystery in her home village, but now Griff brings her down to visit? That whole part of the story is too absurd to be true.

book icon  Spoiler Alert, Olivia Dade
This book called me because both the protagonists write fan fiction. Marcus Caster-Rapp is the good-natured, supposedly not-very-smart but good looking star of a series called Gods of the Gates (think Game of Thrones, but with Greek gods) based on a book series. The series has wandered far afield of the books and it turns out Marcus writes fanfic based on his Aeneas character from the books. April Whittier is an accomplished geologist who's also a fan of Gods of the Gates, and (unknown to her coworkers) she writes romantic fanfic based on the arranged marriage between Aeneas and Lavinia. She's also been bullied for years by her father and her compliant mother about her weight, but she's decided not to let it bother her any more. When she wears a Lavinia costume to a convention, there are catty remarks about how fat she is, and Marcus, a good guy at heart, invites her to dinner. Everyone thinks it's a publicity stunt, but Marcus really didn't like seeing her bullied online—and then when he meets her in person, he realizes she is really someone he'd like to get to know a lot better.

There's only one problem: Marcus and April are already friends, under pen names on Archive of Our Own. They beta-read each other's stories. And Marcus doesn't want to ruin what he has with "Ulsie" (his nickname for April's nom de guerre), so when they get further involved he decides not to tell her.

There is a lot to like about this book. We have fanfiction authors, we have an actor who, under his bland personality, is really quite deep, we have a geologist and fan who has finally decided to become comfortable in her own body, we have supportive friends, and a realistic fan community, from eager fanwriters to jerk Twitter posters. Our male protagonist has a secret about his past which is rather affecting. And we finally have a female protagonist who isn't your perfect gorgeous girl with a perfect figure who makes all the males in the story swoon.

Indeed, almost too much is made of April's weight. The author seems to go overboard pushing descriptions about her ample figure, as if daring the reader to belittle her. Plus we have two sets of absolutely crap parents, which is a trend I'm seeing in romance books. Does anyone have good parents anymore? Can there be no drama without these absolutely wretched parental units? Plus, while he's a supportive friend, I really didn't like Marcus' bestie Alex. I thought the character was grating—and there will be a sequel to Spoiler Alert starring Alex. Sorry, I won't be buying.

book icon  Phasers on Stun!, Ryan Britt
This is a fun book of essays (mostly original, a couple from online columns) about the Star Trek phenomenon from the creation of the original series all the way to the newest series like Picard and Discovery (Strange New Worlds is mentioned, but has not aired as of the publication). It, however, is not a history of the Trek universe as much as a study of aspects of the universe: for instance, the internet often promotes how progressive the original series was, but was it? Sure, it had an interracial crew, but how much did they get to do? Other topics: how Star Trek and NASA became intertwined; how Enterprise's much maligned theme song reveals what's wrong with the series; Star Trek and time travel (and how much the series almost defined time travel more than Doctor Who); how Star Trek fans first reject and then accept newer series; LGBTQ+ finally appears on Star Trek--and how the "death" of Hugh Culber ignited controversy; and a lot more Trek goodness.

Think of this as interesting footnotes to each stage of Star Trek history. Worth the read for fans.

book icon  Becoming a Writer, Staying a Writer, J. Michael Straczynski
Babylon 5, Crusade, comic book author, book author—Straczynski has written for all mediums. This isn't your usual book about writing: he's not going to talk to you about grammar, structure, formats, etc., but assumes you've already read a good, basic book about the writing craft. Instead he offers other advice, freely acknowledging his debt to fellow writers like Harlan Ellison: what situations build drama, how you should always accept constructive criticism and not act as if your story couldn't use improvement, how you must take chances and let your stories go and not endlessly edit them, how the past you choose for your characters develop who they are, finishing a project, summarizing your story, and other things hard learned from experience. He also talks about what to do once you finish: finding an agent, pitching your story, how to deal with "impostor syndrome" (that feeling you get that you're not good enough), and more. Enjoyable and written in lively style.

book icon  Forever Young, Hayley Mills
I grew up with the wonderful Hayley Mills, from her first performance in Walt Disney's delightful Pollyanna to her final film for Disney, That Darn Cat. She caught Disney's eye when she did a film with her actor father, the great John Mills, Tiger Bay, about a little girl and an escaped convict. This is her story from when she was chosen to do Tiger Bay through her divorce from Roy Boulting, the older man she married to the shock of her parents and her fans.

Hayley lived a magical childhood at two homes, a London house called The Wick, and at a farm, with her older sister, actress Juliet Mills (or "Bunch" as the family called her) and younger brother Jonathan. Her mother was Mary Hayley Bell, famous playwright and author. Along with her film appearances for Disney, she chronicles her childhood as well as meeting the famous actors, actresses, and other celebrities who knew her parents, people like Vivien Leigh, Sir Laurence Olivier, Richard Attenborough, Bryan Forbes, Roddy McDowall, and more, plus the non-Disney movies she appeared in. But as she grew older, separated from other children of her age, Hayley experienced dislocation and doubt. She also had a problem when she came of age and wished to withdraw the money put away for her from her films; due to her father's accountant, she pretty much was taxed on the total amount and actually received very little for all the work she did.

It's a quick-moving narrative, although her descriptions of her later work for Disney is lacking, and she dismisses one of her great characters, Mary Clancy of The Trouble With Angels, with almost no commentary at all. The latter part of her life, after she became the mother of two sons, is pretty much ignored; it's all the history of young Hayley. However, because it was young Hayley's experiences I was interested in, I wasn't really bothered by the latter much.

book icon  The Case of the Spellbound Child, Mercedes Lackey
In what looks like the last of Lackey's Elemental Masters series starring Sherlock Holmes (a mortal) and John and Mary Watson, who are both Elemental Masters, plus the magic-talented young ladies Sarah Lyon-White and Nan Killian and their bond birds Grey the African parrot and Neville the raven (respectively), plus their young ward Suki, the group help a ghost to his final resting place, plus solve the riddle of a girl who's been confined to an insane asylum before concentrating on the real meat of the volume: Lord Alderscroft has received a plea for help from a woman in Dartmoor, who punished her children Ellie and Simon by making them gather food on the moor, but they never returned from their errand. It turns out the pair, and many more children, are being held captive by a sinister presence they call "the Dark One" who keeps them shackled in a shed and puts them into a dark sleep often. Ellie is spared from this ordeal, but she is forced to do chores and baking instead; she tries to escape and finds herself physically shackled to the ruined cottage the Dark One lives in by magic.

As in all the Elemental Masters books, the story is based on a fairy tale which I have heard of, but can't remember the title. While the Watsons, the young ladies, and Holmes himself work to find the children, resourceful Ellie finds a way to improve her lot at the cottage and then finally to escape, only to run into more danger on the way. Ellie, in fact, is the best reason to read this offering; Nan and Sarah are always good, as is mischievous Suki; the Watsons are almost too perfect, and Sherlock isn't really in the story enough to matter.

Warning to anyone who dislikes dialect in a book: since this takes place in Dartmoor, many of the characters speak in the local dialect, and Suki has her own dialectical speech habits.

book icon  American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI, Kate Winkler Dawson
This is the story of Edward Oscar Heinrich, a driven man who trained as a pharmacist and then a chemist. Heinrich was no stranger to hardship: his father's hard luck culminated in the man committing suicide when Oscar was sixteen. He eventually began doing chemical work for both the city coroner and the police, then began studying crime and criminals, and was eventually dubbed "the American Sherlock Holmes" for his work in forensics. He also was an early pioneer of profiling, as he sought to understand what made criminals "tick." The book follows Heinrich's career by discussing his involvement in several notable deaths, including his investigation into the Fatty Arbuckle case, in which the famed silent comedian was accused of killing a young starlet, Virginia Rappe.

The cases themselves are pretty interesting, especially chronicling how crimefighting went from beating up "the usual suspects" and making them confess, to scientific means like fingerprints, ballistics, crime scene evidence, blood spatter patterns, etc. to track down miscreants. The big problem with this book is that Oscar Heinrich, for all his novel scientific deductions, was really a pretty dull person otherwise: he was married, had two kids, because of his father's financial difficulties was always worried about money, and pretty much had his nose to the grindstone 18 hours a day. He had no interesting hobbies or life outside his work, unless you count the fact that he blamed, like many people of his era, the movies for causing young people to go bad and seek sensation and perform criminal acts. So Heinrich's role in American forensics is quite remarkable, but don't expect a sparkling narrative about an unique man.

book icon  Uneasy Lies the Crown, Tasha Alexander
I've made no secret that, although I love Lady Emily, I still think she and Colin were brought together too quickly, and that occasionally I'm really bored by the alternate storyline Alexander has come to include in each book.

This time the alternate storyline is a rather ambling tale of a knight who fights with Henry V (think of the St. Crispin's Day rallying speech!) and his wife who lives with dubious relatives while he is abroad with the king, but the pair are Colin's ancestors, so this time the correlation between past and present is more firm.

On her deathbed, Queen Victoria summons Colin Hargreaves to her side and gives him a cryptic note. Several weeks after her death, a body dressed as the murdered king Henry VI is found in the Tower of London. followed soon by another body which shows up in Berkeley Square dressed as the hideously killed Edward II, and the clues lead the police to believe that this is a direct threat to the new king, Bertie—oooops, we mean Edward VII. (This is rather a running gag throughout the book.)

Dismissed by the Scotland Yard's investigator, who thinks investigating murders is no place for a lady, Emily and her cousin Jeremy Bainbridge begin following a convoluted trail of clues in a poor neighborhood that includes gangs, street kids, and a brothel. Jeremy, who's sometimes been an ass in past books, comports himself nicely in this one, and he and Emily make a good sleuthing pair. In the meantime, Colin continues to receive more cryptic clues that lead them on a scavenger hunt. There's a nice twist at the end, too.

book icon  A Courage Undimmed, Stephanie Graves
Yay to Netgalley for allowing me to read the ARC of the newest Olive Bright mystery! Olive Bright, daughter of the local vet and, like her father, a pigeoneer (one who breeds and trains racing pigeons), continues to help the British war effort by volunteering the Bright birds for messenger service. As a FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) volunteer, she also works at Bricktonbury Manor, headquarters of Baker Street, a top-secret World War II spy organization, under the aegis of Jameson Aldridge (her feigned love interest), but hopes to become an SOE agent who would be dropped into Nazi-occupied France.

Alas, Baker Street has a new commander, who thinks women have no place on the front lines; he not only tells Olive her pigeons may not be needed any longer, but assigns her to escort an annoying Royal Navy officer who's eager to interrogate a new resident of the village of Pipley, a Mrs. Dunbar who claims to be a spirit medium. In her first appearance in the village, Mrs. Dunbar said she was in contact with the dead souls of a British battleship on which several residents of the village served. Now everyone's uneasy, including the Naval representative, one Ian Fleming, who tells Olive that the ship is fine, but Mrs. Dunbar knows too many unique details for a civilian. But when Olive takes Fleming to a seance where Mrs. Dunbar dies, the question is whodunnit and why.

I love these books and the characters, but this latest one fell slightly short of the mark for me at the beginning. I think it's because I've read one too many mystery books centered around spirit mediums who are murdered. Plus Jamie is missing for the first half of the book, so a lot of the sparring between Olive and Jamie that brightened the previous two books is missing here. The solution to the mystery is rather pedestrian, too. Positives: we get a look behind the scenes at a wartime Christmas, and when Jamie does return he has a great surprise for Olive, and the training that Olive is observing is based on a real-life spy mission during the war.


book icon  I'll Be Right Back, Mike Douglas with Thomas Kelly and Michael Heaton
This is an easy read of Mike Douglas' memories of his long-running talk show. It's not strictly a biography, although he does tell you how he got into singing in nightclubs and how he met his wife Genevieve, and a little of his life after the show was handed over to a younger host (even though it was still getting good ratings).

Basically it's anecdotes about the people he met and enjoyed; if you read this book, there are very few people he didn't. Some readers of this book seemed to take umbrage at this fact, but he does criticize several people who didn't show up for their guest appearance (like Chevy Chase) or who were just plain rude, but he does it nicely. Apparently the readers were looking for more blood. Sorry, guys, these are just fun stories about movie and television stars, singers, dancers, even newsmakers and fellow talk-show hosts. There's also a daunting chapter explaining how "you," as this week's celebrity co-host, would be prepped for the show and what would be going on around you, as well as Mike's ten most outrageous or favorite happenings on his set (yes, one of them involves monkeys).

If you loved The Mike Douglas Show as I did, you may also love this book. But don't expect Mike to insult anyone. It's just the way he was.

31 July 2022

Books Completed Since July 1

book icon  The Bastard Brigade: The True Story of the Renegade Scientists and Spies Who Sabotaged the Nazi Atomic Bomb, Sam Kean
I really, really loved this book! It combines a varied cast of characters including Moe Berg, a talented baseball player who loved playing spy and whose sorties into Japan provided the only intelligence the US had at the beginning of World War II; Irene Curie (daughter of Marie) and her husband Frederic Joliot, attempting to keep radioactive elements out of the hands of the Nazis; Samuel Goudsmit who was trying to get his Jewish parents out of Europe and his good friend Werner Heisenberg (he of the Uncertainty Principle); Boris Pash, who escaped Europe early and worked for US Army intelligence; and a pilot named Joe Kennedy Jr, whose younger brother eventually ended up capturing all the glory. Jumping from France to Germany to the U.S. and Norway and more, this is the complex tale of the escapades and dangerous lives of the Alsos team, who were determined to keep the secrets of fission from the Nazis. One of the most mind-boggling narratives is about the continued efforts to destroy the Vemork power plant in Norway; it had been captured by the Nazis and was the only place in Europe that made heavy water. The team ran into numerous obstacles in trying to breach the place and the eventual raid was awe-inspiring.

This is a very bad review of a very good book; the chapters are so intertwined that the story is hard to describe, a combination of World War II history and the history of the development of the nuclear bomb. Moe Berg is an especially interesting character; I'd like to read a whole book about Berg, even though I hate baseball!

book icon  The Dead Romantics, Ashley Poston
Florence Day grew up in the family funeral home in the small town of Mairmont, South Carolina, with her parents, her sister Alice, and her brother Carver, and like her loving father, she's always had a special talent: she can talk to ghosts and is not afraid of them. She now lives in New York City, ghostwriting (naturally) for the famous romance author Ann Nichols, and her books are well received. But now, a year after her breakup with fellow author Lee Marlow, who abused her trust, Florence seems incapable of writing the final ghostwritten Ann Nichols book she was hired to pen. But her new editor, the tall and gorgeous Ben Andor, says she needs to finish it.

The final straw is a phone call from her mother, telling her that her father has died, and Florence returns to Mairmont in mourning for both her dad and her career. She's not home a day before she gets the shock of her life when opening the front door: Ben Andor is standing in ghostly form before her.

This was a delightful paranormal romance; I thoroughly enjoyed Florence's home town, the family funeral parlor that to her was a warm loving home, her neighbors, and her efforts to help Ben, whom she believes she is supposed to help to get to "the other side" just as she starts to fall in love with him. The only thing I didn't like was that Lee Marlow didn't get called on the despicable thing he did to Florence. I won't give it away, but it was thoroughly loathsome and he deserves to be horsewhipped.

book icon  Law & Disorder, John Douglas and Mark Olshaker
This was my first "Robert Goren made me do it" (from Law & Order: Criminal Intent) book about John Douglas, an early FBI profiler, the basis for the character Scott Glenn played in the film The Silence of the Lambs, courtesy the remainder shelves at Books-a-Million.

It's kind of a goofy title for the book, I think, and makes it sound not serious, but the contents are dead-on, especially when Douglas talks about the horrifying case of Suzanne Collins, a Marine trainee ready to go out on her first assignment who was brutally beaten and then raped with a tree branch by a sadistic jerk who felt diminished by his Marine wife, who then led the courts a lengthy trail of appeals before he was finally put to death. Douglas also talks about other cases he has personally worked on, plus weighs in on famous cases like the Jon-Benet Ramsey murder and the O.J. Simpson case, the Amanda Knox case in Italy and also a set of murders that were branded as "Satanic" because simply because one of the suspects doodled pentagrams on his notebooks.

If you watch crime series like Criminal Minds, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and even NCIS, you'll probably like this look behind how real profilers work.

book icon  Re-read: A Valiant Deceit, Stephanie Graves
Read this as an e-book and immediately wanted a "real" copy, the second in Graves' delightful "Olive Bright" series, which I enjoyed much more than the Barnes & Noble-pushed "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 sleuthing.

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 a nearby estate, one of them who is now living in Miss Husslebee's former 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, and I just love the people around Olive, like her mercurial Seigfried Farnon-like dad (who's even a vet), her stepmother Harriet who has MS, their young evacuee Jonathon, and the active young Girl Guide Henrietta.

book icon  The Hunt of History, Nathan Raab
Nathan Raab's father was an attorney, but his real love was collecting historical memorabilia, especially autographs, letters, and other papers written/signed by figures from American history. Eventually he quit his law practice and instead founded the Raab Collection, a premier collection of historical documents for acquisition or sale. Raab at first had no intention to go into his father's business, but eventually he joined him.

This is a well-narrated tale of Raab's introduction into the collecting world and the fascinating documents that he collects, and just why he collects them, as instructed by his father. That's the most interesting aspect of this book, how Raab's father taught him to distinguish what are the best historical documents to buy at auction. For instance, all autographed items are not the same, some, even from the most famous historical figures, are a dime a dozen, while others are not only autographed, but have special historical significance. One example I remember was of a Charles Darwin letter in which Darwin, unlike other white men of his time, significantly comments on the intelligence of black men and speaks against slavery, unique from his usual letters addressing scientific subjects, so the letter is more significant.

I found this on a remainder shelf, and sometimes they are the best books!

book icon  Bryant & May: London Bridge is Falling Down, Christopher Fowler
Well, dammit, now I'm crying...

I knew what happened in this book and didn't want to read it for months, but finally took the dive. The Peculiar Crimes Unit is officially closed, but the members aren't ready to pull themselves apart yet. Arthur Bryant goes searching for a case that can keep them going sometime longer, and finds the odd death of an elderly woman who suddenly "dropped off the radar" and was found starved and dehydrated in her flat. Ironically, this woman and her friends hold ties to the original formation of the PCU, and this brings them into the orbit of Larry Cranston, who has ties to the United States government, and who was just brought down for running over a young woman while driving under the influence of alcohol.

There are always twists in a Bryant and May mystery, but this one seems to have a triple complement of them as the dead woman's friends, all codebreakers during World War I, struggle to survive against an assassin determined to shake a secret from one of them and kill them all. And what about the ugly model of London Bridge each one of them seems to have; it appears to be tied to the important secret. Not to mention that many of Arthur Bryant's eccentric informants seem to be in danger as well.

The twists and turns turn into a satisfying conclusion...but, oh, that ending!

book icon  Journey Into Darkness, John Douglas and Mark Olshaker
This is the third book by Douglas and Olshaker; Douglas being the former FBI profiler who was the basis for Scott Glenn's character in Silence of the Lambs and who is being portrayed in fictional form in the Netflix series Mindhunter, based on Douglas' first book.

As in Law & Disorder, Douglas tells many different stories about the kinds of serial killers and other criminals he has dealt with. Several of the chapters in this volume talk about pedophiles and how they stalk children (and they don't look sinister or have a "creepy" manner; they generally take the form of friendly neighbors and sometimes even relatives), and several more chapters are devoted to a case which haunted Douglas for years, the murder of a young Marine about to go on her first assignment, Suzanne Collins, who was brutally beaten and then raped with a tree branch by the indolent husband of another Marine. When the man was finally found, he cheated execution for several years by filing appeal after appeal. Douglas also tries to explain how he assembles a profile dossier from the clues left behind at the scene of the crime.

I call this one of my "Robert Goren made me do it" books because I got interested in profiling after watching Law & Order: Criminal Intent. It's certainly not for the fainthearted.

book icon  A Serpent's Tooth, Craig Johnson
In the ninth Walt Longmire mystery, it's Homecoming time at the local high school when Walt learns his number and his best friend Henry Standing Bear's numbers are about to be retired. Just about this time a Mormon boy who's been kicked out of his compound turns up in Durant, accompanied by an elderly man who says he's the youngster's protector and also over 100 years old. This leads Longmire and his deputy Vic Moretti to investigate in the tiny town of Short Drop and a general store that also operates as a library, run by a woman with a lost daughter who may have ties to a rogue Mormon compound in South Dakota. There's a possibility the Mormon boy, Cord, may be her grandson. Longmire at first thinks the daughter's disappearance is the doing of the religious extremists, but soon it becomes obvious something much more sinister is going on.

Another great one from Johnson, with quirky characters, the growing relationship between Walt and Vic, and a corker of an ending that involves the invasion of a compound by Walt, Henry, and Vic. (Did I mention that Henry was in this book? A lot? Yes, indeed!)

book icon  Hard Road West, Keith Heyer Meldahl
When I saw this book's description, I was intrigued. Then when I finally received it, I rejoiced. Someone basically took my favorite episode of Alistair Cooke's America, "Gone West," in which he traced the path of westward travelers to the California gold fields, expanded it using pioneer journals, and then added geological information to explain how the landscape that the wagon trains crossed was formed. Maps and photos are included to explain some of the more scholarly geologic terms, especially having to do with how landmasses and mountains were formed.

If you love history and love earth sciences, this has got to be the book for you, especially if, way back when, you watched America and were fascinated by the "Gone West" episode. The author even opens with the Humboldt Sink, which Cooke talked about in length in the episode. The road was far more difficult than Cooke could describe in one television episode, and it's still amazing to think that due to the makeup of the rock and soil underneath the westward path you can still stop to see grooves in the rock. (I also don't remember passing so close to the Humboldt Sink on our two cross-country trips! It is due south of I-80 in Nevada.)

Please be warned it is very detailed about the geologic features and processes which built the landscape west of the Mississippi. If you're "not a science person," the narrative may prove daunting.

30 June 2022

Books Completed Since June 1

book icon  Clark and Division, Naomi Hirahara
I've really liked Hirahara's Elly Rush "bicycle police" books—been looking for mystery books that feature less "whitebread" heroines, as they are becoming boringly similar—and the news that she had done a post-World War II mystery involving a formerly interred Japanese family filled me with anticipation. I wasn't disappointed.

Aki Ito has always lived in the shadow of her beautiful, vivacious sister Rose. Brought up in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Tropico, Aki and her family are shattered when they are considered "alien enemies" and sent to an internment camp. Rose later goes to Chicago to pave the way for the Itos being resettled there. But when Aki and her parents arrive, they receive the news that Rose is dead, having committed suicide in front of a subway train. Aki and Rose were close, and the former cannot believe her sister would do such a thing. Settled in a dingy, horrible apartment, with Aki desperately seeking a job, she also resolves to find out what really happened to Rose.

This is several stories: Aki's tentative investigation, her making of new friends through a Japanese agency, her finally obtaining a job and learning to live in the grubby, crime-ridden Clark Street and Division Street neighborhood the Japanese had been resettled in, and, most importantly, Aki discovering herself and gradually growing into her own person, and perhaps even a romantic future. The end was kind of a twist, too.

A sobering look into the Japanese experience during and after the war with a mystery attached.

book icon  Entertainment Weekly's "The Ultimate Guide to Jurassic Park" and Hollywood Spotlight's "The Ultimate Guide to Jurassic World"
Well, they're big enough to be reviewed; two nice big magazines associated with the Jurassic franchise. They're alike (reviewing all three films) and different (the first one is basically chronological and the second starts with the newest film and then works backwards; it also refers you to dinosaur places (digs and museums) and alternative dinosaurs (like Land Before Time and Dino on The Flintstones). Both good reading. The second one has the best photo of Sam Neill. 😀

book icon  A Walk Around the Block, Spike Carlsen
Subtitled "stoplight secrets, mischievous squirrels, manhole mysteries & other stuff you see every day (and know nothing about)," this is a fun nonfiction book about the systems you take for granted every day that make your life simpler: plumbing, electricity, telephone wires, sewers, trash collection, streets and their traffic, parks, squirrels, even a chapter on pigeons, much more than "skyrats."

Prompted by a plumbing problem that left him without water for days, Carlsen realized he didn't know how the city kept its occupants in water, or how, indeed, the water was collected and purified. It set him looking into all the elements of our modern infrastructure that make life possible in the 21st century. Recycling? Bicycle lanes? Road markings? Mail delivery? Lawn worship? All here, told in enjoyable style.

book icon  See Something, Carol J. Perry
This is "Witch City Mystery" #11, and possibly the penultimate book in the series as Perry seems to be starting up a new one set in Florida with a cute dog instead of a cat. I'm sorry if the series is ending, but in a way I'll be happy as there are some newer elements in the series that I'm not so happy about.

Our protagonist Lee Barrett has been promoted from field reporter to program director, and she's juggling her various responsibilities, including developing a new local children's show. She decides to go with two performers she enjoyed in her childhood, Ranger Rob and Katie the Clown (who, under their characters, are good friends), just as a mystery turns up on her doorstep: she discovers a woman in the park across the street from her Aunt Ibby's house, a woman suffering from amnesia. In addition, a man's dead body has shown up at a nearby beach. Could these two events be connected? (If you say no,  you haven't read enough of these books!) And can Lee keep her mind on her new job rather than exercising her instincts as a reporter?

Besides the fact you can figure out the two things have to be connected, this is a good mystery mixed with Lee's ripening romance with Pete the police officer and her job developing the show for WICH-TV. My problems are still the "Charlie's Angels" thing they recently concocted with Aunt Ibby and her two classmates; I really liked Lee investigating crimes on her own with just some librarian help from her aunt, and also the show she's developing. A rodeo set with a cowboy and his horse, and a clown and a performing dog? This sounds like a 1950s kids' show—would modern kids even watch something like this? It seems a bit unreal.

book icon  A Little Girl's Gift, Lawrence Elliott
When I was younger I collected "Reader's Digest." I would even pick up old volumes, from the 1950s and early 60s, at book sales and flea markets. One of the best features of the old "Digest" was the book section, condensed versions of popular novels. But in 1963, a different story was published.

In 1959, eight-year-old Janis Babson of Ontario was diagnosed with leukemia. In those days, the disease was a death sentence, and Janis fought bravely for two years before dying. But she is remembered mainly for something that happened right before she got sick: she saw a documentary about eye transplants and vowed to her mother and father she would donate her eyes to the Eye Bank when she died, and her parents followed her wishes.

This is not written as a weepy "sick child" bathotic piece. Janis was an upbeat, happy child and most of the time she fought cancer with a quiet, stubborn courage, chronicled here. Her story first appeared as "The Triumph of Janis Babson" in a 1963 "Reader's Digest" concurrently with this book. I've been searching for it for years since my mom threw out my RD collection long ago, and it was recently republished. I am an organ donor today because of Janis Babson. Peace be to her soul.

book icon  CSI: Cold Burn, Max Allan Collins
The third in a series of novels based on the television series, it's Christmastime in Las Vegas when Ranger Ally Scott finds a nude body near Lake Mead, sopping wet. It turns out it's the corpse of a woman called Missy Sherman, who disappeared over a year ago, and it turns out her body's been stored in a freezer. Catherine Willows and Warrick Brown reinvestigate, immediately suspicious of Missy's husband. In the meantime, Gil Grissom and Sara Sidle have arrived in upstate New York to hold a seminar at a criminologists' conference, only to have a severe snowstorm blow in. Wouldn't you know that on the way to the hotel they discover a dead body? With the help of the hotel manager and the only other conference attendee who managed to make it to the hotel, a Mountie named Mortenson, they mount guard on the body until the snow stops and they can gather evidence.

Collins keeps the two parallel stories going well here, although maybe there's a little bit too much information how forensic information is gathered in the snow, and much of the latter story is told from Sara's point of view, which is enjoyable, especially at the end. Once again, he has a good handle on the characters and they sound as if they were speaking on the series.

book icon  The Science of Murder, Carla Valentine
Love mystery stories, especially those of Agatha Christie? Watch all those crime shows like CSI and Law & Order, and wonder how they gather evidence and interpret it? This is the book for you: the story of forensics as seen through the lens of Agatha Christie's novels, from Poirot and Miss Marple to Bobby and Frankie and Tommy and Tuppence: fingerprints (latent, patent, and plastic), firearms, trace evidence like receipts, vegetative and other fragments found at crime scenes, documents and other paper evidence, evidence found by the coroner during autopsy, etc. Valentine is engaging in her prose, sometimes, in my opinion, a little too referential to her sources, and clearly makes you understand how each aspect of forensics work—so you can now go back and understand Gil Grissom and his crew, or what Abby Scioto is driving at.

book icon  Re-read: Death of a Showman, Mariah Fredericks
Fourth and ::sob:: maybe final book in the Jane Prescott series. Louise and William Tyler have returned from Europe (to Louise's relief) after her sister's wedding, and lady's maid Jane Prescott is equally relieved to get back to normal life. But the first thing she learns upon returning is that songwriter Leo Hirschfeld, who she'd come to love during the previous summer, but who told her he'd never be married, has wed a chorus girl. But she'll have to see Leo a lot more than she planned, since he convinces Louise to be a "Broadway angel" for his new musical, produced by the great impresario Sidney Warburton. Warburton is certainly no angel, and both Jane and Louise get an education as they negotiate rehearsals where there's cast in-fighting, personality conflicts, multiple script changes, and arguments galore.

And then Warburton is shot, and there's no end of suspects, including Leo, the older actress whose lover Warburton barred from the set, the aging dance couple, and even drunken Roland Harney, the dipsomaniac performer with the little dog (you may see in Harney echoes of W.C. Fields). In the meantime, history goes on behind the scenes: Archduke Francis Ferdinand has been assassinated, and the bloody Ludlow massacre in Colorado has Jane's best friend, anarchist and activist Anna, enraged.

The main plot of the book reminds me of a similar Perry Mason episode about a discontented acting troupe, except it takes place in Jane Prescott's universe at the time when ragtime was capturing the America's imagination. It's a glimpse into early 20th century life backstage, in which people who didn't quite fit into regular society found a home in theater society—but also the story of how some of these people were exploited. While I didn't find some aspects of the plot as compelling as in the previous three books, the theatre setting was intriguing and seeing Leo again was a treat, even, alas, if he wasn't fated to end up with Jane.

book icon  Twelve Moons of the Year, Hal Borland, edited by Barbara Dodge Borland
Now this was what I was expecting from Hal Borland's Book of Days, a daybook of seasonal entries. These are 365 of Borland's favorite passages from over 2,000 "nature editorials written from 1945-1978, and the page-long entries make wonderful reading at bedtime, or as a day-by-day entry for the year. Borland's beautiful prose about birds, walks in the snow or through flowery fields or woods brilliant with autumn color, traditional ways of life, country chores, native plants, simple pleasures, and other aspects of country life for three decades.

The print equivalent of a walk through the woods; if you can't find a place to "forest bathe," Borland is a good alternative.

book icon  Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family, Sydney Taylor
This is the final of the five-book series about Taylor's "all-of-a-kind" family, five sisters in a Jewish family growing up in New York City, two years apart, Ella, Henrietta (Henny), Sarah (Taylor herself, since this is based on her life), Charlotte, and Gertie (in a later book the sisters get a baby brother, Charlie). The five books were the first series written about a Jewish-American family, the first place many readers learned about Jewish customs.

The final book, as the title implies, is about Ella, the eldest, who aspires to become a singer and takes weekly lessons. As the book opens, her boyfriend Jules returns from serving in World War I; they make plans to marry. Then Ella is offered the chance to perform in a vaudeville for a year, and she won't be able to see Jules as often. Will she choose the stage or a tamer life?

The story uses Sydney Taylor's real-life experiences in the theater in the early 1900s to make this a very vivid portrait of a vaudeville performer's rugged life: endless rehearsals, browbeating directors, dirty dressing rooms, loneliness even in the midst of a crowd. There are also chapters about Charlotte and Gertie getting into mischief while babysitting, the tale of when Henny runs against four boys in a class election, and a grim chapter when Charlie is badly hurt as well as an amusing one where he livens up the family Seder.

31 May 2022

Books Completed Since May 1

book icon  Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World's Superpowers, Simon Winchester
Simon Winchester writes tomes. And I love 'em.

Another nearly pristine book sale discovery is Winchester's follow-on to his wonderful Atlantic. For his examination of the largest and not always "pacific" of the waters, he talks about ten significant historic events in the life of the Pacific since 1950: nuclear bomb testing, the rise of the transistor, the popularization of surfing as a sport, the rise of North Korea, the sinking of the original Queen Elizabeth ocean liner in the port of Hong Kong, the first hints of global warming with the hit of a super typhoon on Darwin, Australia, the Australian break from Great Britain, the discovery of an abyssal heat source by the submersible Alvin, the dying off of coral and bird species, and the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in conjunction with the rise of the Chinese as a sea power, and Winchester sends you skipping through the serious—the societies destroyed by the transfer of the Bikini Islanders and other Micronesian groups to other islands so their remote locations could be used for atom bomb tests, the death of coral on the Great Barrier Reef, the extinction of plants and animals—and the light, like Gidget and surfboards and unusual looking fish.

Post-Atlantic, The Perfectionists, and The Men Who United the States, I haven't been disappointed in a Winchester book yet, and I still have Land, The Professor and the Madman, A Crack at the Edge of the World, and The Map That Changed the World to go.

book icon  Revenge in Rubies, A. M. Stuart
Harriet Gordon has settled into her new home in Singapore with her brother Julian, a minister, and Will, the boy, that she helped in the first of the series (Singapore Sapphire), is doing well in school and in living with them. To make extra money she is still typing police reports for Inspector Robert Curran of the Singapore constabulary, and, after a brutal murder, she's asked if she might help comfort members of the victim's family. Unfortunately it only draws her into the drama surrounding the death of Sylvie Nolan, the much-younger wife of a colonel at the Singapore army compound. Not only doesn't the military seem to want Curran to investigate the crime, but one of the men, a Major Goff, openly resents Curran because of something to do with his father's army service—Goff has, indeed, accused Curran's father of cowardice. Given only a short time to investigate the murder, Curran is suddenly hit with a severe attack of malaria, and Harriet is determined to help the family of the victim as well as her friend.

Stuart does another terrific job illustrating the life of English people living in Singapore just as the Edwardian era is ending: the rules of society they must follow, the stifling heat of the tropics, and women's roles in a male-dominated world. Harriet is neither a milqetoast Victorian lady or an out-of-her-century feminist, which is very refreshing for those of us who know history and want an accurate, but self-sufficient protagonist. Looking forward, once again, to the next installment.

book icon  Ghost: My Thirty Years as an FBI Undercover Agent, Michael M. McGowan and Ralph Pezzullo
I had to grab this when I saw it at Books-a-Million, especially since I was still writing L&O: CI fanfic where Robert Goren is operating as an FBI agent. I found it quite the page-turner, especially after watching the old FBI series with Efrem Zimbalist Jr as a kid, where all the agents were square-jawed and deadly solemn. McGowan talks about how differently undercover operations are from what you see on television, especially how long they take to set up and work—he talks about ones he worked that took between two and five years to complete, while he had to stay in the persona of some low-life drug dealer or dishonest businessman. He also talks about some of the criminal bosses he met over the years; some of them being downright weird, all of them being really creepy.

I noticed some of the reviewers of this book on Amazon complained that McGowan was uber-egotistical; I would think to be able to carry off some of these undercover cons that a person would have to be, to be able to bluff his or her way through situations that could possibly get them killed. You'd have to think on your feet and be very self-assured.

Anyway, I really don't read true crime stuff, but I found this enjoyable, and might have to hunt up other behind-the-scenes at law enforcement books.

book icon  Jo and Laurie, Margaret Stohl and Melissa de La Cruz
Did you ever read a book quickly just to get it over with? I found that I did that with this book.

I think most Little Women fans have had periods where they wondered just what would have happened if Jo did accept Laurie. I have another book which I haven't read, The Courtship of Jo March, that addresses the same subject. Jo and Laurie also looked quite tempting, until I really got into it.

The conceit here is that a real Jo March wrote Little Women (the first part) and now is desperately trying to write the second, her goal, as always, to earn money for her impoverished family, being interminably nagged by her publisher for a "nice sweet sequel." Also, several of the things she wrote about in her book were not real: Beth did die, Meg and Mr. Brooke never were a couple, and Aunt March was a fictional creation. However, Laurie is real, and he does want Jo to marry him; she'd rather never think about it and instead the two go off to New York together (with Meg and Mr. Brooke as chaperones, where the inevitable happens) where Laurie re-meets an old friend, Lady Harriet, a British girl. Yes, you guessed it, "Lady Hat" is the sabot thrown into the gears that gets the Jo and Laurie friendship off the rails.

This book has so many bad places it's pathetic. Amy here is fifteen, and still spouting the same malapropisms as she did at twelve, which is stupid. Later, she, not Beth, is the one who almost dies. Apparently, however, the authors, who seem to have no idea about the disease they assigned to her, gave her "consumption," which means she never will be well; otherwise known as tuberculosis, it was, in those days before penicillin, a wasting disease--but our Amy makes a full recovery! Mr. Laurence ends up being a jerk who makes Laurie attend societal functions simply to make the family look good, including forcing him to blow off a chance to see Charles Dickens with Jo for a society party. "Lady Hat" is supposed to be vivacious and "unconventional," but she's just a bore.

Yeah, they do get engaged at the end, but by then, who cares? Glad I got this as a remainder book!

book icon  Confederates in the Attic, Tony Horwitz
So happy to have found a nearly pristine copy of this at the Friends of the Library book sale, especially since I had read his Spying on the South, which is sort of a sequel, published right before his death, back when it was published. I find this better balanced than Spying, while still touching on the same things: how the myth of the "noble Confederacy" still permeates certain groups in the American South (and not all of them being "bigoted rednecks"). Horwitz visits tiny museums, investigates Confederate re-enactors, speaks with Southern historian Shelby Foote (who used to answer his own phone and suffered after Ken Burns' miniseries The Civil War brought his name to the fore), talks to both sides in the case of a young white man assaulted by a black man (while the white man's family said he was innocent and a "good boy," co-workers labeled him lazy and racist, and the family and friends of the black man said he taunted them with racist slurs), visits Southern strongholds like Charleston and Vicksburg, and nearly gets assaulted in a bar (among other things).

As in Blue Latitudes, he seems to hang around a lot with drunks, and the most entertaining bits of the narrative have him in the company of Rob Hodge, a dead serious (and crazy ass) Civil War re-enactor who can mess with his body so that he looks like a "bloated dead body," who has appeared in re-enactments in films due to the talent. Rob has no patience with "farbs" (those who go to historical re-enactments in inaccurate clothing carrying inaccurate gear) and Horwitz visits battlefields with him, trying to imagine what it was like during the actual battles. Some of it is very sobering, a lot of it is funny, and Horwitz gets his point across about "myth" conceptions and avoidance of the slavery issue without the heavy-handed preaching that got into Spying on the South.

book icon  My Name is America: The Journal of Douglas Allen Deeds (The Donner Party Expedition, 1846),  Rodman Philbrick
After several years of "Dear America" books written for pre-teen and younger teen girls, Scholastic began an equivalent series for boys. The title is self-explanatory: Douglas Deeds is an orphan of 15. who, with just his old horse Barny, joins the Donner/Reed party as they go west to California. He is lucky to be taken in by the Breen family (a real-life family who was with the Donner party) as they cross the continent and face hardship, including young Edward Breen breaking his leg and having to cross the Salt Desert.

Roderick does a pretty good job of portraying the tough life of the expeditionary pioneers who crossed the North American continent. Douglas is rather a dull protagonist, to be honest, but we relive the whole trip, including its horrifying conclusion (spoiler of sorts: Douglas does not resort to cannibalism to survive), and see the mistakes made by the leaders of the expedition in following the directions of Lansford Hastings, who wrote a book about emigrating to California without ever having done all of the route.

book icon  Friends for the Journey, Madeleine L'Engle and Luci Shaw
L'Engle and Shaw became friends at a religious conference and remained close until L'Engle's death. This was the one book of L'Engle's I didn't have: a collection of essays, conversations, and verse that they wrote together in which they talk about friendship, faith, marriage, relationships, and the nature of prayer. It's another dose of L'Engle nonfiction goodness, as well as Shaw's enjoyable prose and poetry. One poem which she wrote for her son's wedding is just gorgeous.

30 April 2022

Books Completed Since April 1

book icon  CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Companion, Mike Flaherty, case files by Corinne Marrinan
This is an oversize paperback that reviews the first three seasons of the acclaimed CBS crime drama, chronicling its creation and its characters (Gil Grissom, for instance, was originally named Gil Sheinbaum, but it was changed because star William Peterson was an admirer of astronaut Gus Grissom). Each of the episodes of the first three seasons is summarized in detail, and then, in inserts, there is discussion of the unique aspects of the episodes, the unusual special effects the series was noted for, original script concepts that were changed for the episodes, what prompted each story, etc. There are also two-page character profiles of Grissom, Catherine Willows, and the rest of the Las Vegas CSI team. (Why was the show based in Las Vegas, you might ask? Well, because except for the FBI laboratory at Quantico, VA, Las Vegas literally does have the largest crime lab in the country, and really does run three shifts to process all the information that passes through it!) Illustrated with photos from episodes galore and looks into how real crime scene investigation works (tip: it doesn't go as quickly as you see on the series!).

A good book to find used for the CSI lover in your family.

book icon  Murder in Chianti, Camilla Trinchieri
Following the death of his wife Rita, former NYPD homicide detective Nico Doyle (his mother was Italian and his father Irish) has moved to Rita's hometown of Gravigna in the Chianti region, and is enjoying helping Rita's family at their restaurant, but he still grieves for his wife. One day a dog's yelping summons him to the woods near his home, where he finds a flashily-dressed, and very dead, man. He immediately summons the local maresciallo (policeman), Salvatore Perillo, who quickly finds out Nico's background and seeks his help solving the mystery. Nico accepts reluctantly, hoping Perillo won't find out the secret of why he left the NYPD, but as the mystery deepens, he finds out people that he now knows well and even likes were acquainted with the victim and nobody wants to talk. He does adopt the dog that alerted him to the body, a fluffy little animal he names "OneWag" for his habit of only wagging his tail once. (Everyone else calls the dog "Rocco.")

Not only a murder mystery, but an examination of small-town Italian life, the book is filled with talk of wine, cooking, and the communities that form around the local restaurants. If you're looking for a straight mystery, you might want to look elsewhere, but if you also want a primer on Italian life, this is the book for you, filled with mornings eating pastry, evenings enjoying pasta dishes, and the smells and sounds of the Chianti countryside. You also slowly learn about Nico's past life, and a secret that binds the small town together.

book icon  Many Windows: Seasons of the Heart, Faith Baldwin
For many years, Baldwin wrote what was then called "women's fiction" and is now known informally as "chick lit," as did her younger friend Gladys Taber, but, like Taber, she also wrote several nonfiction inspirational books. The difference is that while Taber wrote about her home, Stillmeadow, and about her friend Jill, and their three children, Baldwin's books are more about faith and happiness, introspective volumes that discuss human behavior, belief in God, good and evil, and society in general, while also talking about her day-to-day life over the course of a year. Many Windows is the second of five volumes, and they make very nice bedtime reading.

book icon  As the Crow Flies, Craig Johnson
This is the eighth book in the Longmire series, and begins with Walt Longmire and his friend Henry Standing Bear scouting out a new location for Walt's daughter's wedding to Michael Moretti after their original choice has been taken over by another event on the nearby Cheyenne Reservation. Someone suggests they look at the beautiful Painted Warrior cliffs as a replacement setting, but as Walt and Henry check out the venue, they see a young Crow woman fall from the cliff. Appalled, they find her dead, but the baby she was carrying is still alive. And now Walt is determined to find out what happened to her, only to have to partner with "the rez's" new tribal police chief, Lolo Long, a veteran with attitude, to do so.

This is the usual excellent mystery I've come to expect from Craig Johnson. I've been watching the television series long enough that now I hear Walt's narration in Robert Taylor's voice and Lou Diamond Phillips when Henry Standing Bear talks, but the books and the series are completely different, but equally good, animals. (Cady isn't married in the series, for one.)

If you don't cry during the last few paragraphs of the book, you have no soul.

book icon  Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies, Robert Sklar
I have a strange history with this book: I actually bought it a couple of years ago as a gift for a friend, and really wanted to keep it. Luckily I found a nearly new copy at McKay's earlier this year.

People today associate the movies with Hollywood and the wealthy and being a wealthy influencer, but the movies as a medium were begun by immigrants, and immigrants at the lowest social order (according to the upper classes!), including Jewish men like Adolph Zukor and William Fox who founded the earliest studios. Churches, middle- and upper-class people, and concerned social groups were convinced that the "movies" would lead people, especially children, into perdition when the nickelodeons emerged, offering cheap entertainment. Later the movies became a scapegoat for the "cheapening" of American life, encouraging divorces, drinking, wild behavior, and other obscenities in otherwise "nice people" (just as radio, cheap paperback books, television, and finally the internet later took the blame for the same or similar behaviors).

While a social history, Sklar also hits the artistry of movie greats like Edwin Porter, D.W. Griffith, and others who took the movies from short, usually funny or erotic vignettes to full-fledged storytelling, using a mixture of closeups, medium shots, and long shots to develop narrative and pace. Sexism, racism (especially in Birth of a Nation), erotica, the Communist witch hunts, complaints of doctors that movies caused everything from bad eyes to abhorrent behavior, and other topics are also discussed.

This make a great companion piece to one of my favorite books on the history of film, Kenneth MacGowan's Behind the Screen, which I also found in a used bookstore, long long ago.

book icon  Amongst Our Weapons, Ben Aaronovitch
In the newest of the "Rivers of London" series, detective and apprentice wizard Peter Grant is investigating a dead body found in the London Silver Vaults which lie underneath the city. The man that was found was killed instantly and his assailant disappeared without a trace. Along with this mystery, Peter is experiencing an even more terrifying future: being a father! His partner Beverley, in reality the goddess of Beverley Brook, is about to give birth to twins.

I was amused that the first few chapters of this book actually read like a magical version of a Law & Order investigation; all it lacks is Lennie Briscoe. Peter is now teamed up with a non-magical partner, Danni Wickford, who views all the "magical bollocks" with some wonder and some skepticism; it doesn't look as if she will follow in the footsteps of Peter's original partner, Lesley May, who went rogue and reappears here.

All your old favorites are back—Guleed, Nightingale, briefly Molly and Toby the dog (since Peter is now living with Beverley rather than at the Folly), Miriam Stephanopolaus, Abigail's talking foxes, plus Alexander Seawoll gets a larger role as usual, and the team accompanies him to "the North" and meets his father. There are also the usual puns and references to other fandoms, including a really big Monty Python call-out as part of the plot.

If I have any complaint, with Peter living with Beverley, we don't get the charming bits that take place at the Folly, and I'm sort of on the fence with Peter's life turning into a domestic drama.

book icon  The Secret Language of Color, JoAnnEckstut and Arielle Eckstut
This is a coffee-table size book about...surprise!...color. There is a chapter for each of the primary and secondary colors—what the particular color represents in various societies, how it's used in signage, how it relates to animals and birds, its place in culture, etc.—and then alternating chapters talk about colors in science: physics and chemistry, the earth, the universe, plants, animals, and finally humans.

If you're as into colors as I am—I've been crazy about colors of paint, crayons, fireworks, plants, etc. since childhood—this is the book for you.

book icon  CSI: Sin City, Max Allan Collins
The second book in the CSI tie-in series. In this entry, the crime lab is working two cases once again: Sara and Catherine have been assigned to look into the murder of a worker at a strip club (night shift commander Gil Grissom believes that Catherine's former work as a stripper should provide her some extra insight into the case), while Grissom, Nick, and Warrick, along with homicide detective Jim Brass, look into the report of a missing woman named Lynn Pierce, who was threatened by her husband (on tape).

Collins has a good handle on the television characters and the book reads like an episode of the series. You can often hear the actors speak the lines. (One particular scene involves the discovery of a sex toy. Sara Sidle says gleefully, "DNA on a stick!" and you can imagine Jorja Fox saying the line.) He also has a way of describing scenes so they can be clearly envisioned. If you were a fan of the early episodes of the series, you will find these are a good addition.

book icon  Mysteries of the Alphabet, Marc-Alain Quaknin
I'm always interested in books about the alphabet and linguistics. This is an unusual book as it tries to be an art book and a history of the alphabet. Ouaknin is a rabbi, so the Hebrew alphabet is often referenced, and he takes this history not just back to hieroglyphics and cuneiform, but traces the meaning of each of the letters, gives them a numerical value, gives them symbolic meaning, etc. Multiple illustrations (maybe too many) show the original letters and their derivations on archaeological finds. Translated from the French.

book icon  When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler's Journal of Staying Put, Vivian Swift
Sometimes serendipity happens at the library book sale. I saw the lettering on the side of this, along with the unfamiliar author's name, and wondered "Did Susan Branch illustrate a book for someone?"

No, Vivian Swift is both the author and illustrator of this delightful book that covers a year in her life at her Connecticut home. There are beautiful landscapes, drawings of birds and animals, leaves, gardens, bridges, seascapes and more, along with Swift's diary entries, list of emotions over the seasons, memories of her past traveling in Europe, discourses on tea and cats and nature, and more. It's a beautiful little volume if just for the watercolors, but the commentary is enjoyable, too.

book icon  Three Debts Paid, Anne Perry
This is the next volume in the Daniel Pitt mystery series, which finds Daniel defending his former history professor in a case of assault. Another writer accused Nicholas Wolford of plagarism and took a swing at him; Wolford retaliated and broke the man's nose and jaw, and now he's afraid both charges will ruin his reputation. In the meantime, Daniel's good friend Miriam fford-Croft has returned from Europe where she studied to be a pathologist and is working with eccentric Dr. Evelyn Hall at the morgue on a particularly grim set of killings: the murderer strikes on rainy days and then disfigures the bodies. One woman, then another, and then a man are all killed, with the same disfigurement, leading them to the obvious conclusion that the same person is responsible. Daniel's old classmate Ian Frobisher, now a police detective, is on the case, but is severely hampered because the man killed was a banker and involved in secret budget negotiations; they are not allowed to question his family or his bank.

Once again Perry weaves an intricate plot in which all aspects of both cases eventually intertwine. We also get to know Ian Frobisher better as well as follow the progression of the relationship between Daniel and Miriam. Sir Thomas and Charlotte Pitt make cameo appearances as Daniel and Ian try to get to the bottom of things.

My only quibble with this is that a crucial piece of evidence linking the killings is only mentioned in the last few chapters of the book, which seems like cheating to me. The clues should be all set out at least in the first half of the book so readers can try to solve the mystery along with the detectives. Waiting to present this clue until just before the climax of the story seems unfair.

book icon  Beyond (The Founding of Valdemar, Book 1), Mercedes Lackey
Praise Ghu! After Lackey's simply dreadful Eye Spy with its carbon-copy instantly-recognizable avatar for a Certain Public Figure—a true plot cheat—I was afraid she'd forgotten how to write a good book.
 
If you, too, suffered through Eye Spy (or part of Eye Spy, as I did; I couldn't finish the awful thing), please note she has not forgotten how to write a great book. Here she gives fans of her Valdemar universe what we have wanted for years: the story of the Kingdom of Valdemar and its founder, Duke Kordas Valdemar. Kordas' duchy is a rural community of mostly yeoman farmers and livestock breeders; Kordas himself loves and breeds horses, including the stunning "Valdemar Gold." As the story opens, a new Gold filly is born and given as a gift to Delia, Kordas' sister-in-law (who harbors a secret crush on him after he saved her life).
 
Behind this bucolic facade, Kordas is a worried man. Like all his contemporaries, he was "fostered" (read: held hostage) at the court of the Emperor at a young age and then sent home expected to obey the avaricious and self-absorbed commands of his liege lord. But Kordas' father has taught him to expect that some day the Empire will try to invade Valdemar, lay waste to its beautiful lands, and take all that they need, including the beloved horses. So for years his father, and now Kordas, have gathered mages and made preparations for the population and the livestock of Valdemar to escape via magical Gates to lands far in the west where the Empire cannot encroach on them. Their plans are set to come to fruition during the upcoming annual Empire Regatta. Then Kordas is summoned to the Capital for a meeting of the heads of all the principalities, dukedoms, baronies, etc. Kordas goes, leaving his capable wife Isla, Delia, and his mages in charge, but what he finds at the Capital—including Air Elementals enslaved in scarecrow-like artificial bodies and "foster" children toed into line with obedience spells—so horrifies him that he finds he must help more than just the people of Valdemar.

A whopping great tale, with memorable characters, including "the Dolls" (whose secret will make you squirm), and a constantly moving plot. There are still avatars for Certain Public Figures (and their actions), but they are well disguised in the plot and not at all smack-in-the-face smirkingly obvious. Lackey hasn't written such a good adventure in several volumes. Definitely looking forward to the next two books and the definitive story of how the Companions came to be.

If I had one quibble, it's that we're told how special the Valdemar Golds are, but...why? Is it just their color? We almost learn more about the Chargers (including the two sent the Emperor who are "fake" Valdemar Golds), the Tow-Beasts, the Sweetfoots (riding horses), and the Fleetfoots (race horses) than we do about the Golds.

book icon  Manhattan Mayhem, edited by Mary Higgins Clark
This is a book of mystery short stories set in...surprise!...New York City, each based in a different neighborhood. Three take place during or just after World War II, and two involve the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park, but with two radically different plots. (Some of the plots do not involve murder—but Julie Hyzy's "Alice"-centered plot does; was a fan of Hyzy since the "Manor House" mysteries.) Was very intrigued because the story set in Chinatown, written by S.J. Rozan, is worked by the usually disapproving mother of Chinese-American detective Lydia Chin! Lee Child contributes a Jack Reacher story set at the Flatiron Building, and there's even an odd time-travel story called "Evermore." In the meantime, a dying woman gets some epic revenge; a series of murders is committed with clues from lyrics from musicals; a mystery play is the setting for a play about a murder mystery; and a young Italian man trying to escape crime can't escape other obligations—plus more in seventeen pavement-pounding stories!