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!

21 April 2022

Books from the Library Book Sale

The Spring Library Book Sale was a month late because they had a venue-scheduling problem. I joined the line of regulars at 8:50 a.m. so I was there when the doors opened. Didn't find any CSI novels, but, besides finding pretty much new books for a couple of gifts, and an amusing-looking one for James, my list was thus:

book icon  The Alps, Stephen O'Shea (off my Amazon wishlist)

book icon  Friends for the Journey, Madeleine L'Engle & Luci Shaw (a L'Engle book I did not have!)

book icon  Merry Hall, Beverley Nichols (it's a gardening book, but it's supposed to be funny)

book icon  Flight Path, Hannah Palmer (about the neighborhoods that used to be there before they built Hartsfield-Jackson Airport)

book icon  London the Biography, Peter Ackroyd (his books are always fun)

book icon  Confederates in the Attic, Tony Horwitz (another attempt of Horwitz to understand the appeal of the "Old South")

book icon  Beaks, Bones & Bird Songs, Roger J. Lederer (well, it's about birds)

book icon  Pacific, Simon Winchester (I have Atlantic and Land)

book icon  Awake in the Dark, Roger Ebert (movie reviews, actor profiles and more)

book icon  The Fifty-Year Mission; The First 25 Years, Edward Gross & Mark A. Altman (Star Trek by those who made it)

book icon  The First Human,  Ann Gibbons (anthropological book, of course)

book icon  The Secret Language of Color, Joann Eckstut & Arielle Eckstut (like The Elements, only about color and how it relates to science and nature and culture)

book icon  When Wanderers Cease to Roam, Vivian Swift (because of the lettering on the spine, I thought this was a book Susan Branch illustrated; instead this is a book about a woman who has traveled extensively but did a journal of her one year at home on Long Island Sound—she's a watercolorist, which is why it looked like Susan Branch)

book icon  Manhattan Mayhem, ed. Mary Higgins Clark (mystery stories set in NYC)

book icon  The Seasons of America Past and Diary of an Early American Boy (Noah Blake 1805), Eric Sloane (I have been wanting these, but Sloane's books are now fiendishly expensive, and these are brand new)