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.