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.