30 April 2023

Books Completed Since April 1

book icon  Did I Ever Tell You This?, Sam Neill
Imagine you're in a pub, and suddenly actor Sam Neill strolls in and decides you're a genial companion for the evening. He sits down and begins telling you stories. Some are about his past, some are about his films, others are about people he encountered or his vineyards or things he likes and doesn't like, and others are about the dreadful news he received just after filming Jurassic World Dominion, where he found out he had a malignant cancer.

Reading this memoir is like sitting at the pub with Neill, having him tell you stories. You can hear his voice in the words, cheeky or sorrowful, opinionated or reflective. Granted, I'm not up on a lot of New Zealand or Australian slang and celebrities, so I had to do a bit of research on a few people, but those were minor problems. I've loved Neill since Hunt for Red October and this memoir is just Sam wrapped up all in a nice package and delivered with a pretty bow.

Comes with two photo inserts as well as photographs within the text. Sam Neill fans, this is a gift for you.

book icon  The Hating Game, Sally Thorne
Lucy Hutton is the daughter of strawberry farmers; she came to the Big City to fulfill her dream of working at a publishing house, and found her dream job working at Gamin Publishing. And it was perfect until Gamin, a failing concern, merged with Baxley Books, and she had to work every day with Joshua Templeman, Mr. Perfect humorless Josh, who wears his shirts in strict rotation and makes other employees afraid. Together, he and Lucy play what she calls "the Hating Game," trying to outdo one another in being spiteful to one another. And when their respective bosses tell them there will be a competition between them for the role of chief operating officer, the Hating Game only escalates.

If only Lucy wasn't becoming interested in Josh, and vice versa.

Yes, it's a rom-com and yeah, I did enjoy this one. (It was made into a film, which I'll probably avoid; apparently it doesn't live up to the book.) Nothing really memorably special about it, except for the interesting revelation about Josh's room; some nice steamy scenes, including one in an elevator. Oh, and that wonderful dinner in the end when Lucy makes a speech to remember to Josh's clueless father, who should be slapped (and hard). But worth reading for a kick-back-and-relax reading day.

book icon  The Bluebird Effect, Julie Zickefoose
I had been drawn to this book for years, even before I read Zickefoose's Saving Jemima, about her experience raising a blue jay. Zickefoose is a wonderful watercolor artist of nature and birds, and just her illustrations were worth the price of the book.

My husband bought this off my Amazon list and after I finished it, I went up to him, hugged him and thanked him. What a lovely experience! It's basically Zickefoose's stories from being a bird rehabilitator, and not just bluebirds: swallows, starlings, chickadees, wrens, hummingbirds, ospreys, titmice, swifts, grosbeaks, tanagers, phoebes, plovers, and more fill this wonderful volume along with pencil sketches, pen and paint, and watercolor pieces (a couple of fall and winter pics are breathtaking). She even talks about her beloved macaw, Charlie, who turned out at the end to be female.

If you love birds, this is a must have.

book icon  It's That Time Again 3: Even More New Stories of Old-Time Radio, edited by Jim Harmon
This is my third of this set of four books with short stories based on old-time radio series, and I think it's my favorite so far. The stories are all crossovers, too, as illustrated by the cover illustration which shows Jack Armstrong teamed up with Tom Mix. (I really enjoyed this story, too; my complaint was that it was billed as a "novelette" and it was too damn short!)

Other goodies: the spooky Whistler/Traveler tale, Sherlock Holmes coming up against A.J. Raffles, a swell story where Sky King gets mixed up with Captain Midnight and his team, an interesting team-up (if it's the word) between Paladin and Marshal Dillon, the mystery "Death in the Corner Office" wherein Casey, Crime Photographer meets the Man in Black from Suspense, and a funny story where Gildersleeve just wants a quiet place to read his newspaper. Most of the other stories are good, too, even though I still don't "get" Lum & Abner (although they mesh pretty well with Mary Noble!).

book icon  Revolutionary Roads, Bob Thompson
Thompson is not a historian. But when I looked through this book I decided it was just what I was looking for.

Schoolday history rarely goes into any depth about any historic event simply because there are only 180 hours a school year to address 400+ years (at least, only if you don't address the Native people here before the "discovery" by Columbus) of American history. What you learn are top names, dates, and quick descriptions, and you don't learn anything about the "average" American in history.

Thompson thus visits Revolutionary War sites, from the well-known—the inevitable "midnight ride of Paul Revere" and Bunker Hill—to the decisive battle no one remembers—Cowpens in South Carolina. He follows the career of Benedict Arnold to try to explain why this expert colonial leader turned traitor, we learn the truth (as my husband and I did) about Valley Forge (it wasn't the cold; it was mud and disease—and, oh, yeah, there were families there), you discover the real type of boat Washington crossed the Delaware River in (note it wasn't the kind in the famous painting), what was the Marquis de Lafayette's real contributions (also a nice write-up on Baron von Steuben), and actual narrative about Black and other minority fighters (including women). We meet the well-known like Arnold, Henry Knox, the British biggies like Burgoyne and Howe, Lafayette, and Francis Marion (cue "The Swamp Fox" theme on Walt Disney's TV show!) and the lesser known, like John Stark, Daniel Morgan, Henry Laurens, and Nathanael Green (well, unless you're a Rhode Islander). All in all, an entertaining, enlightening book that encourages you to go out and research history on your own.

book icon  Marmee, Sarah Miller
As Caroline was Little House on the Prairie (the book, not the television series) told from Caroline Ingalls' point of view, Marmee is the diary of Margaret March taking place during the narrative of Little Women. I was skeptical about this book initially because I'd read Geraldine Brooks' March, which was supposed to be a history of a young Bronson Alcott, and I never felt it jibed with Little Women. But this reads like it really is Marmee's diary, and, of course, all the things Alcott might not have wanted to mention in a children's book (for instance that Hannah stayed with the Marches because she was an unmarried pregnant woman when she came to them, or Marmee helping the Hummels and bonding with Mrs. Hummel) which seem plausible. As in most of these books based on Little Women, Miller works real-life Alcott events (the Alcotts taking in a runaway slave* which goes on to explain an event Alcott glosses over in Little Women, Mr. March being named "Amos" instead of "Robert" as he is in the book, etc.) into the story, but they're not intrusive and work seamlessly into the story. I can really imagine "Marmee" writing this journal and feel her personality as shown in this book matches the woman we saw in Little Women.

Recommended for fans of Alcott/Little Women!

Interestingly enough, the Japanese anime version Tales of Little Women from 1987 also uses this plotline.

book icon  Life on the Mississippi, Rinker Buck
If you're like me, your biggest connection with traffic on the Mississippi comes from Huckleberry Finn, the riverboats that pop up in literature and media, and Davy Crockett and the River Pirates, in which we learn about Mike Fink and the flatboat trade. (For me, also a book called A' Going to the Westward by Lois Lenski.) But before 18-wheelers, before the railroad, the main commerce lines in the United States were canals that led to the rivers, and the rivers which led the young U.S. to the big one: the Mississippi. Indeed, commercial boats still make up the majority of Mississippi river traffic. So Rinker Buck, who in 2011 rode The Oregon Trail in a covered wagon, now chronicles his months on a custom-built flatboat which he launches on the Monongahela, travels to the Ohio, and eventually merges with the Mississippi for the ride down to New Orleans. On the way, we learn the fascinating history of America's first westward movement and the role of the flatboat/keelboat (there were different kinds) in establishing commerce. (The flatboat/keelboat also goes further back than this first westward movement; the boats were used on New England rivers.)

This book is part travelogue, part history—and Buck doesn't stint on the cruel history of the Indian Removal Act or the spread of slavery to the horrible plantations of the western south—part adventure and part self-discovery, like traveling with incompatible co-pilots (the worst being a re-inactor more concerned with "how things look" than the journey) and broken ribs.

Plus, for me, there was joy in finding out what happened to his mother Pat, who I read about long ago in his dad's humorous memoir But Daddy! about raising ten kids.

I enjoyed this book so much—in fact, this was a grand month for reading. Everything was wonderful.

book icon  CSI: Binding Ties, Max Allan Collins
This is the first of the CSI books I haven't really, really enjoyed. I liked it, but the plot was simpler than usual, so it wasn't quite as an "aha" moment when everything came together. Usually the plot involves part of the team working on one mystery and the other group work on a different case, and they end up being related; this is just a straight mystery involving the whole team: ten years earlier, Jim Brass' first case in Las Vegas came a cropper and a serial killer called CASt got away. Now crimes matching the CASt killings begin to surface. Brass and the CSI team headed by Gil Grissom enlist the reporters who covered the case and Brass' old partner on the case to finally catch the perp--but they soon realize the new CASt is a copycat.

That's it. Oh, it's convoluted enough, but I twigged on one of the bad guys as soon as he was introduced. The perp was a bit of a surprise, or, rather the reason the perp became the perp, and how the last murder was committed. So, good, but not as complicated as previous books.