Monday, December 29, 2008
Monday, December 22, 2008
Diamonds Are Trouble by Scott Corbett. 1967, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. 96 pp Mystery
College student Jeff takes a last minute summer job at Ambrose Bunker's inn on Cape Cod, where he arrives late at night. He starts by tackling his new boss who is attempting to crawl into one of the windows of a guest cottage. The explanation leads to suspicion and distrust of guest Augustus V Wolfe who is possibly angling after the diamonds belonging to another guest, the wealthy Mrs. Walling. This is a short snappy mystery. I'm not sure exactly who the audience is here. Mr. Corbett is best known for his children's stories, but there's a lot of brandy floating around for that.
Family Linen by Lee Smith. 1985, G.P. Putnam's Sons. 272 pp. Fiction
I thought this looked like a Krantz book--with the glamour, sizzle, and sass. This particular copy has been rebound, so there was no blurb, but I took a chance after reading the first couple pages about Sybill and her trip to the hypnotist. Krantz it isn't, but it is a funny book about a family full of oddballs, pretentious idiots, and kooks. It reminded me in many ways of Lorna Ludvik's Patty Jane's House of Curl.
Firestorm at Peshtigo by Denise Gess and William Lutz. 2002, Henry Holt. 267 pp Nonfiction
Many people know that on October 8, 1871 a good share of Chicago burned down killing 300 people. Unless they live in Wisconsin, most people are not aware that on that same day more than 2,400 square miles of forest burned and between 1,500 and 2,500 people died. This book tells about the Wisconsin fire and its aftermath. In 1871 Peshtigo was a booming timber town with 100 or more people a week arriving to log or farm on the cheap land available. In fact, nobody knows exactly how many people were in the area, so nobody knows exactly how many people died.
A Gladiator Dies Only Once by Steven Saylor. 2005, St. Martin's Minotaur. 269 pp Mystery
Gordianus the Finder has been around since 1991. I'm just now discovering him. (Don't you just love browsing up and down the shelves of the library and finding "new" authors to read.) Set just a little earlier than my favorite Roman mysteries, Gordianus pulls in historical figures like Cicero, Lucullus, and Cato and makes them come alive, some of them more than others. This is a collection of short stories that cover some of the early years of Gordianus' cases, 77-64 BC. I'll be looking for the full length mysteries now.
What They Didn't Teach You About the Wild West by Mike Wright. 2000, Presido. 370 pp Nonfiction
Part of a series, this book loosely organizes topics of western lore (Cowboy, cattle barons, Native Americans, railroads, etc.) and presents items to amaze--sort of "And now, the rest of the story..." Many of the facts are pretty well known to people with even a minimal interest in history, but there is sure to be at least a nugget or two that you probably never knew.
Yarnplay at Home: Handknits for Colorful Living by Lisa Shobhana Mason. 2008, North Light. 127 pp Crafts
These attractive knitting projects are arranged in three levels of difficulty, from the easiest to more difficult (which would be suitable for most reasonably competent knitters). There is a nice range of projects from the simple knitted cotton dishcloth to a lacy mohair curtain, with suggestions for decorating ideas, alternate adaptations, or gift ideas in many cases. The directions are clear and easy to follow. The Serpentine dishcloth pattern is just difficult enough to keep me interested.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
David Cannadin is an English historical essayist whose field of expertise is the 19th and 20th centuries. This book covers a wide range of subjects, but many of them have at least something to do with the 1980-1996 period, which means he covers the Margaret Thatcher years. A reader could easily get the impression that the author is not a fan of "The Iron Maiden. Each of the essays has some connection to at least one book as an authority on the subject, which Cannadin reviews and sometime reviles. This is a very interesting take on modern English history.
Just Jane by Nancy Moser. 2007, Bethany. 367 pp Historical Fiction
A fictionalized account of Jane Austen's life. Moser has taken the bare bones of her story and written an account that breathes a lot of life into Jane's world. I really enjoyed this one, as I did Moser's other historical fiction Mozart's Sister.
Killing Bridezilla by Laura Levine. 2008, Kensington. 247 pp Mystery
On a fairly minor planet in the far corners of the universe religion has been divided between the Triumphantes and the Fideles, who both worship the same goddess, but in different ways. A serial killer is stalking both sects, alternately killing a Triumphante and a Fidele sister. Interfed sends agent Cowan Drake to catch the killer. This is really more of a mystery set in an science fiction world. Or is it a romance set in a mystery set in a science fiction world. It moves a little slowly, but it is an entertaining book.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
A Little History of the World by E. H. Gombrich. Translated by Caroline Mustill. 2005, Yale University Press. 284 pp. Nonfiction
This book was written for children in 1935-36 by a young German art historian. It became very popular and was translated into a number of other languages, but not English until it was recently translated and updated. Unlike many books of its kind, A Little History of the World does cover more than just Europe and North America. Of necessity, there is a lot of detail left out, but it does cover much. That said, I found it rather patronizing in the "Dear little Reader" head-patting way. Maybe kids won't notice, or mind. I did.
Secrets in Satin by Haywood Smith. 1997, St. Martin;s. 344 pp. Romance
Amidst the turmoil of the end of the reign of Charles I of England the Countess of Ravenwold and the Viscount Creighton meet and share a destiny. He thinks she's frigid, she thinks he is rogue, the King thinks they should wed. This is an okay read. The author at least seems to have the history down well and the characters are interesting, even if the plot is stale, stale, stale. For lovers of formula historical romance only.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Epilogue by Anne Roiphe. 2008,HarperCollins. 214pp Biography
It's not easy being a widow after forty years of marriage. Some time after her husband's death Roiphe's daughters take out an ad in a literary magazine to ease her back into the "dating" scene. In this book, she muses on families, loneliness, grief, and other topics familiar to widows. This is certainly not a "how to cope with grief" book, but many of the emotions will be familiar to widows.
Outside Passage:A Memoir of an Alaskan Childhood by Julia Scully. 1998,Random. 219 pp. Biography
Julia's father committed suicide when she was seven. Her mother, a spunky immigrant from Poland, leaves Julia and her sister in an orphanage, and goes to Alaska to find work during the Great Depression. Four years later the family gets back together in Alaska. These are Julia's remembrances of growing up during the war years primarily in Alaska. The stories are a mixture of admiration and puzzlement for her mother's behavior. Most of the time they are told from the viewpoint of a young girl trying to make sense of the world.
Helget chronicles her life growing up the oldest in a family of six girls in rural Minnesota in the 1980s. Her father had played a couple seasons of major league baseball, before washing out and coming home to farm. The book bounces back and forth in time, but she clearly labels the time periods. For the people who like books of dysfunctional families. If you enjoyed The Glass Castle or A Child Called It, you will probably enjoy this one.
Friday, December 12, 2008
Let the books begin:
The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia A. McKillip. 2008, Ace. 277 pp. Fantasy
Sealey Head sits on the ocean, a small village in "once upon a time". Judd Cauley runs his father’s failing inn and fancies Gwyenth Blair. Then there is his rival for Gwyenth’s attentions, Raven Sproule; the mysterious visitor Ridley Dow; and the aged owner of the great house, Lady Eglantyne. And we mustn’t forget the unseen bell that rings every night at sundown. I love McKillip’s books. In this one the words delicately pick their way through the action in worlds both mundane and faerie to create a story to enchant us all.
The Body in the Gallery by Katherine Hall Page. 2008, William Morrow. 262 pp. Mystery
Faith Fairchild is a caterer in Aleford, MA who dabbles in solving mysteries on the side. Unlike many other such caterers, who have husbands involved in law enforcement, her husband is a minister. In this, the 17rh Faith Fairchild mystery, she takes on art fraud while dealing with such domestic issues as cyberbullying and a husband who suddenly seems to need a stay at home wife. As is common with culinary mysteries, there are a few recipes at the end. This is the first book I’ve read in this award winning series. While the husband is a minister and Faith is also a Preacher’s Kid, this is not what I would consider a Christian Fiction.
The French Admiral by Dewey Lambdin. 1990, Donald I. Fine. 414 pp. Fiction
For people who enjoy their 18th and 19th century naval fiction (Can you say Patrick O’Brien?), this book takes place during the final years of the American Revolution. It is told from the British naval viewpoint which gives a slightly different tang to the story. In the first book of the series, The King’s Coat (which I haven’t read), our hero Alan Lewrie is pressed into His Majesty’s Royal Navy at the behest of his father, where he acquitted himself well enough to win a second book. In this one he continues his winning ways, finding willing wenches, plenty of liquid refreshment, and lots of adventure. His participation in some of the action is certainly involuntary, but he manages.
The Frontiersman: The Real Life and The Many Legends of Davy Crockett by Mark Derr. 1993, William Morrow. 304 pp. Biography
If you grew up in the 1950s you probably could sing all twenty verses of Davy Crockett King of the Wild Frontier. But Walt Disney didn’t get it quite right (Surprise, surprise!).
Derr has attempted a biography of a man who a) lived in a time period when record keeping was a little looser, b) in a part of the country where record keeping was a little looser, and c) was a lot less likely to let his personal thoughts and feelings hang out. This means that Derr has to make some assumptions, which he is quick to point out and defend. This was an interesting and wide-ranging read, with stories of the politicians (Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, Martin Van Buren), Texans (Sam Houston, Stephen Austin), and others (Daniel Boone, Edgar Allan Poe) whose names we may or may not remember.
Save Weeping for the Night by Loula Grace Erdman. 1975, Dodd, Mead. 205 pp. Fiction
A fictionalize account of Bettie Shelby, wife of Confederate General Jo Shelby. This is a love story of a woman who "stands by her man". Bettie and her two children spent at least part of the war following the Confederate army with her husband. At the end of the war Shelby refused to surrender and took his like-minded men to Mexico. Bettie and children followed. Eventually, Shelby felt he could return with honor to the US and sent his wife and family too. This is a gentle read, a good historical fiction for people who want Civil War period books without the blood and grit.
The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer. 2008, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 195 pp. Fiction
The early 1950s are often looked at with nostalgia as a kind of Golden Age of domestic relations in the US. Somehow the reality doesn’t always jibe. Story of a Marriage takes place in California after the close of World War II and shows us more of what life really held for many. Holland, Pearlie, and their boy Sonny, and Holland’s twin aunts live in San Francisco. Their world changes when the stranger enters with his offer of $10,000. This is an old fashioned novel, in the best meaning of those words, telling a story in a straightforward manner with honesty and dignity.
The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling. 2008, Scholastic. 111 pp Children's Fantasy
Five slight tales with commentary by the eminent Albus Dumbledore; translated from the ancient runes by Hermione Granger. The tales are common mundane fairy tale types, but with a magical twist, not the magic is the main focus of them. Dumbledore’s notes are rather puzzling; at times the remarks seems very cynical while in others they lean toward more helpful criticism. The profits from this book go toward Rowling’s charitiable foundation to aid children
Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien. 2008, Free Press. 229 pp. Nonfiction
Okay, I was skeptical on this one, but I was willing to try it. After all, just two month ago I’d had an Australian barn owl sit on my knee for a few minutes at a raptor show on Kangaroo Island and he was adorable. But… most of the people who do these books tend to go way overboard. I’m glad to say I really enjoyed this book. Parts of it are not for the squeamish (oooh, owl spit, owl pellets, owl shit), parts of it are a little preachy (although not as much as I feared it might be), but other parts are downright hilarious and/or heartwarming. O’Brien does a nice job of showing why people should NOT try this at home; she’s a biologist specializing in animal behavior, and initially took Wesley as part of her job.
I admit I cried at the end when Wesley died. Actually, I don’t know why it’s a spoiler; all good animal books end with the animal dying and at least this was of old age.***
Monday, December 8, 2008
A Book of Books, photographs by Abelardo Morell, preface by Nicholson Baker. 2002, Bulfinch Press/Little, Brown. 106 pp. Non-fiction
This is a nice coffeetable-sized book filled with black and white pictures of books. The only commentaries, other than the preface, are quotes about books and writing by various authors. It is too large and hefty to be a good bathroom book, but it is the kind of book to sip and savor your way through. No need to hurry or even "read" in any particular order. Most of the pictures are ones you can look at several times and see something new each time.
Claude is a French dressmaker like his father and grandfather before him. He crafts the most exquisite wedding dresses which leads him to a new client, Valentine, who gives him free rein with her gown. He falls in love with his ideal woman and his life changes forever. The endless descriptions of Valentine remind me of Audrey Hepburn, but she comes across as a curiously shadowy character. Claude’s wife is very one dimensional (can you say "social climber"?), but then, so are most of the other characters. This was a first novel. I’d say Oberbeck should write some more—her writing is interesting, even if the characters are a little uneven.
Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland. 2008, Touchstone/Simon & Schuster. 382 pp. Historical Fiction
Louise de la Vallière became the mistress of the Sun King, Louis XIV, whose life outshone so many in seventeenth century France. She was born into a poor family, too poor for her to even join the convent as she wished to. She was horse crazy, slightly lame, and religious, unlikely royal mistress material. Then her widowed mother married a marquise and thus began Louise’s introduction to court and her rise to fame and love. This is the ideal historical fiction…the pace moves on a slower scale, much like the times. Gulland attempted to recreate the sights, sounds, and smells of the time period. For people who are somewhat historically challenged there is a good genealogy chart at the beginning and a nice glossary at the end. This is well worth reading if you like historical fiction. Gulland is the author of the trilogy Josephine B.
Anyway, I like the looks of these projects. And no, the title is not a typo on my part, it’s all one word.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Julia quits her job, dumps her fiancé Oscar, and takes a job as a crewman on a canal boat. Just your average chick lit, but Fforde has a way with words that makes you want to know more about Julia, her new boss Suzy, Fergus, and even Julia’s bossy mother. The characters may be stereotypes--Suzy is the classic ditzy society girl, Oscar the dumb as a post fiance who refuses to stay dumped, but it all works. I don’t know how I managed to miss this one when it came out. Send me more Katie Fforde for when I just can't face another earnest book with a heavy handed message.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. 2008, Random. 270 pp. Fiction
On Kingdom Mountain by Howard Frank Mosher. 2007, Houghton, Mifflin. 274 pp. Fiction
Miss Jane Hubbell Kinneson, lives on Kingdom Mountain in northern Vermont in the 1930s. She is a feisty fifty-year old who relies on her razor-sharp tongue, over-under shotgun, and a few drams of Who Shot Sam to aid her fight against the proposed highway across "her" mountain. Then she befriends stunt pilot weathermaker Henry Satterfield who is looking for a long lost stash of Confederate gold. I enjoyed this book a lot, although the story moves slowly. I think it could even be a fun movie if they could find someone like Katherine Hepburn to play the part of Miss Jane.
The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble. 2002, Harcourt. 307 pp. Fiction
Candida confides her story of rejection, divorce, and alienation to her computer. Her struggles with her health club, her problems with people nearly defeat her, but she keeps bobbing back. She reminds me in a way of A. A. Milne’s Eeyore. But this book is not depressing. Margaret Drabble’s books are not for the faint hearted. Not that they are filled with violence, smut, or foul language. Quite the opposite. Her books are very literate, often wry, and thought provoking. They are not quick reads with interchangeable plots and characters. Don’t let it put you off, though, because she is worth reading.
The War Against Miss Winter by Kathryn Miller Haines. 2007, HarperCollins 317 pp. Mystery
The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig. 2006, Harcourt. 345 pp. Fiction
"Can’t cook, but doesn’t bite." What a great start to a position wanted ad and an adventure in living in 1909 Montana. Rose is an unexpected housekeeper for the three motherless Milliron boys and their father Oliver. She and her brother Morrie bring sunshine, life, and learning to the rural community. A paean to an earlier way of life, The Whistling Season reads fast and lively.