Thursday, September 30, 2010

Middle Sis' September Books

This month I signed up with an Internet galley service, so I have reviews below of some recently published and about to be published books. I've been enjoying reading the galleys; I used to enjoy reading them at the PW bookstore. So, herewith:

  • The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths (2011)    Number 2 in the Ruth Galloway mystery series, and I admit that I haven't read the first. But mystery, archaeology, England--what's not to love? Well, unfortunately, some. The main character--a 40-ish female archaeologist--didn't quite resonate with me, but she may grow in future novels. The police inspector, Nelson, didn't elicit much sympathy from me, especially after he ends the critical denouement in a most unprofessional manner, quite at odds with his behavior up till then. Some of the secondary characters were more interesting than the main, and the author should redirect her efforts to bringing the leads to as much life as she did the secondaries. And I never did get used to the present tense, which I usually find awkward at best, pretentious at worst. But the Norfolk coast is superbly drawn, giving the novel a lovely, desolate atmosphere. The mystery itself was not too hard to figure out (and I don't even try to figure out whodunnit), but there certainly were moments of suspense. All in all, I can see potential in this series and this author. (galley edition)
  • Active Senior Living by Jan Curran (2010) Funny novel apparently based on the author's own experiences living in a active senior community while recovering from cancer. Who knew seniors were so randy? It's high school all over again, but with silver hair and walkers. A quick read, engaging, with a sympathetic main character and endearing secondary characters. Life does not end with retirement. That's good to know. (Kindle)
  • Brave New Knits by Julie Turjoman (2010) Interesting addition to the many knitting books flooding the market these days. New, young designers using the Internet to sell their designs are the focus of the book, although three well-established designers are also profiled as they talk about how they've come to use the Internet and online knitting communities to further their outreach. The founder of Ravelry (of which, in the interests of full disclosure, I have been a member since 2007, when it was in beta version), an online knitting community of over half a million knitters and crocheters, provides the introduction. Nice layout, good photos, and thoughtful array of projects for beginner knitters and experienced knitters alike. (galley edition)
  • Crocheted Prayer Shawl Companion by Janet Bristow and Victoria Cole-Gabo (2010) Followup to the first Crochet Prayer Shawl, which outlined how the prayer shawl ministry movement began and spread. Nice layout, nice photos, with added interest in commentary from the designers and prayers the crocheter can use while making these comfort shawl patterns. (galley edition)
  • Dog Days: Dispatches from Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz (2008) Another memoir by Katz of life on a New England farm surrounded by dogs, cats, donkeys, goats, even a cow and bull. I have to say I was somewhat put off in the first part where the death of  a donkey Katz had rescued was described. Well, her death made me teary; the matter of fact disposal of her body upset me. Katz is a big animal lover, but has no problem sending the donkey's body off to to be, well, let's say remaindered, or adding a dog with lots of issues and needs to his overflowing household while he's having serious medical problems of his own that impede his own mobility. I appreciate the no-nonense farmer's approach to animal life, but Katz seems to want it both ways--to be recognized as a superior animal lover, who goes out of his way to take on rescues, and an unromantic farmer dealing with the realities of farm animal life. In reality, he's a middle-aged gentleman farmer who relies on others to run his farm, and takes on a very needy dog while he himself has to use a cane to get around--not exactly responsible in my book. I do agree with his dog-training philosophy, but he's probably find me a bleeding heart. Frankly, I'm not sure I'll read any others by him. Border collie and lab fans will delight in his dogs, though, as did I. (audiobook)
  •  Read My Pins by Madeleine Albright (2009) I heard Ms. Albright being interviewed about this book very early this year, and since I've long been an admirer of her and of pins, I had to read it. Fascinating picture book of her extensive pin collection, with her recollections of where some were found, the people who gave her others, and the messages she tried to send with some of them during diplomatic missions. And she was the commencement speaker at my friend Sarah's graduation! (Who did I have, you ask? Greg Kinnear. Is it any wonder I passed on it?)
  • A Pinchbeck Bride by Stephen Anable (2011)  Another second-in-series-and-I-haven't-read-the-first. Mark Winslow, the former comic improv, is invited to be a trustee of a Victorian mansion to help with grant writing, and discovers the body of one of the docents, strangled, and clad in Victorian dress. Interesting concept that doesn't live up to its potential. The older female trustees are not well drawn, and I was confused for a long time over who was who, and almost all the male trustees and men involved in the mystery turn to to be gay and hit on Mark (himself gay, but in a committed relationship; my gay friend would love to have that many men hitting on him). The author must have been trying to make the first victim multidimensional so as to to confuse the reader over the identity of the murderer, but her very many different personalities were so confusing and conflicting that it just devolved to not caring at all that she was murdered. None of the suspects were sympathetic, and Mark was also a rather bland character. Mark's relationship with his partner was handled pretty gracefully, but there was one allusion to a sex scene that was a little graphic (but all sex scenes make me squirm; I'm most definitely not a voyeur) and may turn off readers. Not sure if this one will move beyond the GLTB community. This straight reader doesn't care if characters are gay or not, as long as they're interesting. Sadly, most here were not. (galley edition--lots of typos and formatting issues, but some may have been Kindle specific)
  • Good Old Dog by Nicholas Dodman (2010) Excellent reference for owners and lovers of geriatric dogs. Most canine care books have a chapter or sometimes just a section on caring for the older dog, so it was wonderful to see a book devoted entirely to issues of aging. Full disclosure--my dogs are 9.5 and almost 11 years old, so I was greatly interested int he topic. Dodman is a well-known veterinarian, so the medical aspects of the book are well done, interesting, and cutting edge (even things I've not heard of, and I spend exorbitant amounts of money at a suite of vet office son my zoo). The one stumble is the usual veterinary trap of not thinking alternative medicines (like Chinese medicine, acupuncture, or reiki, etc.) merit consideration. If Dodman didn't feel competent to address these issues, inviting a specialist to write a chapter or appendix would have been useful. Many older dog owners, myself included, either use alternative as well as traditonal approaches, or are interested in learning about potentially useful and less stressful or harmful ways to ease our dogs into old age. Overall, a great reference that I will have to get to add to my dog library. (galley edition)
  • Identifying and Feeding Birds by Bill Thompson III (2010) Very useful barkyard bird guide that goes beyond traditional backyard bird guides to offer suggestions  on different food, how to guides to build different feeders, and addresses usually forgotten topics like what plants will attract songbirds, what fertilizers should a birder use or avoid, etc. Great close-up photographs. I'd love a real copy of this book to supplement my traditional guides. My one problem--there are no regional discussions. The section on suet feeders doesn't mention that suet in the southwest melts and is a good feeding option only in the dead of winter. Brief tables by region of common backyard birds and tips would have been a handy improvement. (galley edition)
  • The Room in the Tower by E.F. Benson (1912) Another horror story to tingle my spine as Halloween approaches. Atmospheric short story about a man with a nightmare that comes true. Pictures that bleed, dogs scared of something no person can see, a remote tower room... Loved it! And not just because it's by one of my favorite authors. Will now seek out other Benson horror stories.

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