Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Middle Sister's April Books

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth van Arnim I love both movie versions, and this was one of the first books I downloaded to my Kindle last year--but I saved it until an April to read it. The book is as wonderful as the movie versions, and the one change made for the more recent movie improves the story immeasurably. I'm sure Ms. van Arnim would have approved that slight change. If you're weary and desperate for a change and unable to go on a vacation, take this sublime trip to Italy--you'll be glad you did.

Tom Swift and His Submarine by Victor Appleton Another trip down long out-of-print juvenile literature lane. Tom Swift was one of the creations of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Although as a printed book, this might not appeal to today's young boy, I can see this as a highly successful cartoon, a la SpeedRacer. The first half of the book takes place in New Jersey, with a fictional Atlantis substituting for Atlantic City. In its attempt to blend cutting edge science and technology for the everyday boy, who would have believed that he, like Tom, could build his own submarine or dirigible, I can see why these were very popular books in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Purebred Rescue Dog Adoption by Liz Palika We all know what's on my mind these days, so no reason to say why I was reading this book, this month. Nice introduction to what adopting a rescue dog entails, the questions prospective adopters should ask themselves and the organization they adopt from, and potential issues with the new family pet.

The Alto Wore Tweed by Mark Schweizer Very funny first in a series of gentle mysteries starring the police detective/church organist and choir master of a small town in North Carolina who just happens to be filthy rich, too. Irreverent mystery humor, irreverent religious humor, irreverent uber-feminist humor, and likable characters make this a winner. So much so that I bought the second in the series when only halfway through the first. The mystery is not so challenging, but the people we meet and places we go are so engaging the journey races by. A couple of scenes will have you laughing out loud, so if you're easily embarrassed, don't read this in public.

Genes, Germs, and Civilization by David P. Clark Great idea--how have infectious diseases affected the course of human history--sadly not completely realized. Clark focuses on the same diseases to illustrate different concepts, and unfortunately that comes across as repetitive after a few chapter (surely there are other diseases aside from tuberculosis?). The lack of footnotes is disturbing even in a book aimed at the general public. His handling of history and archaeology is adequate, but clearly the work of a microbiologist (which Clark is) and not an historian (which Clark is not).

Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh by R. L. LaFevers Latest entry in the series aimed at 10-12-year-old girls. Theodosia is the daughter of archaeologists, and she and her mother go to turn of the twentieth century Egypt to dig in the Valley of the Kings. In order to conjure up Edwardian times without boring a modern girl, the author has Theo speak in very adult terms and style, with a modern understanding of socioeconomic, political, and historical interpretations, which left this adult wondering if Theo was really a time-traveling 26-year-old from the year 2015. Theo also is one of a long line of caretakers of ancient Egyptian knowledge and magic, and as part of a secret brotherhood out to stop Chaos from taking over, she gets to battle bad guys and use some nifty magical gadgets for which James Bond would trade his Austin Martin. This series definitely has to be read in order, as references are made to previous people and incidents without much, if any, explanation, and Theo seems to be suffering from extreme tween angst and its unclear if her parental observations are real or just tween imagination. Enjoyable enough despite these reservations, I'll look up the other books in the series. Excellent line drawings that accurately reflect story settings and add immeasurably to the mysterious ambiance.

Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs by Jean Donaldson Again, pretty obvious why I'm re-reading this classic book on how to re-train a dog that guards food, or toys, or you. An absolute must-have for any dog lover.

The Death and Life of Monterey Bay by Stephen R. Palumbi and Carolyn Sotka Excellent book tracing the affects of humans on beautiful Monterey Bay. The book opens with the first human presence in Monterey Bay (Native Americans), details the various commercial enterprises and their negative impacts on the life of the plants and animals that live there, and then traces the development of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This is how a science book is written for the general public--engaging writing, nice illustrations, great maps (I love maps! And I love a history book that takes the time to get the permissions from different archives to use maps from their collections), and footnotes (see, Mr. Clark it can be done easily and without distracting the reader). Several chapters focus on the sardine canneries made famous by John Steinbeck, while the last chapters deal with the modern development of the Aquarium. The interesting insight into the friendship of John Steinbeck, Joseph Campbell, and Ed Ricketts, all of whom lived at the bay and were influenced by the life they saw around them, the life of the bay they saw deteriorating, and the interconnections they explored in their conversations and their writings between the water, the fish and plants, and humans, was fascinating. Great summer read, especially if a trip to the Aquarium is in your plans.

Patty Fairfield by Carolyn Wells Trip down girls literature lane, where I love to visit. Patty Fairfield is introduced in this first in the series, written in 1901. With her father off for a year for work, Patty visits each of four aunts and their families, learning a different lesson about how to behave and what priorities are appropriate from each family. An interesting view into the very end of the Victorian era, this book also takes place partly in New Jersey. Patty ages across the series, so I will follow her to the final story, which I believe is just before or after her marriage, around the time of World War I. Such a great insight into what was acceptable behavior several generations ago, what normal family life was like, even details like clothes and social relations make this an interesting sociological read, which the author never would have imagined. The most interesting thing--there are parents and children who misbehave exactly the same way children and parents misbehave today. So much for arguments that some of the problems we see today have emerged since the 1960s.

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