Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Books read in August 2005

Since I still have over 300 pages to read in Faye Kellerman's Straight into Darkness, I know I won't get anymore books read this month. Here's the summary of the books I read in August.

A Change of Heart - Philip Gulley - Sam, a Quaker minister, tells stories of small-town life in Harmony.

32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny - Phillip Done - Great stories from twenty years of teaching third grade.

Carpe Demon - Julie Kenner - Too much suburban mom and not enough demon hunter in the story of a retired demon hunter forced back to work when she's attacked in her kitchen.

Diary of a Fairy Godmother - Esme Codell - Juv fiction about a witch who wants to be a fairy godmother.

The Big Over Easy - Jasper Fforde - A new series, as Jack Spratt, Detective in the Nursery Crimes Division, investigates Humpty Dumpty's death.

Moving Pictures - Terry Pratchett - When alchemists invent moving pictures, Holy Wood attracts hundreds in the DiscWorld novel.

Welfare Brat - Mary Childers - Memoir of the author's youth as one of seven kids in a white family on welfare.

Reaper Man - Terry Pratchett - Death is relieved of his duties, and DiscWorld goes awry.

For Edgar - Sheldon Rusch - A serial killer is emulating Poe stories.

Witches Abroad - Terry Pratchett - Three witches travel to foreign lands to ensure a godmother doesn't make a girl marry the prince.

Readers' Advisory Service in the Public Library - Joyce Saricks - Third edition of the classic manual.

I'm Just a DJ But...It Makes Sense to Me - Tom Joyner - The top black DJ relates his philosophy of life in his autobiography.

The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City's Cold Case Squad - Stacy Horn - The history of the Squad, the detectives, and four cold cases.

In a Teapot - Terence Faherty - Novella set in Hollywood in 1948 when Scott Elliott and Hollywood Security get involved with the plans to film The Tempest.

Out of Mind - Catherine Sampson - Journalist Robin Ballantyne investigates when a coworker goes missing, despite the opposition of their mutual employer.

The Hunt Ball - Rita Mae Brown - Master of the Hunt, Jane Arnold (Sister), ensures the hunt and the balls will continue as she teams up with the headmistress of a girls' prep school to find the killer of a faculty member.

Presentation S.O.S. - Mark Wiskup - The communications coach demonstrates how to make a successful presentation.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Hunt Ball

The Hunt Ball is the fourth book in Rita Mae Brown's foxhunting mystery series, and it's just as wonderful as all the others. Once again, Jane Arnold, "Sister," who is Master of the Jefferson Hunt Club in Virginia uses her shrewd knowledge of people to assist the sheriff in finding a murderer. Although, to be honest, in this one, the murderer actually tries to kill someone in plain sight. But Sister puts together the pieces of the crime.

Brown's foxhunting mysteries take place in the short foxhunting season. In this one, the faculty and seniors at Custis Hall, an exclusive girls' prep school, are included in the hunt. Jefferson Hunt Club has a long history with the school. They allow the girls to hunt with them, and, in return, members serve on the board, and are allowed to use the school hall for hunt balls. Things start to unravel when a faculty member is killed the night of the Halloween dance, and Sister suspects the killer might be quite comfortable with the Hunt Club and the school.

Why read The Hunt Ball? Brown's books take the reader into a world very few of us are familiar with, foxhunting and exclusive prep schools. She vividly brings this world to life. In addition, she introduces wonderful lifelike characters such as Sister. These are people you hate to leave when the book is finished. Hopefully, Rita Mae Brown will continue to invite us back into the world of foxhunting.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

In a Teapot

I had never read one of Terence Faherty's Scott Elliott mysteries, but I'm going to look for them now. "In a Teapot" is a novella featuring Elliott, who worked for Paramount until he was drafted into WWII. Now, in 1948, he works for Hollywood Security. Joel Jeffries, who wants to produce a film version of "The Tempest," asks Elliott's boss, Paddy Maguire, for help. He desperately wants some of the prominent actors from Hollywood's British Colony to appear in the film, Ronald Colman, Cedric Hardwicke, Basil Rathbone. However, the entire project is threatened when the juvenile lead starts dating a burlesque queen. Elliott's job is to break off the relationship before the tabloids find out, and before Elliott's wedding in two days. If only it was that simple. Elliott, Paddy, and Elliott's fiancee Ella realize there's something fishy about the dating relationship and the film project itself.

Faherty's tribute to "The Tempest" is filled with small details that bring 1948 Hollywood to life. The involvement with gangsters and burlesque remind me of Eric Stone's description of LA in the 1940s in Wrong Side of the Wall. For those readers who have not read Faherty before, "In a Teapot" is an easy introduction to Scott Elliott and his world. This is a character centered story, and the characters of Scott and Ella invite the reader back.

The Mystery Company, an imprint of Crum Creek Press, has published this first original novella. It serves to purposes. Will readers buy a shorter book than is normally on the market. And, it introduces some of us to an author we might not have read before.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Restless Sleep

There are 8,894 unsolved murders in New York since 1985. That's according to Stacy Horn, author of The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City's Cold Case Squad. Horn has done a wonderful job in combining journalism and suspense in this story of the Squad's history and some of their cases.

The Cold Case Squad was formed in 1996, and from the very beginning it was a political struggle to keep in alive. It was originally composed of some of the New York Police Department's best detectives, but ones who were lone wolves or black sheep. The changing politics plays a large role in the story of the Squad.

The book also relates the stories of four cold cases and the detectives who worked on them. Sometimes, numerous detectives tried to crack the case over a period of years. Horn selected four fascinating cases. One involved two people murdered, in what looked like drug-related slayings. One case brought together three seemingly unrelated crimes to lead to the mob. In one open case, a young girl was brutally murdered. In another, there were numerous male suspects in the sex-related killing of a woman. The author follows the detectives as they work on the cases, solving a couple and leaving two unresolved.

If you're like me, fascinated by "Cold Case" on television, and novels that feature cold cases, this book is a treat. It's frustrating and maddening to read about the politics and the lack of staff and money for the Cold Case Squad. But it's rewarding to read about the men who have dedicated their careers to the search for killers.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Welfare Brat

I first heard about Mary Childers' memoir, Welfare Brat, on NPR. She was on there talking about her life in a poor white family, one of seven children of a welfare mother. As a child, she knew her mother had numerous children from various men. She hated to see her mother spend the welfare money drinking and bringing men home, and, at times, she dragged her mother out of the bars. When her mother had her last child, soon after one sister was in a serious accident, her mother stopped drinking. Despite a few under the table jobs, the family was already too far into the welfare trap to get out.

Mary Childers wanted out. She yearned for nice clothes and an education. She loved reading, and said, "The library books under my bed are my secret. They take me away to a world of my own imagining where I am content." (p.10) Mary was in the accelerated program in school, graduating at 16, and wanting to get away from the family into the privacy of college. She was the only one of the children to take advantage of the Fresh Air program, living with a family in the country every summer. As a child she said of her mother, "I want to live my life the opposite of how she has lived hers." (p. 64)

Even a child who wants out of the welfare trap has lessons to overcome. "As naturally as a child learns language, I've absorbed that bitterness and fear of being taken advantage of. I stint on babysitting and even schoolwork to avoid the humilation of getting caught believing anything other than the facts of life - disappointment is the most likely outcome of commitment and the poor stay poor while the rich get richer." (p. 174)

As she grew up, Mary said, "It is getting easier to focus on how hard my mother tried instead of how often she failed." Mary got out of that world, where sex and children were easy, along with the handouts. Following her college education, she has a Ph.D. in English literature and is a human resources consultant. Of her family, she said, "Several of us are thriving and able to help others survive because we refuse to accept family habits and inherited disadvantages as if they are destiny." (p.4)

Welfare Brat is a riveting, thoughtful book telling the story of one family, and one child who raised herself out of poverty.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Saint Lawrence

August 10th was the feast day of Saint Lawrence, the patron saint of librarians. He was a deacon who was said to have been roasted on a grill in the hope that he would reveal the names of the Christians on the list he kept as librarian and archivist of the early church. This was the original story, and pictures portrayed him with a book and the grill. However, more recent stories say he was probably beheaded, and that he kept the treasury of the church. As a librarian, I don't mind updated research, but I like the original story that he refused to reveal the names on the list.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Sweetwater Creek

I just reviewed Sweetwater Creek by Anne Rivers Siddons for www.bookbitch.com, but it deserves a much longer review than I can do for that site. It's a wonderful book, with a protagonist you want to hold close to your heart, and hope Emily Parmeter has a happy life. Here's the review of www.bookbitch.com.

"Sweetwater Creek by Anne Rivers Siddons – Disfunctional families is a favorite motif of so many southern novels, and Siddons’ new book is no exception. Emily Parmeter is the young protagonist of this coming-of-age story. The book starts when Emily is eleven, and ends immediately after her thirteenth birthday, but in that time, she watches her family and her life change. At eleven, she has already faced the disappearance of her mother and the suicide death of her favorite brother. Her father and other brothers are only distant figures in her life. Her life revolves around her dog, Elvis, memories of her brother, and her life on Sweetwater Plantation in the South Carolina Lowcountry. She is unwilling to accepts the changes in her body and life until “the summer of Lulu Foxworth.” The troubled twenty-year-old brings a new knowledge to everyone on the plantation as she casts her spell over the Parmeter family, showing Emily’s father the potential for his dog business, showing Emily the potential of a polished life and education, and sharing her darkest secrets with Emily. Since Siddons tells Emily’s story through her eyes, the reader cares about the land and the plantation life, but most of all, the reader cares about this child who is forced to grow up too quickly."

What I didn't get a chance to say in a short review is that Siddons brings the Sweetwater Creek area to life through Emily's eyes. She has a love of the river and creek, and all the land around it, which gives her some of her strength. Towards the end of the book, she tells her father, "Do you remember that time you had to come get me at camp in the mountains, and everybody thought I was just homesick and being a baby? It wasn't that at all. It was that I just couldn't breathe away from saltwater, from the river and the creek. I still can't, really."

Emily will make it. She has her family, Elvis, Buddy, and the strength she draws from the land. Siddons has taken the motif of disfunctional family and southern love of their land, and made it her own.