Sunday, July 30, 2017

Spirits United by Alice Duncan ****

It's 1924 and Daisy Gumm Majesty's fiance Detective Sam Rotondo has accompanied her to the Pasadena Public Library to resupply her family of voracious readers. This quotidian outing is interrupted by the discovery of a murdered librarian among the biographies.

In addition to being a delightful cozy mystery, Spirits United by Alice Duncan is a well researched historical novel. Of the many library books mentioned, I found the mention of the up and coming Virginia Wolff, Edith Wharton,  and Howard Carter's discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb, three of the more interesting.

Daisy is interested in the next presidential election, as that will be her first presidential ballot.

Of the many fashion notes, including lots of different hats, was Daisy approval of all the 1920s fashion except the bust flatteners required by the popular straight-line styles.

Daisy was quite progressive for 1924.
"Sam didn't care much for Harold... a peach of a guy and one of my very best friends... Harold was a homosexual. It wasn't Harold's fault."
"I didn't like the notion of small animals sacrificing their lives so I could wear their fur."
"We knew what married folks did with each other. And I also knew ways to avoid pregnancy until we decided to have children."
There were many cars: Chevrolets, Hudsons, and even a Stutz Bearcat, plus washing machines with wringers, iodine antiseptics, mimeograph machines, and mascara.
"You see, that black strip is the mascara itself... You wet the brush, rub it on the black strip, and then apply the brush to your eyelashes."
This is a delightful cozy mystery with food by Daisy's Aunt Vi, an excellent cook, and the fashions by Daisy herself, an accomplished seamstress. An enjoyable read, highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan *****

Nina Redmond’s branch library closed and the main library is more interested in multimedia and the Internet than books. Whether she wants to move into the book-free future or not, there is little chance the new administration will offer her a job. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan is a romance about Nina’s new adventures, life, and love.

The “Bookshop on the Corner” is a mobile bookshop, and much of the story is a paean to books and readers, with references to specific books and the joys and transformational qualities of reading. With the is an occasional nod to poetry, the emphasis is on fiction and novels. There is even a comment on the evil of banning books.
“You know,” he said, “when my parents were little, books were banned…”
The secondary theme is the idyllic life in the Scottish Highlands.
“[Kirrinfief] was an actual community, not just a long row of houses full of people who happened to live next to each other. There was a difference, and she had simply not realized it before.”
“…up here in the peace and the wilds of the great valleys and deep lochs of Scotland she had found something that suited her, that soothed her soul”
When someone in the village needed help, many people got together because “It needed doing, that was all.”

Since this is a HarpersCollins book, I feel justified to complain about edit fail. When Nina arrives in Kirrinfief Scotland, “She took out her phone regardless and check it. No signal.”

However, the next day, in an even more remote location, “She took a selfie of herself with the lambs behind her and sent it… Her roommate immediately replied.”

Somehow, overnight, this sleepy Scottish village was miraculously online.

This is a heartwarming tale of books and small towns. An enjoyable tale for all book lovers.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Cat's Pajamas by Ray Bradbury ****

The Cat's Pajamas by Ray Bradbury is a short story collection with a mixture of stories from the post-WWII decade mixed with stories from the first years of the 21st century. In his introduction, Bradbury discusses his short stories as metaphors. The core of each story is a metaphor. For example, The House (1947) compares marriage with a home improvement project.
“All married life you build – build egos, build houses, build children.”
Hail to the Chief (2003-04) imagines a dozen U.S. Senators gambling away the United States at an Indian casino.

The Cat’s Pajama’s (2003) is a love story in the style of O’Henry about two strangers who meet when they both try to rescue the same cat.

Sixty-Six (2003) is a story of cultural appropriation.

All My Enemies are Dead (2003) and The Completist (2003-04) are also surprise endings in the style of O’Henry. The first about friendship and growing old, and the other about parenting and growing old.

Most of the older stories hold up well, though We’ll Just Act Natural (1948-49) dates itself with the inclusion of phoning time ’to check if the clock is correct. I found the newer stories more engaging.

The twenty short stories vary between surprise endings reminiscent of O’Henry and enigmatic ones reminiscent of The Tiger, or The Lady? An enjoyable read in all cases.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Nature of Plants by Dawson & Lucas *****

An encyclopedic sourcebook on plant life. The Nature of Plants by Dawson & Lucas groups plants by environment: dry, wet, cold, etc. Additionally, special consideration is afforded to parasites, symbiotes, fire, salt, and the relationship with animals. There is also an excellent chapter on single-cell plants and another on evolution. Each chapter on a particular class of plants surveys those plants by specific worldwide geographic areas.

Not all photosynthesis is the same. Most plants use C3. Plants that need to conserve water use CAM, and plants that must endure high temperatures (such as desert ephemerals) use C4.

The largest family of flowering plants are daisies (Asteraceae) but may be displaced by orchids (Orchidaceae) which are now over 30,000 species.

What I call chaparral in California is also called maquis (French), matorral (Spanish), kwongan (Australia) or fynbos (South Africa).

The book would be even better if it had some maps, as geography is central to the information. The authors also have a tendency to use technical language without accompanying explanation.

There is a very interesting discussion of flower's relation to pollinators. Bees are red-green colorblind, so their flowers tend to be yellow or blue. Flowers for nighttime pollinators such as bats and moths tend to whites. Insects get the fragrant flowers and birds, with color vision, but no smell, get the brightly colored ones.

Did I say encyclopedic? This is the book for plant biology, ecology, geography, and evolution. An excellent resource for students and writers. Lavishly illustrated with full-color photographs throughout. (One caveat: the author supports climate change deniers - one place.)