Thursday, October 26, 2006

Evanly Bodies

The Constable Evans series by Rhys Bowen features Evan Evans, a Welsh policeman who lives in the fictional town of Llanfair and solves a remarkable number of murders for such a small village. In Evanly Bodies, Evans, now married to Bronwen and settled in a shepherd's cottage, joins a newly-formed task force that takes on a series of similar murders, while Bronwen investigates the disappearance of a teenaged Pakistani girl.

Like M. C. Beaton, Rhys Bowen is going to remain on my B-list, but I will still read her pleasant mysteries because I like the characters and the milieu. In addition to the Constable Evans series, she has a Molly Murphy series featuring an Irish immigrant in the early 20th-century. Both are good for a quiet afternoon's entertainment.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


The Complete People stories

Zenna Henderson began writing science fiction in the early 1950s and continued for decades. Her best-known work (though she was never a household name) is comprised of the stories of The People, who fled their dying planet in search of a home. Those who came to Earth had to bail out of their spacecraft at the last minute, and the survivors, alone in their lifeboats, were separated. The stories reflect their (and their descendants) efforts to survive and adapt, to find each other and to preserve their own startling abilities without inspiring fear and hatred in the locals.

There are two collections of stories about The People: Pilgramage: The Book of the People and The People: No Different Flesh. Ingathering is the combination of both these books, plus at least one other addition.

I have been a fan of The People since, oh, junior high. Henderson's people are warm, loving, and resoundingly people of faith. Her style is pleasant, certainly not au courant. It's sci-fi for the warm and fuzzy of heart. Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Knowledge Deficit

Closing the Shocking Education Gap for American Children

E. D. Hirsch, Jr., author of the best-selling Cultural Literacy and founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation, takes a steely look at the failure of the American education system to teach a generation of children to read at a proficient level. His culprits are not the beleaguered teachers or the underfunded schools, but the educational philosophy that separates reading comprehension from content. He insists that in order to read with understanding, one must have a basic understanding of the body of knowledge upon which our society is based.

That just about covers it; it's a small book, and Hirsch eruditely restates his position from different podia in each chapter, each time taking another incremental step towards his final position: that the Core Knowledge Foundation has figured out what the knowledge is that children need to know at each stage, and that information is available to schools, teachers, even parents.

I can't disagree with his position, and I won't delve into the minutiae. If you're serious about literacy for children whose lives you influence, you may find this interesting.

The Line Between

Peter S. Beagle, probably best known for his classic fantasy novel The Last Unicorn, has an impressive body of work and collection of awards. He entitles this short story collection The Line Between in reference to the "invisible boundary between...reality and fantasy...where I have almost always lived." These eleven stories certainly straddle the boundary with a charm and an illogical sense that is uniquely his.

Here we meet Gordon the Self-Made Cat, who was born a mouse but had greater ambitions; Angie and Marvyn, who discover in themselves a talent for witchcraft; Henry Lee, who makes salt wine; Mr. Sigerson, better known by another name; an assortment of brief fables, and encore performances by previously written characters--Schmendrick the Magician and his troupe, Soukyan the wanderer and his fox-ish companion, and Jacob Sam and Emilia who shared a deathless (for a time) friendship.

If you like fantasy, and not everybody does, you could do worse than slip this book into a pocket and dip in when time permits. A glimpse into another reality can be refreshing.


How I invented the personal computer, co-founded Apple, and had fun doing it.

A personal memoir, and a necessary counterpart to all the Svengali-like portrayals of Steve Jobs as the evil genius behind Apple. Because in the beginning there were the Two Steves, each a necessary part of the original Apple, and in this book, Steve Wozniak steps out from behind Jobs' shadow with a grin and a wave.

Woz is a study in stereotypes--a brilliant engineer who thinks in electrons, and a socially-inept geek who can't talk to girls. A guy who wants to change the world for the better, and a gleeful early-adopter of cutting-edge technologies just because they are so COOL! He forgives chicanery and donates stock, he blows a bundle on a neo-Woodstock that he recalls with great fondness, he crashes an airplane, he teaches school and invents the universal remote and devotes massive amounts of time, money, and attention to the arts and to his beloved children. He's Thomas Edison, Santa Claus, and Gandhi all rolled into one.

Bad things: the voice is difficult for me to read. Probably it sounds just like him, and in real life that would be doable, but on paper it comes across as juvenile and simplistic. Also, the flights of engineering enthusiasm are eye-glazing. Probably not for engineers, though. But I'm not one, and chances are, you aren't either. Eventually, I just skipped over the parts where he describes schematics, and that helped a lot.

So, for it me it was a one-timer. But I'm glad I looked in.

The Arrogance of the French

Why they can't stand us--and why the feeling is mutual.

Richard G Chesnoff, journalist and inhabitant of France, tries to explain why America and France aren't getting too well. According to Chesnoff, any time we do get along is an aberration. First of all, philosophically the French are incapable of team play, so getting along is not a huge motivating factor, and graciousness in triumph or defeat is unthinkable. Second, they think American influence in the world is an abomination, since the French should be the leaders of food, fashion, the arts, and diplomacy. Third, even when we weren't leading the world, we were allies of England, whom the French hate on principle (and the feeling is mutual, to be honest). Fourth, their philosophy is very "I am right, so you must be wrong," with all the endearing traits such an attitude fosters.

To be fair, Chesnoff seems to like the French anyway, but he doesn't expect any other Americans to share his feelings. At the end, he includes a few appendices, such as a phrasebook of responses to French rudenesses, and a list of French-owned concerns that could be boycotted if the occasion demands.

Having said all this, it was interesting, but made me feel like discarding my Dijon mustard and my Dior lipstick. So I probably won't read it again.

Green Money

D. E. Stevenson is a niece of Robert Louis, and has inherited a portion of his literary talent. Green Money is one of dozens of her stellar novels, noted for its cozy friendliness and low-key romance: English between-the-wars at its best.

Green Money features George, an average gentleman of moderate means and decent instincts; his mother Paddy, Irish and horse-mad; his father Mr. Ferrier, a warm and detached scholar; and a host of neighbors, acquaintances, and chance-met Greens whose money sends George careening on hitherto unsuspected paths and finally into the arms of true love.

Completely anachronistic and entirely satisfying.