Sunday, December 31, 2017

Christmas Traditions in Boston (Book Review)

Title: Christmas Traditions in Boston
Author: Anthony M. Sammarco
Publication: Fonthill/Arcadia Publishing, paperback, 2017
Genre: History/Illustrated Nonfiction
Description: This is a warm and delightful description of the celebration of Christmas in Boston from 17th century Puritan days to the present. Anthony Sammarco, a Boston native who spends all of his free time researching, writing, and speaking on iconic historical aspects of local history Is a delightful raconteur, both in person and through his books. He describes the restrictions on celebration in the Bay Colony’s early history, followed by the development of new traditions as Anglicans and Catholics emigrate to and settle in the Boston area.

I was particularly interested in Lydia Child, a writer and abolitionist known for having written “Over the River and Though the Woods to Grandmother’s House We Go.” While many readers may already know that Germans such as Prince Albert popularized the Christmas Tree in England and the United States, I did not know it was a German-American in Cambridge, Harvard professor Charles Follen, who had one of the first Christmas Trees in Boston 1830s, or that Prussian-born Louis Prang (1824-1909) introduced the Christmas card after settling in Boston and establishing a lithograph business (Prang is also known for supporting women artists). I do enjoy old fashioned Christmas cards!
Reading these stories about Christmas traditions being inspired by Germans reminded me of Louisa May Alcott who may have known some of these individuals (not just the poor Hummel family). Anyone who ever read Little Women (spoiler alert) knows that moment of betrayal when the reader realizes (a) Amy March is marrying Laurie instead of Jo, and (b) that Jo gets stuck with dumpy Professor Bhaer. I went to my mother in horror who, although not yet a librarian, always knew everything. She explained to me that German immigrants and culture were very influential in 18th and 19th century America – Germans were the second largest immigrant group after the English - that they were intellectual and very influential as to the development of American culture, and that Jo March was attracted to Professor Bhaer’s intellect and kindness. That is, alas, not what your 9 or 10 year old wants to hear. It will be interesting to see if the new BBC/PBS series can manage to make him appealing.

Audience: Fans of Boston history and those who enjoy Christmas decorations and traditions. Those who enjoy this book should join the Lost Boston group on Facebook where Anthony leads discussions about historic Boston and iconic institutions of the past. He also shares his speaking schedule there and I recommend attending one of his events, if you are in the area.

Both the Boston Globe and Herald have covered the publication of this book, and you can see Anthony himself on youtube.

My Impressions: This book is a treasure trove of knowledge about locations and traditions in Boston which we sometimes take for granted, and is almost as much fun as hearing Anthony in person. I loved hearing about bell ringing on Beacon Hill and the sign on Boston Common near a crèche in 1963 that asked passersby to stop for a moment in memory of President Kennedy. The photos are plentiful and delightful: one of my favorites is of the infamous Mayor James Michael Curley, at home next to his Christmas tree, with his wife and son, all examining a drum. Their gifts are wrapped in plain white paper with ribbons (pre-scotch tape). My mother will like the part about Ted Marier who founded the Archdiocesan Choir School at St. Paul’s Church in Cambridge (growing up my sister and I were not fans of the incense but we always enjoyed the singing).

Source: I purchased a copy at an author event held at the beautiful Crane Library in Quincy, Massachusetts. I know Christmas is over but you don’t need to wait until next year to order this charming book.

This is my last review of 2017!  Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Into the Night (Book Review)

Title: Into the Night, Killer Instinct #2
Author: Cynthia Eden
Publication: Harlequin, paperback, December 2017
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Plot: Two FBI agents are caught in a merciless vigilante’s crosshairs in New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Eden’s new Killer Instinct series

Sheltered in the shadows of the Smoky Mountains is the suspect who has summoned FBI agent Macey Night’s fears to the surface. Every day that the “Profiler,” a vigilante serial killer, escapes justice is another day she’s reminded of what it is to be a ruthless predator’s prey. Capturing him is a craving deeper than anything she’s felt in a long time. But Agent Bowen Murphy, equal parts sexy and volatile, seems hell-bent on changing that. Working together—needing, living and breathing each other—they’re entwined to distraction.

Bowen’s used to operating on impulse: act, don’t feel. Now Macey and the controlled terror behind her beautiful eyes have him rethinking everything, including his rule to never get close to a colleague. He’s willing to fight for a future with Macey, but the consequences of love could be deadly.

Audience: Fans of authors such as Suzanne Brockmann (I love her Troubleshooters series, although it is one of very few series in which I suggest not beginning with book 1), Tami Hoag, Lori Foster (see my review of Close Contact)

From Cynthia Eden: "My 'Killer Instinct' series . . .focuses on dark and sexy suspense–but suspense with a definite romance element. All of the books in this series feature characters who’ve had up-close and personal experiences with killers…the killers have been their friends, their lovers, their family members. Because of this closeness, the characters in my “Killer Instinct” books have a unique understanding when it comes to serial killers…and catching those predators."

Heterochromia images
copyright to 9GAG.com
My Impressions: I thought this was a much stronger installment in the series than the first book I read where the main character had been in denial most of his life that first his father and then his brother were serial killers. Macey is a former doctor who barely escaped the rogue surgeon at her hospital, a serial killer known as “The Doctor”, and she is now an FBI agent, part of the undoubtedly special team assembled by Samantha Dark (the most interesting member of the team). They are all profilers but with an unusual twist – each one has a very personal connection with a serial killer. This is creepy and makes chitchat about their pasts problematic but is supposed to help them with the behavioral analysis aspect of the job. While there is a prohibition on romantic entanglements among team members, that does not prevent Macey and her teammate Bowen from hooking up when they should really be getting sleep or concentrating on the many possible suspects . . . that is one of the challenges of fast-paced romantic suspense – making the romance plausible during a stressful period, and Eden handles it by showing the glimmers of attraction existed before Macey and Bowen are thrown together.

Part of Macey's appeal to serial killers is that she has two different colored eyes (heterochromia).  This condition, which is usually benign, does not run in families but fans of Anne of Green Gables will recall that it features as a major plot device in Anne's House of Dreams involving Leslie Ford's husband.
Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes. Thank you to TLC Book Tours for including me - please visit other stops on the tour by clicking below:
December 28th: Book Nerd
December 29th: Evermore Books
January 2nd: Jathan & Heather
January 3rd: Books a la Mode – excerpt
January 4th: A Fortress of Books
January 5th: Deborah Blanchard
January 8th: Book Reviews and More by Kathy – excerpt
January 8th: From the TBR Pile
January 9th: Books & Spoons
January 10th: Moonlight Rendezvous
January 11th: Becky on Books
January 12th: Cheryl’s Book Nook
January 16th: Books & Bindings
January 17th: Mystery Suspense Reviews
January 17th: Nightbird Novels – excerpt
January 18th: Stranded in Chaos
January 19th: Natalie the Biblioholic
January 22nd: Smexy Books
January 24th: Buried Under Romance
Wednesday, January 24th: Girls in Books – excerpt
Monday, January 29th: Romancing the Readers
Wednesday, January 31st: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers – excerpt
TBD: The Sassy Bookster
TBD: What is That Book About – excerpt

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Relative Stranger (Book Review)

Title: A Relative Stranger
Author: Anne Stevenson
Publication: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Hardcover, 1969
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Plot: Julie, a freelance artist, living in London, has had a hard time concentrating on her career since her much older brother Richard disappeared nearly three years ago. Involved in some kind of espionage, Richard is being held in a prison by unspecified bad guys. But when Richard is released, Julie is asked to help identify the aloof stranger and she isn’t quite sure it’s her brother. Then the mysterious but attractive Stephen Archer appears at her front door with a postcard from Richard just as Julie receives on herself, and she really doesn’t know who to trust . . .

Audience: Fans of Mary Stewart. While there will never be another Mary Stewart, there are a few good wannabes and Stevenson, who wrote seven novels in the 70s and early 80s, was one of them. My mother introduced me to both authors.  In return, I have introduced her to Susanna Kearsley who is definitely the best substitute Stewart currently writing (her books are quite different in some ways but certainly appeal to Stewart fans).

These books have quite the gothic look
My Impressions: I never mind rereading books that are dated but there was one scene in particular that really came across as inappropriate, given the current climate! Julie is visiting the publishing company she freelances for and the art editor who is her boss flirts with her very casually in front of his secretary Anne:

He had known Julie for more than a year and professed himself enraptured by her legs. . . 

“Hey, Anne ---“ He pulled his secretary around by the skirt as she passed his desk.

“When are you going to marry me, Julie?”
She shook her head, smiling.
“Well, if you won’t marry me, when are you going to sleep with me? This afternoon – I’ve no appointments this afternoon, have I, Anne?”

It turns out he roomed with Julie’s brother at university which surely makes his flirting even less acceptable (and remember, a freelancer is often totally dependent on his/her one contact to secure additional work) although I know it was a different world then.

Source: I remember enjoying A Relative Stranger back in the day and picked it up at the Brookline Library recently for a reread. Now, of course, I am trying to recall which of her books I read and which were never at my library in those pre-Internet, pre-Inter Library Loan days, and how to obtain some of the more obscure titles.   Note: there is another Anne Stevenson who is a British poet.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Waking in Time (Book Review)

Title: Waking in Time
Author: Angie Stanton
Publication: Switch Press/Capstone, hardcover, 2017
Genre: YA Timetravel
Plot: Abbi is excited to begin her freshman year at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, although it is bittersweet because she recently lost her grandmother, an ardent alumna who had encouraged her to apply. But one morning she wakes up in 1983 and realizes she has gone back in time, but is still a student at Wisconsin – in fact, in the same dorm and same bed. Frightened and afraid she might not be able to return to present day, Abbi makes two important friends: handsome Will, another time-traveler, born several generations before her, but moving forward in time instead of backward like her; and a geeky college professor who might hold the key to Abbi’s ability to regain control of her life.
Audience: Fans of YA fiction and/or of time travel; University of Wisconsin alumni.

My Impressions: I have always been a fan of time travel, and the unusual college setting added an element of appeal to this book. Because the book is written in the first person, the reader really suffers with Abbi as she tries to navigate the past and determine whether there is some reason she is having this adventure. I would have liked more plot development and more description of her classes and college life but at least the author provides some vivid depictions of the girls Abbi befriends in the past.  Even Abbi's grandmother attended college substantially after Betsy Ray and Carney Sibley but their experience is still of great interest.

A couple years ago I was at a big crew race in Worcester and wound up talking to some University of Wisconsin rowing fanatics. They were very proud of the fact that crew was Wisconsin’s first varsity sport, dating back to 1874. That made me enjoy Will’s devotion to crew even more and gave it plausibility as the one constant while he moved about in time.
Fun Historical FactClick here for a great look at Dorm Life in 19th century Wisconsin.  Women were first admitted to Wisconsin in 1863 and degrees were awarded in 1869. In contrast, my alma mater, Radcliffe College, was not even founded until 1879! 

Source: My sister lent me this book which she had checked out of the Newton Free Library. I am especially pleased to have found a novel published by Capstone, which is headquartered in Mankato, MN, the ancestral home of Maud Hart Lovelace. I recall John Coughlan, the founder, was a big supporter of MHL (I seem to remember that he came briefly to one of the Betsy-Tacy conventions and I was introduced to him by the talented Kathy Baxter). I know the publishing company has continued to thrive after his retirement but as much of Capstone's output is nonfiction I have not had much exposure to it.   I do have to laugh, however, that this time travel novel is classified as Realistic Fiction on the publisher's site!