Knisley, Lucy. French Milk.

NY: Simon & Schuster, 2008.

In late December 2006, Lucy, the narrator and artist of this thoroughly engaging graphic journal, traveled from the family home in Rhinebeck, New York, to Paris for six weeks in company with her mother in celebration of her mother’s 50th birthday (and her own 22nd). Lucy herself had been attending the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago for four years and seems now to be a permanent transplant. Nor was she a stranger to the French capital, having spent the summer a couple years before backpacking around Europe with a close girlfriend. And her parents both obviously had spent a good deal of time there over the years. Which is to say, she’s far more experienced, sophisticated, and privileged in certain ways than most people her age. But she seems a very nice (and often “ordinary”) young woman for all that.


Published in: on 28 January 2010 at 5:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Whitfield, Peter. London: A Life in Maps.

London: The British Library, 2006.

Now and then, I come across a book which I quickly discover must be opened with care, and not when any other responsibilities are pressing, because it will prove almost impossible to put down. Whitfield’s marvelous cartographic treatment of the history since the 16th century of one of the western world’s premiere cities is just such a book. Along with chronology, maps are one of the key adjuncts in the study of history, visualizing and placing in context the relationships between events of the past. Whitfield is a well-known expert in the history of exploration and of maps, and he provides here a guided tour of London’s development since the mid-16th century, when the first maps of the city began to appear.


Published in: on 27 January 2010 at 10:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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Lambert, Andrew. War at Sea in the Age of Sail, 1650-1850.

London: Cassell, 2000.

My father was an Iowa farm boy whose family moved to San Diego (more congenial winters) and though he became a career army officer, he developed a lifelong taste for sea stories. When I was in junior high, I discovered his shelf of Hornblower novels and worked my way straight through them. I didn’t understand most of the jargon, of course, so I was often unsure exactly what was happening. That sparked my own interest in naval history, strategy, and battle tactics, which continues unabated. And I have a much better grasp these days of what’s going on when O’Brian or Stockwin describes a maneuver. Books like this one are a lifesaver for fans of naval historicals, but few are so well organized and well written.


Published in: on 26 January 2010 at 11:07 am  Leave a Comment  

Stockwin, Julian. Command.

Ithaca, NY: McBooks, 2007.

This is the seventh in the series of naval adventures about Thomas Paine Kydd, a pressed landman who discovers himself a natural sailor, who seizes his opportunities, and who has now advanced to the quarterdeck. Stockwin is never going to be a threat to Patrick O’Brian, whose literary abilities were much deeper and more sophisticated, but they’re good stories nonetheless. Each of the previous books covered roughly a year in Kydd’s advancing career but this volume skips forward more than two years following the Battle of the Nile and the Siege of Acre in 1799, in the latter of which he had the chance for personal distinction.


Published in: on 25 January 2010 at 7:15 am  Leave a Comment  
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Vaughn, Carrie. Kitty and the Silver Bullet.

NY: Grand Central Publishing, 2008.

I don’t generally do vampire and werewolf novels because most of them are dumb. They’re almost always formulaic, repetitive, and unimaginative, just another helping of gothic romance and ’30s Hollywood script. There are a very few exceptions, like Kim Harrison’s “Rachel Morgan” series, and now this one. Kitty Norville is a nice Denver girl in her early ’20s, and a werewolf. She’s also a disc jockey and the best known public authority (after testifying before a Congressional committee) on lycanthropy.


Published in: on 24 January 2010 at 4:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Billingham, Mark. Sleepyhead.

NY: Morrow, 2001.

I read a number of book review media on a regular basis, keeping an eye out for newly published books to add to my reading list. I especially watch for enthusiastic reviews of new writers, those no one has ever heard of before. And I’ve been doing all this for a long time. So how in the world did I miss hearing about this one? As a police procedural murder mystery, it’s very, very good. As a first novel, it’s bloody amazing. (more…)

Published in: on 20 January 2010 at 7:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Stockwin, Julian. Tenacious.

Ithaca, NY: McBooks, 2006.

It’s 1798 and Thomas Paine Kydd, a wigmaker pressed into the Royal Navy only five years before and now junior lieutenant of an aging but still serviceable sixty-four, returns with his ship from Nova Scotia on the news that Gen. Buonaparte is readying an invasion of Britain. Of immediate concern, though, is the probable actions of the French fleet at Toulon. Britain was evicted from the Mediterranean awhile back and the French, with full freedom of movement now, could head east for the Levant or Constantinople (which would open up access to India), or west, to round Gibraltar, (more…)

Published in: on 17 January 2010 at 3:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Connelly, Michael. Black Echo.

Boston: Little, Brown, 1992.

The first of Connelly’s novels I read were several of his later, non-series books. (Except that all of them are actually part of a collection of overlapping character-driven sub-series.) They were mostly okay but not especially memorable. But I noted the high esteem in which the man is held and I went back and found copies of a few of his earlier works. This one, in fact, is his first, an award-winning introduction to the cranky, quirky, frequently uncooperative but always true-to-himself LAPD homicide detective, Harry Bosch. (more…)

Published in: on 12 January 2010 at 3:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Atkinson, Kate. When Will There Be Good News?

NY: Little, Brown, 2008.

Atkinson is one of the very best authors presently working in the English (or Scots) language, and also one of the most overlooked by the general public, even though she’s won a Whitbread. Of her six previous novels, the two most recent, Case Histories and One Good Turn, are her best, and that’s saying something. And this one is even better. (more…)

Published in: on 7 January 2010 at 3:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Crosby, Alfred W. Throwing Fire: Projectile Technology through History.

NY: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

If you’re expecting a straight military history of distance-weapons systems, this isn’t it. But if you’re into the anthropology and sociology of human control of the environment, this is a fascinating study of one of the key elements in what makes homo sapiens the success he is. (more…)

Published in: on 4 January 2010 at 9:10 pm  Leave a Comment