March short book reviews

Illustrating Children’s Books – Salisbury. Part how-to, part survey, beautifully illustrated and quite inspiring.

The Great Hunger – Cecil Woodham Smith. A compelling and illuminating history of the Irish potato famine, pulling in the history of Ireland, England, Europe and America, issues of politics, theories of trade, medical knowledge, economics, personalities, revolution and an immense, relentless and lingering tragedy. This was a more harrowing read than her The Reason Why, but an equally wide-ranging and thought-provoking book.

The Dolphin Crossing – Jill Paton Walsh. I hadn’t read this short novel for years. It is a story of two high school boys who take a boat and join the relief of Dunkirk, and is both more innocent and more moving than I remembered.

Miracle and other Christmas Stories – Connie Willis. On the one hand it was Christmas stories, and on the other – Connie Willis! The scales tipped onto the side of Connie Willis, so I bought it and thoroughly enjoyed it: ghosts and detectives and alien invasions and family newsletters and love stories and a thoughtful introduction and very useful appendices of recommended Christmas books and movies.

Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K Dick. I’m sure I’d read this before, but surely I would have remembered the ‘disemelevatoring’. Simpler and wierder than Bladerunner.

70 Years a Showman – ‘Lord’ George Sanger. This was brilliantly entertaining – the simple, non-literary, anecdotal autobiography of a colourful character, whose career covered the span of Queen Victoria’s reign and features acrobats and magicians, peep shows and escaped lions, wolves in the streets of London, starvation and tricks and battles and pageants and parades, along with some unexpected but interesting observations on the changes in society, law, order, red tape and town planning law during a long life. This edition also had a lyrical and nostalgic introduction by Kenneth Grahame. Like many of the best books, a Lifeline booksale purchase.

The Southern Cross Story – Charles Kingsford Smith. Record setting flights! Death defying feats! Tigers in the jungle! Turkish prisons! Crash landings! Near starvation! Planes disappearing without a trace! Obviously, this was written before his disappearance, but I still tensed up whenever he flew over the Bay of Bengal. A good, interesting, surprisingly level-headed book, and the day after I started it, it was reported that the Lady Southern Cross may have been found.

Early Birds – HC Miller. A memoir of the author’s involvement in aviation from before the first world war. Full of people who have now become names, box-kites, tri-planes designed by quixotic Russian counts, sudden death, unexpected survival, mysterious scarfed socialites, back-yard aviation, daring stunts, barnstorming and cars that could only cross the Blue Ranges if you put them in reverse and pushed. Miller is much more of a raconteur than Kingsford Smith.

Avalon High – Meg Cabot. Like The Dark is Rising with !lipgloss! and !cute! !boys!. Arthurian romance in an American highschool.

Victoria and the Rogue – Meg Cabot. Few of the things I like in my regencies and most of the things I don’t like in my romances. Not my favourite Cabot.

Also: Exodus, John, Job, Luke, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians