Hawaii, Deryni, Spiritualists and Baking! Books read (#SFWApro)

HONOR KILLING: How the Infamous Massie Affair Transformed Hawai’i by David E. Stannard is an impressively detailed look at the legendary 1930s rape case: officer’s wife Thalia Massie’s claims she’d been raped by five Hawaiians led to five nonwhites (Chinese/Japanese/Hawaiian) standing trial for the crime despite the lack of evidence, multiple contradictions (the car they’d been driving in didn’t at all resemble the one Massie described) and airtight alibis. When the case resulted in a hung jury, Thalia’s husband and mother tried forcing a confession out of one of the accused, which only led to him dead and themselves on trial for murder (with, of course, Darrow for the defense). Stannard does a good job on trial strategies, the backstories (and post-stories) of the various people involved and the racist system that brought about the trial (not to mention the mainland freakouts about the Innocent White Woman Violated By POC Subhuman Brutes). The only flaw is that he treats Thalia herself as almost a McGuffin — something happened to her that night (if nothing else, she was assaulted) but Stannard only speculates for about two lines on what it might have been, or why she lied (I don’t need him to play detective, but were there any theories at the time he could have discussed more?).

HIGH DERYNI (cover by Alan Mardon, all rights remain with current holder) was the last of Katherine Kurtz’s original Deryni trilogy (though many more books would follow) in which the fanatical revolutionary Warin and the threat of excommunication become insignificant marplots compared to the invasion of Gwynedd by Deryni monarch Wencit of Torenth. Wraps up solidly enough that it’s easy to see why the series kept going. However even on first reading I found the ending twist that gives Kelson victory came out of the blue, and it hasn’t improved. And after years of locking horns with religious zealots, Warin’s calm assumption that of course he’s wrong about the Deryni doesn’t really convince. Still, a fun read.

BRIMSTONE by Cherie Priest is a so-so supernatural romance in which a spiritualist-in-training in 1920s Florida becomes embroiled in the struggles of a Cuban-born tailor convinced (incorrectly) that the ghost appearing to him in fires is his beloved deceased wife. Tomas’ chapters (the tailor) are interesting as Things Are Happening and his background makes him distinctly different from most characters in my reading. Anne’s chapters, unfortunately, are ploddingly dull—she’s not a bad character, but there’s very little tension, and a shit-ton of gratuitous worldbuilding. Readable, but not great.

As I’ve been baking my own bread since I got out of college, IN SEARCH OF THE PERFECT LOAF: A Home Baker’s Odyssey by Samuel Fromartz caught my attention, but had almost lost it by book’s end. While there’s lots of good information about wheat, its history, its genetic diversity and the history of bread, the core of the book is Fromartz’ travels to various bakeries (Paris, Germany and even some in the US) to up his game. Unfortunately his taste isn’t mine (I’m much less of a sourdough lover) and his interests are much more foodie — his efforts to mill his own flour from a particular strain of wheat don’t make me fantasize about doing the same, it’s more like “Who cares?” Which is more a mismatch of book/reader than a flaw, I guess — but his writing voice is a drone, which didn’t help.

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