Welcome to my blog for people in search of a good book.
My promise to you is, if it's here, it's good.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Favorite Authors - Sue Grafton

The first "alphabet" detective novel by Sue Grafton was published and set in 1982 and the latest was published in 2007, but set in 1987, so while time has passed for us, it has moved much more slowly for Kinsey Millhone, a PI in fictional Santa Teresa, California, who doggedly tracks down killers and cheats, even when the crimes are years old. She's an independent woman with trust issues regarding men, except where her close neighbor, Henry, is concerned. Henry is a vigorous octogenarian, a retired baker, who rents his garage studio apartment to Kinsey. He and Rosie, at whose restaurant Kinsey hangs out, provide the closest thing Kinsey has to family. 

In the earlier books, to dress up, Kinsey would put a jacket on over her black turtleneck with jeans, and cut her hair with nail scissors. She's moved up a little bit in style since then, but still keeps it simple and real. Like all good detectives, she's observant and picks up on the small things and takes a lot of notes. She keeps in shape by jogging, which is good, because she's fond of cheeseburgers with fries. She can handle a gun, thanks to her training and couple years spent on the police force, but while mostly law-abiding, she does what she needs to do to get inside and get at the truth.

The crimes described in these novels are carefully crafted, and reading them is an education in not only how to commit a crime and how to solve a crime, but also how to avoid being the victim of a crime. The author has acquired an amazing knowledge of the inner workings of all kinds of companies, government agencies, and investigative procedures. I think a PI could study Kinsey's methods and get plenty of ideas on how to do the job. Things are different now, of course. We are 25 years ahead of her in time. Kinsey doesn't use a computer, and while they are starting to be mentioned, she scoffs at the idea that they could be useful. There are still 6 letters of the alphabet left, so 6 more stories until the final one,  Z is for Zero. It will be interesting to see when and whether Kinsey ends up using a computer or the early Internet to help solve a mystery.

Her latest novel, T is for Trespass, addresses the problems the elderly and their families have finding caregivers, and how easy it is for the unscrupulous to take advantage of them. The criminal in this book knows how to steal other people's identities,while hiding her own, and how to manipulate people and situations. It is clear that the author considers this villain to be completely evil. It is Kinsey herself who looks into the woman's credentials and okays her employment, a move she will later regret, and one that puts her grumpy neighbor Gus's life in danger.

You don't have to start at the beginning or read these in order. Each book stands nicely on its own. Kinsey likes having closure.

Kinsey Millhone series
"A" Is for Alibi (1982)
"B" Is for Burglar (1985)
"C" Is for Corpse (1986)
"D" Is for Deadbeat (1987)
"E" Is for Evidence (1988)
"F" Is for Fugitive (1989)
"G" Is for Gumshoe (1990)
"H" Is for Homicide (1991)
"I" Is for Innocent (1992)
"J" Is for Judgment (1993)
"K" Is for Killer (1994)
"L" Is for Lawless (1995)
"M" Is for Malice (1996)
"N" Is for Noose (1998)
"O" Is for Outlaw (1999)
"P" Is for Peril (2001)
"Q" Is for Quarry (2002)
"R" Is for Ricochet (2004)
"S" Is for Silence (2005)
"T" Is for Trespass (2007)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread won the Newberry medal in 2004. I read it a year later and was totally charmed by Despereaux, a tiny mouse who doesn't quite fit in with the other mice. He was the last child of his mother, born with enormous ears and open eyes. He often stops to look at the light that comes through the castles grand windows or to listen to sounds others don't hear and quite forgets to scurry or hug the walls. Despite the efforts of his older brothers and sisters to tutor him the ways of mice, he seems ill-prepared to survive in the dangerous world of a castle where war has been declared by the humans on all rodents.

When his sister tries to convince him to nibble on the books in the castle library, especially the tasty dark spots, he is instead entranced by the words on the page, Once upon a time. He returns to the library time and again, to the despair of his family, to read the book all the way through. In it he learns about knights, and love, and honor, and when he meets Princess Pea, he cannot resist speaking to her and telling her, "I honor you." And as silly as it may seem for a mouse to love a princess, love is the most powerful force in the universe, and his love for the princess will save them all.

Another character important to this tale is Chiaroscuro, familiarly known as Roscuro, a rat who lives in the dark dungeon, but like Despereaux, is fascinated with the light. He resents those who live above, because they have banished all rats to the darkness, and this makes him dangerous.

Miggery, a not-very-bright, sadly disfigured servant girl who has been badly mistreated by life, sees Princess Pea and covets her beauty and her easy life. She shares her longing with Roscuro, who exploits her desire and conspires with her to kidnap Princess Pea and hold her prisoner in the vast dungeon. It is our miniscule hero, Despereaux, who sets himself the task of finding and rescuing her, and due to his courage and resourcefulness, he does, of course, succeed.

I loved this book. I read whole chapters aloud to my reading classes, showing them the beautiful illustrations by Timothy Basil Ering. The one of the princess leaning down with her hair falling down toward the floor and our hero is my favorite.

This is a perfect book. If you have a young reader in elementary school who does not own this book, it would make a perfect gift that will be treasured. Buy it in hardback. It will be passed on to the reader's children years from now as a cherished family heirloom. And don't forget to read it yourself. They say that we are every age we have ever been, so even if you are no longer a child, the child in you will love this book.

This charming book has been made into a movie, which I have not seen. I watched the trailer today, and while I enjoyed the look of Despereaux, the scenes depicted were quite different from any in the book, so it is clear that some liberties have been taken with the story line (sigh). I hope that the movie will encourage many young readers to discover this special book.  You can visit the movie website: HERE 

Sunday, November 9, 2008


It has been a while since I read a Tad Williams book. I was delighted by Tailchaser's Song, which I read back in the 1980's. Then there was a long pause until I read the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy (published between 1988 and 1993). I enjoyed that series so much that after finishing, it I quickly reread it, and savored experiencing it all over again. It's been too long since I read it to write a proper review, but I recommend that series if you haven't read it.

My next encounter was Otherland, in which my children tried to interest me, as they thoroughly enjoyed this series, but I could not get into it. It seemed too episodic and it looked like it was going to drag on forever. I could not buy into the concept of everything happening in a virtual reality. I read the first book and that was enough for me.

Back to the present. I recently read Shadowmarch and Shadowplay, the first two novels in Tad William's latest fantasy trilogy. The final novel, Shadowrise, is still in the oven. This is the Tad Williams I love, painting a rich fantasy world with characters of complex history and character.

Southmarch is a kingdom threatened by two main dangers in addition to the power struggles that threaten to destroy it from within: from the south, a spreading theocracy headed by a maniacal god-king, Sulepis Bishakh am-Xis III, a strange being who may not be completely human, but is completely evil. He is trying to take over the world and having pretty good success, since no one wants to be the next to die, and that is the price of failure.

To the north, behind the misty shadowline, which lies close to the castle of Southmarch, is the land of faerie and many bitter magical creatures who long to march south and recapture the lands taken from them by the humans centuries ago. To enter the mist, means madness for humans, and few who enter ever return. Now, it appears that the shadowline is moving south along with an army of fairy folk.

The royal twins, Briony and Barrick Eddon, brother and sister, find themselves regents of Southmarch upon the bloody murder of their older brother, who was himself filling in for their father, a prisoner in a southern kingdom. They have some irritating qualities, immaturity on her part and peevishness on his part, that make them unlikely heroes. I suspect that this intentional on the part of the author, so that we will be able to see them grow as they struggle to deal with the court intrigues and other dangers from north and south they will need to face and conquer to fulfill their destinies, whatever those may turn out to be. While the story moves steadily forward, with many a twist and turn, in the first two novels, it is not clear how their tale will end.

It is the characters who surround the twins who provided much delight for me as a reader. 

Ferras Vansen, the captain of the Royal Guard, hopelessly in love with Briony, and on a possibly hopeless mission to safeguard her brother, Barrick, who seems hell-bent on getting himself killed or captured in the Shadowland.

Shaso, the master of arms, who rose to power after becoming a captive, was their father's trusted advisor, but comes under suspicion of being the murderer of the twin's brother.

Chert Blue-Quartz, a Funderling, who in the tradition of Hobbits and other small folk, is steadfast and humble, and probably a key player in resolving many of the mysteries surrounding this story.

Flint, a child mysteriously brought out of the Shadowlands and dumped back in the land of the mortals. He appears to be a child with no memory, but a mission. Chert spends much of his time watching out for and chasing after Flint, trying to determine whether he is the good child he appears to be or an agent for evil. Flint discovers and makes contact with the Rooftoppers.

Beetledown, a Rooftopper, tiny humanoid beings who dwell on the rooftops and inside the nooks and crannies of the castle. He is a scout, and can capture and ride a rat or a bat, if need be. He fears nothing and no one.

Qinnitan, a young religious acolyte, chosen to be one wife of many in the harem of the god-king, Sulepis, who finds herself desperately on the run from him. What her part is to play in this story is one of the puzzles that will not be clear until the third novel is published.

There are many other characters, including unexpected allies, such as a silly poet, a blind fairy, and a comical, but very disgusting raven. One of the amazing things that Tad Williams does, even with those characters who may only appear in one scene, is to make them seem whole, fully fleshed-out creatures.  I don't know how he manages to come up with just the right anecdote to explain their sense of self, but he does it.  He is full of surprises, but moves the story smoothly back and forth between three or four concurrent stories, each person not knowing what the other is doing, but all moving forward toward what I hope will be a satisfying conclusion.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Soon I Will Be Invincible

If the comic book artists and writers were right, we would be living in a world of secret government programs to create super soldiers, aliens and mutants where superheroes and villains would hang out in bars together and either plot to take over or plan to save the world. With wry wit, Austin Grossman's humorous novel takes us into this world of science gone mad, time travel, aliens, impossible scenarios and brightly-costumed metahumans with supernatural powers. He uses Dr. Impossible, he-who-would-be-invincible, and Fatale, a dreadfully-injured young woman turned human cyborg and novice super hero, to tell the story, but it is really Dr. Impossible's story.

Dr. Impossible is a scarily-intelligent, geeky loner who never fit in, not even with his family. On one level, it's the usual story of teenage angst, unfulfilled love and clumsy genius. All he really wants is acknowledgement and love, same as anyone else, but he's spent his life being overlooked and underrated. So, what's left for "the smartest man in the world" to do? Take over the world, of course. Show them all. And even though he freely admits he is going to lose, he never stops trying to become the emperor of everything.

His persistence and our sympathy with his desire for recognition make him an endearing villain. He notes that wearing a cape doesn't do much for one's social life and the images of him changing into and out of his costume behind bushes, wearing sunglasses and lurking in alleys behind garbage dumpsters until he is ready to make the grand entrance demonstrate some of the unglamorous aspects of having a super identity. But, he also builds cool gadgets and awesome robots with junk he mostly gets from Radio Shack. He has visions of grandeur, but he's not quite evil enough to want to destroy the world. Really, submission will do, and then he promises to be magnanimous. He enjoys the brief, but glorious hours when he has the world's attention, always knowing the moment will come when someone will come along, pound him into submission, and haul him back off to jail. You've got to admire his guts. He wants to win. Who doesn't?

Maybe I should have been a hero. I'm not stupid, you know, I do think of these things. Maybe I should have just gone with the program, joined up with the winning team, and perhaps I would have, had I been asked. But I have the feeling they wouldn't have wanted someone like me. They'd turn up their nose or just never quite notice me. I knew some of them in high school, so I know.

Observations about himself:
The cape is pure melodrama, a coup de thèâtre, useless in a fight but indispensable in making an entrance, worth minutes of tedious oration. No one who sees that broad crimson swath billowing behind me as I step through the breach I've made in their perimeter is going to ask too many silly questions. A simple half mask is enough to keep my identity from public knowledge and fold me into the public persona.

In street clothes, I'd just be a criminal. Which I am, of course, but in the costume I'm something more. I wear the flag of a country that never existed and the uniform of its glorious army, spreading forth the dominion of the invincible empire of me. Doctor Impossible.

Observations about his enemies:
It's always chancy, facing down one of these people. No matter who it is, you're going to be dealing with the end product of a long, improbable story, of a person so strange and powerful that he or she broke the rules of what is ordinarily possible. Whoever you're facing is guaranteed to be special––an Olympic wrestler, a radioactive freak, the fated son of somebody. They're winners. Taking a red arrow or a sea horse or the letter G as their symbol, they sally forth to make your life difficult.

Fatale, the young woman who agrees to become a cyborg rather than die or be left horribly disabled and disfigured after being run down by a dump truck in Brazil, offers astute observations on members of The New Champions, the super hero squad that opposes Dr. Impossible. Her conversion includes a lot of metal components (she now weighs 500 lbs.), onboard computers, a mini-nuclear reactor in her vaginal area, ruling out child-bearing, but also the reason she no longer has to worry about getting her period. She's good-hearted, and wants to prove herself as the new kid in the squad, but is also lonely and curious about her fellow heroes. She knows she's in when she finds a New Champions costume on her bed
I stop and look at myself in the full-length mirror, a machine-woman hybrid in a leotard. Female cyborgs are supposed to be wasp-waisted pleasure machines, but the fact is, it takes a lot of structural metal to carry a miniature reactor and this much hardware. I'm six four, taller than most men, with long thighs and broad shoulders. Even with my silver hair down, the impression is a bit more fearsome than traditionally beautiful.

I run a hand down my flank, feeling the cool metal and then the real flesh, thinking of how long it's been. Not since the accident and how long before that? I don't even know. I only know I'm not a virgin. That's all.

I look again, to see Fatale of the Champions. It's hard not to be a little proud of myself. I flip the hair back and do a Fatale pose for an imaginary photo shoot.

Click on the title of this post to go to the author's website. I got a kick out of the safety tips for children:
Saftey Tips for Kids
Be Smart! If there is a metahuman conflict in your neighborhood, do not attempt to intevene.

Be Alert! If your friends or classmates show signs of Malign Hypercognition Disorder ("evil genius" syndrome), ask them to seek help.

Signs include:
-extreme intelligence
-secretive behavior
-impatience with assigned classwork

Dr. Impossible says that getting super powers makes you find out who you really are, a villain or a hero. You can find out, too. The Department of Metahuman Affairs (DMA) is screening applicants for the Champions Reserve Force. Take the quiz, come up with your superhero or villain identity name, and receive an I.D. card.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Wicked Years

Gregory Maguire's Wicked and Son of a Witch are the first of three books set in Oz that tell the story of familiar characters in a most unfamiliar way.

Wicked tells the story of Elphaba Thropp and how she grows up and gradually into the familiar character of the Wicked Witch of the West.

In this Oz, Elphaba is born under mysterious circumstances to a a promiscuous mother and a preacher, as are her strange sister (possessed of no arms for whom the sparkling slippers are entranced to help her stay upright and move about), and a somewhat charming, nefarious brother, whose story is a central part of the second novel. Elphaba becomes friends of a sort with Galinda, of money and frou frou-dom, a union of opposites united in defense of intelligent animals, and she falls in love with Fiyero, a man who is ultimately murdered by the Wizard's forces, thus setting an embittered and possibly pregnant Elphaba on the road to witchyhood. And we all know how that ended.

In the second book, Son of a Witch, 10 years have passed and Liir, a young man who grew up in Elphaba's shadow and may be her son, but she never said, and possibly never knew, is found unconscious and badly injured at the side of the road. As he struggles on what may be his deathbed, we travel back and follow his journey as he leaves the witch's castle after her meltdown and goes off to search for his possibly-half-sister, Nor, who was last seen being abducted by the Wizard's men, but may still be alive somewhere in Oz.

This is a coming of age novel (aren't they all?). He travels with Dorothy to Oz, is later aided somewhat by the Scarecrow, Glinda and an odd old Maunt (the Oz version of a nun) named Yackle in his quest. He possesses the witch's cape and broom and intelligence, but is innocent of the ways of men and the ways of Oz, where above all, everyone seems to be out for him or herself, and there doesn't seem to be much compassion to go around. He survives through a combination of dumb luck and instinct. The further he travels, the more is asked of him by others who assume that he is the witch's son and must have some of her powers. When he finally makes the attempt to be all that others are asking of him, he saves some, but neglects others, and suffers loss and gain in equal measure.

As in the first two books, we are left with loose ends that need to be tied up. Hopefully, the third book, titled A Lion Among Men will tell us whether Liir will ever find Nor or be reunited with Candle, and what happened to the Grimmerie, the book of magic that disappeared from the witch's castle. As with the first two books, I expect this one will deal with the bigger questions of destiny, justice, and the struggle for power versus the struggle for equality that plays out in every society.

These books are amazing in their complexity, but also for how Gregory Maguire ties all of the disparate characters with their different motivations who all seem to be struggling against each other into a coherent whole, which serves as the background for the stories of the main characters from Baum's original Oz.

The novel Wicked is the basis of the popular Broadway musical and there is a movie in the works. Gregory Maguire has written a number of other novels and books for children as well. Click on the title of this post to visit the author's website.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Time Traveler's Wife

When Henry and Clare meet for the first time in the present, he is 28; she is 20; he is seeing her for the first time; she has known him for years. She has been visiting with his older time traveling self in the meadow behind her house since the age of 6. To him, she is a complete stranger. So, how do you handle a relationship where one partner has a habit of disappearing on the spot, leaving behind only a pile of clothing?

Time is the uninvited guest in this love story, the barrier that keeps the lovers apart, but also assures that they will eventually find each other. This is not the usual time travel novel, no science fiction future or prehistoric worlds, no great evil to be defeated, just "normal" persons trying to live a normal life and have a normal marriage when one of them just won't stay put no matter how hard he tries.

Swirling around them are friends and family, some of whom must be brought into their secret world to help Henry when he time travels, since he arrives at his unselected destinations there and back in nothing but his birthday suit. Each trip is perilous and a test of his survival skills, which include pick pocketing, lock picking, fighting, and staying in shape so that he can run away from danger very fast. He never knows when he will leave, when or where he will end up, how long he will be there, or how long he will be gone. Since stress seems to be a key trigger, he has a hard time staying put for important events like meeting the parents, weddings and child births.

The author, Audrey Niffenegger, does an admirable job of keeping the story flowing forward, in spite of the jumping to and fro in time. The early part of the book focuses on Clare's encounters with Henry in the meadow and her frustration that grows as she grows into her teenage years that Henry will tell her nothing of their future. Next the author takes us through Henry's childhood, how he learns to survive time travel as a young boy (sometimes from his older self) and the experiences that shape him into a tough, cynical young man who struggles and looks for ways to avoid time traveling in drugs and alcohol. By the time he meets Clare in his present, which is the one timeline that you can count on, he is ready for redemption and at this point she knows him even better than he does himself, enough to believe in the man he will become, because she has spent so much time with his future self.

The writing is beautiful in this novel, the story compelling, the love between Clare and Henry rich and true. The possibility of a time-traveling husband seems real enough to be considered a problem that a good wife just might have to cope with.

There is a movie in the works. I'm not a fan of movies made from novels. This is a good story. Hopefully, they won't ruin it.  However they do it, it won't be as complete or as in depth as what the author has written in this novel, so watch the movie, but read the book first!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale, the first novel by Diane Setterfield, reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list after only one week in publication in 2006. No wonder. This novel isn't just a great mystery, but the writing is breathtaking. It's been a long time since I have read a book whose sentences alone have been such a pleasure to read. I feel my own plod along in their own straightforward, unimaginative way to the end of the line, while hers surprise me at every turn with unexpected images and metaphors.

The novel centers around a world-famous, much-loved author and gifted storyteller: Vida Winter, an elderly woman fast approaching death, who has entertained herself by telling many versions of her life to the literary press, none of them true. She summons a reclusive young woman biographer, Margaret Lea, to her house by promising to tell her the truth, a pledge to which Margaret aims to hold her.

As they settle into the house and winter weather settles in around them, Vida Winter's story gradually unfolds: of intense love, of sorrow, of managing the unmanageable, of hard choices. It is a story of madness and redemption, of loneliness and love, of losing and finding. One of the recurring elements of this novel is twins; their closeness, their love; their need for each other, yet also the uniqueness of each. As Ms. Winter tells her tale, Margaret makes inquiries to verify the details and locate the missing segments of the puzzle. As she pieces together the remarkable tale of the writer, she also struggles with her story, her own missing twin and her own loneliness.

Of course, love triumphs in the end: the lost are found; the family is reunited; secrets that need to be kept are kept; those that need to be told are revealed; and Margaret emerges from the secluded world of books into a more authentic life of friendship and perhaps even love.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

I had trouble reading this book, but not for the reason you might think. I started reading it during my middle school reading class, and kept laughing out loud. So, I read the first 3 chapters to the class, and one of the boys, who had just finished the book he was reading, asked if he could check it out. Fine, I thought, I'll finish reading it when he is done. But, as soon as he was finished, another student checked it out, and then another, and then another, and then another. This book has not been anywhere near the bookshelf. It wasn't until the last day of school that I was able to get my hands on it.

I immediately put it in my favorite reading spot (the throne room), and found myself spending extra time there. My husband occasionally came by to check on me, concerned that I might be ill. Not exactly, just glued to my seat because I didn't want to put the book down.

This is a wonderful book, with a protagonist so engaging and funny, that I kept reading to see what he would have to say about the next difficult situation he would face, because his life has been one difficult situation after another. The opening line of the book is "I was born with water on the brain." Arnold, AKA Junior, Spirit has several things wrong with him, including brain damage from encephalitis, ten extra teeth (which were removed in one sitting, since Indians are poor and the res only received access to major dental procedures once a year), poor eyesight, and a couple of speech impediments (stuttering and a lisp). He has a huge head, a scrawny body, and big feet. He gets beat up a lot, but has managed to survive in part because his best friend, Rowdy, serves as his protector.

On the first day of his freshman year, he throws his textbook and breaks the nose of his geometry teacher, because he is frustrated to find that the textbook he has been issued is so old, it has his mother's name in it. But, the teacher, instead of being mad, is glad that he hasn't given up on himself and tells him to escape now, leave the res and go to the white school 22 miles away. Junior may be a physical oddity, but he is smart. When he transfers to the all-white school, and becomes the only Indian there besides their mascot, he discovers that he is even smarter than the average white kid.

Will Arnold/Junior find friends at his new school? Will Rowdy ever forgive him? Will he survive the basketball game against his former school? Heck, will he find a ride to take him the 22 miles to the school in Reardan, or will he have to walk . . . again?

Arnold is also a cartoonist, and the book is peppered with hilarious commentary in the form of his cartoons, created by Ellen Forney.

I draw all the time.
I draw beacuse words are too unpredictable.
I draw because words are too limited.
If you speak and write in English, or Spanish, or Chinese, or any other language, then only a certain percentage of human beings will get your meaning.
But when you draw a picture, everybody can understand it.
If I draw a cartoon of a flower, then every man, woman and child in the world can look at it and say, "That's a flower."
So I draw because I want to talk to the world. And I want the world to pay attention to me.
The language of this book appeals to kids, because Arnold talks like a kid. He tells his story eloquently, but in a simple, direct way, with humorous references to various bodily functions that we all have to deal with, whether we talk about them or not. Bad things happen in this book, just as bad things happen to most Indian families on the res, and Arnold tells with great honesty how he and his family and friends survive, and sometimes don't survive. The life of a reservation Indian is a world apart from that of the white kids at the school attends, but due to his humor and his tenacity, he survives and eventually begins to thrive.

The book is finally sitting on the bookshelf, but as soon as school starts in the Fall, I expect it to fly off the shelf.

This novel was written by Sherman Alexie, who grew up on the reservation that he writes about. Click on the title to visit the author's website.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Singer of All Songs

Everyone is on a journey. Everyone needs to learn how to be brave, and resourceful, and kind. The world is full of cruelty and danger, but it is also filled with unexpected magic and wonder, and it is those who are open to the possibility of magic who triumph in the end. These are the lessons that fairy tales teach, and though not all fantasy writing sticks to the fairy tale rules, I would argue that fantasy can confer the same benefits on its readers.   --Kate Constable

Fortunately for us, after trying unsuccessfully to write realistic novels, Kate Constable turned to fantasy and gave us something fresh and new in that genre. I just finished reading The Singer of All Songs and enjoyed it very much. How interesting that I had never noticed the word “chant” in the middle of the word “enchantment.” If you enjoyed the Earthsea novels by Ursula LeGuin, you will enjoy this one.

Calwyn is a novice priestess and she is pulled from her cloistered world by Darrow, a young wizard of sorts, who needs rescuing. In the world of Tremaris there are many forms of chantments, and they are practiced in different lands, although they have become frowned on and even banned in some. Calwyn has led a sheltered and privileged life, raised by the priestesses in Antares who sing a chantment which raises a ring of ice which protects their lands. Calwyn chafes somewhat under the restrictions placed on her and wonders what lies beyond the walls. And then one day while singing the wall, she finds a young man lying injured in her path who claims to have flown over the wall. 

Darrow said quietly, “Thank you for all you have done for me, Calwyn. Perhaps we shall meet again someday.”
For a moment Darrow seemed about to say something more, but then he turned toward the river. She watched him plunge into the water, holding his stick above his head. Already the river had seized him in its current; soon he would be carried beyond the Wall and into the Outlands. Once more he would roam the world, and sail the wide seas in those boats of his, while she was locked inside the gray walls of Antaris, watching the moons wheel overhead and the seasons come and go, every day the same as the one that had gone before. And she would never see him again––
Abruptly she thrust the little globe deep into her pocket
 “Wait!” she cried, stumbling down the slippery bank. And then she was in the water.

This is a great story for young adults. It is easy to follow and the characters are easy to like. I hope that the author does a better job of developing the character of Darrow in the next novel. My only complaint was that he was constantly terse, troubled and thinking too deep thoughts to be troubled to communicate with Calwyn. I thought the brooding hero thing was a bit overdone. All in all, I think the author has done a better job with her female characters than with the men, but she has such a nice lyrical touch in her writing that I am willing to forgive her this and hope that more will be revealed of his character in the following books. Ah well, if there were no obstacles to the course of true love, the story would be over too soon and I am looking forward to immersing myself in the rest of this story. 

I finally got around to reading rest of the trilogy: The Waterless Sea and The Tenth Power. I enjoyed the continuation of the story. Many of the questions I had about Darrow and how the characters relate to each other, why they had the powers they had, and how the peoples of the planet came to be there, were answered. 

The author has written several other books. You can learn more at her website. Click on the title of this post or click HERE.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Enchantress From the Stars

If you care about the future of Earth, you should care about space!  --Sylvia Engdahl
Originally published in 1970, Enchantress From the Stars was redesigned and a new edition published in 2001. It is now being discovered by a new generation of readers. I read it years ago and when I saw the beautiful new edition last year, I picked it up and enjoyed getting reacquainted with Elana and Georyn.

Enchantress From the Stars is the story of three civilizations at different stages of evolution. Any one of them could be ours, in the past, in the near future, or in the far future. Elana, a young member of the Federation, an advanced race with psychic abilities, ends up helping her father and fiancé on an urgent and unexpected mission to save the world of Andrecia. This was not supposed to happen. She is young and untrained, and they were on their way to a family reunion. But she is also highly curious, and manages to get herself in place, thinking that she will get to go on a grand adventure.

The book draws on the language of fable and fairy tale for Georyn's story and that of space invaders with ray guns for the intermediate civilization, the Empire, that is attempting to plant a colony on Andrecia. The locals view the land chewing machine brought in by the Empire as a dragon living in an enchanted forest. The local king sends warriors to fight it, and eventually the locals think to send in a virgin to appease it. Only the expedition's doctor is bothered by the treatment of the indigenous population, who are usually stunned and held in confinement, but also occasionally vaporized. And those held captive are to be sent back to the Empire as specimens to be studied in a lab. Elana's father determines that the best course of action is to use the belief of the "younglings" in magic to access the latent telekinetic talents of one of them and prepare him to demonstrate this ability, hoping to scare the highly technical and nonbelieving Empire into leaving this planet alone.

Elana must play the role of the Enchantress, setting tasks Georyn to help him find the courage and ability he will need to play his role. As she interacts with the young man to help him develop his natural ESP and telekinetic ability, the enchantress becomes enchanted by him, his courage, intelligence and determination, his curiosity and his desire to grow beyond the world into which he was born. She wonders at one point what it might be like to see each other just as a boy and a girl, not as beings from different realms, who must soon separate, as she must return to hers when the task is completed. Falling in love was not part of the plan. But, even though they know that their love can never be completely fulfilled, in the end, it is their love for each other that saves them both and saves Georyn's world.

The author has an interesting website where you can learn more about her belief that our future lies in the stars, that terrorism is just one sign of planetary overcrowding and how important it is that we seek solutions for what ails our planet.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Thursday Next

The Thursday Next series of novels by Jasper Fforde are delightfully comic adventures set in an alternative version of Swindon, UK in which the printed world reigns supreme and people are excited by productions of Richard III. Everyone reads and literature is the main source of entertainment and diversion. What most people don't know there is that literature in this universe has a very real life of its own, a life that must be protected, for if anything is changed in the inner book world, it changes in every book in the outer real world as well.

It is possible to enter, if you know how or have the inclination, this world inside the books, and our heroine, Thursday Next, turns out to have a talent for it. In the first book, The Eyre Affair, Thursday is a Special Operative in a literary crime detection unit trying to figure out who is kidnapping characters. She has to step into the book, literally, when Jane Eyre disappears from Jane Eyre. After she sorts out that mess and changes the ending of the novel to the one we now enjoy (when did that happen?), her problems seem to mount, as her husband is kidnapped and eradicated by the evil Goliath Corporation, who really runs things. It takes a couple of novels to get him back. She is occasionally helped by her time traveling absent father. Her baby has a gorilla for a babysitter, her beloved pet is a dodo, Hamlet is hiding out in her mother's house and there are mammoths in the garden. It's a strange, strange world, and only Thursday seems to be able to keep track of who is real and who is missing and what should be where, as she battles the Goliath Corporation for justice and fairness for her and her loved ones.

If you slept through American and British lit class, you might have a little trouble keeping up with the action of these books. For those whose classical education was a bit thin or it's been a few years and the memory of details are fuzzy, Fforde provides enough background information and makes the characters come so alive, that you might find yourself wanting to pick up an old classic and see what you missed or didn't quite get the first time. Aside from the literary references and all the characters from so many novels floating around in the plots, the world that Jasper Fforde has concocted is delightfully unlike any other I have found in literature. His stories are innovative and I never know in what direction he is going to take Thursday or where she will end up.

The novels have brought attention to Swindon, UK, which in time may even name some streets after characters from the books. The author and his fans have created their own universe where Thursday next is occasionally "spotted" at one party or another or walking down the streets of Swindon. He has a whimsical and extensive website I encourage you to explore by clicking on the title of this post. Here is a video in which the author talks about the world of Thursday Next.

The Thursday Next books in order of publication:

The Eyre Affair
Lost in a Good Book
The Well of Lost Plots
Something Rotten

First Among Sequels, the next Thursday Next novel
came out in July 2008.

It's on my shelf. I'm looking forward to reading it!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Peter Before Wendy

We all know the classical tale of how Wendy Darling and her brothers meet Peter Pan, are whisked away to Never Never Land and their adventures there. Peter exists, but the real world for them is back home with mother and father and Nana, the dog.
The series of books penned by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson take us to Peter Pan's real world and tell us his story. Therein lies a tale worth reading. I've read the first two of the set: Peter and the Starcatchers and Peter and the Shadow Thieves and they are action-packed, witty and humorous, while filled with plenty of skullduggery and enough dangerous action to keep any self-respecting reader under the covers with a flashlight reading well past lights out. The third and final book came out in October and is titled Peter and the Secret of Rundoon.

The series of three books tell the backstory of Peter Pan, how he and the Lost Boys made their way to Mollusk Island along with Captain Black Stache, and how the latter became Captain Hook. Peter's ability to fly, his agelessness, his friendship with Tinker Bell, all are explained by the authors and incredibly beautifully illustrated by Greg Call. There is a girl in these books, but her name is Molly and it is she who sets Peter on the hero's path and with whom he sets out to save the world from evil doers.

You don't have to be a child to enjoy these books, but it helps to be a child at heart. Hopefully, none of us are too grown up to read these enjoyable books, and if you feel awkward reading them to yourself, find a child and share it with him or her. You can read more at the website by clicking on the title of this post.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Children's Past Lives

Children's Past Lives: How Past Life Memories Affect Your Child by Carol Bowman is a ground-breaking book written by one of the few people who has investigated the ability of some young children to remember past lives and look for commonalities between them. Her own reincarnation memories of dying in a Nazi gas chamber in one life and suffering from a lung disease in another surfaced in her current life as a debilitating and unexplained illness. Remembering her earlier lives freed her from her lung ailment in this life and started her on the search for answers.

One of the things she discovered is that young children move in and out of a light trance much more easily than adults. When her son experienced extreme terror at a 4th of July fireworks show, she was amazed at how easy it was for him to remember his past life in the American Civil War simply by being asked to think of the fireworks. Because of her research, she has been able to identify how a parent can distinguish when a young child is remembering a past life versus telling a creative story and most importantly, how parents can help their child by accepting their memories and using them to help the child heal from emotional wounds. The most common cause for children remembering a past life she discovered are in having experienced a difficult or unexpected death or the feeling of having unfinished business. Young children may need help understanding that the memories they have of this earlier time happened in another body and reassurance that they are in a new body with a new family and that they are safe.

This book is well-researched and documented and the stories are fascinating. I recommend this book to anyone with young children, but even though mine are grown and out of the nest, the insights are still helpful in understanding some qualities that I observed in them that did not seem to come from my parenting, but perhaps were brought with them from earlier lives.

One of the issues the author addresses is how the belief in reincarnation has been repressed by organized religions, even though there is evidence for it in scripture and its history can be traced to very ancient times throughout the world. Parents confronted with a child who talks about her other mother or how she died may have to adjust their thinking to include this new information, but most are able to do this without losing their faith. Instead, this knowledge often deepens their faith.

It's like stumbling upon a dewy spider's web, with the sun glistening on it at just the right angle. We suddenly see the intricate strands that connect us to all people and events in our lives. We realize that nothing happens by chance; coincidences suddenly have meaning. We get a glimpse of the gossamer patterns that connect all things between the inner and outer worlds. But we might have missed it if our small child hadn't pulled us by the hand and pointed it out to us.

Click on the title of this post to visit the author's website.

Don't Call Them Ghosts

The Spirit Children of Fontaine Manse:
A True Story

I read this book about four years ago. I was attracted by the title and the cover image of the child looking out of the window along with the fact that it is told as a true story.

Kathleen McConnell falls in love with the Louisville, Kentucky house known as the Fontaine Manse as a 19 year old. She often sees it while riding by on the city bus and frequently sees a child looking out of the window. She dreams of living, not just in any house, but of living in that house.

Many times I saw a little girl standing at the upstairs window. She always waved as the bus went by and I'd put the palm of my hand flat against the window. I knew she couldn't see me that far away, but I'd made the gesture to return her wave.

Eight years later, in 1971, married with children and a baby on the way, she and her husband buy the old house, which has been languishing unsold on the market for years, at a bargain price. Shortly after moving in, she realizes that they are not alone and that she must make peace with the spirits of the house if they are to live together safely. She wisely begins to communicate respectfully to the spirits and gradually learns more about them, starting with the fact that there are three and they are all children.

As they come to know and trust her, they help her out by hiding her husband's gun which he keeps under the mattress (and which she is afraid her children might find) and watching out for baby Duncan, playing with him to keep him entertained and once even saving his life. While she is never able to ascertain the exact identities of the spirits, she is able to draw some conclusions about how they died and why they are still in her home. After becoming very ill and having a Near Death Experience, she is even able to see them.

There she was–the same little girl I had seen years ago. She was standing at the front window of Duncan's nursery, holding the rag doll from the old toy box in the attic, silently saying, "It's me, it's me . . . "

Kathleen McConnell is not a professional writer, but she tells a clear, coherent tale, and it is the story itself that is compelling and heart wrenching. I have to admit I sometimes skimmed over the details of her daily household routine to get to the action sequences.

After five years, the family sold the house, but before moving, Kathleen was finally ready and able to help her young spirits find resolution and peace. It may seem to the reader that she takes a long time to get to this point, but she was living in a different time, and information about how to help wayward spirits was not as readily available then as now. She also did not feel comfortable talking about her experiences with her children and her husband, her children because she did not want to scare them, her husband because he seemed skeptical. It was only after she wrote the book that her children admitted that each had his or her own story to tell about the ghost children of Fontaine Manse.

To learn more about this book and read an interview with the author, click on the title of this post.

Favorite Authors: Ellis Peters

Edith Pargeter, writing as Ellis Peters, penned a beautifully written series of "medieval whoddunits" featuring Brother Cadfael, the herbalist at Shrewsbury Abbey. A man of the cloth during the Civil War between King Stephen and Empress Maud in 12th Century England, Cadfael was not always so committed to the causes of peace. He had been a soldier in his youth who fought in the Crusades and hung around the Middle East for a large part of his life, even fathering a child, although he did not know this until much later. He returned to England and sought the peace and sanctuary of the cloister.

In his retirement, Cadfael is much in demand by the community round about for his knowledge of medicines, but his ability to sort out the mystery of One Corpse Too Many leads to an ongoing partnership with the local Undersheriff, Hugh Beringar. Cadfael frequently needs Hugh's help since Prior Robert and Brother Jerome, those stern upholders of the Vow of Obedience, often serve as obstacles to progress, and Hugh seeks his guidance to help him sort out the guilty from the innocent. Cadfael's knowledge of the human heart comes in as handy as his keen observation and knowledge of local plants and paths. The author's knowledge of these and the history of the times provide a wonderful journey into the past.

Count on Cadfael to bring the guilty to justice, to free those ensnared by unjust circumstances, and occasionally to look the other way or even assist in the escape of those he deems to have acted in the cause of justice. Cadfael has compiled a wealth of wisdom on his journey through life, and while his commitment to God is complete, his application of God's law occasionally takes a Cadfaelian twist.

Ellis Peters died in 1995 at the age of 82, so I'm sorry to say there won't be any more Cadfael novels. I was happy that she was able to bring the story to a close in the final novel, Brother Cadfael's Penance, in which his relationship with his son Olivier was finally brought out into the light.

PBS produced a series of 13 episodes from the books, which are available on DVD. These were well-done, expensively filmed and starred Derek Jakobi as Brother Cadfael. You can view photos from the films here: http://www.linsdomain.com/Derek/mainpages/jacobi-cadfael.htm and I have included a couple of photos of him in the graphic above. The top right shows him with the author, Ellis Peters, and the bottom right a scene from my favorite novel: The Virgin in the Ice.

The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael
1. A Morbid Taste for Bones (1977)
2. One Corpse Too Many (1979)
3. Monk's-Hood (1980)
4. St. Peter's Fair (1981)
5. The Leper of Saint Giles (1981)
6. The Virgin in the Ice (1982)
7. The Sanctuary Sparrow (1983)
8. The Devil's Novice (1983)
9. Dead Man's Ransom (1984)
10. The Pilgrim of Hate(1984)
11. An Excellent Mystery (1985)
12. The Raven in the Foregate (1986)
13. The Rose Rent (1986)
14. The Hermit of Eyton Forest (1987)
15. The Confession of Brother Haluin (1988)
A Rare Benedictine (1988)
16. The Heretic's Apprentice (1989)
17. The Potter's Field (1989)
18. The Summer of the Danes (1991)
19. The Holy Thief (1992)
20. Brother Cadfael's Penance (1994)

There are several good links to websites where you can learn more about the Cadfael novels:

Here you can find a complete bibliography of all the writings of Edith Pargeter: http://user.chollian.net/~beringar/e-book.htm

A Certain Slant of Light

The novel by Laura Whitcomb,
not the poem by Emily Dickinson

This is the best ghost story I have ever read. I stumbled onto this book by first-time novelist, Laura Whitcomb, and couldn't put it down. I loaned it to a mature 8th grader, and she finished it and loaned it to her next door neighbor, all in the course of a weekend. From there it went to a fellow teacher. Within a week, four readers had devoured this story.

It's a ghost story, but it's also a love story: the story of two ghosts who meet and fall in love and how they free not only themselves, but two living teenagers from their own individual versions of hell.

Helen, who has been a ghost for 130 years has only been able to keep herself from being dragged into a watery hell by attaching herself to various living hosts through the years. She is lonely, but resigned to her circumstances, until she is startled by a teenage boy, a student in the English class of her current host, looking directly at her

This is how she meets James, a spirit who has been wandering around near his former home since his death in World War I. He shows her how to take over the body of classmate, whose spirit has departed, leaving a living shell behind. They are able to be together for a while, but struggle to deal with the issues left behind and the demands of the very different families of the young people whose bodies they now inhabit.

Ms. Whitcomb writes beautifully and compellingly of their love and attraction to each other and of the issues that must be settled for them to be together.

I rose and began to flow slowly away. I could feel the flutter as I passed through James––he had put out his arm, pretending to stretch, as I was leaving. We were as close to touching as one spirit and mortal could for a moment. I started to imagine putting my arms around him but was stopped suddenly by a wall of cold blocking me. Blinded, I reached up and felt wet mud, the slime of a leaking dirt cellar or the bottom of a grave. I had let Mr. Brown leave me behind. I pushed against the coldness, and it gave way in messy pieces, the chill now running down over me like rain on my face. I had no voice with which to call out. I dug through the mud, hearing students laugh, buses, trash can lids rattling. I felt cement under my feet and then the darkness was pierced with white. I was sitting in the back seat of Mr. Brown's car, the sun blinding me in the rearview window.

One reason I liked this story and why I'm writing about it here is how well and genuinely the author addressed the issue of why Helen and James had been trapped as ghosts. This remains a mystery until the last few pages, but in the end you understand that any one of us could have been similarly ensnared. This novel has a lot to say about the issues of free will, self-determination, the nature of hell and the possibility of redemption. I won't tell you how this story ends, but I can tell you that you'd better have a full box tissue handy!

Favorite Authors: Lauren Haney

Lauren Haney, author of the Lieutenant Bak mysteries. Haney's novels about the hardworking policeman of ancient Egypt are full of dust and sweat and realistic depictions of the people and politics of upper Egypt during the rein of Queen Hatshepsut. These novels are great mysteries with characters who come alive as real people. She has opened my mind to what Egypt was like in the way a history book never could.

Our hero, Lieutenant Bak, managed to get himself in trouble with Queen Maatkare Hatshepsut, one of the few women to rule Egypt, when he raided the wrong house of pleasure, one favored by the Egyptian elite. So, he basically got demoted, and sent south to Upper Egypt to a remote outpost, the fortress of Buhen along the Nile, where he must work hard to redeem himself acting as the local chief of police.

I like Lieutenant Bak, not just because he is tall, good looking, and knows how to fight from a chariot, but because he is intelligent, smarter than the average Egyptian; ethical, which is how he got into his current line of work; and without prejudice. He works with the Medjay troops, the local police force, made up of Nubians from the local area. There are Nubian rebels to deal with out in the desert as well, so there's a level of cautionary distrust between most Egyptians and most Nubians, but Lieutenant Bak trusts his troops and develops a close relationship with them that helps him get out of many a tough spot. The mysteries are well thought out; the research into the historical background enriches the stories; the glimpses into a life lived long ago in a land so different from our own is a real plus.

Take a journey to Egypt with Lieutenant Bak as he travels the Nile, hunts for bandits or missing travelers in the desert, or chases down a murderer across the rooftops of Buhen. You won't be disappointed.

Lieutenant Bak novels in order of publication:
The Right Hand of Amon (1997)
A Face Turned Backward (1999)
A Vile Justice (1999)
A Curse of Silence (2000)
A Place of Darkness (2001)
A Cruel Deceit (2002)
Flesh of the God (2003)
A Path of Shadows (2003)

There will be no more Lieutenant Bak books, according to the author, but she is hopefully working on a new book. Read more about that here: http://mysteryscenemag.com/whw98.pdf

Favorite Authors: Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich, author of the hysterically funny novels about bond enforcement agent Stephanie Plum. Stephanie is from the Burg, a section of Trenton, New Jersey, and she takes a job working for her deviant cousin Vinny as a bounty hunter, because she is desperate for a job. She likes to wear 3-inch stiletto heels, shop at the mall, and eat donuts a lot more than chase bad guys, but a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

Stephanie can always be counted on to catch the bad guy and wreak havoc in the process with the help of crazy Lula and Grandma Mazur (or maybe not) and Morelli and Ranger, the two absolutely to-die-for men in her life who keep her spinning and occasionally even satisfied, if you know what I mean.

Morelli is "lean and hard muscled with wary cop eyes that softened in the bedroom," where he has never left Stephanie unsatisfied. He's also "six foot of lean, hard muscle and hot Italian libido." In spite of that, she resists his attempts to settle down into a permanent relationship. Notice how that phrase "lean, hard muscled" gets used a lot. It works every time for me.

Ranger is "Rambo meets Batman," a bounty hunter's bounty hunter; wears black, drives black cars, has muscles on top of other muscles; think the Rock. He doesn't say much. He usually just looks at the mess Stephanie has gotten herself into and says, "Babe." He normally goes after the big ticket bad guys for the bond agency, but backs Stephanie up when he's in town and she's in trouble. Their relationship has grown over the course of the books. Stephanie manages to resist his sexual overtures most of the time. Note, I said, MOST of the time.

Lula, an ample black woman who wears the dresses of a much smaller woman, is a former prostitute who becomes Stephanie's best friend and sidekick after Stephanie put the man who nearly killed her away. Stephanie got Lula a job filing for the agency, but she's more likely to be found riding shotgun (and that includes carrying a big gun) with Stephanie or giving her a lift during the frequent times she is between cars, usually because her current one has been blown up.

Grandma Mazur is curious, fearless, bloodthirsty and willing to try anything. She's not going into old age with anything approaching dignity. One can only assume that Stephanie inherited her high spirits from her Grandma Mazur.

Did you catch the part about these books being hysterically funny? You don't have to be from the Burg or live in New Jersey to relate to Stephanie. Few aspire to be bounty hunters, but who can't relate to living with a dysfunctional family, wanting to do bad things to that old enemy from high school, problems finding a good job and keeping the rent paid? But Janet Evanovich takes these to the extreme with the wild and frequently embarrassing episodes that Stephanie experiences while trying to get her man (or woman) to court and collect her fee.

The dialogue may be funny, but the bad guys are really bad guys. Bad things happen in these books, sometimes to nice people. It's a rare book that doesn't have Stephanie's car getting blown up, but it's when the bad guy hurts a friend or threatens her hamster, Rex, that Stephanie really gets riled up. She's frequently terrified, but never lets that get in the way of trying to nab the perp. That's one reason these books are so successful, they are witty and wild, but the danger is real and and Stephanie needs to figure out where the danger is really coming from before the bad guy(s) can kill again. But no matter how terrifying the situation, Ms. Evanovich and Stephanie find the humor in it. Here's an example. Stephanie has been kidnapped, shoved in a trunk by a gang who have every intention of doing her severe bodily harm, starting with gang rape:

I'd always thought in a situation like this the major emotion I'd feel would be terror, but my major emotion was anger. I'd been taken away from my sister's shower. How freaking rude is that? And on top of it, I was still dieting, and I was cranky as hell. There'd been meatballs at the shower. And sheet cake. I'd been steadily working myself into a frenzy while I was in the trunk, thinking about the sheet cake. I glared out at the faces of the degenerate losers who'd kidnapped me, and I wanted to get close enough to them to sink my thumbs into their eye sockets. I wanted to draw blood with my nails. (Ten Big Ones)

You can also get these books on audio CD. My husband and son enjoy listening to them on long road trips.

To get a feel for the characters, check the "Cast the Stephanie Plum" thread on this fan website: http://www.grupthink.com/topic/1878

One for the Money
Two for the Dough
Three to Get Deadly
Four to Score
High Five
Hot Six
Seven Up
Hard Eight
Visions of Sugar Plums (Holiday Novella)
To the Nines
Ten Big Ones
Eleven on Top
Twelve Sharp
Plum Lovin' (Holiday Novella)
Lean Mean Thirteen
Plum Lucky (Holiday Novella)

Click on the title of this post to visit the author's website.

Favorite Authors: Lindsey Davis

Lindsey Davis, author of the Marcus Didius Falco mystery novels. Another brilliantly funny writer, whose novels give us a look at the way the common and not-so-common lived in the ancient Roman empire, while telling of the travails of the much put-upon Marcus trying to solve mysteries while his family, friends and the government occasionally assist him and frequently get in the way.

M Didius Falco is a former legionnaire, now
an informer, trying to turn an honest denarius in a distinctly inferior job. Private informer is Romanese for today's modern P.I. These stories move at a quick pace and the author covers a lot of ground, showing that the ancient Romans moved around a lot. In the course of the novels, Marcus, usually accompanied by his buddy Petronius Longius and assorted members of his extended family, travels to Britain, Germany, Spain, Greece and North Africa. If you go to this link at the author's website, you can pass your cursor over each book and see red dots appear showing the locales in each book. http://www.lindseydavis.co.uk/map.htm

I'm hard put to say which story is my favorite, but I'm a sucker for a good love story, and I enjoy rereading the first book,
Silver Pigs in which he meets and feuds with the beautiful Helena Justina, senator's daughter, who works her way into his heart, his bed, and eventually becomes his wife and business partner. Like Elizabeth Peters and the Amelia Peabody series, Ms. Davis has crafted a group of people that you will care about and who care about each other, although some more than others. The author wisely includes a cast of characters in the front of the book with clever and intriguing little hints about the part they will play in the tale, such as:

an architect who stepped on something nasty
a widow with a very attractive asset
a lyre player who hasn't found his muse
a mother, positively awful (and awfully positive)
a slow driver with a fast reputation
a model whose measurements are worth taking
a dancer who does curious things with snakes
a corpse in a warehouse (extremely deceased)
a blonde, beautiful and therefore not obliged to be sensible
an auctioneer who may be Falco's father, but hopes he isn't
a plumber in Pompeii (fairly honest for a plumber)
a dog who finds an interesting bone
an ox enjoying his holiday
a rather surprised donkey

Pick up any one of these books and enjoy the wit and wisdom of Marcus, and see if you can figure out whodunnit before the end.

The Silver Pigs (set in Rome and Britain) in AD 70-71.
Shadows in Bronze (set in Rome and Naples) in AD 71.
Venus in Copper (set in Rome) in AD 71.
The Iron Hand of Mars (set in Rome and Germany) in AD 71.
Poseidon's Gold (set in Rome and Capua) in AD 72.
Last Act in Palmyra (set in Rome, The Decapolis and Palmyra) in AD 72.
Time to Depart (set in Rome) in AD 72.
A Dying Light in Corduba (set in Rome and Córdoba, Spain) in AD 73.
Three Hands in the Fountain (set in Rome) in AD 73.
Two for the Lions (set in Rome and Carthage) in AD 73.
One Virgin Too Many (set in Rome) in AD 74.
Ode to a Banker (set in Rome) in AD 74.
A Body in the Bath House (set in Rome and Britain) in AD 75.
The Jupiter Myth (set in Britain) in AD 75.
The Accusers (set in Rome) in AD 75.
Scandal Takes a Holiday (set in Rome) in AD 76.
See Delphi and Die (set in Rome and various locations in Greece) in AD 76.
Saturnalia (set in Rome) at year-end.

Click on the title of this post to go to the author's webpage.

Favorite Authors: Elizabeth Peters

Elizabeth Peters, author of the Amelia Peabody novels. Gotta love Amelia and want to jump in bed with Emerson. The writing is fun, clever and full of tongue-in-cheek, read-between-the lines humor. Plus, I love reading about Egypt, archaeology, and murder and mayhem.

I fell in love with Amelia Peabody in the first novel, Crocodile on the Sandbank, written in 1975, when she inherited her father's fortune and went off to Egypt to indulge a passion for all things Egyptian. She is now a grandmother, so I've followed her adventurous life as she fell in love with Emerson, married him, had her "catastrophically precocious" son, Ramses, pursued villains and murderers with her trusty umbrella and belt of tools, explored pyramids, been kidnapped by a romantic villain, rescued many fair maidens, and helped many a couple find each other. I've watched her pedantic, intellectual son grow up into a strong, tall, multi-lingual, brilliant spy and sexy hero, fall painfully in love, marry and have children of his own. Now there are grandchildren and nieces and nephews all over the Emerson household, and the adventures continue.

Each adventure has added a friend or a family member to the ranks, but the stories still center around Amelia, Emerson and their children: Ramses and Nefret. Each member of the family is both brilliant and limited in his or her own way, and very competitive in their attempts to solve each mystery while failing to keep each other out of harm's way, due to the fact that each one is determined to hurtle headlong into danger to protect the others. But their love for each other and unflinching belief in their ability to bring the villain to justice see them through every crisis.

What draws me back to reading these novels again and again and waiting with great anticipation for each new one is the love that I have for these characters and the love they have for each other. Who wouldn't want to be as clever and resourceful as Amelia, as fearless and strong as Emerson, as beautiful and kind as Nefret or as handsome and intelligent as Ramses? These novels never let me down. The early ones I have in paperback, but the new ones I buy as soon as they are printed. No waiting for the paperback edition on these . . . and if you've never read an Amelia Peabody novel, you've already waited too long, so go out and get one. Let the fun begin!

For a fun summary of each of these books visit: http://www.whidbey.net/licenseplate/gallery.html
This collector of license plates has collected many that reflect names, places and events to go along with the novels.

Popular Amelia quotes:

Most small boys are barbarians. It is a wonder any of them live to grow up.

At the age of three Ramses had informed us that he did not need a nanny and would not have one.... I did not agree with him. He needed something--a stout healthy woman who had trained as a prison wardress, perhaps--but it had become more and more difficult to find nannies for Ramses. Presumably word had spread.

...I am firm believer in psychology when it agrees with my own opinions.

At first I was too stupefied by surprise to do anything. Afterward, I was simply too stupefied to do any thing.

Evelyn was right. With the right person, under the right circumstances-it was perfectly splendid.

I felt I deserved the title; (Sitt Hakim) scarcely a day went by when I was not patching up some scrape or cut, although, to my great regret, I was not called upon to amputate anything.

This annoyed him [Emerson] a great deal, for, as he remarked, when he knocked people down he expected them to stay down.

Abstinence, as I have often observed, has a deleterious effect on the disposition.

Husbands do not care to be contradicted. Indeed, I do not know anyone who does.

There is nothing like continued proximity to strip away the veils of romance.

I would not be at all surprised to find that it was for gold that Cain committed the first murder. (It happened a very long time ago, and Holy Writ, though no doubt divinely inspired, is a trifle careless about details. God is not a historian.)

I knew how Eve must have felt when she looked back at the flowers and lush foliage of Eden, from which she was forever barred. (Another example of masculine duplicity, I might add. Adam was under no compulsion to eat of the fruit: and his attempt to put the blame on his trusting wife was, to say the least, unmanly.)

Though I had slept only a few hours, I felt quite fresh and full of ambition. Righteous indignation has that effect on my character.

The trouble with unknown enemies is that they are so difficult to identify.

A lady cannot be blamed if a master criminal takes a fancy to her.

Men always have some high-sounding excuse for indulging themselves.

Click on the title of this post to visit the Amelia Peabody website.

Here's a list of the Amelia Peabody novels:
Crocodile on the Sandbank, 1975
Curse of the Pharaohs, 1981
The Mummy Case, 1985
Lion in the Valley, 1986
The Deeds of the Disturber, 1988
The Last Camel Died at Noon, 1991
The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog, 1992
The Hippopotamus Pool, 1996
Seeing a Large Cat,1997
The Ape Who Guards the Balance, 1998
The Falcon at the Portal, 1999
He Shall Thunder in the Sky, 2000
Lord of the Silent, 2001
The Golden One, 2002
Children of the Storm, April 2003
Amelia Peabody's Egypt* (a book about Egypt of the time Amelia Peabody would have lived if she weren't a fictional character), October 2003
Guardian of the Horizon, March 2004
The Serpent on the Crown, March 2005
Tomb of the Golden Bird, March 2006

Another fun set of Elizabeth Peters books to read is her Vicky Bliss series:
Borrower of the Night
Street of Five Moons
Silhouette in Scarlet
Trojan Gold
Night Train to Memphis

She also writes as Barbara Michaels and Barbara Mertz.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

I recently read The Journal of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Now, here's a wonderful kids' book, thick as can be, but nearly half the pages are artwork, so the story. which is told partly in words and partly with these wonderful drawings that allow you to zoom in and out on the action, reads very quickly. The book isn't just a good read, it is a piece of art.

It tells the story of a young boy who lives in hiding in the walls of the Paris train station, keeping the stations' many clocks running because he fears discovery and being removed to an orphanage. He has in his possession a broken-down automaton, for which he steals small parts in an effort to repair so that he can find out what message it will write. Being young and alone and friendless, he has important questions he wants answered. How long can he keep this up? What will happen to him if he gets caught? And what is the secret of the grumpy old man who steals his father's journal?

This would be a great gift for an upper elementary or middle school child who enjoys reading, or a reluctant reader who needs the pictures and the suspense of the story to keep up his interest. The author has a great website where you can view many of the drawings and learn more about the story behind the story. Click on the title of this post to visit it.

So B. It

So B. It by Sarah Weeks is my favorite book to read with students in my middle and high school reading classes. Students of all ages are captivated by Heidi, her incredible lucky streak, the mystery of who she really is and learning how her mentally disabled mother mysteriously appeared at the door of Bernadette, the neighbor in the apartment next door, with a bottle of powdered formula and a crying two-week old baby.

Where did Heidi and her mother come from? What is Heidi's mother's real name and how did she end up all alone with a baby she was clearly unable to care for on her own? Heidi's story is also an exploration of the nature of truth, love and family. On the way to learning the truth about where she came from, Heidi also learns some painful truths about herself.

This is a book that kids beg to read and want to know what is going to happen next. I've used this book with both middle school and high school students. It is a truly satisfying read.

The Cup of Ghosts

The Cup of Ghosts is the first Paul Doherty novel I have read. I thoroughly enjoyed this first story of Mathilde of Westminster and how she comes to be part of the household of Princess Isabella in 1322. I love reading well-written, historically-accurate murder mysteries set in medieval England. I'm a big fan of Ellis Peters and the Brother Cadfael series.

This story starts out in Paris and ends in London when Princess Isabella marries King Edward II of England. The characters were well drawn, although the problem with historically-accurate stories about political intrigue is there tend to be a lot of them to keep straight. The story revolves around the devious princess and the development of her friendship with Mathilde and how they come to rely on each other to survive. They show that men may rule the world, but women can and have influenced the men who rule the world. There are hints of a future romance or at least deep love between the passionate Mathilde and the unattainable Templar Knight, Demontaigu. I was kept guessing till the very end when Mathilde finally revealed the assassin's identity and brought him to justice.

In the middle of a good book

To what do I attribute my success? To the fact that I have been a reader all my life, a voracious reader as a child, often too busy to read now. But even now, nothing gives me any greater satisfaction than to be in the middle of a good story. So, this blog will be about stories, ones I have read, ones I am reading, ones I will read. I hope you will find it helpful in that important search for the next good read.

May YOU always be found in the middle of a good book.

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