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 

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