Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tales of The Beedle Bard By J.K. Rowling

This latest effort by the author of the Harry Potter series is a tiny book of children’s stories written by and for Wizards and their children.

A collection of five delightful fairy tales of magic and magicians translated by Hermione Granger with comments by Albus Percival Wolfric Brian Dumbledorf . There are also foot notes by J. K. Rowling that serve to explain some of the Wizarding terms and actions to Muggle readers.

Dumbledorf’s comments serve to shed light on the long time relationship between Muggles and Wizards, their tentative truce and how the Wizard world will sometimes help the Muggles in spite of how badly they have been treated over the years. He has comments for each story.

A Lion Among Men By Gregory Maguire

This is the third book of Gregory Maguire’s “Wicked Series”. A delightful adventure in Maguire’s land of Oz where we, originally, met Elphaba Thorp the Wicked Witch of the West. This is the story of the cowardly lion who was protected by Elphaba when he was just a cub “hardly more than a kitten….I had thought to call it Prrr but it shivers mor often than it Purrs so I call it Brrr instead”. Brrr went into the world of Gillikin in the great forest where he wisely decided that it is better to run away than fight forest the creatures. He made his way to Oz where The Emperor (who succeeded the Sacrecrow) was making a mess of things. It is time for a change and there are rumors that the “Ozma” of OZ who was kidnapped as a child and presumed dead may still be alive and may claim the throne. Brrr has some knowledge relating to this.
I found the story fun and interesting; I have read all of the “Oz” stories including Frank Baum’s book about the return of “The Ozma” so I found it intriguing how well Gregory Maguire manages to fit all these characters into kind of dark and very imaginative but familiar world he has created.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Harry, A History By Melissa Anelli

Ms Anelli is the webmaster of the Leaky Cauldren, a popular Harry Potter internet site. Starting with a forward J.K. Rowling, we follow the Harry Potter phenomenon as fans, book sellers, Potter clubs, the author and publishers react to the intriguing series. Quite interesting.

The Secret of The Great Pyramid Rier & Houden

Houdin, aFrench architect , became obsessed with the question of how the great pyramid of Giza was built. He created, over a period of five years, hundreds of computer models which proved to him, at least, that the pyramid was built by using a mile long ramp that was constructed around the inside of the monument. He took the idea to Bob Brier who is a world famous Egyptologist and, together, traveled to Egypt to prove the theory. There is a lot of history about old kings, Egyptian culture and diagrams and pictures of Khufu’s pyramid as well as the several other pyramids located in Saqqara. Great footnotes and an interesting a possible solution to the question.

The Laughter of Kings By Elizabeth Peters

A “Vicky Bliss” mystery. Some one has stolen one of Egypt’s most prized artifacts. Vicky and her some time super thief boyfriend have been asked by one of the curators of the museum to help locate and return the treasure before the loss is made public. Vicky’s lover is suspect due to his reputation, the curator stands to loose his job and others that Vicky brings into the investigation have something to gain or loose. It is kind of a fun adventure with humorous characters and a lively chase. I found it entertaining and humorous when the grand lady herself, Amelia P. Emerson ,made a short appearance . Fortunately Ms Peters, in the forward of the novel discussed the problem of “the current now” and how authors do not attempt to explain anachronisms – Amelia Peabody would be about 146 years old.

As a post script, I sent a note to Elizabeth Peters and she corrected me; "it was not Amanda it was me or as Peabody would say it was I" Anyways, it was a good read.

The Legend of Bagger Vance Steven Pressfield

A mesmerizing story about a golf match between two legendary golfers, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen and a local hero of Savannah. An exciting, stroke by stroke, drama of 72 holes on a championship golf course; The tale is told by a local Doctor who was just a young boy when the match occurred but he assisted the mysterious Bagger Vance, friend and teacher of the local hero, Rannulph Junah who chose to caddy for Junah. The story tells of inner conflict, deep self examination, fear and hope. Hope for success in the golf match and hope for mankind and how he should live with his fellow man and always the question “who and what is Bagger Vance?”

Jubal Sackett By Louis L'Amour

This is one of the early tales in the “Sackett’ series. Jubal is one of Barnaby’s sons who was born in America. Jubal is a hunter and a wanderer, a lover of nature and the great country to the West of Tennessee where the story starts. We are in the early 1700’s, Jubal, alone as usual, is on his way to the ‘Great River” (Mississippi) and beyond. He will meet Indians he knows about, Choctaw, Pawnee, Creek, and Kikapoo and new tribes, Komantsi and Apache and a strange group called Natchee who call themselves “People of the Sun” and are presently lead by a mysterious, and beautiful, woman who is searching for new lands for her people. Jubal will find himself torn between his desire to move on and explore further West and his commitment to help his new Indian friends survive the hardships of settling a new land and fighting Spanish enemies and hostile Indians. For the first time in his life he has a close friend and he is interested in a woman.
This is a great story and L’Amour packs it with daring deeds, tense battles the history of the times and his own love and admiration of the people that settled our land.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sepulchre By Kate Mosse

I bought this book on a whim about a year ago and it was on my “read” pile but I kept piling on top of it. This week I brought seven from the library and made five bad choices and “Sepulchre” was there for me to read.

What a great story!
A special deck of Tarot cards, the biography of a musician, an ancient Visigoth sepulcher, rumors of devils and haunting in the old forests surrounding an old country estate, a murder and people involved in the occult are all intertwined in a haunting and suspenseful tale of two young women from different times who find themselves in a village in Southwest France.
In the year 1891 Leonie Vernier, a lively seventeen year old leaves her stepmother and her familiar Paris surroundings rather suddenly with her older brother who seems to be some rather serious trouble, to stay in the town of Rennes-les-Bains with a widowed Aunt she has never met. Leonie will become caught up in the local legends which involve her own family. She will face dangers not only from the power of the occult and a deck of very old Tarot cards with images that look similar to family members, but from a powerful person seeking revenge against her brother.
In 2007, Meredith Martin, an American, is a graduate student, accomplished musician and author who is writing a biography of Debussy. From Paris, she heads for Rennes-les-Bains for two reasons; she has a weak lead on one of Debussy’s wives but more important, Meredith had always felt that she has family roots in this area. Strangely enough,
Just before she left Paris, she was lead to a Tarot reading and was given a special deck that will tie Meredith to her past. (“it is said that nothing happens without a reason”)
This is a well done mystery; it has history and intrigue and some tense moments when the Tarot cards and the sepulcher reveal the frightening past while the dangers of the present are brought to an exciting climax.

Uncertain Endings Edited By Otto Penzler

This is an anthology of short stories written by various authors. Each story leaves you with a question as to how it ends; it is up to the reader to guess or surmise what happens. The tales include such classics as “The Lady or the Tiger” (and did you know that there was a continuation?), the intriguing “The Mysterious Card and it’s sequel, and a Mark Twain mystery “A Medieval Romance”, this book was a lot of fun.

The Book of Merlyn By T.H. White

In 1958, the series entitled “The Once and Future King” was published; the first story was “The Sword in the Stone” which chronicled the history of Arthur and his training under Merlyn. “The” Book of Merlyn”, the final chapter, was not published until 1977.
This book begins where the last ended; Arthur is in his tent on the eve of his final battle with his bastard son, Mordred ; Arthur is weary of war and contemplates defeat when Meryln appears and takes Arthur to the council of animals that aided in his training when he was a boy called Wart.Since animals do not war on one another, we read long dissertations about how superior animals are to human the human race. This is T.H. White at his cynical and ironic best. A favorite quotation from “Once and Future King” By Merlyn: "The best thing for being sad," replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn."

The Heretic Queen By Michelle Moran

This is a story of ancient Egypt and the Princess Nefertari. Nefertari’s aunt was Queen Nefertiti, the wife of Akhenaten who, together attempted to do away with the polytheistic views of the time and institute belief in a single god, Aten (the sun god). They removed the other deities from the temples and caused a lot of political upheavals to the end that a mysterious fire killed the Royal family. Egypt reverted to the old gods and Akehenaten and Nefertiti were branded as heretics; no one would even speak their names.
Nefertari had some powerful protectors that kept her alive as she grew up in the palace. She grew up with Ramesses II; they were good friends and Ramesses admired her intellect, her facility of languages and beauty in spite of her family background. When Ramesses ascended to the throne he took Nefertari as one of his wives and used her as an advisor.
The story detail the political intrigues of the court, some of the Hittite war, the many monuments including the giant statues at Abu Simbal where Nefertiti was depicted as being the same size as Ramesses II (a first in that time), and it hints at the great exodus telling about a group called the Habiru led by a man named Ahmoses. I enjoyed this one a lot.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Voice of Bugle Ann By MacKinlay Kantor

Bugle Ann was a Missouri fox hound bred and raised by Spring Davis. Her voice was one that sent chills up the spine of the men who would sit by the fire in the night and listen to the hounds chase a fox through Chilly Branch Hollow, high and round and with a brassy resonance, a sound like a bugle. This was not English style fox hunting with horses and bright jackets and a dead fox at the end of the chase; here, the fox went to his refuge and lived to be chased the next day.

Spring Davis loved his dogs and the other men at the fire would tease him for his special affection for Bugle Ann. Spring carried an old bugle and called his dog in from the hunt with two long notes.

One night, the men learned that an old farm had been sold and the new owner, known to be a mean man, was going to fence the property and raise sheep. The concerned hunters located and moved some of the foxes so they would not run near the fences but one night as the hunters listened to their dogs, they sensed and heard trouble. A fox had run through the new owner’s fence.
Some of the dogs ran through but a couple got hurt in the wire. Bugle Ann did not come in to her call.

The author wrote this beautiful and touching story in 1935. They made a movie based on the novel and I was just a small boy when I saw it. I remember that I thought it was very sad. I found this short novel, only 128 pages, at my library this week and read it for the first time; read it if you can find it.

Plague Ship By Clive Cussler with Jack DuBrul

Cussler’s Juan Cabrillo and his team of former soldiers and spies are back with another incredible adventure. An overzealous, well organized and well financed organization calling themselves “Responsivists” believe that the world is on the brink of disaster because of overpopulation. All responsivists are sterilized surgically but the leaders have a plan to use an extremely contagious virus that they developed to contaminate the world population. The virus is expected to cause the death of billions and of those that survive, one half will be sterile. The founder of the organization believes that “the greatest transfer of wealth in human history occurred when the Plague swept Europe and wiped out a third of the population. Lands were consolidated , allowing for a greater standard of living and paved the way for the Renaissance”

Juan has a challenge of epic proportions. For those that do not know Juan Cabrillo, he is one of three major heroes created by Clive Cussler (Dirk Pitt, of NUMA and Kurt Austen are the others) Juan calls himself “the chairman” of his organization that has high political connections that give him and his band of mercenaries secret work that pays big fees. He operates from a state of the art vessel, The Oregon, that is camouflaged to look like a beat up freighter. Like most of Cussler’s characters, he and his crew are practically indestructible in a fight, irresistible to women and experts in their chosen field of work .They work hard and play hard.
This is high adventure and you know that Juan will save the world but it is an exciting and fun read and the way they solve the problems is always unique. Very interesting technical inovations that, for the most part are probably true.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Posted by Picasa

Leaves of Lincoln Century October 4th

A beautiful day for the 4th annual bike ride. Riders from all over the State(and Alabama) lined up for either the 100 mile, 62 mile(100 kilometers), 30 or 15 mile route. Back in the 70's I did the Century rides but now I am happy to to finish the 30 mile ride. Colorfully clad and very friendly folks all along the route made the effort well worth while. I met some nice people. A couple of the hills were especially hard for me but the reciprocal was worth it- 38 miles/hour going down hill was breath taking. The organizers had great snacks and fun people at the rest stops and at the end they served a delicious pulled pork lunch.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Tenth Case By Joseph Teller

This is the first novel by Joseph Teller, a former undercover agent for the Bureau of Narcotics, and a trial lawyer for many years, who uses his experience and skills to create which may be an alter ego protagonist, Harrison J. Walker, “Jaywalker”. I was fortunate to read an advance copy; look for it in early October.

Readers have many choices when it comes to Police detectives, private investigators, and lawyers solving, investigating and either prosecuting or defending and most are carrying some kind of baggage or have an attitude. If the author is good, we want to read more; best examples are Patterson’s Alex Cross or Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme. I liked Teller’s Jaywalker, he‘s a likeable “good guy”.

Jaywalker is a maverick New York lawyer who honed his skills as a public defender and is the kind of lawyer you would want if you run afoul of the law – some one who, really, cares and is not afraid to “bend a few rules” if it will get his client free. His success ratio is in the high 90’s.

Jaywalker is in trouble; his reputation and a perceived unseemly action with a female client have caused the court to suspend his license for a period of three years. The suspension does not, particularly, bother Jaywalker but he is concerned about the clients that are depending on him so he strikes a bargain with the court who allows him to select ten cases to bring to conclusion. It takes a while to work them out but his last one, "The Tenth Case", a murder, will become the most challenging and difficult case he has tackled. His client, a beautiful young woman, is accused of stabbing her husband. The woman, Samara Moss, former Las Vegas showgirl and some time prostitute, married billionaire Barry Tannenbaum, three times divorced and 44 years older than her. The marriage lasted eight years although after the first few months, they set up separate households and Samara spent his money and slept around as she was wont to do. Husband and wife met social obligations together but lived apart. Jaywalker had defended Samara on a drunk driving charge when she totaled Barry’s $400,000 Lamborghini and was very well compensated but this time, Jaywalker will have to settle for the same wages that a public defender would get.

The problem with the case was “why?”; Samara had it made she has money, clothes and total freedom to do what she wishes. The evidence against her was overwhelming and most of it was found in her own home. There was also an application signed by Samara dated shortly before his murder for a six month life insurance policy in the amount of $25,000,000 on Barry. Samara denies her guilt.

The characters are carefully developed and the plot and the action moves fast and smoothly. This became a very suspenseful novel.

The court drama was interesting, we follow the preparation, dialogue and interaction between the prosecutor and Jaywalker and the Judge and I was never certain about the outcome. I found it hard to put the book down until I finished it. MIRA Books is ready to publish another “Jaywalker” novel, I look forward to reading it

Thursday, September 25, 2008

River God and The Seventh Scroll By Wilbur Smith

Wilbur Smith is a favorite author.
Smith created characters from and about South Africa (where he was born). He wrote about the people of South Africa, he wrote about the gold fields, the diamond fields, greed, lust, and love and sex. He created many family dynasties and would write a series about them. Some were sea faring folks others were bound to the land. Very prolific writer; I have read everything he has written.
I have two special novels that I reread frequently. "River God and a sequel "The Seventh Scroll". Picture the opulent Egyptian empire with it’s Pharaoh, his Queen, the people and the treasures. Political intrigues and an astounding eunuch slave called "Taita who is an artist extraordinary, an engineer, architect and all round genius. The main characters (aside from Taita) are Pharaoh Mamose, Queen Lostris and Tanus commander of the guards. The Hittites with their horses and chariots are expanding their lands and the Egyptians are no match for them so Mamose takes his whole empire and they move up the Nile into what is now Ethiopia. Pharaoh dies of war wounds and is embalmed before the voyage begins; the Queen makes the decisionto take the body and the treasure and find a suitable resting place for Pharaoh. Tanus kind of takes over (he long before took over the beautiful queen Lostris) and the people kind of do a "Moses" thing in the wilderness while they train the army to use horses and chariots. Lostris has a son (actually Tanus' son that the people recognize as the Royal Prince)but during the several years of the trip up the Nile Lostris has two more children that came about when the ghost of Mamose visited her in the night (of course Tanus is the father) When the son gets older, he and Taita hunt for a suitable tomb for pharaoh and his treasures. After they entomb the body they go back to Egypt and deal with the enemy.
The follow up story "The Seventh Scroll" is a fascinating account of different people trying to find the secret of the location of the tomb through the scrolls that Taita hid in Queen Lostris tomb in Egypt. What a yarn! An evil sex crazed German industrialist, an angry and evil Hunting guide, a beautiful Egyptian archaeologist and several wealthy collectors. Marvelous puzzles and great adventure. The discovery of the tomb and the way they manage to enter it and the many traps and puzzles they encounter on their way inside the maze of the tomb is very fascinating, exciting and original. I Read these again and again!

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Inspector Lynley Mysteries By Elizabeth George

Ms George created an interesting Scotland Yard team; "a refined,well healed, and sophisticated" Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and his "gritty, rumpled, working class Sgt. Barbara Havers. Although they first came out in novels, WGBH Boston television picked them up and they have run for at least five series and a sixth is coming. Good interplay and I think that fans might disagree as to who is the better detective.

"A Great Deliverance" is the first book and DVD where Lynley and Havers are made a team

I watched the earlier TV series and now I have almost every one in my collection. While I was searching for a picture of the couple I found a splendid website and forum that fans will enjoy. Try it

Monday, September 08, 2008

States of Grace by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Count Saint-Germain is in Venice during the time of religious and political upheaval. Martin Luther is proselytizing, Calvinists are on the move, Henry VIII is breaking away from Rome and the Catholic Church, particularly, in Spain, is hunting and hanging and burning heretics on the flimsiest of evidence of information. The printed page, pamphlets and books are beginning to make their way throughout Europe and the Church is looking carefully at every publication to make sure what is written conforms to Church dogma and teaching. They are none too happy about people learning to read in the first place – folks begin to think and ask questions.
The Count has several printing presses and publishing businesses that augment his extensive and profitable shipping business but as a “foreigner” he must take care as to who he publishes; there are those that are jealous of his wealth and position and he is followed at all times by those who would report to the clergy.
This is an interesting , exciting and action filled adventure. Saint-Germain travels from the canals of Venice where he leaves money and instructions for the running and support of his Venezian business and a musical protégé who is also his mistress, in trust, in the hands of a factor. He travels to another town surrounded by water; Amsterdam ,because another person an intelligent woman he has published is in trouble and is a suspect of the inquisition. This is a long and arduous journey and requires the protection of professional soldiers.

Vampires fear running water and water weakens them. Saint-Germain has special compartments in his boots filled with his native earth which enable him to walk in daylight and in the rain. He also, has his own gondola in Venice which has a dirt filled keel
While in Amsterdam, the factor, a prominent Venezian, cooks Saint-Germain’s books, diverts the money and gambles it away and at the same time creates an ugly situation that will recall the Count back to Venice where as a foreigner, he has very few legal rights. Good story; “no good deed goes unpunished”

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

White Smoke By Andrew Greeley

Our splendid library has many used paper backs and used books for sale and I find a lot of books that I either missed or want to reread. I have always thoroughly enjoyed the novels of Father Andrew Greely he is a very thoughtful and prolific writer. I admire the man and agree with his politics and his strong position on the rights of women and even some of his more liberal philosophy on religion: lest I offend, I will say nothing further. Greeley’s novels are frequently mysteries that include romances and sexual encounters between lay people (and sometimes priests – once even a Cardinal); the author has a thing for beautiful breasts and nipples but then, why not, he is a man. He seems to use human love as a metaphor for love of God and humanity and I think that he worries that the Church stresses love and deification of the Pope and the institution of the Church rather than the love of God (who Greely calls “She”).

White Smoke was published in 1996; it tells the story of the death of a Pope who made a good start trying to “reform” and change some of the rules of the church but was hindered by the Curia and m any staid Cardinals who fear that change will reduce their power and the control that the Church has on the laity. Powerful right wing business men
The conclave is assembled to elect a new Pope. Cardinal Sean Cronin (of Chicago) and his henchman Bishop “Blackie” are in Rome to support a liberal Spaniard who just might be able to remove some of the rules and regulations that hinder priests and bishops and the laity from “common sense” actions on many matters. The conservative press, various conservative Catholic organizations who depend on wealthy business men for funding are opposing the Spaniard for a conservative Cardinal who will keep the status quo.
There is a romance, a rekindling of a marriage between estranged reporters, there is an assassin who will attempt to kill the new Pope, a kidnapping and a daring rescue attempt of one of the reporters who has discovered serious financial problems in the Vatican’s major banking relationship and lots of detail and information about the election of a Pope and the politics that go along with it.

Devil May Care By Sabastian Faulks

Here is Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming. James Bond 007 is on a new assignment; we are back in the late 60’s, the time of the cold war with Russia, The US is involved in Vietnam and not a little upset that Great Britain will not send troops or support the war.
Beautiful women, a powerful enemy with the standard physical anomaly who has a keen hatred for all things British and is determined to destroy the UK with drugs and force them into a war with Russia. Neat gadgets from Q and plenty of action in Iran which is called Persia, an underground factory uses drug dependent natives to process opium.
A pretty good thriller but I think 007 and his antics are kind of out of date now. When he was fresh and original it was great but we all get a little long in the tooth after many years.

Aztec Fire By Robert Gleason and Junis Podrug

Gary Jennings the creator of so many fine novels about the Aztec and Mayan nations died in 1999 but he left a fertile field of research and ideas for other authors to use. This was a fun but implausible thriller; a story about a young peasant, slave to the conquering Spaniards, who was brought up in the knowledge that he is descended from the oldest Aztec civilization. Brought up by two “uncles” who trained him, educated him and taught him about the old civilization, Jaun Rios, secretly, learned to become a gun smith and munitions expert and joined the ranks of those Aztecs who were trying to overthrow the Spaniards. He is found out and has to kill two soldiers and runs for the hills to join the revolutionists.

The novel turns into a odyssey; Jaun is captured and sold into slavery on a galleon that takes him to South East Asia, Hong Kong, where he runs into pirates, opium dens, a South Sea jungle of cannibals and is enslaved, again, to a Muslim Sultan. The history and the detail of the various places and cultures were enjoyable but we strayed away from the conquered Aztec nation until the last few chapters. Just Ok

Saint-Germain: Memoirs Chelsea Quinn Yarbo

A collection of short stories and a novella are very interesting and entertaining but also helps a reader to better understand this melancholy, philosophical, sometimes world weary 3500 year old vampire. Saint-Germain is portrayed as a gracious benefactor of a downtrodden person in Greece, as a respected teacher (but still a foreigner) at a university in Padua where he teaches students “alchemy” which in those times was the study of healing by potions and salves. There we learn more about his travels in Egypt and his fondness for women. Strangely, when he was “resurrected” from death, he found that he was totally unable to achieve an erection, although penetration is impossible he loves and satisfies many women and they adore him. There is always conflict and suspicion; the church hierarchy and jealous public officials keep him on the move.

While there is certainly a connection to the well known “Dracula” (Saint-Germain “does not drink- wine”) the author tries to move Brahm Stoker’s character to a more positive image emphasizing how the vampire deals with such longevity, with so many people passing through their lives and seeing history repeating itself and at the same time, living like a vampire.

I will read a few more about Saint -Germain.

Atonement By Ian McEwan

This is a marvelous story of Love, conflict, misunderstanding, class distinction and the horror of war.
Briony Tallis is a precocious thirteen year old who sees life as a continuing novel or play where she relates every happening or action that takes place to the novels she has read and her limited and immature understanding of the things that go on in the world. She aspires to write; she has tried a novel and has just finished a short play.
Briony observes her older sister, Cecilia and a young man , Robbie, having a confrontation at a fountain; Robbie is the son of one of the house servants and has been on the grounds many years . Briony’s father has seen to Robbie’s university education; he went to the same University as Cecilia. In Briony’s mind, Robbie is forcing Cecilia into a compromising, sexual situation, he is even forcing her to remove her clothes. It is, really, something else that is explained very clearly by the author; Briony, now, sees Robbie in an entirely different light. She feels that her sister must be protected against Robbie.
Robbie sends a letter to Cecilia that Briony reads; not the kind of letter a thirteen year old should see and later in the library, she spies Cecilia and Robbie in a passionate embrace which totally sets Briony against Robbie.
That evening, a serious happening occurs and Briony accuses Robbie of the deed. This lie, this angry outpouring from a confused and jealous child sends Robbie to prison and changes the lives of all involved.

We follow the lives of Cecelia who will always love Robbie, of Robbie who was given the choice of prison or going to war and of Briony who, finally realizes how badly she acted but can not find the means to atone.

Ian McEwan fills his characters with intense emotion and takes great care to help the reader understand them. He writes a graphic description of the final days of Dunkirk. The ending is sad and belongs to Briony.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Roman Dusk By Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

This is, perhaps, the latest in a series of stories and adventures of The Count Saint-Germain a character created by the author. Saint James is a vampire who has been roaming the earth for some 3500 years. He has become very sophisticated, cultured and rich. He has learned to feed without killing his prey and can manage, with some care, to walk about and live during the daylight hours although he still must return to his native earth at night. He has learned to transmute base metal into gold and can create precious gems at will. In Egypt, he learned to resurrect an individual but not as a vampire but , rather, as a servant ghoul who becomes a trusted ally.

In this novel, Saint Germain is living as a foreigner in Rome during the decline of the Empire around 160 AD. He is a well regarded merchant with a fleet of ships that trade goods around the known world. As a foreigner, he pays extra fees to the officials who tax practically everything; sometimes twice. He, cheerfully, pays the fees to avoid bringing official attention to himself. Saint Germain has learned healing and has become rather a “humanitarian” and feels almost compelled to look out for and take care of the ill and oppressed which of course there are plenty.
He makes an enemy of one of the taxing authorities who is determined to find out as much as he can about Saint Germain.
The present Caesar is merely a boy controlled by his mother and wasting the treasury of Rome by lavish and decadent expenditures.
The Christians are a growing sect, fiery and intolerant and a group of particularly militant boys are starting fires at places they feel are immoral and ungodly.
Saint-Germain becomes involved in the happenings of Rome at this time and finds himself becoming more and more in danger. The author uses a lot of fabricated letters from characters in the story and from characters that Saint-Germain has known from other places that help advance the plot or give information about Saint-Germain or other people in the novel. This is quite effective.
This was a fascinating story; I enjoyed the characters ; mean, petty and dangerous and found the historical fiction and the eroticism between Saint-Germain and his female companions interesting. I have scanned some of the other Saint-Germain novels but this is the first that I really devoured. I will go back and look at some more.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Buckingham Palace Gardens By Anne Perry

The Prince of Wales has invited four business men to Buckingham Palace to discuss the possibility of a trans African railroad starting from Cape Town to Cairo. After dinner, entertainment is provided by four ladies from a local brothel. The next morning, one of the men rises early and while walking down the hall sees a closet door ajar, looks inside and discovers the body of one of the prostitutes. Her throat and belly had been slashed, a very bloody scene, indeed. The Prince is notified; the Queen is away and expected later in the week and because of where this happened, he decides to bring in “Special Services” (homeland security) to investigate rather than the police. A senior officer from Special Services and a homicide expert are dispatched to the palace. Their instructions are to solve the crime discreetly; there is to be no publicity and the culprit will not stand for a public trial he will disappear.

There are some great characters. Each of the four guests are suspect; we learn all of the baggage that they carry and how each has had dealings with one another at one time or another, some rather frightening. The two investigators follow a twisted trail with bizarre clues such as wine bottles filled with blood, broken porcelain, missing clothes. Good suspense and you might find yourself changing your mind a couple of times as to “who done it” Very entertaining story.

The Bourne Betrayal By Eric Van Lustbader

I have read, nearly, all of Robert Ludlum’s novels, exciting and well crafted all; the Bourne series was my favorite. The Estate of Robert Ludlum made a smart choice when they gave Eric Lustbader the right to continue the series; he really did a great job!
The earlier Bourne stories have a wealth of characters, exotic places, and tense adventures as well as the compelling hero, Jason Bourne for the author to draw on and he put together winner.
Jason is drawn back to work for the Central Intelligence because a Deputy Director and Jason’s best (and only) friend, Lindros is missing on assignment. The agency hates Jason because of his unorthodox ways but they know that Jason will find his friend.
Radical Muslim terrorists have got their hands on atomic bomb material they have a refining plant and a plan to bomb a major US city. They are also plotting to destroy the Central Intelligence agency. There is plenty of action, double cross, evil and dangerous people and settings in Africa, the Middle East, Russia and Eastern Europe and Jason Bourne is at his best using disguises, sophisticated weapons and gadgets and fighting with knives and his hands and feet. This was a great thriller.

The Burning Time By Robin Morgan

The setting is Ireland in the year 1324. The Catholic church has instituted the Inquisition (also called “the burning time”) and has chosen Ireland, in particular to seek out heretics. The Irish have traditions that go back many hundreds of years where nature is worshiped and they feel that it should be ok for them to practice the "Old Religion” as well as what the Church believes. This, of course, is out of the question and a Bishop is sent to a particular region where “pagan practices” are outwardly practiced to enforce, by any means, the doctrines of the Church.

The Bishop, mean and ridged, goes up against a strong willed, courageous and outspoken woman, Lady Alyce who is a leader in the Old Religion practice and who has some connections to influential men.

The battle lines are drawn and the reader will enjoy the conflict. The character and bombast of the Bishop is well drawn and very frightening and the Lady Alyce is a treasure This was a well researched story ; many actual people are portrayed in the novel. It maybe a little long on the ancient practices but a very interesting read.

My Theodosia By Anya Seton

Interesting historical fiction based on the life of Theodosia Burr Alston the daughter of Aaron Burr, Vice President to Thomas Jefferson and known for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel and being tried for treason for an attempt to form a Republic of the South West for which he was certainly guilty but they could not find enough evidence to convict him. Burr was a hard and scheming scoundrel and was disliked by many including Hamilton. He lived extravagantly but he was always hounded by creditors.
Theodosia was Burr’s great weakness; he doted on her and Theodosia, in return would always support and defend her father against any one or any thing. Burrs influence was very great; he oversaw her education and even chose a dullard (but very rich) for her husband.
The lives, the culture and the way people lived in upper class society in the 1800’s in Charleston, Georgetown in the city and on plantations and the politics of the day combined with a charming story of an educated young girl pushed , for political reasons, into a bad marriage which would take her away from all she was familiar with made a good read.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

First Daughter By Eric Van Lustbader

This is a new novel by a versatile and interesting writer. Not too long ago, I enjoyed one of his earlier novels “The Testament” which had a religious underlying theme; this new one deals with religious fanaticism, politics and deception in a contemporary setting where you might be tempted to connect some of the characters in the current administration.

An ultra conservative President who believes that his administration has been guided by God has only a few weeks left before a new President elect is sworn in. He is afraid that his successor is a “Godless” man who will change the “Christian nation” that he has promulgated.

The President has chosen a certain liberal religious group as a target to be attacked as a terrorist group hoping to sway congress to keep his conservative policies. As he puts his “attack dogs” to the job, the President Elect’s daughter, Ali, is abducted. A top ATF agent, Jack McClure, is assigned to help find the seventeen year old because he is a friend of the President elect and Jack’s daughter,Emma, who was killed in an auto accident went to the same school. Although Jack works best on his own, he is required to report to the President’s Director of Home Land Security and an FBI agent. The interplay and tensions are very well done.

Lustbader uses McClure’s guilt in connection with his daughter’s death and her relationship with Ali to create a kind of ghostly situation where Jack sees and speaks with Emma as he searches for Ali. I think it took away from the story.

The first chapter of the novel “Inauguration Day”, sets the stage for tense and exciting action that takes place during the preceding month.

This was a good thriller with an interesting protagonist and a couple of neat surprises well worth reading.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Stealing Athena By Karen Essex

Wonderfully researched, the story transverses the time of the Napoleonic Wars when a young heiress marries the British Ambassador to Constantinople and Greece two millenna earlier. The Ambassador, Lord Elgin, is determined to get permission to deconstruct the Parthenon and Athena’s Shrine, his beautiful and charming wife, Mary, helps him to obtain the firman . This will eventually cost him his fortune, his wife’s fortune and eventually his marriage. Two thousand years earlier, Apasia, a female philosopher and courtesan assists Pericles in defending the idea of building the exquisite monuments for the glory of Athens.
The descriptions of life in early Greece are fascinating; the powerful notion that the Greek Gods rule all aspects of life and that Athena was responsible for all good and directly punished all bad played a central part in the theme. Interestingly, the novel described a trial in Athens where Apasia is accused of insulting the gods, the manner in which she is accused and her limited defense because she was a woman. Mary Elgin is also tried in court for adultery and as an "unfit" mother.
The author, Karen Essex, has taken characters out of history and put them into a splendid tale of romance and adventure. This was an excellent read! Ms Essex’s other novels include very strong heroines.

Foundation and Earth By Isaac Asimov

Asimov’s extraordinary and remarkable "Foundation" series is a masterpiece of science fiction. It started as a trilogy and was first published in 1951.

Mankind has escaped Earth and has colonized the Galaxy; there are hundreds of thousands of worlds peopled by billions of people. A galactic Empire has been formed with great technical achievements and great cultural differences. A professor of Mathematics, Hari Seldon has worked out a plan that he calls "psychohistory which, if followed ,will enable the leaders of the Empire to see and understand and predict things that will happen in the future. The Empire has ruled for 12,000 year but it is dying and Seldon through psychohistory foresees a "dark age of 30,000 years. In order to preserve knowledge and technology he pulls together the best minds and places them on a remote planet. He calls the sanctuary the Foundation.
"Foundation and Empire"\
"Second Foundation"
The Next two novels deal with the experiences of the fledgling Foundation, the rise of the Empire and the founding of a second Foundation and battle between first and second Foundation.
Asimov, also, wrote other amazing novels; he wrote a "robot" series wherein he created the laws under which all robots must act and in this series he took us back in time to when mankind first developed interstellar travel and began to escape Earth. The characters, the stars and planets, and the different cultures including a world where all activity was conducted by robots, become a hazy background in the later written additional two "Foundation" novels.
It is such a pleasure to read this authors novels and short stories. Other science fiction authors owe a lot to Asimov for his creative ideas.

Foundation's Edge By Isaac Asimov

This is a reread that I recently finished along with the conclusion to the "Foundation" series.

The Queen's Gambit By Walter Tevis

Only some one who loves the game of chess could have written this delightful story of an eight year old orphan who learns chess from the janitor of the institution she was placed in when both her parents were killed in an accident. By the age of sixteen she is competing for the US open Championship and she goes on to play international Masters and Grand Masters. The intriguing part of the novel is the authors ability to bring the reader to the chess board so each move and the strategy for the following moves is shown to the reader. The girl, Beth, is clearly a chess genius. She studies and plays all the masters and can play the games in her head with out a chess board. The story of her growing to an adult and her many chess matches unfolds with excitement and suspense and a certain amount of pathos. This was an excellent novel; I wanted to get my board and follow the games.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Escape From Andersonville, Gene Hackman and Daniel Lenihan

A Union officer and what is left of his command are sent to Fort Sumter, Georgia. The POW camp called Andersonville. Living conditions are a nightmare; sickness, no sanitation, no shelter, hardly any food and death and disease are all they can look forward to. As an officer, Nathan Parker could have opted for a different camp but he chose to stay with his men. Parker plans a daring escape hoping to induce the army to raid the camp and release the prisoners but after many hardships, when he gets to Washington, he meets resistance and disinterest in his request even from General Grant. Nathan is offered a discharge and a medal and told to forget it!~He gets together a group of mercenaries and tries to rescue his men . This was a good story about loyalty and courage and the awful things that went on during the last year of the Civil War.

Sir Gwain and the Green Knight Translated By Simon Armitage

A poem dating from around 1400 discovered and first published in 1839. It tells the story of a giant of a man dressed in green with green hair and a green beard who suddenly appears in Camelot at the Christmas festivities of Arthur and his round table knights with his green horse carrying a huge ax. He is willing to join the Yule dinner but after the feast he throws out a strange challenge. He will kneel and bare his neck and invite any knight to take the great ax and take the first whack. The condition is that one year from now, that same knight must seek him out and allow him to do the same. Sounds suicidal on the part of the giant but Arthur and his men are cajoled into accepting and Sir Gwain does the deed. The giant loses his head but the arms feel around and pick it up whereupon the eyes open and the head speaks reminding Gwain of the bargain.
The adventures and trials and temptations of Gwain as he seeks out the Green Knight are told in the poem. On the left of each page is each line of the poem in the original Germanic Old English, on the right is the translation. Fascinating and absorbing story.

The Seven Sins By Jon Land

"To Dream...To Dare...To Win; a moto etched on an ancient amulet supposed to have been created by King Mita, later known in mythology as King Midas is discovered and lost and found again by Caesar, Alexander and other notables and then finally discovered by a Sicilian fisherman. The amulet and it’s history are important in the story of the rise to power of a young Sicilian orphan who creates the largest and most expensive casino in Nevada, "The Seven Sins". He is a ruthless man with close "family" ties to the Mafia and personal contacts that include the world’s wealthiest people.
Shortly after the 9/11 attack, a multiple bomb attack on several casinos in Las Vegas attributed to a terrorist, cause the tourist trade to stop and consequently huge losses to the casinos. Michael Nunziato, takes it upon himself to find and destroy the terrorist who has promised an even more devastating attack in the very near future.
This is a well done story full of action and suspense; strong, believable characters and a grand finally. Jon Land has written 23 novels including
another favorite of mine "Blood Diamond"

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Testament By Eric Van Lustbader

Braverman Shaw—"Bravo" to his friends—always knew his father had secrets. But not until Dexter Shaw dies in a mysterious explosion does Bravo discover the enormity of his father’s hidden life as a high-ranking member of the Order of Gnostic Observatines, a sect founded by followers of St. Francis of Assisi and believed to have been wiped out centuries ago. For more than eight hundred years, the Order has preserved an ancient cache of documents, including a long-lost Testament attributed to Christ that could shake Christianity to its foundations. Dexter Shaw was the latest Keeper of the Testament—and Bravo is his chosen successor.

Before Dexter died, he hid the cache where only Bravo could find it. Now Bravo, an accomplished medieval scholar and cryptanalyst, must follow the esoteric clues his father left behind. His companion in this quest is Jenny Logan, a driven young woman with secrets of her own. Jenny is a Guardian, assigned by the Order to protect Bravo, or so she claims. Bravo soon learns that he can trust no one where the Testament is concerned, perhaps not even Jenny . . .

Another secret society, the Knights of St. Clement, originally founded and sponsored by the Papacy, has been after the Order’s precious cache since the time of the Crusades. The Knights, agents and assassins, will stop at nothing to obtain the treasure. Bravo has become both a target and a pawn in an ongoing war far larger and more deadly than any he could have imagined.
This was an exciting adventure.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

City of the Sun By David Levien

Very intense and powerful novel about the disappearance of a young boy, the trauma of his parents , the efforts to find the boy, and the changes in the lives of the parents.
After 14 months, the police still consider the boy to be a run away. The parents hire a former cop turned private detective, Frank Behr. Frank is carrying his own personal baggage in that feels responsible for the accidental death of his own son. Routine investigation and some luck leads the parents and the detective into danger and the unsavory world of child abuse and the sale of children.
The bad guys were very real and very frightening. This was a tough story.

Islandia By Austin Tappin Wright

This book was published in 1942, eleven years after Wright’s death. I first read it in 1946.
I was nineteen and had just arrived in Bad Kissingen, Germany.
The novel made quite an impression on me; I could imagine myself as John Lang meeting and making friends with Dorn, a person from a strange foreign land, learning his language and talking about his country and becoming good friends, and then accepting a post as Consul to his country where new moreś and customs must be learned. I throughly enjoyed the story, the imaginary world and the strong characters. Wright’s women characters are those that, probably, he and certainly, I, would want to meet and know. He was many years ahead in his attitude toward women. It is an adventure, and there is war and politics and unrequited love. Wright spent most of his life creating his "Islandia"; too bad it existed only in his mind. I would have liked to visit there.
Lang’s uncle was instrumental in his getting the post because he and a group of major business players wanted to get trade going with Islandia in spite of the fact that the Islandian people for the most part, do not want trade and do not welcome foreigners. Lang will find himself being pulled in different directions by the pressure that his uncle and various visiting business people put on him and his loyalty to his friend and his growing understanding of the people and the land of Islandia. I thought it interesting that A.T. Wright created for his country the " Hundred Law" which limited access to Islandia to one hundred visitors at anyone time. He also expressed concern for the exploitation of timber and resources, over population and pollution - this was back in the 30's or even earlier!
It has been maybe 20 years since I last read the novel; I am still captivated by the places and the people. The Fains, The Hyths, The Dorns, The Somes, exclusionists all, the conservative Westerners that are opposed to a pending treaty which would open the country to foreigners. These folks have been on their farms for more than 400 years (one, a thousand years). No telephones no telegraphs; people wrote letters! They made do without what was considered modern conveniences back then; why, I am not sure because Wright was from a wealthy family and did not lack for luxuries.
Then there are the Moras of the East, strong political factions that want trade and argued vigorously for it in council. The possibility of a "Trade Treaty" was one of the main themes of the novel.

Wright made no mention of a formal religion except that the people of Islandia must have had some bad experiences with Christian missionaries because they were banned from the country. They had several words for love: "alia" for love of place and lineage, "ania" for commitment and desire for marriage and "apia" for sexual attraction and another word, "linamia" to designate a strong affection for a person of either sex
I became John Lang and lived the story; Dorn and Dorna , his sister ,were very real persons to me. The intrigues , the passions and the dialog were mine to savor; happiness and sadness, hope and despair. I sometimes, tried to fit "real life" people into the various roles, I often wonder about Linamia, I think, that in these times, it is, sadly, very difficult to really get to know someone well enough to find the strong affection that the term denotes.
It is a very long story and Wright often goes too far in his detailed descriptions of everything. He is the kind of guy if you asked what time it is he would tell you how to build a watch. But it was a labor of love and he cared deeply for every place and every person in Islandia and I count it among my most favored novels.

The First Patient By Michael Palmer

The President of the United States is acting strangely, there is strong evidence that he may be going insane. Those close to him are very concerned but are covering up because the President is very close to being reelected and his first term was very good for the country and the next term could bring lasting peace and prosperity. The President’s personal physician has mysteriously disappeared and an old and close friend is asked to take his place. The friend may have to invoke the 25th Amendment which transfers the power of the President to the Vice President. The administration has enemies; there is a possibility that the President’s illness may not be to natural causes. This is a good, fast moving, medical thriller that gives a lot of insight to the things that go on in Wachington, DC and the White House.

Silver By Edward Chupack

We all remember the story of "Treasure Island" and Long John Silver; well, this is a rollicking pirate tale of the rough life of murders and thieves that banded together to sail the sea and plunder and kill.
The story is told by Long John as he is being brought back to England to be hanged. It begins with "Silver" as a boy, a thief and a pick pocket who is taken to sea by Black John the pirate where he learns the trade. He meets Billy Bones, Pew, Ben Gunn, the parrot Flint and other characters and tells the story of how over the years he plans to take over Black John’s Ship and find the "greatest treasure". It is a gory story and a little over long but I kept holding out hope that it would tie into the Robert Louis Stevenson tale. There are a couple of esoteric puzzles that I could not figure out. A fair yarn.

Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte By Laura Rowland

This was an easy read; I was attracted by the cover and the title. The author is the granddaughter of Chinese and Korean Immigrants and she writes mystery thrillers. The story is a fantasy revolving around historical and made up people during the time that Great Britain was involved in the Opium war with China. Very interesting story; Charlotte witnesses a murder finds herself in a world that she had never experienced before. There is danger, romance and plenty of tense action as Charlotte and her sisters help solve what becomes a national crises.

The Forgery of Venus By Michael Gruber

Art history, forgery, technique, mind expanding drugs, the life and times of Diego Velazquez and unscrupulous art dealers.
An accomplished painter with rare talents is wasting his time doing commercial art and cartoons when he gets a commission to restore a fresco in Italy. The money is too good to pass up but when he gets into the job he finds that he is actually recreating a forgery of the original work and the finished job will be "rediscovered". The artist’s "patron" with the help of mind altering drugs which seem to take the artist back to the time and place of the artist Velazquez sets the stage for a multimillion dollar art forgery scam. A bizarre premise but a great yarn.

The Dark Tide By Andrew Gross

A great story with compelling characters and a wonderful plot that carries you into the world of high finance, multibillion dollar speculation in hedge funds and money laundering. The players are ruthless and they play for keeps; if money is lost or not transferred in timely fashion or if the large"investors" feel threatened, people disappear or have "accidents".
Karen Friedman’s husband of eighteen years is on a commuter train that is destroyed by a mysterious explosion. A detective Lieutenant is investigating two seemingly unrelated deaths. Further investigation begins to connect these deaths to the death of Karen’s husband. like Karen and the detective are pulled into a deadly and complex conspiracy. This is a very well done thriller’ I enjoyed the subject matter and really liked the characters.

Bretrayal By John Lescroart

Attorney Dismas Hardy takes over the case load of a lawyer that recently disappeared and finds himself involved in murder, conspiracy, assassination and treason. The setting is contemporary in Iraq and in California; the plot involves the hundreds of millions of dollars that passes between the United States government and private contractors for construction and protection that is never spent for it’s stated purpose but rather finds it’s way into the pockets of the big contractors. When a major player for a large contractor is responsible for a fire fight that kills innocents and almost wipes out the team of US soldiers that were with him, his superiors think it necessary to kill the remaining witnesses because an investigation might disclose their money skimming operations.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Gambit By Karna Small Bodman

Commercial airplanes are being shot out of the sky, the public is panicked, the air controllers are on strike, the stock market is tumbling, goods and services ordinarily sent by air are on the ground and stopped; everyone is looking to the harassed government to protect the airports and the sky and capture the terrorists responsible.
No one has a clue as to who or how. The missiles can not be seen or detected by radar and existing anti missile systems are not effective and no one claims responsibility. All cabinet positions in the administration are at work trying to figure out what country is behind the acts and why.
The government calls in a woman who is the acknowledged expert in missile defense to see if she can develop something.
I was impressed by the authors background and experience and her knowledge of how the White House works. After all, she was a senior director of the National Security Council during the Reagan Administration when missile defense systems were on the top burner. This was a pretty good story the "good guys" stayed in the forefront; actually, we learned very little about the "terrorists" and their motive while supposedly world threatening was never made very clear. Some interesting technical jargon and a few tense and dangerous situations but the final solution to the basic problem was almost too simple. Rainy day diversion

Mozart's Ghost By Julia Cameron

This, prolific, New York writer has come out with a delightful, rather fanciful and very human novel about a young woman who talks to ghosts. Anna has had a "gift" since childhood and has accepted the fact that she acts and is different. Living in New York city in and old apartment building teaching at a private school by day and working as a medium in evenings her life is routine and scheduled until a young pianist moves into the building bringing along the ghost of Mozart who feels that the young man is really on track interpreting his music and who thinks that by fostering a relationship between the two people, he can, some way help, the pianist.
A nice easy read for a cold, rainy day; it has appeal to us "romantics".

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Finder By Colin Harrison

A little confusing but exciting and very fast moving novel by an author that reveals New York city so clearly that one feels that he is actually "on the scene". The story deals with corporate espionage and the intricate methods of learning secrets and using them to gain big profits in the stock market. A corrupt Chinese speculator and his evil henchmen act with brutality and considerable violence to protect his interests. Well done thriller.

Lost in Austen By Emma Campbell Webster

I find it very interesting that so many authors like to play games with Jane Austen characters. I am not sure what one calls this kind of story but the premise is that one starts in the novel "Pride and Prejudice" and you are Elizabeth Bennet. As various situations occur, the story gives you several options as to what decision she might make. The reader is, then directed to a certain page in the book where the action of the decision will take place. Depending on the decision made, the reader might find himself in a different Austen novel surrounded by it’s characters who must be interacted with and then, more decisions must be made which may take you to still another novel. Clever writing.