Tuesday, December 01, 2009

and their memory was a bitter tree By Robert E. Howard

A great collection of stories of “Conan the Cimmerian”, better known as “Conan the Barbarian”.
Back in the early ‘30s, movies like “Tarzan the Ape Man, “The Mummy” and the Marx brother's “Horsefeathers” were popular and the pulp magazines were beginning to multiply with titles like “Thrilling Wonder Stories”, “True Detective”, and “The Shadow”. It was during this time that Robert E. Howard started writing his short stories with some success. It was when he created a mythical world called the “Hyborian age and placed Conan into one of the countries called Cimmera that he began to see real success. A former writer and Illustrator, Frank Frazetta , teamed up with Howard to do the covers and illustrations. This book contains not only swell stories but great illustrations and all one has to do is look at Frazetta’s Conan and you will see why Arnold was the only choice when the movie was made. This was an interesting and entertaining book; a little heavy on violence and gore but that what they had in those days. Pick it up and look at the pictures, if nothing else.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Short Stories By Louis L'Amour

“Four Card Draw
“Desert Death Song”
“Trap of Gold”
“Keep Travlin’ Rider Louis L’Amour

Louis L’Amour has entertained me for many years and I keep finding little gems that I missed. These four short stories involve a murder that the people of the town want to keep secret, a hunted man who tries to survive in the desert, a prospector who finds a rich gold vein, and a stranger riding into a town controlled by bad guys. Always great characters and great fun!

The Magicians By Lev Grossman

This is the story of, still another, magical world. A bit like C. S. Lewis but more liken to J.K. Rowland. The novel details the adventures of precocious young people selected to attend “Brakebills College of Magical Pedagogy” an invisible (to the uninitiated) place where students spend some five years learning to be magicians. As compared to Harry Potters Hogwarts, Brakebills was a lot rougher; the training was very rigorous and the professors were very strict. For the final exams, the students were led to the roof of one of the buildings, removed their clothes and were transformed into geese whereupon they flew to the frigid South Pole area where they were told that now they would begin to really learn to do magic. Difficult and harsh times were ahead. I enjoyed the interplay between the students which was very adult and interesting. Overall, a good read.

Follow Me Down By Shelby Foote

Southern writer, Shelby Foote writes of a “crime of passion”. Farmer Eustis, leaves his family and runs off with a young girl to a deserted Mississippi island where, after a week, he drowns her. Foote uses the convention that Wilkie Collins first used in the mid 1800’s where, as the novel unfolds, each of the characters involved narrates their own history and the role they played until everything all comes together.

Hothouse Orchid By Stuart Woods

With the exception of “Chiefs” a very early Woods novel, I have steered away from this author because of the way he handles his female characters. Woods always portrays them as slutty, overly aggressive women who jump in and out of bed throughout the story. This is his latest novel; found it at the library; he is still at it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Woman Who Would Be Pharaoh By William Kline

A well researched and very interesting piece of historical fiction about Ankhesenamun (the name means – “she lives through Amun”), the beautiful wife of Tutankhamun. She was one of the daughters of Pharaoh Akhenaton (Amenhotep IV) and his queen Nefertiti who eliminated all of the old Egyptian gods and replaced them with a single god Aten .

The Egyptians were not happy with this change and after Akenenaton’s death, they went back to worshiping their old gods. Tutankhamun and his wife supported this change.

The novel deals with the younger life of Ankhesenamun and Tutankhamun as they grew up together and the political power struggles that brought Tutankhamun to the throne for seven years until he was killed by power hungry relatives. His widow queen Ankhesenamun fearful of her life, enlisted the aid of a powerful Hittite king in an attempt to protect the throne against her scheming grandfather who would force her into marriage in order to become Pharaoh.

As a companion, one might want to read “Nefertiti” by Nick Drake and “Nerartari, The Heretic Queen” by Michelle Moran.

Frankenstein Book Three dead and alive Dean Knooze

Claudia, Rick and I have been waiting and looking for this final installment in Koontz’s fascinating series.

Victor Helios’ (Victor Frankenstein; over 200 years old) “New Race” creations are beginning to think for themselves and acting contrary to the way they were programmed when they were made. They are still cold blooded killers but they are killing out of control and some are beginning to mutate. At the same time, some of Victor’s “monsters” are questioning their programming. Victor’s wife, “Erica 5” is secretly reading books (forbidden by the creator) and becoming curious about her husband’s activities; she has discovered hidden rooms and has talked to mutants who have given her ideas that may cause Erica 5 to betray Helios.

The “New Race” was organized into specific classes; workers to do the menial tasks (maids, cleaners, those who ran the dump where they buried town people and Victor’s mistakes), replicates, those who were made to replace important people in the community; police chiefs, Mayors, priests, etc., and enforcers and guards who did the killing and dirty work for Victor. All were very strong and possessed great speed and agility. Victor Helios was building new “factories” to mass produce his creations that would eventually kill all humans.

This final book of the series deals more with several of Helio’s creations , particularly, the mutants and follows them as they go on killing sprees and react with others of their kind. Detectives, Carson and Michael continue to work with Victor Frankenstein’s original creation, Deucalion, to find a way to finally stop Helios and destroy the “new race”. There is some dark humor and some very exciting and tense action and one can feel a certain sympathy for the creatures, evil and misguided as they are.

There is an interesting twist and a prologue which may or may not make this the last we hear of the immortal Deucalion and his nemesis Victor Helios.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Frankenstein Book 2 City of Night Dean Koontz

Claudia and Rick have read both books of this reworking of the classic tale by Mary Shelly and “Jill Baby” is deep into the first book. There will be a third volume, there has to be because this one had no ending, it just fades away at what should be a very important stage of the story.

The time is 240 years since Victor Frankenstein who now calls himself Victor Helios created his first “monster”. The creature still lives and calls himself Deucalion (the son of Prometheus). Apparently, Deucalion has learned to control his rage through years of study at a monastery and he has learned that his creator has managed to keep himself alive for over 200 years and has created a special race of non humans to serve him. Deucalion has vowed to kill his maker. Victor Helios is one bad guy!! He has managed to make duplicates of major figures in the city of New Orleans this includes the Mayor, the Police Chief and many others in authority. These non humans are programmed for special duties; they are stronger and faster and eventually, Victor Helios will turn them loose to kill all humans. Frankenstein continues to perform bizarre experiments some of which turn out very badly; he destroys them and buries them in a special dump that is used for both human and non human bodies and is run by disgusting low class non human people who hate humans and savor the opportunity to perform evil deeds and mutilation on the human bodies that are sent to them.
There is a man and woman detective team who know about Frankenstein and are intent on destroying him with the help of Deucalion. The team is followed by an assassination couple who bring very dark humor and brutal conversation to their characters. Frequently, the dialogue in this novel is repugnant especially when it gets into descriptions of killing and burial rituals by the non humans.
Victor is mad; he is looking for perfection but he can not find it in the culture or makeup of the human race. He has made five wives, none of which are good enough for him. It is, not yet, clear how he expects things to be when he has killed off all humans because one of the prime motivations of his non humans is to kill humans and when humans are gone how will the monsters fare?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Italian By Ann Radcliff

Ann Radcliff was listed as one of the most talented writers of the “Gothic Romance” genre of the late 18th century
Her prose and magnificent descriptions of the cities, country sides, people and the customs of the times, particularly the harsh dominance of the church and the inquisition easily carries the reader to the places and actions of the story. “The Italian” was published in 1797; Radcliff was contemporary with Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen

The plot is simple; a titled young man falls in love with a young lady of unknown family. His parents, wealthy and powerful, strongly object to the liaison but the boy is steadfast in his infatuation. The young lovers, Vivaldi and Ellena continue to meet in secret but they are spied upon by the Black Monk, Schedoni, Vivaldi’s mother’s confessor. The Marchesa is concerned that the family name and status will be ruined if Vivaldi marries Ellena and convinces herself and the compliant Schedoni that the laws of Naples could be interpreted that ruination of a family should be punishable by death. The Marchesa becomes obsessed with the idea and asks the Monk to do the deed.

Ellena is kidnapped and taken to a far off convent where she is threatened and given the choice of immediate marriage to some one of her class or “taking the veil” and becoming a nun. Her trials and adventures at this strange place are exciting and frightening.

Meanwhile, Vivaldi and a servant companion set out to rescue Ellena; more trial and tribulations occur and when Ellena is, finally, found and a plan to remove her from the convent is formulated, Schedoni and officers of the inquisition show up and transport the star crossed lovers to Rome where they await the Inquisitors and the torture chambers.

In spite of the almost impossible situations, and the non ending descriptions of the mountains, the streams and the roads and the towns, the characters’ histories have been so well defined that the suspense will carry a reader to the final page. It is up to the reader to decide who the story was really about.
Ann Radcliff wrote many novels; her best was supposed to be “The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) I want to read this.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Angel's Game By Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Not too long ago, I was enthralled by an earlier novel by this superb Spanish author “The Shadow of The Wind”. Zafon takes us, again to Barcelona where a deep, mysterious and frightening story about books, writers, unrequited love and great danger unfolds.

A poor but talented young writer, David Martin, struggles to make a name for himself but he achieves notoriety by writing steamy murder mysteries under an assumed name. He has taken up residence and writes in a dark and gloomy abandoned mansion that has a history of death and murder.

He is encouraged and helped by his editor, an old friend who owns a book store, the scion of one of Barcelona’s wealthiest families and the daughter of his friend’s chauffeur, Christina, a girl David has known and loved secretly since childhood, all of whom figure largely in the story.

David is approached by a strange and sinister person who promises wealth and, perhaps, much more to write a book that would seize the minds of the masses and cause it to embrace a new kind of religion . After a lot of internal struggle, David agrees to the proposal even though he is certain that this person is evil and will eventually possess him. David’s health totally improves; as he starts his project, he finds that there is some connection between the story he is writing and the old house. He discovers a manuscript and notes that were written by the man who murdered many years ago. David is compelled to learn more about the man. His research takes him all over the city; one meeting leads to another and as he talks to more people, his intrigue grows. Things become even more troubling when individuals he has talked to begin to die strange deaths and the police suspect David.

“The Cemetery of Forgotten Books” that Zafon introduced in “The Shadow of The Wind” is further explored in this novel. Imagine a vast collection of the sum of centuries of books that have been lost or forgotten. Every book has a soul and every time someone handles it and looks at it’s pages, it’s spirit grows and strengthens. A person who visits for the first time may take away one book; it is said that the book chooses the person.

This was a most compelling story; marvelous characters and the danger and suspense keeps building to a smashing climax.

Cemetery Dance By Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston

Another fascinating “Special Agent Pendergast” story. Zombiis,Voodoo, Obea and animal cults create a bazaar tale. Claudia has just finished it and sent the following:

Cemetery Dance Review for Dad's Blog

The first Preston/Child novel I read, which of course was recommended by Dad, was "The Cabinet of Curiosities". I've been a fan of these authors as individual writers and as co-writers ever since. "Cabinet" and "Thunderhead" remain my favorites to this day. However, I get to read each new latest novel, as soon as Dad finishes them and we both get excited when we find out another story about the characters we have grown so fond of has been released.

Perhaps Dad and I especially enjoy these adventures because of all the mazes, sublevels, basements, etc. - as we both have a tendancy to have dreams involving sublevels. These books detail those sublevels at a level of detail far beyond our wildest imagination. What fun!

Smithback will be missed, but thankgoodness Nora will carry on. I wish I were Nora! I think I may be beginning to "grok" Pendgast. His observations about the medical instruments and the lamb trash intriged me. How nicely everything fits together and for such bizarre happenings makes sense. Never underestimate Pendergast.

When I left work early last Friday at 12pm, I had a list of take advantage of the time "to do's". But I thought I'd read a few chapters first as I had already started the book a few days prior. I spent the rest of the afternoon with Cemetary Dance - right there with each character till the end. A satisfying way to spend time is with this book.

Only now - we have to ponder just what news the solicitor is bringing Pendergast?

Think I'll read Thunderhead again!!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Golden Isle By Frank G Slaughter

Back in the 40's, Slaughter, a medical doctor and surgeon who graduated from Duke University Magna Cum Laude at 18 and Johns Hopkins at 22, took up his pen and wrote at least 30 novels. They dealt with hospitals and doctors and nurses, socialized medicine and medical schools; interesting yarns about people and places real and imaginary.. He also wrote about the South and the Civil War, He wrote historical\biblical novels and adventure novels. The first book I read was "In a Dark Garden" about the Civil War, I found it in a "rec" room at Chanute Air Force Base where I was going to "Weather Man School". Over the years I read every one of his stories.
Golden Isle was published in 1947 by Doubleday; cost $3.00. I found it in an attic. A ships surgeon in shanghaied and blackmailed to serve at an African slave collection station and then aboard the slave ship that carries it's cargo to the Americas in the early 1700's.

Slaughter's novels always gave detailed descriptions of medical procedures and he was true to the "Bodice Ripper" genre of his times as his heroes found their lady loves.

Some other favorites:
"That None Should Die"
"The Mapmaker"
"Devils Harvest"
Pilgrims in Paradise"
"The Curse of Jezebel"
I, very recently found one of his novels in a used book box; cost me a dollar but I am rereading "A Savage Place" and I will keep it on my bookshelf in case anyone wants to try him out.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Moonstone By Wilkie Collins

First published 149 years ago this compelling novel has the all of the ingredients of a serious and fascinating mystery. I did not know anything about Wilkie Collins until Dan Simmons wrote a novel based on the Charles Dicken’s novel about Edward Drood. Simmons used Wilkie Collins, a friend and companion of Dickens as the narrator of his story (“Drood”). Apparently Dickens and Collins collaborated on a few novels but Wilkie Collins, in spite of a heavy opium habit (due to poor health) was an able and strong writer himself. He is said to have created the first literary mystery detective as a major character in a novel when the detective appeared in “The Moonstone” as Sergeant Cuff of Scotland Yard. He also was among the first to use the device of having each of the major characters in the story start and narrate each chapter by telling the story, only, from what they actually saw and did and know.
It worked very well for this mystery about a diamond that was stolen from a temple in India by one of Her Majesties Officers and brought back to Britain along with the curse that was supposed to be attached to it.

Collins created wonderful characters and the dialogue and descriptions are very interesting and exciting. Like Dickens, Wilkie Collins toured America and gave readings; his writing was influenced by Dickens, I am sure and I would guess that Dickens may have profited from his association with Collins. This was an amazing read and a first rate mystery from an important writer of the time.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Increment By David Ignatious

Once you begin reading this novel, you will not put it down until it ends!

A young Iranian, nuclear, scientist working a secret project to build a nuclear weapon, sends an encrypted message to the CIA. The team leader and his staff must determine, first, if the message is real and then what does the message mean. Analysis of the message indicates that the message has to do with measurements of uranium enrichment which could mean that Iran is building a bomb and perhaps working on a heavy water reactor to make a plutonium bomb. This causes considerable excitement in the agency but the team leader, Harry Pappas remembering only too well how misleading and poorly interpreted “intelligence’ got us into the Iraq fiasco insists on learning much more about the sender and the message before the information is carried “up the ladder”. The sender has given the CIA a way to respond; a response is crafted and after a time a second message is received along with a technical document, a lab report about the malfunction of a neutron generator which reinforces the idea of a bomb and the creation of a trigger device. Still vague information; they need to meet the sender, learn about him (or her) and set up a way to find out what the sender is trying to say.

One of Harry’s senior staff members is very ambitious and has connections in the White House. He is convinced that Iran has a bomb and the means to trigger it and that this is a serious threat to the U.S. and the Middle East. He has already told the CIA Director and the national security advisor and now wants to go to the President. Pappas, reluctantly, agrees and the war hawk mentality quickly sets in among the politicians. Pappas is criticized for his conservative thinking while the President, the head of the CIA and the NCA have taken over and are thinking about bombing the Iranian facility within the next few days. A very tense and action filled scenario develops as Pappas , secretly, gets agents into Iran to learn the identity of the message sender, find out his intent and learn just what the Iranian’s actually have.

David Ignatious is very knowledgeable about the Middle East and he writes about something that could very possibly happen if hot headed politicians are allowed to push us into another war. This is a very contemporary novel about a very real threat.

Pemberly Shades By D.A. Bonavia-Hunt

The old Rector of Pemberley has died and a suitable person must be found to take over the benefice. Although Mr. Collins is presently out of favor with Darcy’s Aunt Catherine and his living might be in jeopardy, he will, certainly, not be a candidate.
An old school chum of Darcy has a brother who has taken orders. Fitz has never met him but the brother has asked that the man be considered. After a meeting with his friend it is agreed that the brother, Stephen Acworth will spend a few days at Pemberley to see how things workout.

As Steven Acworth settles in, everyone is surprised and disappointed in the strange behavior of the man. A mild mystery develops as Acworth interacts with all of the families as Darcys celebrate a birthday by inviting the Bennets, the Bingleys, Elizabeth’s sisters and Fitz’s relatives and neighbors . Lady Catharine and her daughter and Mr. Collins were included in the company. It was fun to read about all of the characters from “Pride and Prejudice” as Ms Bonavia-Hunt visualizes how they developed in the three and one half years since Elizabeth and Fitz were married. We meet every one of them and , also, some new characters all of whom have differing feelings towards Stephen Acworth. Some light humor, a few tense moments and a surprise but an interesting and easy read about some familiar characters.

The Jane Austin Miscellany By Lesley Bolton

This is a small 128 page volume of quotes from Jane Austen’s novels and the many movie adaptations of her stories. Nice illustrations by Charles Edmond Brock and his brother, Henry Matthew Brock who illustrated some of the original Austen novels in 1895 through 1907.
An example from Charlotte Lucas in “Pride and Prejudice:

“Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar before-hand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Sunbird By Wilbur Smith

When I visit my library, I always wander through the stacks and after examining favorite authors I always seem to be drawn to the works of Wilbur Smith. The Sun Bird was written in 1973; the price on the cover was $7.50. I read it years ago but the story tugged at my memory so I reread it.

This was a wonderful tale! A marvelous factual history of South Africa combined with an imaginative and detailed story; the idea of a Phoenician city and culture established 2000 years ago.

A series of aerial photographs shown to a prominent Archaeologist and a wealthy industrialist, Louren Sturvesant, seem to indicate that an unknown city may have been photographed. The Archaeologist, Benjamin Kazin, has been writing about the legendary, city of ‘Ophir, the prehistoric gold-working civilization of Central Africa with special reference to the city of Zimbabwe and the legend of the ancients and the lost city of the Kalahari.
The photos are enough for the industrialist to finance an exploratory expedition.

Louran and Ben are lifelong and very close friends. Loren has always been a leader, excelling in sports, hunting and business. Ben, with a physical disability is a hunch back; strong and intelligent and willing to follow Louran anywhere.

A small group of dedicated men and women travel to an isolated desert
location only to meet with disappointment after disappointment until only Ben Kazin and his assistant are left alone for an additional month to look for some indication of a city or a culture. As water supplies begin to run out the discover, by following birds and monkeys, the entrance to a huge area that contains a deep pool and on the walls, there are ancient drawings and paintings and a marvelous, giant sized, painting of an ancient warrior. The expedition returns and excavation begins. The dig reveals only a paucity of information until careful examination of the warrior painting enables the party to discover an area that produces written records engraved on gold sheets that tell the history of the civilization. The history, also, describes the fall of the city. The author of these scrolls was a hunchback named Huy.

Wilbur Smith has the imagination and the ability to create danger, suspense and grand adventure where his characters are faced with unique and mysterious puzzles that must be unraveled as the story reaches it’s climax. Just when you think the story has ended, a long and detailed imaginative story is told about the last king of the city, Lannon, and his loyal counselor. the hunchback, ax wielding warrior named Huy from the time that Lannon took kingship through the battle for the city that cost Lannon and Huy their lives. It seemed to me to be a parallel life to that of Louran and Ben. I, really liked this story (again).

Friday, May 15, 2009

Finding Nouf By Zoe Ferraris

This is a fascinating first novel by an American woman who lived with her Saudi-Palestinian Bedouin husband and family. Saudi Arabia has, probably, the most rigid attitude towards women in society among the Middle East cultures. The “system” is supposed to “protect” women but it seems to totally restrict their freedom and it is hard for me to determine just what they are being protected against. The laws are strict; women, if allowed to go out must have an escort and must wear their figure concealing robes, and the burqa and even gloves. There are religious police who accost couples to show proof of their marriage and there are “vigilantes”, zealous individuals who will accost people in the street if they feel that the woman is not modest and some will report things they may see to the police. Households have their own rules of segregation.

Nouf is a sixteen year old girl, one of several daughters and sons in a large, very wealthy, Saudi family. Nauf is engaged to be married and is allowed to go out but never without the “protection” of a family member or her escort, a trusted young man she has known for years.

Nouf is missing; the family suspects kidnapping but when no ransom note appears, the family calls in Nayir ash-Sharqui a desert guide and friend of the family to lead a search. Nayir is a dedicated Muslim; he prays five times a day and adheres to the social system to the point of fanaticism. He is offended if a women shows the least bit of immodesty; he is not quite a “vigilante” but close to being one. He is very uncomfortable being with women and he is very troubled if his thoughts stray as men’s sometimes do.

The body of Nouf is discovered in the desert; the coroner determined that she did not die of dehydration but rather, of drowning. The circumstances seem mysterious but the family seems ready to accept “accidental death”. Nayir was present at the coroner’s office when the body was being examined; he met Katya Hijazi a Saudi woman technician working at the morgue who immediately offended and startled him because she did not wear her burqa and further because not only was she working, she was very outspoken and competent .She made her own examination.

After the funeral, Nayir meets with one of the brothers, Othman, who encourages him to investigate further. Nayir goes back to where the body was found where he finds some things and goes back to the morgue where he learns that Katya is the fiancé of Othman. Othman has asked Katya to look into the matter, also.

And so begins an unlikely partnership between this outspoken and “modern” woman and this very “trustworthy” religious man. The evolvement of the mystery is excellent and the rapport between the couple and the difficulty that Nayir has as they travel around together investigating is humorous although sometimes you want to give Nayir a swift kick.
Good story!!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Blood and Ice By Robert Masello

This was a fun and interesting read! The story moves back and forth from Great Britain in the mid 1800’s to the present time in frigid Antarctica. At the earlier time, “the great bear Russia” had designs on Turkey; The Crimean war was heating up and Florence Nightingale was running her hospital for woman in England and would, soon, gain fame as “the lady with the lamp”. Young British officers were bold, fun loving, chauvinistic and confident that they could conquer anything. We meet Nurse, Eleanor Ames and Lieutenant Sinclair of the 17th Lancers of the Light Brigade both of whom experience the horrors and defeats of war (remember the poem of “The Charge Of The light Brigade”) and another, worse, horror that will change their lives forever.
At the frozen South pole, Journalist Michael Wilde has taken an assignment to take photos and write an article on a research station that does climate change studies. Except for the severe weather and cold it would be pretty routine but while making a dive under the ice to take pictures of underwater glaciers, he finds a strange, old bottle, a wooden chest and very near, encased in ice, the chained bodies of a man and a woman perfectly preserved. An amazing archeological find, a prize winning story? Who are they? How did they end up chained in a block of ice? The ice is allowed to melt very slowly at a controlled temperature but when it finally melts, the research station is faced with a new, terrifying situation. Mr. Masello put plenty of action and suspense in this thrilling novel.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Dark Shadows the Salem Branch Laura Parker

It has been about thirty five years since we last viewed the adventures of the Collins family. Back in the late 60s the kids would hurry home from school in order to watch the popular, to become cult, TV series about the vampire Barnabas Collins. The author actually played the character, Angelique; her real name is Lamar Rickey Hawkins.
We are back in 1971 and Barnabas Collins is still taking medication from Doctor Julia Hoffman in an attempt to cure him of his curse. Julia loves Barnabas and expects to marry him once he is cured of being a vampire; she looks haggard and tired. Barnabas is sickly, he has lost his prodigious strength and he can not get used to eating "human "food; it makes him sick but every day he must under go nauseating shots.
Roger and Elizabeth Collins, their son David, and Quintin Collins (still a werewolf; like Dorian Grey, his portrait ages in some hidden closet while Quintin stays the dapper, carefree, man about town) are living at Collinwood. The Old House, (Barnabas’ house) which was burnt to the ground was sold along with the grounds to Antoinette Harpignies, a 60s hippy type who bears a remarkable resemblance to Barnabas’ former lover, a witch and his nemesis, Angelique. Barnabas wonders if the woman is really Angelique even though he actually killed her. She is restoring the old house exactly the way it was down to the flaws in the wooden floors. Barnabas has the opportunity to explore the old house and he discovers a coffin in the basement where he used to spend his days. He, also finds the body of a workman who was clearly the victim of a vampire. The story brings all the characters into action and poses questions; is Antoinette really Angelique? Who is the vampire that kills several people? Is Barnabas having second thoughts about the cure?
There is a parallel story that takes place in Old Salem in the year 1692. The community is controlled by the strict bible quoting elders who seem to blame almost everything bad that happens on the Devil and his spawn of witches. The women live in terror; the elders are mean lustful men who threaten women and hold disgusting "witch hunts" and trials. Women are put in the Stocks, the elders use the water test to prove witchcraft; they tie the woman and throw her in the water; if she floats she is a witch if she sinks she is innocent. One of the women Miranda du Val is actually a witch but she is very careful not to be found out. She owns land that the deacons desire and eventually, false witnesses tell of her association with the devil and when the to the "dunking" test, she manages to free her hand enough to swim into a beaver hole and survive. She hides and sneaks around until she finds evidence that the sanctimonious elders are evil and lecherous. She goes to the village to confront them, one is a "Collins", but she is not believed and she is condemned to hang. Before she hangs, she places a curse on the elders:"if you take my life, God will give you blood to drink". ( Barnabas’ curse?)
Very interesting tale with a sensational ending.

The Well of Lost Plots By Jasper Fforde

A delightful romp through the world of books, words, letters and characters from fiction and non fiction. The heroine is Literary Detective of Special Ops, Jurisfiction, Thursday Next who is going to try to get a well deserved rest by entering the Book World as part of the Character Exchange Program. She has chosen a character from an unpublished book of dubious quality where she thinks that she will have little to do. This is her first entry into the Book World where she will be viewed as an "outlander" a real person, by the book characters. Thursday’s mentor is Miss Havisham from "Great Expectations".
To understand the concept of the Well of Lost Plots, the reader must learn about the "Great Library"; all published fiction is stored on 26 floors, one floor for each letter of the alphabet. Millions of books are stored on endless shelves and each book is alive. Beneath the Great Library are another 26 floors of dingy sub basements where books are constructed, edited and polished for a place in the library above if they make it that far. There is a "Text Sea" which is full of letters, verbs, nouns, phrases and everything that makes up a book. Grammasites run rampant and plot devices are bought and sold on a black market and bad (lousy) books are scrapped for salvage. There is a murderer threatening to throw Thursday’s novel, her temporary home, into the Text Sea and real or not, she could be destroyed. Very fast paced and original humor.
This book is one of a series of Thursday Next novels by this very creative author; so much fun to read! I have ordered his latest effort from Amazon

The Devine Comedy By Dante Alighieri

"The Devine Comedy" Dante Alighieri
Translated by Allen Mandelbaum written in the 1300s.
"Inferno", " Purgatorio", "Paradiso".
A recent article in the "Wall Street Journal" prompted me to study this classic poem. This will take a while, I am sure, but the copy I have has some splendid notes for each "Canto" that will help a lot. The church and the religious dogmas of the period certainly influenced and dominated the paintings and poems and thoughts of those living in Dante,s time.
Imagine a "Limbo", the first circle of Hell where even those "considered worthy" must spend eternity because they died before Christianity was invented and the sacraments were not available to them.

Prior Bad Acts By Tami Hoag

A family has been brutalized and murdered. A seasoned homicide detective, first to arrive on the scene, is so emotionally affected by what he sees he has to be hospitalized and is subsequently put on "medical leave". The prime suspect is in jail waiting trial. The suspect, has a long record of crime but his lawyer, a public defender. has gone before the Judge to get a ruling to make the prior criminal acts inadmissable. The judge, after hearing argument, so rules. Everyone, the prosecuting attorney, the entire police department, the relatives of the murdered family and the press are angry. That same night, the judge is assaulted in the parking lot; she is pretty well beat up. The detective assigned the case is not very sympathetic because of her ruling but he begins his investigation. The suspect escapes! He is a real bad character; he kills several people while he is evading the police. Ms Hoag brings in several other characters and soon there several suspects for the assault on the judge. The defense attorney’s house is invaded by the detective who was so traumatized by the killing that he wants the lawyer to "stand trial" for his actions; he thinks that without the inclusion of the suspects prior acts, the jury might let him go (the DA does not, really have a solid case backed by evidence).The judge is then kidnaped by the crazed murder suspect who views her as "the only friend he ever had" because of her legal decision. It is a twisted and suspenseful tale that will keep you guessing. Tami uses a lot of violence and gore in her novels

God is Not great Christopher Hitchens & Letter to a Christian Nation Sam Harris

god is not Great" Christopher Hitchens
"How Religion Poisons Everything"
Hitchens, an Atheist, discusses the malignant force of religion in the world and attempts to make a case against religion using a critique of major religious texts and logic. Some of the chapter headings in the table of contents are:
"Religion Kills’
"A Short Digression on the Pig" or "Why Heaven Hates Ham"
‘The Nightmare of the "Old" Testament "
"The "New" Testament exceeds the Evil of the "Old" one"
"The Koran is Borrowed from both Jewish and Christian Myths"
He raises some interesting questions about Joseph Smith and founding of the Mormon religion and he does the same with the enlightenment of Mohamad.
Agree with him or not, a lot of time and study and research went into this provocative essay.
The July 16th issue of the Wall Street Journal has a rather long column by Peter Berkowitz (Senior Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution) which calls Hitchens, Harris, Dawson and others creators of "The New New Atheism" and spends a lot of words trying to say that there is not much substance behind these "latest atheist tracts". Unfortunately, his summary is very weak as are his sources..

"Letter to a Christian Nation" Sam Harris
Harris is another advocate of doing away with religion; his supporters are those who hold no religious doctrine and are probable some what depressed by our country’s increasing unification of church and state. Like Hitchkins and Dawson, he raises big questions about the sources and the authorship of the religious texts that are used to support the various dogmas. He should be read carefully and not totally disregarded.

The Savage Garden By Mark Mills

A beautifully crafted novel that completely enchanted me. The story is entertaining and challenging to the reader.
A young undergraduate at Cambridge is asked by his professor to consider a study of a famous Italian garden that was built in Tuscany as a monument to a fifteenth century nobleman’s wife. The garden is full of statues, grottos, woods, a nine tiered, stone trimmed amphitheater and monuments with classical inscriptions. The student, Adam, becomes involved with the surviving relatives of the nobleman,( Lord Docci) the matriarch Signora Docci, her son and the servants at the estate; he meets the old woman’s grand daughter and there is a love interest. Adam is given free reign to the extensive library of the estate and as he wanders through and studies the garden and the precise placement of the statuary he suspects that something sinister happened in the garden. His study of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (a volume given to him by his professor)gives him insight as to the meaning of the different statues and which real person the statue was supposed to represent but as he tries to reconstruct the overall meaning of the garden, his scenario just won’t work. The puzzle of the garden was intriguing to me particularly because of the nature of the Greek gods and goddesses that have been placed in the garden; there was even a unicorn with a broken horn symbolically placed. (I had to stop and read Ovid where he talks about these particular Greek heros; interesting experience I even learned more about Deucalion, son of Prometheus, whose name the creature in Dean Koonz’s story about Frankenstein took) It was also helpful that I have a copy and I am studying Dante’s "Devine Comedy". It was not until Adam discovered an anagram relating to the nobleman’s wife’s name "Fiore"who was represented by Daphne as pursued by Phoebus and located near the top of the amphitheater did he take a different approach to the puzzle. The anagram referred to Dante’s Inferno which, in turn, led Adam to the second circle of hell where adulterators are found. Splendid and plausible logic leads Adam to the conclusion that the Nobleman actually murdered his wife.
As a secondary plot, the Docci family that Adam was staying with had it’s own, more recent, secret and mystery that was dark and evil and related, in it’s way to the old garden mystery. How the story of both of these mysteries is finally concluded and revealed to the Doccis proves to be difficult and dangerous to Adam. There are some very interesting and lively characters in the story including Adam’s brother who shows up. A book like this makes reading fun because there are so many different areas for further study and reading.

The Unquiet By John Connelly

A disturbing and haunting horror story about the abuse of children and the kind of people that do such things and some dark shadowy people who track them down seeking "justice" or revenge for the victims. John Connolly has a private detective named Charlie Parker who has been in the business too long , has seen too much and tells this twisted story as a first person narrative. Parker takes on a case when a woman with a small child comes to him in fear because she is being stalked. The stalker, it turns out, is a very dangerous man, an ex convict looking for information about the woman’s father who has been missing for the last six years and declared legally dead. The daughter has told the man that her father, a once prominent child psychologist, left home after a scandal of allegations that he betrayed confidences to men that use and abuse children and probably committed suicide. The stalker will not accept that he is dead and insists that the woman knows more. Very scary man. As Parker gets into the investigation and learns more and more about the horrifying world of child abuse, he tries to reconstruct the happenings that caused the Doctor to disappear. Other child abuse cases are studied and a pattern emerges that takes Charlie Parker on a twisting path where he meets some very strange characters. His investigation takes him to the prison that the stalker was in where he talks to an inmate that was protected and befriended by the stalker. This man was terribly abused as a youngster by a group of men who, very likely, are the same people that Parker is on the trail of. It turns out that the stalker had a daughter who was abused and disappeared. The stalker befriended the man so he could find out as much as he could about the evil people that did the deed so he could take revenge. The plot gets complicated and the author throws in a very bizarre, shadowy character that lurks in the background to keep you guessing.
This novel will keep your interest and attention.

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows

The seventh and final in the series. Poor Harry; this is not a fun adventure. Voldemort and his "Death Eaters"are openly taking over the Ministry of Magic and will eventually take over Hogwarts. Harry and his friends, Ron and Hermione, are on a quest to find the magical items that will, hopefully, defeat Voldemort. This takes them to very dangerous places and almost every chapter has a "cliff hanger" where one of the team is almost killed; lots of danger, intrigue, magic and action and some new characters who give Harry background information on the important people in his life and help him move forward on his quest. There are bitter arguments between best friends and Harry’s mind is very dark. He does not understand why Dumbledorf did not completely confide in him, he begins to doubt and loose faith in his old mentor. He also feels tremendous guilt because he has endangered the lives of his friends; some have even died. All the while his mind is closely attached to that of the dark lord to the extent that Harry can actually see and experience Voldemort’s actions.
There is a final great battle at Hogwarts and many things are, finally, explained and questions are answered. The author did a splendid job with this final story; the evolution of all of the characters was very well done, our Hogwarts friends have grown up and matured. The survival and the death of various characters was both sad and sometimes surprising and for me, the series had a logical and satisfactory ending. Seven hundred and fifty-nine pages of enjoyment!

Harry Potter

On Saturday, July 21st that remarkable woman, J.K. Rowling will release her seventh and final (?) book in the "Harry Potter" series. She released the first on July 1st 1997 in England; "Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone". It came out in the U.S in September, 1998 under the name of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone"; do not know why the title was changed in the U.S. A lot of the words were changed because we say things differently over here - bathroom instead of Loo.
Six books later and she is still a wonderful story teller using history, mythology, fairy tales and folklore in magical prose and construction. I rank her with C.S. Lewis , Tolkein and even Austin T. Wright as a creator of lands, people and cultures.
As I read her stories, I can not help but think of that most talented writer of computer games, Roberta Williams who was not a bit bashful to borrow from literature, fairy tales and mythology to create her characters and adventures.
In preparation for the coming novel, I reread the last three, "Goblet of Fire", "Order of The Phoenix", and "The Half Blood Prince" all of which, I thoroughly enjoyed. Us kids of all ages are fortunate, indeed, to have such an extraordinary continuing story to savor over these last ten years. Can’t wait for the next one - in just a few more days!

Emma By Jane Austen

A rich, spoiled young girl with not enough to otherwise occupy herself believes that she is the consummate matchmaker and gets involved in other peoples lives with tragic consequences. Emma’s life is perfect as far as she is concerned but her ideas about people and relationships are badly flawed. She makes a mess of things when she tries to match a good friend with, clearly, the wrong person even though her friend is enamored with a somewhat dull but kind and caring person, a farmer. Emma, ever class conscious, does her best to convince her friend that the man is entirely wrong for her. It all gets sorted out in time and Emma is put in her place by a good friend who turns out to be more than a friend.
Jane Austen consistently draws great characters and places the reader right in the times that she lived in; a fun, lively and interesting read.

The Silmarillin By J.R.R. Tolkien

This classic tale begins with the genesis of middle earth. This is an enchanting fantasy that tells of the coming of the Elves the first to inhabit the earth who could live for thousands of years unless killed in battle, then, the coming of the Dwarfs and then of Men. There were long peaceful, harmonious times but the evil Melkor (later called Morgoth the "Black enemy) and those he duped, most easily,m en but also some of the Elves, eventually caused discontent and war among the peoples. There are tales of wonderful and horrible battles and heroism and included in the work is a summary of "the rings of power and the coming of the Third Age" which, really, whets one’s appetite for the three volume novel of "The Lord of The Rings.
This is an extraordinary piece of work that must be savored; the names of the places and the names of the characters are long and difficult to say but the story stays together.

The Children Of Hurin By J.R.R. Tolkien

Fascinating story about Tolkien’s middle earth in a time long before the Hobbits and the people of "The Lord of the Rings". The first dark lord was Morgoth who, with his tormentor, Glaurung, a huge wingless dragon made war on Hurin a man who defied and scorned Morgoth. Hurin’s children, Turin and his sister Nienor are cursed by Morgoth and are forced to flee their kingdom. They become separated for years, become wanderers and meet up with each other again under bizarre circumstances. The Elves and the Dwarfs play supporting roles and for those of us who are primarily familiar with the Ring Novels we learn a lot more about the Elves and their early kingdom. There are references to Elrond of Rivendale and of Treebeard in the notes which tell how long ago all this happened. Lots of travels and battles and a sad recounting of the death of Turin. This novel is one of many published after Tolkien’s death and was edited by his son, Christopher.
I did not know that the story of "Sir Gwain and the Green Knight" was by Tolkien it was a favorite . Vivid in my mind since early college years.
C.S. Lewis was a friend of Tolkien; I wonder if they shared stories about their imagined people and kingdoms.

The Hadassah Covenent Tommy Tenney

Hadassah is the Jewish name for Queen Esther. Story is set in modern day Iraq and Israel and it moves back to Persia some 1500 years earlier. Esther is no longer Queen, there is a new king and she is corresponding with a young girl named Leah who is in the royal harem and after being with the king only one time, she and the king are in love and Leah expects to be queen. But because king finds out that she is a Jew she is rejected. There is some tender and enlightening correspondence between Leah and Esther. Mordecai is active as an Exilarch who is representing Jewish people in exile trying to maintain peace and harmony. In modern days, there is a wave of anti-Semitic murders in Iraq and in Israel, the wife of the Prime Minister (her name is Hadassah) is the target of an assassination. Seems that some of the correspondence between Esther and Leah has been found and it includes bloodlines and names of Jews living in Iraq. It is a mystery and an adventure; the idea is to find an acceptable modern day Exilarch who cam bring peace to the Middle East.

The Club Dumas Arturo Perez Reverte

An amazing, intelligently written, mystery and occult puzzle novel written by a favorite Spanish author. Books, writers, collectors and dealers in old and rare books are introduced into this story about a certain book dealer who makes his living researching and finding and buying and selling books for a selected clientele. Lucas Corso is hired to authenticate part of an original manuscript, part of "The Three Musketeers", written by Alexander Dumas ;Dumas was known to collaborate with others when he wrote his novels, hence the need for verification. As he goes about this task, he is engaged by a very wealthy collector, Varo Borja, to research a demonic book called "The Book of The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows" supposedly authored by Lucifer himself. The book is supposed to enable the owner, if he can figure out the puzzles, to meet the Devil and become all powerful. There are only three such volumes in existence and Corso is charged to examine each one in order to assure Borja that the one he has is genuine; he suspects it might be a forgery. (Perhaps, Borja tried to meet the Devil and the ritual did not work) Corso finds himself involved in a complicated plot where he meets people that seem, to him, to resemble the main characters of the "Three Musketeers", a sensuous woman the wife of the previous owner of the manuscript that he identifies as Milady De Winter and a man who is closely identified with the woman he thinks of as Rocheforte.
At the same time ,as he begins to compare the second of the Book of the Nine Gates, he discovers that while the binding, the paper and the print are identical, there are slight differences in the nine prints. He also discovers that some of the prints were originated by the publisher and others were originated by another person "LCF" (Lucifer?). Corso is followed and threatened by the person he thinks of as Rocheforte but each time he is in danger, he is rescued by a strange young girl who follows him. As the story progresses, death and destruction of their libraries come to the two other owners of the Book of Nine Gates; the books are destroyed but the prints were removed prior to burning the books. Corso finds himself in the middle of a twisting plot that involves devil worship, occult practices and a secret organization relating to Alexander Dumas.
This was a fascinating novel; the plot was complex and the climax was interesting and throughout the book there were lively discussions between Corso and book dealers and book collectors where literally hundreds of novels and author’s works were discussed or quoted from and great care was taken in the story to show the sources that Corso and others used as they researched both the manuscript and the occult book.
This novel was adapted into a film by Roman Polanski. Johnny Depp played Corso in this dark and exciting movie called "The Ninth Gate". Get the DVD.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Drood By Dan Simmons

In 1865, Charles Dickens was on a train going to London; the train was involved in a tragic wreck known as “the Stapleton Railroad Disaster”.
Dickens escaped injury and helped in the rescue of other passengers. He was aided by another; a huge, strange looking man with missing fingers, no eyelids and talked with a hissing lisp. He wore rather formal clothes and a top hat. After things settled down, the man, Edwin Drood disappeared but for some reason, Dickens was never the same after meeting him. His last novel, never completed was titled “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”.
Dan Simmons has used the idea of Drood to create a dark mystery novel narrated by Wilkie Collins a lesser author and friend of Dickens. Collins was an opium addict, a man who was jealous of and extremely critical of Dickens and who speaks very disparaging of him but still, he followed Dickens as he searches for Drood. As he narrates the search he takes the reader through the underbelly of Whitehall, Shadwell and Wapping; the docks, the rats, river stench the awful places where they search for Drood. They went through cemeteries and down through catacombs and a labyrinth of filth and sewage to a strange dock where Dickens went alone with two weird boatmen who took him to an underground city where he met with Drood who is a kind of lord of this, Egyptian like, undertown of thieves, murders, drug addicts and miscreants.
The story is, certainly entertaining and it gives vivid descriptions of how miserable some parts of London were and it is a reminder of Britain’s heinous role in the International Opium Trade but except for references to opium addiction, cemeteries, a couple of names from Dicken”s unfinished novel and that Edwin Drood once lived in Egypt the story portrays Drood as very bad person; a monster,whereas in Dicken’s book he seemed to me a rather mild fellow who had an unhappy romantic encounter and went missing and the “Mystery” is what happened to Edwin; was he killed by his stepfather? Dan Simmon’s novel was much more interesting.

There is a lot of interest in this unfinished novel of Dickens; there have been radio dramas, plays, several movies and a musical.

Right after I read the Simmons book, I found and read “The Last Dickens” by Matthew Pearl which tells a well researched but fictionalized story in considerable detail of Charles Dicken’s last trip to America, his reading tours, his entourage, how the tours were arranged and how the United States publishers vied to get hold of his works and how one publisher, in particular, searched Boston, New York and London for the “lost” final chapters while dangerous evil men and competitors stalked him and tried to kill him. This was a real thriller; I liked it better than “Drood”.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Comics Review

There is a splendid fellow named Rick Norwood who publishes "Manuscript Press", a monthly collection of comic strips. Gasoline Alley, Flash Gordon, Steve Canyon, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie and even Krazy Kat from the early '30s. For several years I have been getting them and I send them on to Mr. Parker, my Grandson. Lots of fun to read and remember these old classics which include Mandrake the Magician and the classy Modesty Blaise by O'Donnell and Colvin. Interested? contact Rick at

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Charlemagne Pursuit By Steve Berry

Steve Berry’s hero, Cotton Malone, has seen the Treasure of the Templar Knights, the library of Alexandria, the tomb of Alexander the Great and the Amber Room of Russia; now he is in pursuit of an ancient culture that predates recorded history and supposedly was much more advanced in science, mathematics, architecture and civics than any other civilization and had some influence on early man as he developed. Berry has used actual history and myths to tell the story of the hunt for the these people, called the “Ahnenerbe”, which began in Antarctica. The Americans, the Germans, The French and the Russians have followed clues and writings from artifacts discovered in Antarctica and much earlier when Otto III opened Charlemagne’s tomb 1200 years ago and supposedly discovered a book of containing writing unknown to any people.
The Germans, under Hitler, decided that the old "superior" race must be German and they wanted to prove their “Arian Race” theory. The Americans were heavily involved in the Cold War and if this old race had technology that would give them an advantage they wanted the secrets. Everything the United States did was cloaked in secrecy and there was rivalry between the politicians and branches of the Pentagon.
Even for Berry, the story surrounding the history is a bit far fetched; lots of thrilling action a bit of gratuitous sex,clearly defined good guys and bad guys and lots of geography. Berry really does his research. Best part for me was learning more about Otto III and Charlemagne by going on the internet. Reading about the accomplishments of the old race “the first civilization” and how references to such a people is found in Egypt, and other early cultures is certainly food for thought.
Good Berry novel!

Signora da Vinci By Robin Maxwell

Absorbing and colorful, fictionalized, biography of Leonardo da Vinci’s mother. Very little is known about Caterina, the unwed mother of Leonardo. His father, Piero, took him away as was his right in those days and raised him as a servant in the Vinci home.
Robin Maxwell took it for granted that Leonardo got his genius from his mother so she built this story about a remarkable and talented women, trained by her father, an apothecary, who had great love for her son. She convinced the father that Leonardo, who was very early, precocious, curious and very intelligent, should be sent to Florence to study with the master artisan, Verrochio. As a bastard son, Leonardo was precluded from any civic jobs. Piero’s main business was in Florence but he totally ignored Leonardo and plays a minor role in the story.
Leonardo goes to Florence to become an apprentice; his mother misses him so she goes to Florence in the guise of a young man; Leonardo’s “Uncle Cato”. Cato sets up an apothecary which is very successful and because she is, also known as a healer, she attracts the attention of Lorenzo de Medici who becomes very impressed by this “young man’s” talents and intelligence. Lorenzo, Sandro Botticelli, Antonio Pollaiuolo, Christoforo Landino, Verrichio and other progressive thinkers are brought into the story as these men, Cato and others meet secretly to discuss ideas that were considered heresy by the church.
An interesting view of the times and happenings in Florence and Milan and how the church tried to tame two of the most progressive cities in Italy. And most important, the sacrifices a mother will make to insure the success of her son. I liked this one.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Independance of Miss Mary Bennet By Colleen McCullough

Writers continue to be fascinated by the characters created by Jane Austen. Australian born and acclaimed author of “The Thorn Birds” and other great novels has chosen Mary Bennet from “Pride and Prejudice”, one of the middle and rather plain sisters as the center piece of a story that is set some 20 years after Jane Austin’s novel closes. Mary had been shuttled off to a manor purchased by Fitz Darcy to care for her mother far enough away from Pemberly to make visits there rare. Mother Bennet dies and Mary decides that she will, no longer, be a drudge and will make something of her life; she will travel and write a book. Her actions cause problems and embarrassment to Darcy and her sisters. To further complicate things, she is kidnapped on one of her journeys . Colleen McCullough brings us up to date as to what has happened to the four other sisters as well as Charle Binkley’s sister Caroline(haughty as ever).
Elizabeth has four daughters and a son who is a disappointment to Fitz and the former ardor seems to have cooled. Fitz’s political ambitions are driving him. Jane is producing babies every two years and Charlie has a mistress. Lydia is drinking and whoring; her husband, George, has died as a soldier and Kitty has settled down with an aged wealthy land owner. McCullough, skillfully, moves all these people, the servants and some important new characters through danger and adventure to a very satisfactory climax.

Terminal Freeze By Lincoln Child

This was, somewhat, a disappointment. The characters were not very strong and the plot seemed very much like “Relic” except the “monster” came out of a chunk of ice instead of the jungle and the chase was through the corridors of an ice station rather that a great museum. It just left me cold, sorry Lincoln. I am still a fan of you and Douglas Preston so I will wait for and read your next.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Writ In Blood By Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

It is the year 1910 the major powers in Europe are Russia, Great Britain and Germany. Czar Nicholas Alexandreivich Romanov has commissioned Ragoczy, Count Saint-Germain to, secretly, meet with King Edward VII of Britain and Kaiser Wilhelm of Prussia and Germany (all three are related through the Queen Victoria line) to attempt an agreement which would limit the manufacture and sale of arms and munitions which would be a first step towards peace in Europe. The Czar was particularly concerned because he did not want his children particularly his son to experience the horrors of war.
Saint-Germain’s efforts are thwarted by the arms manufacturers and the arms brokers; particularly at this time because they see big profits in the growing trouble in the Balkans. Saint-Germain is followed wherever he goes and several devious plots where they try to discredit Saint-Germain are developed. There are, also, ugly rumors and attempts on his life as it is perceived that the Count may be making progress. In one desperate attempt, his enemies kidnap Saint-Germain’s current lover; the circumstances and rescue are spell binding.
It is interesting to find our 4000 year old vampire in the 20th Century; he adapts so well, his wealth is staggering and he has his long time (2000 years) servant and friend Roger to help and watch over him. He is still viewed with suspicion and as a foreigner but he is unperturbed. For all of his years, he takes a keen and kindly interest in the people of the age and he gives large amounts of money to the Arts and hospitals. He is attractive to women and while this attraction is ultimately necessary to his survival he cares for his “lovers” very much. Some interesting comparisons of Count Saint-Germain and Count Dracula are made by Saint-Germain who, in this time, has met Braham Stoker and has read his novel.
This is another very well researched story with fascinating characters. The title, “Writ In Blood” refers to how history is written. I am happy that there are still more that that I can read and enjoy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Divine Justice By David Baldacci

I have been reading David Baldacci for many years; this is one of his finest novels. Vietnam veteran hero, Oliver Stone, special operations assassin and a man cheated and lied to by his government and members of “The Camel Club” a group dedicated to searching out the truth are back together in a gripping story of danger, betrayal and conspiracy.

Oliver has killed a corrupt U.S Senator and the head of U.S Intelligence, two powerful men who were responsible for ruining Oliver’s life. He becomes a fugitive; all U.S and local agencies are looking for him. The searchers instructions are to locate him but only one agency will take him. Oliver has information and secrets and will be killed if he is captured. His friends from the Camel Club risk their careers to aid him in his flight.
On the run, he befriends a troubled young man from a tiny town and accompanies the man to his home town and finds himself involved in murder, drugs and a horrifying Federal prison.
This was a great read.

The New Annotated Dracula By Bram Stoker

This book with pictures and illustrations is 611 pages. The entire novel is dissected; each chapter has 20 to 40 notations explaining contemporary times and beliefs, habits, powers and manners of vampires, comments and history of the major characters and research notes relating to locations and geography of the setting in the story. The book also has appendixes about later vampire stories and a chronological dating of the history of Dracula as well as a section about Dracula after Stoker. The book was edited by Leslie Klinger
This volume augers well with “The Vampire Book The encyclopedia of the Dead” that Claudia sent me back in 1998.

The Joy of Reading By Charles Van Dorn

Professor Van Doren has put together a guide to and a brief summary of the works of 169 authors beginning with Homer and ending interestingly enough with J K Rowling. This volume is a treasure; the summaries and stories are so well written and Van Doren reflects the history of the time of his selections. Nothing tedious here do not be intimidated by Aeschylus or Euripides, plunge right in to Dostoevsky, is it easy and so very interesting. A great reference book.

Better In The Dark By Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

The Count Saint-Germain finds himself shipwrecked and washed ashore on a remote beach in Saxony. His rescuer is Ranegonda the “Gerefa” of a Saxon fortress.
The year is 937 AD a King is in charge of Germania and lesser wealthy men oversee large areas and the “Gerefas” manage castles and surrounding villages. The church, the Bishop and the monks of the various areas have absolute power as far as interpreting the will of “The White Christ”; strict rules and omens and punishment including death are the way of life throughout the country. Women have few, if any rights except for the “high born”. The former Gerefa of Leosan Fortress, Giselberht, became a religious fanatic, joined a nearby monastery to “get out of the world” and appointed his sister, Ranegonda, Gerefa of the fortress. Unprecedented but Giselberht had no son and his sister turned out to be a strong and efficient leader. These are dangerous times, bands of robbers, pirates and aggressive Danes wander the woods and attack the villages. The King is involved with war and can spare nothing for those in the territories and caused further problems by making demands for lumber and materials.

Saint-Germain and Ranegonda become allies even though he is being held for ransom. Germain’s knowledge and counsel is sought but taken cautiously because he is a foreigner. As time goes on Saint Germain and Ranegonda become lovers and become embroiled in devious plots contrived by Giselberht’s wife who has lost status and looks for another husband and by the powerful monk assigned to the fortress who has the narrowest of religious views and hates Saint Germain and Ranegonda. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, as usual , has done a wonderful job researching this time in history folded it into this compelling novel. This is an earlier Saint Germain story but whatever century he shows up in he is always fascinating.

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Night Stalker By James Swain

Abb Grimes a convicted serial killer of eighteen women is in prison waiting execution. He has requested that ex cop Jack Carpenter find out what has happened to his grandson who is missing and may have been kidnapped. Carpenter is a “missing child” specialist with many years of success. Abb’s son, Jed is the prime suspect for the disappearance but Carpenter does not think that Jed did the deed.
And so we have the beginning of a riveting thriller. Jack’s former police associates need his help but will not tolerate his methods. The FBI comes in and tries to get Jack off the case they are convinced of Jeb’s guilt, One of the Cops keeps putting more obstacles in Jack’s way and there are more killings which implicate Jed.
This was a splendid mystery with action, suspense and several unexpected twists.

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

“The Reader is a fascinating and compelling novel about the meeting of a young boy and an older woman that takes place in Germany after World War II.
Michael Berg is recalling his life when he was fifteen years old and how he became physically and emotionally involved with Hanna, a thirty something year old street car conductor. Theirs was a passionate and difficult relationship but they seemed to care for each other very much. At first, the relationship was love making but Hanna became interested in Michael’s school work and learned that Michael had missed a lot of school because of illness but did not seem to care. Hanna told Michael that he could not come to see her unless he studied hard and caught up and further, he was to read his school reading assignments to her. Michael’s school work improved and his self confidence grew. He was able to hide his relationship with Hanna from his family and things went well; reading, loving, talking and some minor arguments but one day Hanna went away.

A number of years later, Michael was a law student attending a seminar on Nazi war crimes; he was assigned to observe a war criminal trial and discovered that Hanna was among those on trial but she refuses to defend herself. Michael followed the whole trial. As the trial unfolded and horrible deeds are discussed and a verdict for all of the defendants is rendered, the reader will remember details and actions of earlier years and will understand Hanna’s dilemma but, perhaps, will not understand Michael’s. This was a great and moving story.

The Broken Window by Jeffery Deaver

Astounding and believable story about identity theft on a grand and world wide scale. Lincoln Rhyme’s involvement starts when his cousin is arrested on murder charges and the evidence against him is overwhelming - too perfect for Rhyme .
As the story develops more and more people police and even members of Rhyme’s team find their lives drastically changed; mortgages are suddenly in default, automobiles are suddenly repossessed, bank account balances are either reduced or increased substantially if the person is being set up as a suspect for a financial crime.

A giant information service company, a data mining outfit that maintains personal, financial, legal and intimate records of millions of persons and companies world wide is supposed to be helping Rhyme and his team but they are also being obstructive because the US Government does not wish their role in the company to be known.

The Lincoln Rhyme series has always been first rate;I look forward to Deaver’s next one.
I suppose there is not much we can do about the growing data bases that contain such detailed information about our lives. I believe that the things that happen in the story happen all the time and that our Government enjoys the power that such knowledge gives it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Immunity By Lori Andrews

A genetic Doctor and scientist investigates the alarming and terrible death of a DEA agent who, suddenly went into spasms while on a stake out in New Mexico. His face and body suddenly started to swell to the extent that he breathing was stopped; the swelling was so severe that the bones in his feet were crushed by his shoes. The Doctor discovers similar deaths throughout the South West and concludes that the deaths are either a natural epidemic that is beginning or a lethal biological weapon being used by terrorists.
Homeland Security is headed by a self serving, dictatorial , political hack who refuses to pay attention to the Doctor’s concern. Later, the source of the disease is found to be in the water supply; someone is contaminating a certain water fountain. As the contamination grows, people begin to become hysterical and the blame shifts to the Native Americans who have been quite vocal lately in demanding more rights.

This is a taught and fast moving thriller; the search for the culprit is hindered by Government bureaucracy but once they discover the person responsible, it is a race to stop him from contaminating a major water supply that could kill millions.
This was a “can’t put it down” story.

The Shadow in The Wind By Carlos Ruiz Zafon

This is a wonderful mystery adventure that will capture your imagination and keep your interest throughout the story.
A young man, son of an antique book seller, finds a book in “The Cemetery of Forgotten Books” a little known cache of thousands of books watched over by a friend of his father. The book is “The Shadow of The Wind” by one Julian Carax. Intrigued by the novel, the boy, Daniel, sets out to find other novels written by Julian Carax. He finds that someone has, systematically, been burning every copy of every novel that Carax has written. Daniel’s search begins a quest that leads him to his first love, introduces him to fabulous characters who, at one time, knew Julian Carax, some of them are very dangerous and cruel and others are enchanting. The search involves Daniel in the politics of the day and it unravels questions that Daniel had about his own life.
This was a great novel; the idea of a cemetery of forgotten books was something to savor, the vivid description of Barcelona after the Spanish civil war, the people and the places were so well drawn that you could feel the dampness and darkness of the prisons. I strongly recommend it.

The Darcy's Give a Ball By Elizabeth Newark

A delightful, “gentle joke” in the style of Jane Austen.
I have to admit that I am a pushover for anything relating to the novels of Jane Austen and if the novel has to do with the people of “Pride and Prejudice ” all the more so. This little story takes place many years after Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy married. The Collins have moved to Longbourn (after the death of Mr Bennett),they have five children, The Binkleys have grown children, Carolyn Binkley is still around being obnoxious and the author of this story decided that it is time for all of these characters, nieces and nephews, friends and acquaintances from earlier years get together for fun, conversation and some match making. It was kind of fun to think about what happened to all those people; how they prospered and is they were still alive.
Good effort by Ms Newark!

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Appeal By John Grisham

In a courtroom in a small town in Mississippi a jury has awarded $41,000,000 to a plaintive who is dying of cancer because a large chemical company dumped toxic waste into the town’s water supply. The chemical company is owned by a ruthless Wall Street player who will appeal the verdict because he knows that hundreds more from the town will file suit because the town is being called the worst “cancer cluster” in history. The player, Paul Trudeau, will stop at nothing to assure himself of a reversal of the verdict. This is a fast moving and frighteningly realistic story of how rich and powerful men can get their way by ruining reputations, killing people who do not fall in line and even controlling the politics in connection with the election of the State Supreme Court. “The Appeal” is a good and suspenseful novel.

Scarpetta By Patrica Cornwell

This is the sixteenth novel in the “Kay Scarpetta” series. Ms Cornwell started the series some 20 years ago and her characters and her plots have not aged very well. They are still around; Lucy has her own business and is making a fortune, Benton still does profiling for the FBI and is married to Kay and Marino is still a cop but the original magic does not come through. Kay is out of her element when she is asked to talk to a a suspected murder who is mentally disturbed and locked up in a psychiatric hospital and she gets pretty well involved with the patient who claims he did not do the deed. The scandal press is raking up the thing that happened between Scarpetta and Marino when he went kind of crazy and attacked her so that has to be resolved again but the old linear mystery and the great forensic work that went on in the earlier novels is not there. She disappointed me again.