Thursday, April 25, 2013

Throwback Thursday - Linda Barnes

In light of recent events I've been thinking about Boston in literature. There are, of course, the classics - Poe, Emerson, Alcott - but that is a Boston unfamiliar. Then, looking at my book shelf, I noticed Linda Barnes.

Barnes writes mysteries, most notably featuring the gutsy private investigator and sometime cabbie Carlotta Carlyle. All of them are set in Boston and make use of the uniqueness of Boston to enhance the basic mystery storyline.

Carlyle is a hard-boiled female protagonist in the tradition of Kinsey Milhone and Sharon McCone. She doesn't back down but she has flaws and self-doubts as she winds through her cases. I thoroughly enjoyed the first Carlyle mystery A Trouble of Fools which won multiple awards when it came out in 1987. I have since read several others and enjoyed them all.

Barnes has introduced a new protagonist with her most recent novel, The Perfect Ghost, who is quite different from Carlyle. The action takes place outside of Boston, on Cape Cod. It is definitely on my "To-Read" list.

So, if you are looking for a mystery with a Boston angle, enjoyable to read and catching a flavor of that marvelous city, I highly recommend Linda Barnes' Carlotta Carlyle series.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Feature and Follow - What living author would I hang out with?

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Too many choices! Piers Anthony, Mary McMaster Bujold, and Jared Diamond are at the top of the list for the simple reason that they are incredibly multi-faceted authors. I am guessing we could start talking at breakfast and be still talking as Jimmy Kimmel comes on the TV without touching a single topic twice.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Haiku for Spring

Spring has finally sprung here in New York. Some structured word pictures of the scenes and emotions of spring. Any and all comments appreciated and welcome!

Tiny wren flitters
Singing inside the bushes
Happy to see spring

Crocuses poke through
Stubborn edges of grey snow
Heralding warm days

The sky seems lighter
The wind and rain seem softer
As the days lengthen

Reverie broken
By sudden northern cold snaps
Which soon moderate

Bright morning, dry, clear
Afternoon showers, quick, wet
Then dry cool evening

Lark greets early dawn
Excited, singing brightly
Exalting the spring

Dove mourns passing night
As sun rises promising
Warmth, growth, spring flowers

Also check out Haiku Hoopla for interviews and samplings from established haiku poets.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Feature and Follow - Dreading the Read

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The question for this week is "Did you ever read a book that you thought you would hate?"

Answer: No, not yet. Except, of course, for some dreaded reading assignments in school.

The reason is really quite simple. Until recently, when I started offering to review books, again except for school assignments, I had complete control over what I was reading and never felt any pressure to read something I felt I wouldn't like. This is not to say I haven't read, or at least started to read some dreadful books. It just means I thought they would be ok before I started.

So far, with the reviews, I've been so excited at the prospect and the newness (and the books have been in genres I have interest in) that I have not dreaded picking them up. Fingers crossed that this will continue.

I guess I've been lucky so far. Let me know if you agree with a comment.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Book Review - Caddie Woodlawn

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink won the Newbery Medal in 1936 and was an inaugural recipient of the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1958. It is often compared to the Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. This is unfair to both as the two heroines have a completely different approach to childhood.

Caddie is semi-biographical, based on Ms. Brink's grandmother's childhood in Wisconsin.

Our protagonist is 11 at the start of the novel in the summer of 1864. Caddie is a tomboy and most of the chapters deal with her adventures with her two brothers, Tom and Warren. There are historical events woven into the narrative - the Civil War rages far away and, closer to home, the Sioux uprising in Minnesota two years before inject tension between the local Native American (Indian) tribe and the settlers.

Two core themes drive through the book, from Caddie's perspective: she comes to terms with growing up and she realizes how precious being an American is.

Although Caddie will never be a "lady" she does come to value the traditional women's roles, and, in a twist unusual for the 1930s, her brothers take a turn at learning the "domestic arts". The other theme that is driven home is the egality of being an American; the idea that life is what you make of it not what is given to you by reason of birth.

Many of Caddie's adventures are typical frontier adventures, dealing mainly with the natural dangers that the pioneers had to deal with entirely with the resources at hand and their wits. Throughout the book we are given Caddie's perspective, realizing what motivates and causes the behaviors she notices in the people she cares about.

I really enjoyed the book both when I read it as an 11-year-old and as I re-read it now. It can be read as a simple adventure book but it can also be read as a relatively deep novel of realization; of growing-up and finding one's way in the world.

Do you have childhood favorites that you've reread as an adult? Leave me a note!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Spring Poems

The geraniums (and a lone kalanchoe) were my winter gardening project. Enjoy the poems. Leave a comment on your emotions with the arrival, sometimes with clinging tendrils of winter, of the spring season.

Spring is Coming

This morning I went out
To fetch the paper by the road
And greeting me
High in a tree
Was a cardinal
All decked in red.
He sang to me
That sunny morn
Of coming spring
Warm and bright
Of crocuses coming
Through melting snow.
When his song was done
Another voice came lifting
The whippoorwill was
Down the street.
Came the call,
Greet the day now dawning
Heed the cardinal
The snow is going
Spring is soon arriving!

Spring Not Yet
The spring dark descends quickly
Bringing a breeze that will be warm
When the summer arrives but now
Is cool, almost cold, reflecting
Winter just recently receded.
The day was bright but likewise
Cooler than the sunlight suggested,
With puffy cumulus first bunching
Then separating, tantalizing.
Even the trees and bushes tease.
One imagines the buds bursting
Into the sunlight, only to be
Disappointed on closer inspection.
Soon, but not yet.

Spring Sky
Spring has come;
There are buds on the lilacs
The sun no longer is its weak
Winter self.
But the sky, the sky
This spring night
Harkens back to the winter.
Cold air gives a sharpness
The scarcity of clouds
An open vista
To thousands, nay, millions
Of tiny twinkling pinpricks.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Women's Lit Month - Beverly Cleary

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(This post originally appeared in Lost in Books in honor of Women's Literature Month)

Beverly Cleary is one of those authors whose books appeal across the entire spectrum of young readers. Her books are based on the ideas that the stories should be simple, deal with universal human experiences and filled with humor. With over 90 million copies printed she has been very successful with that triumvirate. She has also won many awards, most notably the Newbery Medal in 1984 for Dear Mr. Henshaw and the National Book Award in 1981 for Ramona and Her Mother.

Unlike some authors of books for children (Matt Christopher - boys, and Ann Martin - girls, for example), Cleary is well-known and loved by both boys and girls in huge numbers. She has written series (Henry Huggins) and single titles (Otis Spofford) where the protagonist is a boy with a decidedly male perspective. On the other hand, Ms. Cleary has written a hugely popular series whose protagonists are girls (the Beezus and Ramona Quimby books) as well as single titles (Ellen Tebbits) all with a decidedly female perspective. Finally, she has written fabulous books where the protagonist is a mouse (Ralph S. Mouse, to be exact).

Her books have also grown with the time and stayed relevant. Henry Huggins rides a bicycle and delivers newspapers in idyllic 1950s Oregon. But Leigh Botts is a modern kid with modern troubles - divorce, depression and other ails of growing up - in Dear Mr. Henshaw. 1984's Ramona Forever's write-up in Kirkus Reviews said, in part, "It's a measure of Cleary's talent and acumen that the Quimbys are as credible in the mid-1980s as they were in the mid-1950s."

I read a lot of Ms. Cleary's books as a child in rural Pennsylvania and devoured every one. Henry Huggins, Ralph Mouse, Ribsy were my friends. Fifteen years later my daughter devoured a different set - Ramona, Beezus, Socks, and Leigh were her friends. Cleary's books appeal to all children because they deal with things important to all children in all eras - their feelings, their environment (especially understanding new things), and finding their way in a world dominated by grown-ups who often see things differently.

Cleary wrote two autobiographies, A Girl from Yamhill and My Own Two Feet and they are a good place to start to understand this phenomenal author and her inspirations and perspectives. Unfortunately, as technology consumes the lives of younger and younger children they may not have the perspective to understand Ms. Cleary's settings and the actions of the characters (how many children today can relate to having a paper route?) in the future, except, perhaps, as snapshots of a different time (they become historical fiction).

However, Ms. Cleary's legacy will live on as an inspiration to the current generation of children's writters (Judy Blume and Jon Scieszka both list her as a major influence in their work) and, by corollary, the generation after. So, some rainy, lonely night, when everyone else is asleep, pull down your old copy of one of Cleary's books and remember what life was like and appreciate the inspiration that sits beneath the recent hot book you set aside to savor it.

Need a copy? We have a selection of pre-read copies here, all under $5, including shipping.

Blood of Ancient Kings - Review

V. J. O. Gardner has created a generational fantasy based on the growth and development of two intertwined families in the Kingdom of Brinley. She deftly presents her characters with unique challenges and ties the two royal families tightly together through an unusual set of circumstances and plot twists.

Character development, dialogue, and the premise on which the story is built are the strengths of Blood of Ancient Kings. Each character is an individual and fully fleshed; the reader can relate to each, despite their wide differences - the ex-despot, the reformer, the young healer, the simple village minister, the school-age bullies, the private soldiers, the general.

The premise of the story is what, to me, was the most interesting part. An usurping reformer and a reforming despot found two lineages that intertwine for three generations; starting with the first two children who know each other almost from birth but do not know, due to various machinations, who each other IS until well into the book.

Gardner's prose is clean and clear and reads quickly, moving from one scene to another with ease.

The biggest negative I found was that the plot development was sometimes unbelievable. The usurper, King Langward, decides to grant the people some representative government by splitting the kingdom into sections each with an elected governor. Somehow, within mere weeks, and without any opposition, it is all smoothly done.

One other nitpicking complaint is that sometimes the procedures of court got in the way of the story. Each time the king met a new person Gardner retold the scene of the person kneeling and the King bidding them rise.

All in all Blood of Ancient Kings is a quick and interesting read, strong on characterization and plot idea. This is the first in a three book series all of which can be found on her website

Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy in exchange for an honest review.