25 January 2004

Six Feet Under

Back in the early 1980s a co-worker recommended the Anne Perry Victorian mysteries starring Inspector Thomas Pitt and his wellborn wife Charlotte to me. I was immediately enchanted by the 1880s atmosphere and Perry's excellent writing. When she began a new series of books, taking place earlier in the century and featuring the dour William Monk and ex-Crimean War nurse Hester Latterly, I was drawn into their world as well.

I didn't think Perry could write a bad book, although her Ashworth Hall--I think it's Ashworth Hall, anyway; the one about the "Irish problem"--seemed interminable and it took me a while to read.

And then I picked up her newest, No Graves as Yet, a new series beginning at the opening of World War I. The protagonists in these books are two brothers, Matthew and Joseph, a secret service agent and a theology professor, respectively, who must solve the mystery of their parents' murder--and then Joseph must cope with the killing of one of his favorite students.

Sadly, Graves gives a new definition to the word "dry." I wondered if it were just me, but found many concurrent reviews of it on Amazon.com. I did get severely ticked off at one reviewer who said she didn't like it because there were "pages of details about a cricket match" and Perry used unfamiliar British terms. I guess this woman ranks up there with the nitwit who thought Harry Potter had to be translated for Americans. (And the "pages" of cricket details turned out to be about a page and a half.) Talk about the type of person who makes Americans look stupid and self-absorbed! I'm sure this woman won't be giving herself a treat by reading any Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey books in the future--too many "foreign" words and references, I'm sure!

If you must dislike Graves, do so because the characters are all paper dolls and if you took out the agonizing over upcoming war, social problems, and next moves, and Perry's interminable habit of describing every woman's attire and how she looks in it, the story itself would be about 75 pages long. But because it uses unfamiliar British terms? Gah.

15 January 2004

She Talks to the Trees

My Christmas book collection is becoming positively enormous. It's expanded to fill three shelves, and the books are starting to double back on themselves. Considering the quantity of Christmas books that the publishers pump out every year, you might not think that's a lot, but I don't buy Christmas books that are about recipes or crafts, which kills about 90 percent of them. I buy either books of Christmas stories, or books about Christmas customs in other countries, or in past centuries.

I also have a couple of books about the pagan antecedents of the holidays, When Santa Was a Shaman and The Winter Solstice, and am always interested in checking out more, which is why I noticed Dorothy Morrison's Yule when it was first published. It looked pretty lightweight when I paged through it and the majority of the reviews I saw were negative.

I found it at the local remainder sale for only $2.50. That's about what it's worth. I read it in a couple of hours and was pretty underwhelmed. Call it "Paganism Lite." I know that folks who practice Wicca do use little spells and incantations to connect them with the spiritual world, but the little rhymes Morrison suggests in this book read as cutsey in the extreme. I had this vision of real pagans rolling their eyes at the text.

14 January 2004

Low Flight

Finally read Mercedes Lackey's The Silver Gryphon recently. I wasn't really fond of the Mage Wars trilogy, even if it did star an egotistical bird. :-) The third book is one of these restless-misunderstood-adolescents-go-out-on-their-own-and-get-into-a-lot- of-trouble stories. Of course, being Mercedes Lackey, they are knowledgeable restless-misunderstood-adolescents, etc. It really wasn't a bad story, but I finished it with the attitude that "I finally got it finished" rather than "Darn, that was good."

12 January 2004

Setting Up for DaVinci

I'd have to be on a desert island not to notice the popularity of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code.

But I usually don't pay attention to best-sellers until my friends start talking about them.

This doesn't always work out for me. In high school days my best friend raved about Asimov's "Foundation" trilogy and bought me the three-book paperback set for Christmas one year. Sorry to say I did not get past the first chapter in the first book. Much later in my life friends tried to get me hooked on Katherine Kurtz's Deryni books. Again, I couldn't get past the first couple of chapter in the first book, although I adore the Adept novels she has co-written with Deborah Turner Harris.

However, our friends recommending this newest bestseller advised me to start with the DaVinci prequel, Angels and Demons, before starting on it, as it introduces the lead male character. Their descriptions of both books sounded rather chilling. Well, I've started Angels and Demons and don't know what to think. I do want to know what happens next, but I don't find the whole thing so scary as everyone says. Maybe I'm not far enough into it? I'm also not an American that thinks Americans "invented" the Web. I know about Tim Berners-Lee and CERN.

Perhaps I just need to get past the expositionary material.

10 January 2004

Return to P.E.I.

Would you believe I'd never read the Anne books of L.M. Montgomery until I was an adult? It wasn't surprising--as a child I really liked only animal stories. My mom bought me all the classics, and I had a very nice copy of Little Women, for example, but I never got past chapter six until after I was in my teens. It was, as I described it to my mother, when they started all that "icky stuff with Meg and Mr. Brooke." :-)

Anne was also only in hardback when I was a kid. I only got the cheap Whitman hardbacks; we couldn't afford the more pricey ones, which is why I was Trixie Belden-deprived as a youngster. Whitman started issuing Trixie in their cheap editions just about the time I went to work, and I bought all of them, as well as paperbound copies of all those Marguerite Henry horse stories I used to lust over at the library.

I finally made Anne Shirley's acquaintance via Kevin Sullivan's delightful miniseries for the Disney Channel, and promptly went out and bought the entire eight-book set.

Like any books written in the past, they use terms that were familiar at the time that people may no longer understand. Some folks don't like slogging through old-fashioned talk, but I revel in the dated words. But even with enjoying them, sometimes it's hard to figure out what's going on or what a certain comparison means; needless to say I love annotated books. I have an annotated copy of A Christmas Carol and I was delighted when I found out there was a annotated version of Anne.

Well, until I saw the price. It was a small press print and it was released at $35.

I hunted about a couple of years for it at a lower price and was about resigned to paying $29 for a used copy when I ran into a bona-fide miracle: I found a copy in a used bookstore I went into on a whim. It was slightly water-damaged, but 90 percent nice, and delightful to read: now I know what a "Grit" is, and all sorts of other things Avonlea, Canadian, and 19th century. The book also contains a short biography of Maud Montgomery (as she was known) paralleling her life to Anne's, original reviews of the book (Mark Twain was one of Anne's big fans), illustrations from different editions of the book, etc.