17 January 2007

"A Cracking Good Tale..."

The 7 Professors of the Far North by John Fardell.

Remember those cool kids' adventures of the 1950s and 1960s? Danny Dunn? Miss Pickerel and her junior sidekicks? The Three Investigators or the Hardy Boys or Rick Brandt or Nancy Drew when she wasn't waffling on about clothes like she does in the new books? Well, bring the format to the present, take three plucky kids (a brother and sister and a boy named Sam with an always useful Swiss Army knife), and get them involved with the kidnapping of six brilliant professors by an unbalanced and meglomaniac former colleague, then mix them with nonstop action, and you have this totally brill novel that you don't have to be a kid to enjoy.

Eleven-year-old Sam Carnabie is facing a boring vacation at his Aunt Roberta's house when his parents let him stay with their old instructor Professor Alexander Ampersand and his young wards, his orphaned niece and nephew Zara and Ben, in Edinburgh. Then one of Ampersand's colleagues shows up with the urgent message "Professor Murdo has returned to Nordbergen." Within a twinkling other colleagues arrive on the scene, then are kidnapped, leaving the kids on their own to mount a rescue.

Fast-paced action takes Sam, Ben and Zara across England, into Europe and then far to the north; meanwhile a mundane teenage girl named Marcia Slick is about to become a victim of her parents' obsessive need for perfection...

Incredible gadgets, adventures on a secret mode of transportation, despicable villains, travel in some of the most incredible vehicles ever, and engaging characters make this one not to miss.

Books Read

Finished Erik Larson's Thunderstruck. Not quite as compelling as Devil in the White City because poor abused Dr. Crippen isn't quite as fiendish as creepy homicidal Dr. Holmes. I find the Marconi parts absorbing, but then I have an interest in the creation of radio. I wish there had been more photos to show the radio apparatus, the English, U.S., and Canadian locations at that time, and the people involved.

Presently reading: 7 Professors of the Far North, which I bought and started on vacation but never finished, and Jill Churchill's Who's Sorry Now?, another in her "Grace and Favor" mysteries about brother and sister Robert and Lily Brewster, two formerly rich young people whose near starvation existance after the Depression wiped out their money is brought to an end by a bequest from their late uncle, who has promised them millions, but in the meantime they have to live at "Grace and Favor" cottage and learn how to work while uncle's financial advisor manages their money.

I've been reading these since the first because I've always had an interest in the Depression-era due to my parents having lived through it, but my favor in their grace [sorry, I went far for that one] diminishes with each new book. I've kept the others but I actually got rid of the one that had to do with the Bonus Marchers because the Bonus March took about half the book but had nothing to do with the story that was begun in the first chapter. It was as if Churchill said "Look at this disgraceful event in U.S. history; here, I'm going to describe it in detail!" just because it took place in the same era as her story.

Churchill's vocabulary and sentence structure seem to grow more simplistic with each successful volume as well. Who's Sorry Now? is full of short, choppy sentences and repeated explanations (how many times did we have to hear that Lily's dog Agatha rolled in something dead in the space of four pages?). I feel like I'm reading something meant for a reading-challenged teenager rather than an adult mystery novel.

14 January 2007

Books Read Since December 30

• The Trouble With Magic
• A Charmed Death
both by Madelyn Alt
If you are a police procedural mystery lover, you will probably avoid; these are "cozies" that take place in the Midwest, where our heroine Maggie O'Neill finds a new direction (and new job) in life when she steps into Enchantments, a gift store that belongs to Felicity Dow, a down-to-earth practicing witch. In the course of the books Maggie helps solve the murder of Felicity's sister and then the murder of a popular high-school student, while she discovers her own esoteric powers.

• Walt Disney by Neal Gabler. Middle line, 600 page (the other 200 pages are appendix and index) bio of Disney: doesn't gloss his bad points like Bob Thomas, doesn't go overboard like Marc Eliot. Gabler's subtext is Disney's need for control.

• Christmas Remembered by Tomie dePaola, the children's book illustrator. Warm stories about memorable Christmases in his life; nothing remarkable, but a couple very humorous, especially the story of "Nana-Fall River."

Library books finished over the holiday: The Story of Santa Klaus [sic], William Walsh's 1909 effort to explain how tall austere St. Nicholas and other Christmas gift-givers became the American Santa Claus; The Book of Christmas Folklore, Tristam P. Coffin, a wry retelling of Christmas customs; Celebrating Christmas Around the World, short to long tales of Christmas in different countries edited by Herbert Wernecke (not sure what this book is supposed to be—it was published by a religious press and about half the stories are about missionaries celebrating in different lands, but there are some different pieces as well, including a humorous Reader's Digest-like offering about Danish husbands at Christmas, and the chapter from Hans Brinker; or the Silver Skates about St. Nicholas); and Christmas the World Over by Daniel J. Foley, again, chapters about Christmas celebrations in different locations, including Japan and China.

Presently in the middle of Thunderstruck by Eric Larson (Devil in the White City, Isaac's Storm).