So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Beatrice Cenci. Alberto Moravia

Beatrice Cenci is a play based on a true story. In 1598 20 year old Beatrice Cenci, with help from her step-mother and two servants, killed her father Frencesco while he held her prisoner in the remote castle of La Petrella, in the Abruzzi, north of Rome. The historic facts are well-presented in Charles Nicholl's 1998 London Review of Books article "Screaming in the Castle". The play focuses on the interactions of these five people leading up to and immediately following the murder. All of the scenes take place in the main room of the castle.

Francesco is of an ancient Roman family who has turned to bebauchery and immorality as a cure for his boredom. He has taken his second wife Lucrezia and his youngest daughter Beatrice to this isolated castle and keeps them isolated from everyone but two male servants: Olimpio, the manager of the castle, and Marzio, a musician. He has isolated them and amuses himself by toying with them.

Moravia is a major figure in 20th century Italian literature better known for his novels, short stories, and journalism. This play is a play of dialog with characters coming in and out of the one scene and interacting. All of the action occurs off-stage. So the dialog is essential, and the translation becomes critical. Beatrice Cenci was translated by Angus Davidson, who has translated many of Moravia's works into English.

The play opens when Beatrice is waiting with Lucrezia. She has secretly through Marzio sent a letter to her brother in Rome pleading with him to rescue her from her captivity or she will be forced to do something foolish. Marzio, however, has been forced to give the letter to Olimpio, who sees in Beatrice's desperation a chance to force himself on her as her last hope. Olimpio has in turn givent he letter to Francesco to dash Beatrice's only hope other than him for relief.

The play shows people who, desperate to seek the fulfillment of their own needs, resort to subterfuge and sexual manipulation. Throughout the play Beatrice compares human justice that deals in lies and corruption to a higher justice which is based on trust and love. She knows that she has acted properly in ending the injustice done to her, but she also knows that human justice, which kept her prisoner for two years, will not condone her act.

By using the genre of a play Moravia tries through dialog to breathe life into these fascinating characters of Roman history. The play is well writtenalthough a little heavy. I believe that it leaves much to the actors to bring life to the words in their mouths.

Little is really known of what happened in that castle 400 years ago and many authors and artists have attempted to bring the story of Beatrice to life in their work. Moravia does a good job of pointing out the power dynamics of the situation.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Victoria Woodhull's Sexual Revolution: Political Theater and the Popular Press in Nineteenth-Century America

Victoria Woodhull was one of the most outrageous and influential of the 19th century social reformers of the United States. Yet today many people do not know who she is.

This book, which is based on Amanda Frisken's doctoral dissertation, takes a detailed look at the most important period of Woodhull's career while glossing over the periods before and after. Another interesting aspect of the work is that it uses primarily the reports published in men's illustrated newspapers of the time, called sporting news, as a source. Other sources are used to provide a rich and detailed picture of Woodhull's life, beliefs, and activities, but the unique perspective of this work comes from this original use of these popular newspapers as a source for images and opinions about Woodhull.

There may be better biographies that look at her whole life, but for those interested in Woodhull's impact on the USA, this is a great book to read. Included are her free love sexual philosophy, her campaign for president of the United States, her brokerage firm on Wall Street, her newspaper, her influence on American socialism, and her leadership of the Spiritualism community. There are tons of footnotes, but the text can be read without reference to them, so it has relevance to both the popular and the scholarly reader.

The Motorcycle Diaries: A Journey Around South America. Ernesto "Che" Guevara

The hooks are obvious: charismatic revolutionary Che Guevara on a continent spanning motorcycle trip of South America. However, this book is by Ernesto Guevera, a 23 year old middle-class medical student looking for a break from his studies, and the motorcycle doesn't last through two countries. It is a rare glimpse into the young mind of a major cultural revolutionary. The book is also a unique look into the everyday life of South America in the middle of the 20th century. The point of view is of sons of privilege wandering the countryside and living off the land. Sometimes they are encountering the workers and experiencing their simple hospitality and honest struggles. At other times, they rely on their social class and education to open doors to more polite society. What I found compelling about this book is that in such a brief work the author was able to present a sweeping portrait of South American life. it was, for me, a wonderfully human introduction to the people and lands of this vast continent.

Slave. Mende Nazer

Sudan is in the headlines these days. This book provides a very personal glimpse into the story behind those headlines. The book tells the story of Mende Nazer in three basic parts: her early life in the Nuba mountains; her capture and life as a domestic slave in Khartoum and London, and her escape from slavery and attempts to establish asylum.

Her life in the Nuba tribes of southern Sudan reveals much about the culture and values of these people. Mende Nazer portrays the Nuba as simple farmers with a proud culture who are at the mercy of the Arab Sudanese of the north. Although slavery is technically against the law, there seems to be a lively black market which the Nuba appear helpless to stop.

The family that buys Mende when she is 12 takes great caution to hide her condition from officials while they brag about their slave to family and friends. Mende's perspective as a child wrenched from her tight family structure and seeking to comprehend the world through the eyes of a slave, makes for compelling reading. Reading this book is a great way to put a human face on what is happening in Sudan. Highly recommended.

Letters from Rifka. Karen Hesse

I started reading this book because it won an impressive number of awards:

National Jewish Book Award
International Reading Association Children's Book Award
Sydney Taylor Book Award
American Library Association Notable Book
School Library journal Best Book of the Year
Horn Book Outstanding Book of the Year, and
Booklist Editor's Choice.

However once I started reading it, I was taken with the simple and compelling story.

The book consists of a series of letters written by 12 year old Rifka to her cousin in Russia. They start when in 1919, to avoid persecution, Rifka and her parents and two older brothers have to suddenly leave Russia in the middle of the night with just a small backpack and the clothes on her back. One of these few possessions is a book of Pushkin's poetry given to her by her cousin Tovah. Their destination is the United States where two of her brothers already live.

To calm her fears and give her something to do during the lonely hours of travel, Rifka starts to write letters to Tovah in the blank spaces in the book. The story evolves through these letters which Rifka knows she will not be able to mail until she reaches the U. S. In the book, each letter is preceded by a quote from a Pushkin poem.

Rifka's trip is not easy. She gets separated from her family and it takes over a year before she learns if she will be reunited with them. At a time when Jewish children are normally surrounded with family celebrating their coming of age, Rifka is alone and in charge of her own destiny.

The book excels in character development, historic accuracy, and plot. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in immigration stories, Jewish history, or young women's literature.

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian. Robert E. Howard

I saw Renee Zelweger and Vincent Dinofrio in The Whole Wide World and was fascinated by the story of Robert Howard. My only contact with the Conan stories have been through the late 20th century caricatures rather than the author's original works. Having felt that Conan has become such a cultural stereotype, I wanted to see the source material.

Howard portrays Conan as a man outside of the civilization of his time. Cimmeria is portrayed geographically as being where Scotland is today, only at some remote time in Prehistory before the forming of the North Sea. His normal costume is a silk loincloth and a sword. When it is cold he will take up a red cloak and in battle, he often adds chain mail.

In Black Colossus, Howard describes him as tigerish, elemental, and untamed. His profession in these stories is predominantly a mercenary. When he can't find work fighting, he tends to resort to thievery. Occasionally his leadership skills propel him into the role of King, Pirate Captain or War Chief, but his direct approach doesn't find a happy home in situations where diplomacy and discretion are important traits.

He appeals to women through his elemental nature and his protective strength. Women of his acquaintance normally wear fairly revealing and diaphenous clothing that they tend to lose a lot. Nudity seems to be a fairly common situation for women of his time since this lack of attire seldom causes much of a stir.

Then there is the swashbuckling. Do not read these stories if you're not a big fan of it. Conan tends to fight his way out of most situations, and the combination of his large broadsword and his amazing strength causes a lot of bloodshed and dismemberment. I had to take these stories in small doses for this reason.

The end of the book has some really wonderful items for those who want something more. The editors have included an early draft of the first Conan story, The Phoenix on the Sword, an untitled draft, and a couple of synopses written by Howard. There are also some writings by Howard on the Hyborian Age, the mythic time he created for these tales. These added touches make this a wonderful book for the more serious reader. However, all fans of this genre will find these stories essential reading. The black and white illustrations by Mark Schultz are wonderful additions to these stories which bring the Hyborian Age to life.

Good Night, Mr. Holmes. Carole Nelson Douglas

Carol Nelson Douglas has created a series of detective novels based on Irene Adler, a character from Arthur Conan Doyle's short story A Scandal In Bohemia. Adler is a feminist alternative to the pipe-smoking Sherlock Holmes, complete with a female sidekick, Penelope Huxleigh, who documents her exploits as Dr. Watson did for Holmes.

In Good Night, Mr. Holmes, the first novel of the series, Ms. Douglas has written a prequel to A Scandal In Bohemia in which we learn how Irene and Penelope met and how they got caught up in the scandal that introduces Sherlock Holmes to their lives.

The pairing of the ultra-respectable Penelope, the country parson's daughter, with Irene, the convention breaking American singer, provides for entertaining situations that liven up the investigative plot. Historic details are handled competently and many famous personages of the time make cameo appearances in the story. Overall, this is a delightful introduction to a great series of entertaining historic mystery novels.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A Roman Scandal. Susanne Kircher

A Roman Scandal is historical fiction based on the true story of Beatrice Cenci who killed her father, Francesco Cenci, and was executed for her crime in 1599. Based on the 1925 two volume biography of Beatrice written by Corrado Ricci, the book is an accurate retelling of what is known about this sad story.

Told from the point of view of Ginevra Cenci, the wife of Francesco's cousin, the novel is presented as her true account written to dispel the rumors and exaggerations that sprung up in Rome after Beatrice's execution. The presentation is chronological with the first section devoted to Beatrice's early life and her father's scandalous life in Rome. After being arrested and fined three times for sodomy, Francesco decides to leave Rome with his second wife Lucrezia and his 18 year old daughter Beatrice to live in a secluded castle called La Rocca in the small village of Petrella del Salto, north of Rome. Their stay at La Rocca, which Beatrice calls imprisonment, makes up the second part of the book, and ends with the murder of her father with the help of two of the servants. The novel's third part consists of the investigation of the murder, the trials of Lucrezia, Beatrice and her two brothers, and their execution.

This is only one of many accounts of the famous story of Beatrice Cenci that have made it into print over the 400 years since her death. A Roman Scandal is good at presenting the facts in an interesting and straightforward manner. The author was a newspaper woman and the narrative is clear and detailed. Not being told from the point of view of the main characters, however, the story fails to bring them and their motivations to life. We the readers know that something terrible was happening at La Rocca that caused Beatrice to plot her father's death, but outside of one whipping we do not really know why she was driven to such desperation. She and her step-mother were prisoners, and the man seemed to have a skin condition that required them to wipe his body with a towel. Although other tellings of this story lead readers to believe that Francesco sodomized the two women, Ms. Kircher avoids this conclusion. She sticks to the recorded official version and actually seems to be unable to come down on one side or the other on this crucial, but unverified, aspect of the story. Her descriptions of people and places are accurate and her presentation of the upper class Roman life of the time is well done. Yet, for a historical novel, she skimps on the details of 16th century life that bring such stories to life. Thus this novel is best for its historic accuracy, but is not that successful in bringing these two outstanding characters to life.

Interestingly, Ms. Kircher never mentions the famous painting of Beatrice that is attributed to Guido Reni which was purportedly painted in her prison cell as she awaited her execution. The cover of this book has a drawing of Beatrice done by Tony Destefano.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Miracle Detective: An Investigation of Holy Visions. Randall Sullivan

Randall Sullivan spent eight years researching and examining the miraculous apparitions at Boardman Oregon, Scottsdale Arizona and Medjugorje in Bosnia. The results is one of the best books on the phenomenon of miraculous apparitions ever to be written. Although he starts locally with Boardman, he spends most of his time in Medjugorje and Rome.

Medjugorje is undeniably the most important miraculous appearance of our time and is often compared to those at Lourdes and Fatima. Sullivan provides wonderfully balanced reporting, while at the same time he is open enough to show how his interviews have personally influenced him. He does a wonderful job of presenting the many points of view on these events, yet is always reaching for the objective truth behind the presentations of the seers, the Church, the theologians, the believers, and the scientists.

My favorite chapter comes towards the end of the book when he interviews Father Benedict Groeschel. He quotes Groeschel as saying:

"If you no more than dismiss these things, you're simple an obscurantist. If you mindlessly embrace them, you're just a dope. we have to resist the obsessive-compulsive demand for a clear, definitive answer to these questions. This is a field for people who don't have to have it all figured out, who don't need it cast in black and white. There's a lotta gray mist around this stuff, and you have to be prepared to deal with that. Once in a while a bright, shining lightcomes through, and we should be grateful for it. Because the rest of the time we have to feel our way through the twilight."

If you have an open mind, I recommend this book. However, if you come to it to either prove or disprove a preconceived idea, you will probably feel upset with the author's approach.

Bungalow Bathrooms. Linda Svendsen

I bought this book to get ideas on renovating my 1930 bungalow bathroom. Although the book focuses more on restoration than renovation, I still found it a wonderful source of ideas. Filled with lots of full color pictures of restored and well-preserved bathrooms, the book is worth its price for the pictures alone. The text covers both historic and current issues and is a wealth of information. Each section of the book has a chapter called "Obsessive Restoration" for those serious about historic integrity, but also offers a "Compromise Solution" for those of us who need to balance 21st century demands.

We found the book extremely valuable in picking layout, hardware, fixtures, walls, and flooring. It really helped us to design a bathroom that meets the needs of a modern family, yet which blends in with the historic values of our home.

Bungalow Kitchens. Linda Svendsen

I bought this book to get ideas on renovating my 1930 bungalow kitchen. Although the book focuses more on restoration than renovation, I still found it a wonderful source of ideas. Filled with lots of full color pictures of restored and well-preserved kitchens, the book is worth its price for the pictures alone.

The text covers both historic and current issues and is a wealth of information. Each section of the book has a chapter called "Obsessive Restoration" for those serious about historic integrity, but also offers a "Compromise Solution" for those of us who need to balance 21st century demands.

We found the book extremely valuable in picking layout, hardware, appliances, cabinets, and flooring. It really helped us to design a kitchen that meets the needs of a modern family, yet which blends in with the historic values of our home.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Vintner's Luck. Elizabeth Knox

One summer evening in 19th century France, an angel visits a Burgundian farmer named Sobran. They share a bottle of wine and talk through the night. They promise to meet again each year on the same evening.

Each chapter of the book is named after a different French wine term and there is a chapter for each subsequent year. Some are very short and others relay the detailed events of the year leading up to the angelic liaison. I often couldn't see any relationship between the chapter title and the events depicted. Also this linear approach to a farmer's life moves slowly and I was often tempted to stop reading. However, the characters are warm and engaging and I kept with the book to see how they were doing. A charming book with realistic characters and good development.

I would have liked this book even more if it tied itself more deeply to the history of 19th century France. While the characters form a close-knit communal group, they seem only very peripherally connected to the events of the world around them.

The Kill. Emile Zola

The Kill (La Curée) is the second book in the Rougon-Macquart series of 20 novels that traces 4 generations of a family with a book about each family member. You don't have to read the other books to read one since each stands on its own, but once you start, you may, like me, never be able to stop.

This new translation really helps bring this book to life for the modern reader. Most of Zola's novels were translated when written over a hundred years ago. These original translations are usually the only choice English-language readers have. While good, they are somewhat dated, and a new translation of a Zola novel is an event of great importance. Arthur Goldhammer does a wonderful job of both being true to the time it was written and yet sensitive to the modern reader. There are occasional footnotes to explain some terms, but they are not bothersome nor do they interupt the flow of the work.

In The Kill Zola takes the reader to the Paris of the Second Empire where Napoleon III is transforming the city into a modern marvel. Large, wide, straight new boulevards are being built to provide access to the the heart of the city.

Many people are getting rich in real estate speculation. The protagonist Aristide Saccard, has come to Paris to make a fortune for himself. He knows he can do it if he could just find someone to provide him money to get started. He hears of a rich daughter who needs a husband since she was raped and is pregnant, and strikes a deal with her and her family for a marriage of convenience. With the money he gets from marrying Renée Saccard, he builds a fortune on shady deals and speculation.

Renée is a bored sensualist who takes lovers and attends all the parties she can. She is left to raise Aristide's teenage son, Maxime, another sensualist, who today might be called a Metrosexual. Together, the two explore the sexually liberated world of 19th century Paris and eventually become lovers.

Character development and portrayal are excellent in The Kill. Zola shows us the inner workings of this amoral family and the world in which they travel. Although the ending is a bit weak, the characters and plot are excellently developed.

This is the second time I have read this book and I love the new translation. Not Zola's best work, but a very strong novel worth reading.

Between the Rivers. Carolyn R. Booth

Between the Rivers is a novel that follows 20 years of the life of Maggie Lorena Corbinn, starting in 1905 when she leaves Onslow County North Carolina to go to college in Raleigh. She is high-strung and self-absorbed, and doesn't always make the best choices. Yet the story is quite captivating. I really enjoyed the author's historical research which brought early 20th century North Carolina to life for me. One of the male love interests seems straight out of the Romance genre with his demanding ways and her weak-kneed infatuation for him, but the rest of the characters were more three-dimensional.

Ms. Booth states that many of the events portrayed in the novel are true with names changed and facts rearranged, and begs local readers not to take offense. This adds a sense of mystery which may intrigue local readers. I feel the book will be a good read for anyone from coastal Carolina who wants insight into local life a century ago. Although my grandparents aren't from North Carolina, I enjoyed reading this historic novel of romance and coming-of-age. It took me back to a much simpler time and made it compellingly real.

The Road to Wellville. T. C. Boyle

The Road to Wellville takes the reader to Battle Creek Michigan at the beginning of the 20th century, a place and time where the modern health food and breakfast food industries were born. Two men arrive on a train, and we follow their experiences in Battle Creek. Will Lightbody arrives with his wife Eleanor to go to the famous Sanitorium run by John Harvey Kellogg seeking a cure to his digestive problems. Charlie Ossining wants to make it rich quick in the breakfast cereal industry started by Dr. Kellogg's brother William and his competitor C. W. Post.

Although the novel is written in the third person, the reader sees the story evolve through the perspective of these two men. Other characters suffer from this approach, especially the women, like Eleanor Lightbody, whom Will and Charlie never seem to understand.

The novel differs from the movie, which remains true to the plot and characterization, in that the novel portrays the inner longings and motivations of these two men, while the movie stresses the visual aspects of what they see and do. This makes the movie both funnier and a bit more removed than the novel.

The historicity of the book is well developed. Most of the people, places and events can be confirmed from the record. This is a great book to read if one is interested in healthy living and wants to know the background of today's health movement.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Locked Rooms. Laurie R. King

This is the eigth in a series of novels by Laurie R. King which features the young detective Mary Russell and her partner of literary fame Sherlock Holmes. The title comes from a recurring dream that haunts Mary of a locked room to which she holds the key.

It is a series that keeps coming on strong, and this latest installment is one that faithful readers will truly appreciate. In it Mary returns to San Francisco, her childhood home, and confronts the trauma of her family's fatal car accident that only she survived. Plagued by a sense of guilt that she caused their deaths, Mary has never shared much of her past even with her husband, Sherlock Holmes. But is there something more sinister in her reticence to discuss the past? As they approach her home after ten years absence Mary becomes strangely unobservant and inwardly directed. Even when she is shot at two days after her arrival, she does not respond as she would have before. It is if she is in a cloud or hypnotic trance.

Laurie King does an admirable job of recreating San Francisco of the 1906 earthquake and of the Roaring 20's. The novel is rich in period detail, and contains a cast of well-developed characters which includes the young author Dashiell Hammett who, because of poor health, is making a career change from detective work to writing detective stories.

The suspense builds as first Holmes, and later Mary, begin to believe that her family was murdered to keep them from revealing something that is hidden in their old house. The book becomes a non-stop page turner as they discover that everyone associated with the family were murdered shortly after their fatal day. It seems that only Mary's departure for England right after the accident has saved her life so far. But now she is back, and she and Holmes will not sleep easy until the murderers are found.

Could this be the last Mary Russell mystery? Mary has lain to rest the ghosts that seem to have driven her so far. How will she proceed with her life now that the hidden torments are finally behind her? Laurie King has decided to give Mary a vacation and her latest novel is The Art of Detection, the first new addition to her Kate Martinelli series since 2000. I am sure that Mary could use the rest. We the readers will have to wait to see if it is rest or retirement for Mary.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Forever Crossed. A. Leigh Jones

In Forever Crossed A. Leigh Jones adeptly straddles multiple genres to create an exciting tale. She crosses a romance novel with detective fiction and with an alternative reality setting that includes witches, vampires, and wereleopards. The author's greatest achievement is in creating a vibrant lead character, Olivia Peters, who captures the mystery of believability and raises the work above the cliches of genre.

The author reimagines the sleepy southern city of Raleigh North Carolina as a place where vampires are regular citizens. However, a vampire turf battle leads to a series of murders that upsets the community.

The romance is between Peters, a victim of a wereleopard attack as a child, and Luka, the leader of the local wereleopard clan. Can the erotic feelings he stirs up in her overcome her childhood fear? Her interactions with his pack of wereleopards in human form are delightfully portrayed. Their mixture of human emotions and animalistic senses is very well done as she is attracted to their leader and develops relationships with each of them.

It is the detective who comes out as the strongest part of Peters' character. She is called in to solve the murders, but the struggle for control of the vampire community hints at a more complex story. Yet ultimately, this is set aside (for a sequel?) and the romance novel gains the upper hand.

Maureen Birnbaum, Barbarian Swordsperson: The Complete Stories. George Alec Effinger

This is a funny book in a fan fiction sort of vein. The author takes his main character, Maureen Birnbaum, a Jewish American Princess from a New England finishing school whose values are fashion and marrying well, and sets her in the classic sci-fi settings of authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Isaac Asimov, and H. P. Lovecraft.

Each story is introduced by Maureen's whiny friend, Bitsy Spiegelman, who she visits between adventures to relate her latest tale. Sword-wielding Maureen, in her jewel-encrusted golden bra and g-string is a stereotypical, yet strong and distinct character who provides a refreshing gender-reversal to these traditionally male-oriented settings.

The first story begins when Maureen accidentally transports herself from a ski slope in Vermont to the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs. She arrives there naked and saves a prince from "big giant things with four arms" by killing them with a sword dropped by one of his fallen warriors. She keeps the sword and he gives her the gold bra and g-string worn by his slain sister. However, even though she has fallen in love with the prince, she can't live with only one outfit on a planet without stores, so she bids him a tearful goodbye and returns to Earth to go on a shopping trip with Bitsy.

Her shopping skills are impecable and she runs up quite a bill on Bitsy's Mum's credit card. She sets off for Mars, but, not knowing how this transporting actually works, ends up in another Edgar Rice Burroughs setting, The Center Of The Earth where the sub-human inhabitants force her to be their High Priestess. She doesn't like the way they treat her and wants to get back to her Martian prince so she once again goes back to Bitsy.

Stories follow where she keeps missing Mars and ends up in various sci-fi settings. The next is Robert Adams' post-nuclear war Earth of the Horseclans series. This is followed by the planet in Isaac Asimov's Nightfall. She then takes on Robin Hood and has a shopping contest with Maid Marian in a contemporary British mall named Sherwood Forest. The last three stories find her, still missing her Martian goal, searching for the Holy Grail, caught up in Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, and taking a trip to a NASA lunar colony.

It is never explained how Muffy transports herself, but the stories are written for fun rather than realism. The saving grace of the stories are their humor and the character development of Muffy and Bitsy. While Bitsy pursues the traditional middle class dream of a successful marriage, kids, and a house in the suburbs, Muffy's adventures bring out a strong feminist philosophy in her. Her description of the Holy Grail as the sacred cauldron of the triple goddess throws the Medieval monks into quite a tizzy. By the end of the series, Bitsy's marriage has gone bad and Maureen has begun to realize that she may never get back to her prince.

This anthology contains the eight Muffy Birnbaum stories that Effinger wrote between 1982 and 1993. I don't know if Effinger wrote any more stories in this series before he died in 2002. While it might seem that only experienced sci-fi readers knowledgable in the sub-genres of the parodied authors would enjoy these stories, they actually have quite broad appeal. These sci-fi settings have become such a part of pop culture, that all readers will enjoy the tales even if they miss some of the deeper references to the classic series.

Best of Creepy. James Warren

A collection of 8 black-and white cartoons from the 1964 magazine Creepy. These are classics written by Archie Goodwin (except Werewolf by Larry Ivie) from some of the best artists of the day.

Sand Doom is illustrated by Al Williamson and tells the story of an amoral weapons dealer and how his Karma catches up with him.

Overworked, illustrated by Wallace Wood, tells of a comics artist who gets too involved in his work.

Untimely Tomb, drawn by Angelo Torres, deals with the issue of being buried alive.

Reed Crandall's art in Vampires Fly At Dusk gives a vampire story a strange new ending.

Werewolf has the early work of Frank Frazetta in this classic story of changelings.

Grave Undertaking with drawings by Alex Toth is a tale of grave robbers.

Curse of the Full Moon is drawn by Reed Crandall and takes another glimpse into the lives of werewolves.

Finally, Steve Ditko's legendary art graces Collector's Edition, a story about the risks of book collecting.

The book is worth the chance to see Frank Frazetta and Steve Ditko's early work. The stories are twists on classic horror themes and give a good perspective on the writing of the time. The paperback size and reduced art takes away from its overall effect, but still a delightful collection.

Spider Dance. Carole Nelson Douglas

This is the latest entry in a series of novels based on the fictional character Irene Adler Norton from the Sherlock Holmes story A Scandal In Bohemia. This is also the second volume of a duology that began with Femme Fatale. In this latest volume Irene is in New York City of 1889 and seeking to uncover if her mother is the infamous Lola Montez. If that is not enough, she gets drawn into Holmes' case involving threats to the Vanderbilt family.

Carole Nelson Douglas has a delightful way of blending fictional and historic characters together with her own strong feminist point of view to re-envision the role of women in the nineteenth century. In this particular foray, we see the lives of Lola Montez, Alva and Consuelo Vanderbilt, and reporter Nellie Bly re-examined through the feminist perspective of Irene Adler and her partner in detective work, Nell Huxleigh.

Douglas has also developed a delightful multi-narrator style for revealing her story that mixes entries from various participants into a lively manner of plot evolution. This is offset with "quotes" from various historical sources that introduce each chapter. These two narrative devices are well executed in this particular story.

So take an exciting journey into late 19th century New York and explore the mysteries that Ms. Douglas unfolds. She has an excellent attention to detail and history that brings the subject to life.

Femme Fatale. Carole Nelson Douglas

Femme Fatale is the first book in a duology that ends with Spider Dance.

In this volume the fictional detective Irene Adler Norton and her assistant Penelope Huxleigh travel to 1889 New York to solve a series of murders. the common thread is that each of the people knew Irene when she was a child in the theaters of New York. Can one of them hold the secret of who is Irene's parents? They must find the murderer to solve the mystery.

Told through the journals of Ms. Huxleigh and the notes of the real-life Nellie Bly and the fictional Sherlock Holmes, Douglas has found an intriguing way to relate a good story that mixes historical figures with fictional characters.

More Bread Or I'll Appear. Emer Martin

More Bread Or I'll Appear is a novel where the Irish Diaspora meets the 21st Century. Emer Martin takes one family and puts them on the world stage. She writes with a lovely Irish humor that can make light of the direst situations, which the book is full of. Illness, Compulsive Disorders, Teen Pregnancy, Alcoholism, Drug Addiction, Gay Child-Abusing Priests, AIDS, Kidnapping, Robbery, Prostitution, Compulsive Eating Disorders, Cross-Dressing, and Murder are all treated in a matter-of-fact way, but can at times make this a novel that is hard to get through. Yet the character development and the author's sensitive approach to the human situation make this a wonderful novel.

Emer Martin takes us into the lives of a dysfunctional, but strong and resilient family as each member faces a crisis in their lives and comes to terms with themselves and their situation. Not for the feint of heart, but still heart-warming, this is a novel that looks at the personal within a global setting.

The setting is global with the characters circling the globe in search of a missing sister. Ireland, New York, Japan, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Honduras, Mexico, and Cuba are all there and lend this novel a truly global perspective.

Memos From Purgatory. Harlan Ellison

Memos From Purgatory is two books in one - both of them memoirs rather than fiction. The Gang is the first book and goes back to 1954 when the 20 year old Ellison went "undercover" in a Brooklyn street gang for ten weeks. His depiction of gang life is very well done, but the writing is a bit dated by the constraints of the censorship of the time. It is all here, from his initiation, through his relationships with the gang members, up to the rumble with a rival gang that drove him off the project for good.

The second half of the book called The Tombs is from a time seven years later. Ellison was an established writer living in New York when he gets arrested and spends a day in the New York prison system before he makes bail. This seems to have been a harder experience for him than the ten weeks in the gang. He fears that he is going to lose his mind because of the panic reaction to being incarcerated. Since one night in jail doesn't seem to be so tragic, his whining can make this section of the book difficult to read. My personal guess is that Ellison was a control freak and being in jail was more than he could take. Yet his descriptions of the people he meets there is richly rewarding. His criminals, winos, derelicts, and guards are well portrayed and typical of the style of writing that has made him famous.

What makes this book a classic is the visceral and emotional writing style that Ellison employs. Even when I disagree with him most, in his diatribe against two gay black men in The Tombs, I am still taken with the power of his writing.

Kushiel's Chosen. Jacqueline Carey

Kushiel's Chosen is the second volume of a trilogy. In the first book, Kushiel's Dart, Jacqueline Carey introduces the reader to an alternative past for France called Terre d'Ange which is a land founded by Jesus and Mary Magdalene's son Elua and his 12 followers. Kushiel's Dart is Phedre, a young woman who was sold into prostitution by her mother, but who was raised to be a spy. After many adventures she foils the plot of Melisande Shahrizai to take over the country and becomes a national hero and a comtesse. However, Melisande escapes punishment in a mysterious jailbreak.

This second book picks up the action when Phedre receives a clue that Melisande may be hiding in La Serenissima, our modern Venice, and goes in search of her. As with the first book, there are lots of adventures, narrow escapes, and court intrigue. Many new characters are introduced and the struggle between Melisande and Phedre continues. There is even less BDSM than in the first novel, although the theme is still present.

There are enough background details in Kushiel's Chosen that it can be read without having read Kushiel's Dart. However, I can't see too many people wanting to do this. The plot structure of the two books is very similar which might irritate some readers of both books. Hopefully in the third, the author mixes it up a bit. Still, an impressive creation full of detail and very tightly developed for such a large book.

The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love. Jill Conner Browne

I am not one who normally likes Southern Writers, but when they are as positive and funny as Jill Conner Browne, I will gladly make an exception. This book kept me laughing from first page to last, while it dealt out such a self-affirming attitude about life that I came away from it feeling much more empowered than I went in.

I would have to say that the Sweet Potato Queens are not for everyone. Teetotalers, Bible-thumpers, and prudes will not be pleased. But if you want to be a Queen, not just for a day, but for the rest of your life, and you can stand a little raucous good humor, then this is the book for you.

Ironcastle. Philip Jose Farmer

Ironcastle claims to be more than a translation of an original French fantasy novel by J. H. Rosny. It is retold by the award-winning author Philip Jose Farmer, a person who has written his own variations on Tarzan and Doc Savage African adventures.

In this book Hareton Ironcastle gets a message from an explorer who is in a little explored region of Africa and has found plants and animals fantastically different than any others on Earth. Ironcastle gathers together a small group of adventurers to check out the fantastic claims and his only daughter convinces him to take her along.

In their attempts to find the lone explorer and to discover the eerie secret of this remote land, they face strange hostile tribes as well as domineering plants and hairy reptiles. It is a well-written adventure that moves along with well crafted characters and settings. A good read for anyone interested in this genre.

R. Crumb's Kafka. R Crumb

This is a great literary biography of Franz Kafka, written by David Zane Mairowitz, that is fantastically illustrated by Robert Crumb. It is an outstanding collaboration between a writer and artist, where each person's work enhances the finished product far more than just the sum of the parts. Mairowitz is a Kafka scholar whose words come to life with the brilliant illustrations of R. Crumb. Together they trace Kafka's life, his family and social influences, his relationships with women, and their effects on his various works. Truly a delightful introduction to Kafka and his writings that will serve as a model for future literary introductions.