So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


A Grave Talent. Laurie R. King

A Grave Talent is the first novel written by Laurie R. King. it is also the first in a series of mysteries that features the detective Kate Martinelli, A lesbian detective in the San Francisco Police Department. It won the 1993 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

In this book Kate has just been promoted to detective and is assigned to work with a seasoned male detective who has recently transferred from Los Angeles. The case involves young girls who are strangled, but not molested, and left on the grounds of a rural gated community which is a home to various unconventional folks. When a famous female artist, who is living in the community under another name, turns out to be an ex-con who was convicted of murdering a child, it appears they have their culprit. Yet after meeting her, they start to have their doubts.

At first the young inexperienced woman and the hardened male detecive seem an odd couple that will not get along. Yet the novel is as much about their finding commonalities, and finally friendship, as it is about solving the high-profile case. This turns out to be a strong start to a mystery series that will deal with character development as well as criminal activity.

Laurie King has also written the Mary Russell series of historical mysteries involving a young woman and an older detective, the fictional Sherlock Holmes. She seems at home with the older man/young woman dynamics of both these series and brings a very human side to her characters while writing convincing mysteries.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Emerald Wand of Oz. Sherwood Smith

The Emerald Wand of Oz is an Oz story in the classic form created by L. Frank Baum over 100 years ago. Yet it has a modern flavor that may make it acceptable to a young audience.

It has a seal on the front cover proclaiming that Smith has an Official License to be Royal Historian of Oz that comes from The L. Frank Baum Family Trust. Before the Baum Oz books came into the public domain this was very important because the family trust controlled the use and depiction of the characters created by Baum. Lately this has been less relevant, and many authors have taken their hand to writing non-official Oz books with varying degrees of success.

In this book two sisters, from Lawrence Kansas, who believe they are related to Dorothy Gale get transported to Oz by a tornado. They get adopted into a community of children who groom a herd of wild unicorns, and pick up a strange friend who, like them, wants to escape from the possessive and vain unicorns. Their goal is to find Glinda and ask to be returned home to Kansas. Yet, as in so many Oz stories, there is a threat to the fairy land of Oz. This time it is the niece of the Wicked Witch of the West, who has taken up residence in her aunt's old castle, and has cast a spell on the fairy ruler Ozma, the good witch Glinda, and the Wizard. As in the classic Oz stories, a group of Ozzy characters who seem silly and helpless join together to defeat the villain and restore order. Once things are returned to normal, there is a banquet in the Emerald City, and the children are returned to their normal life much more mature and aware of the importance of group action and compassion.

This is planned to be the first of a three volume series by Smith, and so there are parts of the plot that do not get resolved. This gives the plot a loose feeling that Baum would never have tolerated. Sadly, Byron Preiss who was funding this project tragically died last July, and his publishing company declared bankrupcy this February. So the future of the project is deeply in question. Hopefully, someone will pick it up and see it to completion. Smith feels that the other two books are even better than this one, and it would be a shame if they never see print.
The Emerald Wand of Oz. Sherwood Smith

The Emerald Wand of Oz is an Oz story in the classic form created by L. Frank Baum over 100 years ago. Yet it has a modern flavor that may make it acceptable to a young audience.

It has a seal on the front cover proclaiming that Smith has an Official License to be Royal Historian of Oz that comes from The L. Frank Baum Family Trust. Before the Baum Oz books came into the public domain this was very important because the family trust controlled the use and depiction of the characters created by Baum. Lately this has been less relevant, and many authors have taken their hand to writing non-official Oz books with varying degrees of success.

In this book two sisters, from Lawrence Kansas, who believe they are related to Dorothy Gale get transported to Oz by a tornado. They get adopted into a community of children who groom a herd of wild unicorns, and pick up a strange friend who, like them, wants to escape from the possessive and vain unicorns. Their goal is to find Glinda and ask to be returned home to Kansas. Yet, as in so many Oz stories, there is a threat to the fairy land of Oz. This time it is the niece of the Wicked Witch of the West, who has taken up residence in her aunt's old castle, and has cast a spell on the fairy ruler Ozma, the good witch Glinda, and the Wizard. As in the classic Oz stories, a group of Ozzy characters who seem silly and helpless join together to defeat the villain and restore order. Once things are returned to normal, there is a banquet in the Emerald City, and the children are returned to their normal life much more mature and aware of the importance of group action and compassion.

This is planned to be the first of a three volume series by Smith, and so there are parts of the plot that do not get resolved. This gives the plot a loose feeling that Baum would never have tolerated. Sadly, Byron Preiss who was funding this project tragically died last July, and his publishing company declared bankrupcy this February. So the future of the project is deeply in question. Hopefully, someone will pick it up and see it to completion. Smith feels that the other two books are even better than this one, and it would be a shame if they never see print.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Hidden Journey: A Spiritual Awakening. Andrew Harvey

Hidden Journey reminds me of the Joan Osborne song "If God Were One Of Us." It tells the story of Andrew Harvey's nine years of spiritual growth while a pupil of Mother Meera, an woman who claims to be an incarnation of God on Earth. He meets Meera at the Aurobindo ashram in Pondicherry at the end of 1978 when he is 27 and she is 18. She has been brought there by Mr. Reddy, an Indian who had been seeking the Mother Goddess his whole life and discovered Meera when she was an 11 year old servant in his in-laws' home.

The book is more about Harvey's mystical journey, but people interested in Mother Meera will also find the book useful. He describes her silent meetings with followers (darshan) where she first holds the devotee's head in her hands and then looks into their eyes, supposedly imparting her grace in this process. Also her early life in India and Thalheim Germany are presented, but in a very subjective way through the practice of Mr. Harvey.

Since Mother Meera is silent during her public appearances, much of what we learn of her is from question and answer periods that Harvey held with her in private. However, even these are presented basically as leading questions by Harvey to which Meera agrees. The other method that Harvey uses to reveal her thoughts is through Mother Meera's voice in Harvey's head. He presents Meera as being able to communicate with him telepathically and many discussions in the book, presented in italics, are of this nature.

Another large portion of the book is devoted to the mystical gifts of visions and dreams that Harvey gets from Meera during his spiritual progress. Many of them are of glowing radiances, golden glows, and other lights. While these and other unusual occurences present a very lively and dramatic view of the mystical path, I found them repetative and skipped over a lot of them.

The book does present how an average human being with a fair share of personal problems can make spiritual progress through mystical practice. However, although Harvey made lots of progress, one gets the idea that he still has a way to go.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Daughters of Destiny. L. Frank Baum

Daughters of Destiny was originally published 100 years ago under the pseudonym Schuyler Staunton. This was the name Baum used for 2 of his novels written for an adult audience. It takes place in London and Baluchistan, on the Arabian Sea, which is now part of the countries of Pakistan and Iran. Famous for his children's books about the land of Oz, Baum was excellent at creating uncomplicated and strong characters and developing plots based on their interactions.

This book is no exception. A group of six Americans hires a Baluchi prince in exile to guide them to Baluchistan to negotiate the rights for a railroad. The prince is hoping to gain the throne when the current monarch dies. Their business plans get sidetracked by local intrigue over succession to the throne of the dying king.

Three of the Americans are women: the daughters of the two businessmen, and an aunt. They get swept up in the local affairs and romantic interests blossom. It is their destinies that drive the plot forward.

Baum's characters are either devious and plotting or noble and altruistic, and good wins out over evil in the end. Sadly, his ethnic portrayals are racist and stereotypical which makes this novel an interesting glimpse into the racial bias prevalent at the beginning of the 20th century. A good read for Baum fans and people interested in the portrayal of the Middle East in literature, but this will never be more than fringe literature in our modern culture.

The illustrations by Eric Shanower are well done and capture the essence of Baum's characters. While there is a hardbound edition limited to 250 copies, the complete work is also available in Oz-Story #4, both from Hungry Tiger Press.