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Archive for May, 2011


I have to admit that I have found time to sneak in reading several books other than those for 100 Years.100 Books. I’ not going to write full reviews, but will share what I have been up to from the current century!

  • Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan – The latest in Riordan’s Kane Chronicles which tells the story of two siblings, Carter and Sadie Kane, who discover they are descended from the Pharaohs of Egypt and are Magicians in the House of Life. The first entry in this series, The Red Pyramid, set the stage for a parallel adventure to Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, only this time using Egyptian gods rather than Greek gods. The stories are similar, but Riordan manages to pull off another interesting and action packed adventure. This guy has imagination. I have a bet with my son that the final entry in both series will be a joint adventure with the Kanes and Percy Jackson. Can’t wait to find out if I’m right!
  • A Lesson in Secrets: A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear – another entry in the Maisie Dobbs series, and every bit as well written and engaging as the others. This time, we find Maisie getting used to life as a wealthy young professional woman, figuring out how to use her newfound wealth to help those she loves, but also finding time to spy for the English government and solve a murder. Good stuff.
  • A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley – the newest Flavia deLuce mystery finds the intrepid 11 year old dealing with gypsies, the local cad breaking into her home at midnight, his subsequent death, and a strange odor of fish. I am convinced that Harriet, Flavia’s mother, is still alive. Again, good fun.
  • Lovely in Her Bones by Sharyn McCrumb – this was a re-read of one of McCrumb’s Elizabeth MacPherson stories. Just a few steps away from a Nancy Drew story, but a good, quick, mindless read nonetheless.

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A Mirror For Witches by Esther Forbes – I knew Forbes primarily from her Newbery winning novel for children, Johnny Tremain, so I was eager to read this book, which recounts the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials decades before Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

The book opens with Captain Bilby, an English merchant captain, rescuing a wild, goblin child from the scene of a horrific witch burning in France. He calls the child “Doll” because she reminds him of such a poppet, with her wild hair and button eyes. Doll, a child of 7 or 8, witnesses both of her parents being burned as witches, a trauma which shapes the rest of her life. Bilby’s wife is none to pleased when he returns to England with this odd, silent child. Eventually, the family makes its way to the Massachusetts colony, where Doll grows to womanhood never gaining the trust or love of her new mother.

Eventually, Doll attracts the attentions of  the son of a neighboring farmer, who finds himself attracted to her. The fathers agree this is a good match that will unite their farms and families. However, Goodwife Bilby accuses the girl of witchcraft, indeed has harbored the idea from the time the girl was brought into her home. The hysteria happening in Salem, located just a town away, seeps into the psyche of Cowan’s Corners, where Doll is accused of all sorts of evil doings.

Written decades before The Crucible, Forbes’ story of the Salem trials is told from a woman’s point of view, where sexual attraction and desire is looked on as devilment and the work of a witch, rather than as a natural human emotion. Forbes’ treatment of this dark chapter in American history is thoughtful, eloquent and horrifying at the same time.

I was able to find a copy of the 2006 reproduction printing of this book, done in authentic typesetting and accompanied by noteworthy woodcuts by Robert Gibbings. If you are fascinated by the hysteria that swept Salem in the 1600s, or if you are looking for a slice of women’s history, try this one. You won’t be sorry.

5 out of 5 catalog cards

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The Tower Treasure by Franklin W. Dixon – I had to read this for 1927 given the fact that I vividly recall trying to read every Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mystery published when I was a kid. The Tower Treasure was the first Hardy Boys mystery published and set the stage for the multitude of teen-based mystery serials that followed.

In The Tower Treasure, Frank and Joe become involved in a rash of robberies in their hometown, Bayport, one of which involves their best chum, Chet Morton. Frank and Joe are just getting their detective chops here, wanting desperately to be just like their Dad, the renowned detective and former NYC police officer, Fenton Hardy. The boys follow clue after clue while searching for the culprit who swiped a treasure in jewels and stocks from the local rick folk, the Applegates, who live at The Tower Mansion. Along the way, several chums help out, the boys frustrate the efforts of an inept detective wannabe, Oscar Smuff, and eventually find their way to the treasure, only to narrowly escape certain death, or at least a little discomfort when a nasty looking hobo locks them in a water tower.

The Hardy Boys is just one series written by the publishing group known as the Stratemeyer Syndicate, founded by Edward Stratemyer. This group was the first publishing unit known to direct its work at children, and its progeny include the Hardys, Nancy Drew, The Dana Girls, Tom Swift, The Rover Boys, and The Bobbsey Twins.

Re-reading this book after so many years was somewhat of a silly treat. The plot and the writing is very simplistic, and the good luck and coincidences experienced by the boys are almost too much to believe. However, for children reading this in the 20’s, 30’s and even into the 60’s and 70’s, the Hardys were It. Every boy wanted to ride motorcycles like Frank and Joe, and every girl wanted to be Callie (Frank’s sweetheart), or Iola (Joe’s girl).

If you were a Hardy fan in childhood, re-read a few of the original books for a quite afternoon reminiscing on the early days of your mystery reading when there were few corpses and certainly no serial killers.

5 out of 5 catalog cards for old time’s sake….

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