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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

First Blush - A Meegs Miscellany

First Blush - A Meegs Miscellany (#652) is a diverting read, to be sure!  Robert Bruce Stewart has taken an element from his Harry Reese turn-of-the-century mystery series and fleshed it out here in a collection of jottings from the pen (and typewriter!) of his wife Emmie McGinniss Reese, co-authoring this volume under the name M.E. Meegs.

Many of the plots of the Harry Reese novels hinge on events Emmie has been inspired to write about and submit to various yellow journals under the pen name M.E. Meegs, hence the subtitle, A Meegs Miscellany,  She gleefully embroiders the actual people, places and problems to suit her own highly-overheated imagination and to serve her own purposes.  The reader is never actually given the opportunity to read any of Emmie's output; rather, they are referred to by either Harry or Emmie herself, or sometimes both in conflicting versions.  It's like watching the weekly dramas at the White House unfold...

In First Blush (which you probably will, as the materials here are rather risque!) the reader is at last given access to the source material, accompanied by marvelous period illustrations.  What a treasure trove!  Some of it is eye-popping, some comical, some ingenious; all of it a window on the character of Emily McGinniss Reese, sole occupant of the unique Emmie-Land.  It's a wonderful place to live for a few hours, but be glad that your residence there is temporary.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Jane Austen Project

What a diverting read!  The Jane Austen Project (#651) by Kathleen Flynn combines several of my favorite genres into an entertaining novel.  Jane Austen tribute?  Check.  The author, Kathleen Flynn is an editor at the Ne York Times, and a life member of the Jane Austen Society.  Time travel?  That's the whole point of the plot; in a future that has undergone drastic changes from our world, a secret team is assembled and trained to be able to successfully blend in when sent back to England in 1815.  Their mission?  To retrieve letters written to and by Jane Austen destroyed by her sister Cassandra after Jane's untimely death.  But paramount to their mission is retrieving the entire manuscript of Jane Austen's unpublished novel, The Watsons.  Key to their assignment, Dr. Rachel Katzman, an emergency medicine physician, and Liam Finucane, an expert on Beau Brummel, is that they do nothing to change history during their year-long stay..

Needless to say, things do not go as planned!  Rachel and Liam, posing as the Ravenswood siblings, do manage to meet and be taken up by Henry Austen, Jane's favorite brother, but becoming intimate with the Austen family generates unexpected consequences and dangers.  As they say, "Be careful what you wish for!"

If you are a Jane Austen fan, don't miss The Jane Austen Project.  What if she could be cured...?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Children Act

Although The Children Act (#650) is ostensibly about a family court judge deciding on whether a boy just short of his majority should be allowed to refuse a life-saving transfusion in keeping with his Jehovah's Witness beliefs, it's really Fiona's story.

Ian McEwan introduces us to Fiona on a Sunday evening when she's reviewing briefs for her next day's hearings in London's Family Court.  Her husband approaches her to tell her that he's going to have an affair.  Although she is preoccupied with cases, his announcement comes from out of the blue.  Before they can really get into it, a phone call interrupts.  Fiona will need to determine if a hospital can go ahead with a transfusion to save an adolescent's life.  A decision must be made within hours.  By the time things are settled for court, her husband is gone with his luggage and their car.

The middle third of this book deals with the issues both for and against the transfusion, moral, ethical and legal.  Under terms of the British The Children Act, Fiona must decide in the best interest of the child.  She feels the only way she can do this properly is meet Adam, the boy at the center.  It's a meeting that will profoundly affect everyone assigned to the case.  Without giving away the ending, I can say that things did not entirely work out the way I expected.

Mr. McEwan's writing is beautiful.  He manages to perfectly capture Fiona's devotion to her responsibilities, even when it come at the cost of her personal wishes.  She and her husband's roles in contemporary society are switched here, and thus even more clearly illuminated. A brief investment of your time will yield positive results in reading The Children Act.

Monday, May 1, 2017

American Gods

I saw that Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods (#649) was going to be on Starz, so I decided to finally read something by him.  It took me an awfully long time to get through American Gods.  I should have known; my husband kept commenting as he read it first, "This is a really odd book."

The premise, according to the Starz trailers, is that the old gods are fading, new gods are rising, and that a war between them is coming.  Odin is certainly trying to gin up his troops against the digital and media gods, using his hired lackey, Shadow to drive him around the country and run his errands, telling him that a war, is indeed, on its way.  As Shadow learns in the end, not so much.  We have all apparently been played by reading this book.

I know that Mr. Gaiman has a legion of avid fans.  He has a vivid imagination and a curious bent of mind (where does he come up with some of his ideas?), but I will never be one of them.  I regret the time I could have spent reading something else.  At least now I know.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Rain in Portugal

First of all, you have to understand that I am not normally a reader of poetry.  However, I have heard Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the United States, interviewed several times on NPR (including one memorable episode of Wait! Wait!), so when I saw of copy of The Rain in Portugal (#648) displayed on a shelf in my local library, I picked it up on a whim.  How was I to know that it was a portent?

Suffice it to say that most of the poems did not go where I expected, and therein lays their charm and delight for this reader.  I cannot say more in praise than I have determined to possess a copy of my own The Rain in Portugal to peruse whenever it takes my fancy.  Thus a fan is born.

Oh, I did mention that this slim volume was a portent, didn't I?  Before the week was out, I had booked my own trip there.  I promise not to write poetry about it!

Burning Blue

After hearing Paul Griffin speak at BookMania! recently, I had to read the book he spoke about, Burning Blue (#647).  Although it is classified as a Young Adult novel (which might put some adults off), this is an engrossing read.  It's all too easy to put yourself in the place of the young protagonists.

The plot revolves around a real-life incident which Paul Griffin responded to as a New York EMT, adapted to a high school setting.  In a matter of seconds, the life of Brandywine Hollows' most popular, brainy and beautiful girl is changed forever when someone throws acid in her face.  She is unable to identify her assailant, and thereby hangs the tale.  When a chance encounter in the school psychologist's office brings loner Jay in contact with her, he resolves to use his hacker skills to uncover the perpetrator.  There are many suspects, and many possible motives, but I have to admit, I never saw the end of this one coming!

It's easy to see why his young adult target audience relates so well to Griffin.  He and Jay Asher, the other Young Adult panelist, held workshops at a local high school before BookMania!, and arranged to have lunch with a group of them the day of the event.  His book touched on trigger points for this group: alienation from the group because you are somehow different, questions of identity and self worth; loss of a parent through death or divorce, love and friendship, trust.  Nothing could make this book more real or compelling.  Read it and find out for yourself.  Highly recommended.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Hidden Family

The Hidden Family (#646), by Charles Stross is the second book in his fantasy series, The Merchant Princes.  It picks up right where the first book left off (See my post of 3/20/17.), and ends with an event that the reader knows will be continued in the next volume.

We now have not two, but three alternate universes; the geographies of all three coincide, but their history, technological advances and politics do not.  Miriam Beckstein is determined to not become a victim in any of these worlds, and in a bid to keep her independence in the second world, she sees a way to create her own fortune in the third universe.  If she can stay alive, that is.  One of the unfortunate features of all three universes is that there are assassins who can reach her there.  She knows who she can trust in her own world, and gradually she is coming to trust others in her alternate universes.  Those are a lot of balls to keep in the air while walking between worlds, but that's the nature of the high stakes game she found herself in.

Can't wait to read the next installment!