Thale's Folly; Dorothy Gilman
        I was not aware that MS Gilman wrote anything other than her somewhat light-weight "Mrs. Pollifax" novels. Mrs. Pollifax is a fun character, and her adventures with the CIA are fun. I was somewhat startled when I found this book was NOT about Mrs. Pollifax. It is, instead, a charming, feel-good little story about Andrew Thale, a novelist who has writer's block and earns a living clerking for his father - a domineering, ambitious businessman. He is sent to Massachusetts to evaluate a property - Thale's Folly - that his father had inherited some years before, and which has been completely ignored for those years. Andrew manages to wreck the company car on the terrible road into the property, then finds that the property is far from deserted; the ramshackle house is home for four very unusual (almost other-worldly) characters. The story of Andrew's encounter and interaction with the four, and the changes that take place in his life, is amusing and touching, and will remain with the reader for quite a while - and induce a pleasant glow on recollection. It is one I shall re-read from time to time. Bette notes that it struck her as somewhat similar to Karon's books about the town of Mitford - light, pleasant, heart-warming, interesting, and captivating, but with some feeling of almost fantasy. I note with surprise that there are other, non-Pollifax books by Gilman. I must give them a try!
 Gilman,D.; Thale's Folly;$19.95;199pp;Ballantine;NY;1999; ISBN0-449-00364-7

The General's Daughter; Nelson DeMille      (pb)         I did not expect to write a note about this seven year old book; I picked it up for escape reading. But it is a much more interesting and unusual book than I expected. I see in the Baltimore SUN that a movie derived from the story is playing local theaters (with a bad review!). It is a police procedural mystery. However, the "police" are members of the Army's undercover Criminal Investigation Division (CID), and are assigned to the case of a very unusual death on a small Army post in Georgia. Capt. Ann Campbell, daughter of Lt. General Joseph Campbell - the commanding officer at the base - is discovered naked and dead on the base, staked out to four tent pegs. She has been strangled, and presumably raped. On the base, for other reasons, are Paul Bannan, an experienced CID operative, and Cynthia Sunhill, a CID rape counselor. Bannon and Sunhill had an affair when they were serving together in Germany, and parted on unfriendly terms. This is the first time they have seen each other since then. They end up assigned to the case. The story, told in the first person by Bannon, is one of meticulous sleuthing into what turns out to be a very bizarre, very complex affair - in which the killer and the reason for the strange murder turn out to be remarkably hard to determine - even 20 pages from the end!. The problem is severely complicated by pressure from the top, and remarkable corruption on the base. And, during the investigation, the two protagonists re-examine their relationship. The characterization is excellent, the plot interestingly complex, the dialogue is pointed, and the sometimes gritty humor is appropriate. Quite a surprise.
 DeMille,N.; The General's Daughter;$6.99;464pp;Warner Books;NY;1992; ISBN(none)

Beyond the Horizons:The Lockheed Story; Walter J. Boyne   (NF)         I did not read this book - I skipped through it, reading here and there. It is an attempt to write the complete history of Lockheed and its multiple divisions as well as all its products. It is FAR FAR more than either you or I wish to know. I note it here as a specialist book, and presumably the complete story (except for the F-22) - which has been addressed in various parts by other writers. I found it difficult to read; it struck me as more a compendium of facts than a narrative. I was struck by two things: First, Boyne sees Lockheed as a brilliant shining star that could do no wrong (well, hardly any, and if there was some it wasn't important, etc). Second: some things are missing. An old friend of mine who went to work for Lockheed when it began its missile work, left, discouraged, some time later. His comment was that the aircraft mentality attempted to squash the missile start in every way. There is essentially no mention of that, and I note my friend (who was at a high level) is not mentioned! However almost everyone else who was ever associated with Lockheed seems to be mentioned. In fact, the index is ONLY a list of names! There is NO subject index at all. A dense piece of work, but not, I think, a good one, although there are wonderful pictures of great aircraft, and here and there the narrative is enlightening. As I write this, there is an uproar about the procurement of the VERY expensive F-22. It is clear that both the Air Force and Lockheed knowingly misled the country - and Congress - about the costs of the thing. A fairly unpleasant story, it seems.
 Boyne,W.J.; The Lockheed Story;$29,95;542pp;St. Martins Press;NY;1998; ISBN 0-312-19237-1

Citizen Washington:A NOVEL; William Martin         I picked this up without examining its structure, and I was unhappy to find it as a novel told in MANY voices ranging from Martha Washington's to that of an Indian! With some reluctance I started to read it, and it gradually grew on me. In fact, now I can't imagine the story told in any other way! This is a detailed examination of George Washington, as seen by friends, non-friends, family, slaves, soldiers etc. etc.. It is a remarkable and enthralling story. There is a first person narrator, whose uncle, a newspaper publisher,  shared many experiences with Washington . When the uncle finds out that Martha Washington has burned all the letters that her husband wrote to her, he commissions the narrator to find out what was in the letters - i.e. get the lowdown on George. The uncle is concerned that the future will see Washington as a demi-god, and never know the real man. This leads the narrator to extensive interviews - which are in turn presented as first person narratives. The result is a truly engrossing portrait of Washington. I had no awareness of how very little I knew about the man. I do not know the accuracy of this portrait, but it certainly sounds right. The portrait is not particularly flattering of Washington as a General, or as a thinker. I did not know (or had forgot) how many battles he lost, and while following the revolution, I found myself beginning to fear that the British would win the war!!! The story is more than just an account of Washington, it is a fascinating view of those turbulent times - the developing of a new nation and a new concept of government. It is blindingly clear that Washington was the person who made it work. He may have been a mediocre - albeit lucky - general, but he was truly the saviour of his country. The story is a fine piece of historical fiction - with excellent story-telling.
 Martin,W.; Citizen Washington;$27;583pp;Warner Books,Inc;NY;1999; ISBN 0- 446-52172-8

Eminence; Morris West
        His Eminence is Luca, Cardinal Rossini, an Italian by birth, raised in Argentina where he served as a young parish priest, and where, in the mid seventies, he was stripped naked in front of his church, and flogged to almost a pulp by soldiers of the bloody Argentinian government. His life was saved by Isabel Ortega, who then nursed him back to health. They became lovers. He was smuggled out of Argentina. She returned to her husband. Luca became a protegé and advisor of the Pope, a confidential messenger and trouble shooter, and a brilliant diplomat. Ultimately the Pope made him a Cardinal. As the story opens, the Pope is on his deathbed. There will be a conclave of Cardinals to select a new Pope, and the story moves to that as a climax. But in the meantime the reader is caught up in the world and character of iron-willed Luca Rossini, complicated Vatican politics, and the details of an unusual love story. No one can spin a complicated story of passion, intrigue and suspense - centered around the world of the Vatican - better than West. A truly gripping story, with beautifully developed, eminently believable characters. Easily one of West's best stories (and he has written a lot of them!).
 West,M.; Eminence;$25;322pp;Harcourt Brace;NY;1998; ISBN 0-15-100439-0

Renewal:The Anti-Aging Revolution; Timothy J. Smith      (NF)         At my age one tends to  pick up this sort of book surreptitiously - just MAYBE it has a magic formula (or two). I write this note only to suggest to readers like me that they NOT read this book. If, however, you are impressed by the word "holistic", thrilled by the words "alternative medicine", and believe that your food is full of toxins, you may find this of interest. For twentyfive years Smith has been (in his words) a "...medical doctor practicing holistic medicine". He is an authority on Chinese medicine, and he founded the first public funded acupuncture clinic in the country - it says on the cover. There is good advice in the book (eat properly, exercise, avoid emotional stress, etc.). There is also advice that is highly questionable - touting of a variety of supplements that in fact have not been proven to be of any value, and some of which may be harmful! Smith is a firm believer in fortune telling by I Ching, which he describes as an invaluable tool for spiritual maintenance. He is basically a new-ager practicing medicine. Caveat!
 Smith,T.J.; Renewal;$?;598pp;Rodale Press;Emmaus;1998; ISBN 0-87596-508-3

Breath and Shadows; Ella Leffland
        A beautifully written, fascinating story. The third-person tale follows three related families:That of Thorkild, The Counselor, and Bodil his sister, in Denmark in the 1700s; Grethe and Holger, who live on the coast of Denmark in the 1800s; and Paula and Philip, American brother and sister living in the twentieth century. The structure of the book is one of successive shifts in time to the characters of interest. The key to the whole structure is the non-standard genealogy chart at the front of the book. The reader will find it helpful to look at the chart every time that the epoch shifts - until the chart is essentially memorized. The other thing that - in a vague sense - ties it together is the narrative about a cave, told in time sequences and printed in bold type. The well drawn characters capture the reader's interest as one follows them through pleasures, trials, tragedy and some madness. The book is about love, compassion and a search for meaning. Absolutely compelling - but it must be read with attention to detail. NOT for skimming.
 Leffland,E.; Breath and Shadows;$24;311pp;William Morrow;NY;1999; ISBN 0- 688-14271-0

God Among the Shakers:A Search for Stillness and Faith at Sabbathday Lake; Suzanne Skees                (NF)
        An unusual examination of the unusual religious group known as "Shakers". Unusual, in that it is in the first person, and the author is strongly present (sometimes a bit irritatingly so). However the author's presence is entirely appropriate - because the subtitle applies to her! She was in the book publishing business, then went to Harvard Divinity School for a "Master's in world religions". She read most of the history of the celibate Shakers during that period, and later, in some degree of emotional crisis, decided to stay for several weeks with the only remaining Shakers - then eight people who lived at Sabbathday Lake. She tells us of that stay in a series of ruminations, recollections, and interviews, and of the effect it had on her - a major one. The origin, spread, development, and major changes in Shakerism are effectively presented, and are somewhat startling to the uninformed reader. The original sect (and its subsequent forms) would today be considered as a cult, spread by the fiery zeal of an illiterate woman who was emotionally (not physically) traumatized by sex as a child. Members were celibate, caught up in fits of whirling dance, spoke in "tongues", and believed that the founder was in essence a manifestation of Christ. Later the group pretty much began and vigorously promoted Spiritualism in this country, and reported vivid encounters with spirits of the dead. Skees narrates how, over time, the sect mellowed and changed, gradually discarding the things that appeared to many as outlandish, culminating in the quiet communal living and worship of the surviving group. It is a fascinating tale. Interspersed are the feelings, thoughts and concerns of the highly sexed, this-worldly author. Some of these are distracting, and some seem somewhat surprisingly naive for a person who has traipsed through Harvard Divinity School. The language is great (with a few peculiarities), and the result is a very engrossing narrative. There is a selected, but comprehensive bibliography for those interested. And, naturally, there seems to be a Shaker Society WEB site!!  www.maine.com/shakerlibrary
 Skees,S.; God Among the Shakers;$22.95;275pp;Hyperion;NY;1998; ISBN 0-7868- 6237-8

Ahmed's Revenge; Richard Wiley
        A well told, intriguing tale of Africa, spun by Richard Wiley, and involving a number of somewhat strange - but interesting - characters. The only real-life character is Ahmed, of the title. However, Ahmed is an elephant, and dead! The story is laid in Kenya, in the mid seventies. The first person narrator is Norah Grant, who starts the story with a riff on the opening of Baronesse Blixon's (Isak Dineson) classic tale: "Out of Africa." Norah, too, has a farm in Africa; a coffee farm that she and her husband Jules own and operate near Nairobi. The story begins as Norah sees her husband in a situation that suggests he is associated with smuggling elephant ivory (tusks) out of Africa - a thing that she feels is absolutely impossible. Before she can query Jules, he dies - under mysterious circumstances - and Norah is threatened by a Mr. Smith, who "wants it back." Norah doesn't know what "it" is. The rest of the story is of Norah's quest to find out what was going on with Jules, what "it" is, and who Smith is. And, when it becomes clear that Jules was murdered, to get even! [a gal after my own heart!] Ahmed, the dead elephant, plays a cameo but crucial role. Although Norah concludes, at the end, that Ahmed has revenge, it seems to me that it is Norah who has revenge - in a very strange way. The book has flaws. Norah notes at one point that she feels there is a certain randomness in her story - and that is certainly true. It seems to me that there is a problem with the African detective - the feeling is that the author didn't quite know what to do with him; and in a deus-ex-machina development, there is inserted into the story an opera singer. Minor carping aside, it is a dandy, somewhat off-beat story that is pleasantly convoluted!
 NOTE: As indicated on the first page, in the presentation of the contents of the real sign (including the Swahili) in front of the effigy of Ahmed in Nairobi, the effigy is a reproduction in plastic. The reason given is that ordinary taxidermy was not possible. Locally, the rumor is that in fact the skeleton (or the "stuffed" real carcass) is hidden elsewhere. However, certainly not at the second (fictional) edifice mentioned at the end of the story! Ahmed had a brother, Muhammed, who is still roaming the game preserve (or was several years ago).
 Wiley,R.; Ahmed's Revenge;$23.95;320pp;Random House;NY;1998; ISBN 0-679- 45744-5

Irish Mist; Andrew Greeley          (series)         Couldn't read it. Another in the series that Father Greeley created starring Nuala McGrail and Dermot Coyne. I note it here only to inform aficionadas (and aficionados) of Greeley. Another of Greeley's attempts to deal with a piece of Irish history in a sort of mystery story. The history in this book is (except for real characters) a figment of Greeley's imagination; and since he returned his characters to Ireland, the convoluted, "Irishisms" are more than I could handle! I grew up with five Irish uncles, and I have spent time in Ireland; the syntax that Greeley uses I have rarely heard. It is rather what the non-Irish imagine that the Irish speak! In his last book in this series (which I read and enjoyed) I noted (see earlier notes) that he had finally avoided the "Irishisms". He's back to it! I skimmed the story - not much mystery either; just a lot of SEX! [nothing wrong with that of course - and not bad for a RC priest. My Irish mother would be horrified! I THINK!]
 Greeley,A.; Irish Mist;$23.95;pp319;Tom Doherty Ass.;NY;1999; ISBN 0-312- 86569-4 Crazy

Crazy Horse; Larry McMurtry             (NF)         This small book is a very interesting read, and a bit puzzling. It is the latest in a series of biographies that Penguin has been publishing in its "Penguin Lives" series. The series includes books on Proust, Mozart, Andrew Carnegie, Dante, etc......and now Crazy Horse! Puzzling because there is almost nothing known about Crazy Horse - who the reader will recall (I hope) was a Sioux warrior who took part in the battle of the Little Bighorn. Undaunted by the lack of facts, McMurtry writes what he can of Crazy Horse. He says he is not writing because he knows what Crazy Horse did - or thought. Rather to express his notions about what he meant to his people in his lifetime, and also what he has come to mean to generations of Sioux in our century and "even our time". I don't think he succeeded. I'm glad I read the book, but it is clear that VERY little is known about Crazy Horse, and I did not get any impression that suggested to me that Crazy Horse really mattered in the West - or in history! Of course I am getting old and cynical! There are a very interesting few pages at the end, entitled "Sources."
 McMurtry,L; Crazy Horse;$19.95;148pp;Penguin;NY;1999; ISBN 0-670-88234-8

The Dog Who Bit a Policeman; Stuart M. Kaminsky    (series)         Kaminsky is an excellent teller of police and detective stories. One of his impressive characters is the hero of this one: Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov, senior investigator in the Office of Special Investigations, in Moscow. This is the twelfth in the series - and the stories remain continually good. I note this good one mostly for followers of the series. In this one, Rostnikov and his unusual underlings tangle with one of the Russian "Mafia" groups. As usual, the characters are very different, but the reader will probably find empathy with many of them.
 Kaminsky,S.M.; The Dog Who Bit a Policeman;$22;275pp;Warner Books;NY;1998; ISBN 0-89296-667-X

Scarpetta's Winter Table; Patricia Cornwell      (NF -sort of)         Cornwell writes crime novels featuring pathologist Kay Scarpetta. She is a good story teller, but I quit reading the series when a mysterious serial killer appeared in book after book. There is no serial killer in this book: it is basically a Cook Book! Cornwell provides a brief running narrative (no crime) featuring her character Scarpetta, Scarpetta's niece, and Pete Marino - a detective. Inserted in the narrative are recipes for a variety of edibles. The recipes are not in the conventional tabular form, and many do indeed sound tasty! Were I still cooking, I'd try quite a few. An elegant, delightful conceit. Interesting switch by the author, and the book has excellent, pertinent, and unusual photographs. In addition, one of the most delightful art pieces is to be found when one gets to the second leaf in the book. It is a lovely, misty, translucent snow scene, and when one presses it against the third (title) page, the effect is truly charming - and appropriate. There are unumbered pages at the end for notes that the reader may want to make about the recipes - or anything else!
 Cornwell,P.; Scarpetta's Winter Table;$19.95;91pp;Wyrick;NY;1998; ISBN 0- 941711-42-0

Hard Laughter; Anne Lamott          (pb)         I found this to be a very unusual, very interesting, pretty much plotless, fascinating story of a very off-beat (by my experience) but very close family in a VERY strange California town in the seventies. The 23 year old, first person narrator, Jennifer, recounts a period starting when her father, Wallace, was diagnosed as having a brain tumor. We meet her brothers Randy and Ben, and her close friend (and dream interpreter) Kathleen, her bright young friend, 10 year old Megin, as well as some lesser characters, and we follow their interactions as they worry about and comfort Wallace and each other. Jennifer also recounts her feelings and fears and actions in some detail. This is a very touching, intimate look at a close family - and close friends - during the period. The characters are clearly of the late sixties and early seventies: alcohol, marijuana, LSD, and casual sex are woven through the tale. It seems that a large portion of the town's inhabitants are highly neurotic, or truly psychotic! The family language is casually scurrilous and scatalogical, and young Megin is as accomplished as the others in the usage! Sounds terrible? Well, that is certainly not the kind of family that I am accustomed to, but it is a family that I grew very fond of, and felt intimately connected to! It is a very good novel. Don't be put off by my comments above - they are reader alerts, not condemnations. A wonderful experience indeed.
 Lamott,A.; Hard Laughter;$?;290pp;North Point Press;NY;1999[first p.1979]; No ISBN

London Holiday; Richard Peck
        I had never heard of Richard Peck (who seems to have written a couple dozen novels), and I cannot recall why I picked this up. When I came to read it, I read the jacket blurb, and had the feeling that I would not like it. I was terribly wrong - it is wonderful. The first 17 pages introduces the reader to Mrs. Smith-Porter, who runs a very up-scale B&B in London - in Chelsea. I fell hard for Mrs. Smith-Porter, and burst out laughing at several telling turns of phrase in the account of her. As the story starts, there arrive four American women who are taking a get-away- from-it-all vacation for ten days. They are Leslie, a society type, Julia, a successful interior designer; and Margo, a public school teacher, and Kimberly, Margo's 17 year old daughter. The three older women are childhood friends who have maintained the friendship over the years. The author tells us of their childhood, and their various lives up to the time that they take off for the vacation. When that narrative started on page 18, I found an immediate drop in my interest - the wonderful Mrs. Smith-Jones was not present! However, I stuck to it, and gradually the three women became interesting and likeable, and I was caught up in their different lives and relationships. Finally we go back to the beginning, and the three arrive at the B&B (with Kimberly in tow) and meet the proprietor, who ends up figuring large in their lives. We are told of the activities that completely change the lives of the three in the next ten days. I was totally enchanted by the story. I am not sure of the genre - it has a slight touch of fantasy that is perfect, but unrelated to the story line; I suspect it is a Romance in disguise. Regardless: It is a delightful, sometimes touching tale.
 NOTE: A few days after I wrote the above, I gave the book to Bette to read, and she was slightly puzzled. She told me that SHE had picked up the book at the Library, and wondered what had happened to it! So my lack of recall became understandable: I DIDN'T pick it up. Ah the problems of age.....
 Peck,R; London Holiday;$22.95;254pp;Viking-Penguin;NY;1998;ISBN 0-670- 87368-3

Keeping Faith; Jodi Picault
        I found this to be a remarkably entrancing read - and one that is hard to deal with in these notes without (I think) spoiling it somewhat for potential readers. I shall try - even though the jacket synopsis tells what I won't. I suggest that you NOT read the jacket. I won't say what the title means; it a very clever one, whose meanings are quite appropriate, but perhaps not what you expect! The well told story is several stories in one - all of them related. One is the story of a seven-year-old Jewish girl whose mother, Marcia White, come homes unexpectedly and finds her husband in bed with another woman. This is not the first time! Seven years before Marcia had a nervous breakdown because of a similar situation, and her husband committed her to an institution. This time she decides she will divorce him. The story is of the contested divorce proceedings, and the MAJOR complications that arise because of unusual actions by the little girl, whose sanity comes into question. A variety of extremely interesting characters appear, and a range of complicated and unusual feelings are explored. I was charmed by Marcia's mother, Millie Epstein - a shrewd, no- nonsense Jewish mother, and by the little girl (the age of our youngest granddaughter). It is essential that you read past page 60; otherwise you will gradually wonder why on earth you are reading of a failed marriage, etc. DON'T WORRY - you will be entranced. And the last page is a poignant, bitter-sweet ending that is absolutely correct! Interested now? I hope so. This could be a fascinating book for a discussion group - it could even be, and probably should be, controversial! I would greatly like to hear what others think of this unusual tale.
 NOTE: I watched with some amusement while Bette read the story. She read bits of it for four or five days, and was obviously not taken by it. On the fifth day she got to page 60 - and then she began to read it with intensity!
 Picault,J.; Keeping Faith;$24;422pp;William Morrow;NY;1999;ISBN 0-688- 16825-6

WEB psychos stalkers and pranksters; Michael A. Banks    (NF)    (pb)         The cover includes the comment:"How to Protect Yourself in Cyberspace", and that is sort of what this book is about. It was copyrighted in 1997, which means it was written in 1996. The Cyberspace world has changed - even in that time (including some of the WEB addresses presented) - so if the matter is of concern to you, check some recent materials. However the bulk of the general ideas and cautions remains about the same. I skimmed through the book, which is quite interesting, and I learned some things that I did not know. I think that if you are interested in the matter, you would profit from also skimming through it. You may - as I did - read more than you thought you would!
 Banks,M.A.;WEB psychos stalkers and pranksters;$24.99;376pp;Coriolis Books;Scottsdale;1997; ISBN -57610-137-1

The Ghost of Hannah Mendes; Naomi Ragen                   A mesmerizing novel about Sephardim that alternates between the present, and the world of the 16th century and the Spanish Inquisition. In the present: wealthy, 74 year old, Catherine da Costa, a Sephardic Jew who is dying of cancer, realizes belatedly that her lineage, traceable from the 15th century, will probably come to an end with her two granddaughters, Francisca and Suzanne. They are fashionable young women who (like Catherine has been up till now) are uninterested in either their roots or their Judaism. The family is dysfunctional - their mother can't get along with the young women, and none of them get along well with Catherine. The dying Catherine is in utter despair. Then she is visited by the ghost of Hannah (Nasi) Mendes - her 16th century ancestor who observes that Catherine and her family have squandered everything that the 16th century family lived and died for - they have lost their roots and their faith. The ghost lays out a plan to change things. The young women are to be sent on a quest for a handwritten manuscript (written by Hannah) which is a recounting of her life and the times. And so the quest begins. The book alternates between the activities of the two women and the manuscript narration, with occasional quotations from a variety of references. This is really a fictional Romance- with-fantasy, combined with an historical novel. There actually is a Nasi- Mendes family, which has the roots described in the book. [There are two genealogy tables in the front. The first is genuine, the second (which shows Catherine) is not]. Many of the references are real, and the quotations from them are no doubt accurate - but some references are imaginary, I think. The Romance part (the present) is a very good tale of the Romance type, but the historical part is tremendous in impact and emotion, a story of the Spanish Jews and the Catholic Church's Holy Office, the Inquisition (known in its present form as the Congregation of the Faith). Happy, feel-good ending to the Romance leaves the reader with a warm glow, but also with a nagging feeling of horror at the terrible events in the past. Ragen,N.; The Ghost of Hannah Mendes;$24;384pp;Simon and Schuster;NY;1998; ISBN 0-684-83393-X

The Agent; George V. Higgins
        The agent is Alexander Drouhin. He runs the biggest, most successful sports agency in the country. His theory is that greed is what makes the world go round - and he can be as greedy - or more - than the people for whom he is agent. He is also losing track of the fact that his world is changing. Someone in his world does not like him, and he is discovered shot to death in his huge, secure mansion. Detective Lieutenant Francis Clay, of the Massachusetts State Police takes charge of the investigation. The story is told in the Higgins style - almost completely conversation. In the course of it, the reader will be exposed - in depth - to the world of professional sports, and the agents who represent the professionals. It may be more than she wishes to know! The conversation is in the authentic sounding, gritty dialogue that Higgens uses well. If you like Higgins, and wish to learn a LOT about the sports world and the sports world agents, this is for you.
 Higgins,G.V.; The Agent;$24;341pp;Harcourt Brace;NY;1998; ISBN 0-15-100357- 2

Scent of Magic; Andre Norton               (F)         I was a great fan of MS Norton's when she wrote science fiction, but gave up reading her stories when she moved into fantasy. For old times sake I decided to read this - her latest fantasy. She is just as good a storyteller as ever, even in telling a fairly stereotypical swords-and- sorcery (SAS) yarn. As with all such (I think), the world (not on Earth) is essentially equivalent to England in medieval times [I noted several medieval English words - e.g.: garderobe, and a number of plant names that are earthly in origin!]. A neat gimmick that makes it a bit different is that the "magic" (de rigueur in SAS yarns) is, in this one, centered on the sense of smell! There are, of course, the obligatory castles, courts, intrigue in the courts, beautiful young royals, evil, the equivalent of a quest, etc. And, as always, the ultimate cause of all the trouble lies with the DARKNESS, which must be overcome by the LIGHT. [shades of Zoroaster!]. Dandy yarn of the type; however, a type in which I am no longer interested!
 Norton,A.; Scent of Magic;$23;361pp;Avon Books;NY;1998; ISBN 0-380-97687-0 20

A Midwinter's Tale; Andrew M. Greeley
        I was astounded and intrigued by this dandy story. Readers of these notes will know that I consider Father Greeley (who is only a few years younger than I) to be a first class story teller, one whose books (a few) I sometimes can't finish because of exaggerated "Irishisms" of his characters' conversation, or because of irritation with his sexually obsessed angels! His stories always (almost) center around Chicago Irish families, and there is almost always a series of familiar peripheral characters - frequently including clergy. I picked up this one to see if I could read it, and was astounded to find myself in a totally new fictional world of Greeley's! True, the first person narrator is a Roman Catholic American from Chicago, is of Irish descent, is markedly self-deprecating (in fact far too much so - it sounds fishy after a while), is disturbingly unaware of how he appears to others, is dominated by Irish women, etc., but these usual factors are props. And the author has avoided his usual excessive fascination with detailed sex scenes. What we have is a narrative by Charles "Chuck" Cronin O'Malley about his growing up and coming of age - first in Chicago during the Depression years of the thirties, then in Bavaria after WWII. The story, after about a hundred pages or so, is primarily of the latter two years, from 1946 to 1948. Chuck joined the Army in 1946, and ended up in the U.S. Army Constabulary, an organization created to police the American sectors after the war. His activities there are page-turning reading. He becomes involved in the shattered lives of several German civilians, and in the investigation of a major smuggling operation, and he matures as a gifted photographer. He is a nice, compassionate, tough, lucky guy, and this reader thoroughly enjoyed meeting him. It is quite possible that this book appealed greatly to me because of the time and setting. I, like Greeley and Chuck, lived through the Great Depression, and felt many of the feelings that Chuck reveals, and the post-war concerns are right on too. Regardless: it is an engrossing adventure, and I gather it is the first of another series. I have some reservation about the probable continuation: I suspect Chuck may simply become another of the extended Chicago Irish family in Greeley's other books. I was intrigued to find that Bette was not sure that she wanted to finish the book when she found out that none of the Greeley characters she had known were in this one! She persevered - and liked it.
 NOTE:I finally figured out, sometime after reading the book, why I was uneasy about Chuck's lack of self perception. In C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape tells his apprentice devil, Wormwood, to arrange that the man he is attempting to harvest should be brought to the point where he is completely unable to see in himself what his friends, coworkers, and family are aware of! To some degree Chuck is already in that dangerous situation!
 Greeley,A.M.; A Midwinter's Tale;$24.95;383pp;Tom Doherty Ass.;NY;1998; ISBN 0-312-86571-6

The Einstein Papers; Craig Durgo
        Durgo is cited as the co-author (with Clive Cussler) of The Sea Hunters, a book I noted in an earlier publication of annotations. There was no indication of what Durgo had to do with that book (which I did not care for), and I picked up this out of curiosity to see what Durgo produced on his own in his first novel. What he produced is a Clive Cussler type novel, without the skill of Cussler. It is a faintly science fiction, macho, daring, vigorous adventure, in which a Dirk Pitt type of character saves the world from major warfare - with the aid of a staunch aid - a guy sort of like Pitt's strong right arm. Al Giardino(?). The hero doesn't bed nearly as many women as Pitt - but, of course, he is just starting his career in novels! The story has Albert Einstein accomplishing the complete development of his Unified Field Theory, just as the USA drops the first atomic bombs. Realizing that the solution to the field equations could produce unbelievably powerful destructive weapons that would make nuclear weapons seem like toys, he decides to keep the theory out of the hands of others. Well - sort of. Obviously he could have destroyed all his papers that dealt with the subject, but it seems that he really couldn't bring himself to do that. Rather, he arranged for them to be securely hidden. Well - sort of securely. The story (in the present) recounts a situation in which  China becomes aware of the fact that Einstein had probably solved the Field equations, and sets out to get the secret in order to force the USA to not intervene when China moves to take back Formosa (Taiwan).  A super-secret US intelligence action group learns of the situation, and with much adventure, derring-do, and technology sets out to thwart the Chinese. The story is clearly a first time novel, the characters are two dimensional, the writing is actually amateurish in places, and it is a faint shadow of Cussler's polished, rip-roaring yarns. However, like Cussler's stories (which I enjoy), it is a no-brainer, and would probably be a satisfactory beach read if one simply suspended the type of critical attitude that I seem to have displayed here!
 Durgo,C.; The Einstein Papers;$23;355pp;Pocket Books;NY;1999; ISBN 0-671- 03489-8

McNally's Dilemma; Vincent Lardo (NOT Lawrence Sanders!)         This is really an eybrow raising fraud! The cover boldly shows Sander's' name at the top - as with all the other McNally novels, and the Library of Congress PIP listing shows Sanders as author, but VERY tiny print in the front pages notes that Lardo was commissioned to write the book based on the characters and world that Sanders created [Sanders is, of course, dead]. The style is a ragged imitation of that used by Sanders in his no- brainer McNally novels; the flow is jerky. It may even be a good story; I did not read it. I started, and for some reason that I could not later reconstruct, I felt something was wrong, and finally found the fine print. As a matter of PRINCIPLE I then quit reading it! You might like it, but I suspect only if you have not read Sanders.
   NOTE: I also shall skip the usual details - as a matter of PRINCIPLE.

The Ironic Christian's Companion:Finding the Marks of God's Grace in the World; Patrick Henry                (NF)         This is NOT a recently discovered writing by THAT Patrick Henry. It is an interesting personal commentary by a contemporary Patrick Henry, a clergyman who considers himself an Ironic Christian - but doesn't quite define one. Rather, he emphasizes the phrase that is the subtitle, and recounts various encounters with what he sees as God's Grace, and what he learned from these encounters - usually a totally different perspective on something. I cannot describe in this space the way in which he reveals himself and his experiences - HE had to write a book to do that! I found the effect to be cumulative, intriguing, and I believe I would be properly placed in the category of "Ironic Christian" - and I can no more describe it in a sentence or two than Henry could! The story appeals to the reader's mind and faith, and even creative instincts! I found it a very worthwhile book; in fact I bought a copy!
 Henry,P.; The Ironic Christian's Companion;$23.95;273pp;Riverhead Books;NY;1999; ISBN 1-57322-107-4

I'm a Stranger Here Myself:Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away; Bill Bryson                  (NF)         Bryson is an American who lived in England for twenty years, returning in the mid nineties with a British wife, and children. A British newspaper editor talked him into writing a series of weekly comments about his "new" environment, and, I gather, this book reproduces those essays - modified for American audiences, but it seems to me some may have been written for this book. The total is seventy. They are, for the most part, very clever, humorous, perceptive comments. There are a number (10?) that are significantly inferior to the others; the humor is forced, and give one the impression of a Dave Barry column: e.g. an article on setting up a new computer. Those are easily recognized, and readily skipped. The others are delightful. I'm glad I read it.
 Bryson,B.; I'm a Stranger Here Myself;$25;288pp;Broadway Books;NY;1999; ISBN 0-7679-0381-1

Fludd; Hilary Milton                 (F?)     (pb)         The time is the fifties (presumably), the place is an imaginary village in the English moors, and the action centers on the local Roman Catholic Church. The priest hates his Bishop, and is at odds with the local Mother Superior of the nuns. Then a new curate arrives: Fludd, and the world becomes somewhat less predictable. Fludd is a mysterious character, and gradually the local church world and its inhabitants undergo transformations. This is a subtly magical story that I have classified as fantasy. Fludd, the reader gradually realizes, is PROBABLY the reincarnation of a a real historical personage, a 16th century physician and alchemist, Robert Fludd, who was deeply involved in the occult as well as in alchemy. And of course, the Bishop never sent him! This ten year old story is a clever fable, and an unusual study of a number of emotions. I found it entrancing. There is a little darkness, and some ambiguity, but it has a happy ending (or endings!).
 NOTE:This I found on the shelves of one of the reading rooms in Charlestown - the retirement community in which we now live. I would really enjoy knowing the person who bought it in England (or perhaps Canada) and donated it to the library here.
 Milton,H.; Fludd;£4.99;186pp;Penguin Books;London;1989; No ISBN

Found Money; James Grippando
        A very interesting, page-turner, mystery-suspense thriller that is beautifully convoluted, with plots within plots. Amy Parkens, a young mother, finds a package delivered with her mail: it contains $200,000, and no word of explanation. Ryan Duffy is a surgeon who has had a small town practice (of choice), and is not very wealthy. His father, an electrician, dies, but a few moments before his death he directs Ryan to the attic where $2 million dollars is stashed! Ryan sets out to find out what sort of undoubtedly illegal activity brought his father all that money. Amy sets out to find out who sent her the bundle of cash, traces the box back to Duffy's house, and the story is off and running. Layer after layer of past and present deceits are uncovered, and the reader is held spell bound to the very end. Great yarn
 Grippando,J.; Found Money;$25;336pp;Harper Collins;NY;1999 ISBN 0-06- 018263-6

Gideon's Spies:The Secret History of the Mossad; Gordon Thomas   (NF)         Mossad, short for "Ha Mossad le Teum" (the Institute for Coordination) is Israel's foreign intelligence collection agency, and covert foreign-action group. Thomas, a very prolific writer, has written here what he claims is an inside look at Mossad, a discussion of its known activities, and revelations of hitherto secret or closely held information about Mossad activities. His tale is tangled in time, and there is a large cast of characters, but it is a fascinating read that carries titillating surprises for the reader: e.g. a discussion of the how the activities of Mossad involving the French driver blamed for Princess Diane's death, may have contributed indirectly to the crash; recounting of the concern about a very highly placed Mossad intelligence source in Clinton's administration; the purported Mossad bugging of Monica Lewinsky's telephone conversations with Clinton, etc.. It is fun to read. BUT, the reader must remember that as the author says: over twenty five years of writing about secret intelligence taught him that "deception and misinformation are its stock in trade." He believes that he has been able to squeeze out the truth. I suspect that he may often be mistaken! By sheer accident I know about one of the things mentioned in a bit of detail - and he is wrong! There are a number of other errors that should have been caught in proof reading (weapon caliber numbers for example). The tale is probably part fantasy, part prevarication (by those who talked with him), and part truth. The problem is that you cannot distinguish among them - so don't try. Mossad is not a likeable outfit, and it is no friend of the United States, where it has had a very successful intelligence collection operation of long standing. Of course its mission is to contribute to the security of Israel - not to be friendly with the USA! It has been successful - despite some unbelievably stupid operations. It has had some remarkable, almost legendary, successes. The book has a distressing index, and a select bibliography. In the latter, are the two relatively recent books by Ostrovsky, and if this book interests you, read Ostrovsky.
 Thomas,G.; Gideon's Spies;$25.95;354pp;St. Martin's Press;NY;1999; ISBN 0- 312-19982-1

The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty; Carolyn G. Heilbrun   (AB)   (pb)         Readers of these notes will know that I am a great fan of Professor Heilbrun (and of her other persona: mystery story writer, Amanda Cross!) This small lucid and literate book contains essays in which she examines her perceptions of a variety of topics, looking at them with the advantages of age and experience. Included are comments on her academic life (she was a professor of English at Columbia, and hated the place!), her marriage, the interaction of young and old people, her feminism, androgyny, acquiring a dog, the joys of e-mail, England, memory - and more. All with occasional wry humor. occasional lecturing, and a great deal of candor. We learn very much about MS Heilbrun - and she is quite aware of how much she reveals. It is an interesting, touching, sometimes charming, sometimes sad, sometimes funny retrospective. I bought a copy, which I shall re-read from time to time. I recommend it highly.
 Heilbrun,C.G.; The Last Gift of Time;$12;223pp;Ballantine Books;NY;1997 ISBN: 0-345-42295-3

A Walk in the Woods; Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail; Bill Bryson             (NF)(pb)
        I never heard of Bryson till I read his I'm a A Stranger Here Myself (see note above). I enjoyed it, and bought this one.As the subtitle indicates, the first person narrative is about Bryson's involvement in a series of Trail hikes (the Appalachian Trail is, of course, the famous (or infamous) Georgia to Maine hiking trail). His first foray into hiking was a stretch from Georgia to the Skyline Drive in Virginia, and he was accompanied by Katz, an old friend, an overweight, recovering substance abuser - a very non-athletic type indeed. The story of their trek takes up a little more than half the pages, and is a remarkably interesting narrative. The teller gets the reader thoroughly immersed in the experiences and adventures of these two very atypical hikers. The Trail is a very rugged hiking experience, and creature comforts are few and far between, so a great deal of it was really hard going for them. After that, Bryson went back to New England, and he tells us of the many days he spent doing day-hikes along the Trail. Finally he teams up again with Katz to hike the trail in Maine. In between accounts of life on the Trail, Bryson provides very perceptive observations of the Trail, its origin and maintenance (sort of), the unbelievably atrocious maps available, the mind-boggling actions of the Park Service in general, and a variety of insightful comments on places, people, things, and some aspects of American society. It is a very humorous, rewarding, fascinating, sometimes touching, leisurely read. And this reader, to his surprise, developed an affection for Katz - a weird character indeed!
 Bryson,B.; A Walk in the Woods;$13;276pp;Broadway Books;NY;1999; ISBN: 0- 7679-0251-3
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Night Gardening; E.L.Swann
        This is one of the most magical books that I can remember reading - and there is no "magic" or fantasy in it! I found it an astoundingly gripping, mesmerizing, love story, unlike any I have ever read before - and I'll bet that will hold for you! It is NOT a Romance - at least not the stereotypical, bodice-ripping kind (Bette says it really IS a Romance, regardless....) She brought this home, and urged me (several times) to read it. When I found that one of the main characters is a sixty year old, Irish- American widow, Maggie Flaherty Welles, who has had a crippling stroke that has left her partially paralyzed and with great difficulty in talking; and who has two grown children who are alcoholics - I decided that it sounded like something I would gladly skip. Bette was insistent - I reluctantly agreed to read it. Unbelievable! In 213 pages, with literate, beautiful storytelling (including sentences and paragraphs that I have to restrain myself from quoting) Swann has crafted a striking, unusual, imaginative, and truly lovely story about a variety of deep emotions. Maggie lives in her big old house with its decayed garden (gone to pot since her stroke), with a care giver, Susy. The large house next door is purchased by a rich couple, who want a very elaborate garden created, and hire the best known landscape architect in the business: handsome, long- divorced, Tristan Mallory - a man in his sixties. Maggie and Tristan become friends, and the story is of a remarkable, developing relationship that is cemented by their love of plants and gardens - a relationship that changes them both. It is also a story of Maggie's two children and her ambivalent relationship with them. The characters are beautifully drawn, remarkably appealing, and the book is highly charged emotionally at least for some of us in the older age bracket!  (including the stirring, in me at least, of great anger at one point!) - It is a heart warming narrative of a variety of types of love (it will perhaps have dawned on you that I was overwhelmed by the book!) I'd be interested to know what younger readers think.
 Swann,E.L.; Night Gardening;$16.95;213pp;Hyperion;NY;1999; ISBN 0-7868-2

Stonewalls's Gold; Robert J. Mrazek
        A short novel of the adventures of a 15 year old boy - Jamie (James Christopher Lockhart) - who is living in Port Republic, in the Shenandoah Valley, in the last days of the Civil War. His family is Confederate; his father is in the army. His mother rents rooms, and as the story starts she takes a rough, uncouth boarder - Confederate corporal Blewitt. As the story progresses, we learn that the corporal is seeking a hidden hoard of gold. Jamie kills Blewitt when the latter attempts to attack his mother, and finds, on Blewitt, a map. The story follows Jamie as he attempts to find the hidden gold with the aid of a beautiful, savvy young woman who is a crack shot, and out for vengeance on the people who killed her father and who are trying to force Jamie into revealing what he knows about "Stonewall's gold". It is a good, vigorous adventure-quest yarn, and has a lot of telling views of the desolate times in the area at the end of the "War Between the States". Still: it shows, I think, that it is a first novel - a touch juvenile, with a certain amateur storytelling flavor to it. I enjoyed it, and I couldn't help comparing it (unfairly) to Cold Mountain".
 Mrazek,R.J.;Stonewall's Gold;$22.95;223pp;St.Martin's Press;NY;1999;ISBN 0- 312-20024-

The Lazarus Child; Robert Mawson           (SF?)         Elizabeth Chase is an outstanding American neurologist who is obsessed with finding a therapy for children who have become comatose via trauma. She undertakes to treat, via her controversial technique, young Britisher Frankie Heywood, who has been in a deep coma ever since she was hit by a bus while her older brother, Ben, was escorting her to school. Ben is sinking rapidly into guilt-stricken depression. Chase electronically couples Ben's, and his sister's minds in a shared, strange, other-world environment, and tries to get Ben to "escort" his sister back to the real world. It is a different kind of science fiction that I found somewhat hard to read and get involved with. It is an episodic tale that jumps back and forth in locale and time, and the characters are not well developed. The concept is intriguing, but it's not well told.
 Mawson,R.; The Lazarus Child;$23.95;303pp;Bantam Books;NY;1998; ISBN 0-553- 10994-4

Tuesdays With Morrie; An old man, a young man, and life's greatest lesson; Mitch Albom
        In this true story, Albom had Maurice Schwartz as a college professor at Brandeis in the late seventies. Schwartz, whom he called "Coach", was his favorite professor, and the student and professor became close friends. After graduating, Albom, a musician, drifted around, finally becoming a famous sports writer, radio commentator, and radio show host. He lost contact with his professor, who ended up with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis ("Lou Gherig's Disease"), a progressive neurological ailment that gradually causes all muscles in the body, including the muscles of respiration, to become useless, so that the victim gradually becomes completely helpless, and ultimately dies very unpleasantly. Albom learns, via a TV show, that his old professor and mentor is dying, and goes to see him. Thus begin weekly visits, on Tuesdays. In this small book, which is an account of Morrie's dying an undignified death with dignity, Albom relates his discussions with Morrie about the old man's feelings and philosophy, and the problems of both living and dying. It is an interesting, and touching book. It is also somewhat disjointed, the philosophy is to a large degree a set of nearly trite homilies, and it is probable that Albom will not change his life style regardless of Morrie's advice. Regardless: I am glad I read it; and I hope that if I ever suffer the agonies of Job that Morrie did, I will be able to say as Morrie did (smilingly) about Job's travails: "I think God overdid it".
 Albom,M; Tuesdays With Morrie;$19.95;192pp;Doubleday;NY;1997; ISBN 0-385- 48451-8

Act of Revenge; Robert Tanenbaum         (Series)         This is the latest in the series about Butch Carp, and Marlene Ciampi; a series that I thoroughly enjoy - as readers of these notes will know! [Tanenbaum is always indicated as author, but his regular flowering acknowledgement of a colleague who is "...solely responsible for the excellence of this manuscript..." makes me suspect that the writing is in fact done by his colleague!] Regardless, it is another dandy yarn that is FAR more complicated in plot and characterization than the others in the series. In this one, Carp is Chief Assistant District Attorney in the city of New York, and his wife, feisty Marlene is an attorney working for a security organization, and a specialist (and activist) in cases that involve abused women. They have three children: four year old twin boys, and twelve year old Lucy. Lucy is a linguistic genius who can learn to speak a foreign language, fluently, in a month or so. Lucy speaks Cantonese and Mandarin like a native Chinese, is a totally accepted outsider in Chinatown, where she goes to school with her two closest friends - Chinese girls. She and her friends witness the murder of two men, an thus begins the deeply convoluted story about power struggles within the Mafia community, and plotting and actions by members of Chinese Triads, as well as involvements of Marlene with the world of abused women. Far too complicated to try to outline here. The characters are well honed in this story, the emotions are very complicated, but persuasively real (Lucy, whose character is being developed beautifully, is at the stage where she cannot stand her mother - and that relationship is sensitively and persuasively described). I usually read these stories at a good clip; this one took a LOT more time.
 Tanenbaum,R.; Act of Revenge;$25;402pp;Harper Collins;NY;1999; ISBN 0-06- 019218-6

Local Girls; Alice Hoffman
        Several of Hoffman's books have enchanted me (see earlier notes), so I brought this small book home. If I had realized it was a related series of previously published stories I would not have tried it (despite my liking for her earlier books, and the devastatingly charming portrait of Hoffman on the back cover!) Thus, I read it - and although it is quite different from her others, I found it fascinating, albeit a bit disjointed: it shows the individual-stories beginning. It is the story of Gretel Samuelsen, her brother Jason, her mother Frances, her cousin Margot, and her best friend Jill. Gretel begins the book with a first person narrative as a pre-teen, then we follow the story of her and her family to a time where she has been out of college for some years. The voices and tenses change, but the story flows as well as one can expect from a kluged together set of stories. It portrays (well) feelings of rebellion, love, grief, betrayal, loyalty and loss. It is not a feel-good, happy-ever-after yarn, but it is a surprisingly profound examination of deep emotions and relationships. I had decided that Hoffman had left  her wonderful bits of magic out of this one, then I got to the part - 20 pages from the end - where Margot, desperate for a child,  goes to Natalie LeFrance (next to a Dunkin Donuts), who could cure "...whatever afflicted you for $150". Funny, sad, touching, perceptive, realistic, slightly ephemeral set of stories. I suspect they might have even greater impact on a female reader than on this old(er) male - who was taken with them. Bette thought it didn't hold together very well.
 Hoffman,A.; Local Girls;$22.95;197pp;G.P.Putnam's Sons;NY;1999; ISBN 0-399- 14507-9

Younger Than Springtime; Andrew Greeley         (Series)         Earlier in these notes I remarked on what seemed to me to be a quite different approach of Father Greeley to storytelling about the Chicago Irish, and I expressed VAST relief that Greeley had abandoned verbal "Irishisms" (as well as sexy angels!). The first book in this new series (new for me, at least) was "A Midwinter's Tale", in which we met Charles O'Malley (from Chicago) and read of his adventures as an Army sergeant in post-WWII Bavaria. In this one Charles (Chuck) is back home, involved in various problems associated with a college education, involved with the light of his life - Rosmarie Clancy - who has become an alcoholic, and learning a great deal about his parents. Greeley scatters through the yarn some light-weight history of the post war years as he moves Chuck through a period at Notre Dame, then the University of Chicago, all the while involved (platonically, but in extensive chapters) with Rosmarie, with a passing fling with the lovely Cordelia. There is a mid-portion where the Narrator is Chuck's father - in a manuscript that his father gives to Chuck. That too is a good yarn within a yarn - a form that I usually do not care for. Chuck continues to be a (pathologically?) self-deprecating individual, and somewhat irritating in his role as foil for his sisters and others. That part of the story is saved because Chuck sees exactly what is going on. I was startled by Greeley's description of the ghastly educational environment at Notre Dame in the post-war years. I gather Greeley was there, and he is monumentally acidic in his comments about the (then) mindless, dogmatic Roman Catholic approach to education, and the ferocious attacks on anyone who tried to take an unbiased view (see the very last page). Again, I can see why the Church may have acid-stomach symptoms over Greeley! I enjoyed this story, despite too many introspective ramblings. I like the characters very much, and I shall read - eagerly - future tales in this series.
 Greeley,A.; Younger Than Springtime;$24.95;348pp;Tom Doherty Ass;NY;1999; ISBN 0-312-86572-4

The Passenger, Patrick A. Davis
        A good, crisp story that produced some feeling of Deja Vu (all over again, as Berra used to say). A military Lear Jet crashes in Maryland, shortly after take-off from Andrews AFB. It carries a passenger: Joshua Thurston, half brother of the President of the United States. Naturally, the crash investigation becomes high priority. Young Air Force Colonel John Quinn, is head of the Air Force Safety Liason Office, and is appointed to head the investigation by his boss, General Cramer, Chief of Air Force Safety - a man who does not like Quinn, for reasons that baffle Quinn. The story is a crash-investigation procedural that gradually turns into a complicated mystery. Quinn's ex-wife appears as crash investigator for the National Transport Safety Board, and seems to be intent on placing the blame on the pilot of the jet. Pressure to come to that conclusion appears, but Quinn, and the man he gets to assist him - expert Ted Chen - continue to unravel an increasingly strange and complicated situation. Good story of a very familiar type (somewhat far fetched, however), good story telling, and interesting characters. I was a bit taken aback that the author, who is obviously familiar with Andrews AFB and its surround, kept writing "Oxen Hill" instead of "Oxon Hill" [where we used to live] as one of the nearby locales.
 Davis,P.A.; The Passenger;$24.99;370pp;G.P.Putnam's Sons;NY;1999; ISBN 0- 399-14491-9

Southern Cross; Patricia Cornwell      (Series)         A novel or so ago, Cornwell left her Kay Scarpa series to write a very intriguing police procedural, Hornet's Nest, about a female dominated police department in Charlotte, NC, and the women who controlled it - as well as the male helpers. She continues it with this one, in which the scene is now Richmond, VA, but again stars Judy Hammer, who has taken the temporary job as chief of police, in order to straighten out the police force. She has brought along Virginia West, as deputy, and an assistant Andy Brazil. Hammer is resented by the police force, and most of the city, and has a tough job. I didn't read the book beyond page 100 - despite my enjoyment of the previous one in this new series. The situation seemed wrong, the characters have turned into cardboard cut-outs, and accounts of juvenile gangs and criminals is a turn off(the dedication is to someone concerned with juvenile justice). Bette did not finish it.
 Cornwell,P.; Southern Cross;$25.95;358pp;G.P.Putnam's Sons;NY;1998; ISBN 0- 399-14465-X

The Price of Power; James W. Huston
        This is a sequel to Balance of Power, which I have not read. The book is a military-political action-thriller. It seems that a Navy battle- group commander had carried out a military attack on a well armed, well financed group of terrorists, in violation of a presidential order, but in agreement with a congressional directive. The president orders the Admiral arrested and tried for violation of orders. The Speaker of the House is livid, and sets out to have the President impeached. Jim Dillon, chief aide to the Speaker, leaves to help defend the Admiral, and finds, as well, that he ends up on the prosecution team for the Presidential impeachment! Meanwhile, the terrorist group strikes again at an American mine in Indonesia, and takes an American hostage. The story circulates around the court martial, the impeachment, action against the terrorists, and a lot of legal hair-splitting. Interesting read; probably better if one had read the first story.
 Huston,J.W.; The Price of Power;$25;431pp;William Morrow;NY;1999; ISBN 0- 688-15918-4
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The First Victim; Ridley Pearson           (Series)         This is the series that has been starring Seattle detective Lou Boldt, and police psychologist, Diane Matthews. The last in this series was the first class The Pied Piper. This one centers around the smuggling of Chinese into the United States. When a large shipping container, containing some live, some dead Chinese women is found afloat, the police get involved. Also concerned is Stevie McNeill, Seattle TV anchorwoman, and her "Little Sister" Melissa - a Chinese born reporter. Melissa sets out to go undercover and penetrate the operation, and vanishes. The story revolves around the efforts of Boldt, and the efforts of McNeill to find Melissa and the smuggling ring operators. We also get glimpses of the home life of Boldt. It is a good suspense yarn, but certainly not as good as the last one. I was struck by the fact that Diane Matthews plays a very tiny role in this one - in fact, could have been left out. It appears that Pearson decided to give the stage to Stevie McNeill. Although the new character is a good one, I think that in losing Matthews the story suffers. Note, however, that I LIKE Matthews!
 Pearson,R.; The First Victim;$23.95;381pp;Hyperion;NY;1999; ISBN0-7868- 6440-0

Jupiter's Bones; Faye Kellerman            (Series)         Kellerman's last novel was a strange fantasy; in this one she has returned to a familiar scene in LA with Detective Peter Decker and his wife Rena. Decker and his police cohorts are faced with the problem of trying to determine who killed "Jupiter", the head of a bizarre reclusive cult. Members of the cult are not helpful. Jupiter was Emil Ganz, a renowned astrophysicist who dropped out of sight for years, then returned as Jupiter, founder of the cult. Part of the problem is unraveling Ganz's history, and things get dangerous fairly quickly as old situations are uncovered.It is an interesting story that ends up in a burst of action like the Branch Davidian situation in Waco, Texas. In quiet moments we again see Decker and his wife, and problems that arise with Rena's two teen-age sons. Good story.
 Kellerman,F.; Jupiter's Bones;$25;375pp;William Morrow;NY;1999 ISBN 0-688- 15612-6

Wasn't the Grass Greener?:A Curmudgeon's Fond Memories; Barbara Holland  (NF)
        I shall purchase a copy of this book of essays. As a semi-curmudgeon and a troglodyte (honorary), I thoroughly enjoyed the comments of another with those characteristics. Holland brings her keen observation and sharp wit to bear on things that have changed drastically in our culture (from about WWII to the present) - not for the better, she feels - and "good" things that have vanished. There is some degree of unevenness in the compilation, but most of the essays are wonderful wistful evocations of things past - a sheer delight for many of us old(er) folk - and complaints about what has arisen these days. She deals with: Doctors, Radiators, Department Stores, Childhood, Sneakers and two dozen other topics. The one on Psychiatrists is a gem. She is nostalgic, wry, amusing and even touching - wait till you get to the last page of "Taverns". She is right on target on all of the topics (in my humble and nostalgic opinion), and a master of very clever phrases. Totally charming, but note that her views are those of one who has lived in a particular stratum of the social world - a very modestly affluent one. And Edward Fitzgerald's verse in the front of the book is delightful - and appropriate!
 NOTE: I just read a depressing newspaper column that pointed out the gradual vanishing of nursery rhymes! It appears that fewer and fewer children are familiar with them.
 Holland, B.; Wasn't the Grass Greener?;$23;235pp;Harcourt Brace;NY;1999; ISBN 0-15-100442-0

The White House Connection; Jack Higgins     (series)         This is the British series that involves Brigadier Ferguson, head of a secret action group that reports to the Prime Minister; his assistant, policewoman Hannah Bernstein; and his strongarm helper, Sean Dillon, once the IRA's much feared enforcer. I was intrigued by this book, which I am at a bit of a loss to categorize. These stories are normally action, thriller, some mystery, novels. This technically falls in that category - but it is different. The best I can describe it is to say that to me it was a sort of feel-good, relatively happy ending version of the genre! Mind you: I may well have a biased point of view; my Irish uncles to some degree instilled in me the slogan of the Irish "Mafia": "Don't get mad - get even!". Thus, when I find that a main protagonist is Lady Helen Lang, a VERY upper class society figure who is determined to extract vengeance for the ghastly killing of her son by an IRA affiliated group, the "Sons of Erin", and to that end sets out to kill the members of that organization - one of whom is a U.S. Senator, I think "right on!". A key member of the outfit is a mysterious, unidentified individual who is at a very high level in the White House, and who passes information to the head of the Sons of Erin. He (She) is also on Lady Helen's hit-list. The story involves the Ferguson group's attempts to find out who the mysterious assassin is, and the identity of the White House connection, and it covers the activities of Lady Helen as she calmly, with the help of her trusty black servant, knocks off the bad guys. The first chapter is really a grabber! Since they deserved it, I was in great sympathy with Lady Helen! Ended up with mixed feelings - I liked the premise and the subsequent story - but felt the book was much less a thriller than the others. I was content with the ending. Higgins,J.;The White House Connection;$25.95;323pp;G.P.Putnam's Sons;NY;1999 ISBN 0-399- 14489-7

An Elegant Madness:High Society in Regency England; Venetia Murray    (NF)         Murray, a journalist who has written a few other books, here turns her attention to the "Regency" period in English history. That period is considered to be a 50 year or so period beginning at about the end of the French Revolution - although the true regency occupied only a portion of that time. The Prince Regent, who finally became George IV, set the tone for the VERY strange (by our view - or mine, at least) small social world of the English aristocracy. The author thoroughly immerses the reader in that truly vulgar, unbelievably ostentatious world, that appears to me to be one of utterly bad taste - one in which fads in dress and socializing ruled, and the whole thing was orchestrated by the fat, drunken lecher who was the Prince Regent! The book is a jumbled one - and the reader starts a chapter thinking from the heading that she knows what will be discussed, and gradually finds herself immersed in a different period, and contemplating a different subject. It is almost a collection of episodes - with a large, unbelievable cast of characters. There are some interesting points: for example the startling attitude towards money, and the almost unbelievable expense of the fads that were indulged in. Despite the five page bibliography, I think the reader had best be careful about accepting details as authentic - although the general thrust is certainly accurate. At least one statement is wrong, and several things that I was curious about seem at variance with what I found elsewhere. The index is not good, and the author never translates any French words. She also gives no summary of either the Regent or the interesting political problems of the real Regency period. Certainly interesting - but I think I regret spending the time!
 Murray,V.; An Elegant Madness;$19.50;317pp;Viking;NY;1999; ISBN

Once Upon a More Enlightened Time:More Politically Correct Bedtime Stories; James Finn Gardner
        Gardner wrote a best seller Politically Correct Bedtime Stories (which I have not read), and this small book is another set of familiar stories written so as to cleanse them of socially unacceptable phraseology and politically incorrect concepts. It is a cutsie satire by a smart a..ah alec (see Introduction). A little bit actually goes a LONG way, and it is best - if you read it - to read no more than about one story a week or so. Mind you, some of it is quite clever - but it is hard to take in large doses. The stories include, among others: Hansel and Gretel; The Little Mer- Persun (sic); and Sleeping Persun of Better-Than-Average Attractiveness. The dedication is tongue-in-cheek (I think) delightful, and the Politically Correct Alphabet is fun.
 Gardner,J.F.; Once Upon a More Enlightened Time;$9.95;84pp;Macmillan;NY;1995; ISBN 0-02-860419-9

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; J.K. Rowling        (pb)         Mark picked this up in San Francisco, and dropped it off here for me to read. I have read a lot ABOUT this book and the sequels, and a certain amount of controversy about whether it is really suitable for children, so I read it with eagerness - and, as it turns out, delight! It is a dandy fantasy, laid in England, and starring 11 year old Harry Potter. As it happens, there are two societies in England. One is that of magicians and wizards, who keep themselves concealed from the ordinary non-magical people (whom the sorcerers call "Muggles"). Harry's parents were of the magical world, but were killed by a powerful, malevolent sorcerer: Voldemort. However, when the sorcerer tried to kill the tiny infant, Harry, he could not, and vanished. The world of magic was overjoyed, and the name of Harry Potter became legend - the one who vanquished Voldemort! The infant Harry was placed with his mother's sister and her family - a family of Muggles. When Harry is eleven, the world of magic reclaims him, and he is sent to the magic world's equivalent of a typical English "public school" - which, of course, is what we call a "private school"! Harry's adventures there, and his ultimate involvement with the "sorcerer's stone", which may allow Valdemort to reappear in the world, constitute the delightful story. For us fantasy lovers it is  charming, imaginative, dead-pan humorous, and yet right-on with emotions. And it will be LOVED by children, and there is NO reason to keep it from them. Wonderful - although some of the public-school humor may escape those who are unfamiliar with such institutions (living in England was a help to this reader!)
 Rowling,J.K.; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; J.K. Rowling;$5.99; 309pp;Scholastic;NY;1997; ISBN 0-590-35342-X

Tathea; Anne Perry                                  (F)         A surprising, unusual and interesting story by  an author who is well known for her two series of Victorian-era police stories. This, surprisingly, is not of that genre; rather it is an unusual fantasy. The library classifies it as SF (science fiction), which it certainly is not. True, the action takes place on some world other than Earth, but that does not make it a SF yarn. I think it is a sermon. It has elements of a Morality Play or a medieval Mystery Play, elements of theological criticism, and may even be one gigantic parable - there are certainly many elements of the latter! The protagonist is Ta-Thea, Queen of Shinabar, whose husband and child are killed at the beginning of the story, and who has fled Shinabar to stay alive. The story is of the wanderings of Tathea (a non-Shinabur form of her royal name), in her quest for truth, as she learns of the world and its evils, and gradually feels her way toward TRUTH. That comes when she encounters someone who is a guiding angel, and ultimately witnesses a celestial encounter between The Man of Holiness (God) and Asmodeus, the Prince of Devils [the latter appears in the apocryphal Book of Tobit (Tobias), and in the Talmud as well as in late Jewish mythology (Ashmedai in Hebrew)- and we begin to realize that the story will have some relationship to Jewish-Christian theology - a feeling that is borne out later]. Tathea sees, opens, and takes away from the scene the BOOK, which contains the TRUTH, and henceforth attempts to spread the word of the book - which has elements of the Bible. Through a series of adventures, far too extensive and complex to summarize here, Tathea spreads the word, and witnesses how the word can be misinterpreted, and the relationship between God and man distorted. The critical reader will recognize a variety of current religious practices and beliefs that appear here as actually contrary to the TRUTH. The last chapter is a fascinating extended debate between The Man of Holiness and Asmodeus about the relationship between Man and God. The reader will note some things which are, in fact, debated today in theology! If things occasionally seem a bit strange, she might also note the publisher - a branch of the publishing firm of the Church of Latter Day Saints! The story is a long, adventurous, theological sermon in parable form - except for the last chapter which attempts to summarize it for those who missed the points! Intriguing reading
 Perry,A.; Tathea;$23.95;522pp;Shadow Mountain;Salt Lake City;1999; ISBN 1- 57345-536-9

Single & Single; John Le Carré
        Le Carré's new novel is a complicated, convoluted, and detailed story of international trade, international finance, illegal trade, money laundering, and other things that are so common these days. Tiger Single is a very successful and influential venture capitalist. Oliver Single is his son - and heir-apparent in the business. Tiger's firm establishes a trading agreement with a Russian group, but just as the agreement is to start, the Russian government falls apart, and regular trade is superseded by trading in illegal and illicit material. Tiger takes on the role of money launderer. Oliver can't stand it, and betrays his father - and the Russians to the British customs - to an action group headed by Nat Brock. Brock creates a new identity for Oliver. As the story opens, one of Tiger's associates is executed - with full video coverage - because the Russian group feels that Tiger has doublecrossed them. Tiger vanishes, It appears that Oliver's identity has been determined, so Brock makes him vanish too. Then the two of them set out to determine what really happened, and to bring the group activities to a halt. In the process, the reader will learn far more about international monetary dealings than she really cares to know - but much of it is needed to understand what is going on. Some of the story is murky as well as complicated, and at times confusingly re-entrant if not read carefully. Still, it is good story telling, and Olly is a fascinating character in a set of interesting characters. I was startled by the truly abrupt ending just after Olly realizes the banality of his father's life!
 Carré;L.L; Single & Single;$26;345pp;Scribner;NY;1999; ISBN 0-684-85926-2

The Fall of the Year; Howard Frank Mosher         A charming book by an author with whom I was not acquainted - but whose works I plan to read. It is the fifties, and young Frank Bennet, just graduated from the state university, has returned to the small, isolated, far-north, Vermont town of Kingdom Common, where he grew up. His parents were killed when he was two, and he was adopted by, and raised by the local Catholic priest: Father George - NOT your run-of-the-mill priest! He is back to visit for the summer before entering seminary in the fall.In each of the ten fascinating chapters that make up the book, Frank relates a unique experience with a number of unusual and fascinating characters of the town. There is almost no plot, but this reader was entranced - be aware however that some readers may be put off (Bette was) by the initial poignant story of a mentally impaired youth. Persist, and the book will capture you (it did Bette!) as the author unfolds the character of Frank, and secrets in the small town. The writing is limpidly clear, the storytelling is fascinating, the characters are well drawn, and humor, sorrow, love, and possibly magic are neatly interwoven in the often touching stories. I'll bet you find a lump in your throat while finishing Chapter 5: "The Land of the Free"; I did. Don't miss a heart warming, delightful read.
 NOTE: The jacket notes the book is an "...autobiographical novel" - and I would dearly love to know how much is autobiographical, and how much novel! I gather that the author has used the locale and some of the characters in earlier novels.
 Mosher,H.F.; The Fall of the Year;$24;278pp;Houghton Mifflin;NY;1999; ISBN 0-395-98416-5

The Burning Road; Ann Benson                (Series)         In the July 1998 set of book annotations I commented on a very interesting novel Plague Years by Ann Benson. She created two related stories - one an historical novel involving a Jewish physician Alejandro Canches during the plague years in 14th century Europe - the other about a forensic anthropologist, Jane Crewe, who lives in the USA in the year 2005. This is a sequel that takes place in 2007, and about ten years later in the 14th century. The cast of characters is essentially the same. In this one, the modern USA has survived a plague caused by a mutated streptococcus that cannot be stopped: DR SAM. Crewe encounters a boy with a strange, drastic bone fragility, and when she starts searching further she finds other cases. She begins to track down the problem, and runs into all sorts of opposition, but also finds a mysterious powerful group that decides to help her. While this story is unfolding, the dreaded streptococcus plague returns, and Crewe and her friends must decide what to do. Interweaved, in alternate segments, is the continuing saga of Alejandro and his high-born, foster-child Kate - whom he took with him when he fled England. They cross paths with Guilliam Karle, who was involved in the French peasant's revolt, and the story continues their adventures with Karle in tow. In the present, Crewe again finds that the journal(s) of Alejandro provide major assistance in her work. The story (stories) are again well told, historically satisfactory, and suspenseful. It is a tad overstuffed, and could benefit from editing, but I enjoyed it a great deal. I suspect those who like mild Science Fiction might enjoy it more than those who don't - but I'm not sure. Regardless: it would be better if the reader started with Plague Years rather than this second one - although it is not required.
 NOTE: This is (half) an historical novel. Guillame Karle is known in French history, as are other characters in the 14th century portion. The portrayals seem generally in accordance with history, and quite interesting.
 Benson,A.; The Burning Road;$23.95;467pp;Delacorte Press;NY;1999; ISBN 0- 385-33289-0

Wicked Pleasures: Meditations on the Seven "Deadly" Sins; Robert C. Solomon, (ed.)
        Who could resist a book called Wicked Pleasures? It was not till I got it home that I noticed the almost invisible, slightly off-putting sub- title! The book has a very interesting, and well written introduction by the editor, and that is followed by seven essays on the subjects of Gluttony, Pride, Sloth, Greed, Anger, Lust, and Envy; written by seven different authors. The subject is interesting, the viewpoints intriguing, and the writing excellent with some clever humor, but I did not finish it! The problem is that I am VERY responsive to negative conditioning, and years ago I was turned off by philosophy; and that is what the book is (mostly). The subject is, and has been for centuries, controversial, as is suggested by the introduction - which is very readable and recommended. For a while it was interesting to watch the essayists grapple with the inherent problems, but these discussions turned into elaborate philosophical (at times almost Sophist) arguments and elaborate discussions. I finally noticed that there is a set of brief introductions to the authors, and to no surprise, I found that most occupy Chairs of Philosophy! Read the introduction, and try the essays - you probably don't have my intrinsic bias. However I must say that I am somewhat easier about the sins!
 Wicked Pleasures; Solomon,R.C. (ed);$24.95;166pp;Rowman & Littlefield;Lanham(MD);1999; ISBN 0-8476-9250-7

Ghost Walk; Marinne Macdonald          (Series)         This is (I think) the second mystery story that Macdonald has written starring Dido Hoare. I did not read the first, so I did not know that the very interesting Dido lives in London with her father and child, and runs an antiquarian bookstore. Given the title, I assumed it was another mystery in a Navaho setting, and the cover illustration seemed to be appropriate! It's not, of course. It is an entertaining mystery tale, told in the first person by Dido, about her adventures after she makes the acquaintance of a strange old man, presumably a vagrant, but well schooled and well read! He gives her an unusual antique necklace in a box of shards of very old paper - and papyrus - and he is found murdered the following day. Dido and her father set out to unravel the mystery of the man and the gift, and Dido gets deeper and deeper into dangerous waters. A pleasant, intriguing, undemanding read that will be enjoyed by mystery lovers. I shall read the first book, and I suspect there will be others in what promises to be a delightful series.
 Macdonald,M.; Ghost Walk;$21.95;St.Martins Press;NY;1998; ISBN 0-312-19417- x

Honey From Stone: A Naturalist's Search for God; Chet Raymo  (pb) (NF)         This impressive and fascinating 13 year old book (illustrated) was a gift from Karen and Paul. I was totally unaware of its existence. Raymo is a scientist by training and vocation, but he is also a philosopher, polymath, and a writer of striking prose that at times is poetry. He has spent a great deal of time exploring the Dingle peninsula in Ireland, and the sky and sea around it, and has written here a series of thoughts and meditations. They deal with observations of meteorites, the rocky terrain, seasons, megalithic tombs, the beginnings of the universe and stars, paleontology, birds, snowflakes, and other fascinating subjects. All of them are related to what he calls his "religious quest" to find the significance of organized religion to science, whether science provides opportunities for religious experience, and whether traditional religion offers appropriate expressions for praise in these days. There are excursions into history, meditations on the world and people of the Bible, and beautiful descriptions of nature. All related to his quest. He has chosen to divide the meditations into sections that are labeled by the medieval Book of Hours - a lovely concept for his musings. One reads this slowly to savor the writing and descriptions, as well as to share intimately in the author's quest. Be aware that through the meditations there is what, for a better word, I shall call mysticism; and that his conclusions may be a bit confusing to the reader. Utterly spellbinding however.
 NOTE:He notes that he borrowed the title from a passage by Bernard of Clairvaux (and quotes the passage), but in fact he substitutes "stone" for St. Bernard's "rock". Bernard is quoting the Psalms and Job, and there (in the King James version, at least) honey and oil come from the "rock". But he's right; "stone" is better in the title!
 Raymo,C.; Honey From Stone;$15;188pp;Hungry Mind Press;Saint Paul;1997(cr1987); ISBN 1-886913-12-9

The Cloister Walk; Kathleen Norris         (NF)   pb         I do hope that you were awed, in the preceding note, by my casual knowledge of arcane information in Job and the Psalms in the Bible. In fact, the only reason I was aware of the  material was by serendipity. This book, The Cloister Walk, was loaned to me by my middle son (who is providing me with some fantastically good books). I read it after Honey From Stone, and was truly startled to find the Job and Psalmist references to "..Honey from the rock". I couldn't resist going back and adding a NOTE to the previous annotation! Norris is a poet and writer who, in this collection of essays, relates pieces of HER "religious quest! (Perhaps it is the IN thing). It is, in a very different way, on a par with Honey From Stone, except we learn quite a bit more about the author in this one. Norris, a non-interested Protestant, tells of her cumulative experiences as a Benedictine oblate - technically a layperson dedicated to the monastic life. She spent a lot of time as visitor in Benedictine monasteries, and tells of her growing awareness of the nature of and the contemplative value of monastic life, and her developing sense of religious values. She discusses, very well, monasticism, its history, its current situation, its rites, its practitioners, celibacy, etc. She also comments on her life outside the monastery, a bit about her marriage, some teaching and lecturing experiences, etc. A dozen or so of the essays were published elsewhere, then accumulated in this book with many others. There is some unevenness to the essays, but the result comes across far less disjointed than I expected. I was impressed, and often touched, by the material, and I read the book slowly and carefully. The juxtaposition of this and the preceding book, caused an interesting emotional response in me - a good one. I recommend the book highly; and if you liked the book in the preceding annotation, I suspect that you will very much enjoy this one.
 Norris,K.; The Cloister Walk;$?;384pp;Riverhead Books;NY;1996; ISBN 1- 57322-028-0

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever; Barbara Robinson   (pb)        The 1999 Christmas is past. It was a good time for us. The outstanding event was (easily) attending a performance of a version of The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever. It was at Burke Elementary School, in Martinsburg,WV (a school described in hushed tones as an "inner city school" - producing guffaws in those of us who know D.C. and Baltimore). Our second- grade granddaughter, Leah, was one of the characters in a reading version of the story - and I must say she read spectacularly well (no bias at all!). Even now I have trouble believing how much truly great fun it was - for the kids as well as the audience. So, I thought it somehow appropriate to end the year 1999 with some observations about the book (an old one) from which the play was adapted. If you do not know the book, arrange immediately to buy a copy. Don't just get it from the library - GO BUY IT; you will NEVER regret it! This is a true classic (the jacket says it is "America's Favorite Christmas Story"). It should be read around the holiday season every year. I write this in case you do NOT know it. It's a first person narrative by a perceptive, wise, and pragmatic young lady in the elementary school attended by the Herdman children - the "worst kids ever"! They steal, lie, smoke cigars, beat up on little kids, and are headed "straight for hell". They are told by the narrator's younger brother (who is being tormented by them) that HE gets all the desserts he wants in Sunday School, so they end up in church - for the first time ever. They have never heard the Christmas story, but when they hear there is to be a pageant, they arrange to take over the key roles. This is a hilarious, touching, poignant story that carries a wonderful message. Do not miss it. And if you have not read it for some years - read it again! Oh yes: Leah read the part of Alice (type cast).
 Robinson,B.; The Best Christmas Pageant Ever;$3.95;80pp;Harper Collins;NY;1972; ISBN 0-06-440275-4

East of the Mountains; David Guterson
    The mountains are in the state of Washington. 73 year old widowed Ben Givens, retired thoracic surgeon, living in Seattle, was born east of the mountains, in the Columbia Basin. He does not plan to ever see that country again - he plans to commit suicide in the mountains. He has incurable colon cancer. He carefully arranges things so that his death will appear to be an accident, takes his two hunting dogs, climbs into his old 1969 Scout, and heads for the mountains, wrecks hiis vehicle, and has a major suture-requiring trauma over one eye. He and his dogs are rescued by a vagabond young hippy couple, and Ben's odyssey begins. The story is of Ben's adventures, interspersed with long memory sequences induced by marijuana cigarettes given to him by his rescuers (he has never used dope). His adventures (which ultimately take him again east of the mountains to the place of his childhood) move him towards self understanding and a recognition of motivators of his emotions, and are skillfully and empathically told. It is a story of love, loss, compassion, and morality, and it is told with no loss of momentum, and with beautiful character depiction. The reader will be so caught up in the story that she can easily fail to note the elegant delineations of the environments - delineations that neatly set emotional stages in the odyssey. I only noticed them when I looked back on the book. I was struck by a number of very authentic descriptions of WWII training and combat; it turns out that th author availed himself of a great deal of expert help on those matters as well as others, and the whole thing rings true. Great story - and Ben is a great guy!
NOTE: I almost quit early on. Ben's situation and his plans for suicide were unsettling. However I stayed wtih it and was totally caught up in the unfolding, engrossing story. By the way, the author's other book is Snow Falling On Cedars. Guterson, D.: East of the Mountains; $25; 279pp; Harcourt Brace; NY; 1999; ISBN:0-15-100229-0