Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Hound of Rowan by Henry H. Neff

If you liked the Harry Potter series or Rick Riordan's Last Olympian books, you will probably like Henry H. Neff's "The Tapestry" trilogy. 

In Hound of Rowan, Max McDaniels finds an alcove in Chicago's Art Institute which contains an old tapestry.  The tapestry begins to glow.  When Max leaves the alcove, he discovers a letter in his pocket which says he is invited to attend the Rowan Academy in New England.  It is an exclusive school for people with special talents.  And the alcove is no longer there.

Immediately, Max notices that he is being stalked by strange people and is nearly kidnapped.  As it turns out, more than forty other Potentials have disappeared.  Max makes it safely to Rowan Academy where he begins his training.  He is paired with a mythical animal called a lymrill.  It is about the size of a wolverine with steel quills.  To make matters just a bit more touchy, Max falls afoul of the school bully, Alex.

The story has the flavor of Celtic mythology without borrowing heavily from it.  The lymrill is an animal invented by the author, but it feels right in the story. 

Max is a rough-cut main character, not always following the rules, somewhat scrappy (yes, he was provoked), and occasionally a bit unexpected.  He gets in quite a lot of trouble and still manages to save the day in superhero style. 

In this first book of the trilogy, we are introduced to a world-class villain.  I have no idea how the good guys are going to defeat him, but I'm willing to read more in order to find out.

Kathi Linz

Monday, June 20, 2011

Around the World in Eighty Days

Around the World in Eighty Days is one of those classics that I kept saying I would get around to reading. I needed to read it for the June 22 Fiction by Night book discussion, and like most "required reading", I had to make myself sit down with the book and just start reading.

Almost immediately I got pulled into Jules Verne's story and found that I liked the characters and looked forward to reading the next chapter. I was also enjoying the experience of reading it on my new e-reader, finding that I could increase the size of the print, that when I turned off my e-reader that it held my place.

I found myself escaping on this adventure with Phileas Fogg, the unemotional English gentleman who has too much time on his hands, and perhaps, too much money. He spends his days at his club and makes a wager that he can make it around the world in a mere 80 days. His valet Passepartout, however, enjoys the sights and sounds and people in the countries they are madly traveling through. Fogg spends a number of days by rail and steamer simply playing endless hours of whist with like-minded English gents who are not interested in anything outside their own realm of experience. It was interesting to see Fogg gradually slip out of his "fog" and begin to experience the adventure. Passepartout unwittingly forces Fogg to get involved with others. By the end of the adventure, we see that Fogg has changed.

There is added tension to the plot. Detective Fix of Scottland Yard is following Fogg, whom he suspects of stealing 50,000 pounds from a bank. I was afraid this might be too contrived -- how could he follow Fogg without raising any suspicions? Would this book end up being resolved by a lot of convuluted coincidences?

I remember when the big 1956 movie production of Around the World in Eighty Days came out. It won an academy award for Best Picture of the Year. I suppose the movie is responsible for me associating hot air balloons with the book. Even the Bantam paperback edition has hot air ballons on the cover.

It's amazing to think of living in a time when travel was slow and unpredictable. Railways lines could end before you were at your destination. Phileas Fogg proved he was resourceful and determined. Does he make the trip in eight days? Read the book and come discuss it with the rest of group this Wednesday night.

The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes

The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes was not on the list that I'd been compiling of books that I might like to read, but I'd heard of it before & was looking for a book to start my summer reading program so I checked it out--& I'm glad I did!

Even though the book discusses the science behind DNA & genetic testing, it is an easy read. In addition to some discussion of genetics, the author shares stories of his career in which his team is involved in genetic testing of the Iceman that was found in the Alps in the 1990s & of the bodies found in Russia, also in the 1990s, that may have belonged to the last tsar of Russia & his family. I found these stories of using genetics in these ways very interesting because they put the revelance of genetics into a historic context that I wasn't expecting.

The author explains how similar genetic testing helped to prove how the peoples of both Polynesia & Europe came to inhabit those places & explains the concept of the "seven daughters of Eve"--the theory that almost all native Europeans are descended from only seven women. He also spends a significant portion of the book describing what life might have been like for these seven women. This part was slightly disappointing to me because instead of only describing the genetic background on each woman or even the world in which each woman lived, the author created fictional stories about each woman's life. While this was interesting enough (especially for me, a fan of The Clan of the Cave Bear), it wasn't what I was expecting & seemed kind of odd in a nonfiction book.

Even though I realized that this book is 10 years old--a period in which science could change drastically--I still found it very interesting & educational. Not only did it discuss genetics, but to some extent, it covered archaeology, anthropology, & history--something for everyone!

Monica Boyer

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Fantastic Fictioneers are reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer for their Friday, June 17th meeting.

Although this book is fiction, I came away with a lot of information about what happened to the Channel Islanders during the German occupation of the islands in World War II. The Channel Islands belong to England and lie just off the coast of France in the English Channel. Hitler was thrilled to capture them because they were part of England.

A few people were having a pork dinner one evening, having killed an illegal pig, and ended up being out past curfew. As some of them were walking home, soldiers stopped the little group and asked why they were on the street. Elizabeth totally invented a story about how they were part of a literary society that happened to meet that evening. They became so engrossed in the discussion that they stayed too late. The group felt compelled to meet every two weeks thereafter to prove that the story was true.

That is the beginning of the Islanders' story, but the book actually begins after the war, when a journalist is contacted by one Island gentleman asking her if she can find a book for him. He had found her address inside the cover of a book that had happened to make its way to the bookshelves of the literary society. Although not all of the story is pleasant, it reads quickly and ends well.

I posted another article about this book on April 12, 2010. If you are interested in this book and want a little more before picking it up, please check out my previous posting.

Kathi Linz