Fabulous Fiction Firsts #57

Portrait of an Unknown Woman* by Vanora Bennett, a British journalist trying her hand at fiction for the first time.

Set in Henry VIII’s England, Meg Giggs, the heroine of this historical, is a budding herbalist and a ward of Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas More, the defender of the Catholic faith under threats of the Protestant heretics.

John Clements, a young physician is more than he appears. His courtship and marriage to Meg would be sorely tested by the secrets he keeps. On the other hand, Meg’s loyalty to More will also be called into question when religious and political conflicts roil at court.

“An engrossing, quietly impassioned historical”, no less for the added delicious details of the famous German painter Hans Holbein the Younger, commissioned to paint what will be his famous portraits of More and that of his family. For more information on the paintings and the time period, the author has created a website.

* = Starred Review

Running Season

Spring is in the air. Runners especially like spring since we're able to run in t-shirts and shorts again. My son and I, along with a coworker, will be running the 1/2 marathon at the Martian Marathon on April 1. If you want to train for a race, I suggest two books. First is Marathoning for Mortals by John Bingham. It's a great beginners book who want to run but are concerned about looking like a fool. I also suggest Marathon: the Ultimate Training Guide by Hal Higdon. Hal has been running for years and shares his experience with beginner to expert runners. Both books have training schedules which are very helpful.

Baby Bits - grow a reader

To grow a reader, Mem Fox says, "Do it like this". In other words, let's read lots of books, and repeat the favorites as much as we like! Here's a few. Baby Cakes a board book with simple rhymes. Sock Monkeys Do The Monkey ! won't get put down until you get up to dance. Enjoy !

Team Moon

Most people have seen the historic footage of Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon (July 20, 1969) and are familiar with the crew of Apollo 11:Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. But not many have heard of Eleanor Foracker who was a seamstress for ILC Dover, the company that made the spacesuits, or Richard Ellis who tested the suits. Neil “Fox” Mason worked the Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia, Kirby Hinson worked on the parachute recovery systems, and Joe Gavin was vice president of Grumman Aerospace Corporation. Thousands of people worked long, hard hours and most never received recognition even though they also played a vital role in one of the greatest projects of the 20th century. Meet some of them in Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh.

Plastic Man is Back!

Kyle Baker has re-visited the Golden Age Plastic Man in his Eisner Award winning series. First released in 2004, issues 1-6 have been collected into one volume Plastic Man: On the Lam. Follow Patrick “Eel” Obrien from his days of crime to his transformation into Plastic Man and then see what happens when his former identity is framed for murder. Baker’s wonderfully energetic style and sense of humor translate beautifully to this character. Be on the lookout for surprise characters from Plastic Man’s past and members of the Justice League acting a bit out of character.

New Fiction on the New York Times Best Sellers List (3/25/07)

Jodi Picoult has tapped into many of the current hot button topics in American culture in her many bestselling novels. Most of them involve parents and children, husbands and wives. These novels are not lighthearted romps. While there is always a resolution to the conflict, there has also been serious damage done to the protagonists, emotional and physical. Picoult also likes to take a set of circumstances and twist the perspective. All of this may be why she is more popular with book groups than the New York Times reviewers.

This is certainly the case in Nineteen Minutes, the unnerving story of a school massacre (Columbine?). Once again things are not always as they seem. While engaging our emotions, Picoult tells a riveting story with a surprise ending.

Other new entries on the List are Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy and Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas.

Coldest Blood

I think the average mystery reader will easily relate to Jim Kelly’s realistically drawn hero Phillip Dryden. It takes more careful reading than others like Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series but Kelly’s plotting is great. I tried skipping to the end when the night grew late but had to go back the next day and finish the book. Good yarn! An added treat for anglophiles is that it’s set in the Cambridgeshire Fens.

The trials of an immigrant family

Forteen year old Nadira is the narrator of Ask Me No Questions by Marina Budhos. She and her sister, Aisha and their parents, all from Bangladesh, are on their way to Canada because their visas have expired. The government has cracked down on immigrants since 9/11. Their illegal status is discovered at the border, their father is detained and his wife stays nearby. He tells the girls to return to New York to stay with an aunt and uncle. Aisha has always been the golden girl, bright, beautiful and ambitious. She worries that now all her dreams for college are just that- dreams. She retreats into her own world and Nadira, always seen as the average one, takes charge to find a way to keep her family from being deported. Budhos, also the author of Remix: Conversations with Immigrant Teenagers, knows her subject well and brngs the struggles and heartbreak of immigrant families to life through her characters and suspenseful plot.

Freedom Ship by Doreen Rappaport

A small boy recounts an amazing story of bravery and determination in Doreen Rappaport's Freedom Ship. Based on the true story of a Confederate Steam ship that was kidnapped and turned over to the Union Army by a slave crew who sought freedom. The ship’s pilot Robert Smalls went on to become captain of the ship and was elected to South Carolina’s state legislature and the state senate.

The Best Dog in Vietnam

This is a war story so I wasn’t sure that I wanted to read it. This is a dog story so I am happy that I read it. Newbery award-winning author Cynthia Kadohata researched unusual soldiers in the Vietnam War, dogs who were the first in line on the battlefield, sniffing out booby traps and mines, and saving thousands of soldier’s lives. The point of view in the story hops from Cracker, the German Shepherd, to Willie her first beloved owner, to Rick, the teenage soldier who becomes her handler, and grows to trust her better than anyone. Readers who like constant action and realistic portrayals of war will dive into this one.

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