Friday, February 26, 2010

Arg! Pirates


pi-rate \pī-rǝt\ n,

1 : one who commits robbery on the high seas;

2 : a bawdy, rowdy, frightening, fascinating bastard who we’ve been reading about for centuries and just can’t get enough of.

Pirates have been a best-selling literary topic since they first started sailing the waters and burying their treasure. In reality pirates were vicious criminals and murderers, but readers love to romanticize them, and why not? It’s about the most exciting life there is—sailing the seven seas on a never-ending quest for pieces of eight, doubloons, and adventure galore. Whether its reality, romance, action, or comedy you’re looking for, you can be sure to find it in the pirate way of life.

A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates by Captain Charles Johnson, 2002, Lyons Press, originally published 1724 (Nonfiction/ History/ 16th Century) 

This is the original history about pirates, written during the “Golden Age of Pyracy” when pirates were still alive and well and very much a real threat. No one really knows who Captain Charles Johnson was (Daniel DeFoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, was once considered a likely suspect), but whoever he was, he sure knew his stuff. Taking most of his information from newspaper accounts and from pirate trial transcripts, Johnson also interviewed seamen and sailors for vivid, true-to-life descriptions. Johnson’s accounts of the lives of men like Blackbeard and Captain Kidd gave them almost mythical status and they soon became the most legendary of pirates, inspiring almost everything we know and love best about the traditional, classic pirate. From peg legs to parrots on the shoulder to black eye patches, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates had it first.

Booty: Girl Pirates on the High Seas by Sara Lorimer, illustrations by Susan Synarski, 2003, Chronicle Books (Nonfiction/ Women's History)

Pirates, we all know, are loud, dirty, bare-chested men armed to the teeth with cutlasses and knives. Not so, says history. There are many examples of women who took to the life of piracy like ducks take to water. These ladies had to keep their shirts on, but otherwise the aforementioned description more than holds up. Booty, with its tongue-in-cheek tone and its charming illustrations, is a unique look at these unusual pirates. How did Mary Read and Anne Bonny stay disguised as pirate men for so long? How did beautiful Cheng I Sao manage to keep an entire fleet of two thousand ships and eighty thousand pirates under her thumb? Did Sadie the Goat really get in a brawl with a barkeep who kept the severed ears of her victims in a pickle jar? Booty proves that the challenges of a life of crime at sea were fraught with a whole new set of dangers if you would otherwise be wearing a petticoat and bonnet. The lively, colorful images and vivid descriptions spruce up the tales of pillage, plunder, and derring-do to make this mini-history as delightful as its subjects are despicable.

Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier, 2009, Sourcebooks, originally published 1942 (Fiction/ Historical Fiction/ Romance)

Daphne Du Maurier, best known for the suspenseful romance classic Rebecca, also had a thing for pirates. This historical romance matches a lovely genteel lady from the fashionable world with a dashing pirate who terrorizes the Cornish coat. Lady Dona St. Columb is bored and jaded by the numbingly polite society of Restoration London. She flees her life of luxury and ease and rides to her husband’s remote Cornish estate, where a chance encounter with the pirate Jean-Benoit Aubéry changes her life. Aubéry may be a pirate, but he’s also an educated, cultured, thoughtful man of action. The mix of philosopher and pirate is too much for Dona to resist; she falls head over heels in love with Aubéry and runs away with him. Dona may be done with high society, but high society won’t let her go that easily. Pursued by her husband and other “gentlemen,” Dona and Aubéry have to face some intense obstacles that stand in the way of their romantic, adventurous life together. This may seem like a swashbuckling bodice-ripper, and it’s certainly an ancestor of those types of romances, but there’s more to Frenchman’s Creek than just love and adventure. The writing style is literary even when the characters are romanticized, and the real journey here is Dona’s path to self-discovery. Still, dating a pirate is the ultimate way to rebel, and Frenchman’s Creek will satisfy readers who love the romantic appeal of pirate life best.

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe, 2004, Pantheon Books (Fiction/ Humor/ Satire)

Ah, pirate comedy. In Gideon Defoe’s novel, his pirate crew debates the best part of pirating (grog or cutlasses), delights in anachronisms like Post-It notes and dental floss, and accidentally attacks Charles Darwin’s ship, the Beagle. The Pirate Captain (yes, that’s his name) decides to spare Darwin’s life in exchange for a boat ride back to London. Darwin put the pirates up at the swank Royal Society and passes them off as scientists. Soon the pirates are the toast of the town and are up to their eye patches in schemes and plots involving the big mean Bishop of Oxford, Drawin’s kidnapped brother Erasmus, and a trained chimp named Bobo who is best known for acting the part of the perfect British gentleman. Silly, droll, Monty Python-esque, delightfully absurd and unabashedly juvenile, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists is the most fun you’ll ever have with a pirate crew. Until, that is, you read The Pirates! In an Adventure with Ahab (2005), The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists (2006), and The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon (2009).

Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper, 2005, Little, Brown, and Co. (Fiction/ Teen Fiction/ Adventure/ Fantasy)

What’s meaner than a pirate? A vampirate, of course. Set in the twenty-sixth century off the coast of Australia’s Crescent Moon Bay, this is the story of fourteen-year-old twins Connor and Grace Tempest. When their lighthouse keeper father dies, leaving them penniless and alone, the twins take to sea. But before they can begin a new life, a ferocious storm sinks their boat and separates them—perhaps forever. Connor is plucked from the sea by a pirate ship and the athletic youngster makes fast friends with the welcoming crew, taking to the pirate life like a natural. But Grace wakes up on a very different rescue ship. Her savior, handsome Lorcan Furey, keeps her locked in a luxurious cabin. The meals are unbelievably delicious—and sleep-inducing. And the captain is the biggest puzzle of all, with his disembodied whisper and masked face. Readers won’t be surprised to learn that Grace has been taken on board the ship of the Vampirates, a spooky group of vampires-turned-pirates that the twins’ father used to sing a lullaby-style sea shanty about. The narrative alternates between Connor and Grace, giving readers a vivid description of life on a pirate ship while building up the mystery of the Vampirates. The union of vampire and pirate is a clever one, and Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean is a fast, breezy, fun read, complete with a cliff-hanger ending that paves the way for a new thrilling series of Vampirate books.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, 2008, Puffin Classics, originally published 1883 (Fiction Classics/ Adventure)


Robert Louis Stevenson had a way with names—Jim Hawkins, Squire Trelawney, Ben Gunn, Israel Hands, and best of all, Captain Long John Silver. Throw in the good ship Hispaniola, the seaside Admiral Benbow Inn, and of course, the good old Treasure Island, and you’ve got the top pirate tale of all time. Stevenson capitalized on all the pirate legends—peg legs, the jolly roger, the parrot squawking “Pieces of eight!”—to create the story of adventurous young Jim Hawkins, a clever, kind, courageous young lad who finds a treasure map in a dead man’s sea chest at his mother’s inn. But standing in the way of Jim and his buried treasure is the deceptively charming Long John Silver, a pirate captain disguised as the ship’s merry cook. And more than treasure and treachery await the crew of the Hispaniola on the mysterious island—there’s action, adventure, twists, and turns that still delight readers over one hundred years later. Not only is Treasure Island the go-to, end-all source for all things pirate, it’s also one of the most readable classics of the Victorian age and an old-fashioned ripping good yarn.

Silver: My Own Tale as Written by Me with a Goodly Amount of Murder by Edward Chupack, 2008, Thomas Dunne Books (Fiction/ Adventure)


Treasure Island has proved so enduring that there is an entire sub-genre of sequels and spin-offs. Silver: My Own Tale as Written by Me with a Goodly Amount of Murder is the jolly good story of Captain Long John Silver, that roughish devil who comes this close to getting his hands on buried treasure only to be thwarted by a clever kid. Imprisoned on his own ship as it sails back to England, Silver pens his own version of events in a rollicking slangy voice that is entirely his own. He recounts his childhood as a street urchin, his “education” under the tutelage of the homeless blind man who takes him under his wing, and his boyhood meeting with pirate Black John who introduces young John to the joys and savages of pirate life. And then he plunges dagger and hilt into his story among the ruthless buccaneers, complete with bloody murders, treasure galore, peg-legs, and parrots--and a lively, noisy, unapologetic rabble of a story it is too. Fans of the original will relish this villainous point of view from author (and attorney-at-law, of all things) Edward Chupack. Readers and writers simply cannot get enough of Treasure Island, but Silver comes as close as any to satisfying that pirate lust.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, 2003, Henry Holt and Co., originally published 1911 (Fiction Classics, Children’s Fiction/ Adventure/ Fantasy)

You know the story—the children in the nursery, Wendy, Michael, and John; the bell-voiced fairy Tinkerbell, complete with magical fairy dust; Peter himself, the boy who wouldn’t grow up but who flew away to Neverland instead; and of course the nastiest, naughtiest pirate whose hand was ever eaten by a crocodile, the delightfully vile Captain Hook. The story has many a quirky charm that you, in the busy business of your grown-up life, may have forgotten: Nana, the all-knowing doggy-nurse; the way Mrs. Darling tidies up her children’s minds, which is of course the “nightly custom of every good mother”; and author J.M. Barrie’s sweetly skewed world in which fantasy and reality have never met more lovingly—even when Captain Hook is stealing kiddies from their beds or turning tail and fleeing from the big bad crocodile. There are dozens of editions of Peter Pan, which was originally a play in 1904. The one-hundredth anniversary edition illustrated by Michael Hague is a special treat, with lush full-page paintings and a truly inspiring rendition of crooky old Captain Hook.

Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David Cordingly, 2006, Random House, originally published 1995 (Nonfiction/ 17th Century History)


Popular films like The Pirates of the Caribbean make pirates look like a loveable, jolly old bunch. But Under the Black Flag is a modern history that delves deeper into pirate lore, investigating many of the myths and legends that were first set forth in Captain Charles Johnson’s classic history. From the fictional pirates of Peter Pan and Treasure Island to real-life accounts of notorious pirates Sir Henry Morgan and Calico Jack, this book answers every question you ever had about piracy on the high seas. David Cordingly is one of the world’s foremost experts on pirates, so when he describes the cutthroat violence of a real pirate battle, explains exactly why so few pirates enjoyed long lives of luxury, or defines the differences between a corsair and a buccaneer, you can rest assured he knows exactly what he’s talking about. For the real truth about pirates, look no further than Under the Black Flag.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Which Witch?


Good witches, wicked witches, feared witches, real witches. Witches are both the stuff that nightmares and fairy tales are made of and historical figures from the past. From black-clad, pointy hat-wearing, wart-covered caricatures to real, often misunderstood, women who practice the art of witchcraft, witches are a part of our literary tradition and our historical record. They are also, by the way, a lot of fun, drama, and of course, enchantment and magic.

The Witches by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake, 2007, Penguin Books, originally published 1983 (Children’s Fiction/ Adventure) 

Beloved author Roald Dahl possessed the delightful ability to write children’s books that his readers never outgrow. Maybe it’s because of his dark, quirky comic timing. Maybe it’s because he treats his readers with respect, intelligence, and good humor. Maybe it’s simply because he’s a storyteller of the highest order who infuses his books with whimsical charm, irresistible heroes and villains, and loads of magic and wonder. Plus, Roald Dahl has an extraordinary imagination. The Witches is one of his best. A boy and his impressive Norwegian grandmother are vacationing at a glamorous hotel. The boy leads a wondrous life—thanks to grandma’s unconventional theories of childrearing, he can explore all he wants, rarely has to bathe, and knows everything there is to know about witches. The cigar-smoking, wise-as-an-owl grandmother is an expert on witches. She knows they find children by smell (hence the benefits of remaining unwashed). She knows they’re bald and wear itchy wigs. She knows they disguise their curvy claws and square feet in long gloves and pointy shoes. She knows they’re foul, wicked creatures whose goal is to rid the world of little children. But all this knowledge does little good when the Grand High Witch of the World and her coven take a vacation at the very same hotel. Our intrepid little boy hero overhears the witches’ diabolical plan, but he is caught, teased, tormented, and finally turned into a mouse before he has even a chance to think about doing anything to stop them. Now, how can a tiny little mouse and an ancient grandmother stop the world’s most powerful witches? The evil-in-our-midst plot makes The Witches scary, the intimate and direct voice of the little critter narrator makes it charming, and the twists and turns with witchy mythology make it fun fun fun. You simply cannot read The Witches too many times.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire, 2009, Harper Paperbacks, originally published 1995 (Fiction/ Fantasy) 


The Wizard of Oz is a modern fairy tale. Young Dorothy (and her little dog too) run away from home, get caught in a tornado, and are blown far away to a magical land of walking scarecrows, talking lions, wizards, witches, yellow brick roads, and emerald cities. Most readers will know the 1939 Hollywood musical movie starring Judy Garland best, but L. Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its thirteen sequels way back when in the early 1900s. But it is author Gregory Maguire’s Wicked that really blows the lid off this classic. He focuses on the future Wicked Witch of the West, who begins life as a small green girl named Elphaba. Elphie’s Munchkinlander parents are less than thrilled with this strange offspring, and more so when another daughter (normal-colored but armless) is born a couple years later. Still, the sisters survive their difficult childhood and attend university, where Elphie’s roommate is ditzy Glinda (better known as the Good Witch of the North). Elphaba is never wicked or evil; in fact she campaigns against the politically corrupt Wizard of Oz and fights for economic re-growth instead. Elphaba is ultimately an intelligent and out-spoken young woman, but fate and luck are just not on her side. Readers will sympathize with this other side of the Wicked Witch of the West and relish the clever social satire and biting cynicism inherent in this alternate vision of fanciful Oz. Just as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz swept off the page and became the beloved Hollywood movie, Wicked has transcended its original format to become a popular Broadway musical. Maguire has proved something of a visionary with his reimaging of fairy tales and classics—he has most definitely cornered the market with other inventive perspectives like Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Mirror Mirror, and two other entries in his Wicked Years series about the land of Oz, Son of a Witch and A Lion Among Men. From the fairy godmother in Cinderella to the evil witch-queen in Snow White to the further adventures of Elphaba, Maguire’s blesses his fairy tale witches with a unique complexity that history has not previously afforded them.

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel: A Novel of War and Survival by Louise Murphy, 2003, Penguin Books (Fiction/ Historical Fiction)


The tale of two little children, lost in the woods, who stumble on a candy-coated cottage that actually houses a hungry, wicked witch is familiar to all of us—but boy, is it ever a dark, creepy story when you really think about it. Author Louise Murphy takes it one step further with her True Story of Hansel and Gretel by setting the story during the last months of World War II in Nazi-occupied Poland. “Hansel” is a seven-year-old boy and “Gretel” is his eleven-year-old sister; their father and stepmother were forced to abandon them in the Polish forests but begged them never to repeat their Jewish names. Adopting the monikers from the famous fairy tale, the children do indeed find a “witch” in the form of Magda, a village woman with a reputation. Instead of being devoured, the children are taken in and hidden—as harrowing situation as being locked in a cage by a cackling storybook witch would have been. In crisp prose and cut-to-the-quick dialogue, Murphy weaves a life in hiding with all the hunger, desperation, frustration and fear that entails. Other villagers enter the story, as do the distant journeys of the children’s father and stepmother. Whether or not the separated family and their saviors escape from real wicked witch—a cruel Nazi officer—is something a reader of a Holocaust novel can never be too sure off. Lyrical, haunting, and liberally sprinkled with superstition, folklore, and shades from the dark side of fairy tales, The True Story of Hansel and Gretel is one that won’t easily be forgotten.

A Great and Terrible Beauty: The Gemma Doyle Trilogy, Book 1 by Libba Bray, 2004, Delacorte Books (Teen Fiction/ Historical Fiction/ Fantasy)


When A Great and Terrible Beauty opens in Victorian-era India, Gemma Doyle is an unruly, bratty teenager throwing a bit of a tantrum—not quite the proper young lady we’d expect. Gemma has grown up in India and even though the country is firmly under the Empire’s thumb, she longs to experience England. Her mother forbids this, but Gemma is about to get her wish. Walking in the marketplace, Gemma is overcome by a vision that foretells her mother’s death—a vision that comes suddenly and violently true. Guilt-ridden and bereft, Gemma is sent to Spence Academy, a boarding school in fashionable London. And not only is she snubbed by the beautiful, popular girls and her dumpy roommate alike, but mystery has followed her as well. An unknown young man from India spies on her and even more bewildering, the visions haven’t stopped. Despite her grief, Gemma is not one to shirk adventure. She knows she’s on the verge of a great discovery, especially after she finds an old diary that hints at a mystical society called The Order. Gemma makes an uneasy alliance with the most influential Spence girls and together these young ladies begin to explore the sort of power and mystery that is normally forbidden to the standard meek Victorian woman, a something that is more akin to the magic of witchcraft than to anything else. And once Gemma and her fellows have tasted that power, they’re determined never to go back to the life of mild gentility they’ve being trained to accept. Fans of supernatural romance like the ever-popular Twilight Saga will be drawn to Gemma and to the otherworldy flavor of her adventure. Equal parts mystery, horror, fantasy, and historical fiction, with a dash of forbidden romance thrown in, this trilogy from author Libba Bray is a decidedly original take on the old fashioned notions of witchcraft, mystery, and the proper Victorian era.

In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 by Mary Beth Norton, 2002, Alfred A. Knopf Books (Nonfiction/ American History/ 17th Century) 

In a tiny town in Massachusetts, in the middle of the winter of 1691, two young girls began to suffer from strange fits. Their elders diagnosed the cause as witchcraft, and soon accusations of devil-worship were flying from neighbor to neighbor. All in all, 144 men and women were jailed. Of the fifty-four who confessed to practicing witchcraft, fourteen women and six men were put to death. Modern interpretations of the events include angst-y teenagers who got carried away, the accidental ingestion of hallucinogenic fungus in rye bread, and the actual practice of witchcraft. Noted historian Mary Beth Norton (whose 1997 book Founding Mothers and Fathers was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize) examines the events at Salem from the perspective of the people who were there at the time, without the benefit of modern hindsight. In the Devil’s Snare reveals new, relevant pieces of information. The residents of Essex County, Massachusetts, were engaged in a war that effected their actions every day. They called it the Second Indian War; today we call it (when we remember it) King William’s War. Either way, it engaged colonial settlers in a constant battle with the French, and with the Native Americans the French had recruited, for control of the frontier. Norton bases the hysteria of the witchcraft accusations firmly in the continuous stresses and losses caused by this war in the settlers’ backyards. She also notes that the Salem witch trials marked one of the very few and far between occasions where women were taken seriously. Seventeenth century women did not have the same rights that men had; women were the property of their fathers or husbands and were believed to be weaker, less intelligent, and more unstable than men. The trail judges (all men), then, had specific motives of their own for going against tradition and taking these feminine claims to heart. Norton’s exploration of these previously less-studied aspects sheds new light on the causes and outcomes of the Salem witch hunts. The result is a finely written, extensively researched, fresh, new version of this infamous chapter in American history.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, 2009, Hyperion Books (Fiction/ Historical Fiction)


The Salem witch trials hold great appeal for fiction writers. Author Katherine Howe is a historian whose family has direct ties to Salem in 1692, and Howe uses that real history to cement her story in fascinating fact. But she begins in 1991 with Connie Godwin, a young historian working on her doctorate at Harvard. Connie is remarkably bright and determined to be a success in her chosen field—but first she has to fulfill certain family obligations, like getting her grandmother’s messy house ready for sale. Sifting through the rubble of a well-lived life in the attic, Connie finds a key and a scrap of paper with the words “Deliverance Dane” written on it. Connie doesn’t know what this means—yet—but the reader does, because Connie’s story has been alternating with chapters set in Salem, Massachusetts, during the notorious witchcraft trials. Deliverance Dane is one of the townswomen accused of witchcraft as well as the author of a “physick book” that contains both home remedies and magic spells. Ever the good historian, Connie senses an ancient mystery and becomes an academic detective, though her research is both helped and hindered by her New Age-y mother, handsome new boyfriend with a romantic job (he builds church steeples), and a professor who piles on the pressure and may or may not have some sinister motives for doing so. Meanwhile, back in 1692, Deliverance Dane is getting an all-too-intimate view of the witch hunt hysteria. A breezy page turner packed with the author’s historical know-how, a suspenseful literary mystery, and a richly detailed historical portrait all rolled into one, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane has a sense of history, mystery, and humor that readers will find hard to resist.

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart, 2008, Chicago Review Press, originally published 1988 (Historical Fiction/ Romance)


When Gilly Ramsey was a lonesome little girl, her one true friend was her mother’s eccentric and enchanting cousin Geilles. Geilles had a near-magical way of teaching little Gilly about flowers and animals and then—poof—she’d disappear on one of her world travels, leaving Gilly alone again but a little less lonely. When Gilly grows into a resourceful, modest, lovely young woman in the late 1940s, cousin Geilles wills her a charming old cottage in the countryside. As Gilly makes her new house into a home and gets to know the neighbors, she discovers that Geilles had something of a reputation as a “white witch” with the ability to cure minor aches of the mind, body, and spirit. And, to Gilly’s surprise, the locals expect more of the same from her; to her even greater surprise, the know-how to do so comes very easily. But there’s a mystery here as well. One neighbor, cheery Agnes Trapp, is a bit too friendly, and a bit too eager to get her hands on something hidden inside Geilles’ house. Another neighbor is a strikingly handsome writer, with a precocious animal-loving son who offers the true olive branch of friendship. A few animals play a significant role—carrier pigeons, a black cat, a wounded dog. And Geilles’ cottage has a few surprises as well, including a room full of herbs and a missing recipe book. There’s even the occasional flash of “Sight” that gives Gilly and extra, special power. Author Mary Stewart is best known for her gothic romances and her trilogy about the Arthurian legend; Thornyhold is gentle little gem that’s filled to the brim with an old-fashioned, cozy charm.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman, 1999, Spike/ Avon Books (Fiction/ Fantasy) 

The town of Wall is named for just that, a rock wall that separates its homes and buildings from a wide field that is forbidden to the townspeople—except for one night every nine years, when a fair is hosted by the residents of Faerie—fairies, witches, wizards, practitioners of magic of all kinds. Young Tristran Thorn (the son of a union between mortal and magic, though he doesn’t know it) is drawn across that wall one night—not a fair night—when his beloved sees a falling star land on the other side and demands that he fetch it to prove his love. Tristran sneaks across the wall into Faerie and sets out on a series of adventures, aided by a mysterious and instinctive understanding of magic. The fallen star is easy to find, but difficult to hold on to. For starters, the star is actually a living, breathing young woman named Yvaine. Then Tristran has to get back to Wall with Yvaine, a task made all the more difficult by the others who pursue the star for their own means. These are the sons of Lord Stormhold, who seek the star to claim the throne, and three sister-witches, who need the heart of a star to restore their lustrous youth and beauty. The witches are wicked (and bicker nonstop about whose turn it is to fetch what foul ingredient for the potions), the lords are cruel (and accompanied by the ghosts of their dead brothers), the hero is brave (and has no idea what he really wants), the lady is beautiful (and stubborn as a mule). In short, author Neil Gaiman has (once again) spun a quirky, creative, colorful fairy tale that’s warm and witty and full of life.

The Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft edited by Scott Allie, 2003, Dark Horse Comics (Comics/ Graphic Novels/ Fantasy) 


From Frank Miller’s Sin City to graphic adaptations of StarWars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Aliens, and Predator, Dark Horse Comics has made a name for itself creating some of the most popular, innovative, and creative publishing houses working today. Noted artists Mike Mignola, Gary Gianni, Tony Millionaire, and Jill Thompson and more have contributed short stories, comics, fables, and interviews to this anthology of wicked, wonderful witchcraft. The witches from Shakespeare’s Macbeth make a cartoonish appearance; underground superhero Hellboy has his own adventure with witches. There’s an animal fable/ morality tale, and, of course, the Salem witch trials make an appearance. Each episode is ingeniously illustrated in a different style by a different artist who collaborates with a different writer. To provide a real-life point of view, there’s even an interview with a practicing Wiccan priestess. The result is not a random hodge-podge, but a clever, atmospheric blending of genres, styles, and stories that present almost every conceivable perspective on our cultural understanding of witches, Wicca, and witchcraft. Ranging from smart and clever to disturbing and creepy, The Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft offers a truly remarkable portrait of all things witchy. For more spooky, artistic fun, there’s also The Dark Horse Book of Haunting and The Dark Horse Book of Monsters.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Booklist Additions

A list-maker’s work is never done. Just when you think you can cross a booklist off your list of lists, someone recommends a book, or you rediscover an old book, or a brand-new book fits the topic perfectly. A booklist can never truly be complete, and that’s all part of the fun. Here are some fine, thrilling additions to booklists that are already on the shelves.

More Jane! for the Jane Austen Purist

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, 2001 Penguin Classics, originally published in 1847 (Fiction Classics)

There are plenty of less-than-ideal women in Jane Austen’s novels. Lucy Steele is a pert, pretty kiss-up in Sense and Sensibility. Innocent Catherine Moreland is completely taken in by the flirty, wily, money-hungry Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey. The noisy/ nosy Musgrove sisters can’t keep their hands off Persuasion’s dashing Captain Wentworth. Sister Lydia runs off with the wicked Wickham in Pride and Prejudice and cousin Maria is ruined by that charming cad Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park. Not a one of them can hold a candle to Becky Sharp, our delightfully devious anti-heroine of the classic Vanity Fair. Becky, daughter of a starving artist with the barest pretensions to gentility, is a cunning young woman who is determined not to let something as trivial as social status stand in the way of greatness. Becky is the opposite of her fellow classmate Amelia Sedley, a wealthy girl who’s everything a lady should be—delicate, kind, simpering, and simple. Becky, like any good heroine, seeks the security of a good match, but she’s much keener on money and rank than love and companionship. Becky hitches her wagon to the Crawley family, who employs her as a governess and is a perfect target for her sugary charms and seductions. The Crawleys have a handsome son, and Becky can play the sweet young thing to a tee. Becky and Amelia meet again as wives of fellow soldiers and as their fates unfold against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, author William Makepeace Thackeray playfully satirizes both the upper-class society of his day and the novel-of-manners style of literature with this “novel without a hero.” The unscrupulous Miss Sharp has remained a perennial favorite of classic literature due entirely to her wit, charm, considerable sex appeal, and dead refusal to play by the very strict rules of her era. For readers who wish Jane Austen had occasionally pushed the envelope just a bit more, the exploits of Becky Sharp are ideal indeed.

Young Adult Books Too Good to Miss

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle, 2008, Henry Holt and Co. Books (Children’s Fiction/ Teen Fiction/ Poetry/ Historical Fiction)

The subtitle of this book is Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, but don’t let the word “poems” fool you. You don’t have to be a poetry reader to appreciate this remarkably unique story. Told in free verse (a poetry style that doesn’t rhyme and concentrates instead on a realistic rhythm), The Surrender Tree is a complete narrative, a novel, a work of historical fiction that tells a version of Cuban history we don’t read about much in history texts. In 1868, a few Cuban plantation owners freed their slaves and declared independence from Spain’s rule. For the next three decades, the tropical isle was wracked by nearly constant warfare. Amidst the turmoil and bloodshed emerges Rosa, a slave-turned-healer who spends the tumultuous years of the war hiding in the jungle and healing anyone and everyone she comes across—runway slaves, Cuban rebels, Spanish soldiers (many who change sides after Rosa helps them) and even the legendary Lieutenant Death, the son of a slave hunter who becomes a cruel soldier and Rosa’s most feared foe. Rosa and her husband José spend years camped out in make-shift hospitals in huts and caves, constantly on the move but always connected to the land by the plants, flowers, and herbs that Rosa uses as medicine. Rosa, José, Lieutenant Death, and others like Spain’s General Weyler, who in 1896 called for all Cuban peasants to be herded into “reconcentration camps,” and Silvia, a young girl who escapes from one of Weyler’s death camps, take turns telling the story of Cuba’s fight for freedom from their own point of view. This is where the verse poetry comes in; every poem is a glimmer of light into the world of one of the book’s characters. The story becomes an interwoven, haunting story full of brutal tragedy, quiet triumph, and, above all, the beauty and history of the nation of Cuba. Author Margarita Engle (whose mother is Cuban) writes about real historical figures, though she takes a few liberties with the facts of their lives to weave a more completely unified story. In the end, she tells a powerful story in an elegant style to create a work that won her a Newbery Honor (the first Latino author to do so), a Pura Belpré Award (for Latino authors and illustrators), and a Jane Addams Award (for children’s books that promote peace, equality, and social justice). The Surrender Tree may be a book for young readers, but is truly a book that should be ignored by no audience.

For the Dorky Boy in All of Us

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak, 2005, Alfred A. Knopf Books (Teen Fiction/ Literary Fiction)

Ed Kennedy has been a loser all his life. Born on the wrong side of the tracks, an underachiever in school, in unrequited love with his best friend Audrey, Ed's only cheerleader is his ancient, stinky dog. At the tender age of nineteen, he's an underage cabdriver facing a long life of mundane routine.... until he spontaneously commits an act of bravery during a bank robbery. Then Ed begins receiving playing cards in the mail, aces with cryptic notes that direct him to certain people and places. By following these clues, Ed finds himself in a position to help--stopping crimes, uniting people, playing the hero (even if he sometimes has to play the bad guy first). And every time he chooses to care, Ed is challenged and changed. Whether those changes are for the better or for the worst is tied up in the mystery of who sends the aces, and why, and it's a mystery that's as important to the reader as it is to Ed. Author Markus Zusak invents some unique characters to wander in and out of Ed's adventures, and makes Ed himself a lovable loser, a thoughtful, honest kid with a supporting cast of smart-ass friends and an original narrative voice. First published in Australia in 2002 as The Messenger, this redemption tale won the Children's Book Council of Australia's Book of the Year Award.

Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini, 2004, Miramax Books (Teen Fiction)

Jeremy Heere is a dork. No car, no girlfriend, no high school status. An endless existence as a nerd who keeps track of his daily humiliations and consoles himself with Internet porn seems to stretch out in front of Jeremy—until someone tells him to take a squip. A squip is a supercomputer in pill form, a bit of nanotechnology that lodges in Jeremy’s brain (after he buys it illegally from the back of a Payless shoe store and washes it down with a Mountain Dew) and tells him what to wear, say and do to be Cool. Before you can say “take a chill pill,” Jeremy is leading a squip-enhanced life that has him partying with the guys who used to torment him, hooking up with the school’s hottest girls, and maybe even impressing his beautiful, untouchable crush Christine. But life with a piece of experimental talking technology in your head isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Jeremy struggles to find a balance between the sex-and-drug-fueled exploits his new popularity demands of him and getting the girl to really care about him. Author Ned Vizzini invents a clever could-be world that confronts the challenges of teen life with a biting sense of humor and a working knowledge of what that life is really like (Vizzini, twenty-three years old when Be More Chill was published, began writing about his experiences at New Jersey’s Stuyvesant High School when he was just fifteen). Jeremy’s squip may have some unconventional ideas, but Jeremy himself—a typical, smart-ass, desperate teenager—is the sort of dorky boy the world (alternate reality or not) needs more of.

Never Mind the Swine Flu

An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy, 2003, Clarion Books (Nonfiction/ Teen Nonfiction/ American History)

This Newbery Honor book, Robert F. Sibert Medal recipient, and National Book Award winner claims young readers are its audience, but it recounts a chapter in American history that should be ignored by no one. During the sweltering summer months of 1793, the city of Philadelphia was fraught with controversy. President George Washington was refusing to assist the French in their new war with Britain, and the freshly minted American citizens were angry. The French had helped them with their revolution, after all, and many believed the favor should be returned. So the increasing number of dead animals, insect swarms, and festering smells went unnoticed, even while church bells rang daily to announce more and more deaths. Eventually, one brave physician dared to put a name to the disease that was sweeping through the city: yellow fever. To 18th century ears, this was a death sentence. Yellow fever spread fast and had no cure. While some citizens fled as fast as they could, other remained to sooth the fevered brows of their friends and neighbors. Heroes emerged during the crisis—from famous countrymen like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who tried to keep the new government stable during this early emergency; to eminent physicians like Dr. Benjamin Rush, who possessed the energy to confront the disease; to the under-appreciated men and women of the Free African Society, whose members voluntarily stayed and became nurses and comforters of the ill. Journal entries, newspaper articles, and photographs fill out the story and provide those all-important first-hand details and points of view. By the time the temperatures cool and health is restored, you’ll be very glad you live in the 21st century, and deeply inspired by the men and women who fought the fever so long ago.

Welcome to Dystopia

The Maze Runner by James Dashner, 2009, Delacorte Press (Teen Fiction/ Fantasy)

Thomas wakes up in the Glade. He has no idea how he got there; he has no memories of his life before this. The Glade is a small safe haven in the middle of an enormous labyrinth, and Thomas is in the company of sixty other memory-less boys who have been delivered up to the same fate—solve the Maze before nightfall, or else. If they don’t make it out, the half-machine, half-animal, all-monstrous Grievers will attack and destroy. The Glade is the only refuge from the hazards of the Maze, but the existence the boys manage to eke out is meager indeed, and the desire to get out is overwhelming. Food is supplied via the same freight elevator that delivers a new boy every thirty days, but two years have gone by since the first batch of fellows arrived, and no one has solved the Maze yet. Thomas struggles with the rules of his new life until one day the elevator opens and a new Maze Runner is flung into their midst. But this time it’s a girl, and she comes with a terrifying message: There will be no more deliveries of food or supplies, no more amnesiac kids. There will be no help, no rescue. The Maze needs to be solved—now or never. An action-packed story hints at a dangerous, devastated world outside the Maze, and as soon as one question is answered a new problem emerges to demand a life-or-death solution. Thomas is an intelligent protagonist, curious and determined to unlock both the puzzle of the Maze and the secrets in his head, but it’s the anticipation of what comes next that will keep the pages turning. The first book of a planned trilogy, The Maze Runner reveals a mysterious dystopia where survival, rebellion, and adventure reign supreme.

Mortal Engines: The Hungry City Chronicles, Book One by Philip Reeve, 2001, Scholastic Books (Teen Fiction/ Science Fiction/ Fantasy)

Tom Natsworthy is a lowly apprentice in the Guild of Historians. Kate Valentine is the beautiful daughter of Head Historian Thaddeus Valentine. Hester Shaw is a young woman with a hideously scarred face, a would-be assassin whose attack on Thaddeus Valentine is thwarted by young Tom. And the city of London, where this event takes place, is a Traction City: a towering mobile metropolis with metal jaws that rolls across Europe in pursuit of smaller towns to capture and use as resources, food, and fuel. The world’s cities took to the road hundreds of years ago to escape the constant wars and natural disasters that ravaged the planet, and that’s the future that Tom, Kate, and Hester have grown up in. The Hunting Grounds of Europe used to be flourishing, but things have taken a turn for the worst and it’s become a city-eat-city world. When Tom saves Valentine from Hester’s attack, he expects to be a hero—but instead he’s thrown out of London after Hester and stranded in the wide, open, dangerous Out Country, at the mercy of every roving town, pirate, airship, or Stalker robot that might pass by. Tom’s confusion is matched only by Hester’s desire for revenge and, back in London, by Kate’s overwhelming curiosity about the girl who wants to kill her father. As Tom and Hester try to get back to London and as Kate explores the hidden depths of her city, a secret plot with an ancient but deadly weapon is revealed, and Kate’s father, London’s dastardly Lord Mayor, and a league of cities that have chosen to dwell on the bare earth, are all implicated. Author Philip Reeve seamlessly combines social commentary with action-packed adventure and a richly detailed future world. The first of a series (as so many dystopian sagas are), Mortal Engines is followed by Predator’s Gold, Infernal Devices, and A Darkling Plain.

The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking, Book One by Patrick Ness, 2008, Candlewick Press (Teen Fiction/ Science Fiction) 

When things got real bad, a few pioneers left the messy Old World (earth) and resettled on New World. They were in search of a fresh start, a simpler way of life, but they were in for one hell of a shock--an alien race already in residence. The human settlers were able to win the war for their new home pretty easily, but not before the aliens released a germ that made the men able to hear each other's thoughts and killed the women. All this is ancient history to nearly thirteen-year-old Todd Hewitt, who was born on New World and has only ever known a life among the miserable leftover men of his town and the unending chaos of thought (called Noise) that accompanies them. But just as Todd is on the cusp of the birthday that will make him officially a man, he uncovers a secret so shocking that everything he knows to be true is called into question. Somewhere out there Todd detects a hole of silence in the constant barrage of Noise, and the consequences of that discovery will challenge and change everything in New World. Now Todd, his faithful dog Manchee, and a surprise visitor are running for their lives from the men of Prentisstown. And don't forget: Todd's enemies can hear every thought in his head--and those of his little dog, too. This is one of the most gut-wrenching, brutal dystopias out there. Author Patrick Ness writes an action-packed punch of a novel that just about breaks your heart--but he always keeps just a tantalizing glimmer of hope dangling to keep you reading, and the drama is well worth it. The cliffhanger at the end of the book is so shocking that you're not going to want to spare even one second--make sure you have The Ask and the Answer, book two of the Chaos Walking trilogy, immediately at hand.

Monster Love

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, 2009, Scholastic Books (Teen Fiction/ Fantasy/ Romance)

Shiver is a werewolf’s hungry reply to the best-selling, blockbusting, fan-favorite Twilight Saga, and Shiver’s young lovers Grace and Sam are more than a match for the moody intensity of Bella and Edward’s love affair. Grace is a solitary, intelligent girl who relishes the wild tranquility of the woods behind her house. The wolves that dwell there are especially fascinating, and one wolf in particular—a yellow-eyed handsome creature who once saved her from the rest of his pack—holds a unique attraction for her. That wolf is Sam, a werewolf who was bitten as a boy and who is just as smitten with Grace as she is with him. For years Grace and Sam keep their distance despite their curiosity, but during Grace’s seventeenth year they are thrown suddenly and violently together when wolves kill a boy and human hunters retaliate. Now, Grace finds herself nursing a wounded yellow-eyed boy who must be her beloved wolf, and the star-crossed lovers finally get to know each other. Sam and Grace’s romance is tender and true but fraught with danger. Author Maggie Stiefvater creates a werewolf mythology that keeps the creatures in wolf-form during the frigid winter months and allows the warm weather to transform them into humans for the few brief summer months. Sam’s injury makes him revert to teenage boy form, but the wolves, the humans, and the winter cold are swiftly approaching and threaten to destroy this new relationship and Sam and Grace’s very lives. Shiver is told from Sam and Grace’s alternating points of view, making this Romeo and Juliet plot (with a sequel, Linger, due in July 2010) all the more suspenseful, passionate, thrilling, and chilling.

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, 2007, Thomas Dunne Books (Fiction/ Horror/ Fantasy)

Republished as Let the Right One In after an internationally successful movie adaptation of the same name, the originally titled Let Me In is Scandinavia’s contribution to the vampire fad that is sweeping the globe—and for good reason. Vampires are creepy and fantastic, and when the setting is a lonesome snow-covered suburb in Sweden, the moody intensity just grows and grows. Oskar is a twelve-year-old boy who is constantly bullied and beaten at school. With no friends to turn to, Oskar’s outlets are daydreaming, shoplifting, and keeping a scrapbook of gruesome crimes clipped from the newspapers. Then he meets Eli, a girl about his age who moves into the apartment next door. Eli only comes out at night and smells a bit funny, but Oskar is desperate for companionship and Eli’s quirks suit his own oddness. Meanwhile, a series of brutal deaths begin to plague the area—bodies are drained of blood. It doesn’t take long to discover that Eli is a vampire stuck in a permanent childhood, a deadly little creature who is both desperate to survive and genuinely fond of Oskar. Their sweet, awkward relationship is a splendidly creepy contrast to the blood and gore of the murders. Author John Ajvide Lindqvist adds some original twists to an occasionally predictable story that is part crime novel, part horror story, part paranormal crush. The dark, atmospheric quiet of the film is an excellent companion to the novel and will allow you to be delightfully creeped out on both page and screen.

If Animals Were Authors

Watership Down by Richard Adams, 2005, Scribner Books, originally published 1972 (Teen Fiction/ Fantasy)

Did you forget about this classic of animal-authored literature? Me too. Yet Watership Down is without a doubt one of those few and far between books that are well worth reading years after they’ve been assigned in high school. That’s because the story of talking bunnies works on so many levels and contains touches of everything from mythology and legend to modern history and politics. Fiver is a prophetic rabbit who, one day, senses the swift and unstoppable upcoming destruction of his warren’s home. Sure enough, the field is bulldozed and led by Hazel, a few lucky bunnies set out to found a new promised land in a far-away haven known as Watership Down. Many dangers lurk along the way—the hardships of the homeless, the trials of travelers, a stay along the way in seemingly-idyllic warren that quickly turns nasty, and the ruthless demands of a dictator-like rabbit named General Woundwart. Brother bunnies Fiver and Hazel prove their worth on this Odyssey-like journey, and author Richard Adams blesses his critters with a richly detailed culture that includes social castes, language, poetry, and religion. The long-lasting appeal of Watership Down likes in its superbly-crafted mini-civilization, its powerful insight on human behavior as seen from the animal’s point of view, its epic nature, and its ability to be read as everything from adventure to allegory. If you haven’t ventured out of the den with Hazel, Fiver and company since middle school, it’s time to pick up the book and join the quest again.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Nine Lives of Sherlock Holmes


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published his first mystery story featuring detective Sherlock Holmes in 1887. The success and popularity of the character were immediate. A master of disguise and a mean boxer, Holmes’ real appeal lay in his stupendous power of deduction. Cunning and brainy, Holmes has a remarkable ability of observation—he can deduce (never guess) intimate facts of a person’s history, employment, and personality just by looking at them. Holmes is an egomaniac who takes arrogant pleasure in leaving the police out of the loop and deliberately misleading his partner Dr. Watson (and the reader). Holmes is also a drug addict, indulging in cocaine to relieve his restlessness when life is dull between cases. In short, Sherlock Holmes had a richly detailed and complex persona from the very beginning. Conan Doyle wrote four novels and fifty-six short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes; other characters included Holmes’ faithful colleague Dr. Watson, who shares his rooms at 221B Baker Street and usually narrates the duo’s adventures; Holmes’ even craftier brother Mycroft, who has vague and powerful connections to the government; Holmes’ nemesis Professor Moriarty; and Irene Adler, the only woman to ever impress or outwit Holmes. With such a wealth of appealing characters, mysterious cases, forensic science (which Holmes was an early practitioner of), and sheer personality, it’s little wonder that modern writers have mined the Sherlock Holmes canon over and over to resurrect literature’s best-known detective. His creator eventually got tired him and tried to kill him off (in “The Final Problem,” when Holmes and his enemy Professor Moriarty tumble off Reichenbach Falls), but to no avail—popularity demanded his return and stories appeared with regularity until 1927 when Conan Doyle retired his detective to beekeeping in the Sussex countryside. Conan Doyle may have finally been able to keep Holmes in place, but few others have been unable to resist the temptation to get the game afoot again and again.

The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories and The Four Novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, edited by Leslie S. Klinger, 2004, W.W. Norton, stories originally published 1887-1927 (Mystery/ Short Stories)


This three-volume set is everything a life-long dedicated fan of Sherlock Holmes could ever want, and the perfect introduction for a Baker Street newbie. Here are two volumes of all fifty-six short stories here in the order of their publication and a third volume containing the four novels. Here also is a Sherlock Holmes treasure chest that is chock-full of bonuses and extras: Illuminating bits and pieces from Conan Doyle’s early drafts; essays about all manner of subjects mentioned in the Holmes’ stories, from details about the Victorian age to the rules of the obscure form of Japanese martial arts that Holmes practiced to the origins of rugby. There are over eight hundred illustrations, many by Sidney Paget who created the image of Holmes with deerstalker hat, smoking pipe, and magnifying glass that have become his trademarks today. The stories are annotated with detailed and interesting notes about things that, while common enough in the late 19th century, are quite foreign to us today, things like “spirit cases” (small tables that keeps decanters for drinks locked into place) and “consumption” (the old-fashioned named for any debilitating, wasting disease. Editor and Sherlockian extraordinaire Leslie S. King also expounds on little mysteries within the stories (like how Sherlock could possibly know which way a bicycle was traveling based on its tracks) and speculates on many of the big mysteries from the canon (like exactly what brother Mycroft’s position is within the British government). Some of these notes relate to issues that Holmesian scholars have been debating for decades; some are simple fun facts. The illustrations are lovely and the book design is superb, making this collection of stories is practically a work of art unto itself. There are dozens of editions and collections of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but for sheer wealth of information, education, and entertainment, The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes beats them all.

Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorized Biography by Nick Rennison, 2006, Atlantic Monthly Press (Biography/ Fictional Biography/ Victorian England) 

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote Sherlock Holmes so successfully that thousands of people have written to the offices at 221B Baker Street, asking for help from what they thought was a real, live consulting detective. When Conan Doyle was serving in World War I, he was astonished when a high-ranking officer asked him in what regiment Holmes was serving. Bewildered, Conan Doyle replied that Holmes was too old for active duty, an answer which fortunately satisfied without being an outright lie. Sherlock Holmes is very real to millions of readers, thousands who belong to societies and clubs devoted to the detective, and so in his Unauthorized Biography, author Nick Rennison gives us what we want and pretends a life history of the infamous Holmes, using the canon of original stories and novels and historical events from the times to make it all the more realistic and engaging. Using Conan Doyle’s stories as a guide, Rennison picks out the names, places, and events that Watson drops and lays them side by side with real historical names, places, events to create a timeline for the great detective, complete with a lonely childhood, his much-debated “missing years” in Tibet and Persia, and friendships with Sigmund Freud, Oscar Wilde, and, of course, Arthur Conan Doyle. We see Sherlock Holmes as a bit player on the London stage. We are with Sherlock when he first meets Watson and when he first tastes cocaine. We see deeper into his relationships with brother Mycroft and rival Moriarty. Firmly based in historical research yet with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek tone, Sherlock Holmes: The Unauthorized Biography is the rousing history of the greatest detective who never lived.

The Final Solution: A Novel of Detection by Michael Chabon, 2004, Fourth Estate Books (Literary Fiction/ Mystery/ Historical Fiction)

What do an eighty-nine-year-old detective-turned-beekeeper and a nine-year old Jewish boy from Nazi Germany have in common? A mystery, of course. The boy is young Linus Steinman, a refugee whose sole beloved possession is a gray African parrot named Bruno who speaks, sings, and quotes strings of numbers—all in German. When Bruno is stolen and a man is murdered, the beekeeping old man is moved to assist the local constabulary—but only because he wants to restore the bird to the boy. If he happens to solve the murder along the way, so be it. A cast of quirky characters and suspects dot the English countryside, and author Michael Chabon—Pulitzer Prize winner for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay—is spot-on in terms of style and tone in this slim but smart volume that pays homage to the literary tradition of detection that began so long ago with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. The legendary investigator is never mentioned, but the hints that surround the long-legged, gaunt-faced “old man” range from tweed to pipes to magnifying glasses. There’s little doubt that this is no less than the great and dignified Holmes—worn and stretched by the years but no less sharp—who’s on the case. The murder becomes a matter of national security, with spies and secret codes abounding in the wake of World War II. Sophisticated and fun, The Final Solution is genuine Holmes. 

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, or, The Segregation of the Queen: A Novel of Suspense Featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes by Laurie R. King, 2007, Picador Press, originally 1994 (Mystery/ Historical Fiction)

Sherlock Holmes--wickedly intelligent, almost supernaturally observant, full of contempt for anyone else’s thought processes, a cocaine addict, and a beekeeper to boot-- is drama enough without adding a gawky fifteen-year-old orphan girl who’s every bit as sharp as the great detective himself. But that’s out heroine, Mary Russell, who runs full tilt into Holmes one sunny day in 1915 as she strolls through the fields with her nose in a book. They take an immediate liking to each other, finding in the other a kindred spirit with whom to match wits and intelligence. Russell becomes Holmes’ apprentice in the art of sleuthing and is a superb student; as the years pass and they solve minor crimes together, a deep friendship and close understanding grows between them. Their unique partnership is threatened, however, by a strange case during Russell’s college years at Oxford after World War I. A master criminal, as devious as the infamous Professor Moriarty, is playing a deadly game with Holmes and Russell’s very lives. How the unlikely duo crack the case is only slightly less intriguing than the evolving relationship between the master and his young partner. This is all accompanied by author Laurie R. King’s fine literary style, with Mary Russell as an intimately honest narrator, and a detailed sense of historical time and place. The other eight books in this series continue to develop both the Holmes mythology and the Mary Russell casebook with insightful adventures that draw on literature and history. The after-effects of World War I are investigated, The Hound of the Baskervilles is revisited, real-life crime writer Dashiel Hammet is a character in book eight, political intrigue and British espionage in the Middle East and India are explored, and the most recent entry in the series resurrects the ghost of Holmes’ original brainy love interest, Irene Adler, to artfully combine past stories with the lively new life that Holmes and Russell lead in King’s intelligent, literary, and masterful mysteries.

Novels of Suspense Featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes by Laurie R. King:
1. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice
2. A Monstrous Regiment of Women
3. A Letter of Mary
4. The Moor
5. O Jerusalem
6. Justice Hall
7. The Game
8. Locked Rooms
9. The Language of Bees
10. The God of the Hive (due 2010) 

The Hound of the Baskervilles: A Sherlock Holmes Graphic Novel by Ian Edginton and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard, 2009, Sterling Press (Mystery/ Graphic Novel) 


The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably the best known Sherlock Holmes case. The novel marked Holmes’ return after Conan Doyle sent him over the cliffs at Reichenbach Falls in “The Final Problem.” When Holmes returned in 1901, fans were more than thrilled and Conan Doyle was convinced that the mysteries had to keep coming. The simple reason is that The Hound of Baskervilles has everything that makes a thriller great—a gloomy setting, a gothic tone, a spectral hound that prowls the dark moor, the patriarchal head of an ancient family literally frightened to death, his young brash heir haunted by an eons-old family curse, an escaped lunatic, and a missing boot. Dr. Watson performs his duties as sidekick and narrator to a tee, and Holmes displays some of his very best flashes of deductive brilliance. This graphic novel version presents the mystery is an exciting new light. The creative team of Ian Edginton and I.N.J. Culbard has a history of making over the classics; their colorful reworking of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray was a rousing success that sent the duo back to the drawing board with Sherlock Holmes on board this time. The Hound of the Baskervilles: The Graphic Novel is told in the words of Conan Doyle, lovingly tweaked by Edginton to pick the pace up and get the action going. Illustrator Culbard inks a comic-style story that is as atmospheric as the moors where it takes place. The layouts are energetic, the colors dramatic, and you can see the ideas flicking across Holmes’ wily features. Creative and true, The Hound of the Baskervilles: The Graphic Novel is both an original way to re-read a beloved classic and an innovative introduction to the masterful world of Sherlock Holmes.

The Case of the Missing Marquess: An Enola Homes Mystery by Nancy Springer, 2006, Philomel Books (Teen Fiction/ Mystery/ Historical Fiction)


When fourteen-year-old Enola Holmes discovers that her free-spirited mother has disappeared, she enlists the help of her much-older brothers Sherlock and Mycroft. To Enola’s dismay, the gentlemen theorize that their mother has run off with the family money. The brothers have a low opinion of women; Enola (they haven’t seen her since she was four) is little more than a pest whom they dismiss as unimportant. Enola’s concern for her mother changes to envy and she determines to hunt her mother down and join her. Making an escape is easy—Enola is a Holmes after all, with all the powers of observation, deduction, and disguise that the family name implies—but the little sister is as attracted to crime as the older brothers. Before she knows it, Enola becomes involved in the case of a missing young nobleman, and her desire to solve the mystery makes it that much harder to evade her tenacious big brother Sherlock. The reader immediately takes Enola’s side in the family feud—she’s an engaging, winsome narrator who steady gains in confidence and charm. It’s also enjoyable to see the Holmes brothers, usually so wise and correct, reduced to oppressive villains—which is exactly how Enola, a perfectly rational and more than capable young woman, sees them when they sweep in and impose all the strict Victorian modes of conduct and propriety on her up-till-now independent way of life. Enola shows her pluck as she follows the clues her mother left, runs away in disguise, and makes her own way in the big bad city of London. With Enola Holmes, author Nancy Springer has created a gutsy girl sleuth who is more than capable of outwitting and outsmarting her infamous brothers and equally able to rally readers to her cause. There are four other Enola Holmes puzzles to solve: The Case of the Left-Handed Lady, The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets, The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan, and The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline.

Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith, 2006, St. Martin’s Minotaur Press (Mystery/ Western/ Historical Fiction)


Forget “The game’s afoot.” This time, it’s “Hee-haw, get along little doggies.” Gustav “Old Red” Amlingmeyer is an American cowboy in 1893. Herding cattle is his job, but solving crime, using the deductive methods of his idol Sherlock Holmes, is his true calling. His brother Otto, aka “Big Red,” narrates with earthy aplomb and is willing to play Watson to his big brother’s Sherlock (it’s his fault Old Red’s so obsessed, after all, since it was Big Red who read Conan Doyle’s stories around the campfire). But there’s not a lot of need for “deducifyin’ ” amongst the cattle herds—until, that is, the brothers are hired on at the Bar VR ranch alongside a quirky collection of cowboys with nicknames like Swivel-Eye and Anytime. The Bar VR is run by an unsavory group of ready-to-rumble fellers and Old Red immediately senses a mystery afoot. Then an outlaw escapes from jail and a crotchety ranch hand disappears; only Old Red suspects that the culprit is not the outlaw, and only little brother Big stands by him. A few murders later, and the cowpokes are nervous, the villains are desperate, and the buzzards are circling. Action-packed scenes of stampedes and six-gun shootouts are mixed with charming humor, rousing suspense, and plenty of Sherlockian flashes of insight on the part of Old Red, who really is as quick as they come and a true practitioner at the art of deduction. The transfer of Sherlock Holmes’ tactics, mornally applied in the stately drawing rooms of Victorian England, to the big sky country of the American Wild West, plus the natty charm of our ornery cowpokes, makes Holmes on the Range a mystery-western that is utterly irresistible. The winning twist on the Holmes canon continues in three more trail-side cases, On the Wrong Track, The Black Dove, and The Crack in the Lens.

Shadows Over Baker Street, edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan, 2003, Del Ray Books (Fiction/ Short Stories/ Mystery/ Horror)


“ ‘Elementary, my dear Watson.’ ” “In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulu waits dreaming.” A collection of short stories written by some of the top names in speculative fiction, Shadows Over Baker Street takes the intractable Sherlock Holmes and gives him the macabre world of equally unconquerable writer H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft is an early twentieth century author whose stories about the Cthulu mythos (a human-destroying monster from the deep) and the Necronomicon (an ancient book of forbidden rites and spells) seem expressly written to combine the words weird and horror. Lovecraft’s mythos have been firmly believed in, written about, and expanded upon as often and as devotedly as any of the Sherlock Holmes reinventions. Given Arthur Conan Doyle’s own preoccupations with the supernatural, these giants of literature meet and meld perfectly. Who better than Sherlock, tenacious and unwavering, to solve the mysteries of Lovecraft’s small-town mutants, ancient aliens, and dream monsters? The writers of this new batch of short stories are clearly having an absolute ball bringing these two mythologies together. One mystical story features Sherlock’s female rival, tenacious Irene Adler, as an African hunter who confronts a horrifying something in the jungle. Another allows Holmes to match wits with an almost equal intellect when he encounters extraterrestrial life. Several writers make use of Lovecraft’s tribe of freakishly aquatic villagers in the haunted town of Innsmouth; another has Holmes stumble across a rare copy of the Necronomicon in an Afghanistan cave. This clever blending of classics, spooky and hilarious, makes for a unique read that will thrill both horror and mystery fans alike, and will really give die-hard Sherlockians some new and unusual crimes to take a bite out of.

The Science of Sherlock Holmes: From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, The Real Forensics Behind the Great Detective’s Greatest Cases by E.J. Wagner, 2006, Wiley Books (Nonfiction/ Forensics/ Victorian England)


How accurate were Sherlock Holmes’ methods, really? He’s a fictional character, after all, working in the dark ages of the Victorian era before the invention of electricity, antibiotics, or automobiles. But by solving cases on the basis of tire marks, tobacco ash, and—yes—thumbprints and bullet trajectories, Holmes proves himself an important forerunner in the ever-important field of forensic science. Author, crime historian, and Holmes fanatic E.J. Wagner makes a magical match when she uses the works of Arthur Conan Doyle to explore early crime scene investigation methods. From the “real” hound of the Baskervilles to Holmes’ use of fingerprinting to Conan Doyle’s real-life contemporaries like detective Henry Goddard of the Bow Street Runners and brilliant-but-bigheaded pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury, The Science of Sherlock Holmes guides us through the science’s early experiments and into the accepted practices. There’s also old-fashioned legends and bizarre myths, vampires, Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, and lots of blood and guts. By combining the popularity of two forever-trendy subjects—Sherlock Holmes and forensic science—Wagner succeeds in shedding light on both, pleasing fans of both, and educating and entertaining absolutely everyone.

Note: There are dozens of other stories starring that insurmountable detective Sherlock Holmes. He is the Victorian era’s most famous detective; author Lyndsey Faye could not resist pairing him with the era’s most famous criminal, Jack the Ripper, in her novel Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson. Author David Pirie imagines Sherlock Holmes’ origins with his eerie novel The Dark Water: The Strange Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes about Arthur Conan Doyle and the real man who inspired the character of Holmes, Dr. Joseph Bell, a pioneer of criminal investigation. Sherlock Holmes, The Missing Years: The Adventures of the Great Detective in India and Tibet by Tibetan author Jamyang Norbu is one of the best renderings of what happened to Sherlock after he fell off the cliffs at Reichenbach and supposedly “died.” Eye of the Crow: The Boy Sherlock Holmes, His 1st Case, is the first in an award-winning series by author Shane Peacock; in it, thirteen-year-old Sherlock is both investigator and suspect in his first murder case. And there is any number of collections of new Sherlock Holmes stories: The Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Holmes Adventures edited by Mike Ashley; Sherlock Holmes in America edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Jon L. Lellenberg, and Daniel Stashower; New Adventures of the Great Detective by Donald Serrell Thomas. You can even practice the art of deduction yourself with Random Riggs’ Sherlock Holmes Handbook: The Methods and Mysteries of the World’s Greatest Detective. Whether you guess, speculate, or deduce, one thing’s for sure—if you love the sleuth Sherlock, any nearby bookshelf is sure to hold a case to crack.