Monday, March 3, 2008

Letter from the Editor, March 2008

Everyone has a history, especially readers. Aside from one's own personal history, the history of a person's reading can be just as rich and varied as the everyday details of life.

Such is the case in my own life, I feel. From a childhood of fancy and a proclivity for all things paranormal, to my rebellious teen years reading postapocalyptic fiction, to my days as an art student reading biographies of enigmatic painters and sculptors, to my current life as a college English instructor and my penchant for literary fiction, classics, and comic books. Each step in my personal history reflects in my reading history. And what fun it is to look back and marvel at the changes.

One reader's history can encompass a universe of experience. Three cheers for the colorful past.


Table of Contents, March 2008

March "Door Prize" Giveaway: The New Yorkers, by Cathleen Schine (autographed)

Author Interviews:

Featured Articles:


Saturday, March 1, 2008

March 2008 "Door Prize"

The winner of the February door prize, and a copy of The Outlander, by Gil Adamson, is Trish! Congratulations, and we hope you enjoy your winnings!

The March Door Prize is an autographed copy of Cathleen Schine's newest novel, The New Yorkers! Send your name, address, and blog address if you have one to estellabooks(at)gmail(dot)com to enter.

Author Interview: Mary Doria Russell

By Lesley Scher

Mary Doria Russell is an author, Doctor of Biological Anthropology, wife, mother, and "genre slut." Her novels have been translated into dozens of languages, and her novel, A Thread of Grace, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2005. Her latest offering, Dreamers of the Day, is scheduled for release on March 11th.

Lesley Scher: You obviously know your Middle East history, yet near as I can tell, all your degrees are in Anthropology. You must love all the research that goes into a novel such as this (and A Thread of Grace).

Mary Doria Russell: Research is what I like best about being a writer -- it's Anthropology without Portfolio. I love finding some new topic that pulls me deeper and deeper into the background of the world and time I'm writing about.

So far A Thread of Grace has taken the most effort and time -- seven years -- because it was such an important topic and so many people had entrusted me with their memories. Dreamers of the Day was a lot easier -- much more restricted in time and place, fewer characters, one point of view. Still fun, though. I learned a lot, writing it.

LS: How long did you work on Dreamers of the Day?

MDR: Two years to a complete first draft, and then about six months of editing.

LS: Did you make a similar journey to that of Agnes'? The details were deliciously descriptive, reading like a travel essay.

MDR: Thanks! I'm glad they seemed that way. This book was all library research. I considered traveling but it turned out there's not much to see in Cairo that dates to 1921. Cairo is like Chicago with earthquakes -- lots of fires and it's constantly rebuilding itself. I relied on a shelf full of period travel memoirs for the incidents and detail that make the novel seem real. There's a list of them in the acknowledgments. I also used modern studies of Nile flora and fauna and asked two recent travelers to check my details to correct errors.

LS: Was any of Agnes' story based on your own family history? Was your mother the basis for Agnes’ "Mumma"?

MDR: In part, this book was a thought experiment: what would I be like if I'd been raised by my mother's mother? I don't know that I really learned very much about my mother's psychology, but I did learn a lot about childrearing ideas at the turn of the last century. Baby Boomers were raised by people born in the 1920s who were raised by people born in the 1890s. I suspect a lot of my readers in their 50s will recognize attitudes and techniques their parents used to raise them.

BTW: The Boomers weren't really Dr. Spock babies. That was more the Gen Xers, who are now in their 40s, being raised by the Silent Generation that came of age after World War II... Whole different world...

LS: I was going to ask you if Rosie was based on a family pet, but I answered my own question by reading the "About the Author" page on your website.

MDR: YES! Annie is definitely the model for Rosie, and I must say that I believe my portrait of Rosie is the finest portrayal of a 15-pound long-haired black and tan dachshund in modern American literature.

LS: I noticed that Agnes liked to say, "You see" quite a bit. Just as I began to notice her "verbal tick," it suddenly disappeared. Was this intentional?

MDR: Agnes becomes less apologetic as her story progresses. Her personality emerges more strongly as her experience goes on. She no longer has to explain herself to her mother and as that need for Mumma's (rare) understanding fades, Agnes is more direct in her opinions. She stops asking you to confirm to her that you see, that you understand. She's more sure that she is being clear and that you will understand, once Mumma has stopped undermining her confidence.
LS: I loved all the tidbits of information/trivia. I had no idea Bob Hope's real name was Lesley Hope.

MDR: True! And he really did date a Cleveland girl named Mildred!

LS: Or that the apex of the Great Pyramid is a flat square and not a point!

MDR: You can see it, once you know to look.

LS: Or that the shortening of skirts (and thus, a significant change in fashion design) was due to the lack of available fabric during the war.

MDR: Similar things happened in World War II. The Andrews Sister look -- pencil skirts, no lapels -- lasted until the war ended, when Dior's New Look -- big, billowy, full skirts -- replaced it.

LS: Not only did I enjoy learning about the outcome of the Cairo Conference, but I found all the personal details about T. E. Lawrence (Neddy!), Gertrude Bell and Winston all quite entertaining and enlightening.

MDR: Glad to hear it. Fascinating folks, but of course, I liked Neddy best.

LS: If the movie rights are purchased for Dreamers of the Day, who would you like to see play Agnes?

MDR: Well, there is a movie rights agent shopping the manuscript already. Her first thought was to approach Nicole Kidman for the role.

Now Nicole Kidman is not the last person I'd have imagined to play Agnes Shanklin. Probably David Spade would be the last person who'd come to mind... but even with an unattractive fake nose, Miss Kidman seems a little glamorous for Agnes.

Not sure who I'd cast in the role. When I was writing the book, I could hear Betty White's voice, but she's not the right age!

LS: Do you have a favorite scene in Dreamers of the Day?

MDR: Had to think for a minute, but yes, I love the scene where Churchill gets Agnes drunk on gin and tonics, and when she gets sick on the way back to her hotel, Lawrence tells her, "I was an undergraduate at Oxford. I've seen worse."

LS: I see that you have another novel in the works! Sounds like a fun project (and quite a departure from your previous four!). Where do your story ideas come from?

MDR: Not enough data points to form a statistically significant pattern, but for three of the five? Movies.

The Sparrow was, in part, a response to the disappointment I felt upon seeing Black Robe. I thought, "Nobody involved with this movie gets the main character. None of them understand why he does what he does, why he suffers all this... He isn't psychotic and he's not a masochist. So what's driving him?"

And for Dreamers of the Day, of course, there was Lawrence of Arabia, which changed my 12-year-old life and gave real direction to my studies as an adult.

For my fifth novel (no title for that one yet -- I keep changing my mind), the movie Tombstone got me thinking about how contemporary the issues of the Old West still are. Illegal immigration, conflicting commercial and legal interests, gun control, vice laws, etc. Lots of other things will be going on in the novel, but Tombstone got me started.

LS: Which authors have most influenced your work?

MDR: Dorothy Dunnett and Robert Ludlum. How bizarre is THAT combo? Dunnett was a superb Scottish historical writer whose Lymond Chronicles were like a graduate degree in writing fiction: layered, complex plots; the slow peeling back of the characters' motives and psychological drives; gorgeous prose.

Robert Ludlum's thrillers written back in the 1980s taught me that trick of having two or three braided storylines that keep readers turning the pages.

LS: What books are currently on your nightstand? Do you find time to read for pleasure every day?

MDR: Oh, dear. You're going to be disappointed in this list. I have a stack of books about Dodge City in the 1870s:

The Merchant Prince of Dodge City by C. Robert Haywood

Dodge City, Queen of the Cowtowns by Stanley Vestal

Cowboy Capital of the World by Samuel Carter

I'm doing research for my 5th novel, which is a murder mystery set in Dodge in 1878. A genre two-fer!

LS: What were some of your favorite books as a child?

MDR: Interestingly, I'm rereading a lot of them right now because they're good sources about horses: Black Beauty, King of the Wind, Black Gold. I loved all those horse stories written for pre-adolescent girls!

LS: Of the novels you've written, do you have a personal favorite?

MDR: You know, I like Dreamers a lot. I miss Agnes! She was such a good companion to write for, and I enjoyed her company. I guess, though, that The Sparrow is probably my favorite overall. First child, you know. Always special.

LS: Finally, I read that you wrote the introduction for the reissue of A Canticle for Leibowitz. I have a very old copy of the book in my stacks and was planning to read it this month for an online Sci-Fi Challenge. I just finished Alas, Babylon, which I absolutely loved, and I hope to read several more post-apocalyptic works. I'll have to buy a new copy of A Canticle for Leibowitz so I can read your intro!

MDR: And what a huge thrill that was -- being asked to introduce a book that had such an impact on me! That was the first present my future husband gave me -- we were in high school in the mid-sixties at the time.

Estella's Revenge wishes to thank Lesley Scher for sharing her fantastic review, and to Mary Doria Russell for being one of Lesley's favorites and rubbing off on us.

Author Interview: Sara Zarr

Interviewed by Heather F.

Heather F.: Congratulations on the success of your novel, the National Book Award nominated, "Story of a Girl" and the recently released "Sweethearts." Please tell us a little bit about them.

Sara Zarr: Thanks! I think of both books as family dramas, though they are both YA and focus on the lives of teens. In Story of a Girl, the main character is basically on a quest for redemption and reconciliation with herself and with her family after an incident in the past that everyone knows about. Sweethearts is also about confronting the past, though the circumstances are different and the incident in that book has been a secret to everyone but the two main characters. In both stories, family---the one we're born into and the one we create---plays a big part.

HF: Jennifer Harris, one of the main characters in Sweethearts, manages to do what so many teenagers want; she reinvents herself into Jenna, now a thin, pretty, popular girl, when she reached high school, yet feels herself a fraud. You write so truthfully! Do you find it hard to write with the voice of a teenager, now that you are an adult?

SZ: I'm still pretty in touch with my inner adolescent, so voice is usually not an issue for me. Much harder than that are the basic "what should happen next?" types of things that you have to deal with when writing a novel.

HF: Both your novels deal with the pain and awkwardness of growing up. How conscious of the reader are you when you write? Are you writing for the YA audience specifically or are you shelved that way?

SZ: That's a great question. First, I'm writing for myself. I'm writing what I want to write in the way that I want to write it. I mean, I do love YA and intentionally write in that category, but as the many adult fans of YA know, teen books aren't "junior novels" that aren't quite real or satisfying. Sometimes I think I'd love nothing more than for the whole category to go away and just be blended in with the rest of books, but when I've said as much when speaking to a teen audience they look kind of horrified and like having a section that's just "theirs" at the store.

HF: How much do you draw from your own experiences when writing?

SZ: I draw a lot on my emotional experiences. The details of plots and stories are almost total fabrication, but all of the emotional challenges my characters deal with are things that I've struggled or continue to struggle with myself. They boil down to the basic human questions about identity and purpose and desiring connection untainted by our weaknesses. I think the lives of adolescent characters are perfect for exploring those.

HF: Do you consider yourself to be religious? What impact does that have on your writing?

SZ: I am a devout Christian, but I guess I don't think of myself as religious, if only because that word is so loaded with social and political baggage that I'd rather not lug around. Every writer's writing is influenced by her worldview, and I'm no different. There's this great Katherine Paterson quote: "...when I is in the hope that the works of my imagination will somehow reflect the image of a God who creates in beauty, judges in mercy, wrestles with those in puzzlement or anguish, shapes the end by steadfast love and unfailing grace." Even if my characters don't believe in or aren't aware of a god like that, I try to be that god as the creator of my characters and the world they're in. Not every reader is going to see that, and it's actually not important that they do---once a reader starts interacting with a book, it's a very personal experience for them and it's not about me anymore. The impact of my faith on my writing has a lot more to do with me and the satisfaction I get from what I do.

HF: When did you first start writing? When were you sure this is what you wanted to do all your life?

SZ: I've been writing since I was a kid, but it wasn't until about age 25 that I became fairly certain that this is the career I wanted. Nothing else inspired any passion in me and if writing hadn't worked out I'd still be taking dead end job after dead end job, aimless and unmotivated!

HF: Do you have a favorite place to write? Do you have any writing rituals?

SZ: It depends. I can write anywhere, really. I like my office (it's away from my house, which is good). The only ritual is that I ease into my day: coffee, breakfast, email, gym...all that stuff first. To me there's no real advantage to self-employment if I'm still getting up before dark and rushing around to be somewhere!

HF: What writers have influenced your work the most? What is it about those particular writers that you admire?

SZ: No doubt I'm influenced by the YA writers I read when I was a teen (and into adulthood): pioneers like Robert Cormier and M.E. Kerr and Madeleine L'Engle. I also love Anne Tyler, Robert Clark, Ian McEwan. I think all of those authors have a particular combination of skills that result in books that are great stories in terms of keeping the pages turning, but they also find ways to explore the bigger life issues within the minutiae of regular life. Even L'Engle's work about such fantastical things as time travel and parallel universes always, to me, feels grounded in real life and emotion.

HF: Do you read a lot? Do you read most contemporary books, classics, or a mix?

SZ: Not nearly as much as I want to, lately. Now that I'm in the book business, reading doesn't feel like as much of an escape as it used to. I read mostly contemporary books but I've got grandiose fantasies about catching up on all the classics I missed and re-reading the ones I loved.
HF: What's on your nightstand to read right now?

SZ: WAKE by Lisa McMann, BEFORE YOU KNOW KINDNESS by Chris Bohjalian, and INVISIBLE by Pete Hautman.

HF: What jobs have you done in the past? If you weren't a writer, what would you most like to do?

SZ: I've been a file clerk, cook, sandwich maker, church secretary, office manager, indexer, corporate trainer, and more! As for what else I'd like to do - I recently heard a story on NPR spotlighting the job of "script supervisor" on a movie set. It requires obsessive attention to detail and an intense need to be right. I thought that sounded perfect for me!

HF: What can your fans look forward to next?

SZ: I've got an essay on body image in an anthology coming out this fall called DOES THIS BOOK MAKE ME LOOK FAT? My next novel won't be out until late 2009 or so. Personally, I hope the time goes by slowly. I could use a little rest!

Thanks so much to Sara Zarr for her time in answering our questions. You can visit her website HERE.

The Middle Ages: A User’s Guide

By Stuart Sharp

Since I am, nominally, an expert on all things historical (feel free to laugh) this month’s theme seemed like an excellent opportunity to introduce you to my own little corner of history, the Middle Ages. As corners go, it’s a little on the large side. If you start talking about the ‘Dark Ages’ as ‘the Early Middle Ages’ there’s upwards of a thousand years of history to deal with.

It’s possible that some of you may have learned rather more than the rest of us about them in school, and to those I apologise if I’m repeating the sort of thing you spent your formative years trying to avoid. If, on the other hand, your school was much like mine, you didn’t get many lessons on medieval history. Even those who did may well find that their lessons only skimmed the surface, or that they were staring out of the window and thinking about a coming PE lesson at many of the crucial points.

‘But that’s not a problem’ I hear you say ‘I can always go and find a book on it.’ At least, I assume you’re saying that, given where we are. If you’re anything like me, when you don’t know something, you reach for a book. But which book? Most likely, you’ll end up reading a ‘popular history’ book, since they make up the contents of most bookshop shelves. In some cases, that’s fine. They’re well researched, well written books that just happen to be on a subject a lot of people are interested in. The work of Alison Weir springs to mind.

In far more cases they are utter rubbish. I know how snobbish that must seem, but they are. The worst are cobbled together out of spare parts to try and tie them in to whatever happens to be on TV, with no original research, no awareness of what’s going on in the debates surrounding the subject, and often more interest in telling a good story than getting their facts straight. The problem is, where else do you go? If you go looking for more academic texts, how do you avoid something impenetrable, overly boring and ultra specialised? And what do you do if what you’re actually after is some medieval literature, not just modern histories?

In answer to both these questions I have compiled a pair of lists. They aren’t definitive. They certainly aren’t comprehensive. Essentially, they’re just lists of a few books on the subject that I happen to have found enjoyable and/or helpful. I’ve mostly tried to stick to history books that are well written as well as authoritative, though in a couple of cases, I’ve assumed that you’d rather have a comprehensive boring book than an entertaining useless one. I have also tried to limit the lists to things I’ve read, which explains any skewing in the subject areas. The first list is of useful history books, the second of books from the Middle Ages.

Finding these books might take a little effort. A local university library will probably have most of them, if you have access to one. Failing that, there are friendly librarians, bookshops, and the Internet. Even if you can’t find these titles easily, hopefully looking for them will point you in the direction of many more serious but readable history books.


List 1: Modern Books on the Middle Ages

1- David Crouch, Tournament- Although I should probably admit to knowing David, that doesn’t make this any less the definitive statement on the medieval tournament scene. He’s managed to take an area that can attract the very casual ‘lots of pretty pictures but no depth’ sort of popular history, and then produce an important work of social history that fits the tournament squarely into the lives of the medieval aristocracies of Western Europe. His biography of William Marshall is also well worth a look.

2- P.Binski, Medieval Death: Ritual and Representation- Death and the afterlife were such central concerns for so many people in the Middle Ages that it would be odd not to include something on this subject. At over ten years since publication, this is possibly getting a little out of date, but it is still one of the best of the specialized works in the area. C.Zaleski’s, Otherworld Journeys includes quite a lot in the area of medieval vision literature (of which more later).

3- Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe- Probably the least readable of the books on this list, but only because he makes such an effort to be comprehensive that he occasionally forgets to be comprehensible. G. Duby, France in the Middle Ages- It’s seriously out of date by now, but as a general introduction it works well. Included mostly because Duby was one of the most influential medieval historians around.

4- Anyone who finds themselves interested in medieval France might like to try J. Bradbury’s, Philip Augustus: King of France 1180-1223. It’s one of those rare occasions where a biography works well as a general history, and Phillip II doesn’t get the recognition he probably deserves. Anyone wanting a more general history should try J. Dunbabin’s, France in the Making 843-1180. For those more interested in the links between the developing France and England there’s John Gillingham’s The Angevin Empire.

5- C.H. Lawrence, Medieval Monasticism- One key aspect of medieval history was the birth of a number of new monastic orders in the central Middle Ages. This book offers an effective guide to them and the influence they had. For anyone who likes their medieval ecclesiastical history with fewer monks in it, there’s always Kathleen Edwards’ The English Secular Cathedrals.

List 2- Some Medieval Books

1- Chansons de Geste. Raoul de Cambrai- The translation I have is by Sarah Kay, and this is probably my favourite of the medieval chansons de geste. For anyone who can’t find it, the Song of Roland is probably better known, and is also definitely worth reading.

2- Medieval Vision Literature. The Vision of the Monk of Eynsham. Before Dante ever got the idea, medieval writers were coming up with long visions of the afterlife. Actually, the English version of this is quite late, but still just about qualifies. Other examples include St Patrick’s Purgatory and various shorter examples in Bede.

3- Medieval histories. Talking of which, his Ecclesiastical History of the English Speaking Peoples remains the best of an entertaining bunch. For the crusades, try Guibert de Nogent’s The Deeds of God through the Franks or Fulcher of Chatres’ A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem. Suger of St Denis’ Deeds of Louis the Fat is an even more blatant piece of propaganda when dealing with medieval France, and is all the more fun for it.

4- Medieval Poetry- Of course, practically everything above was laid out as verse, particularly in the chansons de geste, but here I’m trying specifically to direct you towards the Lays of Marie de France. Finding a translation might take a bit of effort, but they’re more than worth the effort.

I'm Ready for My Close-up, Mr. DeFalco: Blurring the Lines of Film and Comics

By Chris Buchner

Comics are no stranger to the motion picture medium of storytelling. Comics have often been called movies without budgets, while the storyboards used in movies have been regarded as nothing more than unfinished comic panels. The two mediums have crossed over continuously, with movies and TV taking and adapting ideas from comics onto film, and comics taking ideas from and adapting movies and TV shows into print. To further blur the line, creators from each medium have begun to cross over to work in the other, creating a fine flowing circle between Hollywood and the printing press. This mutual relationship has ushered in a new trend.

Has your favorite TV show ended? Well, it doesn’t have to. While the concept of TV being adapted into comics is not a new one (various cartoons from the 80s and 90s, the Star Trek franchise, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer franchise, etc.) it is a new one to make the books not only spin-offs from the show, but to CONTINUE the show through them. Two of the most recent examples of this are IDW Publishing’s Star Trek: Year Four and Angel: After the Fall (or Season 6), and Dark Horse’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight.

The original Star Trek was envisioned as a five season series by creator Gene Roddenberry (hence the “five year mission” introduction spoken by Captain Kirk, played by William Shatner, at the start of every episode) before it was unsuspectingly cancelled after its third season. Since then, it had gained a tremendous following that resulted in spin-offs, movies, and comic books. Year Four continues the adventures of the original U.S.S. Enterprise (in terms of real-time, as that honor in canon would now go to the Enterprise in the prequel spin-off Star Trek: Enterprise) as it continues to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Season Eight and After the Fall act in much the same way, picking up from the final seasons of Buffy and Angel and exploring the sub-plots left dangling that the shows never completely resolved. Adding to the authenticity of that transition between mediums, series creator Joss Whedon wrote the first arc of Buffy before handing it off to Brian K. Vaughn for the next, while merely overseeing the production of Angel written by Brian Lynch (whom Whedon felt was perfect for the task thanks to his one-shot Spike: Asylum).

Movies have taken to this as well. With the success of Freddy vs. Jason, talks for the sequel began with most of the ideas being thrown out involving the inclusion of another horror franchise character in the mix. The most popular choice was Ashley J. Williams, the hero from Sam Raimi’s cult classic Evil Dead franchise. Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash was a hot topic, eagerly anticipated by fans and people involved with the film, including Jeff Katz who penned the treatment for it. However, Raimi decided against it and the idea was trashed. That is until New Line tossed out the idea of turning the concept into a comic book. Wildstorm, an imprint of DC Comics and current rights holders to the New Line horror franchises, teamed up with Dynamite Entertainment, the current rights holder of Army of Darkness comics, and produced a 6-issue mini-series based on Katz’s initial treatment (which can be found on

Comics offer a unique opportunity for TV and movie productions to be made without all the hassle of budgetary constraints, constant re-shooting, and temperamental actors. This allows the universe of the production to be expanded upon in ways never before possible. Sure, we lose little things like the physical and audible nuances of the characters given by the actors, but when it’s something you’ve been wanting to see for a long time, little sacrifices like that are worth it.

How I Came to Love Reading

By Richard Marmo

Presumably we all came to a love of reading by different paths. Some couldn’t stand it until an epiphany of some kind reared its cute little head or a traumatic medical event and so on. As they used to say in the introduction to an old TV show called Naked City, “There are a million stories in the naked city!” Well, the same holds true where reading is concerned.

Most learned in a fairly traditional school. Those of you who go back far enough in time learned to read by phonics, the tried and true method by which you learned the alphabet, how the letters sounded and how you put them together to form words. As a result, you wound up being able to read virtually anything put in front of long as it was in your native language. Phonics also enabled you to look a word up in the dictionary, even if you weren’t sure how to spell it. Finding subjects in an encyclopedia was a breeze as well.

For a while, phonics was replaced by the see and say method...and I suppose it still exists in some areas. This method basically had you memorize a word and learn how it sounded. Thus whenever you saw the same word again, you could read it. That was all well and good, but it did have its limitations, the most obvious being if you had never seen a particular word, you didn’t have a clue how it sounded. Your own ability to memorize was also a factor.

Then there are those of us (and I’m one) who have no conscious memory of ever learning to read. We simply do it. Its as natural and automatic as breathing. Was I taught to read? Absolutely! But the method was one that is rarely seen anymore, partly because of time constraints, single parent families, economic pressures and a host of other reasons. The fact that a high percentage of Americans never read another book after they graduate from high school or college is another factor.

So how did I learn to read? What is my reading history and why do I still read? Stick with me, folks. It’s an interesting tale. At least I think so.

My mother read to me. and she didn’t wait to start until I was five or six years old. She read to me from the time I was an infant, only a few months old. Fairy tales, poems, you name it. She didn’t limit her reading material to things that were simple; she also taught me the alphabet. By the time I was two or so, she was buying me books of my own, including the classic Golden Books that actually told a fairly complex story.

Instead of handing me the book and letting me read it alone if I was interested, many’s the time we sat and read it together. She’d read some of it aloud to me while I followed along, then I’d read another portion.

Just before I was three, we were living in Vallejo, California, and my mother told the story that I was lying on the floor ‘reading’ a newspaper. Of course, she thought I was just looking at the photographs, but then began to watch me more closely, and it became obvious that I was actually reading the articles word for word.

From that point on, she started buying me more difficult books and taking me to the library. In that time period (the 1940s), libraries had children’s sections (and I had my own library card), but they also had rules that prevented children from checking out books from the adult section. Since the books in the children's section weren’t up to my level for the most part, my mother got around that restriction by letting me select the books I wanted and she would then check them out.

Before I started first grade, my parents bought a set of encyclopedias for me, and I don’t mean a children’s encyclopedia. This was a full-blown, twenty-volume set of encyclopedias intended for adults. Whenever I asked a question, her response was not to tell me the answer but to say “Let’s go look it up in the encyclopedia.”

When I entered first grade, the school claimed I was reading on a sixth grade level, but the truth was that I was reading on an adult level with no limits on what I would tackle. From that point on there was no stopping me. I suppose one thing that lead to my love of reading was the fact that I was constantly sick as a child and never went to school for more than two weeks at a time. Also, the entertainment at home was either radio drama (You don’t know what you’ve missed if you’ve never heard Inner Sanctum, The Lone Ranger, Green Hornet, Fibber McGee & Molly and a bunch of others. It did wonders for the imagination.), imagination, or books. So I read. Literally anything I could get my hands on. Not only was it an escape from the boredom of illness, it was a way to time travel into both the past and future and to visit places in this world that I would never be able to see in person. Then I discovered Science Fiction and the entire universe, both real and imagined, opened to me.

When I was seven, my parents started getting me interested in model building. Before long, I was an aviation enthusiast in particular and loved models in general. My model interest combined with my love of reading helped to create a deep interest in history, an ability to research, to see patterns where others couldn’t, and more.

From that point on, my interest in both reading and modelbuilding continued to grow and become intertwined to the point that they were inseparable. One thing lead to another and, in 1967, I started building models and writing as a business. I’ve been a freelance writer/modelbuilder ever since.

I’ve written over 500 articles and review columns, most in print publications but quite a number on the Internet. I have several blogs and websites, have written three print books, co-authored two CD-ROMs on the B-36, self-published two CD-ROMs on aviation history and built well over 1,000 models.

Someone asked me once, if I could spend all my time either writing or building models, which would I prefer to do? The question is unanswerable for the simple fact that the two subjects are so integrated with each other and with me that it would be impossible to make a choice. Modelbuilding and writing is what I am, what I was born to do, what my calling is. And reading is at the core of it. Without my love of reading, I would have never become either a modelbuilder or writer, nevermind both.

Voice of Dissent: An Uncensored Diatribe on The Time Traveler's Wife

By Corinna Carlson

A new voice to Estella's Revenge since its reincarnation as a book 'zine, Corinna Carlson is one of the brave few willing to say, "I didn't like The Time Traveler's Wife!"

So, [insert HUGE *sigh* here] I have finally, and I mean FINALLY, finished The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. I never manage to read as much as I’d like to; I set myself monthly reading quotas and I’ll meet them for a while and then every now and again a book comes along that I don’t hate per se but is a struggle, and I have to push through it. A book has to be pretty bad for me not to finish it. I ended up reading two books while reading The Time Traveler's Wife, which is essentially unheard of, and I don’t really know what it means.

There's a little background involved in my reading this novel. In fact, I wasn't going to. My dad picked this as a family book club book, but that meeting never happened. My dad loved the book, my mother hated it. Adam got 118 pages in and I kept getting mad at him because he would not stop laughing, and at the time it was still for book club so that sort of behavior was totally unacceptable.

Long story short -- meeting is cancelled, Adam rejoices, I decide not to read it. Months pass, maybe a year, this book was released in 2003 after all, but everywhere from every direction, THE INTERNET itself, my book buddies, Facebook, e-mails, random conversations, somehow some way the book would find me. Mind you, I did only have to look up at my alphabetically organized bookshelves to find it, but the damn thing was obviously calling me in the way books sometimes do.

Thus I begin the five hundred plus page book. The title is a great example of what this book is primarily about; we have the time traveler and we have his wife. The time traveler travels and the wife doesn’t. Life is hard and crazy and they are pulled this way and that way and there are emotions and no such thing as normalcy and the characters have to believe and endure a lot of pain and yearning and it starts out really good. I’ll give it that. For a first go at writing a novel I do have to say I am extremely impressed by the majority of her writing style. But the thing that first got on my nerves was all of her half formed cultural references. For example, the mention of Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov, for no apparent reason except to make the reader feel they are inferior to Niffenegger if they don’t catch all the allusions, and trust me, there were MANY. These references are still relevant to the novel, but all they are is dropped like they are hot. Also there is a technique we are all familiar with called foreshadowing. I don’t know if she actually believed that she could take it to an entirely new level of let’s just tell the reader EXACTLY what is going to happen and see if they keep reading, or if her idea of foreshadowing is literally that literal.

I almost couldn’t finish it because I was so disappointed. This book had unlimited potential and parts made me feel like it was a five out of five stars novel, but all of a sudden the wheels fell off and reading it felt like a chore. It got ridiculous, I couldn’t even feign sadness for the characters, but again, for me, this stems from the underdevelopment of the characters. I would have liked to have seen her dig deeper into the traveler’s sexual past and its affect on his wife.

At the end of the day, I didn't like it, but I didn't hate it; therefore, I give it a three.

West With the Night

West With the Night
Written by Beryl Markham
North Point Press
Reviewed by Heather F.

West With the Night is British-born adventurer Beryl Markham’s account of growing up in Africa. I had never heard of Markham prior to reading this book, as I'm sure many people haven't. She should be more well known! She was a renaissance woman. West With the Night follows her life as she grew up with the natives in Kenya, hunting and playing with the children of the local tribe. She became the first licensed female horse trainer in Kenya. She raced horses for a short time. She later took up flying and became a bush pilot. And, as the title refers to, she became the first person to fly the Atlantic east to west on a solo, non-stop flight; leaving from England and crash-landing in Canada.

I found this book to be endlessly fascinating. It tells the history of an Africa that I knew little about. I wonder if it even exists any more. The writing was better than I expected, I found myself jotting down several quotes to add to my quote book. I highly recommend this one to those who love travel/adventure books. Markham is the kind of woman you want to get to know.

Favorite Quotes…and I’m going to restrain myself to just a couple…

…Africa was the breath and life of my childhood. It is still the host of all my darkest fears, the cradle of mysteries always intriguing, but never wholly solved. It is the remembrance of sunlight and green hills, cool water and the yellow warmth of bright mornings. It is as ruthless as any sea, more uncompromising that its own deserts. It is without temperance in its harshness or its favours. It yields to nothing, offering much to men of all races.

But the soul of Africa, its integrity, the slow inexorable pulse of its life, is its own and of such singular rhythm that no outsider, unless steeped from childhood in its endless, even beat, can ever hope to experience it, except only as a bystander might experience a Masai war dance knowing nothing of its music nor the meaning of its steps. Page 13

There are all kinds of silences and each of them means a different thing. There is the silence that comes with morning in the forest, and this is different from the silence of a sleeping city. There is the silence after a rainstorm, and before a rainstorm, and these are not the same. There is the silence of emptiness, the silence of fear, the silence of doubt. There is a certain silence that can emanate from a lifeless object as from a chair lately used, or from a piano with out dust upon its keys or from anything that has answered to the need of a man, for pleasure or for work. This kind of silence can speak. Its voice man be melancholy, but it is not always so, for the chair man have been left by a laughing child or the last notes of the piano may have been raucous and gay. Whatever the mood or the circumstance, the essence of its quality may linger in the silence that follows. It is a soundless echo. Page 49.

The Other Book

The Other Book
Philip Womak
Bloomsbury Publishers
By Melissa

The Other Book has an intriguing premise: Edward, a student at the Oldstone Boarding School finds out that he's the chosen guardian of a magical book that's lain dormant for 400 years. It's his job to protect the book and keep it from getting into the hands of those who would want to use its powers for evil. There's so much that could be done with it. Mysterious old books, demons from the Other Side, spooky old houses, magical mysteries: all are prime elements for a good, suspenseful, action-filled fantasy tale.

I hoped this book would be brilliant. Unfortunately, though, the idea never gains any momentum. I wanted the book to have the suspense, the action, the mystery that the idea warranted. However, Womak was just not up to the task. It's a problem often found in fantasy and science fiction books: the author comes up with a unique idea, a brilliant world, some fascinating characters. But the plot and prose of a book is much more than an idea. An idea -- no matter how unique, brilliant or fascinating -- is just not enough to carry a 272 page book.

There's a litany of things wrong with the book: the characters are wooden, the action boring, the exposition dull, the magic incomprehensible, the climax confusing. There is too much tell and not enough show. I could care less that Edward's having a tough time figuring out The Other Book; I figured out what was going on and what needed to be done, and became impatient waiting for Edward to catch up. The best fantasy writers keep the reader in suspense all along, foreshadowing future events, but not dropping them hints: Edward didn't know that Lady Anne was evil, lurking, waiting to do him harm, but we do, wink-wink. Eventually, he figures it out, but getting there held no suspense for me, as a reader. It didn't help that I constantly felt like Womak was trying to channel Philip Pullman in the character of Lady Anne. She was power hungry, bidding her minions and her mad scientists to do all sorts of evil things to Edward. But it came off as flat, as if Lady Anne was just a poser: she's not really evil, but rather playing at it because that's what this character is supposed to do.

It didn't help that I didn't even find our hero, Edward, his best friend William (who's a real wimp),or even the school bully Guy Lane Grover interesting, let alone sympathetic. I felt as if they were paper dolls going through the motions, stereotypes of British boarding school boys, Hogwarts wannabes. I think Womak was going for depth and confusion, but again: too much show and not enough tell. The only confusion he succeeded in creating is on the part of the reader.

The big question will be: is this something that Harry Potter fans can get in to? Even if I, as an adult, didn't like it, will it appeal to the 10- to 12-year-old crowd? I can safely say that while the idea might initially grab them, drawing them in, by the end of the book (if they make it that far), they won't care whether or not Edward and his friends survive this adventure, let alone ever go on another one. Which is too bad: the idea deserves a book worthy of it.

Dreamers of the Day

Dreamers of the Day: A Novel
Written by Mary Doria Russell
Random House
Reviewed by Lesley Scher

When I heard that Mary Doria Russell had a new book coming out this spring, I did a Snoopy-dance for joy! I met Mary (yes, I like to think that we're on a first-name basis, although I highly doubt she would recognize me in a crowd) ten years ago this summer at a small book conference in Cleveland. I had just read her first novel, The Sparrow; probably the first science fiction book I'd ever read—well, with the exception of Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine (which I read back in junior high in 1975). I loved The Sparrow (it remains one of my all-time favorites) and was thrilled to meet the author at such an intimate gathering. When I heard about Dreamers of the Day, I decided to send Ms. Russell an email and see if I could possibly get an Advanced Reader Copy. Well, in addition to a lovely response, I was thrilled to received a copy of the Advanced Uncorrected Proofs of the novel. (Is this different than an ARC?) I felt quite honored and didn't want to let the book languish on my shelves as so many other ARCs have been known to do in my house. With a couple of long flights to (and from) Virginia Beach pending, I knew this would be just the book to pack in my carry-on.

I began the book a couple of nights before our departure, not wanting to start en route, as that's always a bit distracting and I wanted to be eager to resume my reading once we took off. I was far enough along to feel a sense of anticipation as we boarded the plane in Omaha, anxious to settle into my seat and my book! My poor husband. Throughout the entire flight to Dallas and then on to Norfolk, I kept interrupting his reading with exclamations of enthusiasm: "This is such a good book!" "What a great read!" "Have I told you how wonderful this book is?" "Did you know this?" "Were you aware of that?" "Hey, you've got to read this passage!" And on and on and on.

I must confess, I'm a bit relieved that I wound up enjoying this book as much as I did. When I first read the plot description (and Mary's comments in her email to me), I was a bit intimidated by the subject matter. I am not well-versed in the history of the Middle East or in its politics. As a matter of fact, I'm quite ignorant of most of the history of that region. However, I got so wrapped up in Agnes' story, I found myself zipping along through all the factual information, eager to learn and understand more about the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference. Of course I had heard of T.E. "Lawrence of Arabia", but had no idea he'd been involved in the creation of the modern Middle East (along with Winston Churchill and Lady Gertrude Bell). There were a few instances in which I felt a bit confused by some of the historical facts, but I decided to sit back, continue reading, and not try to turn the reading into a history lesson. Having said that, my copy of the book is full of Post-It flags and highlighted passages. I am actually considering a re-read of the novel when it comes out in hardcover, as I'd love to own a real copy of the book. Now that I know the fictional side of the book, I'd like to focus more on the facts. In addition to a re-read, I plan to read Janet Wallach's bio of Gertrude Bell, Desert Queen, and Assignment: Churchill by Walter H. Thompson (Churchill's bodyguard during that period). I'm also considering a read of The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry. I was quite intrigued by the details about the influenza epidemic in Russell's novel. And finally, if I'm ever feeling bold enough to further educate myself, I might just have to read A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin (although after a quick skim of this earlier today, it might be a bit dense). And, now that I think of it, I should add Lawrence of Arabia to my Netflix queue!

Dreamers of the Day has a bit of everything: history, romance, humor, even a bit of mystery. As with The Sparrow, the characters and situations will remain in my memory for years to come. Kudos, Ms. Russell! You've got yourself another winner! Nice to see I have something for my Top Ten of 2008 so early in year.

To read an excerpt from the book or for book tour information, go HERE.


Written by Sarah Stovell
Reviewed by Elaine Simpson-Long

I first saw Mothernight on the Snowbooks website, read a bit about it, thought that sounds good. After Needle in the Blood, by Sarah Bower--also published by Snowbooks--and knowing this company produces good stuff, I sent a "pretty please" begging letter, and lo and behold a copy arrived on my desk at work last week, I carted it home, and sat down on Saturday and read straight through.

A sample:

Seventeen year old Leila Hartley is a boarder at an exclusive girl's school. She hasn't been home to see her family in years.....she keeps everyone, teachers and pupils alike at a distance. A new girl, Olivia Rudham arrives and the two become room mates and then best friends.....When Leila is invited by her father to spend the summer with him for the first time in almost a decade, Olivia goes with her and meets Katherina, Leilas's stepmother who blames her for something that happened to her first child. Somewhere in the farmhouse is the truth about what took place....on the winter solstice know in Norse mythology as Mothernight.
Now if that blurb, plus the Edmund du Lac style cover doesn't make you lick your lips with anticipation then I don't know what will. It grabbed my attention, I can tell you. Olivia and Leila form an intense relationship, and the story is told from their separate perspectives with them both taking turns in the narrative so that we are privy to both their feelings and fears. I always like this device in a book as it adds depth and fleshes out the characters.

Leila's stepmother blames her for the death of her son, Archie who was found one morning lifeless in his cot and sends her away to school and out of the house. We are given tantalising glimpses of the time this occurred and hints and clues as to the actual events. It is real page turning stuff. The reader knows there is something lurking on the edge of the darkness, something nasty and unpleasant, you want to know what it is and then you don't and you want to read on and find out, but are you really sure you want to?

Set in the country in a long, hot sweltering summer with languid drawn out days in the heat and temperatures and antagonisms rising to a crescendo and the denouement, Mothernight will keep you riveted until you reach the final page. And whether Leila is innocent or guilty, she arouses our pity because of her longing for a normal life, to be loved and to be rid of the loneliness and burden she carries with her in everything she says or does.

Snowbooks has done it again, found another new author with a great first novel. I thought it was pretty damn good, and I urge you to get hold of a copy and read.

No Place for Ladies

No Place for Ladies
Written by Helen Rappaport
Reviewed by Lynne Hatwell

If a book can help me chip into a new seam of reading then it's worth its weight in gold and No Place For Ladies by Helen Rappaport has done exactly that. I've hit motherlode with this one and am now a mine of information on all things interesting about the Crimean War. I can bore the muffatees off anyone, so here's a selection of my Crimean Cameos pronounced over kitchen table coffee at the weekend.

"Did you know that Queen Victoria asked Lord Rokeby to take a break from military duties and go out and pick her a nosegay of flowers in the Crimea and he did? It was sent back to England and is preserved at Windsor Castle to this very day."

"Do you know one nurse assisted at 56 amputations in 30 hours...or was it 30 in 56?"

"Do you know Prince Albert designed the Victoria Cross and they are all made from the metal of the guns?"

"Everyone knows that and they're running out."

"So where were the guns captured then?" Silence..."Ah see, Sebastopol."

"Do you know the soldiers dug up Crimean snowdrop bulbs and sent them home?"

I won't tell you anymore but rest assured there is plenty more in this extremely readable account of the role of the women at the Front and one that you desperately want to talk about afterwards, especially if, like me, you have a bit of a gap in your Crimean War knowledge.
Florence Nightingale was busy trying to keep order and discipline in the nursing world, Mary Seacole was out there as the hostess with the mostest providing food and supplies as well as her vast array of very effective alternative remedies.Wherever there was a need Mary Seacole seemed to be the one to anticipate and fulfill it, red tape was there to be ignored.

Meanwhile the army wives, who were allowed to travel in small numbers with each regiment, seemed to struggle to find a role for themselves beyond attempting to care for their husbands and living in utter squalor and poverty as it became clear the army could barely look after itself, let alone its women.

Whenever I lay hands on a book like this I turn first to the bibliography to see what else might be worth reading.Helen Rappaport's research is formidable and there is a wealth of other reading to choose from and one book in particular that you will certainly want to read.

It's the day to day events that are so fascinating and if it hadn't been for Mrs Fanny Duberley's diary I suspect a great deal of this would remain a mystery.

Fanny was the army wife with a difference.


Written by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks Casablanca
Reviewed by Nancy L. Horner

It was seldom that Mr. Standen, a peace-loving young gentleman, was conscious of a wish to come to blows with his fellowmen, but a wistful desire to land his cousin a facer did for an instant flicker in his mind. Several circumstances rendered the gratification of this impulse ineligible, chief amongst them being the hallowed precincts in which they both stood, and the melancholy certainty that such violence could only lead to his own discomfiture. (pg. 113)

Numerous recommendations, around a dozen years of hearing Georgette Heyer’s name bandied about as the Queen of Regency-era Romance and a couple of unread acquisitions . . . oh, brother. I know you’ve heard this one, before, but there are times when an avid reader hears so much about a particular author that he or she becomes absolutely paralyzed by the terror of potentially hating an author everyone else seems to love. Such was my fear of Georgette Heyer, in spite of the fact that I pride myself both in reading a wide variety of books and in trying diligently to read a greater number of new authors than repeats.

Cotillion finally tempted me into the actual reading of a Heyer novel; and, yes, it was rough going, at first. I had far too many expectations without any real understanding of where the adoration was coming from. As a person who is only a sometimes-reader of romance novels, there was also the fear that Heyer would turn out to be “just another romance writer.” I’ve actually written and published an article defending the modern romantic novel from its vehement detractors; and, yet I still find myself cringing away from romance.

I will never, however, fear Georgette Heyer, again. In spite of the fact that the Regency lingo is dense enough that I found myself wishing I had a lexicon of Regency terminology or an expert Regency linguist on-hand, there was no disguising the fact that Cotillion was a compelling story with loveable, clueless, charming, often downright hilarious characters.

Cotillion tells the story of Kitty Charing. Reared by Mr. Penicuik, the temperamental guardian to whom she may or may not be directly related, Kitty is offered the sole inheritance of his vast fortune on the condition that she must marry one of his great-nephews.

Long enamored with Jack, the handsomest of the lot, Kitty hatches a plan when Jack fails to arrive for Mr. Penicuik’s announcement and misses the opportunity to offer to marry her. Freddy is not bad-looking and he’s immensely wealthy. Knowing he has no interest in going through with a marriage to Kitty, she asks him to join in on a sham engagement that will afford her ample time away from the dreary estate where she’s spent the bulk of her life, Arnside House, as well as an opportunity to see London and (she hopes) the chance to tempt Jack into a genuine betrothal.

Freddy reluctantly agrees to her plan, with Kitty’s reassurance that she will not hold him to marriage. Freddy and Kitty have long been friends, but he’s certainly not ready to settle down to married life. And, off they go to London.

This is, of course, the point at which the novel could have become trite, thus amplifying evidence of the author’s skill when the book took the opposite turn. While the language of the book continued to be annoyingly dense with so-called “Regency speak” (see “Regency Language, a Primer” by Diane Farr:, the story was often surprising and certainly not as predictable as expected. The heart of the story lay in the question of whether or not Kitty would be thrust into Jack’s path and Jack, a confirmed rake, would turn out to be a less objectionable character than anticipated -- or, at the very least, willing to reform in light of her obvious affection. And, what about Freddy? Might he change his mind about marrying and fall in love with Kitty?

The true joy of a romance novel, avid romance readers insist, is the “happily ever after” ending that the vast majority of detractors scorn. My opinion rests -- a happy ending is an upper, but it’s the path to that ending that makes or breaks a novel. The finest romance novelists are simply good storytellers, able to conjure creative twists and turns that nullify the complaint that romance is too pattern-oriented. Yes, there’s always a happy ending; that is, after all, what dedicated romance readers love. Cotillion ends happily, as anticipated. While I won’t tell you who Kitty ends up with, nor that the eventual ending was all that surprising, I can offer the fact that Heyer wove an enthralling tale with interesting subplots, some situations that caught me off-guard, and a lot of smiles. I look forward to reading more of Heyer’s novels in the future. Fortunately, she wrote a large number during her lengthy career.

Cotillion is a reprint, originally published in 1953.