Thursday, January 1, 2009

Letter From the Editor - January 2009

What better way to start 2009 than with an issue themed, "Firsts"? For myself, and for most of the readers I know, the beginning of a new year means the beginning of new adventures in reading. For many of us 2009 will be peppered with new favorites, new reading friends, and challenges. We hope the stinkers will be few and far between, and while we're not above buying books for the most part, it would be nice if truckloads of freebies would appear magically at our respective doors.

While we will achieve some of our goals, we will fail at others, but the joy of a new reading year is the promise of possibility...all those books that might delight and touch us. Here at Estella's Revenge 2009 promises to be a year of writing, reading, and fellowship in both endeavors. Thank you for coming along for the ride!


Table of Contents

Door Prize Book Giveaway: This One is Mine, by Maria Semple

Feature Articles:

January 2009 Door Prize

The winner of December's drawing for a signed copy of Keith Donohue's The Stolen Child is Carol Mintz. Congratulations to you, Carol!

Our door prize for January 2009 is a copy of Maria Semple's new novel, This One is Mine.

From Violet Parry is living the quintessential life of luxury in the Hollywood Hills with David, her rock-and-roll manager husband, and her darling toddler, Dot. She has the perfect life--except that she's deeply unhappy. David expects the world of Violet but gives little of himself in return. When she meets Teddy, a roguish small-time bass player, Violet comes alive, and soon she's risking everything for the chance to find herself again. Also in the picture are David's hilariously high-strung sister, Sally, on the prowl for a successful husband, and Jeremy, the ESPN sportscaster savant who falls into her trap. For all their recklessness, Violet and Sally will discover that David and Jeremy have a few surprises of their own. THIS ONE IS MINE is a compassionate and wickedly funny satire about our need for more--and the often disastrous choices we make in the name of happiness.

To enter the drawing please e-mail your name, mailing address, and blog address (optional) to the Estella's Revenge editors at estellabooks (at) gmail (dot) com by January 31st. No worries, we won't share any of your information with others.

Good luck!

Update: We are giving away 5 books and tattoos!! Please limit to US and Canada this time, sorry guys!

Firsts in One Bookish Little Life

By Nancy Horner, aka Bookfool

How, when and why does anyone become so addicted to books that she takes on the name “Bookfool”? First, I suppose, someone has to teach a little one to become a book fool by reading to her. Because my parents were both readers, I can only assume I was read to from a very young age. I don’t recall a time when books were not a part of my life. But, it’s difficult to pinpoint which book may have first captured my interest. I wrestled with my memory and came up with a few firsts. Here are some I recall -- possibly with accuracy and maybe a bit distorted by memory:

First book I remember my mother reading to me: Are You My Mother? By P. D. Eastman -- As an adult with a brand new baby, this was one of those books I absolutely had to have and rushed out to buy for my own child. Favorite part: “Oh, no!” said the baby bird. “You are not my mother. You are a scary snort!”

First book that was so darned special I had to buy it off eBay: Jiggers by Joy Muchmore Lacey -- The story of a cute little black and white puppy who becomes lost. I was a little afraid of eBay, so my husband politely bought me a copy of the book after I basically bounced around the room because I was so excited to see a cover of it on the internet. My mother had already informed me that she didn’t have “the foggiest idea” what became of my childhood copy. My eBay purchase was sent in a Ziploc bag for protection and I’ve left it that way, almost afraid to touch it, the book is so special.

First book I recall reading repeatedly: There were undoubtedly many books that I read repeatedly as a youngster, but the first book I recall reading so often that little bits of it became a part of my mode of speech was Rosalie: the Bird Market Turtle by Winifred Lubell. My mother did a raucous impression of Rosalie’s talking bird friend, Gaston, calling, “Rosalie! Where’s Rosalie?”

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett later became the first book that I read repeatedly on my own. It’s probably notable that it took me at least a couple of decades to convince myself it was okay to watch one of the movie adaptations. And, then, of course I was disappointed. Nothing matches up to the book, which is a wondrous story of courage and imagination.

First youthful genre obsession: The first series of books I recall reading was a set of biographies stocked by my hometown library. They were blue, as I remember it, with a silhouette of each historical figure on the cover, very simply designed. My favorites were the biographies of Ernie Pyle, Clara Barton and Lucretia Mott. Another obsession was cats. I read anything and everything cat-oriented, whether fiction or nonfiction. Unfortunately, I can visualize covers, but the only title I recall is Born Free by Joy Adamson.

First book I recall buying on my own: I remember two early book purchases. One was a total disaster. I adored the movie, “The Sound of Music” and bought a copy of the original book upon which the movie was based at a book sale that took place in my elementary school library. Unfortunately, my sister bought the same book for a Christmas gift and was unable to return it, once she found out I’d purchased my own copy. So she went ahead and wrapped it. That turned out to be a really awkward gift-opening moment. The other book I recall purchasing at a young age was a ten-cent library reject of African folk tales called The Cow-Tail Switch and other stories. It’s a mess, but I still have that book, somewhere.

First time I realized classics can be awesome: The year I climbed up onto my grandmother’s 4-poster bed and read a tiny, leather-bound miniature copy of Romeo and Juliet stands out in my mind. I never had much of an education in literature because journalism was allowed as a substitute for other English courses in my high school and then I took alternates in college, as well (Writing about Film, for example). When I was in my early twenties, I realized I’d read hardly anything at all that could be considered a “classic”, apart from those I sneaked off my sister’s shelf (notably, A Separate Peace by John Knowles and Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster). Fortunately for me, the first book I latched onto for my self-imposed foray into classics was Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. I stayed up all night.

First published author I heard speak in person: Madeleine L’Engle. A Wrinkle in Time is one of my all-time childhood favorites, so I was thrilled when I heard L’Engle was going to speak at the Woodland Hills library branch in Tulsa. I remember feeling encouraged when she said the only time she didn’t write was during the years that she had “crawling babies” because I was big as a barn at that moment, pregnant with my first child and worried that I’d never find the time to write, again. Unfortunately, she ran out of copies of A Wrinkle in Time before I reached the head of the line (there was quite a crowd), so I have an autographed copy of A Wind in the Door.

There are plenty of other firsts I can think of. One that I shared with Heather is the first book I read to tatters -- my childhood book of fairy tales. Fairy tales were undoubtedly one of the first little crooked fingers beckoning this booklover into incurable bibliophilia. Fortunately, I really love being addicted and plan to continue to change those firsts into little bitty beginnings of heaping helpings of reading material I adore burying myself in each year. It’s good being a book fool.


By Chris Buchner

What do newspapers, movies, TV shows and comic books all have in common? All of their content is available online. In the 21st century, the internet is more prominent than ever, but before the other media began finding their way onto it comics have been there for quite some time. These comics are called webcomics.

What is a webcomic? Simply put, it’s a comic available online created with a variety of mediums. Without the limitations of paper, these comics can be produced quickly and cheaply while not being forced to conform to a particular structure standard, and able to reach a much broader audience. Like their print counterparts, it has taken some time for webcomics to gain the respect and artistic recognition they deserve, but in recent years they’ve begun to get their own spotlight.

Before there was an internet as we know it today, there was Usenet and CompuServe. Usenet offered a place that functioned much like present day message boards for the free sharing of pictures and ideas, and CompuServe was the first to offer E-Mail and chat as well as a structured environment with many internet-related services in a user friendly interface. These are the services where the earliest webcomics found their roots as far back as 1986. Among them were Joe Ekaitis’ T.H.E. Fox and Where the Buffalo Roam which started out as a college strip in the Colorado Daily.

In the 1990s, webcomics began the shift into the world wide web with the introduction of the Mosaic browser when creators realized the freedom it offered. Bryan McNett created a hosting service called Big Panda, and then a webcomics portal that readers could use to find new works and creators. McNett, though, began to lose interest in the endeavor but sparked the creation of additional portals. Chris Cosby ran his own webcomic Superosity through Big Panda, but after his dealings with the site decided to create his own hosting service called Keenspot in 2000 with Terri Crosby, Darren Bluel and Nathan Stone. The plan was to have readers pay to see the strips and profit sharing with creators. In 2001, they formed Keenspace, offering free hosting services to creators. That would eventually become known as Comic Genesis with a focus on revenue through advertising. In 2000, Scott McCloud published a book called Reinventing Comics, which encouraged readers to embrace technology and take their comics onto the infinite space of the web. He believed webcomic creators could make just as good a living as those who worked in print.

Keenspot was a success, leading to more portals such as Joey Manley’s Modern Tales, Serializer and Girl-A-Matic. Hosting sites were also on the rise, such as Drunk Duck, Smack Jeeves and Webcomics Nation. While professional creators were doing original work on the web, they had also begun taking previously printed stories and creating new material for them online. Lea Hernandez, editor-in-chief of Girl-A-Matic, was one of the first to move her series, Rumble Girls: Silky Warrior Tansie, to the web after being dissatisfied with how Image Comics was handling it. Since then, many creators have begun to do the same, or at least create supplemental material to go along with what was being printed.

Slowly but surely, webcomics began to receive their due notoriety. As their popularity grew, comic awards began to take notice. In 2000, the Eagle Awards introduced a category for favorite webcomic. Following that, the Ignatz Awards and the largest comic award ever, the Eisner, added their own categories. The community also created their own awards, the Web Cartoonist’s Choice Wards, as a form of peer recognition.

Today, the line between print comics and webcomics gradually fades. Strips like PvP and Garfield Without Garfield have been published in both standard comic and collected book form. NBC’s TV show Heroes ran a webcomic on its site that filled in gaps between events of episodes and was later collected into a hardcover book. Meanwhile, in 2007 DC Comics began their own webcomics imprint, Zuda Comics. They also place several page previews for their upcoming vertigo issues, and PDF files of first issues of certain books to coincide with their release. Dark Horse puts its monthly anthology Dark Horse Presents on their Myspace page. Marvel has also recently began publishing their own all-ages webcomic strip on their site, as well as releasing free samples of certain upcoming publications and a library of back issues through their new Digital Comic subscription program.

Comics took some time to gain recognition in the artist world, and so too did webcomics within the comic world. As the internet began to grow and with the changing tastes of new readers leading towards the electronic, the print guys have begun to realize there’s something to what the web guys have been doing for some time. While it’s not likely print comics will disappear anytime soon, there is a viable market to be reached through the web, and many of the old warhorses of the industry are finally realizing it. With webcomics, creators have all the space they want to tell a story in any way they choose, can add things like animation or links, and they’re very cheap to produce. The comics industry is always looking for ways to hook in new readers, and by keeping up with the times and making the shift onto the web, they may succeed in doing just that.

The Anatomy of First

By Melissa Fox

First love. First kiss. First steps. First child. First home. First impressions.

They all have something in common: the excitement, anticipation, of being first. Unsullied. New.

In the book world, so much hinges on that first. First book by an author, first book in a series, first time with a particular genre. All of which determines whether or not you'll keep reading, not just that book but -- narrowly -- others by that author or -- broadly -- others in that genre.

What is it, though, that makes a good first? It's obviously different for every individual, but these are some of the elements that make a good first book experience for me.

A good cover: Like a good first impression, a good cover can make or break that first. If you know nothing about the story or about the author, the cover can draw you in or repel you. Think about it: how often have you been drawn to the colorful, interesting, beautiful, catchy cover? It doesn't matter if you liked the book afterward; the cover is what draws you in.

Good jacket flap copy: For me, a consummate jacketflap reader, having a good description on the dustjacket (or the back) is essential. I want something that will whet my appetite without giving too much away. Something that will give me a small sample of the flavor of the book. Something that will let me know what this book is about, and give me a reason to buy it or check it out, and spend time with it.

First sentence: Granted, it's not always important, though I have picked up books on the strength of the first sentence alone. (I Capture the Castle comes to mind.) But the first sentence is something special. It sets the tone of the book, raises (or lowers) expectations, draws you into the world that the author has created. While I don't think the first sentence can make or break a book, it's certainly something that will help (or hinder) your overall impression of the story.

But enough of the first impressions. Reading a book is like meeting a person: you spend valuable time with these characters, this author. What makes a book something that you want to read again -- immediately start over once you've finished it? Or read the rest of the books in the series? Or branch out to other authors who write in a particular genre? Or read everything else that author has written, waiting with baited breath for their newest book?

Again, it's individual for each reader, but these are some of the things I look for:

Engaging plot, characters, story: This, to me, is what really makes or breaks a first book. If I'm taken away into another place or time, if I can escape for a few moments into the author's world, and find interesting or enjoyable or captivating or challenging characters there doing interesting or enjoyable or captivating or challenging things, then I'm hooked. I like it when authors do something different with a familiar genre; it makes me want to go out and read other authors to compare. But I also like it when the comfortable and familiar are well done.

Writing: Yeah, I'll forgive a lot when it comes to writing; I'm not one who will love a book primarily for the beautiful/elegant/picturesque writing. But it does matter, even to me (more to some others). If a book is clunky, then it makes it hard to enjoy the characters, plot and story. Granted, I also think that sometimes exceptionally beautiful/elegant/picturesque writing--with the result that every paragraph just seems carefully fitted into place--also can make it hard to enjoy the rest of the book.

Right time, right frame of mind: More than anything, I think this has everything to do with the success of a first book. The author worked, sweated to create this story and get it into your hands and you're having a bad day so you don't like the book. Or conversely, you are at a point in your life where the book hits you just exactly right, and you're in love. It's not always the case, of course, but there's a reason many readers are so fickle. Why else would we say, "What do I feel like reading today?"

Curiosity factor: Sometimes, especially when you're trying something new, it's because you're curious. You've heard about the author and want to sample some of his or her work. You're interested in the genre or subject matter. How interested you are in what that author is presenting has a lot to do with how you react to the book. If it's something you're longing to know about or be exposed to, you'll forgive a lot more than if it's something you've been assigned. And the curiosity factor has another side: if everything falls into place, and you love the book you've just read, you're propelled to seek out more. Whether it be the other books by that author, other books in the same genre, or simply the next in the series, you've been made curious by what you've just read.

And that's the best first of all.

Firsts and (Sometimes) Seconds

By Heather F.

I clearly remember the first book I ever really “read.” It was a nightly ritual for me. First bath, then the brushing of the teeth, tell everyone good night and hop into bed. I would pull the sheets up to my chin and wait. My grandmother would come in and sit beside me on the bed and I would rest my head on her soft, comfy arm as she read Curious George to me. She read it to me so many times that I finally memorized it and could read it to myself. That was the start of my lifelong obsession with reading.

The first books I read until they totally fell apart were the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I read them over and over, delighted with the wagon trails, building of houses, Half-Pint and Alfonso. For the longest time I wished my grandmother knew how to make Snow Candy, that delightful sounding concoction of snow and maple syrup. I also wanted desperately to wear flowered gingham dresses.

How many readers have desperately wanted to travel to Narnia? I used to read the Chronicles of Narnia in my closet. That way I’d be ready to go. These were the first fantasy novels I became infatuated with and were another set of books I read until the pages started falling out. There was just something so magical about the idea of being swept away to another world, full of adventure, talking animals, and one powerful, scary, yet loveable lion. Thankfully I have a new, beautiful hardbound copy that I am just itching to crack open.

Now, as an adult, I am finding that there aren’t as many books I am willing to read over and over again. Sure, I find the time to read The Princess Bride about once a year, and of course there is Harry Potter and Twilight, but that’s about it. I have a shelf in my home dedicated to books I want to reread someday, if someday ever comes, but very few of them have actually been read more than once. I wonder what changed. Is it the guilt of knowing I have so many other books sitting on my shelves, woefully unread? Or is it harder to suspend belief and allow myself to sink into other worlds and characters, to become someone else and let the problems, fears, delights, and daily adventures go for a time? Or could it be that books don’t offer up something new every time I pick one up again? I don’t know, but I miss the days I could pick up an old, beloved and dog-eared friend and read with utter abandon.


By Heather T.

Estella’s Revenge's January ‘Firsts’ theme gave me some difficulty in the beginning. When contemplating this theme I gave some thought to how the books I had on the go would fit and whether or not a review would work. I had a number of books in the rotation but none were of a genre I hadn’t previously explored so I wasn’t sure where I could really go with that.

I thought perhaps I could reread the first book I remembered and explore some ideas surrounding that but I tried to remember the first book I ever read and couldn’t come up with a title. Books have simply always been there and although they haven’t run together, I certainly didn’t have a blog back than to help me keep track of the books I read and what I might have thought about them. It certainly would have been fun to reread that first book though. I suspect it was a fairytale of some sort since I do remember being obsessed with having my father read to me every night the wonderful tale of Cinderella.

I do remember the first time I went to the public library by myself. It was during summer vacation and I was fourteen. I don’t know if that seems old or not but before that I’d only ever gone with my father. I suppose it never occurred to me that I might like to go by myself but I think there was one morning my father was busy working in the garden with my mother so off I went.

I remember feeling a different sort of excitement than usual – a certain empowerment. The length of the walk seemed shortened. The sky seemed a deeper blue and the sun seemed to shine even brighter than usual. It was late summer and the sound of tree frogs was amplified by my excitement and happiness.

What books did I explore that wonderful summer day? I wish I could remember but I’ve no idea what books I might have taken home with me. I remember only the joy I felt in opening the door to the library, striding inside and breathing deeply, smiling to myself and entering a random stack to see what I could discover. I still behave exactly the same each time I enter a library.

Families in Fiction, January 2009

By Stacey Nerdin

Consider the word "family." Now consider how unique it is for a word to evoke the same powerful response in individuals with such different ideas of its definition. It's not as if I asked you to consider the word "potato." Everyone can agree without discussion that a potato is an edible tuber. And although people might vary in their relative enjoyment of potatoes, the response to hearing the word is rarely powerful. But the notion of "family" is quite different.

Based on our personal histories and experiences, each of us has an individual (yet similarly definite) idea of family. Family is something we long for, run to, or run from. Family is our blood, our kith and kin, or else a community of loved ones we have chosen for ourselves. Only we have had to maneuver the complex web of relationships within our own family, and yet we can appreciate the familiar patterns we see in those with experiences similar to ours.

I recently became intrigued with this idea of family as a human experience that simultaneously unites and distinguishes us from each other. And as an avid reader, I began to wonder how authors use patterns in family life to tell a story and connect to their readers. I also wondered how often readers see their idea of family reflected in the works they read, and if or when they do, how accurate or distorted the image might be.

This year at Estella's Revenge, I plan to explore several themes of families in fiction: the mother/daughter relationship, families in peril or dealing with tragedy, single-parent families, fathers and sons, non-traditional families, families with a specific heritage (religious, ethnic, or otherwise), and others. Each month will introduce a different discussion, and I hope that as I study and share, we can each add another layer of perspective to our reading. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, and I welcome any feedback you'd like to offer. I look forward to a thought-provoking 2009 at Estella's Revenge!

This One is Mine

by Maria Semple
Published by Little, Brown and Company
Reviewed by Heather F.

When it was offered to me for review, it was mentioned that Maria Semple had written for Arrested Development and Mad About You. I loved both those shows, especially Mad About You, so I thought for sure I would love this book. This One is Mine is a very tongue-in-cheek, scabrous and witty look at Hollywood and the people who live there.

Violet Parry has it all; an extremely rich and adoring husband rock-and-roll manager David, an adorable toddler Dot, the perfect house, garden, life…yet she is desperately unhappy. David expects so much of Violet, but rarely gives any of himself in return. A chance encounter with a handsome stranger, Teddy; a sexy, small-time bass player in a Rolling Stones cover band makes Violet feel alive again. Soon, she's risking everything, and I mean everything, for the chance to live life as she always imagined.

Also involved is David's scarily uptight and slightly crazy sister Sally. Sally is a neurotic, diabetic ballerina with her eyes set on getting herself a rich husband – before he gets rich. Enter Jeremy, the ESPN super-sportscaster who is well on his way to fame and fortune, who speedily falls into her trap. But all is not happily-ever-after, for either couple. And David and Jeremy have a few surprises in store for Violet and Sally.

It was very well written. I absolute despised the characters, but despite that, I could not put it down. It was like watching a train-wreck, I couldn't look away! And despite the character's utter lack of morality and, in some cases, humanity, I actually came to care about what happened to them.

To me, that is the work of a master.

Like I said, I hated the characters. But I was supposed to. There were very few redeeming qualities about them for most of the book. Sally was my least favorite. The only one who seemed to take any responsibilities seriously was David. I had a very hard time coming to terms with these characters and had to think hard about them before I began to understand them, their actions and what the author was going for here. This book was more of a workout than I was expecting. But it was a good workout, one that left me much more appreciative of the book once I finished it.

If you liked Arrested Development, Seinfeld, and Mad About You, you will probably enjoy this book. Semple is a fantastic writer who has a very dry wit. It is hard to make a reader feel sympathy for such rich yet crazy, foolish people, but she managed to make me feel it for these four.

Check out the live interview with Maria Semple on Blog Talk Radio which took place on December 17th! There is also a reading guide available. You can read more about her at her website.

Two Books By Georgette Heyer

Charity Girl

by Georgette Heyer

Sourcebooks Casablanca

Reviewed by Heather F.

When Sourcebooks offered up some Georgette Heyer novels for review, I jumped at the chance. For the past few years, I've seen Heyer's name mentioned on many book blogs and I just knew I had to try her. I took Charity Girl and read it voraciously in only 3 days.

Charity Girl feels very much like a Jane Austen novel. It's a delightfully mad romp through Regency England that tickles the funny bone. Viscount Desford is a charming rogue of a man. Young, handsome, rich; he's everything a woman could want in a man, but to his parents' chagrin, he refuses to settle down and marry. However, a chance encounter with young Charity Steane at a party may change everything.

I just adored this book. It wasn't quite as witty as Austen, but nonetheless it was wonderful. The tongue-in-cheek humor was fantastic. The characters were all so funny and sweet. I highly recommend it to Jane Austen and/or Regency England fans.

Regency Buck
by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks Casablanca
reviewed by MizB

At first I thought I wasn't going to like this book. First off, because I'm apparently biased -- Gaelen Foley has spoiled me with her excellently-written Regency romances, and it's hard to find anything that lives up to those.

But, Ms. Heyer has a loyal following, so I made sure to give her book a fair chance. Sure enough, the story got better once it got going, and I ended up enjoying it.

I really found Ms.Taverner/Judith to be very prissy in the beginning, and I didn't like her much. But, as the story progressed, the gal grew on me, and I ended up rooting for her. Lord Worth was just the right amounts of annoying, yet mysterious.

Overall, this was a good book, and I would recommend it to others. I'm not sure if I'll try another book by this author, though. I have one in my collection but only time will tell.

Two Girls of Gettysburg

by Lisa Klein
Bloomsbury Publishing
Reviewed by Melissa

The basic plot is simple: Lizzie and Rosanna are teenage cousins and best friends. They both live in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania when the Civil War breaks out in 1860. However, Rosanna is in exile from her family in Virginia (her parents sent her to live with her sister in Gettysburg to get her away from a boy back home), and soon after the war starts, she feels the pull to return and join the Southern Cause. This causes a rift between her and Lizzie that only time, war, and the Battle at Gettysburg can heal.

I really wanted to like this book. I've liked Lisa Klein's work in the past, and generally like historical fiction. I thought that the Civil War, particularly the Battle of Gettysburg, told from the point of view of two cousins on opposite sides could be interesting. But unfortunately, this book was a mess.

Initially, my dislike was because of what I felt were stock characters -- the noble free black man that suffers; the honorable hard-working Northern girl; the flighty Southern belle who has to learn a hard lesson -- I've read about all these people before. I was slightly interested in Lizzie and her plight holding down the fort while her brother and father were gone, but it still felt trite, even though it was not meant to. Rosanna I actively disliked, and I ended up skimming the chapters written from her point of view. She matures throughout the course of the book, but admittedly by the time she becomes somewhat likable, I didn't care why she was feeling noble and cared about the Southern cause. In addition, Klein is juggling an enormous cast: not just Lizzie and Rosanna, but Rosanna's two beaus, Lizzie's entire family, the hired black man and his wife; various soldiers and historical characters, Rosanna's sister and children... the list goes on and on.

I realized about halfway through the book that it's not just the characters that were contributing to the mess: the pacing was awkward. The first half takes place over three years. Because of all the jumping between time (months pass in between chapters at times; at other times, two different chapters take place over the same time period) and place (between Gettysburg, Richmond, and the battlegrounds of the South), I never really got a sense of who Lizzie or Rosanna really were. So, during the second half, when time slowed way down -- it takes place over the three days of fighting at Gettysburg -- when I was supposed to feel the emotional impact that battle had on not only the soldiers, but also on their families and the town of Gettysburg, I found that I just didn't care. I knew, intellectually, that I should, but I found myself skimming chapters, just reading the bits that I was actually interested in (specifically Lizzie's interest in a local boy, Martin).

The one thing that this book does have going for it is that it feels historically accurate. Admittedly, I'm not up enough on Civil War history to definitively say that it is historically accurate, but Klein doesn't spare us any unpleasantness: this is not a prettified Civil War. There's death -- lots of it -- not only by gun, but by dysentery, blood poisoning, typhoid fever... She depicts the starving people in Richmond, the prisons for prisoners of war, the looting and wrecking that soldiers did as they went through the countryside. It's not a pleasant place or time.

Even with that, though, there's just not enough for me to recommend it.

The Musician's Daughter

by Suzanne Dunlap
Reviewed by Melissa

It's late-18th-century Vienna, and Theresa Maria is the daughter of one of Prince Nicholas Esterhazy's court musicians. Her godfather is the estimable Joseph Haydn, and she thinks life is just about perfect. That is, until her father is found outside a Gypsy camp brutally murdered on Christmas Eve. Faced with a mother who's extremely pregnant and the looming responsibility of providing for the household, Theresa is not willing to be a "good" girl and let her father's murder go unsolved. She turns to Haydn for support and financial help, and, in the process, discovers her father had been leading a secret life. She embarks upon a path through many dangers in order to uncover the truth about her his death.

I have read one book by Dunlap before, and what struck me most was the combination of musicality and history. I was hoping for -- probably expecting -- more of the same when I started this book. I was mildly disappointed that there were not more passages describing the music, or what it felt like for Theresa to play, or hear, the violin. Dunlap still included passages of musical transcendence, but I wasn't as captivated by them as I wanted to be. Perhaps it was because I'm not a violinist; different instrument, different language. But, I think I came away feeling as if the music in the book was secondary to the adventure, and that it really wasn't all-important what instrument Theresa played.

That aside, though, it was a fairly adventuresome book. A political thriller of sorts, Theresa not only investigates the murder of her father, but manages to dig deep into political corruption and the kidnapping and selling of young boys as menial workers in Hungary. She manages to get through some tight scrapes, making friends with a Romany clan on the way, and in the end, finds justice (or at least closure). I'm not sure how plausible it all is, but between the rich historical detail and the action, I could forgive it. There's even a hint at romance between Theresa and one of Hayden's court musicians. Dunlap brushes over or just hints at the harsher details of 18th-century life, which gives the book a slightly disjointed feel. I think she was trying to keep up the pace of the book -- which she did, considering it was a lot of running back and forth from Vienna to the countryside -- but I think I would have enjoyed it more if there were more detail and less running.

In all, though, it's a good combination of music and history and adventure. I did like Theresa as a character: she was willing to do what needed to be done, at any cost, even if it meant being a bit foolhardy. And it all ended okay, which is definitely a plus for this kind of book. It just didn't make me want to pick up the violin. Which is probably a good thing.

Queen of the Road

by Doreen Orion
Broadway Books
Review by Nancy Horner

Let me just confess up front: If I sat behind a bench wearing judicial robes, I'd be the one writing all the dissenting opinions.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's move on to the book review. Queen of the Road is a road-trip memoir written by a psychiatrist who works out of her home and, in fact, didn't particularly like leaving her house or even changing out of her pajamas before her husband came up with the idea of traveling the country in a renovated bus. After all the decorating, wiring and other alterations were completed, Orion and her husband (also a psychiatrist) left their home in Boulder, Colorado for a practice run and then packed up and began their year-long journey.

Right off the bat, they discovered that there are some very unique problems that accompany life on a bus. Electrical trouble, the need to secure loose objects, difficulty maneuvering, and concern about the height of overpasses are a few of the challenges they faced. Because they planned to travel for a full year, the couple chose to take their full-size poodle and two cats along for the ride.

I adore travel memoirs and love tales of life on the road. Stories about pets usually warm my heart. So, what's not to like? Honestly? I loved the idea of this book and there are, in fact, things I enjoyed about Queen of the Road. There's the typical "transformation" that takes place in novels, as real-life character Doreen learns to stretch her boundaries and enjoy life. There are the interesting, often funny, anecdotes about people and places. There's the oft-humorous analysis of her anxiety about riding in a very, very lengthy and rather tall vehicle. And, there's the fact that they own pets and love them.

What I didn't like was the lame humor. Queen of the Road is just a bit too snarky and tongue-in-cheek for this gal. I often say I adore humor but it has to be carefully balanced. Too much humor without a break is just as bad as heavy, depressing writing without an uplifting moment. And, that's how I felt about Queen of the Road. I liked Doreen Orion's wit, but as in many memoirs I thought she was a bit wrapped up in the love of her own snide remarks. Had I not balanced the reading of Orion's memoir with several other books, I honestly don't believe I would have gotten through the book at all.

Normally, that could mean it's a timing issue -- simply the wrong book for the moment. However, there are a couple of things that still are ringing around in my head. Most importantly, the fact that the author talked about the irritation of waiting for people to make the same old comment everyone believes to be original (but it's not), a zinger about the fact that she and her husband are both psychiatrists. It was lame, sure, but so were a lot of Orion's wisecracks. If you're going to go around saying, "Pardon me, boys. Is that the Chattanooga Choo-Choo?" to some poor, innocent bellhops who probably hear the same question at least ten times a day because they work next to the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, please do not tell me you can't take other folks' lame jokes.

In general, I'd call this "a fun, slightly above-average read" that's a little heavy on the self-indulgence typical of memoirs and I'd refer to myself as "picky". There are some interesting tales about places to visit and the book includes both a list of "Special Places and People" plus an exciting list for bibliophiles: "Books Enjoyed on the Bus and Beyond". For those who think the book would make a great choice for book club reading, there is also a reading guide included.

Author's blog and Website.