Monday, December 1, 2008

Letter From the Editor - December 2008

Happy holidays, Estella's Revenge readers! This month's theme is "fantasy," and though it's a short issue, the pieces are most definitely fantastic!

While 2008 winds down, 2009 certainly holds a great deal of new opportunities and developments here at Estella's Revenge. Some things to think about:

Would you like to join the 2009 Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge? We hope you will! This year it'll be even easier. There won't be any required reads, though you may refer to our "suggested titles" list to get some ideas. All you have to do is read 12 books you deem "dangerous" in 2009 and post your links on the Year of Reading Dangerously blog. Watch for the new Mr. Linky to appear in January. In the meantime keep an eye out for new graphics and new posts.

Interested in writing for Estella's Revenge? If you have an idea for a column, feature article, or any other goodies you'd like to contribute please contact us! You can reach Heather, Andi, and Melissa at estellabooks(at)gmail(dot)com. We would love to work with you!

And if you haven't already, be sure to check out Estella on Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook! See the sidebar for links.

Happy holidays, and cheers to a new year just around the corner!

Table of Contents

Author Interview:

Features and Columns:


Door Prize

We've saved a very special Door Prize to round out the year: a SIGNED copy of Keith Donohue's The Stolen Child.

Enter to win by e-mailing the editors at estellabooks(at)gmail(dot)com by December 31st!

Good luck!

Author Interview: Howard Whitehouse

By Melissa F.

Every once in a while, I come across a book that I think is just perfect. The Island of Mad Scientists: Being an Excursion to the Wilds of Scotland, Involving Many Marvels of Experimental Invention, Pirates, a Heroic Cat, a Mechanical Man, and a Monkey, was one of those books. Technically the third in a series of books featuring three very lively, funny, enjoyable young teen characters, it nonetheless works well as a stand-alone read. One part adventure book, one part P.G. Wodehouse, it promises to captivate readers of all ages. See my review here. When Howard Whitehouse was offered up his time for an interview, I couldn't resist the chance to talk to the person behind this hilarious book. Besides, I heard he does all his own stunts.

MF: Because I started the series on the third book, I missed out a bit on the origin story of the characters. (If you don't mind explaining it a bit.) How did all the kids meet? What were their first two adventures (in a nutshell)?

HW: ‘The Strictest School in the World’ is a prison break novel, set in a Victorian boarding school. Emmaline’s very hoity-toity upper class parents have sent her home from India to attend this hugely repressive girl’s school to become a proper young lady. What she really wants is to become a pioneer of aeronautics (as one might). But she’s scared of plunging to her doom in the process. She’s staying with her eccentric Aunt Lucy the summer before school begins, and there she meets Rab – “Rubberbones”- an enthusiastic village lad who never seems to get hurt. And he has an uncanny ability to float. So she has a test pilot. But, after a couple of not entirely successful attempts at flight, she is sent to St. Grimelda’s, where almost everything is banned. She meets Princess Purnah, who is also a prisoner – sorry, pupil, there. There are unsuccessful escape attempts, and a lot of trouble with the school pterodactyls. Plus friendly Romany travelers, mad old colonels and a lot of groceries are used as missiles.

The second book, “The Faceless Fiend” begins a few weeks later, with all three youngsters staying at Aunt Lucy’s cottage, where the deranged Professor Bellbuckle is attempting to educate them. He’s not very gifted as a teacher. But then villainy intrudes when an international criminal mastermind, known as the Faceless Fiend for his, er, total lack of an actual face, schemes to kidnap Purnah for reasons involving international politics of a nefarious sort. In the sort of mix up that comes from dressing up in the bedroom curtains, Rubberbones is seized in the belief that he is the princess. The action moves to Darkest London where Sherlock Holmes and a rented balloon help to locate the abducted boy on the roof of a very tall house, but the Fiend’s Masked Minions intervene, and Rubberbones is lost again, wandering the
East End in search of his own family. There’s a lot of Dickensian stuff with rat-killing contests, elderly dogs, and street urchins. Purnah, meanwhile, tangles with her old headmistress and some stuffy bureaucrats who want her to go back to St. Grims, while Emmaline become involved with a stunt aviator called The Belgian Birdman. In a thrilling finale at the newly opened (and now opening) Tower Bridge, Emmaline uses the birdman’s craft to save her friends from the clutches of the Faceless Fiend as they fight on the roof of an out-of-control coach.

There are chocolates and cream cakes involved, as well.

MF: So, where did you get the idea for Emmaline and Rubberbones? How about Princess Purnah?

HW: I’d been reading about lot of wacky Victorian inventions for a gaming project that never took off, and it occurred to me that – as in “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines” – these crazy early aircraft would be ideal for a funny adventure story. It was when I decided that the pioneer aeronaut was a kid – and then, specifically, a teenage girl – that Emmaline came to mind. The idea was that she’s intelligent and thoughtful, brave in many things but terrified of doing the thing that is most important here – actually flying. So, of course, in all three books she has to pluck up her courage and fly in devices that she knows are completely unsafe.

Rubberbones is the boy everyone knows, the impulsive lad who, no matter what he does, never seems to get hurt. He was the obvious match for Emmaline. He’s all heart and no planning.

Princess Purnah is one of those characters that writers will tell you simply jump out of the story and demand a starring role. She’d begun simply as a foreign girl who the mean girls picked on and the teachers couldn’t be bothered to educate in the English language. She was a bit of a victim. But then she just burst out of the story by trying to escape, and I knew I had to rewrite some of the earlier text to at least suggest that there was another side to her.

MF: Did you plan to write for middle grade readers? Or is that just where the story took you? (Or did the publishers/agents decide all that?)

HW: I’d written a funny adventure book some years previously set in the Victorian army (but failed to find a publisher for it). That had been aimed at adults. I hadn’t really thought of writing for young readers until my friend Joanne Schwartz, a children’s librarian in
Toronto, suggested I try it (and handed me a pile of books to read). I started writing in a style that came easy to me – a bit formal and old-fashioned - and I thought it might work for, say, a twelve year old reader (not that I had a lot of knowledge as to reading levels). As it was, my editor told me that I was pretty much on the mark; sometimes I have to simplify something, or explain a bit of history, and every so often we have to take out a joke that’s too sophisticated (or too rude!)

MF: Who is your favorite character in the books? Why?

HW: I have to say Purnah, because she’ll stab me in the arm with a sharpened butter knife if I don’t. And Professor Bellbuckle, who is simply deranged.

MF: I have found that humor is fickle; not everyone laughs the same thing. Is there a "secret" to writing humorous stories? How do you go about it? Do you have an inspiration?

HW: Humor comes easily to me, sometimes at times it shouldn’t (which is why I should not be called on to testify in court or speak at a funeral). I teach creative writing courses for middle graders through my local library system, and I see that different people have hugely different senses of humor. This has a lot to do with age, of course, and what works as a written rather than visual piece; writing a banana skin gag, for instance, doesn’t really work very well,

For myself, I just sit down, start typing, and entertain myself. That’s pretty easy for me! Inspiration? Kids, cats, daily life. If I had to name a writer, it has to be P.G. Wodehouse for sheer hilarity. Of modern writers, Bill Bryson, Janet Evanovich and an English guy called Harry Pearson, who wrote a brilliant book called Achtung Schweinhund! about his (and my) obsession with model soldiers.

MF: How you decide to become a writer? Is it something you've "always" wanted to do?

HW: I tell the audiences at my appearances about my first efforts as a fictioneer. When I was about seven I wrote a wild west story where all the characters were teddy bears. I no longer work in that genre.

In my teens and twenties I wrote a lot of articles and games on military history, later writing two non-fiction books about Victorian battles in Africa. In the nineties I wrote some short stories and an unpublished novel about a completely idiotic (yet courageous) British officer called Binky Bagshot, which were not a million miles from the Emmaline and Rubberbones books in style. Twelve people in the whole world though they were terrific. I also wrote some “Victorian Science Fiction” short stories for a project which never came off.

It was only in my forties that I began writing for young people, and it seemed to work out all round.

MF: What are your five favorite books of all time (or at least currently)?

HW: Tough call!

My favorite kids’ book is “The Wind in the Willows.” I’d also add Lloyd Alexander’s “Prydain” series, although technically that consists of four books. I thought Phillip Reeve’s “Mortal Engines” series was terrific, as well.

Aside from that? Max Allen Collin’s “Stolen Away,” a mystery set around the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. Njal’s Saga. And something by P.G. Wooster? Hmm. So many of them. Maybe “The Code of the Woosters”.

MF: Code of the Woosters is brilliant, I have to agree. In a not-quite-completely unrelated question: do you have a favorite joke?

HW: This is a very visual joke, since it really demands the teller flapping like a penguin and making weird bird noises.

A man is walking down the street, when suddenly he is accosted by a penguin. The penguin flaps his wings, says, “Parrrrrppppp!!!!”, and sticks his little penguin wing tip in the man’s hand. He waddles along like this, while the man can’t get rid of him. They meet a policeman, who says, “Where do you think you are going with that penguin, sir?”
The man explains what happened. the policeman says, "If I were you, I’d take him to the zoo, sir.” “Oh, right!”, answers the man, gratefully. “Good idea! the zoo!”

The next day the policeman sees the man, together with the penguin, walking towards him, wing-in-hand, smiling and parrrrpping away..

“Didn’t I tell you to take that penguin to the zoo, sir?” demands the policeman.

“Oh yes, officer. It was wonderful. Thanks for suggesting it! We are off to the circus this afternoon!” replies the man.

MF: So, if you don't mind telling us, what can we look for from you next?

HW: My next thing for Kid’s Can Press, for 2010 (alas!) is “Bogbrush the Barbarian”, a hugely silly fantasy romp about a muscle-bound barbarian hero so stupid that all the other barbarians notice. It involves an epic quest to the city of Scrofula to prove that Bogbrush is, or might be, but probably isn’t, the true heir to the throne. It’s a lot of fun, with a fake "educational" aspect where I throw in ludicrous quizzes, “Did You Know?” bits, and life advice that any halfway bright ten year old will immediately disregard.

I’ve got the elements of a new “Emmaline and Rubberbones” novel (set partly in the American west, with the real life robber gang known as the Wild Bunch as characters), but so far it’s just an outline.

And I’ve just finished the first draft of a young adult novel about a dangerously computer-literate teenage girl, which I wrote in partnership with an actual teenaged writer. It’s very funny indeed, if I say so myself!

MF: Thanks for your time, Howard!

You can visit Howard at his website or blog. Or read chapters of his novels here and here. And if you didn't get enough of him in this interview, you can find some videos of him here.

Where Have All the Goblins Gone?

By Stuart Sharp

Have you noticed that there’s something of a dearth of goblins in fantasy writing these days? No, I imagine you have a social life instead, so you’re going to have to take my word for it. But think about it. It used to be that no sooner had you got through the first couple of chapters than the pages started to fill up with short green chaps whose only real purpose in life was to be cut down by the intrepid heroes.

For a brief period after Tolkien, practically every fantasy book was full of the things. These days, though, there hardly seem to be any, just as there seem to be rather fewer bushy-bearded wizards, arrow-shooting elves, and overly muscular barbarian types who never seem to be able to afford enough clothes despite all the priceless jewels they steal.

The answer to this, of course, is that fantasy writing, as with any writing, is far from static. Just look at how the goblins started out. Before Tolkien got hold of them, they were just a collection of moderately malevolent fairie creatures scattered across a host of folk-tales. They weren’t even green, for the most part. Just take a look at the widely varying goblins of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market, with their bestial heads, for proof of that. Just as writing changed to become what we now think of as fantasy, it was inevitable that the style of fantasy would change to meet the imaginative leaps of new generations of authors, and to fill the needs of new readers.

As with so many other areas of writing, one of the obvious reactions to fantasy’s traditional forms was to parody it. The likes of Esther Freisner, Tom Holt, Robert Asprin, Terry Pratchett and countless others have turned the traditional forms upside down, inside out, and every other way they could think of. The main question, though, is what did they do with the goblins? Sadly, they mostly seem to have ignored them. Freisner made some small use of them, and Mary Gentle’s Grunts makes wonderful fun of their usual orcish counterparts, but for the most part they’re absent.

They’re not entirely alone in that, since any straight ahead fantasy component wasn’t likely to last long under a relentless barrage of comic fantasy oddness. The difference is that where most of the obvious elements were easily transformed into something workable, producing, among other things, an almost unending stream of inexperienced, incompetent or simply weird wizards, goblins don’t seem to have merited the same treatment. The major exception is the work of Tom Holt, where they make regular appearances as mildly sinister office workers in such books as The Portable Door and Earth, Air, Fire and Custard.

Perhaps the reason for this is that comic fantasy has largely changed its focus. The shift is readily apparent if you just read the earliest of Pratchett’s Discworld novels followed by some of his more recent ones. Where The Colour of Magic is firmly rooted in subverting the conventions of fantasy, something like Hogfather or Making Money is far more focused on making fun of the world as we know it.

A similar sort of shift has taken place in the more serious sort of fantasy too. Take a look at the relevant section of your local bookshop. Maybe once it would have been filled with books set in unpronounceable worlds and faithfully reproducing every element of traditional fantasy, even if they changed a few of the names. Now though, there’s hardly space for it under the weight of urban fantasy, supernatural thrillers and modern supernatural romances. Not that I have any problem with any of those genres. For anyone who hasn’t them yet, I can heartily recommend the likes of Living With the Dead by Kelly Armstrong, Laurell K. Hamilton’s Swallowing Darkness, and Storm Born, by Richelle Mead. But, except for those that show up as minor characters in Hamilton’s Meredith Gentry series, they don’t really leave much room for goblins.

Ok, I promise that’s enough about the goblins. They aren’t really the point anyway. The point is just how much fantasy writing has changed over the years. Even the more traditional sort of epic fantasy has changed so much as to be virtually unrecognisable. The likes of the late David Gemmell and Joe Abercrombie have taken to writing a brand of fantasy that is much more character driven and gritty than much of the earlier stuff, bringing the unpleasant sides of their characters forward as often as the heroic ones. Even someone like Trudy Canavan, whose fantasy is much more obviously fantastic than either of the others, still seems far more interested in the inner world of her characters than in the spectacular world around them.

To me that seems like a good thing, but it does have one mildly unpleasant side effect. Occasionally, it means that I can read what are considered fantasy classics and not particularly like them. And now for the words that have already caused me at least one argument: I don’t particularly like Tolkien. I really don’t like the main Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s no more than my opinion, obviously, but I find him too focuses on his world and his grand quest, and not enough on those engaged in it. My feelings on Robert E. Howard’s original Conan stories are even more ambivalent, and I can only take Fritz Leiber in small doses.

I suppose the point, therefore, is just how quickly fantasy can date. It’s not the same genre that it was at its inception. Nor is its main focus the same as it was even a few years ago. Of course, if that’s the case, then there’s always the question of what it will look like in another decade or two. Will it just be more of the same, or will it find yet another way to reinvigorate itself. I have no idea. I am, however, kind of hoping that whatever the future brings, it will still have some sort of place for goblins.

A Fantasy World

By Elaine Simpson-Long

I have made no secret of my love of Georgette Heyer on Estella’s Revenge and was delighted when Source Books, who are republishing all of this wonderful lady’s output in the USA, sent me a parcel of books by this, one of my favourite authors.

I have recently written about comfort reading having been asked what constituted such a genre, and I had a bit of a ponder and came to the conclusion that it is reading a book or books for pure pleasure; no analysis, no essays, no posting on one’s blog. In short, no obligation to do anything but sit down and wallow. It was a horrid day yesterday, cold and chilly and the first snow of the winter here in the UK, and as the nights are now dark early, it was the perfect kind of day for drawing the curtains, sitting by the fire, hot drink to hand, chocolate biscuits and a big comfy sofa to curl up on and a favourite book to read.

If you describe a book as a fantasy novel, the natural reaction would be to imagine it is a story full of Hobbits, trolls, Orcs and other such phantasmagorical creatures, set in a far distant magical land. But there is a different kind of fantasy. It is the fantasy world the reader creates when reading any book that transports you away from the realities of life, where no washing up exists, no housework needs to be done and we are swept off our feet by dashing men who clasp us to their manly breasts.

Be still my beating heart...

All of Georgette Heyer’s novels have the ability to transport us into such a world. Deep down we are aware that the realities of living in the Regency times were not as they are portrayed here in the salons of the fashionable of good ton. We know that most people were fairly indifferent to personal hygiene, the streets and roads were filthy dirty, most people lived in slums and in dire poverty and while lip service is paid to those who lived in such awful circumstances (Leaky Peg in Heyer’s Arabella is a case in point), all of Heyer’s Regency novels are full of beautiful heroines and masterful heroes. We know all this but we put it to one side while we read.

Two of the books I was lucky enough to receive and enjoy all over again were Faro’s Daughter and Regency Buck.

Faro’s Daughter opens with Lady Mablethorpe, awaiting the arrival of her nephew, Mr Ravenscar. When he arrives we see immediately that he is one of the dark, sardonic, saturnine Heyer heroes:

“He was very tall, with a good pair of legs, encased in buckskins and top boots, fine broad shoulders under a coat of superfine cloth, and a lean harsh featured countenance with an uncompromising mouth and extremely hard grey eyes”

He learns that Adrian, Lady Mablethorpe's son has fallen in love with a lady in a gaming house who has him “in her toils” and she wishes Ravenscar to help extricate Adrian from this predicament. His reaction is unfavourable in that she will have to be bought off and he makes it clear that she need to expect him to lay out his money:

“You need not be afraid Max! I hope I know better than to expect you to lay out any of your odious wealth on this business!”

“‘I hope you do Aunt, for I shall certainly do no such thing”........Lady Mablethorpe said with a somewhat vindictive note in her voice “I beg that you will take care Max. They say the girl is like a honey-pot and I’m sure I’ve no wish to see you caught in her toils”

This sentence is a dead give away as we know immediately what is going to happen, and it does. Max finds himself falling love with Deborah Grantham who is, of course, a lady of breeding forced to run a gaming house in order to survive. She is beautiful, intelligent and honest and, as in all good romantic stories, at first disliking Mr Ravenscar ends up falling in love with him. Lots of adventures on the way and intrigues and plotting and all great fun.

Regency Buck concerns a brother and sister, Peregrine and Judith Taverner who have been left in the guardianship of Lord Worth, following the death of their father. It transpires that their father, not the most intelligent of men designated, incorrectly, the 5th Earl of Worth to be responsible for them in his will and instead of a middle aged gentleman they expected to see, they find someone of a totally different mien.

“He was the epitome of a man of fashion. His locks were carefully brushed into a semblance of disorder, his cravat of starched muslin supported his chin in a series of beautiful folds; his driving coat of drab cloth bore no less than fifteen capes and a row of silver buttons. He had a look of self consequence; his eyes, ironically surveying her from under weary lids, were the hardest she had ever seen and betrayed no emotion but boredom his nose was too straight for her taste. His mouth was well formed but thin lipped. She thought it sneered”

OK – well she dislikes him. He sneers at her. Instant antipathy so once again, we know what is going to happen. However, this story is one of Miss Heyer’s more substantial books and before the inevitable ending, we discover that somebody is trying to eliminate Peregrine in order to gain his fortune and Lord Worth finds his guardianship more onerous than he had anticipated. A great deal of historical background in this book and a wonderful portrayal of the Prince Regent and the Pavilion at Brighton which is to be savoured.

We are also introduced to Worth’s brother, Charles Audley. A warm hearted, handsome laughing man he appears the opposite of his cool, sarcastic brother and Georgette makes him a lovable, endearing character. There is method in this as Charles appears in another of Heyer’s books, and one which is, in my opinion anyway, her finest work: An Infamous Army. Her depiction of the Battle of Waterloo makes for absorbing reading and Charles is the hero in the love story fashioned around this momentous event in history. We also meet Judith and Lord Worth in this story and Lady Babs Childe, Charles love, who is a member of the Alastair family, who feature in These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub. Georgette Heyer links these stories together beautifully through the generations so that the reader is delighted to stumble upon familiar characters.

If the fantasy land of the balls, salons, visits to Vauxhall Gardens, dashing heroes and glamorous heroines is one you love, and I fully admit to being a paid up member, then read every one of Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels you can lay your hands on and for sheer wit, vitality and laugh out loud humour, may I recommend Cotillion or Friday’s Child. Fantasy froth at its finest.

Back to the 90s: Clone Saga

By Chris Buchner

We all know how the story goes by now. Shy bookworm Peter Parker attended a science exhibition in high school when an irradiated spider bit him. That spider transferred all of its abilities over to Peter, turning him into a human spider. Seeking to test his newfound abilities, he entered a wrestling match for cash and ended up become the TV sensation The Amazing Spider-Man. Peter’s ego had grown so large, he didn’t bother to stop a common thief who robbed the TV station where his show was filmed. That mistake ended up costing him the man who raised him like a father when his parents died; his Uncle Ben. The same robber broke into their house and killed Ben, and it was Spider-Man who caught him and learned that with great power must come great responsibility. From then on, he dedicated his life to being a superhero to honor his uncle.

But that’s just where the story begins. Over time, Spidey had come to make some great enemies, but none to the caliber of one Norman Osborn; an industrialist whose insanity drove him to become the Green Goblin. Eventually learning Peter’s identity, he sought to hurt Spider-Man at his weakest point; Peter’s life. What seemed like his greatest act of evil at the time, Goblin kidnapped Peter’s then-girlfriend Gwen Stacy and held her hostage atop the Brooklyn Bridge to lure Spidey there in Amazing Spider-Man #121. In the ensuing battle, Gwen was knocked from the bridge and though Spidey saved her from falling into the water, she was already dead. The following issue, Spidey sought revenge against Goblin, and during that confrontation his precognitive spider-sense helped him avoid a remote-controlled sneak attack by Goblin’s main transport, a goblin glider, and it instead ended up impaling Goblin with its pointed end.

That event would change Spidey’s life once again, but he wasn’t the only one affected. One Professor Miles Warren, a teacher at Empire State University where Peter and Gwen attended, had come to develop illicit feelings for his female pupil. Her death drove him mad, and he soon adopted the costumed identity of the Jackal. Blaming Spidey for her death, he tried several times to cause havoc and potentially kill Spidey. His greatest plan wouldn’t come into fruition until Amazing #149 by Gerry Conway and Ross Andru. Using DNA gathered from a class experiment and his genetics knowledge, Warren created a clone of Gwen who found herself back in Peter’s life. The tearful reunion was short-lived when Spidey was knocked out and awoke in Shea Stadium, former home of the New York Mets, facing fellow Daily Bugle staffer Ned Leeds strapped to a time bomb and another Spidey across from him.

The two Spideys duked it out, each one believing they were the true one, but Gwen eventually helped them call a stalemate long enough to rescue Ned and stop the Jackal. However, the bomb went off and one of the Spider-Men seemingly died in the blast, and supposedly Warren as well. Calling in a favor from Dr. Curt Connors, the one-armed scientist whose attempts to restore his arm turned him into the Lizard until Spidey stopped him, Spidey had him run genetic tests on both. Spidey never checked the results. He was satisfied that since his material was taken before he had met his current love, Mary Jane Watson, there was no way a clone could have his feelings for her. He threw out the results and dumped the “clone’s” body into a smokestack of an abandoned factory.

But that was just the beginning of the story.

Almost 20 years later, the Spidey books were slumping in the sales. As Spidey is Marvel’s flagship character, management wanted an event to not only bolster the popularity of the character and the books, but to rival DC’s “The Death of Superman” which was breaking tremendous sales records. Also, Marvel had recently undergone an in-house restructuring by families of books, and the Spider-Man editors began to feel pressure to compete with the X-Men family’s “Age of Apocalypse” event. As such, no idea was too outlandish, and it was eventually settled upon writer Terry Kavanagh’s suggestion of reintroducing the clone.

The story went that the clone had survived the blast despite all appearances and climbed out of the smokestack where he was dumped. Instead of fighting Peter again to claim the life, he decided that he WAS the clone and went on self-imposed exile adopting the name Ben Reilly (his uncle’s first name and aunt’s maiden name). For five years (in comic time), Ben wandered having his own adventures, tangling with a mysterious figured named Kaine, befriending a scientist named Seward Trainer and falling for his own red-head Elizabeth Tyne. It was also revealed that for a while he had been keeping in touch with Aunt May over the phone, depicted only as a shadowy figure so as to hide his identity from readers.

When May suffered a stroke and placed in a hospital, Ben returned to the city to see her. In doing so, he eventually encountered Peter. During this time, Peter’s life had grown progressively harder, driving him closer and closer to that fine line between hero and something else. The worst moment of all was the supposed return of his parents. Just when he finally accepted them, he had come to learn they were artificial constructs created by the shape-changing Chameleon with the help of Harry Osborn, the recently deceased second Green Goblin and Peter’s former best friend. All these moments drove Peter into becoming harsher, more violent, retreating to his costumed identity and deeming himself simply “The Spider.”

After a few clashes with each other, the spiders were forced to team up when the lives of the inmates of Ravenscroft Asylum were put in peril by the newly created all-powerful villain Judas Traveller, whose agenda was to analyze the true nature of evil and found a particular interest in the arachnids with the help of his associate, Scrier (who was later revealed to be the true source of Traveller’s powers). During this story, “Power and Responsibility,” a lot of clues were dropped directing the reader to think that just maybe Ben may be the true Spider-Man. The story, which ran through all four Spider-books, was presented in a flip-book format. While the story ran on one side a back-up feature dealing with the birth of a clone ran on the other.

Separated by an explosion that seemingly killed Ben, Peter set out on his path of self-redemption while Ben began his quest of finding his place in the world. This is when the Spider-books split between both characters for their own individual adventures. Peter got Amazing and Spectacular, while Ben got Web of and Spider-Man and both shared Spider-Man Unlimited. Peter’s story of redemption ran in the aptly titled “Back from the Edge” into “Web of Death.” It involved his being poisoned by the Vulture and needing to find the cure, which would eventually lead him back from the dark side into more familiar territory. Eventually, though, Peter succumbs to the poison and is saved by arch-rival Doctor Octopus, wanting the pleasure of killing Spidey himself in the future and now knowing his true identity. Spidey goes home to discover his wife Mary Jane is pregnant, a move to add drama by then-Editor-in-chief and long-time Spider-scribe Tom DeFalco, and Ock was killed by Kaine who had followed Ben to New York with an obsession with both spiders. This was done to show how bad-ass Kaine was; that he was a serious character not to be taken lightly in the stories to come.

Ben’s journey took place in “The Exile Returns” and “Web of Life,” where he creates a make-shift basic costume that ends up getting him dubbed the Scarlet Spider by Daily Bugle reporter Ken Ellis. Scarlet’s name and costume were meant to be running gags, both intentionally bad with the name grating on Ben’s nerves, although both lasted beyond their purpose. Ben’s story became crucial to highlight just how much like the classic Spidey readers were more familiar with he was. Without all the darkness lumped on him like Peter, he was still very much the wise-cracking, care-free hero Spidey always was. To further bolster his credit amongst the readers, he was pit against one of Spidey’s toughest villains, Venom. Venom and Spidey had come to an understanding in Amazing #375, and Venom left to San Francisco to become an anti-hero of sorts. Ben took Venom on not knowing about the arrangement, and readers saw how his moral compass was working with his disgust that Spidey would agree to such a thing. As well as to establish his cred, the story also highlighted how cool he was by designing new additions to his web-shooters; expanding impact webbing and paralyzing stingers. The plan worked, and the Scarlet’s Spider popularity would begin to grow.

The two heroes were reunited in the “Smoke and Mirrors” story, which presented the return of the Jackal. However, this time he had genetically modified himself to actually BE a human jackal, rather than just another costumed villain. More mysteries began to form, including why Peter and Ben were sharing dreams, who a third Peter Parker is revealed in Spectacular #221 and why Kaine was foreseeing Mary Jane’s death by an unknown assailant. The Jackal, along with being thrown in to make the reader believe he had a major hand in the recent events or was tied into plans of Traveller and his associate, Scrier, was brought back to explain clone degeneration. That’s a process in which the imperfect cellular make-up of a clone breaks down and they are reduced to nothing. This would prove to be valuable information down the line.

So far, the story was a success. Sales were up tremendously. Marvel’s marketing department, who very much had control over the company during the 90s, decided the best way to continue those sales was to continue the story. Originally, the saga was set to end with Amazing #400, where Aunt May would die from her recent illness and Ben would become the one, true Spider-Man. The original plan, helmed by DeFalco, was similar except that it was intended to have a tighter 3-act structure where Ben would take over for three months, Peter would return, and Ben would get his own series. Marvel restructuring, however, saw DeFalco removed as Editor-in-chief. Marvel gained five new EICs each in charge of their own groups: X-Men was Bob Harras, Marvel Heroes was Mark Gruenwald, Marvel Edge was Bobbi Chase, Lincensed Titles and Alternate universe was Carl Potts, and Spidey went to Bob Budiansky. Under Budiansky were editors Eric Fein, Glenn Greenberg and Tom Breevort, along with established group editor Danny Fingeroth. with the project falling into the jurisdiction of several editors-in-chiefs. Also looking to fuel the speculator market at the time, the Spider-books received various variant or special covers staring with Amazing #400.

As the saga progressed, it was revealed Kaine was the first of Jackal’s clones, raised like a son but cast out as soon as he showed signs of the degeneration process, when he accidentally got Peter indicted for murder because of their similar fingerprints. It was also revealed that the Jackal never really cloned anyone, but instead invented a virus that turned people into genetic copies of someone else. A new female Doctor Octopus debuted, both an associate of the original and daughter of Seward. The third Peter became Spidercide; an amped-up clone with the ability to shape shift and absolutely no moral guidance. A genetic test by Seward revealed that Peter was the clone, inciting him to join up with the Jackal and his crew but ultimately regained his senses to help Ben and the New Warriors stop him. Jackal, Spidercide and Kaine supposedly didn’t survive that battle.

Finally, the long-delayed moment happened. Peter decided it was too dangerous for a father-to-be to play hero anymore after nearly dying in “The Greatest Responsibility.” Peter and Mary Jane moved to Portland and out of the Spider-books, where Peter lost his powers in Spider-Man: The Final Adventure limited series. Ben became the sole spider hero in New York. However, marketing decided to squeeze the last bit of juice out of Scarlet’s popularity by temporarily renaming all the books for two months and even having him become a brief member of the New Warriors. Scarlet was soon discredited by a digital/cyber construct of himself created by female Ock using an FBI agent she captured infiltrating her organization. This forced Ben to become Spider-Man once and for all in Sensational Spider-Man #0, the series that replaced the cancelled Web. It should be noted that Web of Scarlet Spider ran two issues longer than the others, crossing over with New Warriors to conclude the Cyber Scarlet Spider story.

Fan reaction was mixed, but loud. Many long-time fans felt cheated that the man they’ve been following since Amazing #149 was nothing more than a fake, a cheap copy. Shortly after Ben donned the webs, readership began to steadily decline and the Spider-books found themselves right back where they started. Many creators, both involved with the project and just inside Marvel, also hated this direction and the confusing chaos that the whole thing had become. Here was a story envisioned with a clear beginning, middle and end, but stretched out so far and long past its welcome.

Despite all that, Ben had a good run as Spidey, getting an updated classic rogues gallery as well as some all-new additions. He had his own supporting cast, although often found himself interacting with those from “his” past, forcing his dying his hair blonde in order to minimize his resemblance to Peter. He also got his own run-in with symbiote possession when the Carnage symbiote, spawned from Venom’s suit and originally bonded with serial killer Cletus Cassidy, tried to bond with him and turned him into Spider-Carnage. However, behind the scenes things weren’t progressing smoothly. Current EIC Bob Budiansky did an about face on the plans and wanted Peter back as soon as possible but without the baggage of a family, going so far as to have Fabian Nicieza rewrite the ending of Final Adventure where Mary Jane would have had their baby. Marvel, starting to feel the effects of looming financial troubles (and eventual bankruptcy) downsized and consolidated the five EICs into one, that being Bob Harras. Bob decided to give Peter a mystery disease that would eventually restore his powers and changed the identity of the true mastermind behind it all.

Under Harras, who insisted on strict control over the plotting with very little compromise, the original Green Goblin who was killed over 20 years prior, was restored with the excuse that the formula that gave him his powers also gave him a kind of healing factor, allowing him to survive being impaled. He had been recovering on a tropical island somewhere orchestrating Peter’s downfall from afar. He had forced Seward to screw with the test results, making Peter the real one after all. This revelation, in the aptly titled story “Revelations,” was driven home when Ben took a fatal blow meant for Peter by the Goblin’s glider (a mirror to how he “died” years before) and disintegrated into dust due to clone degeneration (going against established standards for degeneration). Further insult to injury was, with Spider-Man #75, the final part of the clone saga, the book got Peter Parker added to its title. Not to be forgotten, Mary Jane is forced into labor by an associate of Osborn, Alison Mongraine, and their baby is supposedly born stillborn.


-Osborn took center-stage as a major Spidey villain again, entering Peter’s life by taking over the Daily Bugle and forcing himself to be part of his daily life. It was all culminated in the “Gathering of Five” story arc when Osborn attempted to gather mystic totems in order to gain ultimate power. Instead, he gained ultimate insanity and was defeated by Spidey in the following story “The Final Chapter.” Right after, the number of Spider-books were reduced to two and restarted from #1 with the hopes of simplifying Spidey’s continuity and attracting new readers. Several new characters, including the new heroic Green Goblin, Elizabeth Tyne and new villain Armada completely disappeared as a result of this.

-The original mastermind behind the Saga was set to be the mysterious Gaunt; a figure in heavy armor. In reality, Gaunt was the classic villain The Robot Master who needed that suit in order to survive. But under Harras, he became just another pawn in Osborn’s game.

-Alison Mongraine was depicted briefly in a few issues after the end of the Saga. It was strongly hinted that the Parker baby was still alive and that her death was another ploy by Osborn. Eventually, the baby was handed off to a cult of Scriers and then rescued by Kaine violently. This plotline was left dangling and Kaine was never seen again in the main books once the reboot occurred. Also, Marvel editorial has been adamant in its denial that the mysterious “package” was the baby, despite all evidence to the contrary.

-Aunt May and Doc Ock were resurrected. It was revealed that the Aunt May who died was an actress genetically modified to resemble her and planted by Osborn as part of his schemes, completely nullifying one of the most compelling Spidey stories at the time. Fan outcry was adamant when she died, and was just as loud at the preposterous nature of this retcon of her being buried alive on the Osborn estate. Tom DeFalco, who had written Ock’s death handled his return the first chance he could, not pleased with the decision in the first place. He had Ock’s girlfriend, Stunner, and the Female Ock, team-up with the ninja assassin guild The Hand and had them perform the same resurrection trick that revived Elektra in the Daredevil book.

-All references to the events of the Clone Saga were ceased upon the reboot. Only in recent years has any acknowledgement been slowly seeping back into stories; although in the form of jokes at the Saga’s expense. Peter David in his series Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man used Ben Reilly as an alias for the then-fugitive Peter. Brian Michael Bendis also did his own version of the Clone Saga in his book Ultimate Spider-Man.

-The largest and longest-lasting reference to the Clone Saga came in the form of Spider-Girl. Appearing in Marvel’s alternate universe title What If? vol. 2 #105, it featured a teenaged daughter of Spider-Man whose circumstances led her to donning the webs and taking up the mantle. Her design, and the entire universe she helped forge (the short-lived MC2 imprint) all came from the Clone Saga era of the books, ignoring all that came after. Kaine was given a make-over and included, as was the son of Elizabeth Tyne in the form of mysterious hero DarkDevil. The Scarlet Spider also got some play as the temporary identity for the daughter of the Black Cat, Felicity Hardy. Spider-Girl ran for 100 issues, then was re-launched as the Amazing Spider-Girl which will end after 30. For more on her check out Spider-Girl No More.

-The Clone Saga was featured in modified form as part of the series finale to Spider-Man: The Animated Series where Spidey meets versions of himself from other universes united to take out an evil version of himself. However, only the Scarlet Spider and Spider-Carnage made the cut as part of the cast from the actual Saga, the other Spider-Men featured were all short-lived incarnations from other points in the comics.

The Clone Saga went from a wildly popular story to almost destroying the Spider-books. It was a story with a clearly defined ending in site, but Marvel marketing forced the creators involved to stretch and expand the story. Ben Reilly was set up to be the Spider-Man everyone wanted back in the books, fun, carefree and single, but the decision to declare him the real one while Peter was the clone all this time only made many fans angry. The decision was quickly backpedaled, and a character many fans had come to love was removed as if he was inconsequential.

But, despite Marvel’s best efforts to distance themselves from the story, Ben Reilly continues to live on. He appears as an alternate costume in several recent games featuring Spider-Man, and as part of various toy lines licensed by Marvel. Marvel has also decided to give the clone one more moment in the spotlight in the new X-Men and Spider-Man mini-series, which spans the various decades and incarnations of both franchises. The Ben Reilly issue, #3, is set to ship in January.

Will there be more Ben Reilly yet to come? If there’s one thing the recent years of Marvel should show, it’s that no person or idea stays dead for long in comics.


Due to the enormity of this event, we’ll be presenting the issues involved by title. For a complete Clone Saga timeline, visit

Amazing Scarlet Spider #s 1 & 2
Amazing Spider-Man vol. 1 #s 121 & 122, 129, 136, 144 -151, 391, 393-418
Amazing Spider-Man Annual ’96
Amazing Spider-Man Super Special #1
Avengers vol. 1 #400
Daredevil vol. 1 #354
DC Versus Marvel #s 1 & 4
Giant-Size Spider-Man #5
Green Goblin #s 1, 3, 10 & 13
Marvel Annual Report 1995
Marvel Fanfare vol. 2 #3
Marvel Versus DC #s 2 & 3
Maximum Clonage Alpha
Maximum Clonage Omega
New Warriors vol. 1 #59, 61-67, 70-71
Scarlet Spider #s 1 & 2
Scarlet Spider Unlimited #1
Sensational Spider-Man #s 0-11
Sensational Spider-Man Mini-Comic
Spectacular Scarlet Spider #s 1 & 2
Spectacular Spider-Man vol. 1 #s 25-31, 68, 142 & 143, 149, 200, 215-240
Spectacular Spider-Man Annual # 8
Spectacular Spider-Man Super Special #1
Spider-Man vol. 1 #s 48-75
Spider-Man Holiday Special 1995
Spider-Man Super Special #1
Spider-Man Team-Up #s 2-6
Spider-Man Unlimited #s 7-14
Spider-Man: 101 Ways to End the Clone Saga #1
Spider-Man: Dead Man’s Hand #1
Spider-Man/Punisher: Family Plot #s 1 & 2
Spider-Man: Funeral For an Octopus #s 1-3
Spider-Man: Redemption #s 1-4
Spider-Man: The Final Adventure #1-4
Spider-Man: The Jackal Files #1
Spider-Man: The Lost Years #0-3
Spider-Man: The Osborn Journal #1
Spider-Man: The Parker Years #1
Uncanny X-Men #339
Venom Super Special #1
Venom: Along Came A Spider #s 1-4
Web of Scarlet Spider #s 1-4
Web of Spider-Man #s 114-129
Web of Spider-Man Super Special #1
What If…? Vol. 1 #30
What If…? Vol. 2 #86

Spider-Man: Clone Genesis
Spider-Man: Revelations

The Triumph of Deborah

by Eva Etzioni-Halevy
Plume Books
Review by Melissa

Historical fiction based on Biblical stories is an iffy thing. There's not much actual history about the time periods when it takes place, at least not the sort that gives you detailed information about what particular people were doing. Most writers just tend to use their imagination about the situations surrounding the Biblical account, discarding the historical information, such as it is. In this case, the account is that of Deborah, the prophetess (her story is found in Judges, if you're interested). She was one of the few females to be in a leadership role in the patriarchal Israelite society, filling the role of judge in Israel. It's not as well-known to me, at least, as some of the other women's stories in the Bible, and for this reason I was intrigued by this book. Etzioni-Halevy tells Deborah's story, weaving it in with the story of her army commander, Barak. He follows her command, and goes to war against the Canaanites, defeating them soundly. He frees all the Israelite slaves and takes the Canaanite women as prisoners. In the throng are two half-sisters, Nogah and Asherah. It's these two women who form a love triangle with Barak, and eventually shape the events between the Israelite nation and the Canaanite kings.

My usual complaint about fictionalized accounts of Biblical stories is that they feel too modern. The women are too empowered, the men too sensitive. I figure that the people in Biblical times would never have really have acted that way; women's empowerment and men's finding their inner selves is a modern phenomena. Fortunately, Etzioni-Halevy's book doesn't have that problem. Having had a career as a professor, Etzioni-Halevy knows how to do her research, and how to present a more plausible portrayal of the time period. While the women were influential, and possibly could even be called powerful, they didn't feel modern, instead working within the limitations that Israelite and Canaanite society placed on them. I appreciated that.

However, for a book entitled The Triumph of Deborah, it really wasn't much about her. She appeared in the beginning to get the plot moving, somewhere in the middle she had sex with Barak and in the end she reconciled with her husband and pushed for peace with the Canaanites. But the book wasn't about her. It was more about Barak and his journey to redemption and centeredness and his conflicts with women, including Deborah, than it was about Deborah's influence and power. I was expecting something more along the lines of, say, Orson Scott Card's Women of Genesis series or The Red Tent, where the focus is more on how the women interact with the heavily male society. Sure, that probably would have made Deborah into a more modern character than she really was, but I think Etzioni-Halevy missed out on an opportunity to explore the motivations and conflicts surrounding Deborah being a prophetess in a male-dominated society. Instead, Deborah was benevolent and beloved, and possibly respected, but very uninteresting.

In addition to not having my expectations about the book met, the main characters -- Barak especially -- drove me nuts. I kept reminding myself that he was a premodern Israelite male, which is why he was sexist, uncaring and misogynistic; but honestly, I wanted to throttle him. It didn't help that he was a sex fiend: he repeatedly made love to all three of the female leads, in addition to countless maids. Basically, if it had two legs and boobs, he was after it. And then he hits the roof when he finds out his One True Love had sex with another man (historically accurate, sure, but hypocritical and annoying nonetheless). Then there was the actual sex itself. Ahem. Let's just say that not since Larry McMurty's Lonesome Dove have I read a book that contained so many memorable -- and amusing -- euphemisms for the penis and for intercourse. I suppose some people have found it moving and passionate, but I was mostly rolling my eyes and sniggering. Granted, it made for some *cough* entertaining *cough* pillow conversations with my husband, so I suppose it did do what it was supposed to do.

In the end, that was what bothered me the most about the book: it was essentially a Harlequin Romance disguised as a Bible story when it could have been so much more. And while I can see the appeal of that to some, for me it was a real turn off. Pun is (probably) intended.

The Sugar Queen

By Sarah Addison Allen
Bantam Fiction
Reviewed by Heather F.

I adored Garden Spells, the first novel by this author, when I read it several months ago. I recently started going to the library again and The Sugar Queen was one of the first books I checked out. I had a feeling I would love it just as much as GS and I was so right!

This is the story of Josey Cirrini. In her late 20s, she has settled for a life of living, and caring, for her tyrannical mother, who believes Josey’s sole purpose in life is to do her every whim. Josey’s only consolation is the piles of sweeties, romance novels, and travel magazines she keeps hidden in her closet. That is, until she comes home one day to find resident bad girl Della Lee Baker camped out in there. Begrudgingly, with the feisty Della Lee’s pushing, Josey’s world suddenly changes. She’s making friends. She’s going out to festivals and restaurants, much to her mother’s displeasure. She keeps running into her longtime crush, Adam, the postman. And she’s finding that there’s more to life that she ever dreamed.

What didn’t I like about this book? I loved everything about this book. The story, the characters, the whole atmosphere of the book was wonderful. I adored the characters. Josey felt like a best friend by the end of the book. All the women were fantastic; well-drawn, strong, and resilient. But Chloe, with her knack for 'finding' the right book at the right time stole the show for me.

It was one of those books that you just feel at home with, as soon as you open the cover and read the first page. I loved the magic of it.

My favorite part of all was when Chloe encountered all the books that had been trying to get her attention throughout the book sitting in her bathroom door, just barely touching the bathroom floor. Right before that it was said that books never came to her in the bathroom and then she turns around and there they are, putting a "toe" in, so to speak.

This book glows with love, tenderness and humor – and an extra dash of magic. Here lies a spellbinding tale of friendship, love, and life -and the enthralling potential of every new day.

A few favorite quotes:

"She stuck her head out and took a deep breath. If she could eat the cold air, she would. She thought cold snaps were like cookies, like gingersnaps. In her mind they were made with white chocolate chunks and had a cool, brittle vanilla frosting. They melted like snow in her mouth, turning creamy and warm."

"Books can be possessive, can't they? You're walking around in a bookstore and a
certain one will jump out at you, like it had moved there on its own, just to
get your attention. Sometimes what's inside will change your life, but sometimes
you don't even have to read it. Sometimes it's a comfort just to have a book
around. Many of these books haven't even had their spines cracked. 'Why do you
buy books you don't even read?' our daughter asks us. That's like asking someone
who lives alone why they bought a cat. For company, of course."
Read more about the author and her work here.

Album of the Damned: Snapshots from the Third Reich

By Paul Garson

Academy Chicago Publishers

Reviewed by Nancy Horner

Album of the Damned is a glossy, beautiful picture book printed on quality paper that smells glorious when you turn its pages. But, it’s not your everyday coffee-table book. The cover of Album of the Damned is enough to stop you in your tracks. A baby wearing the hat of a Nazi officer? That’s the kind of image of Nazi Germany we’re not accustomed to seeing. The most common photos are stark, formal, horrifying -- scenes in which the Germans are obviously the evil overlords, herding Jewish prisoners like cattle at gunpoint or standing stiffly over skeletal prisoners.

Album of the Damned contains a few of the traditional images, but it’s not the typical, cold and formal photograph that is Paul Garson’s focus. Instead, he shows the opposite, the playful, smiling, human side of life as a Nazi. Open the book and the first photo you’ll see is a grinning, dimpled man in Nazi uniform and greatcoat, reaching out as if to shake the photographer’s hand, block the lens or make a thumbs-up gesture. Behind him stands another Nazi with a curious look, a third saluting and smiling. Below the photo, the author’s words: “Welcome to the Third Reich”. A quote by Christopher Browning, author of Ordinary Men: Reserve Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland reminds the reader that, “Explaining is not excusing . . .”

The 400 photographs in Album of the Damned are merely a small selection of the many photos Garson has collected. Most came from private photo albums and were taken by both soldiers and civilians. They were purchased by the author after he developed a private obsession that led him to collect entire albums, individual photos, personal letters, documents and newsreels. An extensive bibliography at the end of the book gives you an idea how much time and research went into the writing of Album’s text, which sometimes describes the photos but also leads the reader through the process of the growing Nazi mentality and its results -- begun by a few radicals, eventually to take over the minds and hearts of most Germans and those in many in other European nations. A few of the photos are professional photographs, but the vast majority are casual, informal photos of friends and family.

And, it’s that informality that leaves the reader stunned. Text describes how those relaxed happy people spent their working hours -- rounding up people considered inferior or dangerous in some way, guarding them as they were worked at slave labor on only 350 calories worth of food, lining them up against the wall and shooting them or leading them to gas chambers . . . then, going home to play with the kids or gathering for drinks and laughs. It’s that contrast between smiling faces in bathing suits or at sumptuous tables compared with the harsh reality of their murderous daily lives that shocks.

The book contains a timeline and is then divided into four parts, with an introductory section, “In the Beginning,” followed by “Part One: The Homefront”, “Part Two: Prelude to War” and “Part Three: The Battlefront”. The author adds a disclaimer reminding readers that the “accompanying text makes no claims at covering the subject matter in any complete manner” and that he “chose photos that ‘spoke’ to me and let them lead me where they would.” His interpretation of a few specific photos didn’t necessarily jibe with my own, but I understood his drift. The author’s objective was to show, through those photographs, how ordinary people can be indoctrinated into dangerous beliefs of superiority.

Through carefully written text and the chosen photos, Garson leads the reader to a deeper understanding of life as a Nazi and how all-encompassing the Nazi world became. A photo of a pre-Nazi children’s club is shown, followed by photos of boys in the Hitler Youth and young girls in the League of German Girls. A sample from a young girl’s letter shows how completely she was immersed in the thought that Jews were sub-human. Nazis are shown alternately cuddling animals and shooting them or horsing around with them. In one photo, two Nazis stand by as a man is attacked by their dogs.

Among my favorites:

  • A photo of a happy young couple at their wedding, swastikas hanging over the altar behind them.
  • A pair of portraits of a middle-aged couple. In the top photo, a wife stands behind a small balcony table, smiling as her husband intently reads Mein Kampf. In the bottom photo, the same couple at the same table, she pouring tea for her husband, who is now dressed in a Nazi uniform.
  • Two photos of a tree stump with a hidden door carved into its side. In the first photo, a Nazi enters the door; in the second, the door is closed and one realizes the ingenuity and horror of this hidden sniper look-out.

The photos gradually become more graphic and disarming. Album of the Damned is not the kind of book you leave out where young children can flip through it. But, it’s the sort of book we all need to read -- a stark reminder of how easily people can become swayed into believing that one race or religion is superior to another, a memo to humans that evil may begin as a tiny germ and grow into a plague, a note to look about us and see that we haven’t necessarily learned the lesson the Nazis taught us.

Read more about the book here.

Chasing Windmills

by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Doubleday Books
Review by Melissa

There are many books exploring the effect that one life has on others, for good or for ill. There are books about people with broken lives trying to make the best of a bad situation. This book takes those two ideas and combines them, asking the question: will two broken halves make a whole?

Sebastian has spent the last 10 years thinking his mother is dead, and having his every move controlled by his overbearing father. He is allowed outside for one run a day, and on one of those runs, he makes a friend, Delilah. It is through her that Sebastian begins to question his father's mandates. He ends up on the subway, in the middle of the night, riding for the sheer joy of the freedom.

Maria has spent the last 7 years living with her boyfriend, Carl, who beats her whenever she looks like she's thinking or doing even the remotest thing out of "line". When Maria loses her job, she can't bear to tell Carl that she's not working anymore, so she takes to writing the subway during her graveyard shift. It's there that she meets Sebastian, who has taken to escaping his confining existence in the middle of the night to ride the subways.

Neither Sebastian nor Maria has much hope about their lives; they are both consigned to their fate. That is, until they meet. It's a scene from the movies: they meet, there's a spark, they fall in love, their lives are changed. It's simultaneously incredibly powerful and incredibly naive. But, it changes their lives irrevocably; it is the strength from their meeting that gives them the confidence, and power, to leave their abusers behind.

It's actually relatively easy for Sebastian and Maria to leave -- there's a few missteps and miscommunications, but both Sebastian's father and Maria's boyfriend were relatively easy obstacles to overcome. However, once they get to their utopia -- the Mojave Desert and the windmills of the title -- things are not as perfect as it all seemed late at night on the subway. The end unravels slightly -- as a reader, you want the perfectly happily ever after, and yet we are given something in between Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story: no one dies, but no one is perfectly happy, either. What they are, though, is free.

In the end, Hyde decides that two broken halves do not make a whole. But they do make for a mostly compelling story.