Wednesday, June 20, 2007


A recent discussion on DorothyL centered on a character from David Skibbins' Tarot Card mysteries. Warren Ritter is a former radical who doesn't want to be found by the government, and he's also bipolar. I haven't read the books yet, but apparently, in Warren's attempts to stay lost and be able to move easily around, he only owns 7 books at a time. This prompted a discussion on what 7 books DorothyL members would choose if they were in a similar position.

Some could not participate at all, finding the thought of only 7 books physically painful. Others thought it was cheating to include anthologies. I do not agree. After all, if the theory is to have 7 physical books that you can pick up and put in a backpack in one minute, than I can have as many books crammed into one physical volume as I can find, as long as I'm willing to bear the weight of the pack :)

Here's the 7 I would choose today. I don't guarantee I would choose the same 7 tomorrow. After all, you never know when a new book is going to come along and knock you senseless with its brilliance. (And for my purposes, I will not include scriptures. That takes us too dangerously into personal spiritual territory, which I would prefer to keep private.) Otherwise, these books are all single volumes that I have on my bookshelves at this moment.

1. THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: What's to add? Poetry, tragedy, comedy, history, characters . . . He'll never be equalled. Nor will his language.

2. THE COMPLETE NOVELS OF JANE AUSTEN: Another automatic for me. My daughter is named for two Jane Austen heroines. I could re-read her novels ad infinitum.

3. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Gandalf, Faramir, Eowyn . . . I read this again every few years and I never get bored. Even though I have large portions of it memorized (particualrly anything to do with Eowyn), I would want these books forever.

4. GAUDY NIGHT by Dorothy L. Sayers: The Golden Age creator of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, Sayers' best book (in my opinion) is this one. Harriet returns to her Oxford college to find a poison-pen at work. There isn't a single murder in this book, but it can't be beat for atmosphere, tension, philosophical questions on marriage, women's careers, academic integrity, and ethics. Plus Peter and his Harriet finally confront their relationship head-on.

5. FALCON AT THE PORTAL/HE SHALL THUNDER IN THE SKY by Elizabeth Peters: Okay, I'm cheating slightly here. These are two volumes. If necessary, I will pull the covers off and restitch by hand into one volume. You can't read one without the other. The highpoint of the Amelia Peabody Egyptian mysteries, these are set just before and during WWI and find Ramses doing undercover intelligence work for the British while Nefret tries to sort out her romantic life. I literally threw FALCON AT THE PORTAL at the wall when I finished reading it at 2:00 a.m. because I knew I would have to wait a whole year to read the next one.

6. DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST by Juliet Marillier: I love all Marillier's historical fantasies, but if I had to pick just one to keep, it would her first. Based on the fairy tale of the wicked stepmother who turns her stepsons into swans and the little sister who has to save them by making shirts of nettles without speaking. Marillier bases the story in Ireland of the 8th or 9th century and weaves a wonderful fantasy that's grounded in our own history. I simply love it and Sorcha will forever be my favorite of Marillier's characters.

7. THE BROTHERS OF GWYNEDD QUARTET by Edith Pargeter: Better known for her Brother Cadfael medieval mysteries (written under the name Ellis Peters), Pargeter also wrote fabulous historical novels. I was torn between this volume and Sharon Kay Penman's HERE BE DRAGONS, but had to come down on the side of these four novels in one volume. They follow the life of Llwellyn, the last true prince of Wales. This is a book that, when I put it down, I thought, "If this isn't how it really happened, it should have." I conceived a lasting admiration of Llewellyn and the Welsh, and a lasting resentment of Edward I in these books. I cry every time I reach the end, it doesn't matter that I know what's coming.

This is not an easy exercise. Try it. Assuming you'd still have access to libraries, what 7 books could you not bear to part with, that you simply must be able to lay your hands on whenever you like? Already I'm thinking of dozens I left off this list: ENDER'S GAME, POSSESSION, MIDDLEMARCH, JANE EYRE and VILLETTE, volumes of English poetry, HARRY POTTER in all its storytelling glory . . . and now I'm getting a headache just thinking about it. I think I'll go walk the length of my many bookshelves and appreciate the hundreds of books I own.

Friday, June 15, 2007


My dearest writing friend in the world, Ginger Churchill, has her first book available for pre-order at Amazon. Carmen's Sticky Scab runs the length and width of a child's imagination when she gets a scab: from blood to sharks to little boys wanting a taste. If you don't think it's for you grown-ups, you're probably right. But read it to a child and wait for the laughter.

I know, it's a long and unwieldy link. I know there's a way to condense it in my posts. But I have yet to understand the process, try as I might.

And can I just say--there's nothing better than typing in your friend's name to Amazon and having her book come up!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

May Reads

THE DISORDERLY KNIGHTS/ PAWN IN FRANKINCENSE/THE RINGED CASTLE/CHECKMATE by Dorothy Dunnett: The remainder of the Lymond chronicles, begun last month. Set in the 16th-century, these four books bounce around the world from Malta to France to the Muslim coast of Africa to Greece to Constantinople to Russia and include such historical figures as the Knights Grand Cross of St. John and Ivan the Terrible. But my favorite locales are England and Lymond's home ground of Scotland, and my favorite characters are the entirely fictional. Francis Crawford of Lymond really grew on me, especially through PAWN IN FRANKINCENSE and he meets his female match in Philippa Somerville, who makes her first appearance in the earliest book as a 10-year-old English border girl who despises the Scotsman whom her parents are helping. By the time she's a 16-year-old walking knowingly into the Sultan's harem in order to rescue Lymond's child, I knew she was the only girl for Lymond. These books are packed with literary allusions and historical details and dozens of characters and more plot than you can shake a stick at--but it's Lymond and Philippa who made this series live for me. I didn't always like Lymond or agree with his actions, but he wormed his way into my mind and heart until, when I put down the last book, I knew that he and Philippa would live forever in my imagination. Not many characters do that.

THE HANGING GARDEN by Ian Rankin: Edinburgh DI John Rebus is investigating the case of a possible Nazi officer who ordered the deaths of an entire French town. Is the college professor Rebus is investigating the former officer? If he is, what responsibility should he bear for a war crime committed fifty years ago? And what about the mixed motives of those who either want to expose him or conceal him? In the midst of this comes personal tragedy as Rebus's daughter is struck by a hit and run driver. Throw in two (or three) gangs fighting for supremacy in Edinburgh and a missing Bosnian prostitute and there's a lot going on. The gang aspect wasn't my favorite part of this book, but I enjoyed seeing Rebus as a father and his musings on the possible war criminal.

THE BURNING GIRL by Mark Billingham: Twenty years after a man was imprisoned for setting fire to a teenage girl, someone emerges to claim they imprisoned the wrong man. Another gangster book (I feel quite hip on my British gangs now!) but the multiple POVs and the twisting of the old case with the new kept it interesting. But I did hit a major problem near the end of the book, in an action taken by Inspector Tom Thorne. It turned off a lot of my sympathy and tainted the character for me. So I'm not sure quite how I feel about this book as a whole.

GREGOR AND THE CODE OF CLAW by Suzanne Collins: The fifth and last in the Gregor the Overlander YA series. Beneath New York City lies a civilization of humans who are about to launch a possibly endgame war against the rats. 12-year-old Gregor is The Warrior of their prophecies, but the last prophecy doesn't look too good for him. My favorite scenes were the code breaking, where Gregor's sister Lizzie comes into her own. The final confrontation between Gregor and the giant white rat known as The Bane is suitably impressive. My only complaint with this book is that I didn't feel the series is completely ended. I wanted more of an ending than the one I got. Hopefully this means that at some point Collins will revisit the Underland.

THE PORTRAIT by Iain Pears: A uniquely structured book, the artist narrator speaks directly to the subject of his latest portrait. As the conversation unfolds, we learn that the artist and his sitter have known each other for years, that the sitter is an art critic, the artist has fled London within the last few years for self-imposed exile in a French fishing village, and slowly we begin to piece together their shared history and the motive behind this portrait. I wouldn't want to read too many books in this structure, but it worked beautifully, in that I was considerably surprised by several of the revelations even when I thought I had them figured out.

KNOTS AND CROSSES by Ian Rankin: KNOTS AND CROSSES introduces John Rebus as a divorced dad of an 11-year-old, brother to a possibly shady stage illusionist, and detective in the confusing case of dead girls who have, as far as the police can tell, absolutely nothing in common. This is my third Rebus book and the first one about which I can say,wholeheartedly--I loved it! It was my kind of story--intricate, with lots of details that twist around and fit in eventually, a killer with a most interesting motive, a clue that took my breath away when I realized what it meant, and a detective whom I could understand if not always agree with. I'm so happy, because now I have all these other Rebus books to explore :)

SLEEPYHEAD by Mark Billingham: If KNOTS AND CROSSES made me like John Rebus more, I'm afraid this book made me like Inspector Tom Thorne less. I was iffy about him after reading THE BURNING GIRL, but no longer. Now I just don't like him at all. And I think I might know why--near the end of the book, he thinks about the fact that he doesn't care why killers do what they do. Motive does not interest him. Motive, however, interests me enormously. I think his attitude permeated the book, so that it was more a game of police vs. killer, and less an exploration of human beings and how things can go terribly wrong in our heads and our relationships. I doubt I'll read more Billingham.