Tuesday, October 29, 2013

England, Wales, America, and the stories in between

I'm not sure how it happened, but I just read two stories set in those Marcher lands between England and Wales, and I loved them both, so they have to be first in my lists of books reviewed this week. Grab a coffee and find out why:

First is The Cuckoos of Batch Magna, by Peter Maughan, a wonderful story with evocative scenery, zany characters, pitch-perfect dialog, general hilarity, and a hapless American who inherits an entailed manor and dreams of theme parks. The locals are split--those who don't want to lose their homes, and those who can't wait to milk the tourists. But otters swim, Wind in the Willows echoes through the breeze, and a gently honest humor keeps even the flakiest boat afloat. Enjoy this with a perfectly balanced, smooth and full-flavored three-star coffee.

For younger readers (or older ones who enjoyed Harry Potter and co), Jasper Fforde's The last Dragonslayer is another wonderful novel, set in a slightly alternate universe where magic is dying, wizards are reduced to rewiring houses, and magic carpets are used to deliver pizza. One ordinary teen tries to keep a whole magical building in order when her boss disappears, then learns that this is the least of her worries as dreamers dream the death of the final dragon. Wonderfully British and amusing, this one's highly recommended. But, of course, I'll have to tell you to drink coffee, not tea, so go for a two-star bright lively easy-drinking cup.

This next book's full of modern myths (and no dragons) as English protagonists meet at Woodstock then find their lives taking radically different directions. Secrets hide behind memory, and the myths of the past prove unequal to the present. A Time of Myths, by Chris Blamires, is wonderfully evocative, both of Woodstock and the island of Crete, of idealistic youth and resigned adulthood, and of mystery and hope. Enjoy this elegant tale with a rich, elegant, complex four-star cup of coffee.

Leaving England for America, this next one's the first in a series, which, sadly, means it ends on a cliff-hanger. Dead Dreams (Book 1) by Emma Right is a young-adult novel, telling how eighteen-year-old Brie pursues her dreams of independence, moving away from home, and taking two jobs to support her dreams of becoming an actress one day. Lack of sleep probably explains the mistakes she makes, despite long thought and deep consideration. Readers will delight in shouting out, "No, don't go there!" But she goes. Things fall apart. And the cliff hangs. Enjoy Brie's intense thoughts and dark danger with a dark intense five-star coffee.

And now for some shorter works:

Denise Moncrief's An Imposter in Town is a contemporary romantic suspense with dark overtones. Fitting a novel's worth of action into a short hundred pages, it might feel a jumpy at times, but the ending ties everything, and everyone, together with nothing wasted. My review should appear on Nights and Weekends next week. Enjoy this twisted tale with a dark intense five-star coffee.

An Actor’s Life, by Duncan Whitehead, is set back in England where an aging actor watches the Oscars, hoping to see his hero win an award. But the failed and the successful aren't really so far apart, and this actor's achieved most of his aims--just one remains. A nice introduction to the author's writing, with some clever name-dropping of his longer novel, this one goes well with a well-balanced three-star coffee.

Vinny and Violet, the unwanted kittens, by Maranda Russell, is a short sweet children's tale of pets and rescue, with a wise message of care and concern. Enjoy with a mild crisp one-star coffee.

And finally, a wonderful, gorgeously illustrated  children's picture book is The Otter, the Spotted Frog and the Great Flood, by Gerald Hausman, a wonderful Creek Indian legend, gorgeously illustrated, pleasingly reminiscent of the Biblical flood story, with a wise lesson for all. The author's notes at the end tie legend, history and faith all together. And the illustrations are simply gorgeous! Enjoy this with your children, and keep an elegant complex 4-star cup of coffee out of their reach.



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