Archive for April 8th, 2007
I have what may be an unusual yardstick for historical fiction â€“ does the author tell us what the toilet facilities are? Yeah, it is weird, but I find that if the author doesnâ€™t give us this information they often havenâ€™t done their research and just setting the book in the past so the characters can wear pretty costumes.
So I am pleased to say that Paper Woman tells us about the (sometimes icky) facts of life in 1780. And, since author Suzanne Adair is a Revolutionary War re-enactor, you know that she has first-hand knowledge on this subject. But enough about outhouses, chamber pots, and bushesâ€¦
Paper Woman is set in Alton, Georgia in 1780. The main character is Sophie Barton, a thirty-three year old widow who lives with her father and helps him run his printing business. In 1780, battles are being fought in hot spots in the American colonies between local militias and English soldiers, while other areas were largely peaceful. Alton has been quiet so far, but Sophie knows her father and his friends in the Safety Committee are up to something. Sophie isnâ€™t sure what is happening, but the local British garrison has become quite interested in her fatherâ€™s activities, two mysterious Spaniards show up, and the local Creek Indians are being seen in large groups. When her father and two other men are murdered under unusual circumstances and she decodes secret messages sent to her father, Sophie decides to keep his rendez-vous with the mysterious message sender to determine what he knows of her fatherâ€™s death.
Sophie and her traveling companions begin a dangerous journey South towards their destination in Havanna, Cuba. Along the way, they realize that the rendez-vous message is not as secret as they thought and their lives depend on unraveling political intrigues and discovering just who their enemies and allies are.
Paper Woman is not your traditional mystery, but it has lots of good stuff in it â€“ adventure, suspense, intrigue, and some romance, too. There are several things I particularly like about this book. First, Adair shows life in 1780 as messy, dangerous, and smelly instead of glamorizing it. Second, she resists â€œname-droppingâ€ and incorporating famous revolutionary figures into the plot, which often feels fake. She relies instead on good fictional characters to carry the story. Third, she shows the incredible diverse population of the time â€“ colonists from different countries, English soldiers, French and Spanish settlers from Louisiana and Florida, Indian tribes, slaves – all were part of the struggle for control of the colonies and all have a part in this story.
Favorite character? Jacques le Coeuvre and his not-so-tall tales. Did I guess it? No, the political intrigue was beyond me so I just gave up and enjoyed the book. Will I read another? Yes.
Mystery Book Reviews by Liz at http://reviewedbyliz.com Â©2007
Personally, I wasnâ€™t alive when Kennedy was killed, but all my life I have heard my parents and their friends ask each other this question. It is a touchstone for people of a certain age in the United States who shared a common experience. They talk about where they were and how they heard the news and what it meant to them. The group of people bonds and, eventually, the conversation moves on to something else.
I was reminded of the phenomenon not long ago when someone asked what my all-time favorite book was. Readers do the same kind of bonding when they discuss their favorite books. But I realized I donâ€™t really have a favorite book. What book had the largest impact on my life? I had to think about that. Unlike the Kennedy assassination, there arenâ€™t that many books burned into my brain. But there are some books I remember more than others. And, strangely, I usually remember where I was when I read them. So here is an unusual combination of â€œwhere were you whenâ€ and â€œmost important books.â€
I remember that when I was about 11, my father was anxious for me to give up childrenâ€™s books and start reading adult books. I finally read through all the juvenile mystery series and told him I had nothing left to read. He rubbed his hands with glee and handed me a John Dickson Carr. I was hooked. I blew through my fatherâ€™s tattered collection of Carr and Carter Dickson books in very short order. These locked room mysteries were out of print for most of my life and I spent many hours in dusty used bookstores building my own cherished collection in the dark days before ebay made collecting everything much easier.
By the time I reached High School, I had worked my way through many of the classic mystery authors. When I was 17, I vividly remember having to reread all of Agatha Christie so I could explain in detail to the patrons of the Rockford, Michigan library where I worked why I didnâ€™t like her books and that other mystery authors were better. I learned that if you are going to speak this blasphemy you need to have examples to back it up. I reread Christie years later and still felt the same way â€“ but I have forgotten my arguments and I refuse to read them again so letâ€™s just not discuss her works.
I packed all of Margery Allingham into a suitcase and took her for two weeks in Jamaica. I love reading an entire body of work in chronological order.
When I was 20, I read all of the Ellery Queen and Rex Stout books because the mystery section of library across from the bakery where I worked in San Francisco had almost nothing else. This always seemed odd to me, but as a young married college student, I wasnâ€™t in a position to either complain or buy my own books, so I made do. Ellery and Archie made my long train rides to and from classes fly by.
I was in Sydney, Australia when I ran out of books and my father handed me The Bookmanâ€™s Wake by John Dunning. And I wanted to go back to haunting used bookstores immediately.
My husband and I were reading in bed in the cottage in Goderich, Ontario when I read one of the funniest lines ever written. It was in Craig Johnsonâ€™s Cold Dish. I wonâ€™t ruin it for you, but it is about metal testicles. I laughed so hard I had a prolonged coughing fit and almost threw up. My husband immediately resolved to read the book. We were in bed the next night when he got to that line and it was dÃ©jÃ vu all over again. Not a week goes by that my husband and I donâ€™t say that line to each other just to watch each other laugh.
I was in Pittsburg, California, when a friend of a friend came to dinner. Ror (short for Roger) was a big mystery fan with tastes similar to mine and we talked the night away. We made lists of our favorite books and authors for each other to read. And when the evening was over, I packed all my out of print John Dickson Carrs and Carter Dicksons into a bag and sent them home with Ror. They had taken me years to gather and I knew he would never be able to find his own copies in time. I never saw Ror or those books again – he died a few months later from complications of AIDS.
Of all the thousands of books I have read in my life, that paper bag of precious books influenced my life the most. Not because I read and enjoyed them, but because someone else did.
So what is the most important book in your life so far? Or your favorite? And where were you when Kennedy was shot?