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Gypsi Phillips Bates "bilbiophile" (Tennessee)
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The Poyson Garden
The Poyson Garden
by Karen Harper
Edition: Hardcover
22 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Elizabeth Tudor, Private Investigator, April 20 2004
This review is from: The Poyson Garden (Hardcover)
Harper takes the Princess Elizabeth out of the sidelines and presents her as the protagonist of this mystery. Elizabeth discovers a plot to poison her and all her Boylen relatives and attempts to find the person behind it.
On one hand, it was a highly improbable premise, thinking that Elizabeth Tudor would be able to slip out from under the eyes of the "guardians" appointed by Queen Mary. But, on the other hand, history has shown that Elizabeth was not a woman to be stopped by mere conventions and potential danger. As we all know, "well behaved women rarely make history" and make history she did!
It was a lively mystery, well written and well described, with a solid plot. I felt a real affinity for this version of Elizabeth and for her loyal band of friends. It was not as entertaining as the Marston mystery recently read, but it was still a good read and I'm sure I'll read more of Harper's mysteries.

Catherine, Called Birdy
Catherine, Called Birdy
by Karen Cushman
Edition: Paperback
158 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Read, April 20 2004
Birdy, is the willful, stubborn daughter of an equally willful and stubborn father. He is determined to marry off this difficult daughter to his advantage. She is equally determined not to be married. What follows is a battle of wills as Birdy tries to convince her father, and herself, that she is right and does not need to submit to any plans he has for her.
Written in journal style, Catherine, Called Birdy presents medieval life in a tangible, and quite humorous, way that pre-teens/teenagers will be able to connect with and understand. They will also be able to relate to Birdy as she finds herself on the threshold of adulthood, at that difficult stage where duty and rebellion intermingle, emotions run high and life often seems confusing, if not downright tragic.
This is a highly enjoyable book, both for it's historical details and for it's message. Over the short course of a year, we follow Birdy as she changes, looses some of her childish prejudices and finds herself--and those reading are encouraged to be strong and independent, while still be loyal and loving to family. Parents might wish to read this first, to decide if the veiled references to sex are appropriate for their child. I give this Newbery Honor Book an 8.5 out of 10.

The Slaying of the Shrew
The Slaying of the Shrew
by Simon Hawke
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
18 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Shrews and Murders and Players, oh my!, April 20 2004
The Slaying of the Shrew is another merry, lighthearted, devious mystery featuring Shakespeare and his friend Tuck Smythe--the second in the series--and the death of a shrew on her wedding day.
This shrew just happens to be the best friend of Elizabeth (the love of Tuck's life) and as their acting troupe, The Queen's Men, were supposed to perform at the wedding. . . Well, they find themselves immersed--yet again--in a mystery.
The dialog is snappy, peppered with Shakespeare-isms, making an enjoyable read. The plot borrows from Shakespeare's plays in a teasing way that makes it doubly fun for fans of the Bard. I found the mystery to be intriguing and well planned, and enjoyed it to the end.
Aficionados of Elizabethan England, or mysteries, or both will enjoy this one. I, myself, am looking forward to the next in the series, to see if Hawke continues his excellent, good-natured Bard barbs.

Figgs And Phantoms
Figgs And Phantoms
by Ellen Raskin
Edition: Paperback
17 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Good book, but perhaps not for every child., March 11 2004
This review is from: Figgs And Phantoms (Paperback)
The Figgs are an odd family and Mona Lisa Figg regrets being one. They have their own special place to go after death (Capri), they are all talented in some bizarre way and they revel in their unordinariness. Mona's not sure she believes in Capri, can find no specific talent and just wants to be like everyone else.
The only Figg she cares for is her Uncle Florence. When he dies, she finds Capri for herself, wanting to stay with him. This journey, naturally, makes her a better person in the end, more understanding and loving of her family and herself, and grants her a peace she hadn't had before.
There are some extremely funny bits and lots of nearly psychedelic incidents. Though it is listed as a juvenile book, I feel that it should be slanted more towards the young adult category as some of it simply too complex for a juvenile book. Some of the word play, situations and themes would be--in my opinion--meaningless or confusion to anyone younger than the late teens. Having said that, I can not give it a blanket recommendation and would recommend that a parent read it first to see if the discussion of death and the afterlife would be appropriate for their child.

Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous
Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous
by Don Foster
Edition: Hardcover
45 used & new from CDN$ 0.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating!, March 11 2004
After reading the introduction, I was hooked. I knew I'd have to read the whole thing, no matter how tedious and technical it might be. Lucky for me, it was neither. With the exception of a sometimes dull first chapter, it was a lively and entertaining book.
Foster's "literary detection" began with his doctoral thesis. He found a poem he thought likely to have been written by Shakespeare. He comparing writing styles, specific words, references and other "internal evidence" to known Shakespearian works. With this, Foster was able to determine that yes, "A Funeral Elegy" was written by the Bard himself.
Due to the press he received by this announcement, he was contacted for his opinion on the anonymous author Primary Colors. Using the same methodology, he successfully pinpointed the author as Joe Klein--who denied it vehemently for some time before admitting his authorship.
In addition to these highly publicized cases, Foster writes about his un-used work on both Unabomber case and the Talking Points, his angering of some Thomas Poyner fans and the truth behind "Twas the Night Before Christmas."
This was an entertaining and enlightening book that I highly recommend. It's certainly the only non-fiction book I've ever stayed up late to read! I give it a 9.5 out of 10.

The Songs of the Kings: A Novel
The Songs of the Kings: A Novel
by Barry Unsworth
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 32.00
23 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun with Greek myths!, March 11 2004
In this novel, Unsworth retells Greek story/myth of Agamemnon, Iphigeneia and the wind at Aulis that just wouldn't stop so that the Greeks could sail to attack Troy and reclaim Helen and their honor.
He writes with a delicious, tongue-in-cheekiness, fleshing out the characters to real people with real, and sometimes annoying, personality traits. The great hero Odysseus is a cocky trouble maker with a penchant for hearing himself speak. Achilles is flamboyant and egotistical. Agamemnon is willing to do whatever it takes to stay in power. Short, unattractive Menelaus is convinced that only kidnapping could have pulled Helen from his side and, um, prowess.
The main theme of the story, though unspoken, is that of public relations--"good press" if you will. The will of the people was easily manipulated through the innuendo, stories and sometimes outright lies told by the Singer. As there was only one Singer in the camp, his good opinion--and his song--was bought by the highest bidder. What they heard the Singer tell was what became the truth. A jab at modern day press, perhaps?
The story is often told from the standpoint of outsiders. Calchas, an Asian priest who has found favor with Agamemnon tells a large part of the narrative, as does Iphigeneia's maid Sisipyla. This looking in from the outside gives a different slant to the story, showing some actions, events and gods as alien.
This alien-ness is balanced by the views of Odysseus (as in the above quotation) and other Greek characters, both major and minor, seeing their world as the only natural way. These two views combine with good solid writing to form a fascinating tale that is hard to put down, even though I knew how it was going to end.
Anyone who enjoys Greek myths and would be amused (as opposed to horrified) to hear famous Greek heroes talk in modern lingo about "CV's" and "glad rags" and "blabbermouths" will probably get a kick out of The Songs of the Kings. I found it a fun read and definitely recommend it, though I was disappointed that Unsworth choose to end it where he did--I felt it should have went on just a bit longer. Nevertheless, I rate it an 8 of 10.

A Mystery of Errors
A Mystery of Errors
by Simon Hawke
Edition: Hardcover
19 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Young Shakespeare Fleshed Out!, March 3 2004
This review is from: A Mystery of Errors (Hardcover)
Symington "Tuck" Smythe leaves his home and heads to London to be a player. Along the way, he comes upon one Will Shakespeare, a poet, also heading to London to be a player and (hopeful) a successful play-writer. The two form a friendship and find themselves as ostlers in a theatre troupe.
Our protagonist, Tuck, gets involved in a mystery involving a lovely young woman, much above him on the status ladder. His best buddy, Will, tags along making witty quips and being almost more a of a nuisance than a help in the mystery solving department.
Hawke has made a very real Will Shakespeare, spouting soon to be Shakespeare-isms and acting as a word-sparring partner with Smythe. Will is just an ordinary man, with the barest hint of the Shakespeare that is to come. It is well-done and the mystery itself was well-written. I thoroughly enjoyed it and cared enough about Tuck and Will to want to read more of this series.

Dragon's Lair
Dragon's Lair
by Sharon Kay Penman
Edition: Hardcover
32 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Another wonderful de Quincy mystery, March 3 2004
This review is from: Dragon's Lair (Hardcover)
Queen Eleanor (formerly of Aquitaine) is in a bit of a quandary. . . Her son, King Richard (of Lionheart fame) is being held for ransom in a German dungeon. She's trying desperately to raise the ransom money while her other son, Prince John (you know, the "phony king of England") is trying equally as hard to keep her from succeeding. He wants to be King, and is quite willing to pay the Germans more to keep good old Coeur d' Lion languishing.
When the ransom from Wales gets highjacked, the Queen calls for her trusted man, and the hero of our story, Justin de Quincy. She knows, thanks to two other novels, that Justin will follow her desire to keep John's name out of any scandal while finding out just what IS going on.
With Dragon's Lair, Sharon Kay Penman spins another great medieval tale full of the flavor and danger those times possessed. Justin de Quincy has become one of my favorite problem solvers and I'm looking forward to the next problem that comes his way--though there's no date set for it as yet--with hopes that more of his past will come to light (as much for his benefit as mine) and with great curiosity as to what will happen to the two women in his life, Claudine and Molly.

The Egypt Game
The Egypt Game
by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Edition: Paperback
93 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Food for the Imagination, March 3 2004
This review is from: The Egypt Game (Paperback)
April and Melanie became fast friends the first time they met--they both had irrepressible imaginations and the desire to put those imaginations to use. Quite by accident, they found a way into an overgrown, fenced in storage yard behind it that obviously wasn't being used by it's owner, the local curio shop. April and Melanie knew instantly that it would be the perfect place to play pretend and set about making it inhabitable. Doing so, they discover a somewhat beat-up, but still beautiful, bust of Nefertiti. Add that to their imagination and the Egypt Game was born.
With Melanie's baby brother as the Boy Pharaoh and themselves as priestess to both Isis and Set (they took turns being the bad priestess), they created elaborate ceremonies and scenarios. Much reading was done at the local library and as their Egyptian knowledge grew, their interest in the game stayed fast. Eventually there are six in the Egypt Game, using their imaginations and their research skills.
Things take an odd turn as the "unexplained" makes an appearance. The six "Egyptians" start to wonder if the game has gone too far, crossed a line that they didn't know could be crossed. I won't spoil it be explaining, but will say that all turns out as it should.
I found this a good book for children on several levels. One was the relationship of April to her mother and to her grandmother. April idolized her mom, who was trying to make it big in Hollywood. April was sent to her grandmother's to stay for a while, just until her mom sorted things out in Hollywood. Seeing April mature and soften under the love of her steadfast grandmother is a good image for anyone.
The other thing I particularly liked about the Egypt Game was the obvious--the encouragement of both imagination and research. So many kids today don't play pretend. There are too many other distractions with TV, Internet and game systems. This book showed the magic of using the imagination, and the importance of doing a bit of research to know the subject. I liked that aspect immensely.

Shadows in Bronze
Shadows in Bronze
by Lindsey Davis
Edition: Hardcover
4 used & new from CDN$ 2.42

4.0 out of 5 stars More Great Falco!, March 3 2004
This review is from: Shadows in Bronze (Hardcover)
The second in the M. Didius Falco series, Shadows in Bronze, finds Marcus taking a "holiday" to Pompeii and the surrounded areas in search of a murderer who is also in search of him. With typical Falco bad luck following him every step of the way, he feels his way through the investigation and bumbles his relationship with Helena. The funny part of it is, you can't help but root for him while in the same breath you curse his pride and downright blindness. Davis' trademark lively narrative, witty dialog, and historical details makes for another great Falco adventure through Ancient Rome.
I'm re-reading the M. Didius Falco books as my husband reads them for the first time, and he is just as fond of Falco as I am. I can't recommend this series enough to those who like comedy, mystery and history. Just be sure to start with the first one in the series, though. These are not books to get out of order.

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