Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Shelf Discovery Challenge


I've been successfully resisting participation in reading challenges all year, feeling that I needed a bit of respite after getting carried away with them in previous years and thereby transforming my pleasure reading into a source of stress. But Booking Mama's Shelf Discovery Challenge dovetails so nicely with my current project of revisiting the books that mattered most to me in childhood that there's no way I'm going to pass this one up! The challenge simply involves choosing six of the books featured in Lizzie Skurnick's Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, and reading and posting about them between November 1, 2009 and April 30, 2010. Here are my choices:

Judy Blume, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret;
Louise Fitzhugh, Harriet the Spy;
E.L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler;
Beverly Cleary, Fifteen;
Bette Greene, Summer of My German Solider; and,
Elizabeth George Speare, The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

I'm looking forward to revisiting each of these books, and to comparing notes on the experience with other participants in the challenge.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Book Sale Finds

I didn't get carried away at today's book sale, but I did come away with some good finds, each just a dollar or two apiece:

C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism;
Alain Robbe-Grillet, For a New Novel: essays on fiction;
Jeffrey Meyers (ed.), The Craft of Literary Biography;
Eve Garnett, Further Adventures of the Family from One End Street;
E.L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; and,
Carolyn Keene, The Clue in the Diary.

An odd mix of weighty litcrit tomes and kidlit classics that nicely reflects my current preoccupations.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why I Still Love Encyclopedia Brown

I've just reread the first of Donald J. Sobol's Encylopedia Brown books, Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, and it is readily apparent to me why I loved these books as a kid, and why kids today continue to embrace them. Here are some of the reasons:

1. Ten-year-old Encyclopedia Brown is an irresistible character. Sobol introduces him thus: "Leroy Brown's head was like an encyclopedia. It was filled with facts he had learned from books. He was like a complete library walking around in sneakers." People are always asking him questions. For example, old ladies stop him in the street to ask his assistance with crossword clues. He always knows the answer, but he pauses a moment before offering it up because he's afraid people won't like him if he comes off as too smart. When Encyclopedia uses logic to help his Police Chief father to solve a case for the first time, his mother suggests that he could be a detective when he grows up. But Encyclopedia figures there's no time like the present and he puts out his shingle immediately. He sets up the Brown Detective Agency in his family’s garage, offering his services for 25 cents a day "plus expenses." Just like that, he transforms what could be a social liability⎯his intelligence and his bookishness⎯into a source of power, not just for himself, but also in service of other kids who are the targets of local bullies Bugs Meaney and his gang.

2. I don't like Bugs Meaney⎯he's a nasty piece of work⎯but I do like his name, and I like that Encyclopedia has an archenemy with whom he does battle.

3. When you make a habit of besting the biggest bully in town, you need protection, so Encyclopedia acquires as a bodyguard the strongest person in Idaville below the age of twelve. That person? Sally Kimball. But brawny though she is, she's no bully. She too uses her powers for good, protecting younger, smaller kids from Bugs Meaney, and also, together with a team of fifth-grade girls, devastating Bugs and his gang in a girls-against-the-boys game of softball. And besides her physical toughness and athletic prowess, Sally is also pretty and smart (almost, but not quite smart enough to stump Encyclopedia with a logical puzzle of her own devising). So she becomes not just Encyclopedia's bodyguard, but also his partner in the detective agency. That's a lot of stereotypes about girls and their capabilities sent tumbling via the character of Sally Kimball, particularly in 1963 when the book was first published.

4. But the greatest pleasure of the book is, just as I recalled in my previous post, the opportunity to follow the clues and solve the cases (10 contained in each book) alongside Encyclopedia. When his mother asks him, after his first success, how he went about it, he explains: "I got it from a book I read about a great detective and his methods of observation." This is a nod to Sherlock Holmes, I think. In any event, a combination of close observation and deductive reasoning is certainly the secret of Encyclopedia's success, and the key to the same for the reader who aspires to solve the cases him or herself before flipping to the back of the book where the solutions are revealed. Some of you know that I'm a lawyer and a law professor. Much is made of the mystical process by which students learn in first year law school how to "think like a lawyer." On reflection it occurs to me, with apologies to my first year law professors, that I may in fact have received my earliest lessons in how to think like a lawyer from Encyclopedia Brown. At the time I couldn't have connected Encyclopedia's brand of logic with the work that lawyers do (I think I may have to credit Nancy Drew with making that connection explicit for me⎯another current reread). But in all likelihood it would have been in the solving of those puzzles that I first developed the taste and talent for logical reasoning that ultimately led me to pursue a legal career.

I'll stop there, but stay tuned for a follow up post on Nancy Drew, and possibly a forthcoming law review article: "Learning to Think Like a Lawyer from Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew". . .

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Childhood Reading: Mysteries

A number of recent experiences/events have conspired to propel me into a new writing project: a series of essays on my childhood reading. The last thing I need is a new writing project, what with so many others (at last count, two novels-in-progress and two substantially researched and partially written legal monographs) already underway. But this excavation of my childhood reading is enormous fun and, as I have as yet attached no particular expectations to it, rather liberating. So I'm running with it.

My current preoccupation is with the mysteries I read as a child. I think that my first mysteries were Donald J. Sobol's Encyclopedia Brown books. My recollection of these is rather hazy. I know that I read many of them but I doubt that I reread them the way I did other favourite series. In retrospect, I realize that Sobol must have been having fun playing off the conventions of adult P.I. novels, with Encyclopedia Brown, "boy detective," setting up a detective agency in his family's garage. If I recall correctly, each book contained a number of mini-mysteries for readers to solve, so the chief pleasure of them was not a sustained narrative, but the puzzle-solving exercise⎯an aspect of adult mysteries that still appeals to me.

I think that from there it was on to Nancy Drew. Again, my recollection of these is hazy, although I know I read many of them and, indeed, even owned several. Enid Blyton's Famous Five novels followed shortly thereafter. I remember my brother and I purchasing stacks of these and sharing them back and forth on our summer trips to Scotland to visit my grandparents.

Of course, there was also Lousie Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy, one of my childhood favourites. But I'm inclined to think of Harriet more as an aspiring writer than an aspiring sleuth, the whole spy thing notwithstanding. Still, I'm going to reread it together with some Encyclopedia Browns, and Nancy Drews, and Famous Fives, to see if it fits somehow. For that's what I'm doing now in service of my essay on this topic⎯rereading several of each. You can see why I'm having such fun with this! There are eight Encyclopedia Brown books, and two Nancy Drews already making their way to me via my public library's hold system. And I have several of those battered paperback Famous Five novels still on my shelves, handy for revisiting.

When did I make the leap to adult mysteries, and where did I begin with those? I'm going to have to think a bit longer to pinpoint the when, but I'm quite sure it was straight from the foregoing children's mysteries to Agatha Christie. I remember that a friend from camp loaned me some Ellery Queen books at one point, but I don't think they hooked me the way that the Christies did.

Did you read mysteries in childhood? Which ones and why those? If you moved on from there to adult mysteries, which ones did you sample first?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Betsy-Tacy Giveaway Results!

My apologies for being so slow to draw names for this giveaway. I was waiting for the copies of the books that I'd ordered to arrive so that I would be able to mail them off immediately to the lucky winners. As you can see from the above photo, they have indeed arrived. They make an impressive looking stack, do they not?

I'm pleased that so many people are interested in reading these books, and I wish that I had a copy to give to everyone who entered. Alas, I had to narrow it down to four. I did so using an online fruit machine thingy to randomly pick names from the list of entrants. And without further ado, the four winners are:

A Bookshelf Monstrosity
Dorothy W.

Please email your mailing address to me at katesbookblog@yahoo.ca and I will pop your book in the mail pronto. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A New Discworld Novel

Today is the Canadian release date for Terry Pratchett's latest Discworld novel, Unseen Academicals, and I confess to being positively giddy at the prospect of getting my hands on a copy. (It came out in the US last week and in the UK the week before that, so wherever you are, there's a good chance that you too can obtain a copy.) In it, apparently, the wizards of Ankh Morpork's Unseen University are compelled by Lord Vetinari to revive their ancient football tradition and, what's more, they must win the big game without the aid of magic. An irresistible premise, no? My very favourite Discworld novels are the ones that centre on the City Watch. And the novels featuring the witches are a close second. But as an academic and a football fan, I'm confident that I'll find this latest Discworld installment highly entertaining as well.

That's the UK/Canadian cover on the left, and the US one on the right. I think I prefer the former. And you?

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Charms of Anne of Windy Poplars

I've heard many people over the years name Anne of Windy Poplars as their least favourite book in L.M. Montgomery's Anne series. I run hot and cold on Anne; there are a number of installments in the series that I love, and others that I skip over now on every reread. But I believe I go against the grain in counting Windy Poplars among the loves.

Windy Poplars covers the three years that elapse between Anne and Gilbert's engagement at the end of Anne of the Island and their wedding at the beginning of Anne's House of Dreams. They're apart for these years, with Gilbert at medical school in Kingsport, and Anne serving as Principal of Summerside High School, and the novel is comprised entirely of letters from Anne to Gilbert. They're not love letters⎯whenever Anne is feeling romantic, we get only suggestive ellipses⎯but chatty, thoughtful, and humorous descriptions of this new place and the new people she encounters there.

For those for whom the Anne/Gilbert romance is a central attraction of the series, this is just wasted time. I'm not one of those people. I confess that I've always found Gilbert rather dull⎯truth to tell, the only one of Montgomery's romantic leads that I've got any time for is Barney Snaith in The Blue Castle. But, major caveat here, the tenor of the correspondence in Windy Poplars, even though we get only one side of it, makes me like Gilbert more, because it so clearly conveys the depth of their friendship. It convinces me that Gilbert truly is the one for her.

Because it's a novel in letters, Anne is the narrator of the tale, and this is Anne's voice as we've not heard it before. Anne's over-exuberance in the earlier books can make her a bit exhausting at times. But here, although she's still that spirited Anne, we get her in contemplative moments, and we see her having a sense of humour about herself and those around her. And, we get to witness Anne's facility with her pen first hand. If she had employed these storytelling skills in her public writing rather than ultimately selling herself short, on the eve of her wedding, as one who "can write pretty, fanciful little sketches that children love" but "nothing big," then she might well have had a successful writing career echoing that of her creator.

Finally it's the humour in this book that is the major draw for me. In previous books Montgomery has depicted the adult shenanigans of small communities with the same sharp-eyed insight and wit, but mostly as a backdrop to the doings of precocious children. Here, it's front and centre in a book which therefore strikes me as a very adult one. I relish the depiction of the inner working of Summerside society, in particular the role within it of the ruling family, the Pringles, who initially do their best shut Anne out. And although the cast of characters is large, all are fully realized and altogether loveable or pleasurably hateable or an intriguing in between.

I'm particularly fond of the widows (Aunt Chatty and Aunt Kate) and the inimitable Rebecca Dew with whom Anne boards at Windy Poplars. And so, I leave you with a description of them from near the beginning of the book as Anne is just settling in to her new digs:

"The widows are going to wear well. Every day I like them better. Aunt Kate doesn't believe in reading novels, but informs me that she does not propose to censor my reading-matter. Aunt Chatty loves novels. She has a 'hidy-hole' where she keeps them ... she smuggles them in from the town library ... together with a pack of cards for solitaire and anything else she doesn't want Aunt Kate to see. It is in a chair seat which nobody but Aunt Chatty knows is more than a chair seat. She has shared the secret with me, because, I strongly suspect, she wants me to aid and abet her in the aforesaid smuggling. There shouldn't really be any need for hidy-holes at Windy Poplars, for I never saw a house with so many mysterious cupboards. Though to be sure, Rebecca Dew won't let them be mysterious. She is always cleaning them out ferociously. 'A house can't keep itself clean,' she says sorrowfully when either of the widows protests. I am sure she would make short work of a novel or a pack of cards if she found them. They are both a horror to her orthodox soul. Rebecca Dew says cards are the devil's books and novels even worse. The only things Rebecca ever reads, apart from her Bible, are the society columns of the Montreal Guardian. She loves to pore over the houses and furniture and doings of millionaires.

Are there any other Windy Poplars fans among you?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Betsy-Tacy Fans and the Great World

Betsy and the Great World is the ninth book in Maud Hart Lovelace's ten volume Betsy-Tacy series. It begins in January 1914 with 21-year-old Betsy Ray starting up the gangplank to the S.S. Columbic, then docked in Boston harbor but shortly bound for Europe. Two and a half years have passed since the end of the preceding book, Betsy and Joe, and much has changed. Most startling on first reading for fans of the series is finding Betsy embarking on this adventure alone. Best friend Tacy is conspicuously absent, as are Tib and Carney and the rest of Betsy's Deep Valley Crowd. And the devoted Ray family⎯parents Bob and Jule, and sisters Julia and Margaret⎯is nowhere in evidence.

But we soon learn that these characters are as supportive of Betsy as ever, albeit now from a distance. Indeed, the trip to Europe was her father's idea. He could see that Betsy had gotten off on the wrong foot at college, that she hadn't been happy there, and concluded that perhaps a different sort of education would serve her better. Initially he suggested the sort of guided tour that her older sister had taken a few years previously, but Betsy persuaded him otherwise:

"No, Papa!" Betsy knelt beside him, her hands on his knee. "Guided tours are all right for some people, but not for a writer. I ought to stay in just two or three places. Really live in them, learn them. Then if I want to mention London, for example, in a story, I would know the names of the streets and how they run and the buildings and the atmosphere of the city. I could move a character around in London just as though it were Minneapolis. I don't want to hurry from place to place with a party the way Julia did."

And this is just what Betsy does, settling in for a time in Munich, then Venice, then Paris, and finally London (where the start of WWI ultimately cuts her travels short), meeting new people, making the most of every experience, and collecting story material all the while.

Fans of the earlier books can't help but miss Tacy and the Crowd and the Ray family. After all, the fun and the warmth of these friendships and this family is a major part of the appeal of the Betsy-Tacy series as a whole. But at the same time, it's exhilarating to witness Betsy becoming increasingly independent and ever more confident in her abilities as a writer. Betsy's journey in this book, both literal and emotional, was a great source of inspiration to me as a young reader and remains so still. As a world traveler, an independent woman, and a writer dedicated to her craft, Betsy was and is a heroine to emulate. This is why Betsy and the Great World is my favourite installment in the Betsy-Tacy series. And it doesn't hurt that it has one of the most satisfying endings that I've encountered in any book. I cry every time.

I'm not alone in taking inspiration from Betsy's travels. I canvassed the membership of Maud-L on this point and learned that a number of my friends and fellow Betsy-Tacy fans had been emboldened by Betsy to embark on similar adventures, some following directly in Betsy's footsteps, others traveling to destinations of their own but feeling a kinship with Betsy while doing so, and even adopting Betsyish turns of phrase in describing their adventures to loved ones back home. Here are some of the travel tales they generously shared with me:

Sallie K.: "My first trip to Europe in 1967 was greatly influenced by Betsy's trip in 1914. I wanted to go by ship, and there were still passenger ships plying the Atlantic Ocean in 1967, so I booked passage on the Queen Mary (yep, the same one that now resides in Long Beach CA). Before I left for New York City, my sister who had introduced me to the Betsy Tacy book series, gave me a package that included different presents to be opened each day of my voyage to Southampton England. The first was a small, leather-bound journal entitled "My Trip" - almost like Betsy's from Julia and Paige - and in which I wrote all during my stay in Great Britain. I didn't do as much traveling that first trip as Betsy did, but spent my whole 6 months in Great Britain exploring it from the tip of Cornwall to the top of John O'Groats in Scotland. On a later trip, also by ship, I visited Munich and Oberammergau in memory of Maud Hart Lovelace and her fictional character, Betsy Ray."

Wendy reports having visited all of the Betsy and the Great World sites in Munich, most of them in Venice, and some in London, and she singles out as highlights "seeing Marco's choir stalls at San Giorgio Maggiore and going to Sonneberg." Of the latter she writes: "Even in 1999, I was delighted to find that solo lady tourists in Sonneberg were so rare that people would pop their heads out of their houses to stare at me as I walked by."

Margaret: "Somehow, in reading all the Betsy-Tacy books, I had missed out on Betsy and The Great World. When I finally read it, it immediately became one of my favorites in the series, and I have probably reread it the most. I like to travel, and I have been to Paris more than once. One of my favorite memories of the city is the time a friend of mine and I were just wandering around the streets, shopping and looking at things. We turned a corner and unexpectedly there it was-- onze rue Scribe, the AMEX office. 'That's where Betsy went!' I said excitedly to my friend, who had no idea what I was talking about."

Jen: "I sent the following e-mail to my beloved husband after my day in Athens, pretending to be Betsy in the Great World: 'Our deck is full of drying underpants. Don't ask. Mom got us kicked out of our room this morning. Don't ask. At an outdoor cafe, a handsome Greek man put his hand in my hair and stroked my head. Ask all you want, I won't tell.' :) Travel is SO broadening!"

Ruth: "I took my very first cruise this summer (I'm almost 58) to Alaska. It was wonderful because I was partially raised there and was going back more or less. Also got to see my uncle. But my Betsy experience was sitting out on the deck chair on my balcony on the ship in the cold air, with a woolen deck blanket over me! (It took me a day to figure out that the nice 'afghans' on the couch were actually deck blankets!) And they were much appreciated! So I sat there and felt like Betsy on the Columbic and thought how wonderful it was to be there!"

Susann: "What I most love about Betsy and the Great World is that we get to see Betsy traveling ALONE. She makes friends and has companions for part of her journey but, really, Betsy is on her own, literally and metaphorically navigating her own course. Much as I enjoy traveling with friends and family, I also love to set out by myself. You see things differently when you're on your own. Betsy's solo trip to Sonneberg reminds me of my trip to Salzburg, when I was a 19-year-old student spending a semester in London. Just as Betsy indulged her inner child to visit the 'doll center of the world,' I knew that I couldn't leave Europe without paying homage to The Sound of Music. Folks thought I was a little nuts to head all the way to Austria, just for a Julie Andrews movie. But I was so excited to set off on my 'crazy expedition,' follow my heart's desire, and see one more corner of the Great World."

It's irresistible, is it not, a book that makes you want to travel the world?

(Thanks to TLC Book Tours for inviting me to participate in the Betsy-Tacy blog tour.)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Betsy-Tacy High School Books Giveaway!

With the release last week of new double-volume editions of the final six books in the series, all of Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy Tacy books are back in print.

The series begins with Betsy's fifth birthday in Minnesota circa 1897 and, in ten volumes, documents her childhood and high school years, her early struggles to establish herself as a writer, her solo trip into the Great World (Germany, Italy, France, and England), and finally her wedding and the beginning of her married life. The books become steadily more sophisticated in style and content as Betsy matures, thereby continuing to appeal to young readers as they grow up alongside Betsy and her friends.

If you're a regular visitor to this blog, you'll know that these books were childhood favourites of mine, and that I continue to love them beyond reason. The early books, which are utterly charming reads for children, have been more or less continually in print in recent years. But, until now, not so the high school books and beyond. And, while I'm fond of the early books, the later ones have a special place in my head and my heart. They are the ones that I revisit again and again as an adult. So, it makes me extraordinarily happy to see them back in print and available in stores for other readers to discover and, hopefully, embrace as I and countless others have done.

The new editions consist of three double volumes, each containing two installments in the series. This doubling up is a good thing given the addictive quality of the series--very hard to stop after just one! And it gives each volume a satisfying heft which, I like to think, will be appealing to young readers who have grown up on Harry Potter and the Twilight series and expect a lot of book in their books. The covers feature the same charming Vera Neville drawings that graced the originals. And, as added bonuses, each volume also features a foreword by a famous fan (Laura Lippman, Meg Cabot, and Anna Quindlen respectively) and an afterword that provides some background information on the real people and places that the fictional characters and settings are based on.

There is much to celebrate here, and I'm celebrating with a giveaway! I've purchased a few extra copies of the first volume, Heaven to Betsy/Betsy in Spite of Herself which takes Betsy through her freshman and sophomore years of high school, to give to readers of this blog. Are you interested in receiving a copy? Are you a neophyte, ready to embark on your first ever read of a Betsy-Tacy book? Or perhaps you'd like a copy not for yourself but for a daughter, granddaughter, niece, or young friend who you think would enjoy these books? Don't worry about starting in the middle of the series if you've not read the early books. The high school books can stand on their own and I actually think they're a better introduction to the series for older readers. But perhaps you have read the early books, and you're now keen to encounter the high school Betsy? Or maybe you loved the series as a child and would like to take this opportunity revisit your old friends in Deep Valley? Whatever the source of your interest, let me know in the comments section below if you'd like a copy of this book. If more people express an interest than I've got copies, I'll draw names on Friday night.

Good luck! And stay tuned for another Betsy-Tacy post tomorrow, this one focused on my favourite book in the series, Betsy and the Great World, as part of a Betsy-Tacy blog tour which is currently underway.

UPDATE: You can find the list of winners here.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Latest Library Loot

I found this marvellous lot of books awaiting me on the library hold shelf today (I'm too lazy to think of clever ways to describe books I haven't yet read, so I'll just paste a few paragraphs from the publishers' catalogue copy below to give you an idea of what delights I'm in for):

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt: "The Children's Book is the absorbing story of the close of what has been called the Edwardian summer: the deceptively languid, blissful period that ended with the cataclysmic destruction of World War I. In this compelling novel, A.S. Byatt summons up a whole era, revealing that beneath its golden surface lay tensions that would explode into war, revolution and unbelievable change — for the generation that came of age before 1914 and, most of all, for their children. The novel centres around Olive Wellwood, a fairy tale writer, and her circle, which includes the brilliant, erratic craftsman Benedict Fludd and his apprentice Phillip Warren, a runaway from the poverty of the Potteries; Prosper Cain, the soldier who directs what will become the Victoria and Albert Museum; Olive's brother-in-law Basil Wellwood, an officer of the Bank of England; and many others from every layer of society. A.S. Byatt traces their lives in intimate detail and moves between generations, following the children who must choose whether to follow the roles expected of them or stand up to their parents' 'porcelain socialism.'"

Brooklyn by Colm Toíbín: "It is Enniscorthy in the southeast of Ireland in the early 1950s. Eilis Lacey is one among many of her generation who cannot find work at home. Thus when a job is offered in America, it is clear to everyone that she must go. Leaving her family and country, Eilis heads for unfamiliar Brooklyn, and to a crowded boarding house where the landlady’s intense scrutiny and the small jealousies of her fellow residents only deepen her isolation. Slowly, however, the pain of parting is buried beneath the rhythms of her new life — until she begins to realize that she has found a sort of happiness. As she falls in love, news comes from home that forces her back to Enniscorthy, not to the constrictions of her old life, but to new possibilities which conflict deeply with the life she has left behind in Brooklyn."

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall: "Full of incredible characters, amazing athletic achievements, cutting-edge science, and, most of all, pure inspiration, Born to Run is an epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? In search of an answer, Christopher McDougall sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong."

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker: "The Anthologist is narrated by Paul Chowder -- a once-in-a-while-published kind of poet who is writing the introduction to a new anthology of poetry. He's having a hard time getting started because his career is floundering, his girlfriend Roz has recently left him, and he is thinking about the great poets throughout history who have suffered far worse and deserve to feel sorry for themselves. He has also promised to reveal many wonderful secrets and tips and tricks about poetry, and it looks like the introduction will be a little longer than he'd thought. What unfolds is a wholly entertaining and beguiling love story about poetry: from Tennyson, Swinburne, and Yeats to the moderns (Roethke, Bogan, Merwin) to the staff of The New Yorker, what Paul reveals is astonishing and makes one realize how incredibly important poetry is to our lives. At the same time, Paul barely manages to realize all of this himself, and the result is a tenderly romantic, hilarious, and inspired novel."

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore: "Set just after the events of September 2001, it is a story about Tassie Keltjin, a twenty-year-old making her way in a new world and coming of age. Tassie is a “smile-less” girl from the plains of the mid-west. She has come to a university town, her brain on fire with Chaucer, Sylvia Plath, and Simone de Beauvoir. In between semesters, she takes a part-time job as a nanny for a family that seems mysterious and glamorous to her. Though her liking for children tends to dwindle into boredom, Tassie begins to care for, and protect, their newly adopted little girl as her own. As the year unfolds, she is drawn even deeper into the world of the child and her hovering parents, and her own life back home becomes alien to her. As life reveals itself dramatically and shockingly, Tassie finds herself forever changed — less the person she once was, and more and more the stranger she feels herself to be."

The Difference Engine by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling: "1855: The Industrial Revolution is in full and inexorable swing, powered by steam-driven cybernetic Engines. Charles Babbage perfects his Analytical Engine and the computer age arrives a century ahead of its time. And three extraordinary characters race toward a rendezvous with history - and the future: Sybil Gerard - fallen woman, politicians tart, daughter of a Luddite agitator; Edward "Leviathan" Mallory - explorer and paleontologist. Laurence Oliphant - diplomat, mystic, and spy. Their adventure begins with the discovery of a box of punched Engine cards of unknown origin and purpose. Cards someone wants badly enough to kill for..."

Add to these a couple of DVDs of Inspector Lewis episodes, and you can see that I'm in for some excellent Fall entertainment courtesy of my local library.