Wednesday, April 30, 2014

World Class: Poems Inspired by the ESL Classroom by J.C. Elkin

 This book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

You know how I love poetry. I lean towards the classics generally, because I often find modern poetry shapeless or distasteful or both. Still, I was happy to review this book of poems that the author wrote about her experiences as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, and interested to see what they felt like.

I prefer structured poetry, and I am as charmed by rhyme as the next reader--I know how hard it is to write a good poem within the structure of a haiku or a sonnet. The poetry in this book, however, was closer to prose. The author says that her poems are composed in "accentual verse" that "stresses the rhythm of language". When I looked, I could indeed see poetic stresses and half-rhymes, words that please visually (sometimes you can "see" the rhymes rather than hear them, if you know what I mean)....not the structured poetry that I love, but still very satisfying compositions with themes that tug at the reader's heart. I liked every poem. They were touching without being heavy-handed, insightful without being too ponderous. Accessible, understandable--it was a collection that I really enjoyed and highly recommend.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Laughter of Dead Kings by Elizabeth Peters

     This book, #6 in the Vicky Bliss series, was written a good 10 years after #5 was written, yet Vicky is just the same as ever. The world around her has changed, of course, but, as the author says: "So how do we  writers explain the inconsistencies and anachronisms? We don't. We can't.  . . . Ignore them as I have and place yourself in the "current now."  No problem! I  very much enjoyed this final installment in the story of Vicky Bliss, John Tregarth and their companions.
     "Who stole one of Egypt's most priceless treasures?" the inside flap of this book asks. Well, since we know that John has gone straight (for Vicky), it can't be him, right? But that's not what many other important people (and many powerful criminals) think. Now John must prove that he didn't steal this treasure and to do that he must find out who did and he must get it back.

     Of course, John and Vicky are an acknowledged pair by now, so she accompanies him as he gets deeper and deeper into the mystery. They are also joined by some old friends from previous adventures, as well as our lovable and increasingly amazing Anton Schmidt. And just to add a little touch of sentimentality, the author ties herself and her Amelia Peabody characters into the storyline--kind of a fun addition.

     I'm sorry to see this series end; I've enjoyed it so much. I still find it interesting (and doubtful?) that John and Vicky--both so dysfunctional in their personal relationships--can possibly find any sort of a happily-ever-after. Seems like Vicky can never quite trust John. And she's so casual about their relationship still. She holds herself apart, even as he doesn't (or does he?). Hm. I think this book is too fluffy to bear a lot of analysis :). It requires a high degree of departure from reality to get into. But that's what I really like about Elizabeth Peters. She makes that unbelievability so engaging, so entertaining, so much fun!

Bad language: mild cursing, some profanity as well
Sex: Yup. No sex scenes or any other titillating descriptions. Vicky and John have been in and out of each other's beds since book 2 in the series. You know, cuz that's what we independent and liberated women do. Ahem. Sigh.

Night Train to Memphis by Elizabeth Peters

     This is book #5 in the Vicky Bliss series--her penultimate adventure. After months of sending weekly postcards (and making a few visits in between the cards), John stops writing to Vicky. Where is he? Has he forgotten her? Meanwhile, an intelligence agency requests Vicky's help in identifying a criminal aboard a luxury Egyptian cruise. Vicky suspects it might be John they're looking for and she's angry enough to finger him. But when she does encounter John, she's shocked to meet his new woman as well. Angry, hurt, increasingly confused in her role as amateur spy, Vicky blindly steps into a complicated trap set for her and for John. He is in more trouble than he's ever been, it seems, and they may not make it out of this one alive.

     I think I like this book best in the series. I was just as taken in as Vicky was and so the resolution of the mystery was very satisfying to me, the gullible reader. Vicky's headstrong nature consistently leads her into jumping to conclusions and rushing into emotionally-based bad decisions...seems pretty human, doesn't it? And yet John is always there...making it all right, even when it seems hopeless. Of course, Vicky does her share of rescuing once she understands what's going on. I also liked how amazing Schmidt was in this book. I'm liking how much of a starring role sweet (and rich and smart) Schmidt is starting to get in Vicky's adventures.

Bad language: mild cursing
Sex: yup. But no descriptions.

Trojan Gold by Elizabeth Peters

     This is book #4 in the Vicky Bliss suspense series. The photograph that Vicky receives in the mail--it's of a woman wearing the famous Trojan Gold. Is this another summons from John or could it be from someone more sinister? The copious amount of dried blood on the envelope seems to indicate that John--notoriously cowardly (he claims)--was not the mysterious sender. But it's been  months since Vicky's seen him and she decides she needs his help to unravel this mystery.

     A very enjoyable blend of personalities, mystery and adventure, this book is delightful. I liked how John and Vicky both rescue and are rescued. I liked visualizing snowy Bavaria. I liked getting to know Schmidt a little better. I liked the reappearance of Tony. I especially liked the progress in John and Vicky's relationship. It was a highly engaging book.

Bad language: some mild cursing
Sex: indicated, but no sex scenes

Silhouette in Scarlet by Elizabeth Peters

   This is book #3 in the Vicky Bliss mystery series. The mysterious and elegant John Smythe summons Vicky with one perfect rose and one plane (coach. ahem.) to Stockholm. Unfortunately, John's simple scam quickly gets complicated and puts both of them in serious danger. A handsome (and tall) Viking, a silhouette cutter, a private island, a long lost relative (sort of), buried treasure, a junkie and a creepy bad guy--it's all there.

  You know, I don't feel particularly sympathetic to Vicky's complaints about being 5'11" , blonde, beautiful and favored with the ideal figure measurements. She's always complaining about being tall and blonde! Oh poor, poor Vicky.

      I know John is a crook, but he's so.... Well, Elizabeth Peters has not created a perfect hero in John, and Vicky is always running into his shortcomings, but still we like him so much. Sigh. A fun book. I've read this whole series before, but it's been awhile and I still like it just as much.

Bad language: some mild cursing
Sex: implied, but not described

Street of the Five Moons by Elizabeth Peters

      This is book #2 of the Vicky Bliss series. Vicky has left Tony and the U.S. behind as she has obtained a job in beautiful Munich in a reputable art museum there. Her new boss, Anton Schmidt, sends her on a quest to discover the meaning of a hieroglyphic note found—along with a too-good reproduction of a classic piece of jewelry—in the pocket of a dead man. Vicky’s first stop is romantic Rome where she indulges in a spot of breaking-and-entering and meets a man (and a dog) who will not quickly leave her life. She also gets herself into some serious trouble.

    This is one of my favorite Vicky Bliss stories. I like the bad guys, I like the setting (Rome and its environs), and I like JOHN, the uppity Englishman who charms his way right into Vicky's life. 

Bad language: some mild swearing
Sex: implied, no sex scenes

Borrower of the Night by Elizabeth Peters

     This is book #1 in the Vicky Bliss mystery series. I really like Elizabeth Peters, and she writes “clean” books as far as swearing and sex scenes go…mostly.  This is a series that I wouldn’t mind my daughters reading, but it would need a few disclaimers, such as: while there are no sex scenes, Vicky doesn’t have any problem with premarital sex or with mild swearing. She’s a self-proclaimed feminist who seems to reject some of the best things about being a woman (marriage and family) and, ironically, seems to embrace a few of the sexist things that you'd think a feminist might eschew (using attractiveness as a tool, indulging in sex with no commitments—and experiencing the loneliness and heartache that goes with it, etc). Hm. So I take Vicky’s occasional feminist rhetoric as just that—rhetoric. She seems like a pretty typical strong, mouthy, curious and romantic female to me, even if she is kind of amoral when it comes to sex. In any case, that’s my Vicky Bliss disclaimer for my daughters.

     In this book we meet Dr. Vicky Bliss, an expert in the field of Medieval art history, professor at a college, tall, blond and beautiful and independent of family and men. She’s got an attractively wry point of view and a great sense of humor. And in this book she’s entered into a friendly competition with the man in her life, Tony. He is determined to “master” her, to prove he’s more intelligent than she is (apparently this is supposed to convince her to marry him? Hm) and the test they set themselves? Find the Tilman Riemenshneider shrine. They begin their search at the gloomy and half-ruined Schloss Drachenstein. Adventures, intrigue, danger and historical discoveries ensue.

     I enjoy this series. Well, I enjoy pretty much all Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels writes. How many stories this woman has in her head! She’s been writing for years and she still comes up with entertaining stories and endearing characters. This is a good beginning to an entertaining series.

Bad language: Some mild swearing
Sex: clearly indicated, but no sex scenes. This is not a romance.