Category Archives: Books

And Then I Read: TWO BY JANE LOUISE CURRY

ParsleySage

MagicCupboard

Jane Louise Curry has been writing novels for children since the early 1970s. Her most recent book came out in 2005. Over the years I’ve gradually collected and read and enjoyed nearly all her books, but these two, written in 1975 and 76, eluded me for a long time. I found them recently, the first in a Kindle edition, the second on Amazon as a used book. They’re connected, though they can certainly be enjoyed separately as well.

In “Parsley,” a present-day girl named Rosemary is sent to stay with her aunt in a very old family home in Maine, one she’s never seen. When she arrives, she finds the house, called “Wychwood” fascinating, and enjoys exploring the surroundings. There’s a small herb garden that’s fallen into disrepair, and through it Rosemary finds herself transported back to the past, the 1720s to be precise, when the house was actually the home of an old woman, Goody Cakebread, who the local folks considered to be a witch. She’s actually a harmless old lady except for one thing: she has a cupboard with unusual magical properties. Things put into it often disappear, but other things Goody needs appear there instead. Rosemary soon discovers she’s not the only one drawn to this time and place from its future, there are two others, a younger girl, Baba, and a boy baby named Wim. Before any of them can figure out how to return to their own time, they’re drawn into turmoil in the local town, where a preacher is determined to burn Goody Cakebread as a witch. The children and Goody try to escape, but are caught and thrown into jail, and things are looking grim for them.

In “The Magical Cupboard,” we follow the 1722 era adventures of another young girl, Felicity, who has ended up in the clutches of Parson Grout and his wife, the ones persecuting Goody Cakebread, and now in possession of her cupboard, though they don’t know how to use it. Felicity is taken to an orphanage run by the Grouts, which she soon discovers is really a forced labor home for the children they put there. The Grouts are running from their past bad deeds, and decide to head into the Maine wilderness to escape the law, taking their orphans along. The expedition is full of troubles, and when it’s attacked by Indians, things seem to be headed for a sad end.

Both these books are connected in interesting ways through characters and events, and reading the two together was fun, though I wouldn’t put them among Curry’s best work. I love any story involving time travel, though there isn’t very much of it here, but the characters are engaging and the plots are clever.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: THE SILVER AGE OF DC COMICS by Paul Levitz

SilverAgeFCImages © DC Comics.

The second volume by Paul on DC history (drawn from and expanding on the even more massive “75 Years of DC Comics”) covers 1956-70, and encompasses the comics of my childhood, at least those put out by DC. If you were a comics reader in this period, you’ll enjoy all the wonderful pictures of the covers, interior pages and descriptions of the series, genres, editors, writers, and of course the artists. I liked the fact that some of the comics covers were worn and well-read, rather than all the best possible pristine copies. Some of the more important creators get a spotlight of several pages, others just a paragraph, but it’s a large subject, and even with 400 pages to fill, not everything can be covered in depth. I was already familiar with most of the subject matter, so there wasn’t as much new material for me here, though I did miss plenty of the comics from the time, and it was fun to see so many of them represented. Continue reading

Rereading: THE TOUGH WINTER by Robert Lawson

ToughWinterImage © estate of Robert Lawson.

About a month ago, when Winter was getting me down, I found rereading this childhood favorite a good antidote. One of writer/illustrator Lawson’s best and best known books is “Rabbit Hill,” but this sequel is nearly as good. The setting is Lawson’s actual home in Westport, Connecticut, but the talking animals are pure whimsy. Very entertaining all the same. When Lawson and his wife head south for the winter, they hire a house-sitter who is a very poor replacement in the eyes of the many animals on and around the property, who Lawson has been feeding regularly. When the caretaker arrives, that’s clearly over, and the caretaker’s foolish dog, while no real threat to the wise country critters, is still very annoying. Winter hits hard with lots of snow, and while young Georgie Rabbit and his friend Willie Fieldmouse find it all a great adventure, many residents are forced to move to other farms and homes where they can find food. Even Georgie’s mother is sent off to relatives while Georgie’s father and Uncle Analdas decide to tough it out. Before long they’re starving and desperate, but the younger creatures manage to keep the fun in their winter travails, as can be seen in the cover picture above. Lawson’s illustrations for this book are in lush and detailed pencil, only colored on the cover, but there are lots of them, and they’re wonderful. Yes, the animals act more like people much of the time, foibles and all, but that’s part of the charm of this delightful story.

Recommended.

And Then I Read SWAMPMEN (CBC#6)

SwampmenCover by Frank Cho, Swamp Thing © DC Comics.

Editor Jon B. Cooke worked on this thick volume (with tiny type) for about ten years, and as with all his work, it’s thoroughly detailed and well-researched. The bulk of it is interviews that ask the right questions. In trying for a comprehensive look at swamp creatures that walk like men, Jon dove into areas that don’t interest me, so I didn’t read about The Heap, The Glob, The Bog-Beast and others, but I enjoyed reading about Man-Thing and Swamp Thing. The latter creature gets the most coverage due to illuminating interviews with Len Wein, Bernie Wrightson, Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch and John Totleben. If you ever wanted to know more on that subject, you’re likely to find it here. Lots of rare art and photos are within as well. Man-Thing is a comic I never read until I lettered it not long ago (the final Man-Thing story by Steve Gerber), and the coverage on it here is equally excellent: interviews with Steve Gerber, Val Mayerik, Mike Ploog and Jim Mooney. Well done.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: TRIGGER WARNING by Neil Gaiman

TriggerWarningNeil Gaiman is someone I’ve been working with since 1988, not continuously, but regularly. I love his writing, and he’s a friend, so this is hardly an unbiased review, more a report on favorites.

When I was young, I read lots of short stories, including the entire contents of several monthly science fiction/fantasy magazines. At some point my interest drifted away to longer stories, and even in a collection like this, I find the longer ones tend to appeal to me more. There’s room to care about the characters, and the longer stories tend to be deeper. I had already read “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains…” and loved it, and I think it’s still my favorite of all the stories here. It has the full flavor of myth, in that it doesn’t feel made up, but reported as truth. Very powerful.

“The Case of Death and Honey” is the best Sherlock Holmes story I’ve read not by the original author A. Conan Doyle. It’s not a pastiche or homage, it’s a unique and brilliant use of Doyle’s main character in ways that feel right and correct, telling a story that transcends the usual murder mystery.

“Nothing O’Clock” is a Dr. Who story. I used to enjoy watching Dr. Who in the 1980s, when tons of the old ones were rebroadcast on PBS. My favorite Doctor was Tom Baker, I never warmed to the others in the same way. I’ve tried watching the newer revival, and found it didn’t work for me, not sure why. I enjoyed the story, but it assumes a lot of Dr. Who business as known to the reader, and so I feel doesn’t stand on its own as well as it might.

“The Sleeper and the Spindle” is a fine rethinking of some old fairy tales, but the intricate plot seems to be in control more than the characters. That could be said of the originals too, and I liked it all the same.

“Black Dog” is a tale of Shadow from Neil’s “American Gods,” and while it’s off the main character’s path in some ways, the prose and plot are very effective. Things happen organically in a way that reminded me of the books of William Mayne, whose trick is to have the narrator never in possession of the whole story. Neil doesn’t quite do that, but it hit me in a similar way. Nicely done.

Those are my favorites. Of the shorter ones, I was most amused by “Adventure Story,” which is perhaps the perfect post-modern version of a pulp adventure tale.

Recommended, of course!