In the beginning...

...there were The Flyaways, a family who traveled in their miraculous flying machine having daring adventures with Goldilocks and Cinderella. The first in the 3-book series by Alice Dale Hardy was published by Grosset and Dunlap in 1925 and copies are almost extinct. Few people remember Ma and Pa, Tommy and Susie Flyaway now.

I became acquainted with them on my grandfather's lap, my dear Grandpa Baker who read and read and read to me every evening for as many years as I can remember. I would hold my breath as each chapter ending neared, hoping he would not stop. I would keep begging for "just one more" chapter until his voice got so hoarse I would have to run to his room to get his throat lozenges.

Over the years we covered all of Uncle Wiggly and Honey Bunch, the Bobbsey Twins, the Five Little Peppers, the Wind in the Willow series, some of them more than once. He read to me until long after I could read everything for myself, until I was into Beverly Gray, Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. I was safe and happy snuggled up on the couch with him and that feeling has never left me. I still read and read and read, and it still makes me feel safe and happy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Marcus Sakey

Marcus Sakey is one cute dude (all the cute ones are married) as well as a terrific storyteller. I am on the last chapter of his new crime novel The Amateurs which I could easily have finished it on the deck in the sun after work, but I stopped just short of the conclusion because I didn't want it to end.

Sakey is a relatively new discovery. I've read a couple of his others and was waiting, not too patiently, for a new one. It did not disappoint. Great plot: four drinking buddies - a bond trader, a bartender, a doorman and a travel agent - who play the "what if" game at their favorite bar once too often. Sakey superbly explores each of their motives and the consequences for committing a serious crime that swiftly becomes a deadly game. The action is riveting and well plotted, the characters well drawn.

I had already joined his fans on Facebook when I sent my boss to meet the author at the ALA convention in his home base of Chicago. She brought me back an autographed galley copy of his soon-to-be-released book. I hurried through James Lee Burke to get to it and already I want more. Thanks, Marcus. Please write faster.

James Lee Burke

As I mentioned before, I read Black Cherry Blues many years ago and sent Burke a letter, comparing him to my old favorite detective writer, the late John MacDonald, creator of the Travis McGee series. Burke's hero Dave Robicheaux was a perfect counterpart to the macho, but sensitive McGee, who lived aboard a houseboat in Florida called the Busted Flush. Robicheaux is a sheriff in the bayou country of New Orleans, an on-the-wagon alcoholic who is always one breath away from the bottle. His companions and the criminals they pursue are as earthy and colorful as any I've ever read about, and Burke's prose as rich and descriptive and evocative as a poet. I've read everything Burke has written, including new adventures with new protagonists, but Robicheaux remains my favorite.

Much to surprise, Burke responded to my fan letter with a personal note - this was at least 15 years ago, before they started making his books into movies. I had a chance to meet him at a mystery book store in NYC and found him to be a warm and personable guy, who continues to send me Christmas cards. His real daughter Alafair, who is a character in the Dave Robicheaux series, is now a mystery writer in her own right.

His newest book is Rain Gods, which I just finished, a Sheriff Hack Holland novel set in Texas. Burke has received his share of publicity, including an article in People magazine around the time that Heaven's Prisoners was made into a film. He looks like a craggy cowboy himself and I'd be fantasizing about him if he weren't very happily married. Rats.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

David Levien

Today I finished David Levien's Where the Dead Lay, the second of his books I have read, the first being City of the Sun, which was good enough to lead me to seek out more. You will find out that I devour detective stories and my all-time favorites features the rugged and sensitive Travis McGee, whose adventures on his houseboat The Busted Flush unfortunately ended with the death of author John McDonald back in the 90's. All of his McGee books, and there were many, have a color in the title, e.g. The Lonely Silver Rain, and can be found in libraries and used books sales. He is worth looking for.

Levien's PI is Frank Behr, a former cop tortured with guilt over his part in the death of his young son. This book opens with the murder of his friend and mentor, Aurelio Santos, in his martial arts studio. Behr, of course, determines to track down the killers and finds them a strange and violent crew. He continues to battle his own demons, particularly his feelings when his young girlfriend becomes pregnant. I also learned what a "pea shake" operation is. Anybody else know?

I'm now looking for Levien's first two novels, and not just because the photo on his book jacket is very cute.

Stephanie Plum

I flew through Finger Lickin' Fifteen in a long afternoon.

The cast of characters in skip-tracer Stephanie Plum's life is incredible. And unforgettable. Best friend Lula, the pistol-packing reformed 'ho busting out of her outrageous and colorful outfits, is up to her generous endowments in trouble after witnessing a machete murder on the street in front of her Firebird, which, btw, ends up torched. Also torched are Stephanie's old Escort and two of the mysterious Ranger's new Porsches. Lula and Grandma Mazur(also a pistol-packer) set fire, not once but several times, to their chef's outfits and surrounding areas while practicing their barbequeing skills for a cooking competition to win a million dollars. Stephanie's apartment is firebombed, and Rex the hamster survives an exploding pressure cooker of BBQ sauce which demolishes Stephanie's kitchen. Stephanie is rescued by Ranger, resists his charms to bed her, and agonizes over her breakup with Morelli the cop, as her rival Joyce Barnhardt is on hand to move in on Morelli.

It is impossible to read anything else when one of these wacko, campy adventures awaits me.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Not Enough Time

I am reading three books at once, not an unusual occurance - one in the living room, bedroom, car. Plus the half dozen poetry tomes I keep handy for casual pickup - Lucille Clifton, Mark Strand, Charles Simic and Billy Collins included. Luckily I work in a library. There is no better place for me, except perhaps the beach at Key West, but even there, I would be reading.

Yesterday I finished a Richard Stevenson novel about Albany P.I. Donald Strachey. It was a kick to read because of the Albany setting, altho not as good as older ones.

I just started Rain Gods from an old friend, James Lee Burke. I met Burke in NYC many years ago, soon after sending him a fan letter about his Black Cherry Blues, which features the best detective I have encountered since John MacDonald died and we lost Travis McGee. Before he got famous, Burke answered his own fan mail and I was blown away to get a letter from him, then met him at Murder, Ink.

Also on my plate is Where the Dead Lay from a new author find named David Levien, who I expect to read a lot of.

Already reading those two, I had to crack open another one I had been waiting for (interlibrary loan is a marvelous thing) - the newest of Stephanie Plum adventures, which I consume like popcorn at the movies. Janet Evanovich can make me laugh out loud.

It is a good reading day.