THE TROUPE by Robert Jackson Bennett is a solidly entertaining fantasy set in the 1930s, when a teenage pianist runs away to join a vaudeville troupe (believing his father is among their number) and discovers the entertainers are actually gathering fragments of the song of creation in hopes of staving off attempts by the primal non-existence to eat all of reality once again. Bennett tells a great story, though too America-centric (since the troupe’s leader states flat out that they have to travel the world on their mission, hitting the U.S. vaudeville circuit makes no sense) but his protagonist is cardboard: Not only a weak character but way too contemporary (unfazed by copious swearing, homosexuality or realizing his love interest is half-black). Despite that sizable flaw, I liked it.
GIRL SLEUTH: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak recounts Nancy’s publishing history of Nancy Drew from the decision by kid-series guru Ed Stratemeyer to add female detective “Stella Strong” to his roster (which also included Tom Swift, the Bobbsey Twins and the Hardy Boys) only to have the publisher suggest one of his alternative names, “Nan Drew,” sounded better. The focus of the book is really on the lives of the two women who wrote most of the books—Mildred Wirt, the original “Carolyn Keene” and Harriet Stratemeyer who inherited the syndicate and eventually took over the series. Rehak spends less time on Nancy herself, though she does cover the efforts to shift with the time (avoiding long car trips during WW II gas rationing, without dating the books by referencing the war) and later revival series and TV/movie versions. Overall, interesting—I had no idea how small a role Nancy’s boyfriend Ned played in the originals (Rehak disdains the 1980s/90s paperback series for making Nancy boy- and clothes-crazy.
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN TOUCH: How the Bond Films Conquered the World by Sinclair McKay, doesn’t have anything to say that earlier books such as License to Thrill haven’t already said, and they said it better: McKay attempts a kind of breezy style which is much harder to pull off than it looks, and doesn’t succeed (there are times it’s positively painful to wade through). And some of his observations are just daft, like why they don’t call Domino in Thunderball Largo’s girlfriend instead of his mistress (Not.The.Same) and that Live and Let Die can’t be that racist as Caribbean blacks really did practice voodoo (I disagree). He does do a good job covering the various Bond knockoffs and imitators, but not good enough to make me recommend this.
THE NECKLACE OF PRINCESS FIORIMONDE collects some of the fairy tales of 19th century author Mary de Morgan, the title piece (and the best of the collection) telling the story of an evil princess who transforms her suitors into beads to hang on her necklace. Other stories involve a sunbeam that falls in love with a moonbeam, a pond that falls inlove with the neighboring tree and a harper who spends his life searching for his enchanted wife; if not up to the level of the opening story, they still show de Morgan had the touch.
THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON by Saladin Ahmed is a fantasy adventure set in an alt.Middle East where an aging wizard, a young dervish and a female werelion join forces against a black magician plotting to seize control of the title McGuffin and thereby gain Power Absolute. Well done (despite some really bad copy-editing and a few poor word choices) with the well-realized setting adding novelty. Ahmed, an Arab-American, said in an interview that he was frustrated with people like him getting identified as The Other or the Ethnic Sidekick so he wanted to put them front and center; he did a good job.


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2 responses to “Books!

  1. Pingback: Movies, TV, books, all in one post! (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: A smuggler, a teen detective and a power struggle: movies viewed | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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