Friday, May 15, 2009

The Seer of Shadows

The Seer of Shadows by Avi, published by HarperCollins, 2008.

This historical fiction starts off with a photographer trying to perpetrate a fraud by putting ghost images into portraits. But, in an ironic twist, real ghosts begin to show up in the photos taken by his apprentice, Horace, the novel's first person narrarator. I won't give it all away, but there's more to it than just the ghost wandering through while the picture is snapped.

I was attracted to the novel for the similarities to my current work in progress, a mystery with a ghost revealed in photographs.

Avi's story moves along at a good pace and the plot and characters are solid. Set in New York in 1872, the language is sometimes a little formal, but nothing insurmoutable.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Out of the Dust

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, published by Scholastic, 1997. Won the Newberry Award in 1998. It is a novel, composed of a series of poems in free verse.
I read this book primarily because it is set in the Oklahoma Panhandle in the 1930s and my next mystery is likely to take place in that location.
I just completed a four page essay dissecting the decision to focus more on an improbable, horrific accident than the natural disaster plaguing the area at the time.
I won't share that here, but I will say that this book is beautifully written. The white space on each page is reminiscent of the wide open spaces of the High Plains. Those who called that place home had a grit and tenacity that is hard to imagine in our world of creature comforts. It was a bleak time that challenged the toughest people. Severe drought, extreme temperatures, relentless dust storms and food shortages weakened bodies and drained spirits.
To this mix, Hesse added a tragic accident that centers around the main character's pregnant mother mistaking a pail of kerosene for a bucket of water. The mother dies a painful, agonizing death and the main character is badly burned. Her burns rob her, at least temporarily of the only thing that brings her joy - playing the piano.
I asked myself over and over why the author felt it necessary to heap tragedy upon hardship in a time when the simple act of breathing could be deadly.

Friday, May 8, 2009

And the Winner Is...

Okay, I'm a little bit late in posting this, but CONGRATULATIONS to Tony Abbott for winning the Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America for The Postcard.

You may not believe me since I didn't get it up here ahead of time, but The Postcard was my favorite among the finalists. The story resonnated deeply with me. It was actually the first of the finalists that I read and gave me the idea of reading the others before the winners were announced.

I listened to the audio version of the book and I highly recommend it. The reading is good and the production doesn't distract from the story. (The book I'm listening to now occasionally has music in the background. It's a nice idea, but...)
On a personal note, I had a little winning excitement of my own. The opening of my middle grade mystery manuscript, Betrayed, won first place at the Oklahoma Writers Conference last weekend. Also, the opening chapters of a young adult nonfiction manuscript about tigers in the United States won first place in its division. This recognition has been an excellent motivator in getting me back for the final polish on the mystery and to consider exactly what to do next with the tiger manuscript.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Enigma: A Magical Mystery

Enigma: A Magical Mystery by Graeme Base, published by Harry Abrams, 2008.

The amazing illustrations in this book are masterpieces in themselves. Base cleverly presents several puzzles in Enigma, first the straightforward mystery withing the text, second, the clues hidden in the illustrations and finally, a secret to decode using the key at the back of the book. This decoding requires reading the story, finding a hidden clue in the picture and then turning three wheels to the correct position to unlock the decoding key. It was great fun.

This is the last Edgar finalist review in the "juvenile" category. Although this book was grouped with the others, it is definitely in a class by itself. The other finalists were all definitely middle grade novels, while this decidedly falls into the picture book category. Perhaps the Mystery Writers of America should consider adding a middle grade category or a picture book category to give these books a fair chance.