Volume 16, Issue 27 - July 3 - July 9, 2008

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The price of oil and fuel surcharges are no hindrance to getting away when you travel between the covers — audio cassettes or CDs — of a time machine.

Read your way deep back in time, around the galaxy in space or into the intimate lives of fascinating strangers and the fascinating ways of neighborly places and creatures.

Continuing our Fourth of July tradition, Bay Weekly’s writers — ages 22 to 82 — recommend books in whose pages they’ve journeyed.

You’re not the only one who takes our reviews seriously. Writers have been recruited for library book talks on picks, and editor Sandra Olivetti Martin’s praise of Scorpion Down in last year’s Summer Reading Companion turned up as a blurb on the jacket of the paperback edition:

Sandra Lee Anderson

Memoirist with West Coast roots, served in the Peace Corps in Turkey and retired from D.C. Public Schools planning to St. Leonard.

Louis de Bernières’ Birds Without Wings is a story about love, the deep kind that unites us across conflagrations and nations at war.

The background is World War I in Turkey, as the Sick Man of Europe is being parceled among European nations. Ugly battles are fought with atrocities on all sides. Armenian families are banished to their deaths, with two girls saved by a village leader who claims they are his wives.

Two boys form a lifelong bond, but one is Greek and the other a Turk. The two girls, one beautiful and the other ugly, grow up together. The village leader goes to Istanbul to find a woman companion and finds love. Turkish and Greek families are intertwined.

Such love does not die, but relationships are torn as Greeks are wrenched from Turkey and Turks from Greece to be sent back to lands where they had no home or language. Even today, in war-torn nations, leaders propose separating peoples who have lived as one community for centuries.

This book looks at those who live with the consequences. As one boy’s father explains, “Man is a bird without wings and a bird is a man without sorrows.” The power of this novel is vulnerability of the heart.

Diana Beechener

Bay Weekly calendar editor, dog owner and movie fan extraordinaire

Booze, broads and bust-ups: Robert Mitchum’s life held more drama than many of the 1940s’ film noirs he headlined. In the dishy biography Baby, I Don’t Care, author Lee Serve takes you on the rough and rowdy road Mitchum traveled to find fame on the silver screen. The movie star, who spent his golden years convalescing on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, roamed from coast to coast aimlessly seeking good times and typically finding trouble, such as a six-day incarceration with a Georgia chain gang. Server’s biography reads like a missing chapter from Valley of the Dolls — or a preview of Lindsay Lohan’s biography.

By 12, Mitchum had learned to wield a length of chain to defend himself from fellow rail-riding hobos. By 24, he was trying to dodge the draft claiming homosexuality — and offering to kiss an officer as proof. By 32, at the height of his career, he made headlines when he was busted for marijuana possession. The book offers no excuses because Mitchum didn’t.

With each passing scandal, Mitchum’s lust for life becomes more infectious. Living as you want may not guarantee you a spot in heaven, but it provides the makings for a hell of a read.

Mick Blackistone

Award-winning author of seven books for children and adults on the Bay and watermen. His new book, Remembering You, comes out in July. This Admiral of the Chesapeake lives in Fairhaven.

This summer, and particularly when the family goes to Myrtle Beach for vacation, I am eager to read my next Robert B. Parker novel. I say next because I am in this mode of moving quickly from one to another of the can’t-put-it-down crime page-turners. The Associated Press says “his books are not so much read as inhaled,” and I couldn’t agree more.

I discovered Parker by accident and consider it a blessing. Where have I been? For more than 30 years Parker has captivated readers with the Spenser, Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall series. I know these three personalities well now and eagerly await their next adventures. For this reason, I don’t have a book title to offer as my summer reading — but rather a writer.

Parker’s fertile imagination springs forth in each new creation. His characters are easy to know and like, and sarcastic one-liners make me smile even during a serious crime investigation. It is best, I think, to start reading the older books so you have a stage to work from. After that, each novel brings you closer to the personalities, and you are working the investigation, sharing a drink, being intimate and solving the crime with them. They are all easy reads, great for the beach or back porch. But don’t start too early in the morning or your day will be shot.

Bill Burton

Journalist for 62 years; Baltimore Evening Sun outdoors editor for 38.5 years; Bay Weekly columnist for 15 years.

Thank heavens for books; without them Stacy Cordery’s Alice would have ended up as a sensationalized documentary or movie — and lost would be the truth of Teddy Roosevelt, who I consider one of the best five presidents to rule this nation. I can visualize how the picturized media would have handled the legendary Rough Rider in Alice: a mentally deficient old man running up the stairs commanding charge as in the classic Arsenic and Old Lace.

Without reservation, I can say Alice is one of the best biographies I’ve read; it gives insight into the workings of a presidential family, presidential politics and a young, middle-aged and old woman who captured the fantasy and fancy of Americans for generations. She began life as the darling of the nation. TR used her popularity to promote his programs nationally and internationally, for she was the world’s darling, too.

What a repertoire, her life. Always brilliant and self-sufficient, she married Nick Longworth a sidekick of Teddy, but also an alcoholic philanderer. She was into politics all her life, was an intimate of top politicians and legislators. Her salon in Washington was a must for those seeking fresh and irreverent views of government and politics. She was a salty sailor on the sea of the Washington politics and society.

What a blend of politics, life, minor scandal (it’s obvious that her lover Sen. William Borah fathered her daughter) and a barbed tongue that bested even that of Dorothy Parker. Alice is a great read.

Oh, if you’re wondering who the other four best presidents were in the Burton Honor Roll of Best Presidents, here they are in order of rank: Harry S. Truman, Abraham Lincoln, that other Roosevelt, John Quincy Adams. Where TR would rank in the quintet? For 35 years I’ve been trying to make that decision. Enough said.

Dotty Holcomb Doherty

Reader of any luminous writing, birdwatcher and, along with husband Jonathan, soon-to-be empty nester as last fledgling heads to college.

When I think of books for summer reading, I usually don’t lean toward nonfiction or toward novels about terrorists. But this year, I have made exceptions.

Richard Preston’s non-fiction The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring blends adventure with discovery as we join young enthusiasts in their quest to climb the tallest trees in the world. My pulse racing, I sometimes feared reading the next paragraph as the climbers made their dangerous ascents. But like the explorers, I persevered, anticipating the thrill of reaching the tops of these 35-story coastal redwoods. Preston, the bestselling author of The Hot Zone, shows his mastery once again as he leads us into the lives of daredevils of the sky-touching wilderness of the California rain forest.

Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto transforms a hostage-taking into an unlikely love story. Japanese business giant Mr. Hosokawa is lured to a grand birthday party in a remote South American city by the promise of a performance by opera’s esteemed soprano, Roxanne Coss. But terrorists invade the perfect evening, unwittingly trapping themselves and the international guests in a web of rage and helplessness. The beauty of the soprano’s voice lingers, however, embracing captives and captors alike. As time slowly passes, music and simple decency tumble the walls of class and power gently down, opening avenues to unforeseen passions.

Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award, Patchett mesmerizes readers in this symphonic story. Her luminous writing rests lightly, like fingers hovering over a piano’s keyboard, but resonates like a favorite aria long after you’ve turned the page.

Dennis Doyle

Bay Weekly’s Sporting Life columnist, husband of sculptor Deborah Banker, father of three boys — and fisherman, crabber, hunter and gatherer of great spy fiction.

It is Warsaw, Poland, 1937, and Europe is heading toward a conflagration that will leave no one’s life — anywhere in the world — untouched. The cannons have not yet begun speaking, but in this cosmopolitan city the clandestine operatives of all of the world’s major powers are mortally engaged on an espionage battlefield.

German Intelligence, the Russian Secret Service and French and Polish agents plot, deceive, abduct, seduce, love and betray each other beneath a social and diplomatic veneer that is deceptive and duplicitous.

Alan Furst, arguably our greatest living espionage writer, puts you in the middle of that world. Spies of Warsaw, his 10th book of historical spy fiction was released in June, and if his other nine novels are any indication, it will be a hell of ride.

The tense and deadly atmosphere of those times is so palpable in Furst’s writing that often only the knowledge that things came out well in the end gives me the courage to continue turning the pages. I am setting aside a weekend to devote entirely to this novel.

Jane Elkin

Bay Weekly’s theater critic is also a handwriting analyst, singer and French teacher.

Don’t let the narrative poetry genre fool you. Tales From a Child of the Enemy by Ursula Duba is a slender volume of blank verse that reads like prose. It’s so evocative you will be hooked in five minutes, finished in a few hours and changed forever.

A German gentile tries to reconcile her early childhood memories of wartime deprivation with her adult discovery of Nazi atrocities. With a cast of unforgettable characters Duba brings new insight into such terms as complicity, secrecy, fear, nationalism, sadism, guilt and hunger.

I’m also reading Anita Shreve’s novel Light on Snow. In it, 12-year-old Nicky and her father have suffered a tragedy so intense that living has become mute existence.

Their daily nature hikes in the New Hampshire countryside to which they have fled from New York City are their sole occasion of relaxation and communion. Then they discover a baby abandoned in the snow, and their lives are turned upside down yet again as they find themselves the subject of unwelcome attention.

Barbara Kingsolver’s novel Prodigal Summer is for the intelligent reader — likely a woman — who enjoys a healthy dose of education while indulging her imagination. Tastefully written yet unabashedly passionate, it examines the interconnectedness of all people and living things, animal and vegetable, from the perspective of three generations of Appalachian women. All isolated and ahead of their time, they grow and triumph through resourcefulness, compassion and a core of inner peace that stems from their love of nature.

M.L. Faunce

Award-winning longtime Bay Weekly contributor and fancier of dachshunds; grew up near the Bay and its bounty.

In summer, I’m more apt to pick up a book I’d like to reread than look for something new on the shelf. For me, thumbing through the familiar suits warm, languid days by the Bay. Pulitzer Prize-winning Beautiful Swimmers by William Warner is just the summer primer I have in mind.

Warner’s homage to watermen, crabs and the Chesapeake became a national best seller in 1977. Now a classic, the book is a window onto not only the history and biology of the blue crab but also the people whose lives and generations of work centered on the crab.

Warner explored the natural world — which we’re lucky enough to have as our own backyard — with exquisite attention to detail. He describes the ecology of the estuary with the precision of a scientist; we feel his awe of both the crab and the crabber. To the crabbers, who endlessly fascinated the author, he gave a voice that many might wish to hear today.

William Warner passed away in April at the age of 88. He leaves us a gift that has enlightened us and delighted us about Callinectes sapidus — the savory beautiful swimmer — and that will continue to inform us through the Bay times good and challenging.

Rob Goszkowski

Bay Weekly music writer recommends Flor De Cana Seven Year Grand Reserve rum as an accompaniment to his selection.

The late Hunter S. Thompson yanked readers out of their ordinary, rational world and imposed upon them his churlish, buzzed-up perspective. Chances are, reading The Rum Diary won’t leave you with much except an appreciation for cane liquor — there are no morals to or in this story — but it’s a hilarious ride.

Thompson’s vivid descriptions of Puerto Rico are perfect in the summer months. If you’re in the midst of a Maryland wave of humidity and heat, take solace knowing that the guy you’re reading about is suffering through it, too. But Thompson makes it sound appealing, as if this sweaty penance makes the rum taste a little better:

“It was a pleasant place to drink, especially in the mornings when the sun was still cool and the salt mist came up from the ocean to give the air a crisp, healthy smell that for a few early hours would hold its own against the steaming, sweaty heat that clamps San Juan at noon and remains long after sundown,” he wrote.

As in many of Thompson’s works of fiction, the main character is essentially himself (named Paul Kemp this time), a hard-living writer. The book’s focus is the failing newspaper he works for and its colorful staff: “Some were more journalists than vagrants and others were more vagrants than journalists.”

The wild, frequently mad characters Thompson surrounds himself with and the clashes among them is where the action is.

Pour yourself a glass of rum and lay back in your beach chair with this gonzo classic.

J. Alex Knoll

Bay Weekly co-founder and Sky Watch columnist; husband, father and first-time dog owner.

Daddy, I want a puppy.

Children and puppies go together like baseball and hotdogs, but any parent who’s given in to such a plea knows who will be walking, feeding, grooming and cleaning up after the new family addition. In fact, it’s like adding another child to the family.

I’ve often said that the problem with kids is that they don’t come with an owner’s manual. But when we got our eight-week-old Jack Russell, my mother gave me The Art of Raising a Puppy.

Written by the monks of New Skete, who also authored How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend, this book will bring out the dog whisperer in first-time and veteran dog owners alike. At their monastery in upstate New York, the monks raise and train German shepherds; they also take as boarders and rehabilitate problem cases of all breeds.

The key to becoming pack leader, they write, is to understand and implement the principle of dominance in ways that your dog will understand. In addition, the book covers the life-cycle of pups and packs, both domestic and wolves in the wild, from gestation in the mother’s womb to birth, weaning and arriving at their eventual new home.

The primary lesson of The Art of Raising a Puppy is not how to train your dog but instead how to train yourself and your family to interact and communicate with your dog in ways that the animal will understand.

There’s also plenty of fascinating information along the way. You may think that your dog is showing affection when it licks your face. Yeah, your dog loves you, but this behavior is a holdover from its earliest days when licking the muzzle of its mother and other pack members elicits a vomiting reaction, providing the young pup a meal.

Bill Lambrecht

Writer, writer, writer: author of two books, Dinner at the New Gene Cafe; Big Muddy Blues; Washington Bureau Chief, St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Bay Weekly cofounder and editorial analyst.

Maybe it’s because it’s an election year, but I’m tending toward the serious this summer.

Two books I’ve nearly finished are written so as to be not only enjoyable but also to provoke serious summer dinner conversations.

I also like to read the books of people I know, which is why I recommend, Allan Lichtman’s White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement. Lichtman, you may recall, ran for the Democratic nomination for Senate two years ago. He lost to Ben Cardin.

As I wrote in another review, Lichtman is a darn good political analyst for a Harvard Ph.D. He’s sought out by journalists around the world for his political wisdom, and another of his books, Keys to the White House, has predicted without fail the presidential winners since 1984 based on his smart and original thesis.

We may not realize it in a Democratic state like Maryland, but politically, we are living in a conservative era. Look at recent Supreme Court rulings or at executive powers that have infringed on civil liberties. But it didn’t begin with George W. Bush, nor did it begin with Ronald Reagan.

Lichtman, a political historian by trade, spent 10 years researching the roots of the modern conservative movement, and what he found as far back as the World War I era is fascinating. He traces the Christian Right back to the Jazz Age and finds dozens of memorable characters, like Richard Hobson, who warned in the 1920s that drugs were “a national calamity more devastating than the Black Death of the Middle Ages.”

Lichtman asserts that the movement may have run its course — but leaves it to readers to reach their own conclusions.

My second recommendation is a fine new book that helps us understand why our economy is changing for the worse.

In The China Price, Alexandra Harney explores the true costs of all those Chinese imports — beyond the $250 billion or so of American wealth that we ship to China every year.

Harney, who was a reporter in China for the Financial Times, explores the relationship between China and the Wal-Marts of the world — and how the Chinese may be cheating not just us, but also Wal-Mart, with all the cheaply made and often dangerous junk they’re sending us.

Why do we buy it? Because it costs less. But you may look twice at that cheap price tag after reading Harney’s compelling book.

Valerie Lester

Author of Phiz, the Man Who Drew Dickens, Lester is beginning a biography of Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813), the great Italian typographer. Her challenge is great because most of the material about Bodoni is in Italian.

Don’t groan when you see a classic recommended for your summer reading. Tales from Ovid is, I promise you, the most invigorating book you’ll read this year. Put aside all you know about Ted Hughes (widower of Sylvia Plath and poet laureate to Queen Elizabeth II from 1984 until his death in 1998), and concentrate on what he has done so miraculously with 24 of Ovid’s stories from the Metamorphoses.

Hughes starts at the beginning, literally, with Ovid’s take on the creation, before embarking on tales of passion and intrigue, such as Echo and Narcissus, Venus and Adonis and The Birth of Hercules, all concluding when their heroes are transformed into something else — a tree, a rock, a flower, a bird or, in the case of Arachne, a spider. Hughes’s free verse is supple, fresh and loud.

You can hear lines like Topheavy thunderheads / Churning with tornadoes and She shuns wolves, / Their back teeth always aching to crack big bones.

You can see Pygmalion’s creation coming to life before his very eyes:

But his hand sprang off her breast / As if stung. / He lowered it again, incredulous / At the softness, the warmth / Under his fingers. Warm / And soft as warm soft wax — / But alive / With the elastic of life.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses was an immediate bestseller in 8ad, and a huge success again in the Middle Ages. Chaucer delighted in it, as did Shakespeare, and both used it as inspiration for their work. In our day, Ted Hughes has rendered his own transformation of Ovid’s baroque, sophisticated Latin poetry into frighteningly modern, English parables.

I recently taught a western civilization class at Key School, taking with me photocopies of Phaeton from Tales from Ovid, a myth that is particularly suited to adolescents (‘Please, puhlease, Dad, let me drive the Maserati!’) I had the class of 14-year-olds read it aloud in turn, line by line, and they were rapt.

Do like them. Read the Tales aloud. At the beach. Shout them to the waves, and they will reverberate in your head — just like Echo.

Sonia Linebaugh

Bay Weekly contributor for much of 15 years; artist, writer, author of At the Feet of Mother Meera: The Lessons of Silence

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” writes Leo Tolstoy to open his 1877 novel Anna Karénina.

Because this is Tolstoy, the tragic love story of Anna Karénina and Alexéi Vronsky is embedded in a rich mix of characters acting out the drama of Russia’s social and gender roles.

Anna longs for Vronsky, but she is married to Karénin. Her brother Stepan loves his wife Dolly and their many children but dallies with others. Kitty turns down Levin, then marries him after Vronsky slights her. Levin never forgets to be jealous.

The passenger train was in 1877 a modern convenience. Rolling through the book, it carries the plot and the characters on their destined paths.

Affairs of the heart, the wealthy families, the peasants and the politicians: All make Anna Karénina a psychologically compelling masterpiece beloved of romantics, philosophers and history enthusiasts.

Carrie Madren

Bay Weekly staff writer; vacation reader; traveler; new cook learning how to whip up savory summer meals.

If you’re only traveling a few states away this summer, journey around the world with Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

In Gilbert’s bestselling memoir, she travels to overcome grief and pain from a bad divorce followed by a dead-end romance.

To rediscover joy in life, she divides her year in three countries, exploring a different side of herself in each locale. In Italy, she indulges in language and food. In India, she unearths her spiritual side in an ashram. In Bali, Indonesia, she finds love — in ways she doesn’t expect — and a new sense of herself. Gilbert paints her three countries with such color and flavor that you can’t help but imagine yourself traveling there someday.

We get to know Gilbert like a lifelong friend. She confides in us her lowest moments; she shares her greatest joy, and offers up life wisdom.

As we get caught up in our own little patches of Earth, Gilbert’s memoir reminds us that the world is a very big place indeed. Travel with her, and you, too, will find questions to ponder.

Helena Mann-Melnitchenko

Award-winning short story writer, memoirist and eclectic reader.

Love in the Time of Cholera, by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is a stunning novel about love that transcends time and the vicissitudes of life in a South American country at the turn of 20th century — a time of cholera.

Florentino Ariza catches sight of the beautiful Fermina Daza, as he delivers a telegram to her father. He falls in love, a love that lasts for the rest of his life, never mind that he has many affairs and she marries another. At the death of Fermina’s physician husband, when she is in her late 60s and Florentino in his early 70s, he courts her again. Marquez’s extraordinary writing and his understanding of love’s pains, delusions and strength is superb.

Another love story, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, takes the reader to far-off Afghanistan, opening a window into an another culture.

A boy and a girl grow up together and become forbidden lovers. War separates them, and she becomes the second wife of a coarse and brutal man. Enemies at first, his two wives form a bond.

Years pass; life takes its inexorable toll. The lover returns to Kabul. In a jealous rage, the husband brutalizes his two wives. Yet the years of abuse have not erased the women’s spirit. He gets his just deserts, as the first wife sacrifices her life to save the second.

Sandra Olivetti Martin

Bay Weekly cofounder and editor; life-long book reader, hungry for plot and plots; time-and-a-half journalist; spare-time book editor.

Much as I’m fascinated by all I’ve never known about the oyster, a creature with which I’m intimate, I’m still more amazed to see time fold in on itself like an accordion so that my now becomes 1891. That’s the year William K. Brooks published The Oyster.

Way back then, my grandmother was a teenager and nobody drove automobiles. Way back then, the century of science was still a decade in the future. Yet way back then, this practical Maryland scientist told us everything we needed to know about the Chesapeake Bay oyster — and never bothered to learn.

First, a biological wonder: the oyster’s fertility is astonishing: “The fifth generation of descendants from single female oyster would make more than eight worlds, even if each female laid only one brood of eggs,” Brooks wrote.

Brooks, who was briefly Maryland’s oyster commissioner, proclaimed not only his subject’s powers but also its limitations. Mortality so balances fertility that, by the late 19th century, harvesting without replenishing had already upset the balance of nature.

“Our indifference and lack of foresight, and our blind trust in our natural advantages, have brought this grand inheritance to the very verge of ruin,” he concluded. Thus sustainability is the theme of The Oyster, edited by Kennedy Paynter, then of Chesapeake Biological Lab, and reissued by John Hopkins University Press in 1996.

Brooks also figured out the solution: Aquaculture. Now, 117 years later, Maryland seems ready to follow his advice.

Ben Miller

Bay Weekly museum reviewer after retiring from the National Park Service, prefers non-fiction to fiction in literature and dramas to documentaries in film.

An atmosphere of violence pervades Ron Hansen’s novel, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Yet for long stretches, not much happens.

It is 1881. James lives quietly in plain sight with a false name. He plans to rob banks or trains. He plots to kill former gang members before they betray him for reward money.

With Bob Ford at his side — and usually Bob’s brother Charley — Jesse takes long rides, walks through town, plays with his two children and eats dinner with his wife Zee.

Jesse James is taken with his own myth. For all his ruthless practicality, he is as drawn to the young Bob Ford, his sycophantic admirer, as Ford is to him.

I read the book, published in 1983, before I saw the 2007 movie with Brad Pitt as Jesse James and Casey Affleck as Robert Ford.

Neither book nor movie has the non-stop action of this summer’s blockbusters, but if you read the one and watch the other you may be, as I was, drawn into the cat-and-mouse contest between two unlikable, but fascinating, characters.

In a non-fiction book as imaginative as Hansen’s, Alan Weisman describes The World Without Us (2007), with humans suddenly vanished from the earth. It is rich with descriptions of natural processes and environmental history.

The book is encouraging as it describes nature’s recuperative powers, and frightening as it describes nature’s destructive powers (every homeowner knows something about this).

Weisman disabuses us of the notion that the earth without humans would return to some idealized pristine state. We have permanently changed the earth, continue to change it — and have been doing so long before written words existed.

Deede Miller

Annapolitan oil painter, floor cloth artist and art instructor.

On May 3, the cyclone named Nargis struck the poorest nation in South Asia, Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Hearing about this awful catastrophe reminded me of a book I had read a while back: The Piano Tuner (2002) by Daniel Mason. I was fascinated with the story and intrigued with the setting. But I had to get out the atlas to see where Burma is.

Burma is a lush rice-farming delta country with lots of natural resources such as teak and gems. Now, many thousands of citizens are dead or missing, with the real threat of more succumbing to illness due to lack of inattention by the government’s military dictatorship.

The book’s descriptive images of the jungles and rivers and old civilizations remain in my mind. The 1886 story recounts the British piano tuner Edgar Drake, who is called by the War Office to travel to Burma during the time of colonial rule to tune and repair an officer’s piano deep in the country’s interior.

We go along with Drake, his first time away from his comfortable home in England, while he makes his dangerous journey to care for a rare French piano in an unlikely place.

Daniel Mason was a medical student studying malaria in Burma when he conceived the book. His first novel has been compared to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

Perhaps it is better to experience Burma through the pages of this book and conjure up the images of lush jungles and quiet villages where people sustained their lives with farming, fishing and harvesting medicinal plants — than to imagine the current condition of human and environmental loss.

Alice Snively

Journalist and freelance writer for more than 40 years; author of Bay Weekly’s Gunk-Holin’ column; author of two books, with a third set for release in July; lives with her husband aboard a 43-foot Columbia sailboat.

In between writing the Gunk-Holin’ column and occasional features for Bay Weekly last year, I published my first book, The Book of Ferd. Excerpts appeared in Bay Weekly’s Easter edition. The Book of Ferd is the biography of a rabbit as teacher, friend, humorist, innovator, caregiver and communicator. His is a tale that challenges our beliefs about animal consciousness and the connections between us as members of the interdependent global community.

Kudos for Ferd’s story have come from many readers, including actress and animal activist Betty White, who wrote to me: “I have long been interested in communication between species and truly appreciate your listening so carefully to what this little fellow had to say.”

Like the cobbler’s kids with no shoes, I’m so busy writing sometimes I forget to let people know what I’ve done. So, here’s the news: My second published book is a fictional mystery thriller titled Genetic Hostages.

In 2003, investigative reporter Cory Blake receives a mysterious package from a dead colleague and is plunged into a complex story of genetically engineered people born during World War II and rediscovered alive in 1993. If revealed, this knowledge would change history and impact the future.

To prevent this, rogue government officials conspire to murder the revived experiments and those who know of them by double-crossing their own agents and using innocent civilians as dupes. Through a twisted string of events, their plot is discovered. But there’s more at work than they know.

Can the carnage be prevented? Find out as villains, heroes and heroines aplenty give dimension to this fast-paced, suspenseful novel within a novel.

For autographed copies, e-mail me at: [email protected].

Michelle Steel

Passionate reader and writer who practices both literary arts in the Willows

Look Me in the Eye opened a window on hope for me. Traveling along on John Elder Robison’s journey with Asperger’s — a milder variant of Autistic Disorder — gave me reassurance and relief that living with Asperger’s is not hopeless, as I struggle with a family diagnosis.

Robison writes a moving, dark and funny story of growing up with Asperger’s at a time when the diagnosis didn’t exist. A natural storyteller, he takes you inside his head for a firsthand account of a boy labeled defective.

Robison’s odd habits — avoiding eye contact and digging five-foot holes to stick his younger brother into —labeled him a social deviant. With no one to turn to — his mother conversed with light fixtures and his father drank himself to sleep every night — Robison turned to machines. He could always count on them.

After dropping out of high school and running away from home, Robison landed a gig with the rock group, Kiss, and created their legendary fire-breathing guitars.

He later became an engineer for a major toy company. But the higher he rose in the company, the more he had to pretend to be normal and perform an impossible task: communicating with people.

When Robison turned 40, a therapist gave him a diagnosis. Knowing he had Asperger’s syndrome transformed the way he saw himself and the world around him.

Look Me in the Eye is also the other side of a familiar story: The younger brother Robison left behind with their nutty parents is Augusten Burroughs, author of the best-selling, made-into-a-movie memoir Running with Scissors.

Erica Stratton

Bay Weekly intern, 2008 St. John’s grad and blogger often wishes she could don armor and rescue maidens.

Summer inspires daydreams, and its violent storms can make you long for adventure. If you’re feeling frustrated with Tolkien clones at the movies, Tad Willams’ The Dragonbone Chair reminds you why you love fantasy.

George R.R. Martin — author of the newest buzz, Song of Ice and Fire — acknowledges that Williams inspired his tale. Where the usual warring empires and beautiful princesses populate Martin’s work, The Dragonbone Chair begins like the best of fairytales.

Dreamy Simon, scullion at the Castle Hayholt, lives out his life catching frogs, being terrorized by the Mistress of Chambermaids and apprenticed to the alchemist, Doctor Morgenes. Simon is impatient with being taught letters rather than magic spells — until he discovers the king’s missing brother Joshua imprisoned in the Hayholt’s forgotten dungeons.

Simon’s part in helping Joshua escape makes him an outcast from the only home he’s ever known. He learns self-reliance as he travels from the Hayholt’s underground mazes to high Mintahoq, home of the trolls. At every step, he is tracked by the King’s huntsman Ingen Jegger, as fanatically devoted to bringing down his quarry as the hounds he unleashes.

With the addition of rich subplots, a constantly changing pageant of characters, and a riddle of swords that must be solved in later volumes, The Dragonbone Chair will make you believe you have lived in Williams’ imaginary country.

Margaret Tearman

Bay Weekly staff writer; lives in Calvert County with her husband and three dogs.

My summer reading list doesn’t include any current bestsellers or old-time favorites pulled off the shelf for a second, third or fourth re-read. Instead, at the suggestion of a friend, I am tackling an entire series: the American Guide Series of the Federal Writers Project.

Established in 1935 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Federal Writers Project was part of the Works Progress Administration, created to put the unemployed back to work — including writers. “Why not?” FDR is said to have quipped. “They are human beings. They have to live, too.”

Noted authors Conrad Aiken, Nelson Algren, Ralph Ellison, John Steinbeck and Studs Terkel were among more than 6,000 who found work on the project. The result of their toils was a series of guide books — printed time capsules, state by state.

The first guide, Idaho, was released in January, 1937, followed by guides to the other 47 states, the Alaskan Territory, Puerto Rico and New York City. Hawaii, still years away from statehood, is the only state not included. The guides are uniformly laid out, with chapters devoted to environment, history, agriculture, industry, transportation, education, religion and culture. The black and white photographs, current at the time of publication, remind me of vintage Life magazine covers.

But the best part — in my opinion — is saved for the last: Road tours of the state, each one a trip back in time.

The first guide I acquired was, of course, Maryland. In the Maryland guide, I quickly thumbed to the tour from Annapolis to Solomon’s Island, part of Tour Eight.

Delighted to find it included Huntingtown, I learned something new about my hometown’s past: “near the site of old Huntingtown on Hunting Creek, a stop on the postroute between St. Marys City and Annapolis … it had a public tobacco warehouse and carried on considerable trade with European countries when Hunting Creek, now silted into sluggishness, was deeper. During the War of 1812, Huntingtown was burned by the British and never recovered its importance.”

Huntingtown — important? I never knew.

The guides are long out of print, and the search for them adds to the fun of reading them. I have since acquired the guide to my home state, California and, for my husband, Indiana. I will continue to sift through used book sales and on-line booksellers for guides to the home states of friends — for not only are these national treasures on my reading list, they are also on my gift list.

Dick Wilson

World-traveling Scuba diver; longtime Bay Weekly proofreader, former theater reviewer and collector of exotic coffees.

In Blackbeard: A Tale of Villainy and Murder in Colonial America, North Carolina novelist Margaret Hoffman spins a tale of swashbuckling freebootery, derring-do, colonial corruption and other nefariousness, all wrapped up in a nicely researched work of historical fiction.

The renowned pirate Blackbeard — christened Edward Teach (or Thatch) — long a favorite of storytellers, was a real-life person, perhaps the most notorious of the many pirates and privateers who preyed on Atlantic shipping in the early 18th century.

The book is built on thorough research; we’re given many facts (or items that are stated as facts and sound like facts because they have the ring of authenticity).

The story opens as the governor of the North Carolina colony, Charles Eden, breakfasts in conference with other high-ranking officials. These worthies are not considering affairs of state; rather, they are planning an act of piracy that, if their plans go awry, could put them on the gallows with nooses around their necks — or worse. So they’re motivated to get the job done properly without any foul-ups.

To pull off the Spanish plate heist, Governor Eden and his cabal need a real pirate to do the actual work, and who’s a better pirate than Blackbeard to further their nefarious scheme?

But Blackbeard is not an easy man to rule; the free-spirited adventurer turns the tables, providing Hoffman her complication. All the elements of a good tale are here: a likeable protagonist, motivation, a love interest and conflict.

Bill Wohlfeld

Writer, political junkie and fitness enthusiast

Much as a wine connoisseur savors the aroma of the grape, summertime readers will relish the added dimension of the narrators’ sonorous renditions of this intimate portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy.

The audio book, The Best Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, makes the former first lady come alive in the voices of her brother-in-law, Sen. Ted Kennedy; poet Robert Frost, and a host of other narrators. Among the selections are timeless works by Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Frost and Langston Hughes.

Caroline Kennedy collected and introduces these poems in honor of her mother who gave her a “love of literature and language … and the strength of love and family.”

Kennedy relates that Kennedy children were encouraged to read and memorize immortal poems. At family gatherings, Grandmother Rose, aunts, uncles and cousins would recite from memory sections or entire poems. From these readings, future national leaders were spawned.

On a personal note, I remember well that snowy inauguration eve back in January 1961. I was working in the Executive Office Building next door to the White House. The roads were icy, and it took my carpool six hours to get home. The next day, my wife, kids and I were glued to our tiny TV and watched in awe as history was being made with the swearing in of the sadly short-lived Kennedy dynasty.

Will You Always Love Me? And Other Short Stories is another great summertime audio book. The 22 short stories by well-known and prolific writer Joyce Carol Oates will hold you spellbound whether you’re at the beach, the Bay or under a tree in your backyard. She writes about the loss, fear of betrayal and violence that we encounter in our daily lives. Oates is known for her ability to bisect the hidden and often destructive underside of relationships. The titled story features a woman in her prime of life who had been so traumatized by the brutal murder of her sister that she could not accept happiness.

© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.