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What Has Valerie Been Reading?

If you'd like to order any of these books, just click on the title - it will take you to www.amazon.com

The Battle of Blair Mountain by Robert Shogan

Subtitled, "The Story of America's Largest Labor Uprising. " I bought this book originally because it had a reference to my first cousin twice removed, John Charnock, in it. It turned out that the reference was not much more than that - just a couple of paragraphs. The book, however turned out to be very interesting. It deals with the attempts by the coal miners of southern West Virginia to get fair treatment from the coal mine owners. The book is interesting from both a historical point of view but also from the similarities with conditions that are building in today's society. Here are a few quotes from the book that I thought were interesting:

Samuel L. Gompers, first president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) is quoted on page 31... "What does labor want?" he once asked rhetorically. "We want more school houses and less jails, more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed, more justice and less revenge, in fact more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures to make manhood more noble, womanhood more beautiful and childhood more happy and bright."

From page 224... Asked during his Kenyon committee testimony about the meaning of the provocative phrase in the UMW constitution asserting that miners were entitled to "the full social value of their product," Keeney denied that this was a call for a takeover of private property. That language did mean, Keeney acknowledged, that a miner should receive "all the wealth he creates." But he believed it allowed for some exceptions, including "running expenses, transportation" and "a fair return upon the investment to the man who owns the tools of production."

On page 226... "But if much has changed, much remains the same. With all the gains made under the New Deal reforms, workers in post-industrial America have not come close to keeping pace with soaring corporate profits while the maldistribution of wealth accelerates."

Finally on page 227... "The danger of terrorism dramatized by the tragedies of 9/11 remains very real today. But if we concentrate on it to the exclusion of other concerns, we ignore other threats to our welfare. Many of our workplaces are breeding growing dissatisfaction and insecurity, our economy is producing increasing inequality and the labor laws put into place in the 1930s to prevent recurrences of what happened in Mingo County and many other places are no longer working very well to protect workers. There are no signs of bandanna armies forming, of course. But grievances of workers are real and profound, and we run a risk as a nation and society if we overlook them."

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana. Perhaps more of us should read about the Battle of Blair Mountain.

Hal Goodwin on Space Travel (click here to access the article)

Harold L. (Hal) Goodwin, writing under the pseudonym, was the primary author of the Rick Brant Electronic Adventures (or Rick Brant Science Adventures, if you prefer. Both titles were used.) The series consists of 24 volumes and a "Science Projects" book. You can read more about him and the series at http://www.rickbrant.com. Hal was also the assistant Director, Office of Scientific and Technical Information of NASA. It was in that capacity that he wrote this article on Space Travel.

The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli

Subtitled, "An Economist examines the markets, power, and politics of world trade." This book started when an activist speaking at a rally asked "Who made your T-Shirt?" Rivoli took the question at face value and decided to investigate. The result is a book that goes from her T-shirt to the company that silk-screened the artwork on it, to the cotton fields of texas, the manufacturing shops of China, back to the US retail stores and on through its life cycle even beyond its life at Goodwill. Rivoli has taken a simple question and turned it into a fascinating story as well as a highly educational tour of history, economics, and politics. Read it and you'll never look at T-shirts the same way again. Recommended!

The Character of Physical Law by Richard Feynman

Most people probably don't read the text of physics lectures for fun but if you're one of those people, maybe you're missing out on something. Dr. Richard P. Feynman was a Nobel award winning physicist, teacher, storyteller, and bongo player. He was involved in many major events of our time from the Manhattan Project to the investigation into the Challenger disaster. His curiosity and independence of thought have caused some to label him the "best mind since Einstein." His writing is clear and easy to understand and as entertaining as can be. While some of his books are largely non-technical in nature, this book is technical.

Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the beaten track, The Letters of Richard Feynman

This collection of Feynman's letters gives a greater insight into Feynman, the person. It begins with a letter home from his first days as a grad student and concludes with a letter to a stranger seeking his advice. In between are letters co colleagues and family, students and fans, crackpots and everyday people. An eclectic collection of the Feynman wisdom and charm.

The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown

The DaVinci Code is a great mystery story which is enriched in that it is based on code solving, symbolism, art, and religious history. I don't want to say too much about it lest I give away too much of the story and lessen your enjoyment so instead of telling you details, I'll just say that after finishing it, I ordered Dan Brown's other three novels (see below). A word of caution. If you are upset or feel threatened by those who say the Christian church is less than perfect, you may not like this book.

Angels & Demons - This is a predecessor to The DaVinci Code with the same main character. The theme of this book has to do with science vs religion and the bulk of the book takes place in the Vatican and in Rome. Lots of puzzles, plot twists, and interesting information. I won't say much as I don't want to spoil your enjoyment. I think this book may be even better than The DaVinci Code! Highly recommended! Same disclaimer as on "The DaVinci Code" above.

Deception Point - Something to do with a presidential election, the future of NASA, and a search for an old meteor in the Arctic that may prove there is life on other planets. Doesn't sound like much put that way, but I expect the author will keep the action flowing and his readers guessing. - I'm just now reading this one and, once again, it's hard to put down. :)

Digital Fortress - This book is a mystery dealing with an algorithm for a perfect code. Modern encryption schemes such as RSA, PGP, etc. can be broken if enough computer power is used though it may take either a long time or a massive amount of processing power. A perfect algorithm would protect people who want to transact business on the Internet but would also make it impossible for law enforcement to spy on suspected lawbreakers. Is such an algorithm possible? If so, would it be blessing or blight? To what degree is people's privacy more important than the police's desire to snoop? Such issues are thrown into the spotlight in this exciting book As always, there are plenty of unexpected plot twists throughout the book. This may be the weakest of the four, but it's still a lot better than average!

Ingathering: The Complete People Stories of Zenna Henderson

Someone recently rented the movie, "The People" which stars a young William Shatner and is based on the short stories of Zenna Henderson. I noticed it when it was returned. I'd forgotten we had it and decided it was time to watch it again. The movie is ok though if you've never read the stories I expect it might be a bit confusing. Anyway after watching it, I had to dig out my books and reread them since the books can go into so much more depth than a single movie. I also checked to see if anything new was available and there was! All of "The People" stories have been collected into one book instead of being scattered over four. There are even a few stories that aren't in any of the other books and which were new to me! Delight!

"So," I hear you say, "What are 'The People' stories?" In the late 1800's a distant planet destroyed itself for reasons unknown. The people who lived there had long since outgrown their technical age and had developed many talents such as levitation, telepathy, and precognition. They were able to know in advance what was coming so they dug into their racial memories of technology and built ships to try to evacuate and find a new home. One such ship found Earth but they'd forgotten to slow down enough when entering atmosphere and the ship was destroyed. Many of the people died but others were able to escape in life slips though many of these were scattered. The stories tell the stories of "The People", as they called themselves, as they tried to cope with this new world and it with them. Most of the stories deal with children of The People and their interactions with their normal, human, teachers. Henderson was a teacher and perhaps that helps make her writing more "real." Not only are The People in her stories magic, but there is a magic about Henderson's writing. It touches the heart as well as the mind and makes these stories very special. Highly recommended.

The original books in which The People stories were printed were:

If you like this kind of writing, I would also suggest the works of Spider Robinson. While his short stories are often set in a bar, there is a strong similarity of spirit between them and The People stories.

Captain Nemo by Kevin J. Anderson

In Captain Nemo, K. J. Anderson puts forth a story based on the premise that Jules Verne, a real person, had a friend named Nemo; that Verne didn't so much make up his fantastic adventures as he simply told the adventures of his friend (somewhat embellished to be sure.) It's a delightful spin on Jules Verne and his writings and Verne fans will surely enjoy it... at least I did!

Since I enjoyed Captain Nemo so much, I looked for other books by the same author and found these:

Fantastic Voyage Microcosm - Remember the movie, Fantastic Voyage, where they shrunk a ship full of people and injected it into a human body to try to cure some illness? Well in this sequel the team is injected into a space alien! I don't want to say too much but it's a very exciting story and if you liked the movie, you'll probably enjoy this one as much or more.

Hopscotch - I haven't read this yet but it has to do with being able to swap bodies with other people. Apparently one of the swappees didn't want their old body back and the person stuck with it has to try to go to some length to get "home". Sounds good and I've liked his others so I have high hopes.

Lost in Translation by Margaret Ball

Allie is a self-centered spoiled brat thanks to her rich workaholic father and somewhat vague new-age mother. Dad finally lays down the law and sends her to a boarding school in Europe. On the trip, she somehow winds up "somewhere else". She enrolls in the local magic university and becomes friends with some of the locals. By the book's end, Allie has changed a lot. Sounds like a pretty typical fantasy plot. Nonetheless, I found it a delightful read and was disappointed when it ended. Hope a sequel appears someday. I apologize for the vague plot summary but I don't want to spoil your fun. Currently out of print so you'll have to settle for a used copy but there are plenty of them available.

Amazonia by James Rollins

A man staggers out of the Amazon jungle at the end of his strength. A priest tries to care for him but he dies that night without speaking. A local native sees a tattoo on his chest and becomes very fearful and warns that the body must be burned before daylight. The priest does not bow to local superstitions and sends the body back to the U.S. Several parties take note of the event: The government - It turns out the guy was an agent who had gone missing four years earlier; The pharmaceutical industry - when he was lost he had only one arm... when found he had both arms; our protagonist, Nathan Rand, whose father was lost on the same expedition; and finally, a rogue drug company and their merciless mercenaries. A new expedition is launched to try to discover where the man had been and to find whatever miracle had caused his arm to regrow. This secret is very well guarded and the expedition would be extremely hazardous even without the bad guys stalking them. Finding it becomes even more important as it is discovered that the original body is carrying some new disease and plagues are breaking out everywhere the body has been. In a month the entire country may be dead!

This is a very taut adventure, and very hard to put down. If you like "Indiana Jones" type action, you'll probably love this book!

His other books have also been most enjoyable:



Deep Fathom

Ice Hunt - Released July 1, 2003 in hard cover, 416 pages. Also available as cassette or audio CD's. In my opinion this is his best book yet and an unusually good read! The book starts with a confrontation with polar bears, then a rescue from a crashed plane. Another plane drops a couple of armed men determined to see that the crash left no survivors. From one trouble to another the book keeps going at jet speed all the way to the end. Along the way there are several sub-plots, numerous unexpected plot twists and, at the end, the worst fate for one person I could possibly imagine. Just when you think you're safe, Rollins finishes with an appendix explaining how major points of the fictional story are based on factual events! Something like this *could* happen! Now that's really scary! Despite the pace of the book, Rollins takes time to develop his characters and make them seem real. He also painted the arctic scenes so vividly that I can still picture them some weeks after finishing the book. Highly recommended but I have to warn you... other books are going to seem pretty tame after this one!

The Starman Series:

#1 Assault on Mars (now available in paperback!)
#2 The Runaway Asteroid - Now available as a FREE etext text file!
#3 Journey to the Tenth Planet
#4 Descent Into Europa
#5 The Lost Race of Mars
#6 Doomsday Horizon
#7 The Starlight Maneuver (not yet written as of Nov. 2003)
These books (and hopefully more) have been printed by a group of people who fondly remember the series books of the 1950's and 1960's - such series as Rick Brant, Ken Holt, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Tom Swift, Jr. among others. They decided to do more than just re-read their old favorites... They planned and are writing a modern series done in the same style but set in the future. They're doing a great job and if you like juvenile series books you won't want to miss the opportunity to purchase copies of these books while they are still available at the original price. When they go out of print, they will probably be very hard to find and may become much more expensive. Use the link above to visit their page and learn more about the series and its authors.

The "Circle of Three" series by Isobel Bird

Three high-school girls get involved in Wicca (witchcraft) and learn a great deal about it while having a number of adventures and dealing with a number of serious issues. That brief statement may not sound impressive but the books are really quite good. The author is a long-time practitioner of Wicca so she's writing from what she knows and the books carry an aura of authenticity. The characters are engaging and the plot line is strong. In addition to witchcraft and the Wicca religion, various volumes deal with many fundamental issues such as honesty, religion, being "in the closet", divorce, alcoholism, runaway children, freedom of expression, and many others. Caution: These books are addictive! I don't want to tell you too much about them because I don't want to spoil your pleasure.
Volume 01 - So Mote It Be - Kate Morgan checks a book of magic spells out of the school library and performs the "come to me love spell". It works too well and she needs help to stop its effects. Who can she ask? Her search for help leads her to make friends with bookworm Annie Crandall and "wild and crazy" Cooper Rivers.
Volume 02 - Merry Meet - The three friends attend a Wiccan ritual and commit to studying Wicca for "a year and a day".
Volume 03 - Second Sight - A dead girl calls on the three for help
Volume 04 - What the Cards Said - Annie discovers that telling fortunes can be fun... and hazardous!
Volume 05 - In The Dreaming - Midsummer's eve. Strange things are happening in the woods...
Volume 06 - Ring of Light - Cooper leaves the Wicca study group! Will the circle be broken? Can it be mended?
Volume 07 - Blue Moon - Annie makes herself more attractive and gets a whole new look at life.
Volume 08 - The Five Paths - Cooper wears a pentacle to school and starts a battle over freedom of religious expression
Volume 09 - Through the Veil - Annie's parents died when she was young. Will she be able to contact them and what will they say if she does?
Volume 10 - Making the Saint - Kate studies another religion - Santeria - and enlists the help of one of its deities. Take one love triangle, a divorce, then toss in some powerful magic and you have the makings for a great story!
Volume 11 - The House of Winter - Winter Solstice in a haunted hotel? Will the three survive?
Volume 12 - Written in the Stars - As the three study astrology, Cooper has trouble keeping a secret. A marriage is in the wings. Annie learns something truly unexpected.
Volume 13 - An It Harm None - Someone robs the store. Whodunnit? Once that's solved, can the three help or will they make matters worse?
Volume 14 - The Challenge Box - The three are faced with one final challenge. Annie and Cooper visit New Orleans while Kate is stuck at home. Will all three succeed and be chosen to be initiated into a Wiccan coven?
Volume 15 - Initiation - To be released March, 2002
Well, I've given only a coarse outline of the books so as not to spoil them for you. There are many twists and turns along the path and the books are filled with many surprises. Hope you enjoy them as much as I have. More good news. I believe they are all available as paperbacks at their list price of $4.99 each so collecting the whole set isn't terribly expensive.

The First Eagle by Tony Hillerman

Since 1971, Tony Hillerman has written a number of mystery books which are set in the "four corners area" where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado all meet. His main characters are Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police. The First Eagle has only recently come to paperback and it is a winner. Definitely in the "I didn't want to put it down" category!
Officer Jim Chee is now Acting Lieutenant and is finding out that a desk job is not all roses. He has a stack of overdue paperwork, an officer with a crush on him, another officer, Benny Kinsman, is causing trouble with his heavy-handed sexual advances to various women, Anderson Nez has died of the plague under murky circumstances, Catherine Pollard has disappeared while researching plague, hanta virus, and other deadly bugs in the local ground squirrels, rats, and other desert beasties, and a local Hopi lad is poaching eagles. Deciding it is more fun to chase poachers than to fill out forms, Chee heads off to Yells Back Butte where he catches Hopi, Robert Jano, literally red handed, standing over the corpse of Officer Benny Kinsman and with an eagle in a cage nearby. Seems like an open-and-shut case of murder until Janet Pete, Chee's ex-fiancée returns from Washington D.C. to defend Robert and the legendary lieutenant, Joe Leaphorn, hired to locate the missing scientist, Pollard, plant some seeds of doubt in Chee's mind.
It may sound complicated but Hillerman weaves plot and subplot with subtle mastery that keeps you on track at all times. Although reading all the books in sequence adds enjoyment from seeing the characters grow and change, it is not necessary and the newcomer will enjoy the story without having read any of the others. (Though I'll bet you'll want to read more of his books once you find out how good they are! Click on the titles below to learn more or to order them.)
Dance Hall of the Dead
The Blessing Way; (The first Chee-Leaphorn novel)
Talking God
Sacred Clowns
Listening Woman
The Dark Wind
Coyote Waits
The Ghostway
People of Darkness
A Thief of Time
The Sinister Pig - Just released in hardback May 6, 2003

Blind Descent by Nevada Barr
This is the sixth mystery from Nevada Barr which features Park Ranger Anna Pigeon as the main character. Each of the Anna Pigeon mysteries is set in one of the national parks. In this one, Anna must overcome her fear of caves and venture into the recently-discovered Lechugilla cave system at Carlsbad Caverns National Park to help rescue a friend who has been injured. I don't want to give too much of the plot away but suffice it to say that Anna soon finds herself investigating a murder or two and almost becomes a victim herself. Barr has a wonderful descriptive talent. I felt I could see the cave scenes as well as if I'd been there (and maybe better). Another in the "I didn't want to put it down" category!
If you want to know more about Nevada Barr and find some links to the various parks, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/english/ms-writers/dir/barr_nevada/
Her other Anna Pigeon books are:
Track of the Cat - 1993 Takes place in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
A Superior Death - 1994 Takes place at Isle Royale National Park
Ill Wind - 1995 Takes place at Mesa Verde National Park
Firestorm - 1996 Takes place at Lassen Volcanic National Park
Endangered Species - 1997 Takes place at Cumberland Island National Seashore
Liberty Falling - 1999 Takes place at Gateways Park which includes Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty
Deep South - 2000 Anna Pigeon takes a promotion and becomes district ranger on the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Ignition by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason
This is their latest in a series of mystery thrillers set against a high tech background. Ignition takes place at the Cape Kennedy space center. A joint U.S.-Russian space shot is scheduled but a ruthless band of terrorists seeking to make a fortune in ransom has other ideas. The terrorists take over the control center and plant a bomb on the rocket. They would probably have succeeded except for the mission commander, Colonel "Iceberg" Fries, who was washed out with an injured ankle. He just can't stay away but he doesn't want to confront his former lover who has left the astronaut ranks and is now the launch director. Instead he sneaks into the wilderness surrounding the launch site and settles down to watch. When the gang takes over he's a loose canon inside their perimeter. If you like movies like "Die Hard", you're going to love what he does to the bad guys!
Ok, it isn't great world literature. It probably doesn't have much social redeeming importance. But it sure gets the adrenalin flowing and provides one heck of a compelling story line! Again, "I didn't want to put it down!" (No, not all the books I read fall into this category but I figured I'd tell you about the better ones first!)
I've also enjoyed these other books by the same authors:
(These all made me stay up past bedtime too.)
Virtual Destruction - murder in an advanced virtual reality chamber at Lawrence Livermore Labs
Lethal Exposure - murder in a particle accelerator test chamber at Fermi Labs in Chicago
Fallout - A soviet disarmament inspector is murdered at a military site just outside Las Vegas

For the Defense (formerly Malice Prepense) by Kate Wilhelm
"Who killed Oregon Congressman Harry Knecht?" is the central question of this mystery. Was it 28 year old Teddy Wendover whose head injury on a school field trip left him mentally 8 years old forever? Was it his Teddy's father? Or was someone else involved? Attorney Barbara Holloway, her father, and their staff are hired to defend Teddy. When Teddy is cleared his father is charged for the same crime and their work continues. It's hard enough to prove that you didn't do something but a tough judge doesn't make it any easier! About half of the book sets the background while the second half describes the court battle.
This was the first book I'd read by this author but it won't be the last! Apparently there are two previous books dealing with Barbara Holloway (Death Qualified, and The Best Defense) and I've started on Death Qualified already. It doesn't seem to have mattered that I started with the third volume though perhaps I would have enjoyed it even more if I'd read it in sequence. In any event, I recommend it highly. The author weaves a rich, complex tale and presents all the evidence to the reader as it is discovered. Are you able to identify the killer as well as Barbara does or will you free the guilty or send the wrong man to jail?
This book is of local interest. Kate Wilhelm lives in Eugene, Oregon and "For the Defense" is set in Oregon. It includes scenes in Eugene, Sisters, Bend, Port Orford and in the wilderness up the Rogue River and others. I gather that many, if not most, of her books are set in Oregon but I've only read this one so far.
UPDATE: I finished all three of these novels and liked them all very much. I felt "For The Defense", the most recent one, was the best which, if you agree, is encouraging as it might mean the author is still getting better! If you like mysteries, especially the kind that follow the courtroom drama, you should love all three.
Some of Kate Wilhelm's other books are:
Death Qualified - Barbara Holloway mystery #1
The Best Defense - Barbara Holloway mystery #2
For The Defense - Barbara Holloway mystery #3 (see description above)
Defense for the Devil - Barbara Holloway mystery #4 (Hardback)
The Dark Door - A Constance and Charlie mystery - I'm still in the middle of this one and it's got me hooked!
The Hamlet Trap - A Constance and Charlie mystery
A Flush of Shadows - Five short novels featuring Constance Leidl and Charlie Meiklejohn
The Good Children - Billed as "an emotionally charged psychological thriller"

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney
Imagine you're sitting at lunch at school one day, idly looking at the "lost child" notice on your milk carton. Suddenly you realize that the little girl pictured there is you! At first Janie can't believe it but she starts to piece things together and deal with the complex emotions her research has forced upon her.
A compelling and unique story told with great skill. I thought it started off just a bit slow but I kept reading and I'm very glad I did! Recommended. Even better - the story doesn't stop here. Check out the rest of the trilogy.
Whatever Happened to Janie? - Janie moves in with her "real" parents but the situation is a strain for all. They are all strangers to her. Will she ever get her life back together?

The voice on the Radio - Reeve, Janie's boyfriend, is now in college and working as a DJ on the college radio station. Faced with mike fright, he blurts out part of the most interesting story he knows - the story of Janie. It's a hit and he keeps telling bits of the story but he knows Janie isn't going to like it if she finds out and you just know she will.

Since reading the above trilogy, I've continued to read Caroline Cooney books. Her novels cover a wide range of subjects and I've enjoyed all of them. There is also a FOURTH book in the above trilogy now

Other books by Caroline B. Cooney include:

Until next time...

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You can send me email at: valerie@mydfz.com