A Rare and Deadly Issue
By Marlena Thompson

Pearl Street Publishing, 2004
ISBN 0972268812

Contact Reviewer:
Rating: 5 of 5

A Whodunit in the Best of Traditions
Mystery Readers May Find a New Sleuth to Love

Reviewed by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Look out world! Jenny Maguire may be the new sleuth extraordinaire. She has a slot of her own. This side of Nancy Drew. That side of Miss Jane Marple.

The woman who dreamed her up is Marlena Thompson. She may well have written the first book in a series that will match Agatha Christy’s run on the kind of mystery that offers the reader more than just a good whodunit.

I usually leave a mystery unimpressed if not a little confused. That was not so with A Rare and Deadly Issue. Perhaps it is Thompson’s skill with grounding her characters. In this case they are firmly planted in the world of antiquities, old books in particular. The shop in which she works doesn’t feel fictional; even the bookstore has a setting: Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Oh, to be sure, there is a dash of New York thrown into the mix, even a sprinkle of Glasgow, but wherever Jenny Maguire is, the reader is given a sense she is participating rather than observing.

Of course, along with such a setting comes a bonus. The reader comes to believe in the protagonist, even to trust that little tidbits she’s learning are as real as her imagination has made the characters. We learn something about illuminated manuscripts (the Lisbon Bible, the Sarajevo Haggadah) and other information that makes this world literally vibrate with vellum and the musty odors of ancient leather bindings.

Another perk is that a reader may occasionally stumble into a word she doesn’t know or doesn’t remember. I happen to believe in reading books that make one stretch a bit but I’m usually surprised when it’s a word I don’t know rather than a fact or philosophy. It gives me confidence that I’m in good hands. I was not disappointed. Thompson’s wide interests and travel experience play with one another throughout this book, keeping the reader not only mystified but wholly entertained.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of two award-winning books and her new book for authors, THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER: HOW TO DO WHAT YOUR PUBLISHER WON'T, reached top-seller status on its online bookstore only days after it was released. She is an instructor for UCLA Extension's Writers' Program and a former journalist and publicist. Learn more about her at .
Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Author
is now available as an e-book and at a pre-publish discount at . The paperback will be released this month at: .
Read a recent review at:

(A Gift For Mr. Lincoln)
by John Jakes

Dutton Books
ISBN 0525948031

Review By Christine K. Rex

The author of sixteen consecutive New York Times bestsellers, John Jakes many historical fictional novels has given his readers an insight as to the life and times of societies during many eras in the history of this land. Jakes has dwelt in the likeness of Margaret Mitchell’s "Gone With The Wind," and with words he paints the old south and the death of her gentile ways. In his latest novel "Savannah or a Gift to Mr. Lincoln" Jakes tells a tale of the south that unwinds during the siege of Savannah and Sherman’s march to the sea during a time when Savannah citizens are focusing on the season of Christmas. Both novels masterfully reflect the horrific social injustices of their era and feature truly vile characters that are completely apathetic to the suffering around them. Like many of the characters in Jakes novels who lose hearth and home or are forced to fight to keep what is theirs, Hattie Lester and her mother Sara are driven from their rice plantation to the safety of the city after the death of the father and husband they loved lost his life in service to the south. The protagonist in the story, Hattie Lester is a 12-year-old girl whose feisty manner and straight forwardness adds just the right spice the story needs to keep the reader’s interest. Who would think that a child of 12 let alone a girl of that era would be able to win the hearts of the northern soldiers who ransacked and caused much trauma to the gentile folk of this beautiful southern city? She did all this while hating everything the northerners represented?

The rich cast of characters includes a corrupt greedy judge who positively exudes wickedness, a fast-talking piano-playing reporter from New York, a pair of thwarted young lovers, a raffish Indiana cavalryman, a valiant former slave who practices bird calls with surprising results, and a whole sackful of rascals, rebels, and real soldiers who marched with Sherman.

Savannah is a study in refined drama in likeness and league with the polished classic Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Savannah is a heartwarming story about faith and compassion conquering all. Each of the character’s lives is given their due including slaves who searches for a home and gleefully find a purpose as free men but not without their own tumult.

The setting and time of the year winds around the Christmas Holidays and while under duress folks find a way to celebrate in joy and come together in peace for one day. Truly it is "the reason for the season."

The timing for the release of this novel could not have been better so as to bring the reader into it with feeling.

Further Reading

John Jakes is the author of -- Charleston, The warriors, The Americans, The Seekers, Heaven and Hell, Love and War, North and South, The Lawless, Homeland, The Rebels, American Dreams, The Furies, A century of Great Western Stories, The Seekers, The Bold Frontier, The Bastard, California Gold, the Titans, On Secret Service, Susanna of the Alamo, The Americans, Legends and Lies, The Funeral of Tanner Moody

Outer Space In Print

While researching women filmmakers for a book I was working on I accidentally happened upon a dissertation by a Doctorate candidate at UCLA in Linguistics. It was a translation of an Astrology book dating back centuries ago - almost to the time of the Pharos in Egypt or Jesus.

This book contained star charts which, unlike the modern ones, were rectangular in nature.

It also contained information about the nature of the planets and signs of the Zodiac. This is probably the oldest book I personally know of dealing with “outer space and the stars in the skies...”

Galileo published the first reports of what he saw with his telescope around 1608, including the fact that Venus had phases, Jupiter had four moons and Saturn had “ears” (which we now know to be rings). This publication got him into trouble with the church.

Kepler, a contemporary of Galileo working around the same time, probably influenced by Galileo's publication of the moons of Jupiter, postulated that Mars had two moons. It is believed that this, in turn, influenced fiction writer Jonathan Swift who wrote that astronomers in Lilliput (the world that Gulliver traveled to) discovered two moons around Mars.

The first true pioneer of Science Fiction writing was French author Jules Verne, who wrote about an undersea ship (submarine) in "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" (made into a terrific movie by Walt Disney, directed by competitor Max Fleischer's son, Richard Fleischer, starring Kirk Douglas) that was powered by strange blue light (nuclear power?) and about going from the “Earth to the Moon” ( This novel was the basis for Georges Melies “A Trip To The Moon” filmed at the turn of the 20th century (as detailed by Tom Hanks, who played assistant to Georges Melies, in his cable TV series on "Space"). Here men were put into a big, hollow rifle shell which was shot towards the moon by a big canon.

Following on the heels of Verne was H.G. Wells ( with “The Time Machine” in 1895 (written when time and space guru Albert Einstein was only 16 years old -- made into an excellent movie by producer-director George Pal), “The War of the Worlds” in which Martians invade Earth (1898 -- adapted by Orson Welles for his "Mercury Theater" radio hour which caused wide spread panic as everyone though "real" Martians were coming, much later George Pal adpated this for the big screen with Gene Barry as star and later it was made into a TV series, today a new major motion picture is due out this year based on this same concept) and “The First Men In The Moon” (1901) in which Wells uses the concepts of repulsion and attraction (gravity and anti-gravity) to move man through space in a sphere (Columbia Pictures made a theatrical feature of this concept with special effects by Ray Harryhausen -- the same production team that worked on the "Sinbad" and "Mysterious Island" movies). A very unique concept of planetary physics postulated by Wells. One that is still entirely possible. Based on the concept of two magnets repelling or attracting each other, although Mars, as an example, is not thought to have a magnetic pole, hence such a magnetic concept may not work in reality.

Edgar Rice Burroughs ( created the first “Martian” Science Fiction series in 1912 for a “pulp” magazine, called “Under the Moons of Mars” which featured the exploits of superhero John Carter. This series went on for years and eventually played a major influence in the life of the late, modern Cosmologist and Princeton University Professor Carl Sagan (author of the non-fiction book Cosmos and the fiction book “Contact” who won an Emmy for his Cosmos TV series on PBS) who read these stories as a boy. Burroughs, of course, is best known for creating the character Tarzan.

Some authors followed more in the tradition of Wells, taking on politics and social circumstances, although with more flare and finesse, such as Aldous Huxley (Brave New World -- and later by George Orwell (1984 and Animal Farm --

The low-brow concept of the brave space fighters, patterned much like John Carter from the Burroughs series, would continue in ‘pulp fiction’ until around the 1930’s when one writer-editor (John W. Campbell) decided to change the whole genre. With the aid of writers like Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinline, science fiction began to mature into the modern, soul-searching, thought provoking, ground breaking, radical thinking tradition we still see today from modern authors like Harlan Ellison and Ursula LeGuinn.

Science fiction writers began tackling concepts like racism, slavery, monopolistic mega-capitalists, demi-gods and false prophets with their pen and ink. Sci-fi started becoming a mirror for who we are, what we do and how we treat others or the environment. It started to make you do some soul searching. It became a political and sociological ranting tool of the liberal literary establishment.

One of novelist Gore Vidal’s earliest “big breaks” came with a play called “Visit to a Small Planet” which got turned into one of the better Jerry Lewis movies. It was a view of Earth and Earth people by a child-like visitor from another planet who struggled to understand our ways and our violence against each other.

While we still have the brave style of John Carter warriors, these stories have become more epic and lavish in style and sit in an alternative realm known in literary circles as Fantasy. Science Fiction goes no where near this area, except as a literary tool, but always holds to the boundaries of Science Fact.

For me, the first novel in the realm of Science Fiction that interested me was a children’s novel from the publisher where my mother worked, Follett’s in Chicago, called “Elevator to the Moon” and it drove me at the age of 6 years old to write my first science fiction novel called “Journey to the Moon and Beyond” about two Earthmen taken on a voyage of our solar system by a friendly alien visitor in his space ship. I entered it in my parochial school’s talent contest and was criticized for “not speaking of the great work of God” - funny, I wrote all about the planets that God created and how great they were! Maybe those grown-ups missed that little point!?

The next book that captured my mind was in Junior High School and from author and surgeon Alan E. Nourse, called “Scavengers in Space” which was all about David vs. Goliath. Little man against the big monopolistic conglomerate. It was also about two brothers finding each other again after years of separation and family trauma, having lost both their father and mother. I read that novel so many times I could recite it back to you chapter and verse.

Nourse’s other juvenile sci-fi books covered topics like white collar and blue collar, unions and negotiators (“Trouble on Titan” a mining colony around Saturn), using crutches to survive and then casting them aside (this was an interesting novel, called “Star Surgeon” about an alien surgical resident with a fluffy little animal that sat on his shoulder, comforted him and helped calm others nearby, which probably influenced the Star Trek "Troubles With Tribbles” episode on TV).

The biggest claim to fame from the works of Alan E. Nourse is probably the title of his novel (which I never read) “Blade Runner” which is about a surgeon (Nourse was a doctor and he wrote about what he knew), which was purchased as the title for the movie with Harrison Ford, although that movie was actually based on high-brow science fiction writer Philip Dick’s story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep?” which the powers that be thought to be a very un-sexy title, hence they called the movie “Blade Runner” which seemed more sexy (and a Capitol Records executive once imported a Japanese language song entitled “Walk With Your Head Up High” and promptly re-named it “Sukiyaki” because Americans were familiar with that Japanese word).

Nourse, alas, is nothing more than a "pulp fiction" juvinile book writer, but it was a major influence on my mind in an era long before the TV show "Star Trek" or the movie "2001." These are still probably good books for a young child to read as they are literate and will build your reading skills, plus they have good social value. Nourse also wrote non-fiction books aimed at children, teens and their parents on topics like Astronomy, Physics and Sex (he was a Medical Doctor).

“Classic” works in the realm of Science Fiction include:

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
1984 by George Orwell
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinline
The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuinn
Dune Trilogy by Frank Herbert

-- E.R.D.

Our Outer Space Special Continues With The Following From 2005...

Space Special | Rocketing Into Space | India In Space | Europeans In Space
Women Among The Stars | Cosmology and Astronomy | Reaching For The Stars
Antigravity (Fiction) | Not To Go Into Space (Opinion) | Telescopes
Night Skies January-February 2005 | Space in Film, TV, VHS and DVD
Astrology January-February | Cartoons Part 5 (Marvin The Martian) | Books (Space in Print) | Music (Space in Melody)


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