Blackheart’s Legacy by Sally Copus, Book 1 of the Odyssey of Jon Sinclair

Blackheart's Legacy

 

As a librarian, I am always on the lookout for great books for boys in the 9 and up age range. Most boys just don’t have a lot of interest in reading, so finding things to draw them in is something of a challenge. With Blackheart’s Legacy by Sally Copus, I inadvertently found a great book for those picky readers. When I originally requested a copy, I did so for my own interest as soon as I read the first few sentences which contained time travel to see the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I’m a sucker for both parts of that, but it didn’t take long for me to realize there was so much more…

 

Jon is a twelve-year-old being raised by his grandparents, one of which (grandpa) is a retired NASA employee. While grandpa remains behind, Grammy is going with Jon on an educational journey into the days of history, but their plans go completely off course when something malfunctions, landing them in 1692 Port Royal, Jamaica. As exciting a destination as this would seem to a boy of that age from this time period, it was definitely not anywhere near the list of safest travel destinations–a fact Jon learns when he wanders too far from the time capsule and is abducted by pirates from the Black Opal.

 

What ensues is a story that will have the pages flipping in rapid succession. Grammy disguises herself as Gramm, a boy who becomes a cook on another pirate’s ship while on a secret quest to find her lost grandson, and Jon learns the responsibilities, and many dangers, of being part of a crew. With captains that are enemies, and a treasure to be found, you can bet there’s a battle on the horizon, but how are they both going to survive when they’re on opposing sides?

 
Although I felt that Grammy wasn’t as frantic as a grandmother would be, given the situation, that was a personal nitpick and most likely one that is irrelevant to the intended audience. Boys aren’t going to want to read about a hysterical grandmother. They would much prefer one who is savvy and strong and experiences her own adventures while on her search, and that is what I loved the most about this book. By putting the two main characters on different ships, captained by two very different men, readers are able to get a much better idea of how the treatment of crew members could vary. I actually became attached to Captain Blackheart and was hesitant to get to the final pages. I thoroughly enjoyed Jon’s time with him and the relationship they developed; therefore, I was thrilled to realize this is the first in a series, and Jon may just meet Blackheart again.

The Lost Tomb by Kent R. Weeks (1998)

The Lost Tomb by Kent R. Weeks (1998)

The Lost Tomb by Kent R. Weeks (1998)

Usually, I speed through a book, but this one was full of so much interesting data that I found myself simply trying to absorb it all, and flipping back and forth between the written words and the sketches or pictures they described.

This book is the finely detailed account of Kent R. Weeks’ excavation of the tomb called KV5, which was originally believed (by the late Elizabeth Thomas, also an American Egyptologist), and finally proven by Mr. Weeks, to be the burial place of Ramesses II’s sons. This tomb, and several others, received its number/name in 1827 when John Gardner Wilkinson used a bucket of paint and a brush and numbered every tomb in the Valley of the Kings he could find, in geographical order. His system of numbering is still used today.

Due to the odd positioning of its entrance, and also because of the fact that said entrance was already almost completely covered during John Wilkinson’s visit, KV5 became lost and virtually forgotten.

In order to give proper understanding to the importance of the re-discovery of this tomb, Mr. Weeks gives so much more than just the facts of KV5′s excavation. Actually, he starts out telling about himself, his interest in archaeology, and how he came to be where he is today. He writes of how his time in the area of Thebes began, not as a search for a specific tomb, but as a mapping project. Due to vandalism, theft, damage and the increasingly large number of tourists, Mr. Weeks felt that a detailed map of each and every tomb and monument was necessary to aid in prevention of these problems and restoration.

As he speaks of his survey work, he tells us what he knows of the people who were buried in each tomb or built each monument. He relates not only his personal knowledge, but he often makes reference to or quotes Egyptologists from previous years and centuries. He writes of Merenptah and Khaemwese, both sons of Ramesses II who are known to be buried in places other than KV5.

He spends a lot of time on Amunhotep III, a Pharoah from the Eighteenth Dynasty. This Pharoah is considered extremely important for more than just his own reign. When trying to gather information about the life and reign of Ramesses II, Egyptologists are often referred back to Amunhotep III because Ramesses II patterned much of his life after this predecessor.

I find it amazing what is known about life so many centuries ago based on artifacts found. Ostracon is a piece of limestone used as a writing tablet. These were found bearing orders for payment to workers who dug or did artwork in the tombs. Others were requests for lamps or statues. So many items were found in the village where the tomb diggers had lived, it could be deduced what those people ate, the names of all family members and when they lived, died and where they were buried. There is also knowledge of which houses each family lived in, when they were sick or took a holiday….amazing.

Mr. Weeks and his crew faced many hardships. It is astonishing that he had the perseverance required to continue. From the Egyptian government basically confiscating aerial photos (an extreme necessity to proper surveying) before they were developed and never returning them, to lack of funds and proper equipment…it seems everything was against them. Still, they knew something was going to come out of this, and they were right.

The re-discovery of KV5 is one of the most important finds in the entire valley. It also poses many questions. This tomb is so very different from any other. Most had a couple of corridors and chambers plus the chamber holding the sarcophagus (the, usually alabaster, casing for the mummy weighing sometimes a couple of tons). Surrounding the burial chamber were 4 others used for funerary offerings and equipment. KV5, however, boasts a total of more than 100 chambers (it is still unknown exactly how many) and corridors combined. Because of the size, it is possible that most of Ramesses II’s thirty-some sons are buried there, but, so far, there is only proof of four.

Mr. Weeks writes of the excavation process with such passion that I found myself sharing in the excitement at the prospect of a major discovery and the disappointment when it turned out to be nothing. I also felt disgust toward the ancient thieves who were so greedy they would not only steal anything they could find from each chamber, but they also dragged the mummies from their resting places to tear them apart in search of amulets and other jewels found within the wrappings.

Work clearing the chambers is time consuming, sometimes requiring dental picks and artist brushes. Each chamber is filled nearly to the ceiling with debris from many floods. This has to be slowly and carefully dug layer by layer and the process is recorded. The plaster that is left on the walls must be injected with a particular resin which will strengthen it, and hopefully prevent further damage. The walls all tell stories from the lives of those buried within, not to mention actually naming the occupants. If Mr. Weeks is to discover just who exactly is buried within this tomb, these plaster works of art must be preserved.

The last find mentioned in this book is one of the most meaningful yet. Inside a pit in the floor of Chamber 2 were 3 skulls and a full skeleton. As Mr. Weeks ends his last chapter, he speaks of the tests to be done on these remains in an attempt to find out who they were. I was so excited for the workers and so disappointed that there wasn’t more to be told at this point.

Kent Weeks has piqued my interest and I will now be searching for more writing by him which, I hope, will give information on what was found in the two years since this book was finished.

I have always thought that visiting the Valley of the Kings would be an incomparable experience. I am now even more convinced of this.

The words found on the pages of Kent R. Weeks “The Lost Tomb” provide both education and a feeling of awe. This is a book I won’t soon forget and will definitely re-read.

The Main Corpse by Diane Mott Davidson

The Main Corpse

 

The impetuous moonlighting antics of Goldy Schulz, the inquisitive caterer, have once again hit the bookshelves with a mouthwatering bang.

In The Main Corpse, Goldilocks’ Catering is on the verge of becoming Goldilocks’ financial demise. Catered events have lately been few and far between. Luckily, Goldy’s best friend, commanding and ebullient Marla Korman, has set her up with what could amount to a string of future bookings.

Prospect Financial Partners, co-owned by Marla’s tactless boyfriend Tony Royce and the ill-advised Albert Lipscomb, is hosting a social gathering for its many “high-rolling” investors. This party is to mark the re-opening of the Eurydice Gold Mine inherited by Lipscomb.

Unfortunately, there is already a shadow cast over the celebration due to the recent untimely death of Victoria Lear, Prospect’s Chief Investment Officer.

Then it becomes a near-complete disaster when Marla initiates a full-fledged argument with Albert based on an assay report she received showing that the Eurydice is a non-productive mine. This, of course, attracts the attention of many in attendance and sets off a chain of events which includes embezzlement and murder and eventually lands Marla herself in jail.

The identity of the true culprit is lost in a muddle in which Albert Lipscomb apparently absconds with the investors’ money and a young female bank teller, and Marla is severely beaten before presumably murdering Tony, who is now also missing.

While endeavoring to rebuild her business, Goldy begins her own amateur investigation in an attempt to clear Marla’s name. With the aide of her former-employer-turned-prison-parolee General Bo Farquhar, her son Arch and his bloodhound, she begins to sort through the clues to discover the original crime and who’s behind it.

This book is upbeat, thoroughly enjoyable, and flows easily. Diane Mott Davidson has such a complete grasp of descriptive words that she equips the reader with the ability to visualize practically everything. The only distraction is with the slight repetition of words within a paragraph. As is evidenced by the following excerpt….

Tony uncoiled his athletic body and frowned at me. He gnawed on his perfectly trimmed bottle-brush mustache, brushed unseen lint from his khaki pants and khaki shirt, and smoothed his pouffed hair, which had not been flattened by the miner’s hard hat. He looked like Hitler with a blow-dry.

Once his mustache was described as bottle-brush, maybe he should have swept the lint off. Also, the words khaki pants could have been followed by and matching shirt. This is really not a major problem, just an easily ignored pet peeve of mine.

As always, located within the pages of this caterer’s mystery are the recipes of dishes made by Goldy for her clients….Chocoholic Cookies, Plantation Pilaf, Stir-Fry Chicken with Asparagus, and Cinnamon Griddle Scones, among others.

If you have not yet been introduced to the entertainment of a Goldy Schulz mystery, this one, the sixth in the series, is just as good a place to start as any. If you are familiar with Goldy, you will not be disappointed with The Main Corpse.

Summer’s End and New Beginnings

As I’m developing this blog and book review site, I’m simultaneously working on opening a youtube channel because…let’s face it…some books just NEED to be discussed out loud. This morning, with coffee in hand, I’m checking out other people’s video book reviews for research, and, I must admit, I’m nervous! What do people want to hear; what do they want to see and know; will I be too dull? Aahhhh!!! Okay, breathing….

Basically, I realize that I need to just stop worrying about what other people have done to gain their viewing audience, and do my own thing. My style will develop, viewers will comment, and I’ll find my stride.

Here’s to a great weekend for all!!

Where is Baby Bear by Jane Belk Moncure

A while back I noticed a new set of books in the Preschool-Kindergarten section of the school library where I’ve volunteered for the last 11 years. They attracted my attention and that of the students coming in. They were being checked out quite often, but it was only recently that I grabbed a few to bring home with me.

This series is called Magic Castle Readers, and there are several similarities besides the uniformity of size. Because of the name, each cover is an illustration from inside the book, except that a castle has been somehow incorporated into it. They all begin the same way, explaining on two pages how the library is a magic castle with many Word Windows (books) in it. Of course, it also explains how a book is a Word Window. We then see the protagonist of each story sitting in the library holding the exact book you are at that moment.

In Jane Belk Moncure’s Where is Baby Bear?, Peters is our protagonist.  He opens a Word Window and sees animals playing in the woods.  He asks Duck, Bunny, Raccoon, and Baby Bear to play with him, and they decide on hide-and-seek. The animals go off to hide, and Peter begins to look for them.

For each animal, Peter looks in one or two places then decides it’s possible the animal went to their home to hide. This proves successful until he gets to the last one–Baby Bear–and realizes he doesn’t know where Baby Bear’s home is. He sits down on the log with Duck, Raccoon and Bunny and asks them, but they won’t tell. Peter gives up, declares Baby Bear the winner, and the log begins to roll. Off everyone fell, and who do you think peeks out?

The final two pages show six homes from within the story and invite children to find them when they play animal hide-and-seek.

The first thing I noticed when reading was the total lack of contractions, making this a more pure reading experience for beginners. Then again, there are some words that they may stumble over…cattails, butterflies, grasshoppers, climbed. For the most part, the illustrations will provide visual aid in figuring out these words. Once the early reader recognizes that correlation, they will come more naturally.

Another benefit is repetition. For the first animal, we get “Maybe Duck went home.”, and later, “There you are, Duck…right at home in the pond where you belong.” Take out Duck and pond and insert the appropriate words for the remaining characters, and Moncure has just made future readings easier. Again, once the repetition is recognized, so too will the words be.

The illustrations by Joy Friedman are nothing to really write home about. Just your typical, run-of-the-mill watercolors. There is not a lot of detail to distract. In fact, each picture of the basic goings-on is surrounded by quite a bit of white space.

About the similarities mentioned earlier on, there is another that is more telling as to the intent behind these stories. On the front cover is a few words telling what the theme of the story is…”A Book About Animal Homes,” “A Book of Rhyming,” A Book About Counting,” and so on. The back cover of each book is exactly the same–a dragon reading beside bookshelves which are labeled. There are six sections…Language Arts, Social Science, Science, Creative Arts, Math, and Health Science. The titles of the books found within the sections match those in the series. This makes an easy reference if you’d like to look for one that “teaches” a particular area. Where is Baby Bear? (A Book About Animal Homes) is located on the Science shelf.

One potentially major con for some might be the part wherein Peter is looking for Raccoon. He knows that the animal lives in a tree, so he climbs up searching branches until he reaches the top of the tree and locates Raccoon a hole in the trunk. This may not bode well for parents or teachers who do not want the children listening to/reading the story to think that climbing trees (let alone to the top) is an okay thing to do. Peter appears to be about 4-5 years old, most certainly not an age that should be attempting such feats.

Other than that one faux pas, these are really great books for a school setting, day care, or your little ones at home. Their size (9½ x 7¾ x ¼ for the hardcover) makes holding them up for a group just as easy as lap reading. The font is a nice, large size. They aid in the learning-to-read process at the same time that they teach practical subjects in an entertaining way. The entire set is very attractive on a shelf. The illustrations could have been better, but I’m sure the simplicity was to prevent distraction while giving visual aid. Besides, we can’t always have it all, right?

The children devour these books at school. I just wish I had come across them when my own could have benefited from them.

Welcome to Shade Tree Book Reviews

Please excuse the mess.

In the coming weeks, I will be working to develop a site that provides a one-stop place for book reviews that covers the spectrum of, not only genres, but also reading levels of books.  These reviews will include new releases and oldies since, as a librarian, I believe that if a book is still available in some form, it deserves the same attention as the “latest and greatest” by the hot contemporary authors.

These will be personal reviews, full of my own honest thoughts and reactions, but also those of my library’s patrons, whenever possible, via our story hour participants and my ‘Tween book discussion group.

I hope to spark discussions on books that have touched people in any way, good or bad, and will also be providing periodic video reviews for books that have had a great impact on me.

A calendar of up-and-coming book-related events will also be provided, be it book release dates or book-related weekly themes, such as Banned Books Week.

Please have patience during this time of development.  Place a bookmark here and return later for new information.  Until then, grab a book and enjoy!