Thursday, August 30, 2007

New, improved website with 10% more magic!

I'm proud to announce a new, improved website over at There's a lot less text to wade through, and more and better links to help you navigate and find what you're looking for. As ever, there are printable goodies (bookmarks, stickers, tattoos) to use as reading program rewards and book group favors. You'll still find book group guides and instructions on how to book me for an author appearance or school visit. But my favorite new thing is the Reader Gallery for readers' drawings, photos, and art. I hope to keep that well stocked.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Real Alchemist

All the way up to our cabin in Maine, we listened to The Alchemist's Son: Dr. Illuminatus, by Martin Booth. It was a revelation to me. The book appeared in 2003, and it was my husband who checked out the audio version from the Boston Public Library main branch to take along on our trip.

The story is simple, and one used over and over again in British and American fantasy: children (in this case, siblings) take up residence in an Old House in the Country, and magic ensues. In this book, Philippa and her brother Tim move into a manor house and discover Sebatian, an alchemist's son, living in the walls, awakened from a kind of magical torpor. He's either 12, or 612, depending on how you calculate his age. He's got to stop a villain, DeLudeac (sp? sorry, this was an audiobook), from assembling all the parts he needs to make an army of homunculi.

The story is informed both by Booth's considerable knowledge of history, and how to use it in a story, his feel for magic (he does drawn-out creepy sequences loaded with Rising Dark in the same vein as Susan Cooper), and his great use of the skeptical brother, Tim, as a foil for the more introspective Pip. Pip finds a mysterious plant in the garden; Tim looks it up on the web. I was constantly brought up short by the fact that this felt like a classic, written a generation ago, except for its mentions of the Human Genome Project and the Internet.

A really enjoyable book: suspenseful, funny, humane and not a stray or unnecessary word in it. And don't you have to love any writer who introduces you to a noun like "ha-ha"? A book, and a writer, most highly recommended.

It wasn't until the final CD had finished and the copyright notice came on that we heard with dismay that it was registered to the "Estate of Martin Booth." He died in 2004, not yet sixty, and this was one of four books he wrote in the last year of his life. There's a partial list of his many fiction and nonfiction books for all ages at Fantastic Fiction, and an entry in Wikipedia. The only trouble is, after reading the sequel to Dr. Illuminatus, where to start?

So here is to Martin Booth, alchemical writer, illuminating the dark with words.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Mermaids' Purses and Woodpecker Nests

Off in a week to a cabin off the coast of Maine. In preparation, going to read my son An Island Scrapbook: Dawn to Dusk on a Barrier Island (Simon and Schuster 1998) by Virginia Wright-Frierson. It's not set in Maine, but on a North Carolina barrier island, but I grabbed a copy from the library when I saw the lovely watercolor natural history sketches inside: the egg case of a skate ("mermaid's purse"), weird-looking case of a whelk, shipworm tunnels in wood, fritillary butterflies. Our backpack is already packed with bird, shore life, wildflower, and butterfly guides, now I just have to find the binoculars.

In an much earlier visit to Maine, over ten years ago, we were lucky to find a whole nest of woodpeckers. This time I have hopes for harbor seals and all kinds of sea birds, maybe even ospreys and some bald eagles.

Here's a great annotated biography of kids' books set in Maine, from picture books to to young adult, adventure to romance to sci fi. It's impressive, entries go all the way back to the 1880s! Kudos to the librarians at the Waterboro, ME, library for pulling this together.