Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Doctor John’s History Bookshelf. Volume 1

940. 542522 Sledge

Robert Leckie, Helmet for My Pillow: From ParrisIsland to the Pacific (New York: Bantam Books, 2010)
940. 548173 Leckie

As long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by history. My mother was (and is) a great storyteller, and when I was growing up she would spin the histories of great events and great men into human stories that kept my attention rapt (and myself out of mischief) for hours. For me, reading history books always seemed like an obvious thing to do, but I do understand that it’s not that way for everybody. History books tend to be kind of thick, and it can be difficult to know where to start. And, of course, having taught a bit of high school, I am well aware of how students often come to view it is a chore. Still, history is important. George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But, at a more basic level, history is an important means of learning who we are as Americans and as human beings. There’s an old Irish proverb that goes, “Time cannot erase history,” which I’ve always taken to mean that history shapes us, even if (and maybe especially when) we’re not aware of it. With this in mind, I thought it might be useful to throw out a few recommendations here and there, both to give people some entry points to reading history and to talk about the ways that it can enrich our lives.

Part of my goal is to highlight new additions to the history holdings here at the library, but I also want to use this space to introduce you to some of my personal favorites. I thought I’d start by doing a bit of the latter. I was trolling around the history shelves the other day when I caught sight of With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E. B. Sledge. I can remember buying a copy in a little market on the Oregon coast during a family vacation when I was 12 or so, and then spending the next few days sitting amongst the driftwood, spellbound by what I found. I was well familiar at that point with the war in Europe, having heard stories of my grandfather’s service with the 6th Armored Division, but the Pacific theater was another matter entirely. There was heavy fighting in Europe to be sure. Although grim, it was still subject to norms and conventions developed over centuries. On Guadalcanal, Tarawa, and Cape Gloucester the fighting plumbed far darker depths of savagery. It was war to the knife, with no quarter asked and none given. It was as great a test of courage, and of humanity, as American servicemen have ever confronted.

Sledge, a mortarman with the 1st Marine Division, got his first taste of combat on Peleliu, a place distinguished even among the old salts of the Pacific for the ferocity of the fighting that happened there. Unlike on Guadalcanal, where the Japanese sought to crush the invaders with massed banzai charges, on Peleliu their goal was to bleed the attacking forces white. In the five square miles of coral and volcanic rock that made up the island, they created a maze of tunnels, gun emplacements, and sniper nests, then fought to defend them to the last man. Sledge and his mates were compelled to fight for every inch of ground, in temperatures that sometimes reach 120 degrees, against an enemy that had only two ways home: victory or death.

Sledge managed to adjust to the rigors of combat, but at times struggled to retain his humanity in the face of the horrors of war. At one point, Sledge decides he’s going to start pulling gold teeth out of dead Japanese soldiers. This grim practice was, if not common, at least frequent enough to have gotten Sledge’s attention. Finding himself in a break in the action, Sledge pulled out his Kabar (a knife carried by Marines in combat) and made ready for his first foray into the practice,
A hand grasped me by the shoulder, and I straightened up to see who it was. “What are you gonna do, Sledgehammer?” asked Doc Caswell. His expression was a mix of sadness and reproach as he looked intently at me.
“Just thought I’d collect some gold teeth,” I replied.
“Don’t do it.”
“Why not, Doc?”
“You don’t want to do that sort of thing. What would your folks think if they knew?”
“Well, my dad’s a doctor, and I bet he’d think it was kinda interesting,” I replied, bending down to resume my task.
“No! The germs, Sledgehammer! You might get germs from them.”
I stopped and looked inquiringly at Doc and said, “Germs? Gosh, I never thought of that.”
“Yeah, you got to be careful of germs around all these dead Nips, you know,” he said vehemently.
“Well, then, I guess I’d better just cut off the insignia on his collar and leave his nasty teeth alone. You think that’s safe, Doc?”
“I guess so,” he replied with an approving nod.
There is, as with so many of Sledge’s stories, a simple beauty to this scene. Sledge clearly sees through Doc Caswell’s subterfuge about the germs, and understands what lies beneath: the doctor’s determination to preserve, to the greatest degree possible, not only Sledge’s body but his soul as well.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Saint Anything: A Review

Saint Anything is the newest book by YA author Sarah Dessen. Dessen now has 11 books to her name. While not John Green, she has her own following of devoted readers, myself included. I first discovered her as a teen myself, and began reading her stories in earnest. More than ten years later, I still look forward to her new releases. Her books always involve romance, but they are deeper than that. The teens in her books are always dealing with some sort of difficult drama or trauma. For example, in past books, her characters have dealt with sexual assault, drug abuse, parental abandonment, the trauma of relocation, loss, and dramatic weight loss (among other things). What I find remarkable about her stories is that despite the somewhat heavy nature of whatever topic is being covered, her books are easy to relate to and very real.

Saint Anything is the story of Sydney, all around good girl. She goes to a fancy private school, gets decent grades, listens to her parents, and is just a responsible kid. She always has been. Living in the shadow of her older brother Peyton, Sydney has always been the opposite of him. Where Peyton is daring, Sydney is safe. She just doesn't take risks, since she's seen how they have worked out for her brother.

Peyton is trouble. Not just in trouble, but trouble all around. His parents have tried everything to keep him out of trouble, but again and again, he messes up. This time there is no easy solution. After minor infractions for drugs and break ins, Peyton got behind the wheel drunk. The family's lives will never be the same. This is where the book starts out.

Sydney switches schools to gain a new identity after being the kid whose brother's in prison. She starts off at the local public high school feeling lonely and invisible. It's not a new feeling for her, since that's how she feels at home too. Her parents' lives, in particular her mother's, revolve around Peyton. They barely notice her as long as she is where she is supposed to be on time. It's not until Sydney meets the Chathams, Layla and Mac, that things begin to change for her. She finally has real friends she feels comfortable opening up to, and she has a place. All of her new friends see her, and it helps Sydney see herself outside of her family.

This book is a very self-aware type of novel. A lot of the book is just Sydney trying to figure out who she is--in her family, in school, in her group of friends, in relation to her brother. After so much change in her world in the last few years, Sydney seems to have lost herself. Over the course of the novel, she comes to terms with a lot, while still leaving work in some other areas. (Side note-I like when an author doesn't tie up the novel neatly: that's not real to me.)

The book deals with some difficult issues, but it handles them very well. Dessen hasn't lost her touch. She's an excellent writer and character developer (is that a thing? Let's say it is.). I love the way she crafts details into the characters, even secondary characters, without being too overwhelming or making the book feel like it's dragging. Despite the fact that Sydney is dealing with some very particular issues that many teens (or adults) may never experience, Dessen manages to make the story easy to relate to, with problems many teens will and do face regularly. Plus, the characters are likable, and the story is just plain good.

This book was a bit different than her others, most notably that it did not take place during the summer, which most of her previous books do. When I think summer reads, I tend to think of Sarah Dessen's books. Oh, hey! It's still summer! Perhaps you should pick her books up yourself. Just saying.

Some similar reads:
Anything else by Dessen. My favorites include Along for the Ride and Keeping the Moon.

Some other realistic fiction authors with romance:
Susane Colasanti 
Deb Caletti


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors whose Books I've Read the Most Books from

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic

We’re living in the era of the book series. Publishers are a pretty risk-averse lot at the best of times, and especially today. Like the people who run the movie studios, they like to go with people and ideas that have a track record. It’s for reasons like this that we’re on our twelfth Star Trek movie with a thirteenth scheduled for release next summer. This also explains the mega-series authors like James Patterson, Sue Grafton, Nora Roberts, etc., some of whose characters (for instance in the case of Robert B. Parker) persist long after their originator has shuffled off this mortal coil.
For the discerning consumer of literature (or at least for this one) each successive book implies an element of risk. One of my colleagues recently mentioned that she’d read a book by an author whose previous release we’d both really dug and found it to be so bad that it made her reconsider whether the earlier one was as good as she’d thought. Still, there are a number of authors whose books I’ll at least give a shot even if the previous ones haven’t quite been up to snuff. Here are ten of them.

1. Charles Stross: It tells you a lot about a guy if Cory Doctorow describes him as the nerdiest guy he knows. Stross can do it all. The Laundry Files is, I will just tell you now, the best humorous sci-fi series going now, full stop. His other series, The Merchant Princes, is good too, although admittedly not as awesome. His free standing novels, such as Accelerando, Glasshouse, and Neptune’s Brood (the last is technically a sequel to another novel, but really stands alone) are also very entertaining. Stross’s stock in trade is his exploration of the way that technology will shape human life and culture. This can be a little unsettling, but Stross handles it with a lightness and humor that is quite appealing. There are magical elements but, true to his tech nerd roots, they are framed in a way that makes them, I don’t know…plausible? Anyway, the sixth full Laundry Files novel, Annihilation Score, came out earlier this month and, I’m happy to say, keeps the good times rolling.
2. Neal Stephenson: It’s a little hazardous getting seriously into Neal Stephenson’s work. His books tend to be enormous: Cryptonomicon (1168 pages), Anathem (1008 pages), the Baroque Cycle (three volumes averaging nearly 900 pages apiece), etc., etc. In general I really love Stephenson’s writing. The Baroque Cycle was not my favorite, and Cryptonomicon could probably have been about 200 pages shorter without losing anything substantial, but his recent work has been very, very strong. I haven’t read his latest one, Seveneves, yet, but my colleague here is reading it and she seems to really be enjoying it. I recommend his earlier works, particularly Snow Crash (1992) and Diamond Age (1995). They’re a bit shorter and easier to digest. Stephenson is at his best when he does a sort of cyberpunk take on the near future and both Snow Crash and Diamond Age are excellent examples of his skills.
3. Jim Butcher: I was a bit of a latecomer to the Dresden Files. I admit that I actually liked the short-lived TV series, but that had a lot to do with my appreciation for Paul Blackthorne (who played the starring role and who now has a continuing gig on Arrow). Don’t tell a real Dresden Files fan that you like the show. Just don’t. You’ll get sneered at. I will say that after reading Storm Front, the series opener, a couple of years ago I was totally hooked. It took me a while to get up to speed, but I’m now up to date through Skin Game, the fifteenth book in the series. He says he wants to take the series into the low 20s. I second that emotion. Dark, urban, and magical, Butcher’s work is what a lot of people in the genre aim for but very few are in the same league.

4. J.R.R. Tolkien: Well, it’s not like he’s going to be producing a lot more (having died in 1973) but his output of stuff relating to Middle Earth was quite extensive. People who know me know that I have a fascination with the Lord of the Rings novels that borders on the pathological. I got started early. The Hobbit was the first book I ever read (at least that didn’t have pictures) and I was hooked. [I would really like to see Peter Jackson subjected to the sort of tortures usually reserved for heretics in the middle ages for what he did to The Hobbit, but that’s a subject for another post.] Personally I think The Silmarillion is a really underrated book, and his books of stories and poetry (Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wooton Major, etc.) are quite enjoyable as well.  Tolkien’s son Christopher has released a bunch of his father’s work posthumously, some of which is just notes and drafts, but some of which is fully fleshed out. The best of this stuff is The Children of Húrin which is reasonably short and a lot of fun to read, although sad.
5. Jane Austen: Another author whose oeuvre isn’t getting any bigger, unless you count Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or other various adaptations in book and on screen (Clueless, Bridget Jones' Diary, Death Comes to Pemberley) that have been done in the last few years. People tend to be kind of surprised when they find out that I really love Austen’s books. Her work is often pigeonholed these days as “chicklit,” which is a problematic concept in the first place, but in any case does a serious injustice to Austen. Her writing is smooth and elegant, and her characters have a depth and substance that make you care what happens to them. And even if this weren’t enough to spark your interest, her novels are rich with detail about the era in which she lived, one of the most interesting in the history of Europe.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Nothing Better than the Pure Sounds of Fiddle, Mandolin, and Guitar

A Prairie Home Companion has been a staple of public radio for over 40 years. Garrison Keillor & Co. (long time collaborators Sue Scott, Tim Russell, and Fred Newman) have delighted audiences with their tongue-in-cheek radio dramas and news from Lake Wobegon week after week. But why bring this up on a book blog? Well, Keillor is also the author of a number of books including 2014’s The Keillor Reader, a compilation of his work, including monologues, stories, and essays. The man has an incredibly sharp mind, still working at 72 years old without any signs of slowing.

To be honest, I’ve only flipped through The Keillor Reader. While I’m sure it’s wonderful, I have to admit, this isn’t a review of Keillor’s book. What is this then? Well, another feature of A Prairie Home Companion is its musical guests, typically those who play folk, Americana, and traditional music. As it turns out, that is my favorite type of music and recently, I had the opportunity to see A Prairie Home Companion performed live, featuring three incredible musicians that people should know. That’s right – this isn’t a book review – it’s a brief (and completely subjective) survey of modern progressive bluegrass. If you’ve been looking for great music to listen to, here are some tracks that you can’t miss.

I'm With Her
The group that played with Keillor calls themselves I’m With Her, and is made up of Aoife O’Donovan, Sarah Jarosz, and Sara Watkins. Prior to the announcement of their tour, I was actually already familiar with their music and the idea that they would be playing together was almost unfathomable to me. Their first song together, a cover of John Hiatt’s “Crossing Muddy Waters,” was even more incredible than I could’ve hoped for.

O’Donovan, Jarosz, and Watkins are three of the most talented musicians working right now, all having success in other ventures. O’Donovan was formerly the lead singer of Crooked Still before releasing her first solo album, Fossils. She’s also featured on the 2011 collaboration between Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile, The Goat Rodeo Sessions. The whole album is great, but “Here and Heavenis a stand out track for O’Donovan. She also caught the attention of Alison Krauss, who recorded O’Donovan’s song “Lay My Burden Down” on her 2011 album, Paper Airplane.

Sarah Jarosz is a rising star in the folk world. The track, “Mansinneedof” from her first album, Song Up in Her Head (2009) scored her a Grammy nomination when she was only 19 years old. That same year, Rolling Stone dubbed her a contemporary bluegrass prodigy. To get a feel for her remarkable musicianship, listen to “Run Away.” 

Nickel Creek
Sara Watkins has been 1/3 of the band Nickel Creek since 1989 (formed when she was only eight years old!). They released their first studio album, produced by none other than Alison Krauss, in 2000. That self-titled record went on to earn them their first two Grammy nominations. To say I am familiar with Watkins’ music is an understatement; I’ve been listening to her for nearly fifteen years, first as a member of Nickel Creek with their albums Nickel Creek (2000), This Side (2002), and Why Should the FireDie? (2005). Nickel Creek took a self-described, “break of indefinite length” in 2007 and Watkins went on to record two solo albums, Sara Watkins (2009) and Sun Midnight Sun (2012). Her bandmates Chris Thile and Sean Watkins also took on new projects. Thile playing with his band Punch Brothers and recording an album of Bach sonatas on a MacArthur Fellowship, while Sean Watkins (Sara’s older brother) has a duo with Switchfoot frontman, Jon Foreman. Unexpectedly, Nickel Creek reunited with a new album, A Dotted Line in 2014, bringing some of their strongest songwriting work yet. 

I’ve seen Sara Watkins perform in various capacities – both with Nickel Creek and solo – seven times over the past ten years in venues from Los Angeles to Chicago to Washington, DC. She never ceases to amaze me, every time her singing and stage presence get more and more confident. Her most recent solo album, Sun Midnight Sun demonstrates an impressive effort on her part. It was easy for her and her brother to be overshadowed by Thile during their Nickel Creek years – he’s quite possibly the best mandolin player alive right now, but Watkins' time on her own has served her well. She’s now belting out tracks like “When It Pleases You.Pretty much all of her work is great, but I’m going to let you in on a secret. One of the best songs she’s performed hasn’t yet been recorded. It’s a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)” which she came to by way of a Tim O’Brien album of Dylan covers called Red on Blonde. Do yourself a favor and listen to this track

You really can’t go wrong listening to any of these musicians. Don’t get me wrong, I like Katy Perry and Meghan Trainor as much as the next person, but when it comes down to it, there’s nothing better than the pure sounds of fiddle, mandolin, and guitar.

What Else:
Alison Krauss’ New Favorite (2001)
Bearfoot’s Doors and Windows (2009)
Grace & Tony’s November (2013)
Black Prairie’s Fortune (2014)


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Go Set a Watchman: A Review

I burned through the new Harper Lee novel Go Set a Watchman in the last couple of days. It was a depressing read, albeit not for the reasons that a lot of people will find it depressing. This is probably the biggest literary event that most of us will experience in our lifetimes. Looked at in its larger context there are some things about it that seem, at least to those observing from distance, to be a bit unseemly (Joe Nocera had an interesting piece on this in the New York Times a few days ago). Without access to the principles, it’s difficult to know exactly what the circumstances of the release of Go Set a Watchman really are. But what is clear is that the differences in the character of Atticus Finch between Go Set a Watchman and To Kill a Mockingbird are (and will continue to be) very upsetting to a lot of people.

Unlike a very large proportion of the high school students of my generation, I didn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird in school. My crotchety old high school English teacher, Mr. Patterson, had us read Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust instead. The stories are similar in a lot of respects, as are the underlying issues. Personally I think Intruder in the Dust is a better book, but I certainly respect the views of those who think otherwise. Perhaps if I’d read To Kill a Mockingbird in adolescence, as opposed to in my cynical twenties, I might feel differently.

What I do understand is the attractiveness of Atticus Finch’s heroic qualities, especially when viewed against the backdrop of the grim state of race relations in the United States around the time that To Kill a Mockingbird was published. There were a lot of people in America in the 1960s who were hungry to hear someone in the southern milieu speak out for the values of the freedom and equality that the Constitution promised to all, and for which a lot of blood had been spilled since 1861. Atticus Finch’s powerful speech in defense of those values was moving and enshrined him in the hearts of millions of Americans as a defender of something fundamentally right about the nation.

As most people are now aware, the version of Atticus Finch that appears in Go Set a Watchman is, at least apparently, cut from different cloth than his earlier incarnation. In particular, his is an ardent and unrepentant segregationist. This is a hard thing for fans of the earlier version to swallow, even if it is the case that those views are (historically speaking) not out of place, nor is it unheard of for people’s views to change or harden as they reach old age. It is also worth mentioning that the writing in Go Set a Watchman is not nearly so precise and polished as that in To Kill a Mockingbird. The overall effect of the release of Go Set a Watchman is hardly likely to be an enhancement of Harper Lee’s reputation, which is another unfortunate dimension to this story.

In the New York Times article mentioned above, Joe Nocera essentially suggests that Go Set a Watchman is best viewed not as a prequel to To Kill a Mockingbird but rather as an early draft. This interpretation has some problems, not the least of which is that Go Set a Watchman has many of the qualities of a free standing novel and doesn’t share a lot with the later book. Still, I think it’s an approach that has merit, both in terms of making sense of Harper Lee’s statements about her propensity to revise and polish, as well as in terms of the final product.

As I said, I don’t have quite the degree of emotional connection with Atticus Finch as some people I know. But I (and any other lover of Tolkien’s work who has seen Christopher Jackson’s defilement of The Hobbit) do understand what it’s like to have a treasured literary memory of youth dragged through the mud. Reading Go Set a Watchman as something like a first draft, problematic as it is, at least allows one to preserve the character of Atticus Finch in the power and the glory of his original incarnation. Go Set a Watchman is definitely worth reading, but it’s a book that needs to be read the right way. 

~John F.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Jean Grey versus Black Widow

[Some blog posts are written out of general interest. Others are written because of a need to inform. This one is being written pretty much out of bitterness because at the time of this writing, my colleagues in the department get to go to the opening of Ant-Man and I don’t.]

We at Mentor Public Library have been in a comics mood this summer, and with good reason. Our summer reading theme was superheroes, there are superheroes in movies and books this summer, and we have a program coming up this Thursday, July 23 with comics scholar Valentino Zullo, who is going to discuss the history and impact of one of the greatest superhero teams: the Avengers. So, with good reason, we've had superheroes and comics on the mind lately. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about the current spate of Marvel movies. Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Hey, this blog is called Mentor’s Reader, so why are you talking about movies?” But, of course, those films rely heavily the story arcs that were established in the comic book series put out by Marvel, and what I have to say relates both to what’s on paper as well as to what’s on screen.

Arguably the best Marvel film thus far
I was talking the other day with one of my co-workers (who is probably watching the opening credits of Ant-Man as I write this) about the way that women are represented in the Marvel superhero movies and in the Marvel universe more generally. In particular, we were comparing the X-Men movies (varied in quality but generally enjoyable) with Captain America: The Winter Soldier (which we agreed was the best of the Marvel flicks so far). One important point of comparison (although there could certainly be others) is the change in the role that women seem to be playing in superhero stories, and the comparison between the X-Men movies (which started coming out in 2000) and Winter Soldier (released last year) was profound. I talked about this a bit a few months ago when I wrote about women in comics generally. But I think that looking at two characters in particular (Jean Grey and Black Widow) might make the point a little more directly.

By way of background I should say that (as some of you may know) I am the one responsible for buying stuff for the Young Adult Graphic Novel section. This is kind of dream come true for me, but it’s also a real challenge. What with trying to keep up with what comes out on the major imprints, as well as the enormous (and growing) output of manga from Japan, it can be a little overwhelming. I am fortunate in that I have several colleagues here who are passionate about the genre, and doubly so in that they are women. I’m continually impressed with their dedication, especially given the gender politics of comics and graphic novels, which are often very weird.

As I’ve probably mentioned before, the only people I ever knew who were into comics and superheroes when I was growing up were boys. The people publishing the comics knew their target audience, and when we looked at the superheroes in the comics we read, we mostly saw versions of ourselves reflected back at us. There were some women: Batgirl and Wonder Woman for those of us who read DC, Scarlet Witch and Black Widow and Sue Richards for the Marvel readers. And then there was X-Men. The early 1980s, which was the era in which I started following comics seriously, was also the golden age of the X-Men series. In earlier days, X-Men had been a pretty standard team-based story line with, as was pretty much par for the course, only one serious female character: Jean Grey (alias Marvel Girl). Marvel Girl was cool, a really powerful telepath, but also (and not unimportantly) Scott Summers’s girlfriend (and later wife). As time went on, more women joined the X-Men: Storm (Ororo Munroe) who could control the weather, and Rogue (full name unrevealed), a “southern belle” who could steal the powers of others. Still, the team was predominantly male, and its leadership wholly so.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mary's Favorite 2015 Reads (so far)

My favorite reads of 2015 (so far…)

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson. (Nonfiction - 2003). An older book I read for my book club... and loved. Devil in the White City is two different stories wrapped in one - the Chicago 1893 world fair and H. H. Holmes, America's first serial killer. Very informative, yet interesting and engaging. I highly enjoyed it.

Information Doesn’t Want to be Free by Cory Doctorow. (Nonfiction - 2014)  How is our world dealing with copyright infringement, digital piracy, freedom of information, privacy, etc.? The answer is: not well, and this slim volume explains it all. A very intelligent conversation on a topic that doesn’t seem like it should affect us, but does with every book we read, song we listen to, or movie we watch.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge. (Fairy Tale Retelling - 2014) Nix has been betrothed to the Demon Prince since her birth, but her father and his friends expect her to kill him the first time the opportunity arises. This retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story is a little darker and more mature than one might expect, and it is just different enough to make it a fun and engaging read.

Storyspinner by Becky Wallace. (Fantasy - 2015) A dead king, missing princess, a failing country boundary which threatens the kingdom with invasion from the outside,... and a gypsy-like storyteller who is the key to everything. One of my favorite reads of 2015.

Cold Burn of Magic by Jennifer Estep. (YA Fantasy - 2015) Lila is an orphan, surviving by stealing and using her magic “gift.” When she accidently saves a boy (from one of the elite, gang-like, magic wielding crime families) from assassination, Lila becomes the boy's bodyguard. However, since none of his bodyguards have lasted longer than a year, she has her job cut out for her. This is an action-packed adventure story with a little magic thrown in for spice.