Meet Everett’s Boy in the Boat

If you’re like me, you accepted the challenge of reading this year’s Everett Reads! selection, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. If you’re like me, you became emotionally involved in the story that unfolded during a bleak time in our country’s history. And, if you’re like me, you were surprised to discover that learning about this sport was both exciting and refreshing.

Since we’re so alike, you will be thrilled to read about another boy in the boat. Clinton Seal, teacher at Olivia Park Elementary, heard we were going to ask the community to read a book about his favorite sport. Clinton generously contributed his own memorabilia to be displayed at the Evergreen Branch Library, where his friend Margaret works.

Clinton Seal display

Clinton was kind enough to let me ask him a boatload of questions about rowing and how reading The Boys in the Boat brought him back to the sport he loved after a short hiatus. Everett, meet Clinton Seal.

When did you start rowing?
I started rowing back in the spring of 2001 at Everett Community College. I did track and field at Cascade High School (I was a graduate of the class of 2000) and always thought rowing would be a great sport to try, but both sports overlapped so I never had the chance to row. At the time, there wasn’t a Track and Field team at EvCC, so I joined the crew team. After I graduated, I joined the Everett Rowing Association’s adult masters team and rowed with them for another 8 years before I took a break from rowing in 2011.

What got you into rowing in the first place?
I was walking around the campus at EvCC one spring day and saw a sign on one of the doors that said “We need you on EvCC Crew!” I really wanted to give it a try and had high school friends who rowed, so I thought I’d join the crew team. It was a very small team, and wasn’t even considered a sports team; we were a club. In fact, we didn’t have our own boats or our own boat house. All we had were our own set of 8 oars, which we bought through some fundraising and local car washes. EvCC rented boats from the local Everett Rowing Association located on the Snohomish River and Langus Riverfront Park.

I rowed with the college for two years. I was able to compete in local regattas at Seattle’s Green Lake and Tacoma’s American Lake, as well as Lake Stevens. We also traveled to Dexter Lake near Eugene, Oregon, and I was able to travel to the Pacific Coast Rowing Championships in Sacramento, CA on Lake Natoma while I rowed at EvCC. We won a few races, but rowing with EvCC crew wasn’t about winning, it was more about the camaraderie and friendships made while belonging to the same team and working towards the same goals.

After I graduated from EvCC in the spring of 2002, I still wanted to row so I joined the Everett Rowing Association’s Master’s crew team. This adult team ranges in ages 21 and above. I rowed with ERA masters for another 8 years, rowing in local and regional regattas, traveling to Boston for the Head of the Charles Regatta, and the highlight of my time with ERA, winning 2 gold medals at the 2006 US Rowing Master’s National Championships at Seattle’s Green Lake. Our mens 8+ won both the Club 8+ and A 8+ races that year.

What seat did you have, and with whom did you row?
The EvCC team was a pretty small team. I think at the most we had about 10 rowers. We were lucky to get out in an 8+ on those foggy spring mornings. Mostly we were in 4+s.

When sweep rowing, I’m a starboard, so I usually rowed seat 7 if I was in an 8+ and seat 3 if I was in a 4+.  As I continued on with my rowing career with the ERA masters, most of the time I was in the bow. I’m a skinny guy and have decent technique, so my coaches put me in the bow (seat 1) of our mens 4+ and our mens 8+. You want a lighter rower to be in the bow so it can sit up and slice through the water.

Did it change over time, like it did for Joe Rantz?
I’ve seen a few changes in rowing over the years. The boats I rowed in at the college were nice, but heavy. As the years went by, Everett Rowing Association got some amazingly light and beautiful Pocock racing shells. With their carbon fiber winged riggers, they were modern and fast! As I continued in crew I also picked up sculling. I rowed sweep probably 4 years before I was introduced to sculling with 2 oars. It’s a completely different style and feeling, but I really do enjoy it..

How did you hear about The Boys in the Boat?
I’ve known about The Boys in the Boat for years. I’ve seen its cover on rowing websites, heard fellow rowers talking about it, and recently, my mom read the book last year for her book club. She shared with me a little bit about it and how she thought I would love it and how inspiring it was. To be honest, I don’t do very much reading at all. I’m so active and usually riding my bike in my spare time, that I can’t honestly remember, beside the Bible, what the last entire book I read was. Then, last year, a wonderful family friend, Margaret Remick, gave me a copy of the book and I knew that I needed to finally sit down and read it. The first day I opened the pages last July, I sat in my back yard reading for 7 hours straight! That’s a record for me…I’ve never been so passionate about reading a book as I was “The Boys in the Boat.”

When you read The Boys in the Boat what particularly inspired you to get back into rowing?
Being able to go on this trip with Joe and the rest of those Husky rowers and hear their stories helped me relive my own career as a rower. As they suffered through the pain, the weather, and the mental battle that you face in a rowing race, I instantly thought back to all of my rowing experiences over the last decade, and it reminded me how proud I was of those experiences and the people I shared them with. Some of the best moments of my life were spent in a racing shell. Some of my fondest memories of accomplishment were when I was up on a podium with my crew, accepting our medals.

I really appreciated Mr. Brown’s attention to the art and technique of rowing. It’s such a unique sport, incorporating, strength, skill and artistry; there’s nothing like gliding over water and feeling that connection with your oars and then the run of the boat beneath you. The Boys in the Boat reminded me how special rowing is. It’s hard to describe what it feels like when you and your crew row as one, if you’re describing it to someone who doesn’t row. For those of us who have, it’s a feeling that fills you with wonder and makes you want it even more.  Through Joe’s story and his crewmates’, I remembered what that feeling was like and it inspired me to want it again by returning to crew.

What was your favorite part of the book?
I loved the whole book, especially the history of the era and Seattle at the time, the information about each rower’s family, but I really enjoyed seeing how the Huskies were able to pull through to win the gold medal in Berlin.  A rowing race isn’t over until you cross the finish line. There’s so much that can happen from the time that you start, settle, and then begin your sprint to the finish.  Just because another crew is ahead of you doesn’t mean that they are going to win. Joe’s crew showed how through incredible determination, strength, and focus, sometimes even the improbable can be possible.

Who in the book did you best identify with?
I identified best with Joe. I didn’t have his upbringing, but I felt that I could relate to his spirit of hard work, dedication, and persistence. Whether it was high school track and field, rowing, or cyclocross, I never have felt that any of the sports or activities I’ve chosen to do ever came easily to me. I really could identify with Joe in that I’ve had to work hard to make my reality what I wanted it to be. There’s been periods in my athletic career where I wasn’t the fastest or strongest athlete or the one with the best technique, but after years of dedication and persistence I was able to make my way to the top.

Are you currently rowing?
Yes, I just started back rowing with the Everett Rowing Association this February.

What seat do you have, and with whom do you row?
Now that I’m back at crew with ERA, I row in all sorts of seats. We do a lot of sculling, so the seat numbers don’t relate to starboard or port sides because you have two oars. We’ve done a lot of sculling in a quad and I alternate being in the stern and in the bow.

While rowing with the Everett Community College, my coach was Holly Odell. When I joined the Everett Rowing Association, I was coached by Matt Lacey, Ben Tweedy, Corrie McGrath, Carol Stern, and now recently, Scott Holmgren.

My 2006 National’s Mens A 8+ and Club 8+ crew were (from stern to bow): Al Erickson, Colin McKenna, Adam Van Winkle, Ben Tweedy, Alex Mazick, Aaron, Haack, Dan Morken, myself, and coxswain Michael Welly.

What’s your favorite part about rowing?
I think the best part of rowing is that it is the ultimate team sport. When you are rowing with your pair partner or your whole crew, you have to do everything in unison; your technique needs to be in sync and you need to even think the same way. I really enjoy working together with other people to make a goal possible. While rowing with your crew, you can push yourself to achieve goals you might not be able to push yourself to achieve. Knowing someone is counting on you makes a big difference; you never want to let them down.

Have you ever rowed in the same areas as The Boys?
Yes, I’ve rowed many regattas on Lake Washington and Lake Union. I always feel a sense of pride rowing down on those waters. There’s so much history and prestige associated with that area. It’s special to row through the cut and know all of the crews who have rowed through there over the years.

If you could give a piece of advice to anyone curious about taking up rowing, what would it be?
My advice would be to keep at it even if it’s physically and mentally challenging. There are so many aspects of rowing that even after years in the sport, there’s always more you can learn, more endurance you can gain, and better strokes you can take. It took me years of rowing until I finally got together with a crew of 8 guys to win a National Championship. Not everyone will go to Nationals, but whatever goal you have, whatever race you want to compete in, keep your eye on that goal. It may take a while to achieve, but rowing is a sport that takes total commitment.

What keeps you motivated when you are working so hard out on the water?
If I’m rowing in a single shell, I only have myself to think about: my own technique and my own power application. It will be my fault if I don’t do what I’m capable of and my own celebration if I achieve my goal with a win. But when you row in any other boat, you have your pair partner or your crew to think about. Knowing that other people are counting on me to help the boat go fast is what motivates me to work hard. I never want to let my crew down.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Thank you for your interest. I’m just so honored to have this opportunity to share some of my experience about rowing with the community. I never rowed for the UW, Cornell, Harvard, or any prestigious college back east. I’m just a local guy who happened to find a crew club at Everett Community College which led to me joining ERA, learning more about this amazing sport, and taking it to the National level.

Nationals2006

Thanks, Clinton, for taking the time to answer my multitude of questions, and for letting me feature you on the blog! As for me, I’m still an armchair rower (that’s like an armchair traveler, right?) but I do enjoy taking the kayak out occasionally. What kind of commitment can I make? How about saying I’ll see you all on Silver Lake, though don’t be upset if it’s just me waving at you from Emory’s.

New Music Picks for February

Tetsuo & Young album coverWe get a lot of great new music in every week at the EPL, so sometimes it’s hard to keep up. I got the chance to peek through the latest stack of new arrivals down in the cataloging department and wanted to give you a preview of what’s about to hit the shelves.

Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth (Atlantic) This release has a spring feel to it. For the most part comprised of laid-back, jazzy, atmospheric beats, the production mainly takes a back seat to Lupe’s thought-provoking wordplay. The tone of the tracks takes a turn near the end of the album, when the sound and content becomes a bit darker and harder; the change isn’t a bad one, but it almost feels like the tracks were added on from a different project.

Imagine Dragons – Smoke + Mirrors (KIDinaKorner/Interscope) The second studio release from Imagine Dragons, Smoke + Mirrors provides the listener with a poppy, more rock-driven sound than their earlier work. That being said, the album is a lively mashup of different sounds and influences, from electronic to world music to R&B.

The Pale Emperor album coverMarilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor (Hell, Etc.) Iconic industrial metal act Marilyn Manson returns with a different sound to critical acclaim. The band’s new material fuses electronic and industrial elements with a predominantly bluesy backbone. Manson’s lyrics and subject matter still flirt with religion, war, violence, and mythology, continuing the tradition of courting controversy with some listeners. The overall effect is a dark but pretty catchy album that strays away from the more niche industrial/goth sound of earlier releases.

Future Islands – Singles (4AD) Singles feels like a synthpop trip to the beach, with an airy, sunny, slightly melodramatic vibe to the melodies and vocals. I could see throwing this album on some rainy afternoon for an impromptu new wave dance party in my kitchen.

These albums will be available for checkout soon, so place your holds now at www.epls.org.

Northwest Flower and Garden Show Books

content_15_nwfgs_windermereIf you’re like me, you didn’t make it down to last week’s Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle and even if you did, it’s unlikely that you had time to attend all of the author seminars. Never fear because your local public library has your back. I was pleased to see that the library has almost all of the gardening books that authors were selling at the garden show. Why not just borrow them from the library? It’ll be like you attended the lecture and you can decide whether or not you’d like to purchase your own copy. Here’s a run-down of the hottest new gardening books.

index (5)index (6)Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives and Hellstrip Gardening: Create a Paradise between the Sidewalk and the Curb are both by Evelyn Hadden. These books are your ticket to a wild and crazy front yard. Let’s shake it up, Everett!

index (7)Coffee for Roses is by Cynthia Fornari, a writer, professional speaker, radio host, and self-described “out-of-control plant person.” She looks at 71 common garden practices and uncovers the truth behind the lore. With humor and affection, she goes back in time to sort out the good, the bad and the just plain silly…and tells us why. This book combines gardening history and expert advice into one useful, time and money-saving package. Get those grounds from Starbucks and feed your roses.

index (8)Container Gardening for all Seasons by Barbara Wise provides a shopping list of materials and a helpful planting diagram for each of the more than 100 container options. Designed like a recipe book, the book offers even the most novice gardeners a no-fail, easy-to-follow instruction format for each container. This book includes all you need to know to plan, plant, grow and maintain a container garden.

index (10)Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer shows ways to create outdoor areas that are charming, comfortable, appealing, and reflect individuality. It features twenty-three unique garden styles accompanied by advice on how to recreate the look. Simple step-by-step projects, like how to make a macramé plant hanger, help the reader personalize the space. And helpful tips and tricks, including how to pick the right tree and pick the right combination of plants and containers, offer essential lessons in gardening and design.

index (11)Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier offers everything a tomato enthusiast needs to know about growing more than 200 varieties of tomatoes — from sowing seeds and planting to cultivating and collecting seeds at the end of the season. He also offers a comprehensive guide to the various pests and diseases of tomatoes and explains how best to avoid them. No other book offers such a detailed look at the specifics of growing tomatoes. Savor your best tomatoes ever!

indexEveryday Roses: How to Grow Knock-Out and Other Easy Care Roses by Paul Zimmerman is a complete primer on how to purchase, plant, care for and maintain easy care modern roses. Aimed at gardeners who want the beauty of roses without the fuss, this book offers an approach that is more accessible and environmentally friendly than competing volumes–and no other book in the current market focuses exclusively on modern roses and getting the most out of them.

index (10)Gardening in Miniature: Create Your Own Tiny Living World by Janit Calvo is very, very fun! It’s full of great information for the complete novice in miniature gardening. Calvo gives detailed information on materials and plants and she also gives detailed information for both outdoor and indoor creations. I’m all inspired to see if I can create some of these projects in my own home and garden.

index (11)Grow a Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning techniques for Small Space, Easy-Harvest Fruit Trees by Ann Ralph. I. Cannot. Wait. To grow a little fruit tree. This book makes fruit tree growing sound like a piece of cake. It has simple, precise directions that teach you exactly what and when to cut so that your tree doesn’t overtake you. I like Ralph’s idea that fruit trees are similar to pets – they must be trained if you want them to behave.

indexThe Know Maintenance Perennial Garden by Roy Diblik.  This book explains how knowing (get it?) your plants is the key to a beautiful, low-maintenance garden. This is your ticket to a gorgeous perennial garden packed with color, texture, and multi-season interest. Your yard will look like it was designed by a professional and maintained by a crew if you read this book.

index (1)The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage by David Culp. The author explains the design technique of layering: inter-planting many different species in the same area so that as one plant passes its peak, another takes over. The result is a nonstop parade of color that begins in spring and ends at the onset of winter. As practical as it is inspiring, this book will provide you with expert information gleaned from decades of hard work and close observation and will show you how to achieve a four-season garden.

index (2)Pacific Northwest Garden Tour: The Sixty Best Gardens to Visit in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia  by Donald Olson is a guide to take you to the best public gardens in the Pacific Northwest. Use this guide and its enticing photographs and easy to use format to discover  little-known gems or classic gardens. Everett’s own Evergreen Arboretum and gardens is one of the featured gardens.

index (6)Small Space Vegetable Gardens: Growing Edibles in Containers, Raised Beds, and Small Plots by Andrea Bellamy tells you how to grow your own incredible edibles. This book covers everything you need to know to get growing, from choosing and planting containers, to designing show-stopping edible container displays. It also covers small-space techniques such as succession sowing, vertical gardening, and season extension. This summer you’ll be harvesting a bounty of edibles.

index (4)Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening by Lorene Forkner is a growing guide that truly understands the unique eccentricities of the Northwest growing calendar covering Oregon, Washington, southeastern Alaska, and British Columbia. The month-by-month format makes it perfect for beginners and accessible to everyone – you can start gardening the month you pick it up. Here’s my own advice: plant your peas on President’s Day. Soak them first!

index (7)The Wildlife Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature by Tammi Hartung offers insights into different wildlife issues that commonly arise in the garden, and effective but peaceful ways to address those problems for gardeners wishing to co-exist with wildlife rather than “ban” wildlife. Discover which plants, tools, and remedies can be used to discourage or re-direct critters, repel or distract wildlife, and ways to totally prevent access, without causing harm, to wildlife as a last resort when all else fails.

This is just a smattering of all of the fabulous gardening books available at the library where we bring the Northwest Flower and Garden show to you!

Morbid Curiosity

It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.  ~ Death (A Play) by Woody Allen

Most of us are fans of denial when it comes to thinking about shuffling off the mortal coil. The idea of dying is at best depressing and at worst terrifying so not thinking about it seems like the healthy thing to do. And yet, if you’re a mass of contradictions like me, you can’t help being morbidly curious about the people whose professions have them dealing with death all the time. Happily, well maybe not happily, there is a small subgenre of memoirs that are from coroners, undertakers, doctors and others that deal with ‘death issues’ on a daily basis. Here are three recent ones that I found particularly illuminating. Do be forewarned though, they contain realistic descriptions of procedures and situations that are not for the faint of heart.

Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell
workingstiffThis is the tale of Melinek’s rookie year as a New York City medical examiner. From suicides, accidents, murders and the much more common ‘natural causes’, the author lays out the particulars of how the bodies she performs autopsies on reveal the manner of death. Despite the gory details, this is not just a cold and calculating CSI type memoir though. She gives everyone involved, both the living and the dead, humane and complex portraits. As she describes her duties you really get a sense of what it must be like to work in a profession where you are confronted with mortality on a daily basis. Layered throughout the book is the classic attitude of realism, gallows humor and humanity that is required to survive in ‘the city’ and that comes in particularly handy in the medical examiner’s office.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
smokegetsinyoureyesWritten by a practicing mortician and host of a popular web series titled Ask a Mortician, this book is an entertaining memoir but also a serious and thought-provoking examination of how society tries to deal with death and the dead. The author recounts, in admittedly gruesome but humorous detail, her introduction to the ‘death industry’ working at Westwind Cremation and Burial in Oakland. As she encounters the methods and tools of the trade (cremation, embalming and the horrifying trocar to name a few) she uses the opportunity to examine the history and social context for each practice. Many interesting conclusions are reached, but a central one is the great lengths we go to as a society to separate ourselves, both physically and emotionally, from the dead and the damage this separation causes.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
beingmortalWhile this book is far less gruesome than the previous two, I found the ideas it presents the most disturbing. Gawande is a practicing surgeon but this is not a memoir about his profession. Instead it is an examination of the disconnect between the medical profession’s view of death as a failure and the inevitable fact that we all die. He cuts through professional jargon such as ‘end of life care’ and ‘assisted living’ by interviewing and telling the stories of those facing the indignities of aging and death and modern medicine’s response to the process. These stories include his father’s decline and they are touching, instructive, and difficult to deal with all at the same time. By confronting the experience head on, however, Gawande gains important insight into how the medical community, and all of us, can actually serve the needs of those facing their final chapter.

Well, after reading these books I guess there is no denying the fact that I’m going to die someday. Wait, I refuse to accept that. I’m sure we will all be fine.

For Better or For Worse

Once upon a time there was love and passion. When passion’s embers were banked and didn’t burn so intensely there was still love. And familiarity. 27 years of marriage witnessed both tenderness and dismay, the dismay being a wet towel left on the bathroom floor, the tenderness in caring for someone who ate bad shrimp. A good marriage is fluent in short hand and silences. A good marriage is being able to unbutton your jeans after pizza and beer. A good marriage is listening to an untalented spouse sing in the shower every morning and not flushing the toilet on them. A good marriage is gentle support: please don’t eat that candy all the time. I want to make sure you’re around for years to come. Even when you find out I’ve killed 12 women.

fulldarkA Good Marriage is from Stephen King’s novella collection Full Dark, No Stars. I’m writing about it because 1) I forgot I read it five years ago and 2) it’s the only novel from Full Dark, No Stars that I remember, mostly because I read it again last week.

Stephen King said that A Good Marriage is loosely based on serial killer Dennis Rader, the BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) killer who slaughtered ten people and then quit killing for years. King wrote the novel after hearing about Rader’s wife of 34 years getting harassed by people who believed she knew what her husband was doing.

Bobby and Darcy Anderson have been married 27 years and have two grown children: Donnie, who’s getting his first business up and running and is becoming a success and Petra who is planning her wedding. Bobby is an accountant and a numismatist (I had to look up the word because it sounds like something a drunk person would try to say while concentrating very hard. It means someone who collects currency like old and rare coins). Bobby’s been obsessed with finding a rare Wheat Penny, the Holy Grail of coins.

Darcy finds one online and wants to buy it for him but he says no because he wants to find the rare penny randomly, mixed in with his change after eating at a restaurant or buying a cup of coffee. He wants fate to bring the penny to him. Bobby’s passion is Darcy’s passion. Darcy runs a small business out of their home selling memorabilia and coins. Like most coin enthusiasts, they’re continuously on the hunt for something rare, a coin that seems to be mostly myth and urban legend. But Bobby’s on an entirely different hunt. And has been for years.

Bobby often travels to smaller New England towns to fix the accounts of other businesses and to go to coin dealers and auctions. One evening when Darcy is home alone watching TV she tries to change the channel. The batteries in the remote are dead and of course there aren’t any in the junk drawer or anywhere else in the house. They’re all the way out in the garage. The garage is Bobby’s domain and the man is ultra OCD which is good for Darcy since she’s a little scattered. She finds the batteries in a neatly labeled drawer. When she goes to reach for them her knee hits a box and knocks it over.

Sitting on top of the box are stacks of mail-order catalogs. While flipping through them, she finds a magazine about bondage. At first she thinks it’s just one of those magazines that men are curious about, something along the line of Playboy but when she opens the magazine she sees it’s more than “exploration and curiosity”, it’s downright torture. Why would her Bobby have such a magazine around?

She tries to put it out of her mind and bends down to slide back the box she knocked over. She hears another sound. Getting down on her hands and knees she peers into the wall where there is a small hiding spot. A loose board has fallen over and she can see a small box inside. A little voice in Darcy’s head is telling her to leave it alone, put the piece of wood back, grab her batteries and go back into the house but instead she takes the box out and finds a driver’s license, library card and blood donor card all belonging to a woman who had been killed by the serial killer called Beadie.

Her entire being is reeling against the idea that the man she’s spent the last 27 years with, the man she thought she knew inside out, is a serial killer. She makes sure she puts everything back in the right way and goes back into the house. Darcy gets on the Internet and begins researching Beadie and his kills. With every article she reads, she gets sicker and sicker.

What would a good wife do? If it got out that her husband was Beadie there would be reporters camped out on their lawn, Donnie’s business would tank from the bad publicity and Petra, who idolizes her father, would be beyond heartbreak.  She can’t do that to her children. People would think she knew about it all along but kept her mouth shut. But 12 women have been mutilated and killed. It’s a good marriage. Can it still be a good marriage if she knows her husband is a serial killer but looks the other way?

Could you look the other way?

Jackaby or Waiting for Sequels

Well, shoot. You deserve an explanation for what you are about to read. I want you to know, dear reader, that I did not plan this. When I wrote my last post about how I wanted to approach my reading this year and featured some book titles that were of particular interest, I did not intend on reading one immediately afterward. So please do not hold me to this pace, as there is a very tempting cookbook I just spotted that is begging for the blogging treatment.

jackabyYou see, shortly after the last post was published, I found myself with some free time and a shiny new copy of Jackaby by William Ritter. R.F. Jackaby is a paranormal investigator living in New England in 1892. He’s quite smart and extremely observant, though his insight isn’t always appreciated by the local constabulary. While he goes through life helping those who need it and solving mysteries of a supernatural nature, he isn’t able to keep an assistant very long. In fact, the person who stays with him the longest is Douglas, though the reason he stays is because of an unfortunate magical accident that left him transformed into a duck. While this may sound like something out of Discword, I promise you it’s very different.

Soon Jackaby finds himself with yet another new assistant. Abigail Rook is still a teenager but is already a world adventurer, constantly traveling to new and exciting locales, though ending up on Jackaby’s doorstep was a potentially dangerous combination of a lot of bad luck and calculated risk. She’s out of money and needs both a job and a safe place to live. Jackaby solves both problems, as long as she doesn’t mind living with Douglas the duck and Jenny, a ghost who lives in the den.

This book focuses on how Abigail assists Jackaby in his investigation into a serial killer who they believe is inhuman. But what really grabbed my attention is the process Abigail goes through as she starts to realize that everything she thought she knew is wrong, and that there is a lot of crazy you-know-what going on right under her nose. The magical world is very real, and as Abigail learns more she also teaches Jackaby the benefits of real detective work: taking notes, interviewing witnesses, and generally staying out of the way of the police.

Jackaby himself is an odd combination of personality traits. He’s charming and witty like Doctor Who, but he’s also socially unaware like Benedict Cumberbatch’s take on Sherlock Holmes. Though I catch flack from my friends for not being a Whovian, I am fully versed in BC’s Sherlockian nonsense and I am desperate for new Sherlock episodes.

But even more than that, Jackaby helped delay my years-long craving for the sequel to Libba Bray’s The Diviners. I’ve read that the long-awaited sequel will be out this summer, but that’s a story I’ve heard in years past. However, those who loved The Diviners like I did will appreciate not just the supernatural aspect of Jackaby but also how fast-paced the story was.

IMG_20150203_183711I read Jackaby in two days, and got my husband to read it shortly afterward. Now we’re both craving the sequel. Which, I guess in the scheme of things, is a problem you want to have. I’m having a difficult time turning the book back in to the library, as I reported recently on Instagram and it became one of my most loved images. I can’t blame ‘em. Jackaby goes with every outfit and reading taste. So what are you waiting for?

Spies Like Them

It’s a new year, time for a clean start and all of that. 2014 was my year of the hard-boiled detective. And so I wonder what 2015 will bring.

One book I’m currently reading is The Saint and The Fiction Makers by Leslie Charteris. The Saint is a spy, sort of in the mold of James Bond, excepting that he predates Bond by some decades, which would actually make Bond a spy in the mold of The Saint. At any rate, Charteris introduced Simon Templar, also known as The Saint, in 1928 and thereafter wrote a series of books featuring his indestructible hero. In the 1960s a TV show based on the character (starring a soon-to-be-Bond Roger Moore) ran, and a variety of authors novelized some of the teleplays. Altogether there are nearly 100 books featuring this dynamic savior of the free world.

The Saint and The Fiction Makers is difficult to describe without giving a bit of the surprise away. It begins as a typical spy story: Super-villain attempting to kill Heroic Spy with ingenious killing devices, Spy narrowly escaping attempt after attempt, Scantily-Clad-Woman adding sex appeal. As events continue to unfold we discover that Simon Templar is actually watching this spy movie, seated next to the actress who was somewhat clothed in the movie. Thus begins a post-modern romp through the spy genre.

Further into the story, a crazy man takes on the persona of the movie’s super-villain and re-creates his hideout and gadgetry in exquisite detail. Then, thinking that Templar is the author who created this fictional genius, he kidnaps The Saint and his “assistant”, the woman who is the real author. What a convoluted and fantastical plot!

While EPL does not (yet) boast any of The Saint catalogue, we do provide ample opportunities to enter the undercover secret world of spies.

39 StepsThe 39 Steps by John Buchan
This book is an early spy story, written in 1915 and centered on The Great War. An “ordinary” person is caught up in an effort to thwart a plot against the British war machine. Alfred Hitchcock made a classic movie based on this book in 1935.

 

North by NorthwestNorth by Northwest
Speaking of Hitchcock and unwitting heroes, in North by Northwest, one of my favorite movies, Cary Grant becomes a pawn of uncaring government spies who sacrifice him in order to bring their plans to fruition. Oh, and there’s a beautiful woman and people climbing Mt. Rushmore’s presidential faces, as well as human crop dusting, so all bases are covered.

Secret AdversawryThe Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
Tommy and Tuppence, two of Christie’s lesser known heroes, first see the light of day in The Secret Adversary (written in 1922), where the pair accidentally become entangled with post-WWI spies who are still looking to rearrange the European balance of power. In their second book, Partners in Crime, our heroes have married and now run a detective agency. So they see both sides of the coin, spy and detective.

George WashingtonGeorge Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade
One topic that has intrigued me since hearing about it in a documentary is the spy ring that George Washington put together during the Revolutionary War. Now I gotta say, when we learned history in high school they left out the good parts like this tidbit. I would’ve been all over a spy ring! These spies were very important to the war effort, and this book is firmly planted on my to-read shelf.

Harriet the SpyHarriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Finally, so as not to leave out the kids, we have Harriet. She is perhaps a different kind of spy, not in the overthrowing nations mold, but rather in spying on her friends and writing down what she observes. Here’s a lesson kids, which is a good one in this day and age of computers, cell phones and abacuses: Don’t write down stuff you don’t want other people to see. Harriet’s notebook falls into the wrong hands and her friends read what she has written about them. It’s then up to Harriet to repair the damage and rebuild her friendships.

Will it be a year of spies? I hate to speculate, but I think I can safely say they will at the very least turn up in my reading every now and again. Perhaps one is sitting next to me at this very moment, looking through the eyeholes cut in that newspaper, poisonous lipstick, bedazzling pouty lips, a sultry dress encasing curves in just the right places … Yes, a year of spies.