Monday's Muse, 5th edition

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Jingle Bells by Shedaisy.

This was originally an idea from Au Courant started in March, an idea she has graciously let me run with.

The idea is to introduce you to unknown, forgotten, or overlooked fiction that has been lost from regular radar. I am WriterGirl. I am in the business of saving lives, one book at a time.

What I do is go to amazon, narrow it down to a YA field and type in a random word, any word that comes to mind. I then take a sampling of some I have never heard of before, or only vaguely heard of (and hopefully you as well). No infringement is intended for any description I take for the books. It's purely for promotional reasons. I will try and cover as many genres as possible that are fitting for the random word. Simple but it really uncovers some incredible gems. I will be doing this every other Monday. If there are any words you want to prompt me with, go ahead and fire away.

Today's random word:

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

Our Mutual Friend was the last novel Charles Dickens completed and is, arguably, his darkest and most complex. The basic plot is vintage Dickens: an inheritance up for grabs, a murder, a rocky romance or two, plenty of skullduggery, and a host of unforgettable secondary characters. But in this final outing the author's heroes are more flawed, his villains more sympathetic, and the story as a whole more harrowing and less sentimental. The mood is set in the opening scene in which a riverman, Gaffer Hexam, and his daughter Lizzie troll the Thames searching for drowned men whose pockets Gaffer will rifle before turning the body over to the authorities. On this particular night Gaffer finds a corpse that is later identified as that of John Harmon, who was returning from abroad to claim a large fortune when he was apparently murdered and thrown into the river.

Harmon's death is the catalyst for everything else that happens in the novel. It seems the fortune was left to the young man on the condition that he marry a girl he'd never met, Bella Wilfer. His death, however, brings a new heir onto the scene, Nicodemus Boffin, the kind-hearted but low-born assistant to Harmon's father. Boffin and his wife adopt young Bella, who is determined to marry money, and also hire a mysterious young secretary, John Rokesmith, who takes an uncommon interest in their ward. Not content with just one plot, Dickens throws in a secondary love story featuring the riverman's daughter, Lizzie Hexam; a dissolute young upper-class lawyer, Eugene Wrayburn; and his rival, the headmaster Bradley Headstone. Dark as the novel is, Dickens is careful to leaven it with secondary characters who are as funny as they are menacing--blackmailing Silas Wegg and his accomplice Mr. Venus, the avaricious Lammles, and self-centered Charlie Hexam. Our Mutual Friend is one of Dickens's most satisfying novels, and a fitting denouement to his prolific career. --Alix Wilber

Here There Be Dragons by James A. Owen

The Imaginarium Geographica...
"What is it?" John asked. The little man blinked and arched an eyebrow.

"It is the world, my boy," he said. "All the World, in ink and blood, vellum and parchment, leather and hide. It is the World, and it is yours to save or lose."

An unusual murder brings together three strangers, John, Jack and Charles, on a rainy night in London during the first World War. An eccentric little man called Bert tells them that they are now the caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica -- an atlas of all the lands that have ever existed in myth and legend, fable and fairy tale. These lands, Bert claims, can be traveled to in his ship the Indigo Dragon, one of only seven vessels that is able to cross the Frontier between worlds into the Archipelago of Dreams.

Pursued by strange and terrifying creatures, the companions flee London aboard the Dragonship. Traveling to the very realm of the imagination itself, they must learn to overcome their fears and trust in one another if they are to defeat the dark forces that threaten the destiny of two worlds. And in the process, they will share a great adventure filled with clues that lead listeners to the surprise revelation of the legendary storytellers these men will one day become.

The Wild Girls by Pat Murphy

It’s 1972. Twelve-year-old Joan is sure that she is going to be miserable when her family moves. Then she meets a most unusual girl. Sarah prefers to be called “Fox,” and lives with her author dad in a rundown house in the middle of the woods. The two girls start writing their own stories together, and when one wins first place in a student contest, they find themselves recruited for a summer writing class taught by the equally unusual Verla Volante. The Wild Girls brilliantly explores friendship, the power of story, and how coming of age means finding your own answers.

Nathan Fox: Dangerous Times by Lynn Brittney

Nathan Fox, orphaned gypsy and actor extraordinaire is recruited by England's spymaster general, Sir Francis Walsingham, to enter the service of Queen Elizabeth I. The 13-year-old is to accompany seasoned agent and ladies' man John Pearce on a mission to Venice in order to form an alliance with Italy against Spain. Nathan soon learns that his older sister, Marie, is a spy, as is his friend Will Shakespeare. Set in 1587, this novel covers a largely undocumented period in Shakespeare's life, allowing Brittney plenty of leeway to develop a story that places the boy in the position of intelligence gatherer for the playwright as well. Nathan is first sent for training in the art of defense. This portion of the plot, though necessary, drags a bit and may have readers jumping ahead to the "real action." Then John, Marie, and Nathan, under assumed identities, set off to Venice to meet, among others, general Othello and Desdemona. Through the interplay of the characters, readers are treated to a rich telling of the story of Othello. The author masterfully creates and sustains a mood of suspense and intrigue through the use of action and dialogue and builds strong characters. Nathan grows from a boy actor into a man as he witnesses firsthand the horrors of war and becomes embroiled in betrayal and murder plots. Brittney also brings to the surface relevant issues of gang violence, religious persecution, and discrimination. As the subtitle foretells, this is Nathan Fox's first mission, so readers can look forward to further adventures.—Wendy Scalfaro

The Box of Delights by John Masefield

Strange things begin to happen the minute young Kay Harker boards the train to go home for Christmas and finds himself under observation by two very shifty-looking characters. Arriving at his destination, the boy is immediately accosted by a bright-eyed old man with a mysterious message: “The wolves are running.” Soon danger is everywhere, as a gang of criminals headed by the notorious wizard Abner Brown and his witch wife Sylvia Daisy Pouncer gets to work. What does Abner Brown want? The magic box that the old man has entrusted to Kay, which allows him to travel freely not only in space but in time, too. The gang will stop at nothing to carry out their plan, even kidnapping Kay’s friend, the tough little Maria Jones, and threatening to cancel Christmas celebrations altogether. But with the help of his allies, including an intrepid mouse, a squadron of Roman soldiers, the legendary Herne the Hunter, and the inventor of the Box of Delights himself, Kay just may be able rescue his friend, foil Abner Brown’s plot, and save Christmas, too.


Heather said...

I've had Here, There Be Dragons on my list for a little while. The main characters are all supposed to be literary figures. John = J.R.R. Tolkien, Jack = C.S. Lewis, Bert = H.G. Wells, etc. This is a great feature!

Tere Kirkland said...

Ooh, thanks! I've only ever read OMF, which I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.

Looking forward to Nathan Fox, and Here There Be Dragons. Just put them on my tbr list!

Unknown said...

Oooo, that knowledge makes me want to read Here There Be Dragons EVEN MORE! Cool!

(PS: Love this word! :)

Jazz said...

I saw The Wild Girls at Half Price Books recently and thought it looked good. Thanks for reminding me I should read it!

Kirthi said...

Hmm.... these look like great holiday reads! I'll check them out!

Shannon Messenger said...

Ooo, haven't heard of the others, but I loved Here there Be Dragons. I met James A Owen--SUPER NICE--and so talented! He even drew a dragon in the book he singed for me. I love when writers do that. I'll have to add the others to my TBR list. (Which never seems to get any shorter, no matter how much I read). :)

Tales of Whimsy said...

Oooo I like the sound of Our Mutual Friend.

Tere Kirkland said...

Not sure if you'll see this before Xmas, but I've got a "gift" for you on my blog! ;)

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

I have something for you at my blog!

Heather Zundel said...

EEEP. So many comments. Alright, let's get cracking.

Heather - I know! Isn't that the best idea ever? It's been on my TBR list forever just for that reason.

Tere - I've never heard of Our Mutual Friend, that's why I had to put it up there. Is it really that good? I'm there then.

Beth - I'm glad you like this word. :)

Jazz - That is one of the ones that caught my eye most. I don't know, something about it just captured me. Maybe because it takes place in the 70's, which is a time I don't often see in YA.

Kirthi - I'll be looking forward to some reviews if you do.

Shannon - I bet that was gorgeous. He does his own work for the covers and I find them absolutely stunning. And the TBR list never ends, don't you know? I think it near infinity.

Juju - Me too. I wonder why it isn't that well known.

Tere - Thanks!

Frankie - Wow. Double thanks!