Saturday, August 30, 2008

True History of the Kelly Gang

By Peter Carey

Who was Ned Kelly? Until I read this book I had never heard of Ned Kelly. The book jacket sounded interesting and so I picked the True History of the Kelly Gang to read.
Ned Kelly was the son of Irish immigrants or deportees to Australia. He was born in 1855 and lived at a time in Australian history when the small farmer or rancher was beaten down by the authorities and the big landowners, making life even more difficult and creating a lot of anger and resentment. The author believes that this resentment and mistreatment was a key role in the creation of the Kelly gang.
Kelly ran afoul of authority at an early age. According to the book, he and his family were singled out somewhat unfairly for police scrutiny. Kelly was imprisoned for three months hard labor for his involvement with the sending of a nasty letter to a woman and shortly after his release he was again imprisoned for holding a stolen horse, this time with a sentence of three years. After his release, in a confrontation with police, Kelly's mother was accused of assaulting a police officer and she was imprisoned for three years and Kelly and associates were on the run.
The cops were tracking Kelly down, when he surprised them. He ended up killing three of the four officers, but one escaped.
After this, Kelly entered whole-heartedly into the bushranger lifestyle as a thief and bank robber. In his last confrontation with the police, Kelly and his pals, dressed in homemade armor, tried to stand off the police but, since they forgot to make armor for their legs, they failed. Only Kelly survived and he was hanged for his crimes in 1880.

Peter Carey's book is a very sympathetic portrayal of Kelly. Personally, even while reading the novel, I had my doubts that Kelly was quite the fine fellow that Carey portrayed him to be. According to the author Kelly was a victim of his times and of the unfair treatment of the Irish and of the small farmer by those in power and Kelly was forced to become an outlaw. On the other hand, lots of young boys suffered similar treatment at the hands of authority and did not end up as rustlers, killers and bank robbers.
This novel won the Booker prize in 2001. Ned Kelly is a hero to a lot of Australians, kind of like Robin Hood. Carey does nothing to knock Kelly off his pedestal, if anything he reinforces Kelly's position as hero. I thought his portrayal a little one-sided, too much to the good guy, the mistreated victim of his times. The book is also written in the first person, using a colloquial style of language, short on punctuation and with lots of run-on sentences that are sometimes difficult to read and follow, as can be seen in the excerpts below. At times, I found the story rather boring and it sat for several days unread. Still, despite these problems, I am glad I read it. The part towards the end where Kelly and his gang decide to armor themselves was worth all the duller stuff that came before. So now I know who Ned Kelly was.

By the way, in 1879, Kelly dictated a letter explaining his innocence and pointing out how unfairly the Irish small holders were being treated by authorities. This letter, called the "Jerilderie Letter", is online at the State Library of Victoria website.

New Words
Mopoke: A boobook, a small spotted Australian brown owl. "All the while we expected the doctor but there were no sound from outside not even a mopoke nothing save a steady rain on the bark roof and thumping of flotsam in the flooding waters of Hughes Creek."
Proddy: Slang for Protestant. "Them scholars was all proddies they knew nothing about us save Ned Kelly couldnt spell he had no boots Maggie Kelly had warts Annie Kelly's dress were darned and fretted over like an old man's sock."
Currawong: A bird. "Later I saw my uncle sitting on the front veranda it were that time of evening when my aunts would try a little poteen it were not quite dark and the currawongs was still crying in the mournful gloom."
Lairs and larrikins: A lair is a flashily dressed young man of brash or vulgar behavior. A larrikin is someone with an amused, irreverent, mocking attitude to authority and the norms of propriety. "I were sitting in the outhouse at Fifteen Mile Creek one August morning that is 4 mo. since Uncle James were sentenced I heard a rider spproaching at a gallop but I didnt think much of it for all the Quinns and Lloyds was flashy riders they was lairs and larrikins and they would put on a show or jump a fence as soon as blow their nose."
Battens: A batten is a thin strip of solid material (usually wood). Battens are used for various purposes in building construction, as well as other various fields. "Then we come along by the narrow little creek the blades of sunlight falling through the foliage and there were a hut surrounded by a stand of dead white ringbarked trees and I seen the slab wall and the rough battens and the steam rising off its damp bark roof and I could not know that this were the very site where you would one day be conceived."
Yabby: A small freshwater lobster/crayfish. "Annie should have been busy with her mother but instead called to me she found a yabby in the creek."
Bushranger: Bushrangers were outlaws in the early years of the European settlement of Australia who had the survival skills necessary to use the Australian bush as a refuge to hide from the authorities. "We all had witnessed the bushranger lay his carbine on the table it were a terrifying weapon its bore were almost one inch the stock 1/2 cut away the barrel severely shortened."
Skillion: A part of a building having a lower, especially sloping, roof; a lean-to. "But ma were not unhappy I could hear her dancing step as she come back from the skillion."
Bowyangs: A pair of strings or straps secured round each trouser leg below the knee, worn especially by sheep-shearers and other laborers. "Later I saw him walking towards the hut he had bowyangs tied around his bandy legs."
Waler: A saddle horse of mixed breed, bred in New South Wales, Australia. "Indicating a 3rd horse what they call a WALER he told me it were his and I should mount."
Mia mia: A hut. "He began to make himself a mia mia such as the blackfellows build from saplings and fallen bark but soon lost patience with it kicking it apart so it were left to me to go deep in the bush to peel a great green sheet of stringybark."
Nous: Common sense. "Shut your hole and listen if doubt the Devil then you've no more nous than James Whitty neither did he credit it at 1st."
Offsider: Assistant. "So I were still Harry's offsider when he robbed the Buckland Coach on the 22nd of May and I were that nameless person reported as Power's Mate who dropped the tree across the road I held the horses so Harry could go about his trade."
Skerrick: A very small amount or portion. "Hard days followed the butter money were all taken and not a skerrick of income generated by the alleged 60 bolts of cloth."
Mattock: a kind of pick that is used for digging, looks like a pickaxe. "I had an axe Jem a mattock and when we picked up these implements and made a circle round him he must of thought his end were come."
Rort: A wild party. "Maguire has seen our Bill and reports the man is having a great old rort him and his new sheila Brigit Cotter."
Donah: Woman. "He has a new donah and you know what he is saying about your own self."
Mullock: Rock refuse from which gold, other minerals or other valuable material, for example opal, has been extracted. "The white miners had quit these diggings years before but the celestials was sifting through the leftover mullock they would never rest not even fire could drive them from their labour."
Cobber and lag: Cobber means pal. Lag means to arrest, send to prison; to inform on; a stupid person. "They're looking for your cobber Tom Lloyd but will lag anyone who aggravates them."
Fizgig: A police informant. "But I aint a fizgig and I won't shop no one to you b----rs."
Kelpie: An Australian sheepdog. "That kelpie has a taste for eating horse droppings but I warrant he would prefer a fat policeman's arse."
Shicker: Drunk; a drunkard. "My daughter please understand I am displaying your great uncles in a bad light they was wild and often shicker they thieved and fought and abused me cruelly but you must also remember your ancestors would not kowtow to no one and this were a fine rare thing in a colony made specifically to have poor men bow down to their gaolers."
Shebeen: Illegal establishment which sold alcohol. "Were I a fat squatter with his children safe asleep in bed I would have the time to tell you sentimental stories of the Quinns by birth or marriage and it is true that Wild Pat the Dubliner played the accordion at my ma's shebeen that Uncle Jimmy had a beautiful voice it would make you cry to hear him sing the Shan Van Voght."
Stoush: A fight, brawl. "I went as ordered but didnt wish to miss the spectacle so I come out to the front veranda and I were witness to a mighty stoush."
Shank's pony: To use your own legs, to walk. "I were released out into Ford Street on a sunny March morning I took shanks' pony home to Eleven Mile Creek but I were bound by court order to present myself to the Greta police."
Begob: A mild curse, a euphemism for "by God". "I will begob and ye will be praying to the Virgin that you had relented of your penny."
Myall: Any of various Australian acacias. "Mother always liked a race and now I chased her across the plains into the myall where she veered off heading for the Warby Ranges."
Mufti: Civilian clothes. "At Eleven Mile Creek I were framing out the bedroom when Fitzpatrick arrived in mufti announcing he wished to spend his day off assisting me he had brung his own tools his chisels was worthy of a cabinet maker."
Warrigals: In Australia a wild horse or wild dog. "Strahan slowly lowered his gun so Joe & me moved back into the speargrass retreating quiet as warrigals towards Bullock Creek."
Billabong: Billabong is an Australian English word meaning a smallish lake, and specifically an oxbow lake, a stagnant pool of water attached to a waterway. "The Murray is a maze of swamps and billabongs but in flood you cannot know what can be crossed till you try & try we did for 3 weary days attempting one place then the next driving the police horses up into swamps and lagoons until the water grew too swift and deep."
Crupper: A strap from the back of a saddle passing under the horse's tail; prevents saddle from slipping forward. "I reined in my mare but there were a patch of loose shale & she propped and slid with the crupper hard around her tail as she steadied on the ledge below."
Poddy: hand fed; hand feed. "Harry always knew he must feed the poor he must poddy & flatter them he would be Rob Roy or Robin Hood he would retrieve the widow's cattle from the pound and if the poor selectors ever suffered harassment or threats on his behalf he would make it up with a sheep or barrel of grog or fistful of sovereigns."
Dinky di: The real thing, genuine. "A letter would be read Joe asked you think this Cameron's dinky di?"
Daggy and dag: Dags are clumps of matted wool and dung which hang around a sheep's rear end. "But then poor Jack discovered what it were to be slandered & perjured & he were handcuffed & herded on to Benalla railway station & shoved into a box car like he were nothing but a daggy sheep to be transported up the hill to Beechworth Gaol & held there on remand." "There was spies amongst them that we must accept even the best merino must have it dung & dags but I wd. be no more muzzled by spies than by cowards like Mr Gill."
Gormless: Stupid, dull. "Aaron stayed for 2 nights flattering me that I were of colossal strength and I should be the ruler of the colony etc. he had a gormless wheedling smile he were more annoying that the rats inside the walls I were v. pleased when he returned to his selection."
Palliasse: A mattress consisting of a thin pad filled with straw or sawdust. "Mother sat waiting for me on her crib her palliasse were folded as required."

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Ex-Debutante

By Linda Francis Lee

Carlisle Cushing is a divorce lawyer in Boston, successful in her job and engaged to be married to Phillip, a fellow lawyer at the same firm where she works. There is one tiny problem though. Everyone at work, including Phillip, thinks she is a poor Texas girl who lifted herself up by her bootstraps. Actually she comes from old Texas money and privilege. For some reason she doesn't want anyone to know that she is a rich girl.
Her mother, a wealthy Texas socialite, sends for Carlisle. She needs a divorce and who better to represent her than her own daughter. The mother, oft married and divorced, is very status conscious and worried about becoming the talk of the town as her husband is making outrageous demands on her estate, despite the fact that he signed a prenup.
It's apparent right from the start that Carlisle's pretty little life she built for herself is in peril. Not only is she taking time off from her job to deal with her mother's crisis, but she keeps her engagement secret from her family. Plus, her mom's husband has hired Jack Blair, Carlisle's old boyfriend, to represent him in the divorce and the first time she sees him, her heart leaps. An odd reaction from a woman who is supposed to be in love and ready to get married.
When she first returned to Texas to help her mother, Carlisle had planned to only stay a few days and get her mom a good divorce lawyer. But when she sees that Jack Blair is involved in the case, she abruptly decides to represent her mom herself. Does her sudden change have something to do with Jack? Of course, though she refuses to admit it, citing her mother's need as her justification.
It turns out that mom needs help not only with her divorce. She also needs someone to take over the chore of organizing the debutante ball. This ball is a huge social occasion in their community and the money raised from it supplies the funds for their local symphony orchestra and it has always been organized by Carlisle's family. Last year was her mother's first time to manage it and she messed up so badly that society's A-list strata is refusing to let their daughters make their debuts at the ball. She pleads with Carlisle to take over the debutante ball and Carlisle agrees. This means she will not be returning to Boston for more than three months which doesn't seem to bother her much, despite her claims to herself about how much she loves her life there. It also doesn't seem to bother her too much that Phillip is upset about her absence. In fact, she starts to ignore phone calls from him and her job, finding them intrusive and a nuisance. Who cares about Boston? Carlisle is too wrapped up in the debutante ball, her mom's divorce, and her exciting confrontations with ex-boyfriend and opposing counsel Jack.

Although this is a romance novel, the best and most interesting part is that of Carlisle's efforts to bring her B-list debutantes up to scratch. It is a fascinating glimpse at an event and a strata of society that most people never get to experience. I knew about debutante balls, of course, but only vaguely. It was fun to read about the girls and what was expected of them to be debs. The next best part was the story of Carlisle and her difficult, cold mother and how Carlisle comes to grips with the alienation she has always felt with her mother. The story of the romance between her and Jack was standard romance novel although without the pornographic sex scenes common to many romance novels today. There is one real sex scene in the story, but without anatomical details, which was fine by me. I usually skip over those parts. I liked this novel, though I do wish it had been more about the debs and less about the romance.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Fourth Bear

By Jasper Fforde

Jack Spratt, who eats no fat, is a detective and in charge of the Nursery Crime Division in Berkshire, a community filled with escapees from fiction and especially from nursery rhymes. Spratt is in trouble with his superiors due to a couple of flawed investigations (he, Red Ridinghood & her granny were all eaten by the big, bad wolf, which isn't as fatal as it sounds) and he is put on leave. Meanwhile a homicidal goodie, the Gingerbreadman, has escaped from the mental hospital and is on a murderous spree. Spratt, operating without official sanction, is investigating the death of Goldilocks and incidentally becomes involved with the Gingerbreadman case and the exploding cucumber gardeners case. These cases also tie in with the smuggling of the forbidden foodstuffs (porridge, honey, marmalade and buns) to the local talking bear population. Somehow, with the help of his colleagues, Mary Mary and Ashley, an ET type alien, Spratt will tie it all together and save his job in the process.

If you are going to read Fforde's fiction, you have to be willing to suspend your disbelief. If you can, you will probably enjoy this novel. I somewhat enjoyed it, when it wasn't irritating me. I didn't like the way the characters know and comment on the fact they are in a novel. I didn't care for the way bears are portrayed. I found the idea that bears get high on porridge and the other controlled foodstuffs just plain stupid. Many of the jokes in this novel are lame puns, as the writer himself admits. Still, as a detective novel, it was pretty good, except I would like to point out that if cake is immersed in water it also falls apart, which means that the whole cookie vs cake thing is still open to question.

For another review of The Fourth Bear, see USA Today.

New Word
Nobbblers: To nobble is to filch or steal. "Prong's champion might have grown even larger were it not for the attentions of a gang of murderous cucumber nobblers who destroyed the cucumber two days after the record was officially set, an attack that tragically cost Prong his life."

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Two, 2008

Edited by Jonathan Strahan

"The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" by Ted Chiang
A man travels to the past through a magical gate.

"The Last and Only, or Mr. Moskowitz Becomes French" by Peter S. Beagle
A man can't remember how to speak English and can only speak French.

"Trunk and Disorderly" by Charles Stross
A man has to rescue his robot girlfriend from a diabolical plot.

"Glory" by Greg Egan
Two visitors come to a planet searching for the lost theorems of a vanished race only to become embroiled in a power struggle between two rival nations.

"Dead Horse Point" by Daryl Gregory
A woman helps another woman deal with her mental condition.

"The Dreaming Wind" by Jeffrey Ford
Every year a village has to cope with a strange, crazy wind until one year when the wind fails to blow.

"The Coat of Stars" by Holly Black
A costume designer uses his talents to rescue his lover from the faeries.

"The Prophet of Flores" by Ted Kosmatka
A story of creation versus evolution.

"Wizard's Six" by Alex Irvine
A man has to stop an apprentice wizard from becoming a wizard.

"The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics" by Daniel Abraham
A money changer runs afoul of an powerful and bored Lord.

"By Fools Like Me" by Nancy Kress
A woman and her granddaughter get in trouble for reading books.

"Kiosk" by Bruce Sterling
An entrepreneur opens a little store with merchandise supplied by his magical duplication machine.

"Singing of Mount Abora" by Theodora Goss
A woman does what it takes to get her man, even though her man is a dragon.

"The Witch's Headstone" by Neil Gaiman
A boy helps a young, dead witch get a headstone for her unmarked grave.

"Last Contact" by Stephen Baxter
The universe is being destroyed and nothing will stop it.

"Jesus Christ, Reanimator" by Ken MacLeod
Jesus Christ returns but it is no big deal.

"Sorrel's Heart" by Susan Palwick
Mutants on the run, hiding from murderous nonmutants.

"Urdumheim" by Michael Swanwick
Demons try to destroy the first people.

"Holiday" by M. Rickert
A man is visited by the ghosts of dead children.

"The Valley of Gardens" by Tony Daniel
In the far future, humanity strikes a blow against an implacable enemy bent on destroying the universe.

"Winter's Wife" by Elizabeth Hand
Mr. Winter gets himself a strange bride from Iceland.

"The Sky is Large and the Earth is Small" by Chris Roberson
An old man is questioned about his knowledge of Mexico, a story of an alternate history.

"Orm the Beautiful" by Elizabeth Bear
A dragon sacrifices himself to save the remains of his ancestors.

"The Constable of Abal" by Kelly Link
An odd woman and her daughter can see and capture ghosts.

The nice thing about a collection like this is that there will probably be at least a few stories that will please the reader. The bad thing is that you have to wade through the unappealing ones to get to the goodies. The same is true of this collection. All the stories are interesting, but some I just liked a lot better than the others and some just didn't click with me at all. Though I usually don't care for short stories, reading a collection like this introduces the reader to new authors, which makes it worth while.

For reviews of the individual stories, see Best SF.

New Words
Bimaristan: Bimaristan is a Persian word meaning hospital. "She was taken to the bimaristan, but the physicians could not save her, and she died soon after." ("The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate")
Ablative: Materials that provide fire resistance by gradually eroding to the flame front at a known or predictable rate. "She took in my appearance, from scorched ablative boots to champagne hairstyle." ("Trunk and Disorderly")
Hypergolic: A term related to spontaneous ignition upon contact. "For one thing, in a fit of misplaced bonhomie I'd offered Edgestar Wolfblack a lift, and old Edgy wasn't the best company for a post-drop pre-prandial, on account of his preferred tipples being corrosive or hypergolic, or both." ("Trunk and Disorderly")
Clade: A group of animals or other organisms derived from a common ancestor species. "'Blackdeath? Is no posthuman of that nomenclature in my clade,' Edgy complained." ("Trunk and Disorderly")
Plangently: Plangent means having a loud, mournful sound. "It's hard to remain stressed out while reclining on a bed of silks in a pleasure palace on Mars, with nubile young squishies to drop pre-fermented grapes into your mouth, your very own mouth-boy to keep the hookah smoldering, and a clankie band plangently plucking its various organs in the far corner of the room." ("Trunk and Disorderly")
Amanuensis: One employed to take dictation, or copy manuscripts; A clerk, secretary or stenographer. "He said it so emphatically that even my buggy-but-priceless family heirloom amanuensis recognized it for an infoburst and misfiled it somewhere." ("Trunk and Disorderly")
Katanas: A type of Japanese sword. "His Excellency Abdul al-Matsumoto, younger sibling of the Emir of Mars, rose from his seat upon the throne; naked eunuch bodyguards, their skins oiled and gleaming, raised their katanas in salute to either side." ("Trunk and Disorderly")
Ontological: Ontology is a study of conceptions of reality and the nature of being. "During the early 1990s Egan published a body of short fiction -- mostly hard science fiction focused on mathematical and quantum ontological themes -- that established him as one of the most important writers working in science fiction." (from the introduction to "Glory" by the editor)
Fullerene: A form of carbon having a large molecule consisting of an empty cage of sixty or more carbon atoms; buckyballs. "The products of this factory sprayed out of the star, riding the last traces of the shockwave's momentum: a few nanograms of elaborate, carbon-rich molecules, sheathed in a protective fullerene weave." ("Glory")
Lemmas: A lemma is a theorem proven only for use in the proof of more important theorems. "Rali was not a mathematician, and he was not offering his own opinion on the theorem the tablet stated; the Niah themselves had had a clear set of typographical conventions which they used to distinguish between everything from minor lemmas to the most celebrated theorems." ("Glory")
Amphioxus: The lancelet, a small translucent lancet-shaped burrowing marine animal; primitive forerunner of the vertebrates. "He studied fruit flies, and amphioxus; and while still an undergraduate, won a prestigious summer internship working under renowned geneticist Michael Poore." ("The Prophet of Flores")
Graupel: Pellets of snow. "Then he climbed, with pain and resignation, up the shiny black stairsteps into this eerie, oversized, grandiose rock-solid black fort, this black-paneled royal closet whose ornate, computer-calligraphic roof would make meteors bounce off it like graupel hail." ("Kiosk")

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride

By Michael Wallis

What is really known about Billy the Kid? According to author Michael Wallis, not much. The paper trail just doesn't exist. Authorities can't even agree on what his real name was, some arguing for Henry McCarty and some for William Bonney. Cases can be made for both names, the strongest perhaps for Henry McCarty. Even the people who knew Billy in the final years of his life had differing memories about him.
What Billy was is a spirited young lad left to make his own way in the world, without anyone to guide him. After his mother died, Billy turned to his stepfather for help, only to be spurned and driven away. Not even out of his teens and undersized, it is not surprising that Billy turned to the outlaw life to make his way in the world.
Living by stealing and rustling cattle and horses is bound to get a boy into trouble. He fell in with rough characters that helped him refine his life as a rustler and thief. But despite his chosen profession, to those who knew him, Billy was a fun, light hearted boy who loved music and dancing and chasing pretty senoritas. He had an aptitude for languages and quickly learned Spanish, earning himself a home among the Spanish-speaking community of Lincoln County in the New Mexico territory. He was an Anglo who didn't look down on that community, unlike many of the whites who were quickly colonizing the territory and threatening the old, establish communities that had been there for so long.
Lincoln County was a desperate place full of greedy, ambitious men looking to make their fortunes. It was under the control of a gang called the Santa Fe Ring. This powerful group had its web spread all over the territory, stealing land and cattle through its corrupt legal and governmental minions. Billy joined a group of men that were trying to go up against a mercantile association that had lucrative contracts to supply Federal troops in the area with supplies and beef. This mercantile was affiliated with the bosses of the Santa Fe Ring.
Too bad for Billy that he backed the losers in this conflict, known to history as the Lincoln County War. If he was on the side of the winners, he would probably be just another guy. Because, according to this book, Billy was no better and a lot less worse than most of the men of that time and place, who were a ruthless, cruel, greedy and despicable bunch.
After the deaths of his two employers, Billy could have just cleared out and made a new start somewhere else. But Billy and many of his friends and companions just couldn't accept defeat and tried to get justice for the murders of their employers. They continued to confront their enemies, raising the ire of the establishment. Thanks to the local newspapers, public attention began to center on Billy as the leader of the rebels. Things were a lot looser then and printing a bunch of exaggerations and lies was normal practice and Billy's reputation was blackened in the press. In effect, he was tried and convicted before he was ever brought to justice. And, as the book points out, that "among the more than fifty individuals indicted for crimes in the Lincoln County War, only the Kid was ever convicted." In fact, according to the book, the only two murders that it is certain Billy did are the two guards he killed when he escaped from jail after being convicted of a murder that he claimed not to have done.
So Michael Wallis says that Billy pretty much did not deserve the reputation he attained as a bloodthirsty killer. He says that Billy became the bugbear that the winning side used to turn the attention away from their own nefarious deeds during those lawless years. As he points out, Billy's reputation was created by the press and after his death, the press continued to make money and still continues to exploit the name of Billy the Kid, thus the "endless ride" of the title.

I found this book an easy and informative read. It tells you what is known for sure about Billy and points out how few are the facts about the Kid. I felt, after reading this book, that Billy was just a kid who fell into bad ways because he had no one in his life to care for him or look out for him. It is a real tragedy how such a bright and charming young man how no person in his life that tried to save him from his own youthful impetuosity.

For an interview with the author and a little info about Billy, visit AmericanHeritage.com.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Good Omens

By Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

This is a story of the end of the world, loosely based on the New Testament book of Revelation. This book should probably not be read by devout Christians unless they have a good sense of humor.
So the bad guys (the devil and his minions) have delivered a baby boy to a hospital run by the nuns of the Chattering Order of St. Beryl. This baby, the Antichrist and the son of Satan, is to be switched with the newborn son of the American Cultural Attaché, where he will be raised to fulfill his satanic destiny. Instead he is mistakenly placed with Mr. & Mrs. Young, a local English couple, the nun in charge of the switch has somehow mistaken Mr. Young for the American Attaché. Neither the good guys or the bad guys realize what has happened for quite some time.
Years pass, neither side aware that the kid being raised to be Antichrist is just and ordinary boy and that the real Antichrist is enjoying the normal, mundane life of the typical active kid. Neither side realizes anything is wrong until the child's eleventh birthday. On that date, a hell hound is to appear at the Antichrist's side to serve him as he wishes. Both sides are watching the Attaché's boy, waiting for the hound to appear. It never does, because it has gone to be with Adam, the real Antichrist, who thinks of himself as just a boy. Because Adam has wanted a little scruffy dog for a long time, that is how the hell hound appears to him and the hound embraces the life of a mutt with a great deal of appreciation, finding chasing cats and rabbits a lot more fun than devouring damned souls:

And then there were cats, thought Dog. He'd surprised the huge ginger cat from next door and had attempted to reduce it to cowering jelly by means of the usual glowing stare and deep-throated growl, which had always worked on the damned in the past. This time they earned him a whack on the nose that had made his eyes water. Cats, Dog considered, were clearly a lot tougher than lost souls. He was looking forward to a further cat experiment, which he'd planned would consist of jumping around and yapping excitedly at it. It was a long shot, but it might just work.

Just as Dog is starting to really enjoy life as a mutt instead of as a hell hound, Adam starts to come into his power and realize he can change the world to please himself and thus bring about Armageddon. The armies of the Lord and the armies of Satan begin to align themselves for the final battle. Maybe the end is inevitable. But two old boys, two old adversaries, have decided they are going to do their damnedest (in one case) and their best (in the other case) to stop it. Because after all these millennia of living among humans, they have decided they quite like it and that they would like very much for thing to just muddle on as they always have. So the demon Crowley and the angel Aziraphale, old enemies and old friends, join together to try to thwart the end of the world. They are helped by a cast of unlikely characters, including Anathema Device, a witch and the descendant of the prophetess, Agnes Nutter, who predicted in exact detail every occurrence of the time of the end; Shadwell and Newton, both witchfinders in the Witchfinders Army; and Madame Tracy, a woman of loose morals and a Medium.

This story is just a whole lot of fun. Every page is jammed packed with originality. There are so many crazy characters like the four horsemen (bikers) of the Apocalypse who are the Real Hell's Angels and who run across the biker gang who call themselves the Hell's Angels. I have read this book several times and I expect I will read it several times more. It is always interesting and fun and irreverent and just one of the best books I have ever read.

For more reviews of Good Omens see Booklore.

Curse of the Blue Tattoo

By L. A. Meyer

Second in the series, in this story Jacky Faber finds herself in a proper school for young ladies in Boston. Not too surprisingly, she doesn't fit in. Life as a beggar on the streets of London, England then as a ship's boy doesn't exactly prepare a girl for a school like the Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls. But Jacky's prize money has gotten her a place at this prestigious and select institution.
Well, it doesn't take her long to run afoul of the school's and Boston's strict requirements for the behavior of a young lady. After being arrested for dancing in the streets, Jacky is demoted by the head mistress from student to servant. Now instead of sharing in with the other girls and their studies, Jacky has to fetch and carry for them. However, life as a servant is pretty soft compared to life as a ship's boy and Jacky quickly makes herself to home with downstairs contingent. She even finds she has more freedom to explore Boston as she runs errands around town. She joins up with a drunken fiddler and sings and plays at a local tavern, earning herself a little spending money. As soon as she has enough, she plans to buy passage on a ship to England in search of her love, the boy she meant on board the Dolphin, Jaimie, who hasn't answered the many letters she has sent him. Of course, Jacky being Jacky and as prone to trouble as can be, nothing works out the way she plans.

The setting of this story, Jacky in proper Boston, was not as interesting as the first novel where she was a ship's boy on the Dolphin. For one thing, as Jacky finds out, life at the school is very controlled and restricted, with little opportunity for hijinks. So the author makes her a servant, giving her more freedom to move about on her own and more scope for mischief. I think the author gave her more freedom than servants of her day and gender were really allowed. So I found her activities as a servant rather unbelievable. I just don't think a young girl her age would have been given the freedom she had, even if she was just a servant. I also found the misadventures she got herself into unlikely. The minute the race horse was introduced to the story, I knew Jacky would end up riding it in the big race. Oh, and winning of course, even though riding a race horse is a highly skilled occupation and Jacky just learned to ride a few months previously. Frankly, I found Jacky Faber more than just a little tiresome in this story. Maybe she has more appeal for a young adult reader who can embrace her shenanigans more easily than I could.