Sunday, October 27, 2013

Shadow of the Alchemist by Jeri Westerson

I love Jeri Westerson's Crispin Guest novels and look forward with great anticipation to each installment.  Shadow of the Alchemist is Book 6, and it doesn't disappoint--though I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite in the series.  I think my favorite is always the one I am reading at the time. 
Once a Knight of the Realm, Crispin has been stripped of his title and lands and is now forced to earn a meager living as The Tracker, a man who can find anything for a price.  He has a young apprentice who helps him in these matters, Jack Tucker, a reformed thief that Crispin has taken under his wing.  The lost item this time around is the wife and apprentice of Nicholas Flamel, a renowned alchemist.  This search has plenty of twists and turns (none of which I want to give away here, because there is much pleasure in the reading as each one is revealed)--but it involves the Philosopher's Stone, which is believed to turn lead into gold and create the elixir of life.
Westerson's richly detailed, engaging, gritty, and descriptive writing is a delight.  Her intricately plotted and character driven storylines hold you enthralled, and the book is so atmospheric that I really feel like I've taken a trip back in time to 14th century London and tagged along in the footsteps of Crispin and Jack as they unravel this mystery.   

This is solid storytelling, action and suspense, and offbeat characters, all within a historically detailed framework.  What more could you want from a book? And the good news is that Westerson will be spinning off a three book series of YA novels with Crispin's apprentice Jack Tucker as their protagonist.  I think these books could be a lot of fun, but I do hope she has much more of Crispin's story to tell yet.

And for fun (with articles on history and mystery), I suggest you check out Jeri's blog:    

Monday, October 7, 2013

Kindred Beings: What Seventy-Three Chimpanzees Taught Me About Life, Love, and Connection by Sheri Speede

Sheri Speede founded the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center in Cameroon as a home for orphans of the illegal ape meat trade.  This is the story of how one little girl who loved animals found her true calling in a forest sanctuary in Africa as a committed animal activist and rescuer.  It's an adventure story, because after all she was a stranger in a foreign culture trying to adjust to African village life--and it's a love story, because through the chimps she helped rescue she came to understand the meaning of love, loyalty, and true connection.

As a child who knew that she always wanted to grow up and advocate for animals in some way, she took the traditional path at first by choosing a veterinary career.  But soon after beginning her veterinary career she was moved by the plight of three adult captive chimpanzees on display in three small cages located on the back side of the Atlantic Beach Hotel.  Captured as infants by poachers they had been in captivity most of their lives.  Her sadness at the smallness of their lives haunted her and she was determined to see them released from their torment.

Though it took her some time to actually fulfill the promise she made to them to free them, she was eventually successful and established her sanctuary in the Mbargue forest.  In this book, we see the development of Dr. Speede's personal story alongside the emotionally complex stories of the chimps she befriended.  We come to know and love these "kindred beings" just as she does.  When one of the rescued chimps (Dorothy) dies from old age at the sanctuary, we mourn too.  Here's the photograph of Dorothy's funeral (in which Dr. Speede cradled Dorothy's head while her family of chimpanzees mournfully viewed her body).

This photo went viral after being published in National Geographic.  The world seemed to be surprised at the depth of the chimps' grief at the loss of their friend.  Dr. Speede wasn't, and we weren't either after reading this powerful story of these personalities that are so similar to humans.  Dr. Speede has spent her life battling ignorance and apathy and evil trying to end animal abuse and the suffering they endure at our hands.  This compelling story of her bravery and determination to safeguard their well being is uplifting and inspiring.  How fortunate our planet is to have people like Dr. Speede who are determined to live their convictions out in their daily lives sometimes against overwhelming odds.
Dr. Speede is founder and Director of In Defense of Animals-Africa, an organization that is well worth your support.  Read this book.  Make a donation.  It is important that this extraordinary work continue.

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