The Ink Penn: All About Books by Kathy Manos Penn

Kathy Penn        Lord Banjo   The Ink Penn

Kathy Manos Penn is an author and columnist. Her latest book, “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch,” and her collection of columns, “The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday,” are available on Amazon. For more information, visit kathymanospenn.com,  follow Kathy on Facebook, or write her at inkpenn119@gmail.com. Find her books locally in the Hallmark Shops on Mansell Road and at the Forum.

11/11/18 For Sherlock Holmes Lovers

 I’m not only a mystery fan; I also have a special place in my heart for books based on Sherlock Holmes. I didn’t read the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories, but through the years, I’ve stumbled on the occasional TV productions and always found them enjoyable.

It may have been Laurie King’s Mary Russell stories that got me hooked on all things Sherlock Holmes. The first in the series, “The BeeKeeper’s Apprentice,” came out in 1994. Mary Russell, a 15-year-old girl, literally stumbles across Sherlock Holmes while out walking, and their unlikely relationship becomes the stuff of fifteen novels. I realize as I’m typing this that I haven’t read them all, so it’s time to add a few to my library wishlist. I wanted to believe the foreword to the first book, wherein the author explains finding letters in a trunk either between or about Mary Russell and Sherlock. Forgive me; it’s been almost twenty years since I read the book. Suffice it to say, I found the premise intriguing.

“The Sherlockian” is another book I couldn’t put down. It features dedicated Sherlock Holmes fans who get wind of a missing Arthur Conan Doyle diary, one which would explain the final chapter in Sherlock’s life. I found the mystery intriguing and also enjoyed learning about Conan Doyle’s life even though the facts were interwoven with fiction.

Next, I discovered Anthony Horowitz’s 2011 “The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel” through a review in the Wall Street Journal. “For the first time in its one-hundred-and-twenty-five-year history, the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate has authorized a new Sherlock Holmes novel … The Arthur Conan Doyle Estate chose the celebrated, #1 New York Times bestselling author Anthony Horowitz to write ‘The House of Silk’ because of his proven ability to tell a transfixing story and for his passion for all things Holmes.” It lived up to its billing.

Bonnie MacBird’s “Art in the Blood” is another novel written as a continuation of the original series. I may have stumbled across it as an Amazon recommendation. If you decide to give Sherlock a try, this, like “The House of Silk,” is written in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle.

For a lighter Holmes themed mystery, I picked up “Elementary She Read: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Murder.” The story takes place on Cape Cod where, at 222 Baker Street, of course, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium deals in Holmes paraphernalia, books, and collectibles. This modern day, humorous, murder mystery makes for a fun read.

Writing this column required a bit of research to refresh my memory, and I happily found yet another Holmes story to add to my list, “The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars.” It promises to be a humorous mystery. I like to mix up my reading—a book with a literary bent and way with words and then one with a lighter, witty story. Once again, I have more books on my “To Be Read” list than I’ll ever get to, but I’ll enjoy the pursuit.

Join Kathy and Lord Banjo for a Book Signing
November 17, noon – 2 pm
Consigning Women
2508 Mt. Vernon Road
Dunwoody, GA

11/01/18 Mystery novels set in California

 Though I’m partial to mystery series set in England, I also follow several set in the US. It’s hard to beat my long-time favorite, Robert Parker’s Spenser and Jesse Stone mysteries set in the Boston area, but two LA series also rank high on my list. Published in 1992, Michael Connelly’s “The Black Echo” introduces Hieronymous Bosch, an LAPD cop, named for a Renaissance painter by that name. Who does that to a child? Fortunately, he goes by Harry. Bosch is Connelly’s protagonist in twenty novels with the 21st coming in October this year.

In the first book, we learn Bosch was a tunnel rat in the Vietnam war. Both the war and the early death of his mother were defining experiences for Harry. In twenty novels, Connelly explores Harry’s complex personality and what drives him. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book and have binge-watched each season of the Amazon original series “Bosch” starring Titus Welliver. Fair warning, both the books and the Amazon series are dark. If Harry ever smiles, it’s a fleeting expression.

Connelly also wrote five novels with defense attorney Mickey Haller as the lead character. “The Lincoln Lawyer” was the first and was made into a movie starring Matthew McConaughey. Bosch is a darker character than Mickey, but both series are enjoyable.

Robert Crais’s series, also set in LA, starts out a bit quirkier, a bit more humorous than Connelly’s. That’s more a product of his main character Elvis Cole’s quick wit than it is of the plots. Elvis is closer in personality to Parker’s Spenser, witty but with a code of honor that drives him to do the right thing, no matter the personal cost. In the first book, readers discover that Elvis has a Felix the Cat clock in his office, the one with the tail that wags. I see that clock as emblematic of his personality.

Spenser has Hawk, and Elvis has Joe Pike. Starting in 1987 with “The Monkey’s Raincoat,” Crais has published seventeen Elvis Cole/Joe Pike mysteries, and we learn more about the personalities and histories of the two as the series progresses. From time to time, Joe Pike takes the lead, and Elvis has his back instead of vice-versa.

When I have the opportunity, I like to start with the first book in a series. In doing so, I’ve been able to notice the Elvis Cole stories grow in complexity and seriousness. That makes this recommendation from Robert Crais intriguing:


“I always suggest [readers] begin with “L.A. Requiem, or even one of the standalones like “Demolition Angel” or “The Two Minute Rule.” It isn’t that I feel the earlier books aren’t as ‘good’ as my more recent efforts—I am intensely proud of those early novels—but my newer books are richer, broader in scope, and way more complex in their structure, so I believe them to be more representative of the work I am doing today.”

If I were reading this today without having read any of the Crais novels, I know I’d still follow my rule of thumb and start at the beginning. I often discover an author new to me by picking up a book at a library sale and starting in the midst of a series. When I enjoy the book, though, I set out to find the early ones and read them in order. Whatever your preference, if you enjoy crime novels and serious mysteries, Connelly and Crais are good authors to try.

KIndle Sale

10/16/18 Let's Talk Dog Books

Lord BanjoYes, let’s talk dog books. Lord Banjo here filling in for Mum. She’s not the only person in the family who can write about books, you know.

I have two favorite dog books, but I’ll save those until the end, as in save the best for last. I discovered all kinds of dog books on the many bookshelves around the house. The first two I found at eye level tucked in Mum’s childhood books on the bookcase. “Beautiful Joe,” like my book, is written by the dog, but unlike me, Joe had a rough life and a mean owner. Mum tells me it was one of her favorite books.

Next to that book sits a worn copy of “Big Red,” the story of a seventeen-year-old boy and his Irish Setter. I find it amusing that Mum remembers it fondly because it is about a boy and a dog hunting and fishing and all kinds of stuff she never did--topics I wouldn’t think Mum would find appealing. Did you know this and other books by Jim Kjelgaard were removed from lists of recommended young adult books years ago about the time folks were canceling NRA memberships?

In Mum’s office, I spied “Lucky Boy,” a beautifully illustrated children’s story about a lonely dog and a lonely man. Mum says she saw it displayed in a bookshop one day and had to have it.

Also on the office bookshelf, I found “Marley and Me.” Mum liked this book and the movie. I wonder whether she especially liked it because Josh Grogan, the author, was a columnist like she is. The book about Marley, a wild child of a dog, grew out of Grogan’s columns about the big galoot. Though Marley did things like eat sofas, Josh and the rest of the family loved him dearly.

Another of Mum’s favorites is “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” She says folks always ask her whether my book is like that, and she tells them my book is nowhere near as deep. Enzo is a lovable philosopher of a dog who educates himself by watching TV and focusing intently on the words of his dad. His story is sweet and sad.

The last dog book Mum read was nonfiction: “How Dogs Love Us.” Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns wanted to know what his dog Callie was thinking and whether she and dogs, in general, love people the way people love us. He used MRI imaging technology to scan Callie’s brain and figure out the answers. The story of how he got little Callie to put her head in an MRI machine and hold still is fascinating as are the results of his research. I hope Mum is reading this because she needs to know that an MRI is not something I want to experience!

Now, to my two favorite books. “Someone to Look Up To,” about a Great Pyrenees who lives in France, is my #2 favorite book. Why? Well, a Great Pyrenees tells the story, and I’m part Great Pyrenees. I learned lots about my breed and realized that not all dogs, even beautiful pure-bred Great Pyrenees, have responsible and loving people parents. The book is both heartbreaking and heartwarming.

Can you guess my all-time favorite? Of course, you can: it’s my book “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch.” My story is humorous, not heartbreaking, and reading it is guaranteed to put a silly grin on your face and make you LOL. What more could a dog lover want?

Meet Lord Banjo and the Royal Mum
Mansell Crossing Hallmark Shop October 27, noon - 2

PS. If you live in the Atlanta area, Mum and I would be happy to meet with your Book Club or make a presentation to your neighborhood or civic group.

09/30/18 It's All About Local Authors

Have you attended A Novel Idea in Dunwoody? Dunwoody author Kathy Florence brought the monthly event to Crema after hearing about the idea from Marsha Cornelius who organized the original series in Canton and then expanded it to Alpharetta.

Marsha tells me she got the idea from a nationwide event called Noir at the Bar and provided this description:

“Over the last seven years, dozens of Noir at the Bar events have sprung up around the country, and it has become something of a phenomenon in the crime fiction community.”

After attending a Noir at the Bar event in Lawrenceville in April 2016, she set out to build upon the idea and expand it beyond the crime fiction genre and make it more than a one-time event.

Thus was born the concept of A Novel Idea as a monthly event with a different theme each month: Romance, Mystery/Thriller, Historical fiction, Southern Writers, SciFi/Fantasy, Non-fiction/Memoir, and yes - Crime.

The first A Novel Idea was in June 2016 at an upstairs bar in Canton. By January 2018, Marsha had started a second location at Alpha Soda in Alpharetta, and in May, with the leadership of Kathy Florence, the Dunwoody location sprang up.

For Marsha and Kathy, this is a labor of love, a way of paying it forward to authors, readers, and communities. You may be surprised to learn Marsha and Kathy are not compensated in any way for their hard work organizing these events. There’s no charge for authors to participate and no charge for guests to attend. They spend untold hours lining up authors and do a yeoman’s job publicising the events. You may have seen the ads in the Crier for the Dunwoody events at Crema.

Their work brings together authors and readers. When I attend the events in Dunwoody, I feel as though I’m in one of those 1960s poetry readings in a New York or San Francisco coffeehouse, the scenes I’ve read about in novels and seen in movies.

These events give the authors a chance to get in front of 30 to 50 guests and tell their stories. The authors get about 10 minutes to introduce their book(s) and read a short excerpt. This is not a sales event, per se, though authors are invited to bring their books for the audience to purchase. In Dunwoody, I function as the local bookshop, sitting at a table in the back with books at the ready for interested readers.

Many of you already know author Kathy Florence, whose latest book is “Three of Cups.” So, who is Marsha Cornelius? As a gal who had a Dale Evans outfit as a child, I cracked up when I saw her website intro:

“The only contest Marsha Cornelius ever won was when she was eight-years-old. The prize was a Dale Evans cowgirl shirt, plaid with pearly snaps. She doesn’t remember how she won the prize, but she’s sure it wasn’t for writing.”

Things change, and today she’s the author of seven novels. The latest is her second book featuring the “wacky crime-solving husband and wife team of Rachel and Brian Sanders” in “Into the Pond.”

As for A Novel Idea, authors love it; guests love it, and the restaurant owners love it. I’m looking forward to being a guest author October 14 at A Novel Idea in Alpharetta at Alpha Soda. It will be a cross-genre evening so I’ll get to read from both my books: “The Ink Penn” and “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch.” I hope to see you there.

A Novel Idea 6:30 – 8:30 pm October 14
Alpha Soda
11760 Haynes Bridge Rd, Alpharetta, GA 30009

09/16/18 Why am I reading books set in Devon, Oxford and the Cotswolds?

Because in addition to London, those are the locales I’ll soon visit in Great Britain. One of my greatest travel pleasures is preparing for a trip by reading fiction, especially mysteries, set in the locales I visit.

I prefer books to hold in my hands, but for international travel, only my Kindle will do. Because I read British mysteries nonstop, finding a select few set in Devon, Oxford and the Cotswolds required an entertaining internet search. That effort netted me several authors to consider.

The first is Agatha Christie, an old standby. I’ve read her books here and there through the years, but more often watch Poirot on PBS. We’ll visit Greenway Estate, her home near Dartmouth. Several of her novels—The A.B.C. Murders, Five Little Pigs, Towards Zero, and Dead Man’s Folly—use the estate and the surrounding area as settings, and the television version of Dead Man’s Folly was filmed there.

A new to me author whose mysteries take place in the Dartmouth area is Kate Ellis. I’ve downloaded The Merchant’s House, the first book in her series featuring Wesley Peterson. From her website, I gleaned lots of ideas about sites to see while in the Dartmouth area and was prompted to write her. She wrote back and gave me an introduction to the buildings, businesses, and towns she describes in her books, only with different names. I think I’ll make a list of all of them and try to check them off as I go.

Because I’ve watched Inspector Morse, Inspector Lewis, and Endeavor on PBS, I feel as though I already know bits and pieces of Oxford. I can’t recall ever reading Colin Dexter’s novels, though, so I’ve downloaded the first three Morse books for the trip.

Before this search, I’d already stumbled across Faith Martin’s mysteries set in Oxford. I’m still early in the series and intrigued by DI Hillary Greene living on a narrowboat on the Oxford Canal. I’ve always dreamed of chartering a narrow boat—with a captain—and touring the countryside that way. So far, I’ve enjoyed Murder on the Oxford Canal and Murder at the University, and reading about her narrowboat is probably as close as I’ll get to vacationing on one.

When I googled books set in the Cotswolds, I was rewarded with Victoria Henry’s How to Find Love in a Bookshop. It’s a bit of a romance and mystery blend, and its setting is a blend of Oxford and the Cotswolds.

Oddly, I hadn’t turned up any mysteries set in the Cotswolds until author Kate Ellis suggested I try Rebecca Tope’s mystery series. Every one of her books has Cotswolds in the title, so who knows why Google didn’t surface them during my search? My Kindle now contains a four-pack of the Cotswold series.

Though I don’t often read nonfiction, I’m also working my way through Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island. I say “working my way,” not because it’s a slog, but because I can easily pick it up and put it down, unlike the several novels I read each week. I love this description: “a delightfully irreverent jaunt around the unparalleled floating nation of Great Britain, which has produced zebra crossings, Shakespeare, Twiggie Winkie’s Farm, and places with names like Farleigh Wallop and Titsey.”

I’ve packed my suitcase and my Kindle, and I’m eagerly anticipating my upcoming trip across the pond.

09/05/18 Tales of King Arthur

Are there any King Arthur fans out there? It was Mary Stewart’s King Arthur trilogy that hooked me when I was in high school. I suspect “The Crystal Cave,” published in 1970, was one of the many books I snuck into class and read between the covers of textbooks. I had to wait until 1973 for the second book, “The Hollow Hills,” to come out, and “The Last Enchantment” arrived in 1979. Described as the Merlin trilogy, the books are told from his perspective

I was surprised to find that Stewart had written two more in the series in 1983 and 1995. Those will have to go on my library wish list ASAP. Before her King Arthur phase, Stewart was primarily a romantic thriller writer, and I have vague memories of reading her novels “Nine Coaches Waiting” and “My Brother Michael.”

As I was searching for details about my favorite books, I came across a BookBub article, “17 Magical Books About the Legend of King Arthur.” I can’t claim to have read them all, but I’ve enjoyed quite a few. Of Stewart’s books, only “Crystal Cave” made the BookBub list.

Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d'Arthur” is not on the list either, but it was his tales of Arthur, Launcelot, and Guinevere that became the foundation for all that followed. His compilation published in 1485 was translated from stories written in French and is surprisingly readable. I was well on the way to becoming a life-long King Arthur fan by the time I read it as an English major in college.

My enjoyment of Malory’s tales led me to T. H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” which is on the BookBub list. Published in 1958, it was the inspiration for the 1960 Broadway musical Camelot. I must have first seen the 1967 movie version on TV, and seeing Richard Harris reprise the role on stage is a cherished memory. Of course, I have the CD.

“The Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley made the list and is one of my favorites from the 80’s, probably because it was a retelling of the story from the female perspective. Reflecting on how much I enjoyed the novel reminds me that there was a 2001 TNT miniseries starring Anjelica Huston, Julianna Margulies, and Joan Allen.

My trip down memory lane surfaced three other King Arthur films I’ve seen. First is the 1963 Disney animated “Sword in the Stone,” also based on T. H. White’s book. Skip past Camelot, and I must admit a weakness for the 1995 movie “First Knight” starring Sean Connery as King Arthur and Richard Gere as Lancelot. The 2004 “King Arthur” with Clive Owens and Keira Knightley was yet another fascinating retelling of the tale, this time with Arthur portrayed as a Roman officer.

Of the 17 books on the BookBub list, I found two to add to my To Be Read list. “The Forever King” trilogy is a modern fantasy tale of a young man who stumbles across an antique cup that turns out to be The Holy Grail. It even has an ex-FBI agent in it, a twist that makes it a perfect combo for this mystery addict.

Also on my list now is “The Queen of Camelot,” another retelling of Guinevere’s role in the rise and fall of Camelot. I’m anticipating reading new books, watching old movies, and winding up in a King Arthur induced coma sometime soon.

08/27/18 A Must Read for Southerners

I don’t often read memoirs, but a friend recommended Lee Smith’s “Dimestore: A Writer’s Life,” and I felt obliged to give it a try. I’m glad I did. I’ve read many of her novels and chuckled when I read in her memoir that she began writing stories when she was nine years old.  The opening of the chapter titled A Life in Books brought back fond memories for me, not because I wrote as a child, but because I too was a voracious reader:

I was a reader long before I was a writer. In fact, I started writing in the first place because I couldn’t stand for my favorite books to be over, so I started adding more and more chapters onto the ends of them, often including myself as a character.  Thus the Bobbsey twins became the Bobbsey triplets, and Nancy Drew’s best friends, Bess Marvin and George Fayne, were joined by another character named Lee Smith—who actually ended up with Ned Nickerson! The additional chapters grew longer and more complicated as my favorite books became more complicated—Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, and Pippi Longstocking, for instance.

I suspect her parents called her a bookworm, though she was also an adventuring tomboy who climbed trees and roamed the mountains of Grundy, Virginia where she grew up. No one ever mistook me for a tomboy, so I don’t have that trait in common with her, but I did read beneath the covers with a flashlight, another scene she describes. And I smiled at her list of childhood books, so many of which I read too.  I think I missed Pippi Longstocking, but I did read the Hardy Boys and Nurse Cherry Ames.  How many of those ring a bell for you?

If you haven’t yet discovered Lee Smith’s novels, reading Dimestore will send you down that path. If you prefer to begin with a novel, I recommend “Oral History” and Family Linen, two of her earlier works, or her 2003 New York Times bestseller, “The Last Girls.” Though I seldom re-read books, I may have to go back to a few of hers to see whether they read differently now that I know more about the author.

08/19/18 Which children’s books do you remember?

Seeing a Facebook post about best loved Golden Books took me on a trip down memory lane as I recalled my favorite childhood books.  High on that list was ”The Poky Little Puppy,” and a bit of research revealed that it ranks as the top-selling children’s book of all time. When I tried to call to mind other Golden Books I loved, “The Three Little Kittens” was the only additional one that popped up.

Never fear, I recall plenty of other books I enjoyed. I have fond memories of Mom taking me to the library, I think on Saturdays. “Angus and the Ducks” is one of the books I checked out repeatedly. It’s the story of a little black terrier who discovers ducks one day when he sneaks out of his house. As an adult, I thought of that book every time I saw a friend’s dog run into the lake to chase the ducks.

I have forgotten plenty of books from my early years, but I had a delightful experience surfing Amazon. It took seeing the covers to make me remember my favorites. If my memory of the covers is that vivid, I know I must have read those books over and over.  When I clicked on Angus, I was rewarded with the cover of “Make Way for Ducklings,” triggering another happy memory.

The “Curious George” series was another favorite, one that has stood the test of time.  This summer I spent the day with my high school friend Beth as she made my dog a royal purple robe—you know about Lord Banjo and his robe, right? I had to laugh when I discovered she’d been making party favors for her grandson’s Curious George birthday party just the week before.

I still have my three Dr. Seuss books. They came in the mail as part of the Beginner Books series by Random House, which also included non-Suess books: “Stop that Ball,” “Cowboy Andy,” and “The King’s Wish.”

Another book I could remember even without seeing the cover was “The Five Chinese Brothers.”  Before locating it on Amazon, I thought to myself that in this age of heightened sensitivity, it had probably been banned.  I couldn’t readily remember the story, but the description, “a dramatic retelling of an old Chinese tale,” makes it seem harmless enough.

Trigger warning! The childhood book that has indeed been banned from some libraries is “Little Black Sambo,” originally published in 1899. Because the title and illustrations in the original are considered offensive, it was reworked in later tellings. The title and the setting change, but the story remains the same: “[A little boy] encounters four hungry tigers and surrenders his colorful new clothes, shoes, and umbrella so they will not eat him. The tigers are vain, and each thinks he is better dressed than the others. They chase each other around a tree until they are reduced to a pool of melted butter; [the boy] then recovers his clothes, and his mother makes pancakes of the butter.”

To end on an uncontroversial note, I also spied “The Story of Ferdinand,” a book that’s now been made into an animated movie.  What wonderful childhood memories.


 

Kathy Manos Penn is a Georgia resident. Her latest book, “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch,” and her collection of columns, “The Ink Penn: Celebrating the Magic in the Everyday,” are available on Amazon. Follow her on Facebook and contact her at inkpenn119@gmail.com, or both.

 

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