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Dave Wood's Book Report, June 24, 2009

Anglophiles, Attention!

"I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn't. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that happened to me in my entire life."

Thus spake 11-year-old Flavia de Luce, when she sees a man dying in the cucumber patch of Buckshaw, the decaying deLuce estate in England.

In "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie," by Alan Bradley (Delacorte, $23) Little Flavia turns out to be an aspiring chemist with a passion for the make-up of poisons in this charming examination of English society.

On the regional front we have "The Fortunate Orphans," by Craig Macintosh (Beaver's Pond Press, $17). Macintosh, a former political cartoonist for the Star Tribune has written an out-of-the-ordinary World War II novel.

There have been many novels and histories of the Battle of the Bulge, but "The Fortunate Orphans" takes a different twist.

After a few chapters Macintosh picks up the story 60 years after the 1944 battle, in which a berserk Wafer SS officer orders a massacre of U.S. prisoners.

Four of the men who survive, ordinary guys, decide to return to Europe and take their revenge. Macintosh says that one of his intentions is to demonstrate that ordinary guys can do extraordinary things.

As I read the book, I was struck by the difference in tone of this exciting novel from old time books and movies like "The Great Escape," in which extraordinary guys like Steve McQueen do extraordinary things.

Remember Ray Christensen formerly of WCCO radio? This is what he has to say:

"As a veteran of World War It's Battle of the Bulge I was caught up in the book's early sequences.

As an avid reader of mysteries, I joined the plotters carrying out their intricate project. Full of interesting characters and a well-conceived plot." Graphic novels are all the rage these days among teenagers, pre-teens and even adults, as witness the incredible success of Art Spiegel man's "Mauls," the comic book about the Holocaust which took the world by storm 15 years ago.

For those old-timers who laugh at graphic novels, think back to the 1940s and a series called "Classic Comics," a full colored and beautifully drawn selection of great literary masterpieces.

When I lived with a pious old aunt, she gave me a very thick Classic Comic, called "The Holy Bible." And she expected me to read in it and look at the pictures every day. I didn't mind a bit. (Joseph actually had a coat of many colors.)

So I'm sort of high on this new version and Lerner Publications of Minneapolis is mumping right in with a big series of graphics called "Graphic Universe," beautifully turned out and durable paperbacks like "William Tell: One Against and Empire," text by Paul Storrie, drawings by Thomas Yeates.

Another is "Psyche & Eros: The Lady and the Monster: A Greek Myth," by Marie P. Croall and Ron Randall. And yet another is "Marwe Into the Land of the Dead: An East African Legend by Marie P. Croall, Ray Lago and Craig Hamilton. They all sell for $8.95.

Other titles include books about Beowulf, Arthur and Lancelot, Ali Baba, Jason and the quest for the golden fleece, Tristan and Isolde.

Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at (715) 426-9554.