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November 22, 2005 > Worth a look

Worth a look

"Cinnamon Kiss" by Walter Mosley, Time Warner, 2005, $24.95

It is the summer of love when "Cinnamon Kiss" opens, and Easy Rawlins is contemplating robbing an armored car - his friend Mouse tells him it's a cinch. Robbing an armored car is something more outside the law than Easy has ever considered, but he has a good reason for needing to raise some quick cash. His daughter Feather needs medical treatment, which is going to cost Easy more than he could earn or borrow.

Another friend of Easy's, Saul Lynx, offers Easy another job, one that may solve his problem but doesn't carry the possibility of jail time. All Easy has to do is find an eccentric prominent attorney who has disappeared along with, it appears, his beautiful assistant Cinnamon" Cargill, who is missing as well.

Easy Rawlins latest mystery takes place in inner city Los Angeles and in San Francisco's Haight district. An African-American, Easy finds life as a black man in "white" America turbulent at times. Some readers might be put off by his view of the world, one in which he is always black first. But surprisingly, Easy isn't bitter; rather, he explains how it feels to never be at ease. Easy is no angel, but he is definitely a good guy.

"47" by Walter Mosley, Time Warner, 2005, $16.99

When a bestselling author writes his first young-adult fiction, take notice. Such a transition is not always pretty, but Walter Mosley has succeeded in writing an ambitious novel that is part historical fiction, part mythology and part science fiction."47" is a compelling adventure story that forces a slave boy to confront the pain of his own life as well as his family's past.

Many Americans have traced their ancestry to other countries and may have been able to create a family tree of their ancestors. But for descendents of slaves, tracing their family's history is more difficult. Delving into their past and tracing the lives of their ancestors often means confronting painful memories trying to piece together families that were broken up years ago.

To help family members of former slaves overcome their reluctance to trace their family's past, Mosley has created a historical novel about a slave who is triumphant amidst the travesty of slavery.

The hero, whose name is 47, was a slave boy denied a name by his master who hates him. 47's mother, Psalma, who was a favorite slave, had become pregnant with 47 against Master Tobias' wishes. She died during childbirth. No one knows who 47's father is.

As a child, 47 forms a friendship with a boy named Tall John who is an alien being. Tall John's star-flung fate is soon inextricably intertwined with the 47's destiny. Tall John is a reflection of an old slave myth about a spirit named High John the Conqueror. High John, the myth goes, came from Africa to confound white masters and ultimately free slaves. When Tall John enters the story, 47 sees his own life through modern eyes; making this transition may be disorienting for readers at first.

Like most of Mosley's books, there are heroes and villains but the characters are not just simply good or bad. Often you will discover the characters simply do what's necessary to survive and know of no any other way.

47 forces readers have a better understanding of what the word slavery really means and the inhumanity it represents. It's a book not just written for the young black readers, the science fiction element of it may appeal to young adults as well.

"Assassin" by Anna Myers, Walker & Company, 2005, $16.95

Abraham Lincoln continues to fascinate Americans. Most know Honest Abe as a country boy and a self-taught lawyer who went on to became an icon. Recent books have portrayed him as political genius, suffering with bouts of depression and someone who was sexually ambiguous.

Many historians agree that Lincoln was a troubled man as well as a great president. In "Assassin," Lincoln is weighted down by the responsibilities of waging war and preserving a republic while dealing with the loss of his beloved son, Willie. Mary Todd Lincoln is portrayed sympathetically as a headachy, worried and depressed first lady however she has moments where she shows great strength. With all their human frailties, the Lincolns may be considered an unlikely pair to occupy the White House today.

"Assassin" is a young adult historical novel. It is told by the two voices of John Wilkes Booth and Bella, a White House assistant seamstress. An actor, John Wilkes Booth was the matinee idol of his day, a famous and charismatic lady's man. However, he gradually evolves from fervent pro-Southerner to a crazed and obsessed killer. Drawn to Wilkes, Bella isn't evil, just young and star struck. Wilkes persuades her to betray both her beliefs and the boy she loves. Ultimately, she places herself in danger to try to save the President.

"Hanukkah, Schmanukkah!" By Esme Raji Codell, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, Hyperion Books, 2005, $16.99

Book, schmook! Ah, but this is a Hanukkah picture book with a twist with lots of Yiddish words. Imagine adapting "A Christmas Carol" with a Jewish Mr. Scroogemacher. Vey ist mir (woe is me)!

Look for the story of the Maccabees and the Triangle Shirt Factory fire. For those unfamiliar with Yiddish, there is a handy glossary in the back.

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