Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: King Soloman’s Mines

Book Name: King Solomon’s Mines
Author: Sir H. Rider Haggard
First Published: 1885

Sir Henry Rider Haggard, better known as H. Rider Haggard, was born in Bradenham, Norfolk on June 22, 1856. He was the eighth of ten children and unlike his older brothers, he did not study in a private school, probably due to financial constraints and his father’s low regard for him.

In 1875, Haggard was sent to South Africa to do unpaid work. During this time, he fell in love with Mary Elizabeth “Lilly” Jackson and planned to marry her once he got paid work in the continent. When he became Registrar of the High Court in the Transvaal in 1878, he wrote to his father about his plan to return to England and marry Jackson. His father, however, would not allow him to return without having made a career first. By 1879, Jackson had married a rich banker and upon Haggard’s return, he married Marianna Louisa Margitson. The couple went to Africa and had a son and three daughters.

In 1882, the couple went back to England. Haggard became a lawyer but he spent a lot of time writing novels. To prove to his brother that he could write a good story like Treasure Island, he wrote King Solomon’s Mines. The novel was written in 6-14 weeks but was rejected by publishers once it was finished. When it was finally published in September 1885, it quickly became a best seller. Haggard released a sequel, Allan Quatermain, shortly. The stories were influenced by adventurers he met in Africa and the wealth and ancient ruins in the continent. King Solomon’s Mines is credited as the start of the Lost World genre, which influenced popular American pulp writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard. The hero Allan Quatermain became the template for Indiana Jones and regained popularity as a major character in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Haggard was also heavily involved in agricultural reform and was part of several commissions on land use and similar issues. In 1912, he was made a Knight Bachelor and in 1919, he became a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He died on May 14, 1925, when he was 68.

“Truly wealth, which men spend all their lives in acquiring, is a valueless thing at the last.” – H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines

Allan Quatermain is an adventurer and professional hunter based in Durban, South Africa. Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good ask him to help them find Sir Henry’s brother, who is on a journey in the unexplored territory to find the mythical King Solomon’s Mines. Quatermain possesses a map to the mines but has not really believed in its authenticity. Nevertheless, he agrees to join the two men if they will share the treasure they will find or financially support his son in case he dies during the trip. Quatermain does not believe that they will be able to return alive but thinks that his death will at least provide support for his child.

The three men are accompanied by Umbopa, a mysterious native who seems more eloquent and regal than the other porters. They travel by oxcart until the edge of a desert, then begin walking. Fortunately for them, they discover an oasis along the way. They reach the Suliman Berg and climb one of the peaks of the mountain range. Inside a cave is the frozen corpse of José Silvestre, the explorer who drew the map using his blood. When another servant dies because of the freezing temperature, they leave the body to provide Silvestre a companion.

They then reach a lush valley called Kukuanaland. They escape being killed by Kukuana warriors when Captain Good fidgets with his denture, which scares the warriors. From then on, they pretend to be powerful gods but they still have to regularly prove their claim, which stresses them and strains their creativity.

They are then brought to King Twala, who killed the former king (his brother) then sent his brother’s wife and son Ignosi to die in the desert. An old, evil witch named Gagool serves as the king’s primary advisor and murders those who oppose her and the king. Umbopa earns Gagool’s suspicion but Quatermain is able to save him.

Soon, it is revealed that Umbopa is Ignosi, the true king of Kukuanaland. The Englishmen gain support by using the foreknowledge of a lunar eclipse to prove Ignosi’s claim. Twala is overthrown by the rebels and loses his head in a duel with Sir Henry.

Gagool reluctantly takes them to King Solomon’s Mines but while the men are admiring the treasure, she sneaks out and uses a hidden mechanism to trap the men inside. With their food and water supply dwindling, the trapped men prepare for death.

There is something about these Victorian era pulp novels that calls to me. The world was largely unexplored back then, magic and mystery abounded in places that we now call home. King Soloman’s Mines was one of those break out novels for its author. It was a huge bestseller of its day, a “star wars” for the Victorians, and it still has much influence over our stories today. While a pure adventure tale and worth reading just for the sheer fun, it is not a shallow book at all. The characters are interesting and well developed and it has a few literary allusions to the Old Testament of the Bible and the Ingoldsby Legends. While the author does portray his protagonists as British imperialists, true to his culture of that time, there is more in his tale. His native Africans gradually emerge as fully developed individuals, capable of great nobility and wisdom, or evil. Quartermain himself undergoes a broadening of outlook during his adventure and he comes to see the people around him as equals instead of natives that “should known their place”. I feel that this helps keep King Solomon’s Mines from becoming too dated for today’s readers.

You can find a free download of King Solomon’s Mines on Project Gutenburg. Find yourself a copy and enjoy it on a hot summer day with a cold soda or beer while you experience the African of yesteryear. It is the first of a series of 15 novels, so if you like it, there is more to enjoy.

King Solomon's Mines Book CoverAllan Quatermain Series:

King Solomon’s Mines (1885)
Allan Quatermain (1887)
Allan’s Wife & Other Tales (1887)
Maiwa’s Revenge: or, The War of the Little Hand (1888)
Marie (1912)
Child of Storm (1913)
The Holy Flower (1915) (first serialised in the Windsor Magazine December 1913-November 1914)
The Ivory Child (1916)
Finished (1917)
The Ancient Allan (1920)
She and Allan (1920)
Heu-heu: or, The Monster (1924)
The Treasure of the Lake (1926)
Allan and the Ice-gods (1927)
Hunter Quatermain’s Story: The Uncollected Adventures of Allan Quatermain (collection, 2003)

Book Review: Dracula

Book Name: Dracula
Author: Bram Stoker
First Published: 1897

Bram Stoker was born on November 8, 1847 in Dublin, Ireland. He was a sickly boy but he fully recovered when he was seven. He had no other major health problems and even became an athlete at Trinity College, Dublin when he studied there from 1864-1870. He graduated with honors with a degree in Mathematics and became auditor of the College Historical Society and President of the University Philosophical Society.

While he was a student, he became interested in the theater and later became a theater critic. He became known because of his good reviews even though theater critics were not highly respected those days. He gave a positive review of Henry Irving’s Hamlet, which resulted to Irving inviting him for dinner and the two becoming friends.

In 1878, Bram Stoker and Florence Balcombe married. The couple moved to London and had a son in 1879. Stoker worked as manager of Irving’s Lyceum Theater for 27 years. By working for Irving, the position gave Stoker the opportunity to meet famous personalities and travel. It was during this time in his life that began writing his novels.

In 1890, Stoker went to the English town of Whitby, where it is said he got some of his inspiration for the novel Dracula. He also met the Hungarian writer Armin Vámbéry, who told him scary stories about the Carpathian mountains. Stoker then studied European folklore and vampire stories for several years. It was not until 1897 that he published Dracula. Other inspirations for the novel include the Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire, the crypts of St. Michan’s Church in Dublin and Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella Carmilla.

Stoker had several strokes and died on April 20, 1912. His cause of death is not definite – some say he died from tertiary syphilis while others claim it was due to overwork. He was cremated and his ashes were placed in an urn. When his son Irving Noel Stoker died in 1961, his ashes were also placed in the same urn. The ashes of Bram Stoker and Florence Stoker were supposed to be put together but when Florence died, her ashes were scattered at the Gardens of Rest.

“There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights.” -Bram Stoker, Dracula

In the late nineteenth century, a young British lawyer named Jonathan Harker goes to Castle Dracula in Transylvania to finalize a real estate transaction involving Count Dracula. On the way, he encounters superstitious villagers who become fearful upon hearing his destination. He continues despite their fears and is driven to the castle by a mysterious man.

His accommodations are suitable, but he finds his host Count Dracula to be a strange thin and pale man. He discovers that the Count drinks human blood in order to survive but the latter escapes to England along with fifty boxes of earth. Harker is left at the castle sick and weak.

In England, Jonathan’s fiancée Mina Murray is with her friend Lucy Westenra. Lucy has three suitors who have offered her marriage – Arthur Holmwood, Dr. John Seward, and Quincey Morris – and has begun to sleepwalk. Mina is worried about her friend and because she has not heard from Jonathan for a long time.

A damaged ship carrying Count Dracula’s fifty boxes of earth arrives, but the ship’s crew is missing. Mina finds the sleepwalking Lucy near the graveyard, with a tall, thin figure nearby. The figure vanishes and Lucy does not remember anything when she awakens. Lucy is cold and has two tiny puncture wounds on her neck, but Mina thinks she has just accidentally pricked her friend with a pin. Over the next several weeks, Lucy’s health deteriorates but her former suitor Dr. Seward cannot determine what is making her sick.

When Mina receives word about Jonathan, she goes to help him. Lucy’s condition worsens so Dr. Seward asks the help of Dr. Abraham Van Helsing. Van Helsing notices the spots on the girl’s neck and her blood loss. They give Lucy several blood transfusions, but the girl improves only temporarily. Van Helsing suspects that Lucy is being victimized by a vampire and puts garlic in her room and around her neck to protect her. However, the vampire is able to attack the girl again and Lucy dies.

After her death, a beautiful lady begins attacking the children in the village. Disturbed, Van Helsing asks Dr. Seward to help him open Lucy’s coffin. He also gets to read Mina’s transcription of Jonathan’s diary about his trip to Transylvania. He gathers Lucy’s previous suitors and explains to them that Lucy has become a vampire and how they can save her soul and kill Count Dracula.

Dracula Book CoverDracula is not a novel, that is a single tale woven as a movie might be, instead it is in epistolary form as a collection of journals, letters and papers. The many viewpoints through each journal entry serve to create the suspense which sets the tone of the novel. I will confess that Dracula is not my favorite book of all time. I have never been into horror novels and this one is the granddaddy of the horror genre. Still, it is a classic that has been a part of our literary history and part of our pop culture. It is well worth the time to go back and see the original tale by its creator.

Book Review: Hyperion

Book Name: Hyperion
Author: Dan Simmons
First Published: 1989
Hugo Award for Best Novel 1990
Locus Award Winner 1990

Dan Simmons was born on April 4, 1948 in Peoria, Illinois. He received his B.A in English from Wabash College in 1970 and his Masters in Education from Washington University the following year. He became an elementary school teacher for the next 18 years.

Simmons writing career took off in 1982, when he released his short story The River Styx Runs Upstream with Harlan Ellison’s help. It won first prize in a Twilight Zone Magazine story contest and was published in 1982, the day Simmons’ daughter Jane Kathryn was born. He considers the coincidence useful to “keeping things in perspective when it comes to the relative importance of writing and life.”

Song of Kali, Simmons’ first novel, was then published in 1985. Simmons gained popularity in 1989 when he released Hyperion, a science fiction novel that won the Hugo and Locus Awards. The novel’s structure was inspired by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Boccaccio’s Decameron.

Simmons grew up in several places in the Midwest, including Brimfield, Illinois, which served as the inspiration for the fictional town of Elm Haven in his stories Summer of Night and A Winter Haunting. He has been writing full-time since 1987. He and his wife Karen live in Colorado and he sometimes writes at Windwalker, their high-altitude cabin near the Rocky Mountain National Park. A sculpture of the Shrike — the demon-god in Hyperion — made by his friend and former student Clee Richeson stands near the cabin.

Simmons has successfully written books in different genres: fantasy, sci-fi, horror, crime fiction, historical fiction, and suspense. His books have been published in the USA and Canada, as well as 27 other countries. Many of his novels have been optioned for film, such as Song of Kali, Drood, and The Crook Factory. The Hyperion books, meanwhile, have been bought by Warner Brothers and Graham King Films and are in pre-production.

“It occurs to me that our survival may depend upon our talking to one another.” – Dan Simmons, Hyperion

It is the 28th century and Earth has long been destroyed. Humans colonize the galaxy via “Hawking drive” ships that carry portal machines to new worlds known as “Farcasters”. These portals permit nearly instantaneous travel no matter how far apart the two portal gates are. The farcaster network is the basis of the Hegemony of Man and determines the entire culture and society of humans. Running all this technology is a vast agglomeration of AIs known as the “TechnoCore”.

The Hegemony is a decadent society, ruled by a human executive advised by the TechnoCore advisory council, that relies on its military to protect and defend the Hegemony from attacks by the “Ousters”. They are considered interstellar barbarians who live beyond the dictates of the Hegemony and shun anything to do with the TechnoCore AI machines.

The advice and predictions by the ‘Core are confounded by mysterious structures of the Time Tombs on the remote colony world of Hyperion. The aggressive Ousters are obsessed with the planet and their planned invasion to take Hyperion is imminent.

The Shrike, a very powerful but mysterious being, guards the Time Tombs of Hyperion, a remote colony that the Ousters want to invade. According to legend, when pilgrims visit the Time Tombs, the Shrike will kill all but one of them then grant the survivor his wish.

This time, seven pilgrims make the voyage. They meet each other after coming out of a cryogenic state and each one tells his story during the long trip, in a manner that is reminiscent of the classic Canterbury Tales.

Het Masteen is a Templar who captains the treeship that the pilgrims are riding to Hyperion.

Father Lenar Hoyt is a Roman Catholic priest who once accompanied another priest to Hyperion. There, he got infected with cruciforms, parasites that rebuild and reincarnate dead bodies. The cruciforms cause him excruciating pain and he has built a tolerance for painkillers over time. He is going back to Hyperion to find out what will happen to him.

Colonel Fedmahn Kassad has discovered that his previous lover Moneta has been working with the Shrike to use him to start an interstellar war that will kill billions. He is on the pilgrimage to kill her and the Shrike.

Martin Silenus is an old poet who is working on his greatest poem: Hyperion Cantos. He once lived on Hyperion in an attempt to find his lost muse but the Shrike began murdering the people he lived with. During that time, his muse returned, which convinced him that the Shrike was his muse. Silenus eventually left the colony but has been waiting for centuries to return to finish his poem.

Sol Weintraub‘s daughter Rachel was an archaeologist who contracted the Merlin disease while she was exploring Hyperion. The disease makes her age backwards. She is now an infant and may become nonexistent in her upcoming birthday. Sol is on the pilgrimage to ask the Shrike to cure his daughter.

Brawne Lamia is a private investigator whose client Johnny, a John Keats clone with AI-controlled electronic implants, wanted her to investigate his murder. The assault on Johnny left him with a limited amnesia that Lamia discovered to be connected to his knowledge about Hyperion. Lamia joins the pilgrimage pregnant with Johnny’s child.

The Consul tells a story about his grandparents, Merin Aspic and Siri of the ocean-planet Maui-Covenant. Merin was on a long-term contract to build a farcaster portal to connect Maui-Covenant to the Hegemony. He falls in love with a native girl. They reunite only seven times, with the time dilation causing Merin to barely age as Siri follows time naturally and dies of old age. At this time the farcaster is about to be activated. Merin chooses to sabotage the portal, starting “Siri’s War”, in order to prevent the Hegemony tourists from ruining the ecology of the world and destroying the human and dolphin inhabitants.

The Consul was forbidden by Merin to join in the war and instead he bides his time in the Hegemony diplomatic corps, waiting for a moment to betray the government and obtain his revenge. The consul is instrumental in an Ouster plot to release the Shrike from the Time Tombs where it would have a chance to enter the datastream “WorldWeb” of the Hegemony.

As a former secondary school teacher myself, how can I resist a science fiction novel that is structured like the Canterbury Tales of old? Simmons uses the pilgrimage as a tool to bring together a diverse group of characters who do not have much in common, but soon all share the same goal. Each story has a different feel and the pulls from classic literature transformed into science fiction is well done. Be warned: the book does have a cliff-hanger ending. You will need to read The Fall of Hyperion to find out what happens next.

Hyperion Book CoverHyperion Cantos:

Hyperion (1989)
The Fall of Hyperion (1990)
Endymion (1995)
The Rise of Endymion (1997)

Book Review: The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress

Book Name: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
First Published: 1966
Hugo Award for Best Novel 1967
Prometheus Award Hall of Fame Award recipient 1983

Robert A. Heinlein was born in 1907 and was known as one of the “big three” masters of classic science fiction along with Issac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. He was one of the most influential and controversial authors of science fiction. People to this day argue about the ideas that Heinlein presented and this would have undoubtedly delighted the man.

Heinlein invented many of the tropes we now take for granted in the genre of science fiction. His stories addressed the importance of individual liberty and self-reliance, the obligation that individuals owe to their culture, the influence of organized religion on society and government and the tendency of people to repress nonconformist thought.

“Revolution is an art that I pursue rather than a goal I expect to achieve. Nor is this a source of dismay; a lost cause can be as spiritually satisfying as a victory.”
― Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress begins during the year 2075 in the underground colonies of the Moon. These three million inhabitants are criminals, political exiles and their descendants from all over the Earth, with men outnumbering women 2:1. This makes polyandry the norm in “Loonie” culture. The Lunar Authority’s master computer, HOLMES IV (High-Optional, Logical, Multi-Evaluating Supervisor, Mark IV) has almost total control of Luna’s systems. When computer technician Manuel Garcia “Mannie” O’Kelly-Davis discovers that the AI computer has secretly become self aware, he names it “Mike” after Mycroft Holmes, the brother of Sherlock Holmes, and the two become friends.

Mike is curious about the inhabitants of the Moon and asks his friend Mannie to place a recorder in an anti-Authority meeting. When the cops come to raid the gathering, Mannie escapes with a blond agitator named Wyoming “Wyoh” Knott. Together, they join an elderly political activist, Professor Bernardo de la Paz who informs them that if Luna does not stop exporting hydroponic wheat to Earth, the imbalance caused by constant loss of bio-mass will result in food riots within seven years and cannibalism in nine. With nothing to replace what is loss, their ecosystem will collapse. Wyoh and the Professor want to start a revolution to solve this pressing problem and Mannie is persuaded to join them at Mike’s request.

The AI takes on a new persona named “Adam Selene” and becomes the leader of the revolution movement. Adam can only connect with humans via a phone, after all, he does not have a body, but by working with Mannie, Wyoh, and the Professor, he is able to be involved. At first, the covert cells, protected by the AI make little progress, but when Mannie saves the life of a rich, well-connected tourist, public opinion on Earth begins to look more favorably on the lunar colonists and their cause.

Earth does not release the Moon without a fight. Troops are sent to the Moon to quell the rebellion, but riots among the people erupt when a soldier rapes a female colonist. It is the last straw that provokes the Loonies to overthrow the Lunar Authority’s Protector and to create a defense system to protect the colonies from Earth. They modify an electromagnetic catapult that was once used to export wheat into a rock throwing weapon capable of much destruction on the planet.

The AI continues to control the communications and impersonates the “Warden” in messages to the Earth. This gives the revolutionists time to organize. The Professor sets up an “Ad-Hoc Congress” to distract any dissenters. Finally, Luna declares its independence on July 4, 2076, the 300th anniversary of the US Declaration of Independence.

Mannie and the Professor travel to Earth and are received by the Federated Nations. They begin a world tour to tout the benefits of a free Luna while urging the governments of Earth to build a catapult of their own to transfer bio supplies to Luna in exchange for grain. Their efforts are rejected and the two become imprisoned. Later, they are freed by the man they rescued at the beginning of the revolution and they travel with him back to the Moon. When they return, an election is held and Mannie, Wyoh, and the Professor are elected as leaders of Luna.

The Federated Nations of Earth once again send troops to destroy the Loonies, but the revolutionaries fight back against great odds and large loss of life. A rumor is heard that Adam Selene was among those killed, which frees the AI from having to appear in person. The AI uses the catapult to launch rocks at sparsely-populated locations on Earth, warning the inhabitants that the lunar “missiles” are coming, but the people of Earth don’t heed the warnings and many die. This causes the people of Earth to turn against the new lunar nation.

A second attack destroy’s the original catapult, but the ingenious Loonies build a secondary one in a secret location operated by Mannie. The former computer tech turned commander continues the attack on Earth until the planet concedes Luna’s independence.

Mannie takes control of the new government after their victory, but he and Wyoh gradually withdraw from Lunar politics as they discover that the new government falls short of their expectations. When Mannie attempts to speak to Mike, the AI’s replies indicate that the computer has lost its self-awareness and human-like qualities as a result of either the damage suffered in the war or of shock.

Probably one of the greatest influences I had as a science fiction writer is Robert A. Heinlein. I have read just about everything that he has written and a few of his novels rank among some of my favorites. Many of the tropes that are commonplace in science fiction today were invented by this man. There is an old adage that states: “Heinlein was there first.” For the most part, it is true! If you want to write science fiction or are interested in becoming more versed in the genre as a reader, this is one of the authors that you should read.

Heinlein remains a controversial figure to this day. If you are a feminist, you will have difficulty with Heinlein. Our views on culture, marriage and the roles of women have changed in the 50 years since this novel was written. In The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, there are women that marry at 14, women that endure whistles and catcalls because of their physical looks, and while there is racial diversity among the Loonies, many racist ideas of the time period still come through in the writing. Yet, during the time that Heinlein wrote his stories, he was considered ground-breaking for his forward thinking. The novel features Heinlein’s ideas about individualism, libertarianism, and free expression of physical and emotional love.

One of the aspects that I enjoy most about this book was the development of the AI computer. Remember, at the time the novel was written, a computer that filled a room could barely do what a one dollar throw away calculator does today. AI Mike doesn’t go crazy and attempt to destroy humanity as many tropes might have him do now, instead he wants to learn what is funny and what it is to be human. With more robots being built and AI becoming a reality, this is an idea that we as a people are going to need to explore.

The idea of life on the moon and the weaponization of space is a concept who’s time has come with the advent of privatized space programs popping up all over the world. There will be many people in space able to “throw rocks” at the Earth as nations and corporations begin to develop the resources in the asteroids, and the Moon.

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress Book CoverHeinlein wrote in the voice of his era. He is imaginative and smart, but he still retains many of the ideas and limitations of the world that he lived in. How many writers can overcome this overwhelming thing called “their lives”? Even so, he manages to see into the future and his best guesses were not all that far off the mark. Give The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress a read with an open mind. Yes, it is a little dated, but you will find many of the ideas that have shaped science fiction as we know it today inside its pages.

Book Review: To Kill A Mocking Bird

Book Name: To Kill A Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
First Published: 1960

Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. She studied at Monroe County High School, where she became interested in English literature. She then enrolled in Huntingdon College in Montgomery.

She is best known for her novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Similar to the book’s character Scout, the young Harper Lee was a tomboy who observed racism in her small town in Alabama. Her father was a lawyer who once defended two black men accused of killing a white man but the two black men were later executed. Dill was based on Lee’s friend Truman Capote.

She began her writing career with several long stories. With the help of the editor Tay Hohoff, she spent two and a half years rewriting the draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. The novel was published on July 11, 1960 and quickly became a critically-acclaimed bestseller. In 1961, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and in 1999 was voted “Best Novel of the Century” in Library Journal’s poll.

Lee has done few interviews or public appearances since publishing To Kill a Mockingbird. She has not published another novel. She worked on a second novel, titled The Long Goodbye, but did not finish it. In the mid-1980s, she began writing a nonfiction book about an Alabama serial murderer but also filed it away unfinished. She was, however, satisfied with her book’s Oscar-winning screenplay adaptation by Horton Foote. During the filming, she became good friends with Gregory Peck, who won an Academy Award for portraying Atticus Finch.

On November 5, 2007, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush. This is the highest award in the United States for civilians, awarded to people with outstanding contribution to culture, world peace, security, and national interests.

In a 2011 interview, Lee’s close friend, Rev. Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, shared what Lee told him as the reason why she never wrote again, “Two reasons: one, I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.”

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. – Harper Lee

Atticus Finch is a middle-aged lawyer and a widower who lives in Depression-era Maycomb, Alabama. He has two children, six-year-old Scout and her older brother Jem. The two children are terrified of their reclusive neighbor Arthur “Boo” Radley, yet they are also intrigued by him. Together with Dill, a boy who stays with his aunt in Maycomb during the summer, they obsess about Boo’s appearance and how they can lure him outside, despite Atticus’ warning to leave the man alone. The children sometimes find gifts in a tree near Boo’s house but never see him.

One day, Atticus takes on the case of a black man named Tom Robinson, who is accused of raping and beating up a white woman named Mayella Ewell. Most of the people of Maycomb believe that Tom is guilty and are beginning to resent the attorney for defending him. Scout and Jem are harassed at school because of their father’s actions. Their father tells them not to fight with the other children but it becomes hard for tomboy Scout and even the more levelheaded Jem to not lose their tempers.

Atticus stands up to a lynch mob out to kill Tom and the mob disperses after the children shame them. The lawyer does not want his children to attend the trial but they are able to, sitting in the area designated for black people. In the trial, Atticus is able to prove that Tom could not have beaten up and raped Mayella because of his crippled hand. It becomes clear that the lonely Mayella made advances toward Tom. Nevertheless, Tom is convicted, making Atticus’ two kids realize their town’s prejudice against people of color, even in a court where truth is supposed to win over bias. Soon after the trial, Tom gets shot and killed for attempting to escape while in prison. Tom’s conviction and his death shake the Finch family’s confidence in justice.

To Kill A Mockingbird Book CoverMy first exposure to this novel was via required reading in secondary school. I was taken by the book, not only due to the literary themes, but because the story was told by a little girl that was not much younger than myself at the time. I was a tomboy like Scout and I could feel what she felt as events happened in the story. I also felt a great deal of admiration for Atticus Finch. In many ways, this character has become my role model for courage and justice. I have enjoyed seeing the Oscar winning film starring Gregory Peck and highly recommend seeing it if you have not done so.

Ms. Lee has been in the news as of late. She is an elderly woman that was in need of funds to pay for her medical care and was in a legal battle over the royalties from her single best-selling book in order to find the money to pay for her doctors. I understand she has had some success with her suit and I certainly wish her all the best and a peaceful life.