Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Sky Is Yours

By Chandler Klang Smith

It's a city under siege, mostly deserted by those who used to live there. City services are failing or gone. But still there are those who refuse to leave and who continue to fight against the forces trying to destroy everything.
Three young people come together to change the fate of the city, completely unknowing of their destiny. Swan, a baroness, trained by her ambitious mother to be the perfect daughter and perfect wife to some rich young man. But Swan has a secret and it may bring about her early death. Duncan, the spoiled wastrel indulged by his mother and a disappointment to his father, and the sole heir to a fabulous fortune and Swan's intended. Abby, a foundling raised by a crazy woman in a garbage dump. She is the key to the salvation of the city although no one knows this, not even Abby.
The three young people come together for Duncan's and Swan's wedding. Duncan, who has never actually met his bride, brings little orphan Abby to his wedding. He and Abby met when he crashed his flying machine on her garbage island. Abby saved him and bandaged his wounds and promptly fell headlong in love with the first man she had ever seen.
Swan does not handle having her fiancé's girl friend at their wedding too well, but since the contracts are all signed and under her mother's control, she goes ahead with it. But home invaders break into the mansion and Duncan's parents and Swan's mother are killed and the three young adults escape the chaos and come together briefly but end up going their separate ways. Lost in a dying city, completely unprepared to stand on their own two feet, and with anger and resentment and misunderstandings poisoning their relationships, they will be forced to face their individual destinies and truths.

This was an OK read. The premise, of a city under siege by two dragons, was kind of stupid. Oddly, the city stands alone against this assault, with no help from a national government or from any allies at all. Also oddly, the wealthy choose to stay there even though there is no logical reason for them to do so.
Really, this book doesn't make a lot of sense. The only really sympathetic character ends up dead. It's a strange story and it just didn't appeal to me very much, I think mainly for two reasons. First, it was supposed to be funny. But it mostly wasn't. Unless you find the grotesque and disgusting funny, which I don't. Second, the main characters are just not appealing people, except for one. And she comes off as dumb as dirt. I didn't like them and so I didn't care what happened to them.

Bring on the Empty Horses

By David Niven

Niven looks back on his Hollywood days, focusing mainly on the actors and others in the movie business rather than on himself. He details his friendships with famous actors like Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable.
He talks about the writers, the bigwigs, the women. He exposes their affairs, their excesses, their addictions, their disappointments, their unhappy relationships and the efforts to hide it all from the judgmental press of that time.
It's a look back at time when movies were just starting to become a huge international business and the beautiful faces were capturing the audience imagination. It's an enjoyable excursion into a land and people most of us can only dream about.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Personal Effects

By Marissa Piesman

Thirty-something NYC lawyer Nina Fischman is lonely. She choose the professional life, and even though she has been involved with several men, none of the relationships stood the test of time. Now she second guesses herself, comparing herself to her sister, married to a successful man and with young children. Frankly, Nina is disappointed with herself.
Recently, her best friend Susan has moved back to NYC. In the past Susan has been a bit of a gadabout, unsettled in her life, both working and personal. Susan too, is questioning her past choices and has returned to New York because she has decided she wants to be a married woman. To help her find the right man, Susan has placed personal ads in various New York publications and has been on a few dates with men who responded to the ads. But one of those men turns out to be a dangerous person and Susan ends up strangled and dead.
Nina, as Susan's closest confidant, works with the police to figure out who the killer is. Unfortunately, Susan didn't reveal a lot of detail about the men in her life. All Nina knows is that Susan said he was good-looking, physically fit, had good hair, liked hiking and wore contacts. Susan never told anyone the man's name.
So, together with police detective James Williams, Nina will place personal ads similar to those that Susan had placed, hoping to attract the killer. Which means that Nina will find herself going out on dates with several strangers, hoping and dreading that one of them may be a murderer.

This was an interesting if unlikely story. I really can't see the police ever agreeing to such a lamebrained scheme. Or that the killer wouldn't moderate his behavior, at least for quite a while, rather than continuing on as if nothing terrible had happened.
But despite the weak plot, I did enjoy the story. It was fun following Nina on her dating adventures with the various suspects.

Check out the review by Publishers Weekly

On a side note, this is what the characters in the book have to say about donald trump:
Well, I don't understand why the public is so fascinated by him. To me he is just another boring, narcissistic businessman. There's nothing cool about him.
This book is copyright 1991. So even back then New Yorkers were seeing through trump.

The Mammy

By Brendan O'Carroll

Agnes Browne is a street vendor, recently widowed, with seven kids. Her dead husband was no prize and his absence makes life both harder and easier for Agnes. Harder because of less money coming in and easier because he was abusive.
They married young when Agnes became pregnant. Neither of them had much in the way of education. The husband worked as a laborer. If it weren't for charity and the church, life would be nearly impossible for such a large, young family. The oldest child is 14 and the youngest 3.
Now that her husband is out of the picture, Agnes is determined her children don't end up as ignorant and unskilled as she and the husband were. She is especially determined that the oldest child continue his education and learn a trade. But the boy is equally determined to quit school and get a job to help out his mother.
Somehow, they all work together and create a happy and loving home, just getting by, but sometimes just getting by is good enough.

Agnes Browne's situation is difficult, but this is not a sad story. This is a rollicking and happy look at an Irish family loving each other and working together to help each other. And getting into scrapes and dealing with sorrows and setbacks and discovering new possibilities and new hopes.

Check out the review from Publishers Weekly

Conjugal Rites

By Paul Magrs

Trouble is once again afoot in the seaside resort town where Brenda and Effie live. Lately townsfolk are glued to a late night radio broadcast, The Night Owls, hosted by their old enemy from the first book in the Brenda and Effie series, Never the Bride, Mr. Danby. The radio program encourages locals to call in and spill the goods on their fellow citizens.  Mr. Danby and his radio show seem to have a hypnotic effect on his listeners, as they stay up all night listening to their neighbors bad mouth each other. When Brenda tunes in to see what is what, she is upset to discover one of the targets of the malicious radio gossip is Brenda herself.
But that is not the only rotten thing in town. Brenda's long lost and not missed ex is in town and he has only one thing on his mind: wooing and marrying Brenda, whether she is willing or not.
This adventure will take Brenda and Effie to hell and back and will change everything in both their lives.

This was a fairly good story. The story, for the most part, shifts from Brenda to Effie, as Brenda disappears from quite a large part of the story. Effie's and Brenda's young man friend Robert steps in as Effie's sidekick and he and Effie work together to bring Brenda back. But Brenda being lacking from much of the story spoiled it for me, as I find her story more interesting than that of the other characters.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Night Shift

By Charlaine Harris

Book 3 of the Midnight, Texas series.

Here, once again, are the characters from the first two books: Fiji, Bobo, Manfred, Chuy, Joe, the Rev, Olivia, Lemuel, Mr. Snuggly and others.
A new disaster has struck the tiny town of Midnight. Lonely people are coming to the crossroads in the heart of Midnight and killing themselves. After three people have done this, the locals realize that something is seriously wrong.
The key to the mystery is in the old books that Lemuel is trying to get translated. It gradually becomes clear that a demon was interred under the crossroads hundred of years ago and that the spell that bound it there is starting to wear off. It has been calling the vulnerable to itself and gaining power from their deaths.
The Midnighters must act before it can rise and seize Fiji, the witch, and create a demonic kingdom on Earth.

This was a fairly good read. To me, the best thing about it was getting to know more about the odd inhabitants of Midnight. I hope this is not the last book in the series, as I would like to read more about that strange crew.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Mating Game

By June Johns

Zoos are one of the places of last resort for the world's endangered animals. So breeding these animals to propagate the species is very much a part of many zoos today.
But breeding the different species is no easy task. So many animals, especially the most endangered, have a very specific set of requirements for successfully bearing and raising their young.
From monkeys and apes, to rhinos and hippos, bears, penguins, reptiles, snakes and even more, June Johns takes a look at the reproductive lives of the animals found in one particular zoo in England.
So, apparently, the love lives of animals of all sorts are fraught with danger and murder. Moms killing their babies, dads killing their offspring, the grown offspring killing their parents...who knew raising babies in a zoo setting was so brutal and bloody?
This book was written in the 1960s. Hopefully zoos have grown more learned in their dealings with their resident animals and are able to provide safer, more nurturing habitats for all the animals under their care.

This was an interesting read. It is not a book meant to amuse the reader, it is very factual in its descriptions but I found it quite engrossing.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Day Shift

By Charlaine Harris

Book Two in the Midnight, Texas series.

Manfred the psychic is settling into his new home, getting to know the different folks who make up the core of Midnight, Texas.
He travels out of town to see a wealthy client, Rachel Goldthorpe. In a strange coincidence he sees fellow Midnighter, Olivia, dining with a couple at the same hotel where he is staying. The people Olivia is with turn up dead in an apparent murder/suicide. As an acquaintance of Olivia's, Manfred is questioned by the police as to his connection to her and to the two dead people.
Then, during his consultation with Rachel, she suddenly dies. She was an older woman and had recently been very ill. But still it seems a bit suspicious. Manfred comes under suspicion because he is being accused of stealing Rachel's jewels, which her son claims she must have been carrying in her purse at the time of her death, since he can't find them anywhere in her house.
It looks even worse for Manfred when it turns out that Rachel's cause of death was an overdose of her own medication, placed in her personal bottle of drinking water that she had with her during her meeting with Manfred. Never mind that Manfred never had access to her medications and likely didn't even know what medications she was taking. It is all just too fishy for the police and he ends up being suspect number one.

This was an OK read. Take away the fantasy elements, though, and it is just another mystery novel. The story does have a subplot about weretigers (like werewolves but with tigers) that comes together at the end with the murder mystery, but in a rather contrived way.

Review by Publishers Weekly.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Kill the Dead

By Tanith Lee

When Parl Dro was a young teen boy, a girl he liked was killed and her ghost began haunting him. It drew strength from Parl Dro and tried to tempt him into joining it in death. This was the beginning of Parl Dro's start as an exorcist, one who puts the dead to permanent rest,
Parl Dro is not alone in this tale. He is joined by a talented musician who plays an extraordinary instrument. Myal Lemyal has not had a prosperous or happy life. As he explains to Parl Dro, he wants to write an epic song and thus make his fortune. He wants to base the song on Parl Dro's battle with the ghost town of Ghyste Mortua, a battle that rumor has it is Parl Dro's ultimate destination.
A third "person" will accompany the two men on their trip to Ghyste Mortua: the ghost of Ciddey Soban. Ciddey may be dead, but her need for revenge against Parl Dro burns. Parl Dro came to Ciddey's house and against her wishes laid to rest the ghost of her dead sister, a ghost that Ciddey had purposely freed from the grave. Upon discovering what Parl Dro had done, Ciddey promptly killed herself, crazed with grief upon losing her sister for the second time. Her ghost has attached itself to Myal Lemyal and is following him and Parl Dro on their fateful journey to face the killer ghosts of Ghyste Mortua.

This was not an interesting story. It was boring. Although I did find the twist at the end to be unexpected and surprising. It kind of redeemed the rest of the story.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sabella or The Blood Stone

By Tanith Lee

Sabella lives alone in her dead mother's house on Novo Mars. Novo Mars bares a striking resemblance to Mars, being dry and bleak and barren and reddish in hue, but not as red as Mars.
Sabella chooses to be alone because it is safer for everyone if she does so. Sabella is a vampire of sorts. She drinks the blood of men she seduces, she is inhumanly strong and fast, she cannot bear the sunlight. But she is not undead, she does not sleep in a coffin, she has a reflection and garlic, holy water and crosses are no big deal.
Sabella was just a normal kid until the day she crawled into a cave. In the cave is where she found the blood stone that she wears constantly on a chain. When she is hungry, the stone is clear. When she has fed, it is ruby red.
She had no one to teach her how to be a vampire. She killed people at first but gradually learned how take just so much but not too much. Then she back slid and killed a young man who had a big brother. Big brother is at Sabella's door and he is big and he is strong and he is determined to find out what happened to his brother. Sabella may have finally met the only man she cannot seduce and bend to her will. And he may be her only salvation from the life of degradation she has fallen into.

This is about the third time I have read this story and it is still a gripping and thrilling read even after all this time. I first read it back when it originally came out in the 1980s. I don't consider the story to be fantasy, because Sabella's condition has a scientific explanation, not a supernatural one. I think that is one of the reasons I like the story so much, because it is logical.

This Pen for Hire

By Laura Levine

Jaine lives in Los Angeles and makes her living as a writer. She specializes in resumes and copywriting. Her latest customer, Howard, doesn't want a resume or an ad written. No, he wants a love letter, a letter persuasive enough to convince its recipient to go on a date with him.
Howard is no prize. He works in insurance and still lives with his mother. The woman he is crushing on is a beautiful aerobics instructor, Stacy. Jaine is no stranger to the LA scene and she is more than certain that Stacy is not going to date a man like poor Howard. So Jaine's letter to Stacy implies that Howard is related to Rupert Murdoch. And Howard gets his date!
But (of course there is a "but") when Howard arrives at the apartment to pick up his date, he finds Stacy dead, her head bashed in with a Thighmaster. And of course the police are sure he is the killer.
Jaine feels guilty that her letter may have gotten Howard into trouble. So she proceeds to do a little investigating on her own. She easily finds out that Stacy had several lovers, one of whom was married. Also, one of the women Stacy worked with was dumped for Stacy. And there's the woman who wanted the apartment that she was promised before Stacy stole it from her.
So there are plenty of suspects. But which one is the killer? Turns out the killer was right under Jaine's nose all along. And that Stacy was murdered for the most prosaic reason of all.

This was an OK read. Although I did guess the identity of the killer pretty quickly but not, I will admit, the reason why Stacy was killed.
The story is mildly amusing although I did find the main character's constant put downs of herself a bit tiring.

Review from Kirkus.

Midnight Crossroad

By Charlaine Harris

Welcome to Midnight, Texas. A small town with a small population of folks, all of them a tad different from most people.
New to this small community is Manfred Bernardo. Manfred is a sometime psychic. He does most of his work online or via telephone. Most of the time he just makes it up. Occasionally he actually has a true psychic flash. Occasionally.
So this hole in the road town has a resident witch, a vampire, an assassin, a were-person, an angel, an ex-white supremacist and a serial killer. Of course, Manfred doesn't find this all out right away. But he soon figures that the leading lights of Midnight are more than they appear. It all begins with the body of a young woman, a young woman who has been missing for several weeks and of whom her friends and family are willing to commit murder to track down her killer.

This was a pretty good story, a bit spoiled by the fact that I saw the TV show version first, so no surprises in the plot. The only surprise, really, is that the book characters seem quite a bit less sure of themselves and less powerful than their TV counterparts.

Review from Kirkus Reviews.

The Road to Ruin

By Donald E. Westlake

The Dortmunder gang is once again trying to pull off a successful heist, although, given their past record, it seems a vain hope.
So one of the gang members has come up with a very tempting opportunity. A very wealthy man has become a social pariah (because of his financial shenanigans that cost a lot people a lot of money) and can't find enough people to take care of him and his household.
The gang has inside information, including that the man, Monroe Hall, has a fabulous collection of very valuable cars. The plan is the gang members will get hired on as Hall's servants and, when the time is ripe, they will steal the cars.
It's a beautiful plan that can't go wrong. Except it does. Unbeknownst to the Dortmunder crew, a group of disgruntled investors and workers have a plan to grab Monroe Hall and extort all their lost monies out of him. Working at cross-purposes, the second group manages to screw everything up for everyone, including Monroe and his faithful wife, Alicia.

This was an typical & entertaining Dortmunder story. I was really hoping old John would finally come out on top, but, as per usual, John Dortmunder gets nothing for all his hard work. It was interesting seeing the gang of crooks trying to act like ordinary workings stiffs. Some of them even seemed to actually enjoy their new roles, a first step on the road to redemption? Nope.
I usually do enjoy Westlake's stories and this one was quite enjoyable too.

Review from Publishers Weekly.