Thursday, April 19, 2018

Whippoorwill


By Sharon Sala

Set in the territory of Kansas, after the Civil War but before the turn of the century, the story brings together a cast of characters to the dusty town of Lizard Flats, all of them coming for one reason: to see the preacher from back East, the Reverend Randall W. Howe.
Rev. Howe is headed West to make a new life for himself and put aside his lustful ways and rededicate himself to his holy calling. He was invited to Lizard Flats to perform the marriage of the town's two leading citizens, banker Alfonso Worthy and his wealthy, widowed, eager bride Sophie Hollis.
Headed to the town, among others, is Henry Wainwright, a grizzled trapper, bringing the body of his partner, Parson Sutter, whose last request was to have burial presided over by a real preacher. And there are Hetty and Charity Doone and Wade James, seeking a reckoning with Rev. Howe, who took Charity's innocence.  Also headed to Lizard Flats are Miles Crutchaw and Truly Fine, who want to get married. Miles is a miner who has struck pay dirt and Truly is the saloon whore who is the light of his eyes. Another couple desiring to be married by the preacher are Joe Redhawk, a gunman, and Caitlin O'Shea, a young Irish girl. Redhawk rescued Caitlin from captivity by a half-blind Arapahoe brave. And finally there are the Jessups, Isaac, Minna and their adolescent son, Baby Boy. Isaac and Minna have decided it is about time Baby Boy got a real name and they want the preacher to christen him and make it official.
Meanwhile, back in Lizard Flats, Eulis Porter, town drunk and Letty Murphy, town whore, are about to spoil everyone's big plans when the lusty Reverend Howe dies in Letty's bed. Fearing she will be hanged because of the preacher's death, Letty talks Eulis into helping her. Together they will hide the body in a newly dug grave and, with a bath, shave and wearing the preacher's garments, they will try to hoodwink everyone and pass Eulis off as the Reverend.

This was quite the tale. I found it a bit hard to keep track of all the characters and had to make a list. But it was well worth it. The story is amusing, heartbreaking at times, and with overtones of tragedy but mostly is it just hugely entertaining. Well done!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Skylark

By Sheila Simonson

Two women are on holiday in London, England. One of them strikes up a friendship with a waiter from Eastern Europe. They go to see a play together but on the ride home via the Underground, the waiter, Milos, is attacked and knifed. A fellow passenger's shopping bag is also stolen, a bag that was similar to one that held a manuscript written by Milos, supposedly a translation of a Shakespeare play into his native language. As it later turns out, it was actually an eyewitness account of atrocities committed by the govenment of Milos' native land. 
When the police suspect one of the women, Lark, of being the attacker, Lark and the other woman, Ann, embark on a quest to find out the truth, protect Milos from further attempts on his life, and clear Lark of suspicion. And maybe get a little sightseeing in at the same time.

This was an interesting story and fun to read about fellow Americans coping with cultural differences between the British and the Americans. Plus an interesting and different mystery.



Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Reincarnation Blues

By Michael Poole

Milo has lived thousands of lives.  So far he has been unable to obtain perfection and pass on into perfect harmony with the Universal Oneness. But Milo is rapidly approaching the limit: 10,000 lives. If a soul is not able to perfect itself after 10,000 lifetimes, it is destroyed.
His first life ended in childhood. As he lay dying, he was visited by Death. Death appeared as a beautiful young girl. Death, or as she preferred to be called, Suzie, admired young Milo. She thought him resourceful and brave. And she sought him out in the land between life and eternity, a place were newly dead souls pause to wind down and take stock before jumping back into life. And so their attachment began, Milo and Suzie, and it lasted through and beyond Milo's thousands of lifetimes. It lasted through his repeated failures to achieve perfection. It lasted even when Suzie decided she would no longer be Death and she began to fade away.
Together, Milo and Suzie will face great suffering and deprivation. Will Milo finally be able to overcome his past and take the ultimate step into perfection?

The story follows Milo through some of his key lifetimes and explores his failures and his successes. Although his past lives were never good enough to win through to the ultimate goal of nirvana (although I don't think the word nirvana is ever used in the story). Three of the most important stories are set in the future and one in the time of Buddha where Milo is one of Buddha's followers. He ends up killing the Buddha. A mercy killing, but murder nonetheless. Perfection not attained.
In one of the stories set in the future, Milo as a promising young student is accused of rape by a disturbed young woman and is sent to prison. While in prison he discovers he has special powers, one of which includes the ability to heal the minds of his fellow prisoners resulting in them becoming peaceful and productive. Just as he is beginning to make a real difference in the lives of the inmates, he is told the woman has recanted and he is free to go back home. But he doesn't want to leave the work he has started with the inmates and resists. He is then shot with a stunner and transported against his will back home. The stunner destroys his special abilities and Milo drifts into a life of idleness and alcoholism. Then his accuser pays him a visit. She tells him she is sorry, that she was mentally ill but has undergone treatment and is doing quite well in her life. The injustice of it all hits Milo very hard and he commits suicide after she leaves.
This story was pretty typical of the tone of the stories. Most of them are kind of sad and depressing.  I also found the book kind of preachy. But the stories are very interesting and thought-provoking, if a little to grim for me.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Pearls Before Swine : BLTs Taste So Darn Good


By Stephan Pastis

Another funny comic strip collection featuring Pig's enormous stupidity and lots of puns.


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Wednesday, April 04, 2018

The Sopratos


By Stephan Pastis

A Pearls Before Swine Collection. Featuring Stephan's twisted sense of humor and plenty of puns.


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A very amusing and enjoyable comic strip collection!


Friday, March 30, 2018

Fire and Fury

By Michael Wolff

Wolff proposed writing a book on Trump's first year in the White House and was given an amazing amount of access to Trump's people. It's possible that they thought Wolff was going to do a puff piece on Trump and his administration. But instead Wolff wrote an exposé, revealing the craziness, backstabbing, leaking and inexperience of those trying to cope with one of the most unpredictable, childish and ignorant presidents in American history. Even though Trump denied talking to Wolff, sources back up his claim that he did, in fact, talk to Trump, either in person or on the phone.
No one can deny that this administration is probably one of the most unstable ever, do to the poor leadership ability of this  president. Top officials come and go, often fired by  the callous, uncaring and rude Trump via Twitter tweets. No one can deny that Trump's picks seem designed to burn their departments to the ground rather than improve their function and government. And, finally, no one can deny that Trump turns this way and then that, changing his mind hour by hour so that no one really knows (including Trump himself) what he wants.
Does the author really understand what is going on in the White House? It sure seemed so to me. The book was published in January 2018. Towards the end of the book, Wolff says that factions within the White House were pushing for CIA's Mike Pompeo to replace Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. And in mid March 2018, that is exactly what happened.
It also seems pretty clear to me that Michael Wolff knows what he is talking about. And that Trump and gang are probably as awful as Wolff portrays them. Though, to be honest, Wolff's book is more like a gossipy Hollywood tale than fact-driven portrayal.

Politifact has a fact-check on the Wolff book:    http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2018/jan/09/fact-checking-read-fire-and-fury-michael-wolff/  (Most of the fact-checks are minor things like wrong dates and misspellings.)

Here is a review by The Guardian.

City of Illusions

By Ursula K. LeGuin

He found himself in the forest. He had no memory of anything and was as helpless as an infant. Fortunately he was found by a kind family who took him in and taught him to be a man again. They called him Falk.
Falk stayed with them until he was competent to be on his own. Though he loved them, he knew he had to leave, to head west, to find out who he was and why his mind was stripped of all memories. And so he set forth,  going to Es Toch, the city that might have all the answers.
He encountered other people, none as kind or friendly as those who took him in. Many were dangerous and hostile. He was briefly enslaved but managed to escape with the help of another slave, a woman who claimed to know how to get to Es Toch.
Their journey together was difficult and the woman became very ill and almost died but she was true to her word and led Falk to Es Toch. But once there, she betrayed Falk and handed him over to those who had stripped his mind of all knowledge. These his captors are his only hope, though, of discovering why his mind was tampered with and his only hope of finding his lost self.

The first part of the story where Falk is traveling across a wild and sparsely populated Earth was much better than the second. Once he gets to Es Toch, the story got less interesting as he becomes a passive captive in the hands of his enemies.  He spends his time trying to figure out the truth about his captors and their plans for him, a mostly mental exercise: rather boring to read about.

Here is a review by Kirkus Reviews.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Shopaholic Ties the Knot

By Sophie Kinsella

This novel in the Shopaholic series finds Becky living in New York City with her boyfriend, Luke. She is working as a stylist at a clothing store and Luke is running his public relations business. All is going wonderfully, even though Becky still has a tendency to buy everything that strikes her fancy and a lot of things do strike her fancy. The only fly in the ointment is the entrance into Luke's life of his long-absent mother.
Mother is a society lady and it seems to Becky that she is more interested in Luke's business connections than she is in Luke himself. But Luke is enchanted to have his mother back in his life for the first time in over twenty years and he is deaf to Becky's words of caution.
Luke has asked Becky to marry him and now Mother is taking over the wedding, which she wants to be a big, important society event. Meanwhile, Becky's parents are planning to have the wedding in the garden of their home in England, unaware of the big society wedding that is being put together in New York.
So three weeks before the wedding and Becky has completely failed to tell her parents about the New York wedding. And if she backs out of the NYC wedding, she will have to pay the wedding planner $100,000 penalty, money Becky doesn't have. But if she doesn't cancel the city wedding, she will break her mother's heart, not to mention all the expense and bother her parents are going through for her back-home wedding. Meanwhile Luke is beginning to see Mother with clearer eyes and he is taking it badly. He is sunk in depression and skipping work and talking about the two of them just running away and leaving it all behind.
What's a Shopaholic to do? Is there any way to shop herself of the this new mess?

This was a pretty good story. For one thing, Becky doesn't lie as much in this book as she did in the first novel in the series. Her main lies in this story are ones of omission. She just goes along with everything without leveling with anyone, including her fiancé, Luke.
The ending was kind of odd and not what I was hoping for.  But everything works out, of course, since it seems Becky the Liar lives a charmed life.