Friday, September 13, 2019

The Churchgoer

By Patrick Coleman

Mark Haines used to be a Christian pastor. But then life kicked him in the ass, as it is apt to do, and he lost his faith. Now he is working as a night watchman and trying to stay clean and sober. Unfortunately his carefully constructed new life falls to pieces when a fellow night watchman is murdered and Mark loses his job.
Meanwhile, Mark has befriended a young, vagrant woman, Cindy Liu. He invites her to stay at his place but comes home to find she has vanished. He then pursues a quest to track her down, unable to accept that she has moved on.
He ferrets out she might be staying at the home of a drug dealer who used to attend Mark's former church. He finds her there and she seems to be under the influence. But the drug dealer quickly sends Mark packing and shortly after Mark leaves the man's house, the police raid it and sweep up Mark in the raid too. But in those few minutes between the time Mark caught a glimpse of Cindy and when the police arrive, Cindy has vanished once again.
Mark, still obsessed with the girl, tracks down her former church and talks to the pastor. He soon discovers that events that transpired at the church were the trigger that sent Cindy on her downward spiral into drugs, prostitution and homelessness.

This was an OK read. The main character, Mark, seemed to me to be a very unpleasant and out-of-control person. He strange attachment to Cindy is tied into his guilt over the death of his sister and his estrangement from his daughter. Cindy certainly doesn't give him any encouragement and pretty much refuses to be rescued. But he still won't let it go, even to beating up a man at one point.
He is a weird person and as a character, not very sympathetic.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

The Lost History of Dreams

By Kris Waldherr

A poet dies, author of a popular book of poems, The Lost History of Dreams. He wanted to be buried beside his dead wife in the glass chapel he built for her. But his heir and current resident of the property is unwilling. She has issues with the dead man.
So a relative is sent off, with the dead man's corpse, to try to talk the woman into changing her mind and fulfilling the poet's wishes. However, the relative has a lot of mental baggage of his own to deal with, all centering on the tragic death of his bride a few years earlier.

This book was pretty good. It lagged a bit in the middle as it went through the history of the poet and his wife, as retold by the recalcitrant woman who is the heir. This woman's identity is becomes one of the mysteries of the story. Is she who she claims? Is she, perhaps, the dead poet's wife? Or is she just an opportunist and an impostor, as her enemies claim? The other mysteries are the story of the poet's wife and her death and the truth about the death of the relative's bride.
I thought the latter part of the book was a bit silly and not in a good, amusing way. Too many identity switches.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Galactic Gourmet

By James White

Gurronsevas is renowned throughout the galactic Federation for his skills as a chef. He has amassed great wealth and success and fame. But now he is desiring a new challenge and the giant hospital, Sector General, is in his sights. Because, according to the reports, although the food served at the huge hospital is nutritious, it is famously bland and unenticing. So, with the right connections, Gurronsevas is now in charge of the Sector General kitchens.
But working in a hospital is not the same as working in a hotel. Gurronsevas has a lot to learn and he makes some serious mistakes. One mistake so serious, he is fired and ordered to immediately leave the hospital on the next available transport. However, chief shrink Major O'Mara believes Gurronsevas could be a real asset to the hospital and he arranges for the chef to accompany the hospital ambulance ship, the Rhabwar, on a mission to rescue the few remaining sentient inhabitants of a blighted planet, Wemar.
The Wemar have pollutated their planet almost unto death. In consequence, their population has been decimated, along with the planet's vegetation and animals. The Rhabwar lands next to a small Wemar community, offering help to the struggling locals. But the natives are not very welcoming and regard the strangers with suspicion.
The Wemar have long believed that meat is necessary  to health and fertility of adult Wemar. So able-bodied adults set out on hunts, looking for what little wildlife is left to harvest. Young Wemar and elderly Wemar subsist on a bland vegetable stew, leaving what little the meat the hunters bring home to the healthy adults. So the crew of the ambulance ship has to try to change the Wemars' misconception that adult Wemar need to have meat in their diet. Luckily, they have Gurronsevas, the most talented and most skilled chef in the galaxy, to help them in this effort.

This was an OK read. I really enjoyed the first part of the story as Gurronsevas brings his culinary talents to benefit the staff and patients of Sector General. But when the story changes location to the planet of Wemar, it wasn't nearly as interesting. I also found the idea that the Wemar are more ignorant about their local sources of food than some alien off-worlder silly.

Friday, August 30, 2019

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

By Hank Green

Going home late one night, April May finds a large robot on a street in New York City. She thinks it is a new art installation, and, seeking internet fame, she calls a friend, Andy, who comes down and videos April and her discovery, which she names Carl.
It soon is clear that April's Carl is not unique. Carls have appeared on the streets of many of the major cities of the world. But since April was the first to document the phenomenon, she becomes the de facto expert.
Soon April and Andy are making the media rounds and have hired an agent and April is writing a book about the Carls. The money and fame accelerate and April finds herself addicted to the attention, even to the point of dumping her best friend and lover, Maya. The media frenzy grows and grows when scientists declare the Carls to be extraterrestrial in origin. With the media attention, April becomes a target of hate groups who accuse her of being an E.T. or a traitor to the human race. She has to take the hate and threats seriously when someone takes a shot at her through her apartment window.

This was an OK read. It seemed to me that the Carl plot becomes secondary to the internet fame plot. The author, Hank Green, is quite active online and very familiar, I suppose, with the benefits and liabilities of internet fame. So much of the novel is concerned with this subject, which to me, being an older person, is not so engrossing. Very little actual action occurs in the story until nearly the end as April deals with the consequences of attracting the notice of the whack jobs and haters that infest online communities.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

There's a Word for That

By Sloane Tanen

Janine Kessler started out life as the daughter of a successful Hollywood producer. In her teens, she became a sitcom star, much to the disappointment of her father, her mother Pamela and her younger sister Amanda.
Marty Kessler knew from experience that Hollywood fame ruined people and he didn't want his daughter exposed to stardom. Pamela preferred her prettier, younger daughter and expected Janine's fame for Amanda, as did Amanda.
But the sitcom ended after a few seasons and Pamela, who suffered from depression, killed herself, leaving her two teen daughters struggling to understand. Janine ended up in treatment and vanished from the spotlight.
Now in her forties and living on the income from reruns of the her old sitcom and on her rich daddy's generosity, Janine has just drifted through life. She shuns her former fame and lives a secluded life in New York City.
But her father, Marty, is in trouble again, for the umpteenth time. He has long struggled with alcoholism and drug abuse and he is, once again, in rehab. Janine travels to Los Angeles to be with him. While there she reconnects with her sister Amanda and her two teen daughters, both of whom have dreams of fame and fortune, very much against Amanda's wishes.
While in rehab, Marty runs into his first wife, Bunny. Bunny, a superstar children's author (think J.K. Rowling) is also at the rehab to deal with her alcoholism. Attendant on Bunny is her son Henry, who has a strained relationship with his mother. Marty rediscovers exactly why he fell for Bunny as a young man and they make plans to travel together, which is an unpleasant surprise for everyone involved, especially for Marty's live-in girlfriend, Gail, who is more attached to Marty's bank account than she is to Marty.

Janine, Marty, Bunny and Henry are the main characters in the story, with the largest part concerned with Janine. In the beginning, it centers on the Kesslers and then abruptly switches to Bunny, without a clue as to how she connects to the Kesslers. We don't find out she is Marty's ex until quite late in the story when she and Marty bump into each other at rehab. I enjoyed that.
It's a pretty good story, although the ending is a bit cliché and deus ex machina. It wasn't all that amusing and certainly not hilarious as described in three of the blurbs on the back cover. Take the blurbs with a grain of salt.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

They Rang Up the Police

By Joanna Cannan

A British Detective story, first published in 1939 and recently republished in 2017. The detective is Guy Northeast, Detective Inspector of the CID. He is in a bit of a disgrace with his bosses, due to having bungled a previous investigation. He feels he has been sidelined to this missing persons investigation as a punishment. If he doesn't want to end up permanently sidelined, he dare not bungle this investigation.
A well-to-do, middle-aged spinster has suddenly vanished during the night. Her bed has been slept in and her suitcase and some clothing are missing. Has she finally grown tired of the single life and run off with a man? Coincidentally, a local married man with whom she had a connection has gone missing the same night. Did they run off together? Or is something more sinister going on? Her family (two spinster sisters and their elderly mother) are sure Delia would never just run off like that. Or if she did, surely she would telephone or leave a message?
But in a family where everyone calls each other "darling," it's pretty clear to the detective that there is something rotten in the heart of Marley Grange. And it turns out that Delia didn't run very far when her body is discovered hidden in the manure pile.

For an old book written 80 years ago, this was quite an enjoyable read and holds up very well. At one point the detective, Guy Northeast, remarks that, "It's the little things that matter when investigating a murder." Even truer today when DNA plays such a key role in most serious investigations. At the end of the story, he sits alone and meditates on the killer, thinking, "And it's true that it is worse to spoil a person's life than to kill someone, and it's true that freedom is a splendid thing."
It is said that the second (and only other book to feature Guy Northeast) is even better that this one. It's Death at the Dog and I am looking forward to reading it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Gitchie Girl Uncovered

By Phil Hamman and Sandy Hamman

In November of 1973, a group of five teens jumped into a van and headed off to Gitchie Manitou State Park located in northwest Iowa. It's a popular location for hiking and camping. 
The kids consisted of four boys and one girl. The van belonged to Stewart Baade (18). His younger brother, Dana (14) accompanied his brother along with Mike Hadrath (15) and Roger Essem (17). The lone girl, Sandra Cheskey, was the youngest, only thirteen. The kids were at the park to enjoy a campfire and to smoke some weed.
But they were not alone. They were being observed by three men, all brothers, who had been in the park to do some poaching. The brothers, Allen, James and David, thought the group consisted of three boys and two girls, mistaking young Dana for a girl because of his long hair. They decided to attack the kids and take the girls and the weed. But for some reason, they shot and killed Roger and shot Stewart. Sandra was taken away by Allen and the other two men, David and James, stayed behind and killed the remaining two boys, Mike and Dana. Sandra was raped by James but was taken to Sioux Falls and released by Allen.
Sandra's testimony is the reason why the three brothers were captured, convicted and remain in prison in the Iowa State Pen to this day.
This is the story of the investigation into the murders of the four boys, Stewart, Dana, Mike and Roger, and the kidnapping and rape of the young girl, Sandra.

This was a very interesting story. I have been to Gitchie Manitou but I didn't know the park was the scene of a mass murder. I just happened upon this book at the library. I was afraid it would be a little boring but it is not. It is well written and quite griping.


By Octavia E. Butler
A graphic novel adaptation by Damian Duffy and  John Jennings

A young black woman finds herself magically transported back in time to the days of southern plantations and slavery, summoned to save the young life of her distant ancestor.
Dana and her husband had just moved into a new place when she felt dizzy and abruptly found herself on a riverbank, arriving just in time to rescue a little boy who was drowning. The boy was Rufus, the son of the man who owned the plantation and Dana's great-something grandfather. As Rufus told her later, as he was drowning he had a vision of Dana and somehow called her to him and to his time, 1810.
Time and again Rufus would call Dana back to the past and she was forced to experience the terrible reality of being a black person in the time of slavery, even to the point of enduring a whipping and being forced to work in the fields. And even though she tries her best to educate Rufus, his white privilege and selfishness prevents him from taking it to heart and he, when he is grown, he forces himself on the woman who would become Dana's great-something grandmother. But once the child of that rape is born, Dana's ancestor, Dana is at last free to end Rufus' domination over her life and return to the future where she belongs.

What the author wants to do here is look at the life and hardships of a slave from the view point of a modern educated woman and she uses the gimmick of time travel to achieve that end.
This is a depressing story and brings home the terrible tragedy of slavery in all of its cruelty, selfishness and ignorance. It's a disturbing read and lays bare one of the ugly truths of America's past.