Friday, February 16, 2018

Dust City

By Robert Paul Weston

Henry is a wolf, an anthropomorphized  wolf. He usually walks upright but can also go on all fours. His front paws are hand-like and he talks.  That is true of all the animalia of his world. Frogs, fox, goats, ravens, cats, hedgehogs, they all are people. They have jobs, live in houses, drive cars and such.
Henry's dad is in prison and Henry has been sent to a reform school for breaking a window. He finds out that his father has been sending him letters, but the letters were never given to Henry to read.
Dust is fairy dust. The fairies used to live in their fairy city above Dust City. Fairy dust is powerful magic and can be used to do virtually anything. But the fairies have disappeared and no one knows why or where they have gone. But in the letters, Henry's dad says that the fairies are being held captive and harvested for their fairy dust by the illegal fairy dust suppliers. And the dad wants his son to find out where the fairies are and expose the  conspiracy. But how can Henry do anything locked up in reform school?

This was an OK story. The fairy tale connection was at times a little overbearing. Cinderella is an administrator. Snow White is a hard-boiled detective. Rumplestiltskin is a gangster. Jack and the beanstalk are there too. It was all a bit much.
Basically it is the story of a teenager who infiltrates a drug operation and discovers that the truth about a big business and its connection to organized crime, dressed up in a fairy tale setting. Also, the ending was a bit weak.

Review by Kirkus Reviews.

An Ice Cold Grave

By Charlaine Harris

Harper Connelly has a talent. She can locate dead bodies and tell how they died. She is helped in this by her stepbrother, Tolliver, with whom she is madly in love but won't tell him because she fears he only sees her as his sister.
They have been asked to investigate the disappearance of several teen boys in a small rural town. Paid by the wealthy grandmother of one of the missing teens, Harper soon locates the burial site of the boys, putting herself and Tolliver under suspicion by the local law enforcement.  Even though they couldn't possibly have had anything to do with the crime, the fact that Harper knows where all the graves are and exactly how they died has to be investigated. So, stuck in the small town by the demands of the police and then by bad winter weather, it isn't long until the killer seeks Harper out and tries to add her to the long list of victims.

This was a pretty good story. However, the subject matter is very gross and disgusting. So much so, that I very much doubt I will be reading another story in this series. This just went too far for my taste.

The Copy Shop

By Evelyn E. Smith

Ted is a weird guy. For one thing, he glows in the dark. For another, his dad is an alien who communicates with him through his computer monitor. The dad is also the one responsible for the disappearances and deaths of several people in the neighborhood. According to the dad, humans were put on this planet to serve as a food supply and a "terraforming" force to prepare the planet for its eventual owners by polluting the air and water and putting radiation into the environment.
His neighbors have their doubts about Ted. The cops have their doubts about Ted. His "girl friend" has her doubts about Ted. His new girl friend has her doubts about Ted. They all suspect Ted is some how related to or involved with the deaths. The reader has their doubts about Ted, as he is a very suspicious character. Even Ted admits he is a suspicious character and he begins to dispose of certain items that might reflect badly on him if they fall into the wrong hands. Like all those checks for old, dead guys. And his mother's clothing and the wigs and makeup.
Yes, Ted is a really squirrelly fellow. But all he really wants to be is just another regular guy.

This was an enjoyable read. The mysteries of Ted are amusing and fun and, even though he comes off as rather sinister, he turns out to be not a bad fellow at all.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

The Family Plot

By Cherie Priest

Dahlia is in charge of the salvage of an old mansion. It is a make or break situation for her father, who owns the salvage company. If it isn't successful, then the whole business is going under. So it is really important that Dahlia and her team of three men do a really good job of removing anything of value before the mansion is demolished.
Problem is, as they all soon discover, the mansion is haunted. There are four ghosts and one of them is crazy and evil. It fastens its sights on Dahlia because it identifies with her. Dahlia is recently divorced. She and her ex were friends from childhood and the collapse of their marriage came as a surprise to Dahlia who apparently never picked up on her husband's discontent.  The divorce left her feeling angry and it is her anger that has attracted the deadly lunatic ghost.
But Dahlia and the crew soldier on and strip the old mansion of all its most valuable and beautiful features, trying to cope as best they can with the uncanny occurrences plaguing them, mostly at night. But before it is all over, blood will be shed and lives nearly lost.

This was an OK story. Kind of a slow starter and the ghostly occurrences are few and far between until the last quarter of the story. Truly, just a typical ghost story, nothing very special at all and not really all that scary. But it does give one a good look at the salvage business, if that is what floats your boat. It didn't float mine.

Review from Kirkus Reviews.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Morality for Beautiful Girls

By Alexander McCall Smith

Things are changing at the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. The biggest change is that the agency is moving into a room at  J.L.B. Matekoni's garage, Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. For another, Mma Ramotswe, founder of the agency, has given her assistant Mma Makutsi a raise and a promotion from mere assistant to assistant detective.
Mma Makutsi even ends up managing the garage and the detective agency. Mma Ramotswe has to leave town on a case and J.L.B. has become overwhelmed with guilt about something in his past and has lost interest in the garage and is under the care of a doctor after some persuasion and management by Mma Ramotswe.
Mma Ramotswe is out of town of a case brought to her by an  important government man who is worried about his brother. The brother, recently married, manages the family farm and the government man thinks his new wife wants the farm for herself and is trying to poison her husband.  So he arranges for Mma Ramotswe to pay a visit to the farm to see if his suspicions are correct.
Meanwhile, back in town, Mma Makutsi is managing both the agency and the garage and seems to be doing very well. The two apprentice mechanics seem to enjoy being under her eye and business is booming.  She also has an important to case to investigate all on her own. The owner of a beauty pageant ran into a little disgrace with the previous contest when one of the girls turned out to be an unsavory character. So this time, he wants the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency to do some sniffing around and make sure the five finalists are upstanding and virtuous.

This was a pretty good read, if a little thin on plot. Three of the story lines are left open-ended. Mma Makutsi makes her recommendations about the beauty contest girls but we are not told definitely that her judgments are correct. J.L.B.'s guilty secret is not revealed. And the story of a little lost boy who appears only briefly is only hinted at and made not plain. So those unfinished plot lines were quite annoying.
But despite the obvious cliffhangers designed to lure the reader into opening the next book in the series, this was still an enjoyable read. Reading one of these No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books is like taking a little mini-vacation to a foreign and different land. They are a breath of fresh air.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

How to Murder Your Mother-In-Law

By Dorothy Cannell

Mother-in-law trouble.
Ellie has invited her husband's parents, Magdalene and Elijah, to visit and to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Ben, the husband, warned her that his parents weren't all that keen to celebrate their anniversary, but Ellie perseveres. She even invites a very old friend of Magdalene's, Beatrix, to dinner, only to find out that the Beatrix and Magdalene have not been on speaking terms for forty years. When they were young adults, Beatrix talked Elijah into skinny dipping and Magdalene has never forgiven her for doing so.
Magdalene is the cliché mother-in-law, overly critical and nitpicking at Ellie. Having her in the house is a real burden for Ellie. But it turns out that Ellie is not the only one having mother-in-law troubles. Beatrix lives with her son and his wife. Beatrix is a bit eccentric. At one point she puts hair remover in the shampoo bottle without bothering to tell anyone. She also accidentally cooked her granddaughter's pet goldfish.
Two other friends are dealing with difficult mothers-in-law. Pamela and her husband live with his mother and she calls all the shots. The husband has to turn his paycheck over to his mother and she gives him a small allowance. She also requires that no one speaks during meals, among other overbearing and controlling behaviors.
Ellie's other friend Eudora's mother-in-law is a thorn in her side. Eudora is the vicar of the local church and a nonsmoker. Her mother-in-law is an atheist who constantly pokes fun of the Bible and, despite Eudora's requests not to, continues to smoke her cigarettes in the house, evenutually sparking a small fire in the house.
The friends get together one evening and jokingly plot ways to murder their mothers-in-law, all in good fun. That is until one of the old ladies is pushed off a cliff, one is poisoned and one's brakes on her bike are tampered with. The four friends begin to doubt each other and, to make it worse, Ellie is being blackmailed.

I had a hard time getting into this story but it began to grow on me after awhile.  I guess what I didn't like was Magdalene being such a cliché and Ellie being such a doormat. But I warmed up to the story and by the end I quite enjoyed it.

Review from Publishers Weekly.

Friday, January 26, 2018

A Difficulty with Dwarves

By Craig Shaw Gardner

Ballad of Wuntvor, Book 1

Wuntvor, the apprentice to the wizard Ebenezum, is trying to help the wizard find a cure for his affliction, allergy to magic. Unfortunately, the allergy has spread to the other wizards and the demons of the Netherhells have not given up their assault on the world above. As a last resort, Ebenezum is sending Wuntor to the  realm of the dreaded Mother Duck, who, it is rumored, bakes intruders into bread. Of course Wuntvor will be accompanied by the usual motley crew he has attracted over the course of the previous three stories: A Malady of Magics, A Multitude of Monsters,  and A Night in the Netherhells.

The thing about this book is that it is all talk and no action. Wuntvor, who is portrayed as afflicted with acne, bad breath, poor posture and stupid nonetheless attracts a loyal following, for no apparent reason that I could see. And these followers love standing around and talking, talking, talking. Even the attacking demons spend most of their attacks talking. Even worse, the book ends with no resolution, with Wuntvor captured by Mother Duck. Book tries very hard to be funny, but mostly is just tedious.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Too Fat to Fish

By Artie Lange and Anthony Bozza

The story of Artie's young life. Artie Lange grew up in New Jersey. His childhood was typical of the area until his father, Arthur, was paralyzed in a fall from a ladder. Arthur Lange died a few years later from complications of the paralysis. These years and the loss of his father hit Lange, in his early twenties at the time, really hard. While his mom and sister managed to cope and carry on, Lange began his slide into gambling addiction, alcoholism and drug abuse.
Lange attended college briefly but then got a job as a longshoreman. He was able to save a fair amount of money and start trying to develop a career as a stand up comic, traveling from New Jersey to New York to do his act in the comedy clubs and other venues and driving a taxi to support himself.
Artie Lange landed an audition for a new TV show, Mad TV. He moved to California and became an important member of the cast in a show that went on to last for several years. But the pressure of performing and committing to a schedule was too much and he tried to commit suicide. He ended up in the hospital and rehab and began a pattern of sobriety, then relapse, rehab again, over and over. Still he managed to maintain his career despite all his problems, performing in movies, doing stand up and working on the Howard Stern Show. He even managed to control himself long enough to perform for the troops in Afghanistan via the USO for a couple weeks. He fell off the wagon at an airport on the way home, unfortunately, getting drunk and causing a scene. Towards the end of the book, he describes his switch from cocaine to pain pills to heroine, all washed down by massive amounts of alcohol, and maintaining his huge size with a lifestyle that would turn most people into walking skeletons. He must have outstanding stamina.

I really don't remember why I wanted to read this book. I had it for two years before I got around to reading it. I wonder if I thought that it would be amusing. It has an amusing title and was written by a comedian. If that is the case, I was mistaken.
Artie Lange has had a life I wouldn't wish on anyone. Sure, he has had some great times and made some good money and helped his family out. But I bet they would have been just as happy if he had stayed a longshoreman or taxi driver and was sane and sober and gotten and settled and had raised a family as an ordinary fellow from New Jersey. God knows he has put those who care about him through hell. All that fame and money cannot make up for all that misery and unhappiness. And when I did a Google search, he apparently is still stuck in the drug abuse and rehab cycle, over and over. I hope someday Lange can get the help he needs to stay sober before he dies of abusing himself.
This is not a funny book. It was very frustrating to read as he wrecks his life with booze and drugs. You just want to shake some sense into him. It has such a feeling of hopelessness and I was not surprised to find out he is still in trouble. Sigh.

Review from Publishers Weekly:

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The White Chip

By Nelson C. Nye

Banker Snude and a young woman, Serafina, believe the map she owns will lead them to a lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona.  The banker is partially funding the expedition and several other men are also funding it and coming along. Chuck was one of the men and he had the advantage of being familiar with the area.
One the way there they encounter bad guys and one man gets stabbed in the night by persons unknown. They find the mine and it is stacked to the ceiling with bags of ore, more ore than their little expedition can handle. They need to find help and they get the bright idea to hire a gang of smugglers, which turns out about as well as one would expect, dealing with criminals.  They get ambushed, the smugglers make off with the ore, but they manage to get it back only to discover when they get to Snude's bank that the smugglers switched the ore with rocks. In the process, more members of the expedition die.
Chuck, who has grown attached to Serafina, talks her into going back to look for the ore. He knows the smugglers must have stashed it until they could get together enough mules to pack it out. Taking the banker's mules, he and Serafina head back out and sure enough, they find the stolen ore. But nothing turns out the way Chuck had hoped, plus one of the peaks of the Superstitions has decided to be a volcano.

I read this story because my father was one of those hopefuls who went looking for gold in the Superstitions. Like everyone else, he found nothing. So the idea of gold hunters in the Superstitions has some nostalgia for me. Too bad the story turned out to be really stupid and boring. Total waste of time.