Saturday, October 31, 2009

Triple Play

By Elizabeth Gunn

Police detective Jake Hines has a bizarre murder on his hands and, in the small city where he lives, people are naturally frightened, even more so when the gruesome details of the murder are leaked to the press. When a second gruesome murder occurs, the pressure is on law enforcement to stop what looks like a kinky serial killer running amok. For these two murdered men were each posed on a softball diamond, dressed in softball regalia, with portions of their anatomy hacked off and a photo attached to each body capturing the cruel tableau.
But Jake isn't convinced the murders are the work of a serial killer. It seems to him that the details of the murders indicate a killer who is sending a brutal message to someone. However, what that message is only the killer and his victims understand.

This was an OK story, a pretty typical entry in the mystery genre. Jake is an OK guy with a shady background, having been found as a baby in a dumpster and then growing up in a series of less-than-nurturing foster homes. He is recently divorced and just starting to recover from the fact of his wife leaving him for another man. As far as fiction detectives go, he is pretty white bread, despite being of mixed race. He's a pretty average guy living a pretty average life in a pretty average town which also describes this story: pretty average.

Monday, October 26, 2009


By Christopher Moore

The story of Jesus, starting from his boyhood days and covering all the territory not mentioned in the Bible, all of it total fiction, of course. Another title for the book could have been The Lighter Side of Jesus.
So in this book Jesus is a strange little kid with strange abilities and powers and his best friend is Biff, who sticks by him through thick and thin, traveling with Jesus, or as he is called in the story, Joshua, to Kabul, China, and India, eventually ending up back in the Holy Land to study under John the Baptist and then start his own ministry. In the book, the author has Jesus studying Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism. He also has him studying kung fu and judo, which the author puns is Jew-do, or the way of the Jew. It was invented just for Jesus because he didn't want to study self defense using weapons. There is lots of silly stuff like that as when Jesus, after studying with a yogi in India, climbs inside a large clay wine jar but then can't get back out and Biff has to break the jar to set him free. One of the silliest is Biff and Jesus using the mild profanity jeez, which of course is really just a way of saying Jesus. Oh, and we are told that wuss is the same word back then as it is now. There's lots of goofy stuff like that.
On the other hand, even though this Jesus is able to take and make a joke and is not above a mild obscenity like "fuckstick" (whatever that is), this novel has a more serious side. Jesus searches for the truth, persevering even though God doesn't answer his prayers, except on one occasion and the only response Jesus gets from God is a terse, "fuck em." This Jesus is a little more vulgar than perhaps Christians would like to think, but the author doesn't trample on or deny his divine nature and doesn't portray him as a nutcase of a faker. Throughout the novel, it is clear that he really is the Son of God and he really is the Messiah.
So, even though the story is a bit irreverent, I must say I like this version of Jesus better than the deadly serious Jesus who goes about blighting fig trees just because they don't have any figs on them, which they wouldn't since it wasn't fig season (Mark 11: 12-14). That Jesus is just plain scary. But Moore's Jesus likes to have fun and laugh and joke around and simply is more lovable. I enjoyed the story a lot but have to say it is probably not for everyone.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Free Lunch

By Spider Robinson

Dreamworld, a high-tech amusement park beloved by all, has a couple of stowaways living in its underground structures. Annie has lived in the park since it was first built and has assumed a mythic identity to park employees as Mother Elf. Mike, a boy fleeing from an unhappy home life, finds a new home under Annie's wing behind the scenes at Dreamworld.
Annie doesn't just sponge off Dreamworld, though. She also works behind the scenes to keep the park functioning like it should and to protect it from its enemies. For even though everyone loves Dreamworld, there is someone who hates it, or more truly, hates its founders. This person would love to besmirch Dreamworld and his spies are constantly on the the lookout for opportunities to do so.
The park is staffed mostly by little people, dwarfs and midgets. So when Annie discovers that more dwarfs are leaving the park than are entering it, she and Mike have to figure out how and why. But the park's enemy has discovered the discrepancy and he is sure it is the key to bringing down the park's founders. And he thinks Mother Elf is just the person to answer his questions so he sends his thugs to grab her and Mike, who they mistake for her son. But with the help of the extra dwarfs, Mike and Annie just may be able to save the one place on Earth that they care about the more than anything.

This was an OK story. It was often a little dull and the whole antagonism between the park's founders and their enemy wasn't that believable. Nor was the reason for the extra dwarfs presence at the park. Also, Mike's super-intelligence was just too much. It's a pretty thin structure to hang a plot on.

Trophy Hunt

By C.J. Box

Game Warden Joe Pickett is out fishing one day with his daughter when they discover the carcass of a dead moose that looks like it has been mutilated in a way that is very similar to mutilations to livestock reported by ranchers and farmers throughout the years. Shortly after this, a rogue grizzly bear is reported to be in the area and ranchers are also reporting they have mutilated cattle. Pickett is drawn into the investigation on the chance that the mutilations are being done by wild animals, or even by the rogue grizzly.
During the course of the investigation, two men die and their bodies are mutilated just like the cows and the moose. Something wacky is going on and Pickett seems to be in the thick of it.

This book starts out really great. The whole moose incident with its mysterious occurrences and the assault on a friend's horses while two kids are standing right next to the corral and the night Pickett's black dog runs off after something and the dog comes home with its hair changed to white and the grizzly bear who is there and yet isn't at the same time are all really intriguing. All kinds of possibilities are floated, including aliens, cults, mining interests, terrorists and occult beings. The thing that bothered me about the book was that a lot of the mysterious occurrences at the beginning of the story, like the feeling of pressure and the dizziness that Joe and his daughter experienced are never explained nor is what frightened Joe's dog so badly as to turn its hair from black to white. At the end they are just passed off as unexplainable. I mean, I didn't really care about the two dead people as much as what was the answer to those mysteries and the author cops out by saying it is something we can't understand. Pshaw!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sweet and Deadly

By Charlaine Harris

Catherine Linton has returned to her hometown, moving into her childhood home after her parents' recent death six months ago. They died in a car crash caused by someone tampering with their vehicle. Who did it and why is unknown. Catherine's dad was a beloved local physician in the small town where they lived and why anyone would want to kill him & his wife is a mystery.
One morning Catherine stumbles across the body of her father's former nurse whose head has been bashed in and her body dumped in an abandoned house on farmland that Catherine inherited from her parents. As the police investigate the murdered woman they discover that she was blackmailing people and also doing illegal abortions. Perhaps this woman found out something while working for Catherine's dad and then tried to use that info to blackmail the wrong person, a person who may have already been willing to kill to protect that secret.
It's a small town and, realizing the killer could be any one of her neighbors or friends leaves Catherine chilled and fighting a descent into the depression that almost consumed her when her parents died. Yet she manages to hang on and eventually unearth the information that points directly at the evil person behind four murders.

This was a typical murder mystery, nothing special or particularly captivating about this story. Catherine is an OK heroine if somewhat of a cold fish. Indeed she is described as a person who doesn't say much, given the nickname of the Sphinx when in high school. She's a person that is hard to warm up to, in the story and as a character the reader is supposed to care about. When the reason behind the murders is revealed, it is a bit of a stretch to think that anyone would kill to keep a secret like that hidden and why the killer felt compelled to do so is never really explained in any real depth. It's an OK story.
Charlaine Harris is better known for her Sookie Stackhouse stories. This story is not of that genre. It contains no vampires, werewolves or witches. It's just a regular type murder mystery, nothing supernatural. Just a heads up for those who might pick up the book expecting something like the Stackhouse stories.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Black Range Tales

By James A. McKenna

The mostly true tales of McKenna's years prospecting and mining in the Black Range in southwestern New Mexico in the 1880s. Lots of adventure and encounters with critters and Apaches and it paints a pretty clear picture of the life of the average prospector.
Some snippets from the book:
Then Tom pulled off the blankets and showed his find. The dealer tested the gold, finding it almost pure, and when he hung the nugget on his scale it tipped them at well-nigh a hundred pounds. Tom walked out of that dealer's shop worth thousands of dollars. A cast of the nugget was made and sent to a Frisco bank. So far as I know it was the largest nugget ever found in the United States...

Many prospectors stopped here and were never seen again though their horses and mules could be traced to the spot. At times the owner would go to Independence to fill up with booze, trading watches and ornaments for whiskey and other things that he wanted. After the Governor's brother disappeared, the Governor sent detectives to find a trace of him if possible... Not not long after this a doctor rode the stage to the new mining camp, stopping for lunch at Hayway Meadows. The pickled meat was put on the table, and the doctor thought the bones were not from an animal but from a human. Hiding some away, when he got to Independence, he made some tests and found they were human bones, sure enough. The sheriff and a posse going to The Meadows arrested the keeper. Searching the station they found many articles belonging to the Governor's brother and many belonging to lost prospectors. They got a confession, he showing them the graves of eight missing men, also testifying there was a gang from Arizona to California murdering nearly all single travelers who stopped at their stations...

My the cutthroats and thieves! They seemed to come here from all parts of the world. One of them named Kennedy is said to have murdered twenty-five men. At the new town called Elizabeth Town crime became so bad that Vigilantes were formed, and Kennedy was one of the first to be hung. The six-shooter was the only law. The stages were held up almost every day by such outlaws at Henderson, Coal-Oil Johnny, Joe McCurdy and Stewart. The county officials offered three thousand dollars reward for anyone caught robbing the stage.

A fascinating book of tales recounting McKenna & friends experiences, a look back at life in the Wild West, very interesting reading.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Dave Barry Turns 40

By Dave Barry

Barry looks at what it means to be middle aged, in his own hilarious way, poking fun at himself and at all of us as we attempt to cope with growing older.
Once again, Dave Barry comes through, with his usual funny take on getting up there. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even though it is a little dated since it was first published in 1990. It's always a pleasure just to sit down and read a book just for the sheer fun of it, for the chance to forget life's cares for a little while and have a chuckle. Thanks, Dave.

A Boy's Own Story

By Edmund White

The young narrator of this story (who never reveals his name) is not very comfortable with himself. In his early teens, he finds that his sexual fantasies all center on men, even on his own father. Growing up in the 1950s, being homosexual is not what he wants to be. His dad earns a good living but he is a cold and distant father and eventually leaves his family to take up with a young woman.
Trying to cope with his homosexuality, the boy turns to religion, he turns to psychiatry, he even falls for a girl but he still finds himself yearning for a male lover. He has several trysts with other males but doesn't find that lover, that one special guy. By the end of the story he turns out to be a manipulative little bitch.

Supposedly this is based on the author's own life. Many readers have really loved this book, finding the author's writing wonderful. I saw it was on one of those "1000 books you must read before you die" lists. I don't know why, though, unless the list compilers feel that you shouldn't die without reading about how homosexual men have sex. I actually found it pretty gross. But I must admit I am not one who enjoys reading explicit descriptions of sexual acts, gay or straight. But never mind that. Forget the sex. I just found the whole story to be a big yawn. It never really touched me. The boy was creepy, his dad was creepy, his mom was creepy, his shrink was creepy and he closes the story with a creepy sex act with a creepy teacher at his creepy school. It was all pretty repulsive.

The Penny Pinchers Club

By Sarah Strohmeyer

Kat doesn't think about her life or her marriage much. She knows money is tight but that doesn't stop her from spending too much or lying to her husband Griff about it. Then one day she finds two condom wrappers in her husband pants' pocket after he comes home from a trip. She also finds a receipt that seems to indicate that Griff lied about his whereabouts one night. She begins to have doubts about the state of her marriage. When she finds out that he has a secret bank account and a secret credit card and she finds some emails of Griff's where he claims he will end "it" after their daughter graduates high school it seems pretty clear to Kat that her marriage is on the rocks.
She is advised to start saving money to pay for her divorce since the attorney she is thinking of hiring wants several thousand dollars to handle her case. So Kat joins the Penny Pinchers, a club that helps members cut expenses and shop more economically.
About this time Kat finds out that an old lover she almost married is newly divorced and back in town. This guy is Mr. Moneybags and not only is he ready to hire Kat to decorate his mansion, he also makes it perfectly clear that he never got over her and still considers her the love of his life. (No wonder his marriage failed.)
So Kat is on the horns of a dilemma. Does she reconnect with Mr. Moneybags and partake of the sweet life where she will never have to pinch pennies again? Or does she refuse to give up on her marriage and her husband, who even though he doesn't earn a lot of money, still can rock her world? She may figure it out eventually but will it be before her hubby finds out she spent the night with Mr. Moneybags? 'Fraid not. Looks like it's a good thing she joined Penny Pinchers and saved up all that money for her divorce lawyer.

This was an OK story. Spoiler here: Kat's problem is she jumps to conclusions and is less than open and honest with her husband. Any fool, reading those emails, could see that he wasn't necessarily referring to divorce. So not only is Kat deceptive and a spendthrift, she is also abysmally stupid. I mean, what person who really wants to save their marriage spends the night with a person of the opposite sex? Only a complete moron. I never really cared about Kat, she is just too stupid to live. It's hard to see what those two great guys ever saw in her. She must be great in the sack, that's the only explanation.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Primal Needs

By Susan Sizemore

Joe and Sid were partners in business until one weekend when business turned into pleasure. Even though Sid (who's a female) knew it was a really bad idea she let herself fall in love with Joe and spend that forbidden weekend in his arms. The problem is that Sid is a vampire and Joe is a werewolf and the two are not supposed to mix and if the other vampires find out, Joe is a dead dog. So to protect Joe, Sid pulled a vampire mind trick on him and erased his memory of their passion. But Joe knew what she had done, and with a little help from a witch, he was able to recover the memories. But he is extremely angry at Sid for what she did.
In the meantime, over the course of a couple years, Sid has had a baby vampire boy and been forced to give him to a special nursery for baby boy vampires equipped to deal with their wild ways and the vampires pulled the same kind of mind trick on Sid that she had done to Joe, to ease her grief at giving up her baby. (Getting rid of the kid is really necessary to the plot otherwise he might get in the way of Joe & Sid getting back together and having lots of passionate supernatural sex.)
Joe has joined a mercenary group composed of various supernatural beings working together to thwart a gang of outlaw supernaturals who desire nothing more than world domination. A series of fires and bombings have been traced to these outlaws and Joe's group is in thick of the investigation and Sid finds herself drawn into it also and once again working with Joe.
Joe can't forgive her but their passion is very much alive and between bouts of investigation they manage to find time for lots of sex. Joe may hate Sid but he still wants her. Gradually they work out their differences but once again Joe's life is in danger from the righteous anger of Sid's fellow vampires. Also, Sid's dad is in love with an old lady in a nursing home that he loved back when he was a soldier in WW II. And the old lady gets kidnapped by the outlaw gang and turned into a young lady so Sid's dad and the former old lady can have lots of passionate sex. Duh! It's not like he would want to pork a wrinkled old crone no matter how much he might have loved when she was young and juicy. So of course she has to become young again.

Another entree in the vampire chronicles that seem to be the new hot romance literature any more. At least in this one the vampires have some of the old vampire problems: garlic, sunshine, stake through the heart, blood thirst. But in this series they deal with them by taking medications. It enables them to blend into normal society better. So that part was acceptable. What wasn't acceptable was how disjointed this story seemed. The many references to occurrences in previous novels in the series were jarring and confusing. They serve as reminders to readers familiar with the previous novels but to someone who is not, it is too much info. Plus the story is in the midst of the Joe & Sid plot when suddenly a new plot is plopped down out of nowhere involving Sid's dad and stuff that happened back in the 1940s. It was kind of contrived tying the two plots together and I never did understand the explanation of how the old lady got young again. Was it the potion she was subjected to or was it the bite of her vampire lover? It wasn't made clear or maybe I just wasn't following that part too well. Bottom line, this is just another typical entry in the new vampire lit where vampires are just regular folks and not at all the evil blood suckers of the night that they used to be. Ho-hum...