Thursday, December 31, 2009

Confessions of a Little Black Gown


By Elizabeth Boyle

The setting is England, 1814. England and the United States are enemies. Thalia Langley's twin sister, Felicity, Duchess of Hollindrake, is throwing a big house party meant to establish her reputation as a society matchmaker. She is bringing together eligible society bachelors and belles in the hopes of making several matches. One of the girls she has her sights set on is her sister, Thalia.
Thalia and her cousin Philippa are not the typical young English ladies of the gentry. They are two young women of action and intrigue and at the moment they are concealing a wanted criminal, an American privateer condemned to die. They are helping him escape the hangman's noose, because Philippa is madly in love with him.
The British government suspects the two girls might be hiding the man and so they send an agent in disguise as a vicar to the house party, his orders are to murder the American if he finds him. But the agent, Lord Larken, finds himself smitten by young Thalia and becomes involved with her, compromising his mission. Things become even more complicated the night of the big dance when a deadly French agent shows up at the house determined to get to the American first, a French agent who holds the key to Lord Larken's father's untimely and disgraceful death, information that Larken has been tying to obtain for years.

This was an OK story. However, I found the girls too forward and unladylike, more like modern women than young ladies of the 1800s. Thalia willingly lets Larken seduce her and then it turns out cousin Philippa is pregnant so she has been rolling in the hay with her lover too. I know loose women are not a modern invention still I find it disconcerting to read about girls of that time with no more scruples than any slutty girl of today. Then at the end Thalia and her lover run off to get married at Gretna Green and the scene in the wedding chapel read like something from a Las Vegas wedding chapel not 19th century Britain. I also didn't find the spy story all that interesting or compelling or even believable. And finally, I don't care for the cover of the book with the woman's head missing as if the most important thing about her is her tits that look as if they are about to fall out of her dress, talk about objectifying a person.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Sword and the Satchel


By Elizabeth Boyer

Kilgore is the teenage son of a local lord in place that sounds a lot like Scandinavia in the days of the Vikings. At the start of the story a mysterious sword has suddenly appeared in the lord's hall, jammed into a wooden beam, with a note attached: "Whoso pulls Kildurin from the tree shall rule over all the minions of Surt, to the confusion of the wicked and the confounding of their Power."
Naturally, everyone wants to have a go at pulling on the sword, but it doesn't budge until one night young Kilgore, unobserved, gives it a tug and it comes right out. Hearing someone coming, he stabs the sword back into the beam but sticks back in a slightly different place so now everyone knows it has been moved but who did it is not known. For some reason Kilgore keeps his secret until the wizard Skanderbeg and his magic satchel show up at the hall. For Skanderbeg is there to guide the sword bearer to battle against the evil ice wizard Surt who is trying to bring everlasting winter to Kilgore's world.
So off they go, Kilgore and the elf sword, Kildurin, and Skanderbeg the fire wizard and his satchel which has an infinite capacity to hold whatever is put into it. On their travels they have lots of adventures and close encounters and get to know lots of characters and eventually Kilgore goes up against the evil Surt and frees his world from Surt's domination.

This was an okay story. I don't know Norse mythology, but a lot of it read like a retelling of that sort of thing, which doesn't appeal to me very much. I don't really care for reworkings of old myths. Also, the characters never really came alive for me and the novel seemed to drag on way too long. I kept wanting them to get where they were going and get it over with.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fat Girl


By Judith Moore

Judith Moore was an unhappy child who compensated for her misery with the comfort of food. She didn't just eat too much, she loved food deeply as you can tell from her detailed descriptions of the foods she has eaten and the foods she would like to eat. She was a foodist.
Her father vanished from her life when she was little and she ended up living with her maternal grandmother while her mother took off too. Her grandmother was a busy, no-nonsense farmer who had no time or love for her grandchild. The grandmother cooked three big meals a day for her farmhands and Judith began her fat life at her grandmother's table enjoying a delicious array of homemade goodies as, from the descriptions, the grandmother was a really good cook. Judith was starving for affection and she filled that emptiness with food.
Her mother came back into her life and took her off to New York to live while the mother tried to pursue a career as a singer. One of the few nice things Judith has to say about the mother is that she had a lovely, sweet singing voice. But the mother blamed Judith for blighting her life and she never let her forget it. She was an abusive mother, withholding affection from a little girl starved for it. Plus she rode Judith about her fatness, putting her on numerous diets that sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. But she made such a big deal about Judith's weight and her eating that it became the little girl's obsession too. She had no armour against the cruelness of classmates and no refuge in parental love and saw herself through fat-colored glasses that convinced her she was repulsive and unlovable.
The bright spot in this story is Judith's intelligence. For she grew up to have children of her own, and according to her obituary, she was the loving and involved mother to her own children that her mother never was. Plus she had a successful career with accomplishments and awards and although she struggled with her weight and sadness all her life, all in all, it sounds like she did pretty good.

This was a hard book to read. Not because of the abuse she received at the hands of her nasty mother or the cruel remarks from friend or classmates. No, it is the self-disgust of the author that I found shocking and repulsive. It is not the descriptions of her fat little thighs rubbing and getting sores that upsets. No, it is the repeated denigrations of herself and of that little, sad fat kid she used to be. Still, it is a gripping, if uncomfortable read, and, if not an undistorted picture of growing up fat, it is certainly how she saw herself.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Homer's Odyssey


By Gwen Cooper

Homer is a blind cat. He was adopted as a little kitten by Gwen Cooper. He was still recovering from the surgery where his eyes were removed due to a terrible infection. Like all baby cats, he was born blind and he lost his eyes before ever being able to see.
Gwen was not at a good point in her life when she adopted Homer. She had recently broken up with the man with whom she thought to spend the rest of her life. When he told her he no longer loved her, she had to move out of his place and into the home of a friend. This was just a temporary arrangement as she was expected to find her own place soon. But the weeks stretched into months and still Gwen lived with her friend along with Gwen's other two cats and eventually with the blind kitten, Homer.
The friend was very tolerant of Gwen and her kitties but eventually asked her to move out and Gwen had to take the humbling step of moving back in with her parents. Her meager salary was just not enough to afford a decent dwelling of her own. At this point she had to take a look at her chosen career path and make some changes. Although living with her parents was not as bad as she feared it would be, still she needed to make her way in the world, on her own and with her kitties.
As luck would have it she landed a good job in New York City, just in time to witness the horrid and tragic events of 911. Away from her apartment at the time, her kitties were left alone for several days until she could manage to get back to them. Fortunately all three kitties were OK, although very frantic and ecstatic to see Gwen again.
The place where she worked depended on the many businesses located in the Twin Towers and surrounding area, so Gwen was once again looking for work. Despite the urgings of friends and family, she decided to stay in New York, mainly because she met a man she really, really liked, the man she eventually married.
Throughout this story of a young woman finding out how to stand on her own two feet is the story of Homer and the other two cats. Often, facing difficult times and hard decisions, the author drew hope and inspiration from Homer's undaunted and lively life. Blind though he might be, Homer still enjoys life with all the zest and vigor of any sighted kitty. Brave and fearless despite his blindness and miniature size, at one point Homer even stands off a burger long enough for Gwen to dial 9-1-1. Homer is a heroic figure to Gwen and earns admirers among those lucky enough to meet him with his pluck and courage. Whenever life seems overwhelming, Homer is Gwen's shining example of how to face life without flinching.

This was a pretty good story. I enjoyed reading about Homer's gungho attitude and his amazing exploits, really surprising the things he can do without eyes. The part about 911 was heartbreaking and I really felt her anguish, especially about the kitties left alone for days in the apartment. I didn't care too much for the gushing descriptions of the new boyfriend. I hope she doesn't end up too disappointed when the new hubby reveals his feet of clay, which we all have. But over all I enjoyed reading about Homer the wonder kitty.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Enchanting Pleasures


By Eloisa James

The setting is Regency England. Gabrielle Jerningham is traveling to there from India to marry a man she has never met. She only has a miniature portrait of him but that has been enough for her to construct a romantic fantasy about her future husband, Peter Dewland, and convince herself that he loves her and she loves him. Problem is he doesn't love her...or any woman. He would really rather not be married at all.
Strangely, Gabrielle was supposed to marry Peter's elder brother, Quill, who will inherit the title when their father dies. But Quill had a terrible accident and now may be incapable of fathering a child so the family decided Peter would marry her, but very much against Peter's will. Still he bows to the family pressure and will try to be a good husband to Gabby, he thinks. That is until he meets her.
Because Gabby is not Peter's fantasy of his ideal mate. He wants a tall, slender and sophisticated woman of fashion. Gabby is short, rambunctious, plump, bosomy and messy and lives up to her nickname of Gabby. Peter is horrified and repulsed. Then at Gabby's first society ball her bosoms pop out of the scanty top of her dress and that is the final straw for Peter. He refuses to go through with the wedding and he appeals to Quill to step into his place.
Now to Quill, Gabby is anything but repulsive. He finds her charming, funny, exciting and beautiful. He is glad to marry her. But will Gabby be willing to go along with the bridegroom switch or is she really in love with the standoffish Peter? And even if she is willing to give up Peter will she find a maimed husband an acceptable alternative?

Well, this is a typical modern day Regency romance and unlike the founder of Regency romance's novels, Georgette Heyer, this book contains quite a bit of sex. Still the sex is pretty understated and mild compared to many in the romance genre and none of it is illicit, as all the sex scenes occur after Gabby is wed. Gabby, a total innocent, displays a charming and very believable reticence when she finds out what sex is all about. Gabby's and Quill's sexual relationship is key to the whole story as they struggle to cope with Quill's infirmities and still have a healthy and fulfilling marriage. It all comes together very nicely in the end and I found Gabby to be delight and Quill a gallant if sometimes stubborn leading man.

The Member of the Wedding


By Carson McCullers

It the 1940s during WW II and Frankie is an unhappy kid. When she finds out her brother is getting married she concocts a ridiculous fantasy in which she joins her brother and his new wife on their honeymoon and together they will travel the world and have great adventures:
"Boyoman! Manoboy!" she said. "When we leave Winter Hill we're going to more places than you ever thought about or even knew existed. Just where we will go first I don't know, and it don't matter. Because after we go to that place we're going on to another. We mean to keep moving, the three of us. Here today and gone tomorrow, Alaska, China, Ireland, South America. Traveling on trains. Letting her rip on motorcycles. Flying around all over the world in aeroplanes. Here today and gone tomorrow. All over the world. It's the damn truth. Boyoman!"
"And talking of things happening," she said. "Things will happen so fast we won't hardly have time to realize them. Captain Jarvis Addams [Frankie's brother] sinks twelve Jap battleships and decorated by the President. Miss F. Jasmine Addams [Frankie] breaks all records. Mrs. Janice Addams [the bride] elected Miss United Nations in beauty contest. One thing after another happening so fast we don't hardly notice them."
"And we will meet them. Everybody. We will just walk up to people and know them right away. We will be walking down a dark road and see a lighted house and knock on the door and strangers will rush to meet us and say: Come in! Come in! We will know decorated aviators and New York people and movie stars. We will have thousands of friends, thousands and thousands and thousands of friends. We will belong to so many clubs that we can't even keep track of them all. We will be members of the whole world. Boyoman! Manoboy!"

This kid has gone off the deep end and totally lost touch with reality. And it's not like she is a baby, she is twelve and old enough to know better. And she sure is going to have a rude awakening when she finds out that the last thing her brother and his wife will want is his kid sister tagging along on their honeymoon.

This book just made me tired. Frankie is a loon and I just didn't have the patience to put up with her nonsense. Boring!

Bullwhip Griffin (By the Great Horn Spoon)


By Sid Fleischman

Praiseworthy Griffin is an excellent butler. But when the woman he works for is on the verge of bankruptcy, he and his young master, Jack Flagg, the woman's nephew, hit upon the idea of heading off to California to find a fortune in gold. It's 1849 and folks are flooding into the gold fields hoping to strike it rich. If Jack and Praiseworthy get lucky, they maybe able to get back home to Boston in time to save Arabella, the aunt, and her house from foreclosure.
Right off the bat they run into trouble when their money is stolen. Praiseworthy is a butler very similar to P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves, and nothing keeps him down for long, he is up to the challenge. He and Jack smuggle themselves on board the boat in barrels that are supposed to be filled with potatoes.
But you can't stay for the many months it will take for the boat to travel from Boston all the way down the coast to South America and through the stormy waters off of Tierra del Fuego and back up the west side to California inside a potato barrel. So Praiseworthy presents himself and Jack to the Captain as stowaways and they are put to work shoveling coal until Praiseworthy hits upon a scheme to unmask the theif who stole their money and who is also on board the ship.
Money and good name restored, they continue their voyage, landing in San Francisco ready to light out to the gold fields. But it's an unpleasant surprise discovering how very expensive the supplies they will need are do to the high demand. But never mind, because Praiseworthy always manages to find a way and with minimal supplies they set out to pan for gold among the rough and tumble gold camps of California. They will find gold and lose gold, hit upon money-making schemes and have encounters with bears and thieves and even with true love.

Basically this is a children's book but I still found it quite enjoyable to read. I don't know how historically accurate it is but it is filled with what sounds like authentic details and information about the life of the typical 49er. Praiseworthy is an ingenious fellow and his schemes are nifty and he manages to pull their fat out of the fire every time with a little help from Master Jack. It maybe meant for younger readers, but I enjoyed it a lot too.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Cotton Queen


By Pamela Morsi

Babs and Laney are mother and daughter. Both lost their fathers when they were
little. Both took part in their hometown's Cotton Queen contest with Babs winning runner-up and Laney winning Cotton Queen. Both rode in the cotton festival parade. Both had troubled marriages that ended in divorce. Both gave birth to a daughter who went on to be Cotton Queen in her turn. Both left their hometown only to end up moving back to start over. So in many ways they are a lot alike. Which aggravates Laney to no end, since she sees herself as totally different from her mother, Babs.
Babs wanted nothing more than to be a good wife and mother. Soon after Laney was born, Babs lost her husband to a tragic accident. Trying to raise her daughter on her own, she moved to Dallas and found a job. But while there she was attacked by a man and so traumatized by this that she lost her job and found herself pregnant by her attacker. Desperate, she turned for help to a friend from high school who was now a successful attorney in their home town. He had always liked her and when he asked her to marry him she agreed even though she didn't love him. Theirs was not a good marriage, she was so affected by the rape that she could no longer enjoy sex and so their sex life was terrible. Still, she tried to make up for it by being what she thought was the perfect wife, cooking, cleaning, decorating, dressing well, hosting parties designed to promote her husband's career. Too bad that wasn't what he wanted in a wife.
Meanwhile, her daughter Laney is seeing all this and deciding that the last thing she wants to be is like her mother. Not for her the life domestic, she wants a career. She doesn't care about the Cotton Queen contest but enters it to keep Babs happy. Once she graduates, she can't leave home fast enough. She moves in with a guy and they eventually marry, but the guy is a creep and Laney ends up pregnant and living at home with her mother, who, to Laney's chagrin, has landed on her feet and has developed a career of her own as an events planner. Now Laney is the one stuck at home doing the mommmy thing while Babs is out conquering the world. This is just not the way it was supposed to be!

I really enjoyed this book, it grabbed me and held me right away. Babs' trials and her efforts to keep her daughter were really touching. And Laney's rebellion was so familiar to me as it probably is to most daughters who seem to see only their mothers' flaws and not their strengths. However, as Babs settles into her new marriage, I thought the portrayal of her was a bit over the top, as she manages to alienate not only her husband but also her daughter without ever having a clue as to how controlling and rigid she is. But she warms up later in the story and becomes more human after she becomes involved with the Rape Crisis group and starts to get a handle on her stifled feelings about her own rape. Altogether, it was a terrific story.

Black Like Me


By John Howard Griffin

As a citizen of Texas, Griffin, a white man, saw people of different races everyday but his attention was especially drawn to black people, or as they were called then, Negroes. (Of course, negro is just another way of saying black since that is the original meaning of the word in Spanish.) Griffin, at a time when the civil rights of blacks was just starting to become a national concern, decided to investigate the status of blacks in the South. His plan was to go undercover as a black man using skin dyes and a medication that causes the skin to darken when exposed to ultraviolet light.
He revealed his new self to the world in New Orleans and tried living as a black man. His first problem was simply finding places where a black man could eat, get a drink of water, use the toilet or wash his hands and finally, find a place to sleep. It's hard to believe, but in those days blacks were not even allowed to use the same dishes as white people so you couldn't even go the back door of a cafe or restaurant and buy a glass of water to drink. Ridiculous.
His next step in the plan was to try and find work. Even though he was an educated and experienced man of letters he was completely unable to find any work at all while in New Orleans. He ended up assisting a black man who had a shoe shine stand -- it was the only work he could get. Of course, he didn't need the money since the whole trip was being sponsored by a black-oriented magazine. But he was really surprised that when he tried to cash his travelers checks no one would do it. The only place that was willing to take a black man's travelers check was a Catholic thrift store.
After a few weeks in New Orleans, he decided to get more deeply into the role of a black in the South by going to Mississippi. At the time, whites in the deep South maintained that the blacks in their communities were completely happy and contented with the status quo and had no wish to be full citizens with all the rights that includes. Griffin wanted to see the truth of Mississippi for himself.
Again he planned to look for work and once again could not find anyone who would hire him. He hitchhiked and rode buses and traveled around Mississippi and into Georgia and Alabama. Two things that struck him during his travels, besides the difficulties of finding just the basics of life, were the hate stares of casual passersby and the filthy and salacious talk of the white men who gave him rides when hitchhiking.
These white men would offer him rides, especially in the evening, and many of them would want to talk to him about his sexual experiences with white women and black women, or want to brag to him about their own sexual exploits. Griffin found this kind of interrogation disgusting and disheartening and began to dread conversation with these men.
As for the hate stares, for no reason, just because he was there, white people, particularly white women, would glare at him with anger and hate in their eyes. He found these hate stares shocking and depressing. In fact, these hate stares were one of the most depressing experiences during his whole undercover investigation and lead him into a much deeper appreciation for the downtrodden oppression of the life of the typical black person in the South. Of course, Griffin really knew he was a white man and could go back to being white anytime he wanted. So, although he got a taste of what blacks knew as their everyday experience, he never really knew what it truly meant to be black at that time and place with no escape from the reality of segregation and discrimination.
Montgomery, Alabama, was the nail in his black coffin. The hatefulness of the whites there so oppressed and distressed Griffin that he felt he could no longer continue the masquerade. But after making the switch and now able to enjoy all the privileges of the white race, he felt no joy in it, just how shabby and sour it all was, how unbearable. Walking into a black neighborhood as a white man, he experienced the same hate stares he'd received from whites, but now the stares were directed at him, the white man, from the local blacks.

This was a pretty good book. The things he finds out about being black are not too surprising, although they may have been at the time the story was published in about 1961. He and his family faced a lot of negative feedback after the story came out, negative feedback that he did anticipate but he still went ahead with the project, which was rather brave of him. If his imposture had been discovered by less tolerant types than it was, he could have been beaten or killed. Even almost fifty years later it is a fascinating and compelling story.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A Big Little Life


By Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz really loved his dog, Trixie. She was a trained assistance dog who had to retire due to health issues. She was smart, friendly, obedient and well-trained and she became like a daughter to Koontz and his wife. In fact, Koontz feels that Trixie became a major influence on his writing and helped to open his eyes to the importance of joy in everyday matters, to the importance of innocence and of love. Koontz feels that his dog was sent to him as an emissary from God and that she was a holy spirit in a dog's body, sent to enlighten him as to the mystery of life, death and creation.

This was an OK book. At times the it grows a little tedious reading about how wonderful and special Trixie was, who, according to the author, was even able to speak an actual human word, ball. I don't have a problem with the author's beliefs about his dog, most people who love their pets feel pretty much the same way. But it did get a little boring reading about Trixie's perfection. Also, the book is a lot about Koontz's own beliefs about God and death and the purpose of life, which is OK, but not really what I care to read about.

Monday, December 07, 2009

A Date You Can't Refuse


By Harley Jane Kozak

Wollie Shelley is talked into going undercover by the FBI at a media training center. The FBI suspects the place is more than a media training center and they want Wollie, even though she is not a trained investigator, to scope out the place and its people, especially the head man, Yuri Milos, an European with a shady background. But when her on-again, off-again boy friend, who is an FBI agent finds out, he hits the roof. He can't understand why his boss would expose Wollie to a potentially dangerous situation and he can't understand why Wollie would agree to do it. Of course, the $50,000 that Milos is willing to pay her for a mere three months work might have something to do with it. And the fact that her mentally-ill brother may not be kicked out of the group home he is living in if the FBI uses its influence if she cooperates might also be a contributing factor. But when the bullets start flying the first day on the job, and a dead body is found a few days later, not to mention the suspicious demise of the young woman who had the job before her, Wollie should probably be in the group home with her brother, having her head examined for staying on the job. But she sticks it out, even though she may lose her boyfriend and ultimately even her life.

This was an OK book. Given the reasons for staying on the job were not as compelling as the reason for leaving, i.e., death, I found it hard to swallow the premise that Wollie would stay, especially after she see the huge cache of weapons and the firing range and finding the dead man. I mean, I know she loves her brother, but I'm also sure her brother would not be happy if she died trying to earn the money to keep him in the group home. Other than that, the plot was OK, despite the weak foundation, but I didn't enjoy the rather violent ending. Too bloody for my taste.

Stray


By Rachel Vincent

Faythe is a werecat, a human who can assume the form of a large cat, in her case a black panther-looking cat. In her world, female werecat's are a rarity and so her family, or pride, expects her to settle down, marry and have lots of babies. It's her duty.
Faythe doesn't see it that way. Feed up with her father's overbearing and dictatorial ways, she has left the family home and gone off to college. She wants to be independent but even at college she is aware she is being watched by her father's loyal minions. She is precious to them and they are not willing to risk her in any way, despite her desire for independence.
All is not well in her world, though. For although the werecats of the United States are very civilized and quiet, the same can't be said for those south of the border. The jungle cats, as they are called, are wild and cruel and ruthless and they have sent a couple of their toms to grab any female werecats they can find. So for her own safety, Faythe is forced to come home where she can be protected. Two young female werecats have been snatched and Faythe is next on their list. Fortunately she has a house full of strong male toms, her brothers and her father's minions, to keep her safe. If only she weren't so determined to have her own way...
Yes, she ends up getting snatched through her own bullheadedness and stupidity and thrown into a cage to face a cruel and heartless werecat interested only in making a profit off her and maybe getting a little action if he can force her.

This was an OK book. I didn't think the werecats acted very cat-like at times and they seem to spend very little time in their cat bodies. Most of the time they are human form, even the bad cats preferring to rape and abuse their victims as men, not cats. Also, although this book is probably classed with the paranormal romance genre, this book is short on romance and very long on gruesome, graphic violence. Reads more like something written by a man than by a woman. Barely 16 pages into the book finds Faythe is beating off an attacker. The book was just too violent for my taste. Plus the cats were more like wolves than cats, what with the pair-bonding and the going on long runs in the woods. I can't think of any cat species that pair-bonds and the only cat I know of that runs much is the cheetah. Cats, including big cats like lions and tigers, jaguars and leopards and even panthers, for the most part, prefer to stalk and pounce and, when running, stick to short, fast bursts of speed to snare their prey. Also, like I mentioned before, these werecats spend most of their time being and acting human, humans with short fuses, but still human.