Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Murphy's Stand


By Gary Paulsen and Brian Burks

After his wife died, Murphy was adrift, lost in memories of what was and what could have been. Fast with a gun, now he lived his life on the edge, not really caring if he lived or died. But an unexpected encounter with a gang of killers on the run got Murphy into a situation that opened up new and unanticipated possibilities giving Murphy an inkling of a new life and a chance at happiness. But first he will have to face down an evil rancher who is determined that he and he alone will be the sole supplier to the nearby Army fort and this rancher doesn't care who he has to kill to do it.

This was a pretty typical shoot-em-up Western story. But even though typical it was nevertheless an enjoyable read. Murphy is a real sympathetic character, a man's man and a guy who has sort of lost himself to anguish but discovers that maybe life still has something good to offer him. And he is willing to risk his life to make that something come true and to simply stand up for what is right, even though at times he questions whether to become involved or just ride away.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sunday's at Tiffany's


By James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet

Jane is a rich little girl living in New York City with her Broadway-show-producer mother. Jane's parents are divorced and very busy so Jane is pretty lonely. To comfort herself she has an imaginary friend, a hunky man named Michael. Michael is always there with a good word, a friendly hug, a hand clasp; ready to laugh, joke, play and just be a real buddy to Jane. He is about the only friend she has. But guess what, when Jane turns nine, Michael tells her she is growing up and that it is time for the imaginary friend to go. He tells her that she will not remember him and so will not miss him.
But she does remember him and she does miss him and she never forgets him. In fact, she writes a hit play about their relationship and is approached to do a movie based on the play. Her boyfriend at the time is an actor who is doing his best to talk her into using him as the lead character based on Michael and her mother is heavily promoting him for the part too. So Jane is under a lot of pressure to knuckle under to their demands, but she just doesn't feel that he is right for the part.
Meanwhile, Michael has returned to New York City, apparently to be the imaginary friend for some lonely little kid. But instead he spies Jane, all grown up, and finds himself fascinated by her. Inevitably they met and Jane discovers her imaginary friend all over again. Michael brings sorely needed love and acceptance back into Jane's lonely life and it is true love from the first moment. But how can a adult woman find happiness in the arms of an imaginary friend?

This is the opening sentence of the book: "Michael was running as fast as he could, racing down thickly congested streets toward New York Hospital——Jane was dying there——when suddenly a scene from the past came back to him, a dizzying rush of overpowering memories that nearly knocked him out of his sneakers." So right off the bat, the reader is being led down the primrose path, told that the Jane character is dying in a hospital. This turns out to be a huge lie. Not only doesn't Jane die, she never even gets sick beyond a little food poisoning, which is presented in the story as a possible symptom of her impending health crisis which never materializes. I don't know, some readers may find this sort of misdirection charming and exciting but I didn't. I don't like being set up and I don't like being lied to. Also, I just could never buy into the whole imaginary friend plot. It just didn't appeal and seemed too silly.

Skinny Dipping


By Connie Brockway

Mimi is just drifting through life. Her personal philosophy is no entanglements: no husband, just the occasional boyfriend; no kids; no career, just a job; no pets ... she doesn't even have a houseplant in her apartment. She dropped out of college just a few weeks short of getting her degree. And it's not that she's stupid, no, she has a very good brain that she uses for very little.
So what happened to Mimi to make her so disconnected? Her father disappeared when she was a kid and she was never the same after that.
Then one day Mimi receives a post card from her father, a post card dated 30 years ago that the post office is just now delivering and it stirs up all those old feelings. To make matters worse, Mimi's family is considering selling their lakeshore property to real estate developers who want to build a bunch of million dollar McMansions and are offering big bucks to the locals to sell out. Mimi has been spending every summer at that place for her whole life and to lose it now is breaking her heart. But how can she hold out against the sale when all her relatives are drooling at the thought of those millions the developers are willing to fork over?
It gets even more complicated when the millionaire genius who lives next door breaks his leg and somehow Mimi ends up spending the winter with him taking care of his three mutts and his hunky father, who also manages to bang himself up showing off for Mimi while skiing. The woman whose goal in life was to stay clear of responsibility suddenly finds herself weighted down with tons of new ones, including her baby sister who shows up several months pregnant and alone.

Yes, this is a romance story, but it is one of the best I have ever read. Mimi is quite a character, as are the other folks in the story. In addition, the book is full of humor and is a very down home look at life on a little Minnesota back country lake; almost as good as vacationing there. I enjoyed the book very much. It was a lot of fun.

Nemesis


By Agatha Christie

Miss Marple is feeling her age and has been ordered by her doctor to stop working in her garden. But despite her advancing age, she is still up to the challenge of tracking down a killer and freeing a man wrongfully imprisoned.
An acquaintance of hers has recently died, a man of wealth and business acumen. As he was dying he arranged for Miss Marple to take a bus trip visiting the grand homes and gardens of England. All this came as a surprise to Miss Marple when she was informed of it by his lawyers after the man's death. She was told he arranged the trip because he wanted her to ferret out the truth of something but the details were not made clear to her. He wanted her mind clear and open to all the impressions without being influenced by prior knowledge.
It didn't take Miss Marple long, once she was on the bus trip, to realize that the man's son had been locked up for the murder a girl he was dating and that this was what the dead man was pointing her toward. The son was a young man with criminal tendencies and the obvious suspect in the girl's death. But when one of the passengers gets killed by a falling boulder, it is clear to Miss Marple that there was more to that old murder case than the investigators knew. So putting on her fluttery, confused old woman act, Miss Marple manages to smoke out a killer and get a dead man's son released from prison.

Miss Marple stories are always interesting and this one is no exception. Miss Marple tracks down killers like a blood hound does an escaped convict. This was a pretty entertaining book and the only quibble I had with it was rehash of the murder plot at the end of the story which I found rather unnecessary and boring. But otherwise it was a good read.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Race Against Time


By Piers Anthony

Raised in Middle America, John Smith, was the typical teenage kid, with caring parents, a pet dog, and a bright future. But John knew something wasn't quite right. First of all was the pet cat that had a prehensile tail. When he asked his parents about this the cat was taken away and he never saw it again. So when he realized that his dog could climb trees, he kept his mouth shut. And other small inconsistencies caught his eye. And he wondered why he was never allowed to leave the small town he lived in, not even to go camping or visit another city. And if he tried to slip away, he was always brought back. Gradually he came to realize that his parents weren't really his parents and that the townspeople were only playing a part, a role designed to keep John unaware of his captivity.
Not only was John a captive, but he discovered other teens in similar captivity, but in different locations and eras. Two teens were raised in a scenario of ancient China, and two in a place like Africa before Europeans came there. Making his escape, John joined up with the other teens and they set out find a home and the freedom to live as they chose, not be kept confined like exhibits in a museum.
This was an OK story. John's and the other kids tricks to escape captivity seemed pretty transparent but it turns out that their captors are not quite as dumb as they appeared to be, giving the kids so many opportunities to slip away, and that it was all part of a master plan. However, it seemed to me to be a lot of nonsense. Why go to all the bother to deceive these kids all their young lives? Why not just explain from the start the role they were to play in society? I didn't get that part.
The story started out pretty good but it just didn't maintain my interest after a while.

Monday, April 19, 2010

"Just wait till you have children of your own!"


By Erma Bombeck and Bil Keane

Erma quips about the trials and tribulations of raising teenagers in the 1960s and Bill Keane supplies cartoons in the same vein.

The best thing about this book were the cartoons by Bill Keane. Erma's essays are mildly amusing but that is about all. I enjoyed the cartoons more.

Confessions of a Werewolf Supermodel


By Ronda Thompson

Lou was just an ordinary teen until one night when her date tried to rape her. At which point she changed into a werewolf and really rocked his world. When she returned to her normal self she ran away from home and a possible murder charge and fled to New York City where she found work as a model becoming so successful and famous that she earned the title of supermodel.
As it turns out, after the first werewolf transformation, her then ordinary features suddenly rearranged themselves into extraordinary and what had been just an average teen was now drop-dead gorgeous. Plus her werewolf metabolism and strength meant she never had to diet or worry about what she ate, unlike most models, let alone women. Really the only thing she had to worry about was the unexpected, unpredictable wolfish outbreaks she had been experiencing lately, like suddenly sprouting fur when she is supposed to be modeling scanty underwear. Also when she get wets she smells like a wet dog. So even though she is beautiful, thin and powerful, she still carries a burden everywhere she goes.
What she doesn't understand is the sudden wolfish breakthroughs that are throwing her off her stride. She hasn't turned werewolf since that first traumatic incident several years ago. But here lately she is constantly sprouting fur and fangs and claws without warning. Something has certainly changed but what can it be? Then the reports of young murdered woman start turning up, young women that bore a striking resemblance to herself. Young women who it seems may have been attacked by a werewolf. And that werewolf's ultimate target turns out to be Lou. Lou is in for the fight of her life and going rogue and releasing her inner werewolf may be the only way she can stay alive.

This was a pretty good story, more so in the beginning than towards the end. Lou's predicament trying to deal with her werewolf outbreaks is pretty amusing and her down-to-earth, unpretentious personality are very appealing. But the story lost me when in turned into a gruesome murder mystery, with the mangled bodies of beautiful young women turning up all over the place. It was just a little to bloody-minded for me. Also, it is obviously the beginning of a series of novels about Lou the werewolf supermodel because it has a very open-ended conclusion, with several mysteries about Lou and her werewolfism yet to be solved and without Lou falling in love with any of the eligible and attractive men that parade through the novel, starting with her photographer, and including the cop investigating the murders and the private detective slash rock musician she hired to track down her real parents. Since I am not looking to get into a series, I prefer stand-alone novels, I will only rate this one fair. Also I didn't care for the violence and murders. It seems to me that with its lighthearted title that the book should have been more in line with the title, less gore and lots more fun.

The Georgian Rake

By Alice Chetwynd Ley

Amanda's sister Isabella is engaged to marry a wealthy nobleman, one Charles Barsett. It is a marriage approved of on all sides, on the Barsett's side because Isabella is a very wealthy young woman and on Isabella's parents side because Charles, though he has a dodgy reputation, is also wealthy, but mainly he is one of the upper crust and that alone has a lot appeal. Nevermind that Isabella is already in love with another man, a young fellow who lived next door. And never mind that the gossip about Barsett paints him a very unsavory man, mixed up in all kinds of unseemly goings-on.
All this does not sit well with Amanda. She believes that Isabella should be marrying her true love, the old boyfriend from back home. And she has heard the gossip about Barsett and she declares he is too depraved and debauched to be a fit husband for Isabella. So she determines she will get the goods on Barsett and expose him to Isabella and open her eyes to the unsuitability of the match. Isabella will then reject her wealthy, titled suitor and return to her more humble, honest country beau. So Amanda sets forth with her scheme to expose the debauched Barsett and in the process discovers that appearances can be misleading, that polite, mannerly people can be evil through and through and that a black reputation can hide a heart of honor.

This was an OK story. At times, it was rather predictable and somewhat boring. The two heroines, Amanda and Isabella are not real appealing. Isabella is ready to marry for money and position and Amanda is too quick to condemn a man based solely on gossip. So I didn't really like either of the two girls the story is centered around. Also, at the beginning of the story, as I said before, it is rather predictable and a little boring. However it picked up very quickly and became more interesting further on. It was a pretty good read after that, if you can get past the flaws of the two heroines.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Fried Eggs With Chopsticks


By Polly Evans

Shortly before China was due to host the summer Olympics, Polly Evans decided to take a trip around China, all on her own and not as a part of guided tour. Starting off in Beijing she headed in to the interior of China to Datong, near the border with Mongolia, and then south to Xian and east to Shanghai, west to Zhongdian, near the border of Tibet, then east again, ending up in Hong Kong. She got up close and personal with the China and the Chinese people. She traveled by train, bus, van, bike, donkey, foot, boat, and taxi. It was a long, tiring journey and she pretty much saw the most of the famous sights that China has to offer. For the most part she really enjoyed herself but at times found her inability to communicate very trying. She did speak a little Chinese, but not much. She often found the accommodations lacking, the nightly phone calls from prostitutes offering their services annoying, the food often just nasty, and the Chinese prone to lying. About the food, it was not Chinese cuisine in itself that was the problem, the food she got a restaurants and small stands was delicious. But the food offered at hotels and at tourist destinations was just substandard and disappointing. But all in all, despite the problems she faced, I think she really enjoyed herself, but was relieved when it was all over.
I enjoyed the book a lot. She really gives a lot of fascinating detail. After reading her account, China sounds wonderful, exciting and very frightening. Don't think I will ever be planning a trip there in the future. Like the Middle East, it is better to read about than to actually visit.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Baghdad without a Map and other Misadventures in Arabia


By Tony Horwitz

When Tony Horwitz was just starting out as a writer and reporter he went to the Middle East because he hoped he would find lots of stories to write and sell and thus earn a living. He did that but he also learned a lot in the process. And at times he hated being there yet he also found himself drawn back again and again.
Based in Egypt, Tony traveled to various places in the Middle East, observing, writing, selling stories, reporting on news-worthy events. His travels took him to Yemen where he chewed qat and drank soda pop with Yemeni men; to the Persian Gulf where shipping was being fired on by both Iran and Iraq to take a ride on a boat through the danger zone; to Baghdad where the tyrant ruled; to the Iran-Iraq war front with other reporters to view the progress of the war; to Israel, where he said he was treated the most rudely of any Middle Eastern country; to Libya to investigate Qaddafi's pharmaceutical factory that the West said was a weapons factory; to Khartoum, one of the most depressing places on Earth & to the refugee camps of Southern Sudan where the native Dinka were being driven to destruction by their Arab neighbors; to Beruit where the boat he was riding in narrowly missed being sunk a mortar shell; and to Tehran to witness the Ayatollah's funeral where he discovered that despite the Ayatollah's oppressive religious regime that has deprived people of the most basic human liberties, that the religious tyrant was a greatly beloved hero and saint to his people. The Middle East, a land of contradictions and confusion, of intemperance, intolerance, desperation and hatred.

I really enjoyed this book. After reading it, any thought or wish I ever might have had to visit anywhere in that region of the world have completely vanished. Portrayed in this book it is a dangerous place where people live by ancient, outlandish rules, and where breaking those stupid rules can result in death. Or if they are not oppressed with their ancient, male-dominated religion, they are oppressed by the tyrants they choose to rule over them and oftentimes they are oppressed by both religion and tyrants. This book certainly paints a vivid and frightening picture of life in the Middle East. Reading about it is a lot nicer than going there, it seems.

The Lovely Bones


By Alice Sebold

Schoolgirl Susie Salmon was waylaid one evening by a neighbor man who lured her into a trap where he raped then murdered her. Her body was never found: only an elbow that he dropped when transporting her cut up remains elsewhere.
Powerless in heaven Susie watches as her family, father, mother, sister & brother try to cope with her terrible death. Her spirit constantly dances attendance on them, on her school mates, on people in the neighborhood. She tries to reach out to them, to comfort, to touch, to love but as a spirit it is all in vain. She even haunts the house of her killer but he is never aware of her or of the spirits of his other victims that linger near by.
The years pass. Her parents split. Her sister grows up. Her baby brother becomes a teen. And as they grow and change and age, Susie is there, always a part and apart.

This is a pretty sad story although the descriptions of heaven are enchanting. It seems like a murder mystery at first but it is really a story of a dead girl learning to accept her own death and to accept that her loved ones have lives of their own to live but to also know that she will always be part of their lives, maybe not always in the forefront of their thoughts but still tucked away, regretted and loved. And even though at times it is a very touching story, for me it seemed to drag on too long and towards the last third I was just wishing the author would wrap it up. It's not a bad read or even just a fair read, but I found it a little too lengthy. And I would have liked a tidier ending, but that's just me. I like my fiction to be entertaining and I don't really want to learn any life lessons or be uplifted or inspired. The book wasn't my cup of tea but it is a good book and I am sure lots of people find it tremendous.