Thursday, August 26, 2010


By Kathleen Tessaro

Louise is a woman from Pennsylvania who is married and living in London, England. She finally admits to herself that her marriage is not working out, probably because her husband is a homosexual. One day she finds a book in a used book store titled Elegance by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux. Written in the 1960s, the author gives advice on how to be an elegant woman and Louise decides that the advice is just what she needs to get her life back on track. Turns out that the advice is exactly what she needs, even though she ignores it most of the time, because every time she screws up, she goes back to the book and discovers that the author was totally correct in her advice.

Anyway the book is about a woman trying to get herself together after her marriage falls apart. It was the typical chick lit story. Not especially interesting or compelling and pretty predictable, following the usual course of screwing up, dating the wrong guys, doing the wrong things, working for the wrong place, drinking too much and eventually landing a better job and a better boyfriend but, of course, learning to be her own woman. The usual routine. About the only thing that was really interesting in the story was the advice book which was based on a real book of the same title and author as in the story. Probably would be more interesting reading that book than this chick lit version of it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Broken Circle

By Rodney Barker

Farmington, New Mexico is in the northwest corner of the state and lies on the northern border of the Navajo Reservation. Starting out as a farming community because of its location at the confluence of the San Juan, Animas and La Plata rivers, when oil and coal were discovered in the area it became an energy boom town in the 1950s and 60s, but by the 1970s the boom was starting to fade. The local population, mainly white, were politically conservative and there was a quite a bit of resentment of the Navajos on the reservations who had the advantage of government help in many areas of their lives, like free health care. The Reservation was dry: no alcohol was sold to its citizens. So if a Navajo wanted to have a drink, they headed to the towns bordering the reservation, of which Farmington was one of the larger ones. Unfortunately, alcohol abuse is a major problem in these border towns and it was not uncommon to find Navajos passed out in alleys, abandoned cars, doorways and other areas around the bars in Farmington.
There developed among the teenage boys of Farmington (and probably of the other border towns) the game of rolling drunken Navajos. They would steal their money, jewelry, hats, clothes and sometimes even beat them up. The authorities looked the other way. So eventually one group of boys took it too far. And three Navajos were taken out into the desert north of town, beaten, striped, tortured, set on fire and ultimately killed. The three boys were just young teens, aged about 15 and 16. The Navajos were adults in their 30s and older but unable to defend themselves because they were completely inebriated.
The boys, instead of being tried as adults, were tried as juveniles and sent to reform school for a term of two years or until the age of 21. Naturally the Navajo community was riled at this injustice, resulting in a confrontation and near riot with authorities in Farmington. The United States Commission on Civil Rights eventually investigated and found widespread mistreatment and prejudice against Navajos.
The author came upon this story while stopping briefly in Farmington one day and he ended up in jail when he embroiled himself in the protest. His curiosity piqued and he decided to investigate the incident more fully, trying to understand how a bunch of high school boys could so casually cause the deaths of three helpless men. He also delved into the effects of the murders on the Navajo community.

This was a fascinating story. The author looks at both groups closely, trying to understand how things turned out the way they did. He goes into the history of Farmington and he also follows up on the lives of the three guilty boys, two of whom were admitted murderers (one claimed to have left the scene before the killings). It is a very interesting and heartbreaking story and well worth the read.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Girl Named Zippy

By Haven Kimmel

Haven Kimmel grew up in a very small town in Indiana in the 1960s. A town of only 300 people, of course she knew most of them. But even in a small town, people are people and, as a little girl, Haven had her own ideas about her fellow towns folk, including her own parents. Her mother was apparently depressed and spent most of her time on the couch reading and snack foods. Her father, a tall, imposing man, had a very quick temper. She was the baby of the family, with a brother and sister who were almost teens when Haven came along.
Mostly things were good for Haven. Her parents didn't have a lot of money but Haven still had a rich childhood, with lots of pets, lots of visits with friends and family. She was a bit of a tomboy and most of her teachers felt she was disruptive. She certainly was a high-spirited, on-the-go youngster, racing around her small town in grubby clothes and wild hair. Like all kids she had some unpleasant encounters with the facts of life, some grisly, some sad. But it was all leavened by her boundless enthusiasm for life and by the quiet love of her two parents.

This was a very good read. Parts of the book are quite funny, and some parts a bit disturbing, like when their neighbors butchered their rabbits for meat. I was not familiar with that method of slaughter, it was gross and shocking. I can image it was pretty traumatic for the little girl witnessing it in the backyard next door (not to mention the rabbits). But even despite the grim bits of country life, it was a real joy to read about little Haven and her small town adventures.

Dark Is the Sun

By Philip José Farmer

Deyv, a young savage, is going out into the world to find a woman and make her his wife. That is if their soul eggs are compatible. The soul egg is a large crystalline stone that all people wear. Anyone without one is an outcast, considered no longer human. So Deyv becomes suicidally depressed when his soul egg is stolen one night while he was sleeping. Somehow, with the help of his two intelligent companion animals, a dog and large cat, he pulls himself together and he and the animals set off to track down the thief. Things start to look up when he encounters a beautiful young woman who is on the same quest he is, tracking down the same thief who also stole her soul egg. They are soon joined on the quest by a third victim of the thief but this victim is not human. It is a huge plant man, very old and wise, who can sense the trail of the thief even in places where the two animals cannot.
The setting is an Earth in its last days, some 15 billion years in the future. The universe is coming to an end and all will be destroyed before much longer. As the unlikely trio continues on their quest, it becomes clear that finding their soul eggs is the least of their worries, that the end of time is at hand. But with the help of an old witch woman and of a half snake, half woman-like being from another planet, perhaps a few can be saved if only they can find a doorway into a younger, thriving world.

This was a classic science fiction adventure with encounters with monsters, strange people, peculiar beings and threats to be face and conquered. I really enjoyed the story right up to end, when the author starts killing off some of my favorite characters. Sometimes, when reading a story, it seems as it gets towards the end that the author gets bored with it and wraps it up rather abruptly. Just kind of wham, bam, you're dead, you're out, it's over. This book felt like that at the end. But up to the very end, I enjoyed the book quite a bit, it was exciting and full of weird, wild stuff. Overall, I'd say it was a good read.

*batteries not included

By Wayland Drew (based on a screenplay)

An old apartment building is in danger of being torn down by a developer, which it might not be if the building is fixed up and shown to be of some historical value to the city. But the tenants have run out of time and have no money and the developer has sent some thugs to persuade the holdouts to move. One of the tenants sends out a desperate prayer for some kind of help and the prayer is heard and two miniature flying saucers show up. These saucers, which seem to be a male and female, like things nice and neat and clean and they soon get the place looking spic and span, including one of the tenants' cafe in the first floor of the building. Soon the cafe is doing a good business and the thugs, dismayed to see these holdouts prospering, bust up the cafe and break out its windows.
But the little saucers, joined my their tiny offspring, are up to the task and they get the cafe repaired overnight. What the thugs do next just may be the end for the people of the old apartment building and of the little flying saucers.

I think this book is basically meant for children, such an unlikely story and a pretty simple plot. I never saw the movie it was based on, so I don't know if the movie was any good. The book was an OK read, but pretty juvenile.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Veil of Roses

By Laura Fitzgerald

Tami is a young Iranian woman who gets to come the USA for two months. She is unhappy living under the oppressive religious regime running Iran and her hope is that she will find a nice Iranian man to marry while in the USA. She will be staying with her older sister and her sister will introduce her to all the eligible Iranian males in the area, which is Tucson, Arizona.
Tami finds America a little disorienting. She if offered a free sample at Starbucks and she doesn't understand the concept of a free sample, trying to pay the clerk for it. And when the police arrive a short time later, just to get a beverage, Tami is sure they have come to arrest her for stealing the sample. So even though she speaks English, she takes a class in conversational English to improve her understanding.
Her class is small and is composed of other foreigners. These people soon become like a second family, offering advice and helping her cope with American life. Tami is so closed off from living in Iran for almost all her life that she is constantly shocked by the openness and freedom she sees around her. At the same time she realizes that this is exactly what she wants. She is determined that she will find a man to marry before her two months are up.
Problem is that all the prospects are just not measuring up. One guy is already engaged. One guy is a loon. Meanwhile there is a guy who really likes Tami but she won't give him a chance because he is not Iranian. Her family would be really unhappy if she married a non-Iranian. Looks like she is doomed to go back to the Iran . . .

I liked this story a lot. Tami's friends in her English class give her a crash course in American Life and though she is somewhat dismayed she finds herself craving the freedom she sees all around her. Freedom to take her shoes off in public and walk in the soft, dewy grass. Freedom to hold hands in public with a man. Freedom to let her hair blow free in the wind. Freedom to sing and dance in public. Freedom from the constant censure that makes life back home so burdensome. Is was nice reading about life here through the eyes of someone new to it. It was a very enjoyable read.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Original Big Hair Girls

By Stella Cooper Mitchell

Being a teenage girl in the early 1960s could be a lot of fun. It could also have its complications, but the heroines of this story manage to scrape through without permanent damage. Sadie and her friends are a tight knit group always looking for a chance to have a little fun even though they may end up in the police station, either as victims or perps.

This is a very lighthearted book, a nostalgic look back at American life in the 1960s before kids learned to "tune in, turn on and drop out." Before the days of war protest, draft card burnings, riots, the Beatles, Watergate, Vietnam and on and on. Maybe such a time never really existed, but still it was a fun trip to a sweeter, gentler time and place. I enjoyed it.

The Girl Who Remembered Snow

By Charles Mathes

Emma was raised by her grandfather, a Frenchman, in San Francisco. He was shot to death and Emma inherited his house. She goes out soon after the funeral to pour his ashes into the sea, where she meets a new Frenchman who seems very taken with her. They arrange to meet but before they can get together again, he is shot and killed in his hotel room, by the same gun that killed her grandfather.
Emma has a mystery on her hands and so she sets off for the Caribbean island where her grandfather lived before coming to California. She hopes something in his past lead to an understanding of why two men were murdered.

This was an OK book. Emma spends quite a bit of it wandering around this island with a local urchin, looking for clues to her grandfather's past. I found this part of the book pretty boring. Eventually she figures out the puzzle which was, I thought, rather improbable and also an unsatisfying way to end the story.

More Than Human

By Theodore Sturgeon

Lone was a wild man, living in the woods, unable to speak, unable to think very clearly. He was rescued by a farmer who saw possibilities in Lone and took him in. Under the farmer's care, Lone learned to speak a few words, to do chores, to be more human. All was good until the farmer's wife got pregnant. She didn't want Lone to be around the baby. So he went back to the woods and built himself a snug home in a cave. And gradually he acquired a family of sorts of little children on the run who needed a place to grow up, a place safe from the rest of us. Because they weren't ordinary kids, they were kids with powers. There is Baby, who never grows up; the twins Bonnie and Beanie, Janie and, later on, Gerry. Baby is an organic computer, unable to speak or walk, a seeming idiot. Bonnie and Beanie also never speak, but are able to transport themselves instantly anywhere. Janie also transports, but not herself, only things. Janie can hear Baby's thoughts and he keeps them informed and he guides them. Gerry is a powerful telepath, but he can't hear Baby. Lone serves as the front man, the one who goes out and buys food and clothes. He takes care of them until he is killed by a falling tree. At which point they move in with a woman from Lone's past. With Lone gone, the new front man becomes Gerry. Which is a real problem, because Gerry, an abused street kid, is lacking in morality and compassion. This band of misfits may be a new kind of person, homo gestalt, but until it learns some humanity, the rest of us could be in serious trouble.

This was a pretty good book. The story kind of jumps, which is not surprising since it was apparently put together from three short stories. I read this book a long time ago and even knowing how it came out, I still enjoyed rereading it.


By Orson Scott Card

Eight thousand years ago, a space ship happened to pass too close to the planet of the wyrms. Singing her siren song, Mother Wyrm called the captain of the space ship to her side. He landed the ship and was compelled to mate with the huge disgusting worm-like female, a mating that resulted in 4 new creatures: geblings, dwelfs, gaunts and unwyrm. Unwyrm was the only unwyrm born and at his birth he devoured Mother Wyrm and, in the process, gained not her memory and knowledge but the memory and knowledge of every mother wyrm before her. He then rested, high on the top of the mountain in his dead mother's cave, knowing that his time was not yet, that it would not be until eight thousand years in the future. At which point he would take a mate, a human woman, a woman who would either save her people from Unwyrm or send all humanity to its doom. The seventh daughter of the seventh daughter of the seventh daughter is that woman and her name is Patience and she is only fifteen when she is called upon to face her fate in Unwyrm's cave.

Well, this certainly was an imaginative and compelling story. The wyrms have got to be one of the best aliens ever thought up by an author. There will be a final clash between human and wyrm, as the son of wyrm, Unwyrm, makes a desperate bid to save his people from anihilation by humankind. It's survival of the fittest as two opposing species struggle to save their respective peoples and only one will come out alive. Who will be the ultimate ruler of the universe, Wyrm or Human? An epic battle will played out in the small confines of an icy, mountain top cave. Quite an unforgettable and fascinating story.

First Evidence

By Ken Goddard

Crime scene investigator Colin Cellars has been called in to look into the disappearances of several people in the Pacific Northwest. Before he can even get started on his investigation, he is called to a crime scene of a possible shooting at a cabin deep in the rugged forest landscape. What he doesn't know is that the cabin belongs to an old estranged friend of his named Bobby, the very man who had stood him up just a few hours before. Cellars' first discovery is the mauled body of a large dog. His next is the body of a man whose face is gone. He doesn't realize at first that it is his old friend, Bobby. But as Cellars tries to work the crime scene he realizes that he is not alone at this isolated cabin in the woods. Indeed, whoever killed Bobby is in the vicinity and is not happy that Cellars is collecting evidence of the murder.
Thus starts what is the weirdest case of his career, as Cellars comes face to face with visitors from outer space. Visitors that will do anything, including murder, to protect the secret of their presence on our planet.

This was a pretty good story, even though rather gruesome and creepy. The setting is gloomy and threatening, with the oppressive mountains, dense forests, constant rain and the shadowy aliens lurking at the edge of vision, not clearly seen but ever menacing. This kind of story isn't the sort of thing that I usually enjoy but this one was engrossing and suspenseful.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Girls of Tender Age

By Mary-Ann Tirone Smith

When Mary-Ann was about nine years old, a classmate of hers was molested and murdered by a pedophile. This book is Mary-Ann's exploration of that event and her memories of that time and also of what it was like growing up in the 1950s. Her brother was autistic, although at that time, he was just considered retarded, despite the fact that he reading at an adult level when still just a child. His condition required his parents to focus most of their energy on him, leaving Mary-Ann on the sidelines. In addition, Mary-Ann's mother was an indifferent parent, preferring to golf or play cards to being with at home with her children.
When the murder occurred, the adults in her life refused to discuss it with the children, leaving Mary-Ann with many unanswered questions. It was so traumatic to her that later in life she couldn't remember the two years of her life after the event. But as an adult, she started to confront that time in her life and to find out for herself exactly what happened to the little girl who was strangled to death in a backyard just a few houses down from where Mary-Ann lived at the time.

The subject of this book is sad and tragic, a young life cut short because of some man's depraved sexual appetite. But that isn't the only story in the book, mainly it is about Mary-Ann and her family, about growing up in the 1950s and about being sister to a brother with autism. It's a really interesting story.

American Wife

By Curtis Sittenfeld

Alice was just an ordinary girl from an ordinary family in an ordinary town. Her folks were neither rich nor poor. Alice was neither beautiful or ugly, neither brilliant or stupid. If fate had been a little kinder, she probably would have spent the rest of her life in her home town, married to a local boy, maybe teaching school, with a couple of kids, leading an ordinary life.
But fate stepped in and everything went awry and Alice went on to have the kind of life that very few ever experience: First Lady of the United States.
Alice had a crush on a boy in her high school and she was sure he liked her too. But driving to a party one night, Alice ran a stop sign and hit another car, a car that was being driven by the same boy she had a crush on. The boy was killed. Alice naturally felt terribly guilty. Her guilt drove her to seek a life away from her home town. She ended up in Chicago, where she met the man who would be her husband and who would become the President of the United States.

I picked up this book at a used book sale, not knowing anything about it. But I gradually came to realize that Alice was based on First Lady Laura Bush. In the book, Alice always carries a torch for the boy she killed and while she loves her husband, in her way, she never forgets that boy and she never stops wondering what kind of life they could have had together. Marrying Charles, Alice gets swept along on his quest to make his mark in the world. She doesn't agree with his politics and she doesn't like the public life but she does what is expected of her. She doesn't make waves and she behaves like a good little wifey should.
This book started out pretty good but after Charles & Alice are married, the story slows way down. At that point it was so boring that I stopped reading it for several weeks. Charles is not an appealing character and it was a puzzle as to why Alice stayed with him, especially since he was a conservative and she a liberal. The book doesn't go into a lot of detail about the political years and takes up the story of the presidency only in the second term.
So I did enjoy the first part of the book but after Alice and Charles get married the story was a lot less interesting.