Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Available Light

By Ellen Currie

Kitty is afraid to commit herself wholeheartedly to her lover, Rambeau, and as a consequence, he has moved out of their home. Only after he is gone does Kitty come to realize how much she really does love him. She spirals down into depression and is not helped at all by her jealous, neurotic sister Eileen or by their wasp-tongued, house-bound, decrepit Irish mother. At one point, Kitty believes she is pregnant and her sister believes that she too is pregnant and it seems from appearances that their mean old mother is acting like she is pregnant too. Add in a mean-tempered pit bull (is there any other kind?), an amoral teenager who really is pregnant, and a lecherous, elderly neighbor, and you have a cast of characters who are strange, repulsive, nasty and all more than a little bonkers.

I can't say I cared at all for this book. For one, it is billed as being funny. But it isn't. Unless you are the kind of person who laughs at the disabled and thinks heartbreak and tragedy are hilarious. Because this is not a happy story. One character gets mauled by the mean dog. One character and her unborn child die in a car crash. The mean old mother has a series of strokes. And speaking of mean, it seems like the favorite activity of these character is making each other feel lousy. I didn't find it funny and beyond that, these people all act like escapees from a loony bin. I just couldn't relate to their insanity, their pointless cruelty to each other.

Water Witches

By Chris Bohjalian

Scottie Winston is a lawyer in Vermont and one of his firm's major clients is a local ski resort. Times are rough in the ski industry, what with competition from the big Western resorts and with the drought that Vermont has been suffering through that has reduced the amount of snow on the ski slopes. Lots of resorts have gone under. But the local resort has plans to prevent their own decline. They want to expand the ski trails, build a new ski lift and expand their snowmaking capacity. Of course, all these plans will have an impact on the surrounding wilderness, and most especially on the nearby river the resort wants to tap to supply its snowmakers. The drought has seriously depleted the river and locals and others are afraid that if the resort is given the go-ahead on the snowmaking, it will cause the river to run dry. Not to mention all the trees to be removed for new ski trail and parking lots and all the other development the resort wants to do.
Scottie is kind of caught in the middle. On the one hand, the resort is a major client and Scottie believes in the economic benefit the expansion will bring to the local community. But on the other had are his wife, his daughter and his wife's friends and family. Because Scottie is married to a water witch, and his little daughter is a fledgling water witch and his wife's whole life and family are tied to and involved with water witches and water witching and they are all up in arms over the proposed ski resort expansion. How can he please both his clients and those who are closest to his heart?

The first two thirds of this book were really interesting and enjoyable, reading about Scottie's odd family and relatives and water witching. But then it gets bogged down in politics and protesters and legal battles and it got really boring really fast. The author drags the main character's little girl into the legal battles but that just wasn't enough to make it interesting again. And I felt the whole business about the cougars was kind of contrived and, as before, it just wasn't enough to make that part of the story as interesting as the part about the water witches and Scottie's family.

The Uplift War

By David Brin

Garth is a planet that was abused greatly by its previous tenants has been granted to humans and neochimps to colonize. Their mission is to provide a home for a growing colony of neochimps and to restore and bring into balance the planet's ecology. It's just too bad they end up as pawns in an interstellar conflict.
Although the humans and neochimps put up a gallant defense against the Gubru invaders, they are out-gunned and out-numbered and soon the Gubru are ruling the roost, literally. (Gubru are bird-like beings who like being on a perch.) Their purpose in seizing Garth is to blackmail Earth into doing what the Gubru want. Failing that, they will use the inhabitants of Garth to prove that humans don't deserve to be Galactic citizens and that humans should be indentured to a more advanced, superior race, like the Gubru. Also that humans are botching the Uplift (genetic engineering) of chimps to neochimps and that someone more qualified should take over the neochimps' Uplift. Someone like, oh, I don't know, maybe...the Gubru?
Well, the Gubru might think they are an advanced Galactic culture, but basically they are out to get whatever they can. And if it means gassing humans and destroying forests and imprisoning and brainwashing neochimps and holding entire worlds hostage, well, that's just too bad. The Gubru may look like a flock of birdbrains but they are a ruthless bunch of intergalactic baddies.

This was an OK story. It was too long and slow, I thought. The romance between one of the main characters and an alien girl was not very satisfying and also kind of disturbing. The neochimps came off as too human. And I never did understand the whole thing about the gorillas coming into the Gubru-controlled town and crashing some ceremony intended to raise neochimps to Galactic citizenhood. And, strangely enough, even though the Gubru are stinkers, I felt sorry for the way it turned out for them in the end. It felt like a real lost opportunity for something wonderful and magnificent.

The Devil in the Junior League

By Linda Francis Lee

Texas socialite Frede (pronounced Freddie) Ware was certain that her husband loved her and wanted to have children with her. After several years of marriage and no babies, followed by numerous trips to the fertility doctors and lots of medical tests, Frede finds out that she has been living in a fantasy. Not only does her husband, Gordon, not want to have kids with her, he had a vasectomy before they were even married. Further, he has been having an affair with his homely secretary. And, as Frede later finds out, he has swindled Frede out of her large fortune, her house, her expensive artworks and has even replaced her fabulous jewelry with fakes. For the first time in her over-privileged life, Frede is going to have to stand on her own two feet.

Only, of course, she doesn't. She turns for help to some old friends and to some new friends and together they manage to pull her ass out of the flames. Only after being rescued does Frede finally leave her warm and cozy rich-girl enclave and set out to find herself. And that is where the story ends.

Frede Ware must be just about the stupidest rich girl there ever was. Why else would she blindly sign whatever paper her conniving husband sets in front of her, signing away her trust fund, rescinding her prenuptial agreement, and even signing over to her hubby her house and expensive artworks? This girl is just too stupid to live. But besides being stupid, Frede is one of the most stuck-up, arrogant, judgmental and all-around-stinkers of a heroine. If a woman shows up wearing a flowered print dress or, god forbid, spike heels, they are written off in Frede's book as NC: No Class. Not-One-Of-Us. This Frede is such a pill who so does not deserve her good fortune that I sort of wished the errant hubby succeeded in ripping her off at the end.
Other than the fact that Frede is a prig and a very unsympathetic heroine, sneering as she does at every little infringement she sees of her precious social code (for instance, she is shocked to see her friend is wearing animal print socks under her slacks), this story was pretty engaging. A behind-the-scenes look at the lifestyles of a particular class of society that was quite interesting. However, I did feel that Frede's husband and his complict girlfriend get off too easy. I didn't find their punishment very satisfying. And as for Frede, she's just lucky her creepy husband only swindled her.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Boy Who Looked Like Shirley Temple

By Bill Mahan

Billy and his family leave their home for the greener pastures of California in the 1930s, hoping for better times there. They find a place to rent in Culver City and are down to just a few dollars. The dad is a hopeless hypochondriac and the mom finds a job only to have her boss skip town without paying her for two weeks of work. Looks like it's up to the two kids to support the family, which they manage to do pretty well by stealing lima beans from a nearby farm and selling them on the street. The customers are lining up for the discount beans but then the mom finds out what her two kids have been doing and puts a stop to it, despite the fact that the family is on the verge of being evicted from their crummy little house. But then cute little Billy gets discovered by Hollywood and things start to look up...maybe.

This was a fun and enjoyable read, a great trip back to a time that makes our current economic struggles look like child's play. It was a real hand-to-mouth existence but Billy and his older sister managed to keep the family going despite their parents' incompetence. I really enjoyed this very amusing story of a Depression-era family coping with hard times.

Potatoes Are Cheaper

By Max Shulman

It's 1936, the heart of the Depression, and two young men, Morris Katz and his cousin have hit on a way out of poverty to a better life. They'll enroll in college and find rich, homely Jewish girls and woo them and marry them.
They get the necessary cash together for the first semester and they are off and running. Morris hits upon the only daughter of a local theater magnate, wooing her with poetry written by his cousin Crip. But then the girlfriend sends the poem into the college literary magazine and it is a big hit with the editor, a gorgeous gentile girl, Bridget, who Morris falls for hard. Now he has to choose between money and security and love and happiness, with everyone in his family pulling for money and security, while his heart and loins are pulling for love and happiness. He better make the right choice because his whole future depends on it. And even if he does marry the gentile, he tells himself, "Of course she [his mother] might topple over dead when I told her about Bridget, but that didn't seem too likely. Jewish mothers do very little actual dying from shicksas. A lot of hemorrhaging, of course. But actual dying is seldom."

This was a very funny and entertaining novel. Morris and his various family members are all amusing as are his two prospective brides. Eventually, Morris makes his choice and it turns out to be the best one and the story ends happily, dilemma solved. And it was a lot of fun getting there, for sure.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


By F. Paul Wilson

Steve Dalt was trying to locate a lost spacecraft when he encountered some hostile natives and took shelter in a nearby cave. He was briefly puzzled that they didn't come after him:

But his five pursuers were doing nothing. They sat astride their mounts and stared dumbly at the cave mouth. One of the party unstrung his crossbow and began to strap it to his back. Dalt had no time to wonder at their behavior, for in that instant he realized he had made a fatal error. He was in a cave on Kwashi, and there was hardly a cave on Kwashi that didn't house a colony of alarets.
He jumped into a crouch and sprinted for the outside. He'd gladly take his chances against the crossbows rather than alarets any day. But a warm furry oval fell from the cave ceiling and landed on his head as he began to move. As his ears roared and his vision turned orange and green and yellow, Steven Dalt screamed in agony and fell to the cave floor.
Hearing that scream, the five Tependian scouts shook their heads and turned and rode away.

Only one in a thousand can survive an alaret attack and it turned out that Steve Dalt was that one. When he regained consciousness, he discovered he was no longer alone in his own head. He was now sharing his body with a powerful new presence and he would be forever changed. And this amazing change will enable Steve Dalt to save humanity from an implacable, unseen new enemy.

This is a good story. Steve's adventures in his partnership with the alaret who invaded his body make for quite a good read. For it turns out that the alaret has given Dalt the gift of virtual immortality, an immortality that, as the years flow by, seems more of a burden than a gift. A burden that Steve learns to bear as it becomes apparent that his unique gifts make him a kind of savior to humankind, always ready to step up when needed. I enjoyed reading this book again, having read it in the past more than once.

Friday, April 08, 2011


By James Rollins

Nathan Rand's father disappeared on an expedition to discover lost tribes of the Amazon. A few years later, one of the members of that expedition came out of the jungle but died within hours without revealing the fate or location of the rest of the members of the expedition. This man, a former Special Forces soldier, had lost an arm previously but when he came out of the jungle, his arm was back.
News of this miracle sends a new expedition into the Amazon, to attempt to trace the dead man's trail and lead them to find out how the man regrew his arm. And Nathan Rand is part of that expedition and he is determined to discover what happened to his father. Plus they have a new, urgent quest: to discover a cure for a new and terrible disease that apparently came out of the jungle in the tissues of the dead man and is spreading like lightning throughout Brazil and the United States where the man's body was transported for study before anyone new that it was the bearer of a plague.

This story is part adventure story, part horror story and part mystery novel. The expedition has lots of exciting adventures, including encounters with giant piranha who have legs and can walk; gigantic caimans, a kind of alligator; a pack of huge jaguars and with a gang of thugs who want the discovery of a medicine that can regrow human limbs for the unscrupulous pharmaceutical company who has hired them. Heads will roll and so will a lot of other gory stuff but the story is certainly exciting and the source of the cure is simply amazing and fascinating and it is too bad it is just a fantasy. This was a very good read, if you don't mind all the gruesome stuff.

Startide Rising

By David Brin

Some time after humans have achieved starflight and become a rather unwelcome part of the galactic community, an experimental mission consisting of a crew of a few humans but mostly "uplifted" dolphins sets out on a shakedown flight that ends up turning the whole galaxy on its ear.
First, the galactic community, consisting of many different intelligent species, has existed for millions of years. They have pooled their knowledge into a vast Library which they share among themselves.
The origins of this community are pretty much unknown, but the common mythology is that a race of intelligent Progenitors established the Library, started the process of "uplift" and developed the galactic culture and community and then disappeared. Consequently, a fundamentalist-type of religion has developed in the galaxy that maintains that someday the Progenitors will return and establish a new, perfect community and reward the true believers.
"Uplift" is the process whereby an intelligent species takes a species that is just verging on becoming self-aware, and using genetic manipulation, push it into intelligence and then the uplifted ones spend a long time, maybe thousands of years, as servants and slaves of the species that uplifted them.
Uplift is the main reason that humans are not liked in the galactic community, because humans developed intelligence on their own and are not beholden to anyone. Plus humans uplifted some Earth species and did not make them slaves or servants to humanity, namely chimps and dolphins. This the galactic community finds outrageous because it flaunts millions of years of tradition.
So when this spaceship of humans, a chimp, and mostly dolphins discovers a graveyard in space of huge, moon-sized spaceships, the galactics, believing that the spaceships are those of the Progenitors and herald the beginning of the return of the Progenitors, will do anything to get their paws, flippers, tentacles, whatever on the location of this graveyard. The little spaceship becomes a target and gets shot down on a water world and its combined crew is in for a fight to the death to not only save their own lives but to protect the hugely valuable information that all their many enemies are dying to possess.

This is an ingenious and interesting story about a most unlikely situation, namely a spaceship crewed by a bunch of dolphins and that spaceship in turn trying to face down an armada of enemy ships determined to possess it. It was an exciting and intriguing read and I enjoyed it a lot. The only quibbles I had with the story were the dolphins, which I thought seemed too human in their behaviour, and the religious fanaticism of the galactics, which came off as too primitive for such supposedly highly advanced species. But other than that, it was a very enjoyable read.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Mannequin: My Life as a Model

By Carolyn Kenmore

The true story of a work-a-day model's life trying to make it in New York City.
Carolyn graduated from college but decided she would like to be a model so she left her home town in New England and set out for the big city. She never really explains why she chose this route instead of finding work in the field for which she spent four years in college.
Anyway, she details the effort to get started in the business, acquiring a portfolio, clothes, learning about hair and makeup, posing and so forth. Plus dealing with sex-obsessed and demanding clients, challenging shoots, not to mention the rejection inherent in a career based on looks.
It's an interesting look behind the glamour and the glitz and even though it was written in the 1960s, I don't suppose much has changed except for the introduction of the cell phone, which has probably helped with the time management and maintaining contacts in a big way.
From what she writes, I don't think she ever made it to the big time, certainly not to the stature of a Heidi Klum or Kate Moss or even Twiggy, who was a very famous model at about the same time as this book covers. But still, she gives a detailed picture of the life of a typical model. It made for a pretty good read.