Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dave Barry Is Not Taking This Sitting Down

By Dave Barry

Dave Barry is a humor columnist for The Miami Herald and this book is collection of his columns, published in 2000.

Dave Barry is a funny guy and this collection of his columns certainly bears this out. They are funny and a good way to spend a few lighthearted hours. Very enjoyable.

The Goblin Reservation

By Clifford D. Simak

Peter Maxwell is a specialist in the "Little People": creatures like trolls, goblins and fairies. He travels by matter transmitter to a planet where a dragon has been sighted. In the process, unknown to him, he is duplicated. One Peter arrives at his intended destination, discovers the dragon sighting is false and soon returns to Earth. The other Peter finds himself on a strange crystal planet that is a storehouse of information, most of which is unknown to Earth. The owners of the planet desire to sell it to Earth, if their price can be met. Peter is sent back to Earth to handle the sale.
But when he returns home, he finds out about the other Peter and that the other Peter had arrived first and was killed soon after. Now Peter has no home, no job, and no legal status. And yet he has to carry on with his vital mission, a mission that becomes even more vital as Peter finds out that implacable aliens also desire to own the crystal planet.

This was a boring book. Mostly the character just sit around and drink and talk about their problems. Most of the action occurs at the very end of the story. And the ending seemed long way to go for very little.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Two Much

By Donald E. Westlake

Art Dodge is not a good person. He doesn't pay his bills, he cheats on his taxes, he sleeps with his best friend's wife. When he meets a beautiful woman on the beach and finds out she is a twin, he quickly invents a twin brother, Bart, just to get closer to the woman, Liz.
That's where it should have ended. But instead he decides two is better than one and so he pursues the other sister, Betty, as his twin brother, Bart. Betty seems to be smitten by Bart, and before he knows it, somehow Bart & Betty are secretly married.
Now Art knows this is probably one of the stupidest things he has ever done, but Betty and Liz are wealthy and he is enjoying their privileged lifestyle. But after about a week, he tries to break it off with Betty, accusing her of having sex with his brother Art, which she did do, so theirs is not the world's best marriage. Liz makes Art an offer in which she will pay him $10,000 and buy him a car and other perks in exchange for a marriage in name only. It turns out that Liz and Betty are in a dispute over their inheritance from their recently deceased parents and that both sisters have gotten married to strengthen their cases against each other. Art agrees to the deal and soon finds himself married to Liz too. Things are getting really complicated, especially when Liz's suspicious lawyer starts snooping around, trying to dig up dirt on Art and his imaginary brother, Bart.

Nobody in this story is worth a crap except for Art's best friend Ralph, whose wife Art has been doing. Other than poor old Ralph, they all pretty much suck. Liz is a slut and a bitch and Betty is a two-timing, two-faced prig. They don't care about each other and they don't care about anyone else, either. Art is wise ass, a con man, completely unreliable and cares only about himself. Well, it's not very inspiring but reading about Art's antics and the mess he gets himself in makes for an engaging, amusing story.

Georgia Boy

By Erskine Caldwell

A collection of fourteen short stories set in rural Georgia in about the 1920s or 30s featuring the Stroup family consisting of 12-year-old William, his shiftless father Morris, his hard-working mother Martha and their unpaid servant/yard boy, Handsome Brown, an orphan.
The first story, My Old Man's Baling Machine sets the tone for the rest of the book. Morris Stroup buys a baling machine designed to bail up scrap paper which can then be sold. He is pretty sure he has hit upon an easy way to make lots of money. Trouble is finding enough paper to put in the bailer. He even goes so far as to rip the covers off brand new books and even toss his wife's recipe books and old love letters into the bailer, much to her extreme displeasure and distress.
The other stories are in a similar vein, with Morris Stroup's shenanigans as the main theme. But not to worry, Mrs. Stroup, long-suffering and put-upon as she may be, gets even with her worthless husband in the last story, My Old Man Hasn't Been the Same Since.

I think these stories are meant to be humorous but I found them to be rather sad, the way the father cheats his son, his wife and the yard boy. He takes what may be Handsome Brown's only possession, a banjo, and sells it to buy tickets to a nudey show at the carnival. He messes around with other women and disappears for days at a time without telling his wife where he will be. He destroys his wife's rocking chair because he is angry at her when she got upset that he came home drunk with a young woman on his arm. Maybe he is meant to be comical but I just found him repulsive. However, as much as I disliked Morris Stroup, I still enjoyed reading these stories as a trip back to a different, simpler time.

Incident at Badamya

By Dorothy Gilman

Set in 1950 Burma, the story begins with the suicide of the father of a young teenage girl, Gen Ferris. Her parents had come to Burma as missionaries shortly before the start of World War II and they were captured by the Japanese and placed in a prison camp where the mother died.
After the end of the war, through despair or inertia, the father stayed with his baby daughter in Burma, eventually ending up in a small rural village. Overcome by his mounting depression and financial troubles, the father killed himself, leaving his daughter to make her way alone back to the only relative she knows of, an aunt in the United States.
Unfortunately, Burma is in a state of civil unrest and Gen is taken by the
communist insurgents and held for ransom along with several other Americans and Europeans. The small group of strangers is locked into an old temple and together they will try to escape or die in the attempt.

This was a really interesting and fascinating story, reading about the determined yet inexperienced young teen left to fend for herself in a hostile world. She makes some new friends, is helped out by some old friends and has a few mystical encounters that add a nice touch to the story. It's a story of a group of strangers who don't really like or trust each other coming to know themselves and each other better and learning to rely on each other.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Heaven Is for Real

By Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent

When Colton Burpo was three years old, his appendix ruptured and he became gravely ill. During surgery, Colton had an out-of-body experience where he saw his parents praying for him and then he went to heaven where he met Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, his grandfather and his little sister who had died in utero and whom Colton had never been told about. When he recovered from surgery, he mentioned these things to his parents who were astounded and who believed that what he saw while under was a true vision of heaven.
As the years passed, Colton continued to astound and amaze his family with his revelations of his heavenly experience and his parents eventually decided to share his story with the world.

I don't know if what is described in the book really occurred. It certainly is an appealing picture of what Heaven could be. I don't think it is any kind of proof of the reality of heaven, despite the title. But I also don't see any harm in it either. Maybe it is a fantasy, maybe not. But I think a lot of people have found the book inspiring.
This was a very easy book to read. In fact I read it in less that two hours. I will admit that I skipped a lot of the Biblical references and quotes and most of the back story, since I was mainly interested in what the author claims his son said. But even if you took the time to read the superfluous info, it would still be a pretty fast and easy read and pretty entertaining even if you have your doubts about the honesty and truthfulness of the author.

Scorpio Rising

By Alex McDonough

Part two of the Scorpio trilogy finds Scorpio and his new friend Leah in the London of Queen Elizabeth I. Here they find shelter with the Queen's astrologer, Dr. Dee, who believes he can help them solve the puzzle of Scorpio's golden orb. However, Dr. Dee's assistant Kelley becomes jealous of Scorpio's growing relationship with Dr. Dee and Kelley also wants to possess the orb. Meanwhile, Leah is off studying thievery with the notorious Lord Foistwell with a view to gaining skill enough to rob an old man of an ancient scroll that may have information on how to control the orb. But just as she and Scorpio begin to learn how to communicate with the orb, the deadly Hunters appear, intent on killing Scorpio and Leah, now that she has allied with Scorpio.

This was a pretty good story as Scorpio and Leah get to experience Elizabethan England. However, I do think that a girl like Leah, alone in that den of thieves run by Lord Foistwell would have soon been in terrible trouble. Also I found the characters acceptance of Scorpio's alien appearance more than just a little unbelievable, especially the Queen's refusal to turn him over to the witch hunters.The characters reactions to the alien just didn't ring true to me. But, despite that, I still found the story enjoyable and entertaining.

Monday, September 12, 2011

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing

By Jasper Fforde

The real Thursday is missing and the written Thursday gets entangled with all sorts of nefarious characters in an attempt to track down the real Thursday.

In the world of Thursday Next, books live in a land of their own, populated by their characters. As an agent of Jurisfiction, Thursday helps keep the books and their characters in line and uncorrupted by outside influences. But some of the books are on the verge of war and Thursday's services are required to help broker a peace settlement. But she has disappeared and the fictional Thursday finds herself trying to maintain her own book and its attendant characters and also conduct an investigation into some strange occurrences in the world of books that leads her on the trail of the lost Thursday and into the middle of a war zone.

I always find it hard to wrap my mind around the whole concept of a world populated by books, their settings, plots and characters. But even though I found the story rather confusing and dense and often hard to follow, I still enjoyed it quite a lot. It's a hugely complicated world and very strange and anything can happen but also very engrossing and frequently funny and a real wild ride.


By Tina Fey

Tina Fey's very funny memoir of how she got to be where she is today: successful, rich and famous, the holy grail of American life. A great, light and wacky read!


By Michael Frayn

Martin and his wife and baby are off to the country to spend the summer while Martin is supposed to be working on his book. A neighbor asks his advice on some old paintings and Martin gets a glimpse of what he thinks is a lost Bruegel. The neighbor needs money and hopes his old paintings might be valuable. Of course, if the painting is a Bruegel it would be worth millions.
But Martin doesn't tell the neighbor. Instead he plots and finagles to get his hands on the painting himself, in the process doing tons of research on Bruegel in order to convince himself that the painting is what he thinks it is. But his obsession eventually alienates his wife and gets him tangled up with the neighbor's wife and the whole thing turns out to be an exercise in futility.

The book starts out pretty good and Martin's obsession is very understandable. And the tons of Bruegel information in the book is interesting too. But towards the last part of the book I lost interest and it sat for a couple weeks before I picked it up to finish it. The ending was disappointing and harsh.

Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?

By John R. Powers

Published in the middle 1970s, the author writes a fictionalized account of his student years in Catholic high school in the 1960s in Chicago. Mildly amusing and a pretty good read except for its excursions into more serious reflection.