Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pebble in the Sky

By Isaac Asimov

Joseph Schwartz was just a regular guy, a retired tailor living in Chicago who found himself, through no fault of his own, catapulted 50,000 or more years into the future and, again through not fault of his, embroiled in a deadly plot to overthrow galactic government.
Coming from the past to an Earth that is now radioactive and partially ruined, Schwartz finds nothing recognizable and doesn't even figure out until quite a bit later that he is in the future and on Earth. He falls into the hands of an enterprising scientist who subjects Schwartz to a medical procedure that vastly improves Schwartz's intelligence, even to the point of giving him the power to read people's minds.
The people of Earth live in virtual quarantine, viewed as pariahs by the civilized worlds of the galaxy. Because of Earth's degraded environment, population is strictly controlled with only a very few exceptional individuals allowed to live past their sixtieth birthday. Everyone else at that age is killed to make room for the next generation. It is not a happy world and the galactics just ignore the misery of people on Earth. Plus they refuse to admit the humankind originally came from Earth. All of this creates great resentment on Earth.

This was an OK book. I found some parts of it a bit dull and the plot against galactic government didn't make much sense to me. But other than that it was interesting reading about Schwartz finally getting a handle on where he was and what was going on and learning to use his new mental powers to help himself and his friends.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Memphis Ribs

By Gerald Duff

J.W. is a homicide detective in Memphis. It's May and tourist season is just starting when a tourist is murdered. The tourist had the bad luck to stumble upon a crime in commission. Then an upstanding citizen of Memphis is also killed in what looks like a robbery gone bad. At first, it would appear that the two crimes had nothing in common. The tourist was killed in the street and the citizen in his own home.
But the powers that be need both crimes solved and quickly. It looks bad for Memphis when tourists are murdered in the streets. And the dead citizen is the father of the soon-to-be-crowned Maid of Cotton at one of the premiere social events of the season, The International Barbecue Contest and the Cotton Carnival. It is up to J.W. and his partner Tyrone to figure out the connections between these two seemingly unrelated murders.

I enjoyed this book once I got into it. I must admit I found it not that engrossing at first but it did start to grow on me. It took me awhile to warm up to the main character, J.W., but once I did I really started to like him a lot. It was quite a good read.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Getting Over It

By Anna Maxted

Helen Bradshaw works at a magazine and her life is pretty much OK. She doesn't like her boss who treats her like a go-fer instead of a journalist. She doesn't like her boyfriend because he keeps hooking up with his ex. She doesn't like her landlord although she does lust for him. But everything is pretty much OK. Then her father dies suddenly and Helen finds herself mourning not only the loss of her father but also that she never had the kind of loving relationship with him that she always wanted. Meanwhile she has to cope with her needy, depressed mother, her increasingly hostile landlord, her on-again, off-again relationship with her new boyfriend and one of her best friends who is locked into an abusive and violent relationship. And still come to terms with her own deeply buried grief.

This was an OK story, if pretty typical of the "chick-lit" genre, following the usual pattern of girl who undervalues herself and ends up jumping from man to man until she straightens up, realizes her mistakes and finally gets the man of her dreams. Only this book adds the trauma of losing a parent.
Oddly, this book is covered with blurbs describing it as "laugh-out-loud," "always funny," and "hilarious" despite its rather grim subject matter, the death of and coping with the loss of a loved one. I will admit it has a few amusing moments and some that I suppose some would consider funny (like when Helen gets so drunk she pees her pants in public) but that I thought were more sad than funny. Also, the book seemed a lot longer that it needed to be, some 400 pages long, one of those books that go on and on and on. Anyway, it was an OK book but nowhere near as funny as the blurbs indicated.

Where the Boys Are

By Glendon Swarthout

Set and written in the late 1950s, this is the story of a young woman and her friends who go to Florida for spring break. And like college kids today, Merrit and Tuggle are looking to have a whole lot of fun, fun that includes days on the beach, evenings drinking and partying and nights having sex. About the only thing missing from this 1950s story is obvious drug use (the author mentions "herbs" a few times and I don't know if this is code for marijuana or just plain cigarettes: "He chauffeured us everywhere, served our Cokes, lit my herbs, bought our movie tickets...") and intentional nudity. They even refer to other kids as "nurds" but spelled differently and I couldn't tell from the context if it meant the same as nerd does today: "I feel any guy who chickens out on an easy, part-time operation like this is a nurd. In fact he's a green nurd."
Anyway, Merrit and Tuggle achieve their goal of meeting eligible males and Merrit ends up falling in love with three different men and having to figure out what she wants to do with the rest of her life. She and Tuggle have a lot of fun, drink too much beer and liquor, have lots of sex, get involved in a conspiracy to send arms and sympathizers to Cuba and in general make asses of themselves.

I was interested in this book because I saw the movie on which it was based. The movie stayed pretty close to the narrative of the book, but I was surprised that the line I remember from the movie where the Paula Prentiss character says she her ambition is to be a "walking, talking baby factory" is not in the book. So kudos to the script writer that came up with that very memorable line.
But other than that minor disappointment, I did enjoy this book a whole lot. A real trip back to a time that it turns out was not simpler or more innocent than today. It was a lot of fun reading about the antics of our parents and grandparents and shows that things really haven't changed that much at all. Except we are perhaps more open about it than back then.

Such a Pretty Fat

By Jen Lancaster

Last time Jen had just sold her first book and was in that in between time of selling the book and waiting for it to be published. This memoir starts after she has sold her second book, Bright Lights, Big Ass and she is looking for a subject to write about, having pretty much exhausted the topic of personal memoir. But then she gets an idea: why not write about going on a diet?
So that is what this book is, Jen's weight loss journey and her experiences with exercise trainers, Jenny Craig, and Weight Watchers. Like her first two books, this one is amusing and fun and even informative as Jen relates her experiences with diet and exercise. I enjoyed it a lot even though it took her to about the middle of the book to finally start the whole process.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Farewell, My Subaru

By Doug Fine

Doug Fine wanted to reduce his carbon footprint and yet still enjoy all the advantages that modern life offers. His solution -- move to a ranch in southeastern New Mexico and raise goats and grow vegetables. But that part of the world is rather arid and so one of the first things he had to do was install an solar-powered water pump to provide water for the house, the livestock and irrigation for his garden. He also bought himself a used diesel pickup truck which he then had converted to run on waste grease procured from restaurants at no cost to him. He also acquired a couple of young female goats intended to provide milk in due time. This was a vital part of his plan because he loves ice cream and the idea of giving up ice cream was intolerable. He also raised chickens for awhile but eventually lost most of them to predation. In fact, at times the threat to his livestock became so bad that he had to sleep out in the goat pen to protect his two goats. But all in all, he found that he was meeting his carbon footprint goals and pretty much really enjoying himself in the process.

This was a fun and amusing book to read. Doug has his struggles and manages to cope pretty well and he seems to be really enjoying his new lifestyle, raising vegetables and taking care of his goats and chickens. Of course, one thing became pretty apparent after awhile: Doug has plenty of money with which to indulge his fantasy life style: a solar-powered well pump which, with just two hours of sunlight a day, will be able to fill 500 gallon water tank; a Ford F-150 pickup truck; a super-efficient drip-irrigation system and $12000 dollars worth of solar panels. Not to mention buying a whole ranch on which to live. But even though most of us can't do what Doug Fine did, it still made for a very enjoyable and even exciting read.

The Secrets of Harry Bright

By Joseph Wambaugh

Sidney Blackpool is a homicide detective in Los Angeles. His son drowned while surfing and, even though it has been quite some time since that happened, Blackpool is not coping too well with his loss. He is guilt-ridden because of harsh words exchanged with his dillitent and drug-using son shortly before the teenager died. So when the opportunity arises for Sidney to give up police work and take a job as head of security for a cushy salary at private business, Sidney is raring to go. All he has to do is look into the death of the son of the man who owns the business.
The man is convinced that his son, who died near Palm Springs, was killed by kidnappers, but the Palm Springs police have not been able to close the investigation and the case is so far unsolved.
Sidney and his partner head to Palm Springs, all expenses paid, to follow up on the investigation and also to play a little golf. But what Sidney finds out reveals more about himself than he would probably like to know and even though he solves the riddle of the dead boy's death, it doesn't quite pan out the way he and the boy's father had imagined.

I really enjoyed this book a lot. It has lots of intriguing secrets to be solved, colorful and amusing characters, quite a bit of humor and a compelling and engaging mystery to be solved.

Bright Lights, Big Ass

By Jen Lancaster

After losing her job and then her husband losing his job and then nearly ending up bankrupt, Jen Lancaster decided to write a book about it all, which was Bitter Is the New Black.
After she wrote the book, she had a gap of several months between selling the book and having it published. This next book, Bright Lights, Big Ass, covers that gap.
As the book starts out, things are looking up for Jen and Fletch. Fletch has a new job, they have moved to a better apartment, but money is still a worry. Jen is now working for a temp agency and she has found out that it suits her and she is happier as a temp than she ever was as a high-paid professional when her boss at a temp job thanks her for making copies:

Back when I made the kind of decisions that impacted stock one verbalized appreciation. Ever. Nobody valued my fourteen-hour days. No one cared when I sacrificed my weekends to tweak proposals and prepare RFPs. I was barely ever congratulated for projects implemented, deals closed, agreements struck, and when I was, it was in a backhanded, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sense. Even though I gave my company my all, nothing I did was ever good enough.
Yet for the act of making a simple stack of copies, something any child could do, I receive the kind of accolade I used to dream about. At this moment, I realize I never had a professional job I didn't loathe on some level. NYSE parties not withstanding, I despised almost every aspect of all the real jobs I ever had -- the backstabbing, the premeeting meetings, the protracted "mission statement" discussions. I detested the bullshit conference calls, the ridiculous panty hose-mandatory meetings even in hundred-degree August humidity, redundant results reporting. Although I was unaware of it at the time, getting up every morning and facing chaotic day after chaotic day managing people and products I hated was an exercise in futility. In short, I despised every bit of Corporate America and now it makes sense why I was so mean to people and why I tried to bolster my happiness with multiple $150 Ralph Lauren skirt purchases.

Written in her usual fun and open style, Lancaster paints an amusing picture of her life in the months before she became a successful author. While not as compelling as her first book, still this book was quite engaging and definitely in the same light vein as Bitter Is the New Black.