Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Apologizing to Dogs

By Joe Coomer

One fateful day for the antique dealers of Worth Row of Fort Worth, Texas. Most of the dealers on this row of old houses are well past retirement age, with the exception of Nadine and Carl, who are middle-aged, and Aura and Marshall, who are in their thirties. Carl isn't an antique dealer, he is a cabinet maker. But when he moved into the old house on Worth Row, he discovered that the building was constructed of cypress. And so he slowly and carefully starting removing the cypress wood and replacing it with cheaper, thinner materials, just enough to maintain the outer walls and roof. The rest went into a sailing vessel he is building inside the house. And when it is done, he will simply remove the wall of the house and tow the vessel out and let the building collapse. But this boat is not just for Carl to sail away in, he hopes he can convince Nadine to leave her lifetime home on the Row and sail away with him.
Also on the Row is Howard, the big Indian. He deals in old tubs and other furnishings. He keeps several of the old bathtubs in the front yard. On the fateful day, he is laying in one of the tubs and talks neighbor Mose to join him in a nearby tub for a chat. Howard is old (as is Mose) and Howard is feeling the need to unburden himself of old secrets before his time comes. His old secrets will probably break Mose's heart.
Two of the family dealers on the row are unhappily married and next-door-neighbors. Mazelle and Mr. Haygood have been carrying on an affair for thirty some years, in a hidden room underneath the garden that they share in their backyards. Mrs. Haygood is aware of the affair (Mazelle's husband is not) and is just biding her time to get even with Mr. Haygood. On the day in question, a stray dog who lives under the porch of an abandoned house on the Row, starts digging a hole in the garden and uncovers the ceiling of the hidden room, much to Mazelle's husband's surprise. No wonder the fruit trees they tried to grow wouldn't thrive, he thinks to himself.
Also on the fateful day, Aura, who is a little on the fat side, gives birth to a baby she didn't know she was carrying. All this happens on the front lawn while a tornado is bearing down on her and her gathered neighbors. They all end up in the hidden room where it soon becomes apparent what has been going on all these years. And Howard and another man ride out the storm hidden under a couple of the old cast iron bath tubs.

This was quite a tale of hidden secrets. Amusing and sad and complicated and surprising, I am glad I came across this book. It is one of those stories that I will still be thinking about years later. Quite an enjoyable and entertaining and a really quirky tale.

As Francesca

By Martha Baer

Elaine Botsch is a rising young star at the New York firm where she works. And all her hard work is about to pay off as she is now in line for a serious promotion.
Elaine has a secret life, though, that no one at work knows about, not even her closest friends. In the evening, at home, she goes to an online chat room where she engages in rough, masochistic cyber sex with a person she knows only as Inez. But one night, excited and looking forward to being verbally abused by her cyber sex partner, Inez, Elaine accidentally logs on with her real name, not her chat name, Francesca. Although she quickly catches her mistake, in a few days and from a few revealing comments, it becomes clear that "Inez" knows Elaine in real life. But after making these few slips, the Inez chatter vanishes from the chat rooms. Which leads Elaine to a devastating discovery: she needs her chat room encounters with Inez, they empower her and help her perform at maximum efficiency. Without Inez, her whole world is collapsing around her.

Well, this was an odd story. A woman finds being abused empowering. Seems like it would be just opposite, I would think. But that is the wacky premise of this story and of how Elaine copes with and struggles to replace the abuse that is so vital to her well-being. Strange story. Kind of disgusting but still it was an engrossing read, even if the premise seemed a bit out there to me.

A Roil of Stars

By Don Wismer

Ryne Sangre has always thought of himself as a coward. He tried to avoid danger and conflict as much as possible. Yet somehow he ended up as a frontline fighter pilot, training in the newest, best fighter the armed forces had developed.
Ryne is a citizen of the Polar Cloud, a group of planets inhabited by humans descended from an earlier group of pioneers from Earth. Left on their own for a very long time, they created their own government apart from their earthly origins. But now the rulers of the Wholeth Empire, powerful women with amazing ESP abilities, are set on gathering their lost tribes back into the fold. But the Polar Cloud is not going down without a fight.
Meanwhile, Ryne becomes entangled with a determined young woman who talks him into taking her aboard the new fighter ship in which he has been training. Turns out she isn't just curious, she hijacks the ship with Ryne aboard and sets out on an expedition to find her parents, lost years ago in a disturbed area of space called the Roil. But when they reach the Roil, they and the fighter ship fall into the clutches of the Wholeth Empire. Now not only is Ryne responsible for the theft of one of the Polar Cloud's most secret and valuable fighter craft, he has delivered it straight into the hands of the enemy. Looks like there is no going back for the Polar Cloud's biggest coward.

This book was OK. Ryne has lots of adventures and finds out somethings about himself. He does manage to scrape through somehow and eventually is able to help his people in their stand against the enemy. But the ending just kind of peters out with a brief explanation of how the critical lost data was recovered.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bite Me

By Christopher Moore

Third installment in the San Francisco Vampires triology, finds Jody and Tommy still trapped in their bronze coating by their treacherous young friend who goes by the name of Abby Normal. Abby and her boyfriend, Steve, are living in Jody's and Tommy's apartment and thinking all their vampire problems are over now that Jody and Tommy are encased and the old vampire who started it all has sailed away. But not so. Chet, the huge shaved cat, was turned vampire by the old vampire before he left and is now building himself a kitty vampire empire. It isn't too long before the streets of San Francisco are noticeably emptier of street people due to Chet's vampire kitty minions.
Meanwhile, Steve, who developed a cure for vampirism in the last novel, has been conducting experiments on lab rats. Shortly after creating a bunch of vampire rats, he discovers, to his dismay, the vampires' ability to change themselves to mist and it is really hard to keep a rat made of mist in your typical rat cage.
But help is on the way when a clumsy friend of Abby's accidentally gouges Jody's coating and she is able to mist her way out of confinement.
Worse things are on the horizon, however, because the old vampire's minions are in town and their goal is to kill anyone who has any knowledge of the existence of vampires, including Jody, Tommy, Steve, and Abby.

This was an Ok story. I felt poor Chet got a raw deal, it wasn't his fault he got turned into a vampire cat. The author must really hate cats, he has no sympathy for their plight in this story. The two love stories in the novel, Jody and Tommy and Steve and Abby, are also disappointing.
I think part of the problem for me was the story has too much going on, it is just chaotic. And I didn't really get the ending to the Jody part of the story; it had been quite a while since I read the second book in the series and I had forgotten the effect of vampire blood on a human. I assume it's good but it would have been nice if the author could have refreshed the reader's memory on that bit of trivia.
And finally, the main character is Abby, and I don't really like the Abby character: bratty, spoiled, vulgar children are not amusing or appealing to me.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Flour Babies

By Anne Fine

Simon is a high school student and his class has a new assignment: they are each given a five pound sack of flour that they are to take care of for 2 weeks. At the end of the two weeks, the sacks will be evaluated and weighed and graded according to their condition. The idea is to give the kids a taste of the responsibility involved in child care.
Simon's mom is a single parent ever since Simon's dad walked out on her, leaving her with the sole responsibility of raising her baby son all on her own. Simon has never come to terms with the absence of his father, but dealing with the responsibility of caring for his sack of flour has given him a glimpse of the sacrifices his mother had to make to raise him all on her own.
Most of the flour baby boys find their assignment irksome, including Simon. One of the boys kicks his flour baby into a creek, totally fed up with taking care of it. Simon takes pretty good care of his, but still it ends up dirty and leaking flour. He views his own failure with the flour baby as the clue to understanding how his father could so completely turn his back on the infant Simon and Simon's mom.

This was an OK story. Simon is hurting because of his father's absence but comes to realize that sometimes life hands people more responsibility than they can cope with. It doesn't excuse the man's absence but Simon does gain some comfort from that realization.

The Pink Hotel

By Dorothy Erskine and Patrick Dennis

The Pink Hotel, located between Palm Beach and Miami, is a resort for folks looking to get away from winter's chill. It is run by J. Arthur Wenton, an old man with social pretensions who has an eye for young, attractive men. Mary Street is his secretary and she is a sweet, young girl that Wenton just naturally despises. He does his best to make her time at work miserable, so much so that she is seriously thinking of leaving Florida and moving back home. The only thing that really stops her are her feelings for the assistant director of the hotel, Purcell. Purcell, in his thirties, has a reputation, and not a nice one. He frequently ends his evenings drunk and starts his mornings hung over. He likes Mary and wants to turn over a new leaf, if Wenton would just pay him a decent wage. But Wenton is not about to do anything that will enable Mary and Purcell to be happy together. For some reason, he feels Mary is a nobody and not good enough for Purcell. He will do his best and most devious to break them up.
Various others travel through the story, young, unhappy newlyweds; old, unhappy longly-weds, a retired doctor who performs an abortion on a pregnant maid at the hotel who had tried to do it herself and nearly bled to death; a woman getting a divorce who kills herself; a kitchen worker who is the carrier of an infectious disease, and so on.

This was a pretty good story, full of interesting characters. However, the blurbs on the cover described it as "hilarious," "outrageous," "mad," and "zany," which I didn't find it to be. In fact, parts of it are downright sad and depressing, like the woman who kills herself and the married couple who can't keep their hands off each other, or rather their fists off each other. But other than the fact it was not as funny as it was billed to be, I still enjoyed the book. And even though it was written in the 1950s, it didn't seem at all dated.

Merle's Door

By Ted Kerasote

Ted was on a rafting trip on the San Juan river with friends when a young stray dog showed up at their campsite. The dog was thin and hungry but seemed friendly and approachable. When it came time to move on, Ted and his friends decided to bring the dog with them. And so the dog, whom Ted named Merle, became a very important part of Ted's life.
Having lived wild for so long, Merle had a very stong independent streak. He wanted to be outside, a lot. But he also enjoyed the comforts of a warm bed and shelter from the cold. At first, Ted tried to convince Merle to use a very nice, insulated dog house that Ted set up for him. But Merle had a fear of confined places and refused to use the dog house. So Ted put in a dog door and life was perfect for Merle. Now he could come and go as he pleased, indulging his need to hunt and prowl and then come home to a safe, warm house when he wanted.
Ted and Merle led a very active lifestyle, hunting, skiing, mountain biking and Merle was there for most of it, even the skiing. Merle had his own version of skiing which he hugely enjoyed, sliding down hill on his tummy like an otter.
Together the two of them had an almost perfect lifestyle, especially Merle. About the only cloud in Merle's life was when Ted had to leave for one of the trips required by his job. Merle would be all sad and gloomy when he realized Ted was preparing to go, but as Ted latter discovered when he came back unexpectedly, Merle continued on with his carefree ways, making his daily rounds, greeting the local dogs and humans in the small mountain village in which he lived, acting as if he hadn't a care in the world. So much for the image of the sad dog, laying by his master's door, pining for Ted's return! That was Merle, though, loving yet independent. And his independence was supported and nurtured by Ted, who was fortunate enough to live in an area where free-roaming dogs were accepted and rural enough to be safe from most man-made dangers.

I enjoyed this loving memoir about Merle. He was a special dog, smart, independent, but also loving and loyal. It was fun reading about their good times together and brought back fond memories of good times I have spent with my dogs, both past and present. I would think most dog lovers would also enjoy this book.