Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Help

By Kathryn Stockett

It's 1962 and Skeeter is home in Jackson, Mississippi after graduating from college. She wants to be a writer and dreams of living in New York City, but her mother only wants to see her daughter happily married.
Skeeter lands a job with the local newspaper, writing a homemaking advice column. But she knows nothing about homemaking and turns to Aibileen, the maid of a close friend for help. In the course of time, Skeeter becomes more aware of the inequalities between the races in 1960s Jackson. Learning from  Aibileen, Skeeter decides to write a book about black women working as maids for the local white community. She conducts interviews, on the sly, with maids and gathers materials for her book, which she hopes will be her entree to a career in NYC. And the maids get to air their grievances. But since whites of that time and place are very intolerant, it all has to be done covertly, in order to protect the maids from violent retribution.
The book tells the story from the prospective of Skeeter, Aibilene and Minny, a maid who is more outspoken than is good for her. It follows Skeeter's rather pathetic love life and her mother's descent into chronic illness. As Skeeter's sympathies towards the civil rights struggle become more apparent, she finds herself cutoff from her closest friends, who do not understand or welcome the black struggle for equality.

This was an interesting book to read. It's always fun to read about people whose lives are so different from one's own. This book is well worth reading, but it is also entertaining, often amusing, and just a great read.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Let's Pretend This Never Happened

By Jenny Lawson

A "mostly true memoir" of  the author's life. Her father was a bit of a character, the kind of fellow who thought it would amuse his two young daughters if he made a hand puppet from a dead squirrel. An avid hunter, he later opened his own taxidermy shop so Jenny and her sister grew up in the presence of various dismembered critters is various stages of processing.  It definitely affected her development, as she describes in this humorous and often vulgar memoir.

I did enjoy this memoir, although I was left wondering how much of it really happened, given the disclaimer that it is "mostly true." But whether it is true or not, it is definitely very amusing. 


By Connie Willis

A time-travel novel set in London in 1940 during the Blitz.  Time-travel is apparently under the sole control of a group of British historians in Oxford in the 2060s. Several of these historians are focusing on  World War II and have gone back to study the events of that time.
But something is off at the time-travel lab. Historians are having their scheduled trips cancelled and are suddenly being sent off to locations for which they are barely prepared.  Michael, who was to go to Pearl Harbor is now supposed to head to Dover, and will pass himself off as an American reporter there to interview the heroes of the Dunkirk rescue.
Merope, also known as Eileen, has been studying a group of evacuated London children at a county manor, posing as a maid.  Polly is to be a shop girl in London so she can observe the behavior of ordinary people during the crisis.
Each historian gets much more than they expected. Merope finds it difficult to cope with the burden of work she is expected to perform and it only gets worse when the manor is quarantined because of an outbreak of disease among the evacuated children. Because of the quarantine, she is unable to leave the building and get to her drop site to return to the future. When she is finally able to get away, the drop site  is not working. So she decides to head to London to find Polly and use her drop site.
Michael is to be dropped in near Dover where a lot of the returning boats stopped to unload the rescued soldiers.  But when he arrives at the past, he is miles from where he was supposed to be. He tries to find a ride to Dover, even going so far as to get a ride on a small boat. But he is unable to find a ride. Tired, he returns to the decrepit boat but no one is there. He falls asleep on a bunk in the boat only to wake up to find himself in the middle of the evacuation. He even saves the life of a soldier and is wounded himself and wakes up in a British hospital, knowing he may have altered history by saving the soldier’s life.  He is stuck for several weeks in the hospital, too ill to leave and attempt to find a drop site.  He also is left wondering why no one from the future has come to extract him.
Meanwhile, Polly is trying to cope with life during the Blitz and it is turning out to be much more dangerous than she expected, especially when her drop zone is ruined by a bomb.  And when Michael and Merope show up hoping to use her now-defunct drop zone, it becomes clear something has gone very wrong back in 2060.

This was a very interesting and often exciting story, quite a vivid picture of life during the blitz, frequently very moving and touching. Lots of suspense, especially at the end when I discovered the story is continued in another book.  

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Graveyard Book

By Neil Gaiman

Nobody Owens is just a normal kid. Except he lives in a graveyard and his foster parents are ghosts, as are most of his friends and companions.
As a toddler, Bod's whole family was killed by the man Jack, who missed little Bod because Bod had wandered outside. But Jack is still determined to destroy the whole family and so is trying to track down Bod. But Bod has found refuge in the graveyard where the ghosts take him in and where an undead man agrees to be his guardian.
Life outside the graveyard is dangerous, especially for Bod with Jack continuing to look for him. But life inside the graveyard isn't exactly safe either as Bod discovers when he encounters the Sleer in an ancient barrow or when Bod is snatched by ghouls intending to eat him for supper. But throughout it all, Bod comes out on top and learns to cope not only with the world of the grave but with the world outside also, dangers and all.

This was a fun and interesting read, as Bod lives with a foot in either world. It isn't really a novel, but more a series of short stories about the life of Bod. I enjoyed it tremendously.

The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell

Harry Harrison

Jim diGriz may be facing one of his most devilish opponents yet when his wife Angelina goes missing after paying a visit to a local temple. Jim attempts to track down his missing wife, only to find himself transported to "Hell."
Not being familiar with the lore of the Christian religion, Jim doesn't really make the "Hell" connection. He only knows it is brutally hot, volcanic place inhabited by deranged, red people who want to eat him.
After being rescued, Jim and his cohorts figure out that the temple and others like it are used to lure rich people to finance a madman's plan to gain eternal life for himself. The man, Professor Slakey, has managed not only to create a transporter that connects to other universes, but has also duplicated himself multiple times in order to create an army of Slakeys dedicated to obtaining unnildecnovum, an element that reverses entropy, thereby granting the possessor the key to eternal life. Jim and the rest will have to move heaven and hell if they are going to rein in the mad professor.

This was a pretty good read. Jim and company find themselves in all kinds of strange situations as they try to deal with the wily professor. Lots of adventure and intriguing challenges as they unravel the trail of their adversary.

California Demon

By Julie Kenner

Katie Connor was a retired demon hunter, trying to raise her two kids like any normal person. But circumstances kind of forced her back into her old profession, tracking and killing demons, all without anyone in her family knowing.
Her oldest child is fourteen and starting to be very interested in boys. While attending an event at her daughter's school, Kate stumbles across a demon who is looking for a book hidden in the school. Kate finds the book and takes it to the Catholic church to keep it out of the hands of any other demons who may come looking for it. Unfortunately, this draws the attention of other demons who are determined to regain possession of the book. And one of the demons just might be a boy that Kate's daughter likes. How to protect her family and keep the demons from completing  their hellish rituals keeps Kate hopping.

I didn't like this book. I found too violent, with Kate in frequent clashes with the local demons. I really got tired of the frequent battle scenes. I also didn't like the author's idea that the demons take over the bodies of people who have suffered near-death events. That was just plain mean-spirited. Here this Kate character is slaughtering these poor unfortunates instead of getting them the help they need, namely an exorcism. She kills these possessed people then hides their bodies in the crypt of the Catholic church, leaving their loved ones to grieve, not ever knowing what happened.  Also, the book is billed as funny, but it's just not. It's just not.


By Jon Hassler

Miles Pruitt teaches high school English in the town of Staggerford, Minnesota. He was born and raised in Staggerford and pretty much knows everyone there. He is single and rents a room from Agnes McGee, who is an elderly grade school teacher. Agnes is a devout Catholic and Miles is a lapsed Catholic which worries Agnes and so she prays for him. Miles, who is in his mid-thirties, is her only boarder.
Set in the early 1970s, Miles finds himself often at odds with the principal of the high school, Wayne Workman. Workman thinks Miles is a slacker and thinks it is his job to try to bring him up to snuff, or possible ride Miles hard enough to get him to quit his job. Workman married the only woman Miles ever loved, Anna Thea, whom Miles calls Thanatopsis, because he didn't quite catch her name when they first met.
The Staggerford area is also the home to the Sandhill Reservation and the reservation kids attend school in Staggerford. A Staggerford boy is dating a reservation girl and gets into a confrontation with the girl's brother and beats the native boy up. A deputation of Sandhill people stage a gathering at the high school, demanding justice for the beaten up boy. This sends the whole Staggerford community into an uproar, this being the days of AIM (the American Indian Movement) and the governor sends in troopers and troops to quell any possible trouble. Somehow Miles ends up in the thick of it all, including getting involved with a troubled female student and her unstable mother, who is known as the Bonewoman because she travels from house to house asking for any waste bones. Anyways, it all comes to a head and turns out badly for Miles but OK for most everyone else.

I really was enjoying this book quite a lot until the end, which made me feel like I had just been shit on. So although it was quite an enjoyable story up to that point, I am rating it "bad" because I just totally hated the ending.


By Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Hellhole is a planet that suffered a devastating asteroid strike resulting in massive destruction to its ecosystem and death of its intelligent indigenous population.  Its weather is violent and extremely dangerous, but it is still being used as a settlement planet, mainly for disaffected and/or dangerous people. One of the people sentenced to life on Hellhole is General Adolphus, leader of an unsuccessful rebellion against the current ruler of human interstellar government, Diadem Michella Duchenet. Along with several of his fellow rebels, Adolphus and company are given a second chance at life, landed with minimal supplies and sabotaged equipment. No one thought they would manage to survive. But they did, with the help of an underground of sympathizers. And now General Adolphus is putting together a new force, planning once again to wrest control from a ruthless and corrupt regime.

This was an OK read. It is very long and I didn't know it was just the first in a new series so the end of the book is just the beginning of the series, which I didn't like. If I had known that's what it was, I would not have purchased the book. Looking at the cover and the blurbs inside, nowhere does it say it is book 1 of a triology or series or whatever it is. Anyways, I found it kind of boring and I will not be reading any more of this series.