Monday, February 18, 2013

Prison Planet

By William C. Dietz

Jonathan Renn had a ruthless business competitor who framed him by planting illegal drugs in one of Renn's imported shipments, with the result of Renn being convicted and sentenced to life on Swamp. Swamp is one of the prison planets set up by the Empire. Convicts are dropped off with minimal supplies and left to survive as best they can. Swamp is infamous for its deadly wildlife and the convicts survive by hunting its monsters and exporting the skins and musk, both of which are highly valued for their unique properties.
Dropped off with Renn is Marla Mendez, who stole money from her employer because her employer was cheating Marla. Marla was a human woman, but is now just a brain in the body of a robot dog.
Marla and Renn get along well and like each other but they end up going their separate ways after they are jumped by a gang upon their arrival. Renn was seriously injured and in order to pay for his medical treatment, Marla had to accept a contract with Skunk for a year. Renn, after he healed, signed on with Boater to learn all the skills needed to survive on Swamp. He wasn't aware that Marla had signed her freedom away to pay his medical bills.
Off in the swamps with Boater, Renn learned all the skills required and became a very good hunter. One day, after going off on his own, he came back to find his boss had been murdered by the same gang that jumped him and Marla. So he set out to track them down and make them pay for what they had done.

This was an OK story. I didn't really like it or dislike it. I do wish it had been more of a survival story, with more about the actual planet and its wildlife. Renn gets his revenge, reconnects with Marla, and they manage to get off planet so Renn can track down the guy who framed him in the first place. That last part was the least interesting and least believable part of the story. Overall, not a good read but not a complete waste of time either.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Coroner's Lunch

By Colin Cotterill

It's Laos, 1976. The communists have been in power for only a short while. Dr. Siri Paiboun, medical doctor and communist revolutionary (of a sort, he became a communist because he was enamored of a girl who was an ardent communist) has put in his years, and now in his seventies is expecting to retire and receive a pension for his long service to the party. But instead he is told he is to be the national coroner, even though he has never worked as or trained to be a coroner. But Laos has a shortage of medical personnel due to the revolution and so he is stuck with the job.
Most of his cases are routine deaths by illness or misadventure. Until Mrs. Nitnoy, wife of a senior government official, dies suddenly while eating lunch. Her husband is sure she died from eating raw pork, which he claimed she loved to eat, but Dr. Siri's assistant noticed the scent of almonds on her body during the autopsy and later tests confirmed she was actually poisoned. Laos at this time is terribly impoverished and the hoops Dr. Siri has to jump through just to get a simple diagnostic test performed are quite daunting. But he manages to get it done despite all the obstacles. Now he has to figure who wanted the woman dead. The culprit appears to be the husband's girlfriend, who is later found dead of a suicide. But in this case, nothing is as it appears to be.
Dr. Siri also has to handle the case of three Vietnamese officials found floating in a lake who were apparently tortured to death. Again, nothing is as it appears to be and answers must be found quickly as friendly relations with Vietnam are at risk.
Dr. Siri may be old and he may not be a trained forensic coroner but he does have an advantage that no other coroner in the world has, his deceased clients visit him in his sleep and leave clues as to the truth of their various endings.

I enjoyed this story quite a bit, although I did find the plot rather hard to follow. But, despite this, I liked reading about Dr. Siri and his friends and neighbors, such an exotic and interesting setting. I also enjoyed the touch of mysticism, especially the visit by Dr. Siri to the Hmong village to investigate the strange deaths of three military officers. Quite a fascinating book, even if I did find the plot rather thick.

Cabin Pressure

By Corylee Spiro and Elizabeth Harwell

Anecdotes by a couple of flight attendants about airline travel, most just a paragraph or two long:
Upon boarding, a male passenger noticed a female flight attendant crawling on all fours between two rows of seats. Wanting to be helpful, he said, "Miss, are you looking for something?" Tired and food stained, she replied, "Yes, sir. I guess I'm looking for all that glamour they promised me in training."

The book is full of amusing anecdotes like that and it also gives the inside story of what the working life of a flight attendant is like. It was a funny and informative read, even though it was written more than twenty years ago. I enjoyed it very much, it's very amusing.

Amanda's Wedding

By Jenny Colgan

Ever since she was a child, Amanda has been a thorn in Melanie's side. Manipulative and mean-spirited, the only thing that matters to Amanda is Amanda. But after they grew up, Amanda drifted off in pursuit of her goal of social status and Melanie only heard from her when she basically wanted something.
And now Amanda is getting married and she is marrying a man that Melanie has had a secret crush on for years. But after listening to some rather frank things Amanda has said about her prospective husband, Melanie is convinced that Amanda doesn't love this man and is only marrying him for his social status. So when the man's brother comes to Melanie asking for her help in convincing the groom that he is about to make a horrible mistake, she can't help but go along, even though she may be about to get herself in a whole heap of trouble.

This was an OK read. I didn't much care for the ending, which seemed unlikely. Also didn't care for the misleading romance between Melanie and the groom's brother, which turned out to be a red herring. I also couldn't understand why Melanie and her friend let themselves be dragged into Amanda's life when they have so many reasons to avoid any association with her. I also didn't care for the drinking binges that seem to be a way of life for Melanie and her companions. That was disturbing. All in all, not a bad story, but mainly it just didn't click with me.

Getting Rid of Matthew

By Jane Fallon

Helen wanted to be a publicist but ended up as an executive assistant.  She became involved with her boss Matthew and their affair lasted for several years, even after he was no longer her boss. She was convinced she was deeply in love with Matthew and asked him time and again to leave his wife. But when Matthew finally did, Helen discovered she was totally mistaken in her feelings for Matthew. Now all she wants to do is get him out of her apartment and out of her life. And she figures the best way to do so is to get Matthew back together with his wife and family.
But how to accomplish this? Helen decides to spy on Matthew's wife Sophie and in the process she accidentally becomes friends with her, all without revealing to Matthew what she has been doing or to Sophie that she is the "other woman." And as Helen comes to realize, this can only end in disaster.

I really enjoyed this story a lot. It's not really a romance, it is more a coming-of-age story, even though the one who does the growing up is nearly forty years old. I liked Helen, even though she was a home-wrecker. I wanted to hate her, but I just couldn't. And I really liked the ending, which I thought was simply wonderful. Just an all-around enjoyable read.

The Marquis Takes a Bride

By Marion Chesney

Jennie Bemyss was young and inexperienced and sure she was in love with Guy Chalmers, whom she had known since childhood. But marrying Guy was out of the question because Jenny was already promised to another ... the Marquis of Charrington.
Their marriage had been arranged many years before. The Marquis really had no intention of following through on those arrangements, that is until he actually met Jenny. But it was also clear to him that Jenny's heart belonged to another. So the Marquis hatched a plan, to marry Jenny and to woo her away from Guy Chalmers.  He proposed a marriage of convenience with Miss Jenny. And Jenny agreed because marriage with the Marquis would mean finally getting away from her dreary rural life and getting to enjoy high society in London, plus getting to be close to Guy Chalmers too.
But the plan didn't work as the Marquis wanted. Jenny couldn't seem to see Guy for the low-down, lying, conniving creep that he really was. The Marquis began to think he made a terrible mistake in marrying Jenny and Jenny began to think her new husband was trying to kill her.

This was a pretty good read. One thing I liked about it was the lack of lasciviousness. So many more recent romances are more like reading porn, which doesn't appeal to me. However, with the plot to murder Jenny, the story was a little grim for my taste, I prefer a lighter fare, especially if I am reading a romance.  I expect it in a murder mystery, but don't really want it in a romance. But other than that, I enjoyed the story.

Friday, February 08, 2013

The Pursuit of Love & Love in a Cold Climate

By Nancy Mitford

The Pursuit of Love: The story is narrated by Fanny, cousin of the main character Linda. Linda lives in the country and doesn't get to town much. Fortunately for Linda, Lord Merlin, a nearby neighbor, does get to town and he brings his town friends out to his estate, where Linda gets to meet the man who will be her first husband, Tony. Tony's family is in banking and are wealthy. Tony works in the family business and his parents want him to marry well, to a girl with good connections who will be a credit to Tony. Instead, he falls for Linda, mainly because she is young and beautiful and because she thinks Tony is swell. So they get married, to the disapproval of the parents on both sides. Tony's parents say Linda doesn't have the right connections and Linda's parents ( her father, mainly) don't like Tony's background (he is of German ancestry). It isn't too far into the marriage before Linda and Tony realize they have made a mistake. Tony is too stodgy to suit Linda and Linda is too flighty to suit Tony.
Linda meets another man, Christian, a Communist. Something about Christian strikes Linda's fancy and she is soon tagging after him like a lost puppy. She divorces hubby number one and marries hubby number too and toddles off with him to France to help war refugees. But her marriage begins to flounder with  Christian's growing attachment to another woman, a fellow aid worker.

I didn't really care for this story, mainly because the main character, Linda, did not appeal to me. Her behavior throughout the story is selfish, foolish, and disgusting. Nothing in her story made me like her, made me want her to have a happy ending, made me care about her.

Love in a Cold Climate: Set in the same time period as the first novel, this one centers on another aristocratic family living in the same area as Linda did before she grew up and left home. Once again the story is narrated by Fanny, the rather ordinary observer of her more beautiful relatives. The beautiful girl of this story is Polly, who is described as the leading beauty of her generation and also one of the richest, her father being one of the wealthiest men in England.
Polly came as a total surprise to her parents who had been married for twenty years without having children. But from early childhood, Polly was admired and acclaimed for her  beauty. As she grew into her teen years, though, her mother became increasingly dissatisfied with her daughter because Polly seemed to have no interest in boys.
By the time Polly was twenty, relations between the two were very strained, Polly confiding to Fanny that she absolutely hated her mother, she was so very tired of her mother's constant pressure on her to find a husband. But in the end Polly does find a husband, a husband that sets everyone on edge and causes a complete rift between Polly and her parents.

I like this story so much more than the first one. I thought it was quite a bit funnier and, even though Polly is not really a very sympathetic character, at least she is not doted on unreasonably like that horrible Linda. Although, oddly both books have very similar endings. There is a third book in the series, Don't Tell Alfred, I wonder who the author killed off at the end of it?