Wednesday, May 29, 2013


By Marian Keyes

Maggie Walsh's marriage falls apart when she discovers her husband has been seeing another woman. Looking for a change of scenery, she leaves Ireland and goes to stay with a friend in Los Angeles. She just wants to lay on the beach and veg out. But the friend, Emily, is in a bit of a crisis too. Emily is a writer and if she doesn't sell a screenplay soon, she is going to lose everything. So much of Maggie's vacation is spent helping Emily out. In the process Maggie gets to meet lots of Hollywood types and even runs across an old boyfriend who broke her heart when she was only seventeen.
Maggie has a lot of baggage, including an abortion as a teen and two miscarriages. The miscarriages certainly contributed to breakdown of her marriage. And since her old life wasn't working out too well for her, Maggie has decided to be a little more daring and a little more free and she also has something to say to that old boyfriend.

This was a pretty good book. A blurb on the front of the book describes it as hilarious, but it wasn't. I found it mildly amusing at the most. But I did think its depiction of Los Angeles and all the characters Maggie runs across very interesting. I am no judge, never having spent any time in LA,  but it all seemed to ring true to me. So I did enjoy the book a lot, even though it was not as funny as it was cracked up to be.
For a better review of the book, see

My Fair Lazy

By Jen Lancaster

Another memoir by Jen Lancaster, this time focusing on her lack of cultural attainments. As she explains in the book, after she lost her job she got into the habit of watching a lot of TV, especially reality TV. But once she became a successful author, she found herself at a disadvantage in social situations where folks were better informed about the arts. So she decided to have her own Renaissance, or as she calls it, Jenaissance, and improve her cultural awareness. So began trips to art museums, plays, ballets, poetry, great works of literature, and so on. By the end of the book, her understanding of liberal arts was greatly enhanced and she felt completely capable of holding her own at social functions filled with high-brow literary types.

This kind of sounds like it would be pretentious and boring, but Jen has such a wonderful sense of humor that the book is often laugh-out-loud funny. I have read several of her books and I think this one was actually the most amusing of them all. I really enjoyed it tremendously.

Diary of a Provincial Lady

By E. M. Delafield

The lady is question is never named, but we do get to meet her husband and two children. The husband is an estate manager or something like that, the youngest child has a live-in governess and the other child attends private school. The lady is a "woman of leisure" but as she points out, she has almost no actual leisure time. Most of her time is taken up with social obligations and attempting to maintain a smooth-running household, helped by a couple of maids, a cook, and a gardener. She and her family are members of the upper middle class in England of the 1930s and it is of vital importance to keep up appearances. She and her husband are frequently called upon to attend various functions and a lot of her time and effort are taken up with coping with those demands, on top of which is their rather limited income. Her servants are discontent, her children often unruly, her husband at times unfeeling and demanding and her life is a constant balancing act between what is expected and what can be afforded. Keeping up appearances means having to pawn her jewelry at times in order to afford a new dress or to put money in the bank, as she is chronically overdrawn. It is a bit of a rat race, but throughout it all, her wry and sly comments about herself and those around her help her cope with all the demands and amuse and charm her readers.

Even though this book was written back in the 1930s, it is still very funny and revealing of a lifestyle that is probably still practiced by many. Delafield based the book on her own life and she quite a prolific author, and followed up Diary with several more books based on her life. I did enjoy the book a lot, after I got over the fact that she had all those servants but was continually grousing about the shortage of funds. I guess a woman of her class was required to maintain a certain lifestyle or lose the respect of her peers.
For a better review of the book, check out

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Star Island

By Carl Hiaasen

Cherry Pye is a young pop star who has a serious drug and alcohol problem. Her favorite activity is getting trashed, so trashed that she often can't perform. Her excesses require frequent stints in rehab, which is not good for her image. So her handlers hired a lookalike as a stand in to cover up the seriousness of Cherry's addictions. The lookalike makes brief public appearances at parties and events while Cherry is confined to rehab.
Cherry is on the verge of releasing a new CD and is preparing for a concert in Miami. Once again, she overdoses on a crazy mixture of drugs, booze and birdseed, requiring a secret trip back to rehab. Her handlers smuggle her out of the back door of the hotel, while her double is taken out the front on a stretcher, posing as Cherry suffering from a violent attack of gastritis.
One of the score of photographers that chase after that winning celebrity candid shot is Claude Abbott. Abbott is a true fan of Cherry Pye's and, knowing her crash and burn lifestyle, he is pretty sure Cherry is about at the end of her road and he really wants to be there to cash in on her celebrity when she finally goes too far. He follows her to the rehab clinic and offers her a ride in his car when she sneaks away from the clinic. Together, they fly back to Florida and Cherry initiates sex with him (she is trashed and later doesn't remember the incident at all). But when they arrive in Florida, she drives off in a limo that has the bag containing Abbott's cameras and cell phone, leaving Abbott stranded.
Meanwhile, Cherry's double is having problems of her own. Since Cherry is supposed to be secured in rehab, the double, Ann, has been given some time off and has driven to the Florida Keys. But she crashes her rental car and finds herself captive of a strange loner called Skink. Skink used to be governor of Florida but the uncontrolled land development sent him off the deep end and he ran away, to live off the land in the swamps. He has grabbed Ann in an attempt to foil a development scheme and is using her as bait to lure the developer into his grasp. Ann eventually is released only to be captured by crazed photographer Abbott who thinks he is grabbing Cherry Pye. But when he finds out Ann is not who he thought,  he hits upon the idea of exchanging Ann for a one-day photo shoot with Cherry that he is sure will be the best work he has ever done and result in fame and acclaim and, of course, lots of money. But are Cherry's handlers all that worried about the fate of her double? Not so much, it turns out.

This was a pretty good story. Unlike some of his novels, this one does not have as many cruel and gruesome scenes, the gore limited to a shot-off finger, some ass-whipping with a weed-whacker, a spiny urchin applied to a man's testicles and one fatal shooting. That sounds like a lot, but compared to some of Hiaasen's books, it is quite toned down. It is also very entertaining and often amusing, although at times a bit chaotic. I enjoyed it and at the end of the novel he wraps up the lives of the main characters, letting you know how they ended up. That was fun and nice.

Bitten & Smitten

By Michelle Rowen

Sarah is having a bad night. First, her best friend set her up with a blind date. This guy was beyond creepy. . .he was actually a vampire who proceeded to attack Sarah. But before she could even grasp what was happening, the blind date was murdered by a gang of vampire hunters, who then turned their deadly attention toward Sarah. Now she is running for her life and she still hasn't even figured out what is going on!
So Sarah, newly turned and lost vampire, stumbles into the beginnings of an all out assault on the local vampire community and also into the arms of the local vampire lord and from him to a handsome and appealing vampire hunter.

This was an OK read. Like many authors these days, Rowen's vampires do not conform to the classic style. Her vampires are not undead, not sensitive to silver, holy water, crosses, garlic. They breathe, their hearts beat, they can eat regular food (in some cases), being out in the daytime only requires sunglasses. What they do have in common with old-timey vamps is fangs, drinking blood, immortality, and no reflection. These are pretty lightweight vampires, designed to be appealing and not scary monsters. And this is a pretty lightweight novel, often amusing and not too heavy with the romance. But it never really engaged me as much as I would like. Maybe the plot was a little too chaotic. The main character is like a tennis ball, back and forth, bouncing from situation to situation. The story never really grabbed me as much as I would like.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Honeymoon with My Brother

By Franz Wisner

Franz Wisner and Annie had been together for years. They did part at one point but got back together. But Annie kept having panic attacks brought on by her ambivalence about their relationship. Franz, perhaps sensing her unspoken ambivalence, decided he'd better marry her before she got away. So the date was set, wedding arranged, guests invited, reservations made and money spent. Annie finally listened to her gut and called off the wedding a few days before the event.
That sucked and Franz was heartbroken. Then, to make matters worse, he was demoted at work. So he decided to go ahead and make that honeymoon trip he'd planned to take with his new bride, but instead he asked his brother Kurt to come along. So they went off together to Costa Rica. It was a chance for the two brothers to reconnect. But while on the "honeymoon," they came up with a brilliant plan. They would quit their jobs, sell off most of their assets and continue their travels together, ultimately visiting fifty-three countries in two years time. And took about two years for Franz to finally get Annie out of his system.

This was an OK book. At times it got a little repetitive and somewhat dull. I put it down for a couple weeks when I was about two-thirds through it before I continued reading it again. I think I would have enjoyed it more if it had been a little less about Franz's emotional life and more about the travel.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

The Map of Time

By Felix J. Palma

A young man's life is blighted when the woman he loves is murdered by Jack the Ripper. Years pass and still Andrew grieves, unable to bear his loss. His closest friend and cousin Charles has hit upon a way to help Andrew. What if Andrew could travel back in time and stop the Ripper and save his true love's life?
Recently a new attraction has opened in London: Murray's Time Travel. Gilliam Murray claims that he can take people to the year 2000 where they will witness the deciding battle between mankind and the automatons, who have taken over the world and are bent on destroying all mankind. But Murray is unable to help, explaining that his time travel expeditions can only go to the year 2000 and can't travel to the past at all. Murray suggests that Andrew and Charles pay a visit to H. G. Wells, author of The Time Machine. 
So Andrew and Charles do visit Wells and he agrees to let them use the time machine, which he keeps in his attic, to allow Andrew to travel eight years into the past and stop the Ripper. What Andrew doesn't know is that Charles had already had a meeting with Wells, who agreed to help Charles hoax his cousin into thinking he traveled into the past, using two actors to play the woman and the killer. Their ploy works, and Andrew comes back from the "past" a changed man, happy to have saved his beloved's life, even though, as explained by Wells, his actions caused a split in the time stream resulting in a parallel universe in which the woman is rescued, while Andrew has to stay in his reality where the woman was murdered. And after that it gets even more complicated, as this novel proceeds on its twisty way, nearing almost the end before the reader is introduced to any actual time travel. Most of the time travel in the book is as bogus as Andrew's rescue of his murdered lover.

The book certainly has a lot to offer if you enjoy reading about Victorian times. As a time travel story, though, it was rather frustrating, as you wade through episode after episode of fake time travel. Murray's expeditions to the year 2000 and Well's time machine expeditions are all fakery. And when we do finally get to meet a real time traveler, he turns out to be a total nutter who kills without compunction just so he can be the only person in the history to own copies of The Time Machine, The Turn of the Screw and Dracula. Complicated, convoluted, frustrating, and way too wordy, The Map of Time was an engrossing read, but in the end, rather a disappointment to me.