Saturday, June 22, 2013


By Robert Charles Wilson

Tyler Dupree lives in a small house on the grounds of a mansion owned by E.D. Lawton, a mover and shaker in the world of aerospace.  Tyler's mom is Lawton's housekeeper and also serves as a kind of surrogate mother to Lawton's two kids, Jason and Diane since their mother is an alcoholic. The Jason and Diane are fraternal twins and about the same age as Tyler. The three are pretty good friends. Tyler has a serious crush on Diane, but she is not that responsive to his feelings. Both Jason and Diane are very intelligent and E.D. intends to bring Jason into the aerospace business.
One night when Tyler, Diane and Jason were outside playing, the stars vanished. A brief flare of starlight and then nothing but blackness. Data transmission that relied on satellites failed. Even the moon was gone. But the sun rose the next day like nothing had changed.
Before much longer, it was understood that the Earth was enclosed in a pocket of slow-time. Outside the black spin membrane, time passed normally. Inside it passed much, much slower. So slow, that outside the sun was aging rapidly, soon to go through its death throes, which would engulf the Earth in its expanding body, destroying all life. The Earth only had about fifty years of normal life left for its inhabitants.
So a plan was hatched, led by Jason Lawton, now an adult and working for his father, to seed Mars with life. Then, as conditions improved on Mars, relative to the slower time on Earth, humans would travel there, hopefully to survive and thrive. Amazingly the plan worked, the success made apparent by the arrival on Earth of a human being from Mars, Wun Ngo Wen. Martian civilization is hundreds of thousands of years old and highly advanced. Wun may have a solution to the crisis facing the people of Earth. But just as Wun arrives on Earth, another spin membrane appears, but now it is surrounding Mars.

This story is told in a series of flashbacks, interweaving the story of Diane and Tyler as they are trying to escape from their pursuers. Who exactly is chasing them and why isn't made clear until quite a bit later in the book. The enclosure of the Earth by the spin membrane sent Diane off on a spiritual quest that resulted in her marrying a religious fundamentalist. Jason becomes a brilliant scientist but becomes ill with a form of multiple sclerosis. Tyler goes off to medical school and becomes a doctor, ending up working at E.D. Lawton's aerospace firm and as personal physician to Jason and to the man from Mars, Wun. He never gets over his love for Diane and she refuses to leave her fanatic of a husband.
The story is frequently depressing, as society starts to break down and everyday life becomes more dangerous and precarious. None of the characters have happy lives, not even the man from Mars, who lost his wife and children in a terrible flood (back on Mars). Diane is married to a nut, Tyler can't shake his obsession with Diane, and Jason's MS doesn't respond well to treatment.  Plus, I felt the story was a little too long and a bit tedious. But I did really like the ending. So, given that, I rate it a fair read.

For another review, see:


By David Sedaris

A collection of humorous essays recounting David's childhood and young adulthood.
To say David was an odd kid is an understatement. His mother, who comes off as sarcastic and cold, nevertheless let her quirky son be himself, despite the many visits from concerned teachers, worried about his tics and strange obsessions, like licking light switches.
You can't say David Sedaris was just your average kid. I don't know if his life has been as funny as he portrays, but I did enjoy these often amusing and frequently rather disturbing stories.
For a better review, see:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot

By Bill O'Reilly & Martin Dugard

This very readable book looks at the life of John Kennedy, focusing mainly on his presidency and his assassination. The prose is bit over-heated at times, but gets its point across in a clear and easy to understand style. Many intimate details of John and Jackie's lives are included, including their sex lives.
The book also discusses Kennedy's presidency and his relationships with his brother Robert and his vice-president, Johnson.
So, even though it is a bit on the sensational side, it is still a very informative and well-laid out look at the life and death of one of America's most popular presidents, John Kennedy. It was a good read.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady

 By Elizabeth Stukey-French

When Marylou was a young woman and pregnant, she given a radioactive concoction to drink by her doctor, Wilson Spriggs. She was not told it was radioactive, she was told it was a vitamin supplement and she drank it. She and hundreds of other pregnant women were unknowingly dosed in a secret study. (This actually happened to real women in the USA.) Years later her daughter, with whom she pregnant when she was dosed by Spriggs, developed cancer and died. At that time Marylou still did not know about her exposure to radiation but she did find out about it much later when the secret study was revealed. Her anger at the callous young physician who dosed her with poison grew and festered.
Now an old lady in her seventies, Marylou has discovered that Dr. Spriggs is living in Tallahassee, Florida. So she moves into a house just a few blocks from where Spriggs is living with his daughter and her family. Marylou is out for blood: Dr. Spriggs must admit his guilt and accept his punishment. Dr. Spriggs must die.
But how to kill him? Marylou, going by the name Nancy Archer (the giant woman in the old movie, Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman),

can't quite figure out how. After all, she is a frail old woman. Then she hits on the idea of insinuating herself into her enemy's family, with the view to gaining access to the old man. But in the process, she comes to know Spriggs' family much better than she ever intended and nothing seems to turn out the way she envisioned, starting with the fact that Dr. Spriggs has Alzheimers and his memory is failing.

I enjoyed this novel very much and read it in one sitting. Dr. Spriggs lives with his daughter and her husband and three kids, all teenagers and the two oldest have Aspergers. So things are pretty tense, what with the mom coming unglued, and teenage angst aggravated by Aspergers, and the dad kind of checking out all together and the youngest daughter feeling lonely and neglected and also carrying all the responsibility of being the "normal" one. So when Marylou sticks her nose into this stressed out family's business, all hell pretty much breaks loose. Just a really fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable read.

For a better review, see

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Cycle of Fire

By Hal Clement

Dar was on a delivery mission when he ran into trouble and was forced to make a crash landing. He managed to land safely but his aircraft was defunct. He removed his cargo, a bag of books, and proceeded to continue his mission on foot.
Dar lived on a large planet with two suns. The two suns created a cycle of conditions in which the planet gradually became too hot. So Dar's people packed all their knowledge away in the coldest spot on their planet, under the glaciers, safe for when the cycle reversed and the planet began to cool off and became more moderate again. This cycle meant that almost everyone faced certain death, including Dar, except for a few individuals, the Teachers, who resided with the books of knowledge under the glaciers.
Dar was making his way across a brutal, uninhabited and increasing hot landscape when he came across something he had never seen before: a human being. Nils Kruger was just a cadet when he fell into the mudpot and sank from sight. His fellow explorers assumed he was dead so they returned to their spacecraft and left without him. But Nils wasn't dead, he managed to drag himself out of the mudpot only to find he had been abandoned, left alone to survived on a hostile world. Through trial and error he managed to find plants that were edible and get by. But he was all alone when his and Dar's paths crossed. Finding each other to be non-hostile and desirous of heading to the same place, Dar to place his precious books into safe storage and Nils to find a place where the temperatures were more moderate and bearable for a human, they traveled together, headed to the land of glaciers.

This was an OK story. It started out pretty good, with the two traveling together and getting to know and understand each other. The author doesn't go into much detail about the plants and animals they encountered, which was disappointing. Also I didn't find the circumstances of Nils being stranded very believable. Then in the last half of the book, the adventure part ends and the rest of the story was just not that interesting. And there was a lot of scientific stuff in the last half of the book about how the planet ended up with two suns that I didn't understand, it was just too technical. I just skimmed those parts.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Tuf Voyaging

By George R. R. Martin

Haviland Tuf was just a humble and none-too-successful trader when he and his spaceship were hired to haul a small group of adventurers out to where they were certain a huge treasure would be found. The treasure was a gigantic seedship, a remnant of Old Earth's once powerful Ecological Engineering Corps. Within its storage banks could be found tissues samples of beasts and plants from the four corners of space. Whoever grabbed this prize would be wealthy beyond imagining.
Of course, with such a huge prize in their grasp, it's not very surprising that the adventurers turned on themselves and even on Haviland Tuf. Dreams of wealth and power went to their heads and, after all the dust settled, so to speak, the only one left standing was Haviland Tuf and his two kitties, Chaos and Havoc. And with the might of the giant EEC seedship to back him up, Tuf was going to make a few changes, changes a lot of folks wouldn't much care for but that didn't bother Haviland Tuf or his kitties.

I really enjoyed the story of Haviland very much, so much that I read the book in one day. Haviland is a bit of an enigma, and I was left wondering. He is not a friendly guy, not convivial, but he is scrupulously honest and he dearly loves his cats. He is a strange duck but very interesting and I was sorry when I reached the end of the book. I would surely like to read more about Haviland Tuf. And his kitties.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

The Whispering Land

By Gerald Durrell

The true story of Gerald Durrell's trip to Argentina in the late 1950s to gather animals for his zoo in England. It took him eight months to get the animals he wanted and along the way he made many new friends among the locals, encountered rare and interesting animals and had a pretty good time of it, all in all. The only thing he wasn't able to get done was capturing some vampire bats. He even went so far as to sleep outside one night with his bare foot uncovered, hoping to entice the bats with his own vulnerable toes. The bats were certainly in the area but were not interested in his toes. Later on he reflected that it was probably for the best because if he had been bitten he would have most likely had to undergo a series of injections to prevent the development of rabies!

This was an enjoyable story, lots of critters, some adventure, and descriptions of exotic landscapes and of the many friendly and helpful people without whom his expedition would have been much more difficult and much less successful. While reading it, some fifty plus years after it was written, I couldn't help but wonder if the wild and untamed landscapes he describes have changed much over the decades and if the sleepy little villages are still sleepy and quiet and the abundant wildlife still abundant . . .

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The Mystery of Mercy Close

By Marian Keyes

Helen is a private investigator, but, due to the economic downturn, business had dropped way off. She has moved out of her apartment and back into her old bedroom in her parents' house. Which she can't help but feel is a revolting development for a woman in her 30s. Plus she suffers from depression, for which she has been hospitalized in the past.
A local boy band is getting back together for a reunion concert. But one of the band members has disappeared and Helen has been hired to track him down. The concert is in about a week, so she doesn't have much time to locate him. But as she investigates the missing man, she finds nothing that points her in the right direction. And on top of that, her depression is getting worse, to the point where she is thinking of killing herself.

This was an OK read. The mystery was kind of interesting, as was Helen's relationships with her current and her ex-boyfriend. What I didn't particularly care for was all the stuff about depression. I would have enjoyed the book more if it had focused more on the mystery and less on Helen's mental problems.