Friday, July 19, 2013

Florabama Ladies' Auxiliary & Sewing Circle

By Lois Battle

Bonnie Duke Cullman lived a life of comfort and privilege. Until her husband revealed that they were facing bankruptcy and that he no longer wished to be married to her. So Bonnie had to leave her cushy lifestyle behind and set out to make a new life for herself.
Fortunately for Bonnie, her daddy, Duke, is a man of influence and connections and, calling in a few favors, got Bonnie a job as a councilor at a small college in Florabama. And her clients are a group of women who lost their jobs at a local mill when the mill suddenly closed.
At first terrified and ill-prepared to reenter the workforce after decades as a well-to-do married woman, Bonnie soon settles into her new job and gets to know some of the women who have turned to her for guidance and advice. There's Hilly, outspoken and fiery, who manages to find a job as a waitress and to fall in love with her new boss.  Ruth, quiet and a bit of a doormat, dreams of being a teacher but fears she is too old and too stupid. There is Ruth's whiny grown daughter who isn't above thievery and abandoning her children. As for Bonnie, she starts out shaky and scared but finds out she is more than capable of standing on her own two feet.

This was an OK read. It was mainly about Bonnie, Ruth and Hilly and not so much about the sewing circle.  The other women are peripheral to the story and their trials and tribulations are only touched on briefly. Also the story just kind of peters out at the end.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Bad Monkey

By Carl Hiaasen

Andrew Yancy is an ex-cop. Not because he wants to be but because he did something really stupid: he sodomized his girlfriend's husband in public with a vacuum cleaner. That got him kicked out of the sheriff's department. Luckily for Yancy he was able to get a new job as Health Inspector of the local restaurants. Unluckily for Yancy, he discovers conditions in restaurant kitchens are so unwholesome and disturbing that he has totally lost his appetite and has become gaunt and skinny. For his own sake, he needs his old job  back before he wastes away to nothing. Rescue appears in the form of an unattached arm hooked by an angler. Because, despite the appearance that the owner of the arm was the victim of a shark attack, Yancy is certain that the arm's owner was murdered. If he can prove it he just might be able to get his old job with the sheriff's office back. But, since he is a character in a Hiaasen novel, Yancy is going to come up against a lot of weirdness including an ex-girlfriend who will resort to arson to win Yancy back; a sexy but a tad bit perverse new girlfriend who likes to do it on the autopsy table; a voodoo witch; a Medicare scammer and his wife; and the title character, the bad monkey who used to be a movie star but is now bald and addicted to fried foods and tobacco.

I really liked this story. Very readable, frequently funny with strange and unforgettable characters, including Driggs, the bad monkey. There really was nothing I didn't like about it including the ending where justice is served and all the bad guys get what they have coming to them. In fact, I think this is probably one of the most enjoyable of the Hiaasen's novels I have read.

For another review, see:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

By Neil Gaiman

The little boy lived in a small town in England in a large house with his parents and his sister. Due to an economic downturn, his parents decided to take in a boarder, meaning the boy had to give up his room and move in with his sister. The boarder was an opal miner who came to England to invest his own and his friends' money. Instead he gambled it all away. He then stole his landlord's car and drove to the nearby outskirts of town to a pond and killed himself.  The dad received a phone call informing him of the whereabouts of the car and he and his son walked there. And that is where the boy met Lettie Hempstock, a girl who lived on the farm where the pond was located. And Lettie Hempstock took the boy to places that he never should have been and accidentally caused the boy a lot of unnecessary problems, including being deliberately almost killed by his own father.

If you read the reviews about this book, you will find widespread acclaim about what a wonderful story it is. I may be the only person to review it who was not enchanted by this odd and disturbing tale. Not being of a philosophical mind set nor caring much for mythology, there was much about the book that just didn't appeal, especially the Hempstocks, the three godlike women at the center of the story. I mean, what are they doing there, on a farm in rural England? Just hanging around pretending to be human? I didn't get it. What I also didn't get was why a father who never abused his children would suddenly attempt to murder his only son. That just seemed out of character to me. Some may say he was under evil influences and maybe so. That just didn't ring true to me.
It's an OK story but not a keeper.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Fresco

By Sheri S. Tepper

Aliens have discovered Earth. It is quite a mixed bag of aliens, though. Some want to help us. Some want to eat us. But the ones who want to help us mainly want human beings to straighten out and be good neighbors to each other. It seems that neighborliness is the requirement for joining the galactic union. But neighborliness doesn't come easy for human beings. So the friendly aliens go about imposing their vision of proper human society upon the Earth. Jerusalem vanishes and now no one can fight over it 'cause it ain't there no more! Oppressive Muslim males suddenly find their women changed into ugly old men. And towards the end of the book, alcoholics can no longer tolerate booze, one sip makes them vomit. Human don't so much learn to be neighborly as have it forced upon them by the aliens as the aliens infiltrate the atmosphere with their invisible control mechanisms and chemicals. And that's the happy ending. The sad ending is leaving humanity to deal with its own problems and being turned into game animals to be hunted by the bad aliens, with the added promise that the predator aliens would not be allowed to exterminate us. Take about being between a rock and a hard place. Mind control versus being hunted for sport.

I did enjoy this book a lot. I thought the nice aliens were interesting even if rather creepy with their mind control and their parasitism. One race of aliens implants their eggs in the bodies of host animals and it turns out middle-aged, conservative men make ideal hosts. Those are the good aliens. The bad aliens are just a bunch of blood-thirsty killers who want to turn the Earth into a giant game park with humans as their main target. As they point out, there is a surfeit of humans on the Earth and they would be doing us a favor by thinning the herd.
Tepper imposes a new order on the world, taking away freedom of choice and using mind control to keep people from realizing what they have lost. It's a creepy and frightening vision, and one that doesn't appeal to me. So I didn't find her happy ending to be very happy but I still enjoyed the story even if I don't agree with her solution for humanities many ills.

For another review, check out

I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had

By Tony Danza

Tony Danza is famous for his acting career. Not for his teaching ability. But it turns out that Danza had always had a yen for teaching, this despite the fact he himself was a rather indifferent student. So when A&E wanted to do a reality TV show about teaching, with Danza in the starring role, he was enthusiastic. That's how Danza came to teach English for a year at a large Philadelphia high school, Northeast High. Danza's goal was to highlight the importance of teachers and schools to the future success of America's students.
But what he found out was that no matter how dedicated and skillful and compassionate the teachers may be, if they are not backed up by the community and, especially by the parents, they are fighting a losing battle. It is up to the parents to stress the importance and benefits of education and to make sure their kids are at school every day and doing the required work. Which is not the case in some homes in America where it seems everything is more important that education.

I enjoyed this book, for the most part. I did find that Danza seems to center the conversation on himself a lot. Even his students quickly caught on to the fact that Danza loves to talk about himself, using this tendency to derail the lessons. Don't most students love it when the teacher starts gasbagging? You don't learn much but you don't have to pay attention either. But other than that, this was a pretty good read and quite informative on conditions in U.S. schools these days.

For another review see