Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Was It Something I Said?

By Valerie Block

Justine and Barry are two young professionals living and working in New York City. Justine is a lawyer with a six-figure salary. Barry is an account executive with a food company. One day they are both at the airport, headed to different destinations. Barry sees Justine and is smitten hard, so hard he changes his ticket for one on the flight Justine is taking. He even manages to talk his way into the seat next to hers.
Shortly after the plane takes off, it experiences problems and has to return to the airport and make an emergency landing. Justine is slightly injured in the landing. Sharing a near-crash experience together creates a bond between Justine and Barry and they end up dating, which makes Barry very happy. Justine, not so much.
Justine likes Barry but things about him annoy her. He says and does embarrassing things in public. His philosophy is more liberal than hers (she is a fan of dead president Ronald Reagan).
Barry is pretty enamored with Justine but still finds her annoying at times too. She has a tendency to blow hot then cold which he finds confusing and off-putting. Their relationship is rocky and the final straw for Justine is when Barry screws up at work and gets fired. He becomes too whiny and clingy and seems rather shiftless and so she calls it quits.
But life without Barry just isn't the same and trying to find a replacement for him isn't working. And maybe Barry's failure at work becomes more understandable when Justine finds that her job is becoming a problem too.
Maybe being with Barry is better than going it alone?

This was an OK read. Barry and Justine are both rather annoying. I totally related to how off-putting Barry's jokes and behaviour in public were to Justine. And vice-versa, with Justine all cuddly one minute then bitchy the next.  Barry never knows where he stands with her. This is certainly not a match made in heaven. On the other hand, maybe these two pills deserve each other? Anyway, this was a fairly readable story, although I wasn't really grabbed by it and, by the end, cared for neither character.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell

By William Klaber

A novel based on the life of a real person, the author fills in the gaps left by the documents of the times.
Lucy Ann Lobdell grew up in New York in the 1800s. She fell in love with a scoundrel who abused her and then abandoned her before their child, Helen, was born. Lucy was obliged to move back home, to the ridicule of her mother and siblings.
Life was uncomfortable under the uncharitable scrutiny of her family (except for her loving father and a sister). Her family blamed her for her poor choice in a spouse. Lucy decided her life and her child's life would be better if they had a home of their own. But opportunities for women to earn a living outside the home were very few. She did teach school briefly and discovered she was being paid half of what the male teacher was paid.
She got work as a housekeeper and it wasn't too long before the man she worked for and her family were pressuring her to marry him. But she was completely disinterested in the proposed alliance.
A bit of a tomboy and a good shot, Lucy decided her best chance to earn a decent living was to disguise herself as a man. Well educated and a talented violinist, she planned to open a dancing and music school. So one day she cut her hair, put on her brother's clothes and left her family and her child behind to seek her fortune.
Setting up her dancing school on her savings, things went really well once she became more comfortable in her guise as a man. She made a place for herself in male society and enjoyed its freedoms greatly, within limits to protect herself from discovery. But then it all went bad.
She fell in love with one of her female students, Lydia, and Lydia's boyfriend got jealous. Warned that he and a gang of his friends was planning to waylay her, Lucy fled the town. Her next stop was the wilds of Minnesota. Her dream was to raise horses and bring Lydia and Helen to live there. But then it all went bad again.
An vile man caught Lucy bathing in the river. He proceeded to rape her despite her struggles to prevent it. She did manage to stick a knife in his leg, but he ran to the sheriff with his tale. She was arrested and jailed for impersonating a man.
Her life went from hardship to hardship but she mostly clung to her masquerade. A skilled hunter, she lived in the wild and survived off the land. Eventually she ended up back east in a poorhouse. By this time she was having some mental problems, a weakness that ran in her mother's side of the family.  It was in the poorhouse that Lucy met the woman she would end up marrying, Marie. Of course, the person who performed the marriage ceremony believed he was joining together a man and a woman, not two women.
Their story does not have a happy ending. They were eventually exposed and hounded from place to place. As their hardships continued, Lucy's mental condition worsened. She finally ended up in an institution.

Reading this book was quite a journey into the mostly sad life of a woman who refused to accept the boundaries. She paid the price for it and reading about her life was troubling and depressing.  Many women today are still regarded as the property of men and of lesser status than males.
But even though this is a sad tale, it made for a very good, compelling read.  It really engaged me from beginning to end.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere

By Poe Ballantine

Chadron is a small college town in northwestern Nebraska, bisected by U.S. Route 20. After he married his wife Cristina, Poe decided to settle in Chadron, a place he had lived in briefly a few years before. He thought the small town atmosphere would agree with his new wife, a native of Mexico who did not speak English at all well.
Poe was a wanderer before he married Cristina. He wanted to be an author but was not able to support himself writing and so worked at a variety of jobs, none of which paid very well. In fact, Cristina had married him thinking he was a rich American and that she was going to partake in the American Dream. He wasn't rich though, just a working man, working as a short-order cook, cleaning floors at night in the supermarket. This led to some stress in their marriage, as Cristina dealt with her disappointment in her new life, her alienation from the foreigners that surrounded her, and the birth of their son who might or might not be autistic. One of the things they argued about was the time Poe spent writing, which, since it didn't earn much money, Cristina regarded as a waste of time.
Chadron, although a small town of about 6000, has a fairly transient population due to it being a college town. One of the new arrivals to town was Steven Haataja, a math professor hired to teach at the college. Steven came with some baggage, having had some problems in the past, including depression and a suicide attempt. But now he seemed to be doing much better. Divorced, he came to Chadron alone, but had family nearby in South Dakota. He seemed to be settling into his new job and making connections in the local community. But then he disappeared one night in December.
Steven's body was found a few month later on a ranch. He has been tied to a tree and his feet bound. His hands and arms were not tied. His body was severely burned, so badly burned it was not even clear if it was the body of a man or a woman.
What happened to him? Was he murdered? Commit suicide? Or was it some kind of strange accident? Apparently he had been drinking. Was he so drunk he fell into his campfire? These are some of the questions Poe tries to answer while also trying to save his own marriage and raise his son.

It's an interesting look at life in a small town that is dealing with a puzzling tragedy. Also of a man coping with his unhappy spouse and his young son whom some have described as autistic. The first part of the book was certainly more interesting than the second part. In the first part we get to know about Poe and his wife and child and their life together in Chadron. But the second part focuses mainly on Steven and the investigation into his death and, though it should have been the most interesting part of the book, it just wasn't as engaging. But overall, I enjoyed reading this book, mainly the parts about Poe and his friends and family.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The PMS Outlaws

By Sharyn McCrumb

The story really begins in the 1950s, when a bootlegger, Jack Dolan, ran a police barricade which resulted in a fiery crash. Dolan's car was loaded with homemade whiskey and went up like a bomb, enveloping not only his car but also a police car. A man was critically burned and spent months in the hospital but Dolan was thrown clear and escaped only to be nabbed later by the police.
Unrelated to this, a couple of students at college decades later decided to enact a little revenge for a cruel joke pulled on a fellow student. This student, a chubby girl, had been invited to a frat party only to find out it was a "pig party" where the frat boys invite unattractive girls and the boy with the homeliest girl wins a prize. Of course, the girls, for the most part, don't know that is what is happening and this particular girl was devastated when she found out. So two of her dorm mates track down her "date" and trick him into getting naked at which point they tie him up outside, take photos, and leave him to be discovered in the morning.
Now we are back to present day, where Elizabeth MacPherson has lost her husband and has taken up residence in a mental hospital to treat her subsequent depression. One of her fellow patients is an old man with terrible burn scars. It's the same man that was burned in the car crash back in the 1950s. He is also being treated for depression.
Elizabeth's lawyer brother Bill and his law partner, A.P. Hill, have decided it is time to upgrade their offices. To that end, Bill has purchased a large, beautiful home in the antebellum style (though built in the 1940s). The house does have a small problem, it comes with a built-in resident, the house's original owner, who is none other than Jack Dolan, ex-bootlegger and now in his 90s. Dolan doesn't take up much room, though, and seems pretty spry for his age and really doesn't bother the new owner beyond his desire for bags and bags of sugar.
A.P. Hill receives a phone call from an old college acquaintance, P.J. Purdue. Like Hill, Purdue went on from college to law school and is now a lawyer. But Purdue, who always had a wild streak, has gone off the rails. She helped her client, Carla Larkin, escape police custody and now the two of them are enticing gullible men into trysts and robbing them, leaving their victims handcuffed and naked, just like the two college girls who punished the pig party frat boy. This is because Purdue was one of those two girls and now she is reliving and revisiting that revenge on more guys, helped this time by the beautiful Carla.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth is languishing in the mental hospital, zonked on drugs and failing to deal with her loss. Though she does share the information that her brother just bought a house with an elderly tenant named Jack Dolan with the scarred fellow patient, Hillman Randolph, who is mightily surprised to hear Jack Dolan survived that terrible car crash. For forty plus years, Hillman had thought Dolan died that night.
This various trails all come together one night at the Jack Dolan house. Hillman, Dolan, both MacPhersons, Hill, Purdue, and Larkin all meet in a climax that is both amusing and non-fatal, the best sort of ending.

This was an enjoyable read, with the various character coming together in a grand climax at the end. All the characters had interesting stories, although the title characters, the PMS outlaws, were not the lead characters. The lead characters were Elizabeth and A.P. Hill and a lot of the story is spent with Elizabeth as she is staying in the mental hospital and meeting her fellow patients. I wasn't enamored with that part of the story, which I found a bit tedious. But other than that, I thought it was a pretty good tale and all the plot lines brought together very nicely.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Four Graces

By D.E. Stevenson

The four graces are Liz, Sal, Tilly and Addie Grace. Of the three, only Addie has moved away from home and lives in World War II London. Sal and Tilly are homebodies but Liz works on a farm and is more outgoing than the other two.
The three young women still live at home with their widowed father, who is the vicar of their small community, Chevis Green. The war hasn't touched their lives much, apart from the rationing. That is until three new people disrupt the placid tenure of their lives.
First to appear is Captain Roderick Herd. At first it seems he is interested in Addie but then he starts spending a lot of time with Liz.
Next to arrive is William Single, archaeologist, who will be staying at the Vicarage while he investigates the nearby Roman ruins. He is a large, calm man and fits in very nicely with the Grace family.
Last to arrive is Aunt Rona, refugee from London. Her house was near a bomb explosion and all the windows were blown out. Given the war, it is unlikely her windows can be repaired, so she needs a place to stay and has found it at the Vicarage.
Problem is that Aunt Rona is a pill. She constantly talks about her "friends" whom the Graces don't know. She tries to manage everyone and that is annoying to the family. Finally, her worse sin is that she is trying to maneuver the Vicar into marrying her! That would ruin life at the Vicarage forever!

This was quite an enjoyable read. It is a mild romantic comedy and the Graces are charming and sympathetic characters. There are no torrid love scenes and no high drama, it is just a sweet story.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

One Good Dog

By Susan Wilson

Adam March was on his way to the top when he threw it all away with an outburst of uncontrolled temper. He struck his assistant for imagined disrespect and was fired.
Gone was the lovely home, the lovely wife, the lovely career. He narrowly escaped jail but was instead sentenced to community service for one year, working at a homeless shelter for men.
Chance, a pit bull mix, was born to his mom in a basement and destined to be a fighting dog. His was a life of competition and loneliness. Until the house was raided and Chance was placed for adoption.
One of the men who frequented the shelter had a pit bull mix dog. When the man was suddenly taken ill, his dog was picked up by animal rescue. Adam was tasked with the job of getting the man's dog out of the pound but found out the dog had already been put down. So he figured that one dog is as good as another and brought Chance to the man. Of course, that didn't work out, the man was outraged that Adam would try to pass off a strange dog as his dog, something that would come back to bite Adam in the ass later. Due to a series of coincidences, Adam got stuck with Chance for several days. During that time, Chance brings some joy and comfort to Adam at a time when he is at his lowest.
Adam's teen daughter has been very distant since he fell from grace but she has always wanted a dog and having Chance helps Adam tear down the wall she has built between them. Trying to repair his relationship with his daughter, taking care of Chance and working at the shelter are all helping Adam become a more caring and giving person and realizing that some things are more important than so-called success.

This was a good book. It has some rather predictable plot twists and the beginning seemed a bit unreal. Why would you hit someone just because they were preoccupied and ignoring you? Especially a man who had risen as far as Adam and who had so much to lose? But the dog, Chance, saves the story for me. I enjoyed the parts where Chance tells his story more than the parts about Adam. I didn't like Adam much at all. He deserved his punishment.