Wednesday, December 30, 2015

If You Were Here

By Jen Lancaster

Mia and Mack got tired of dealing with life in the city and decided to look for a place in a smaller town, specifically, Abington Cambs. (I'm confused about this, if it is a real town or just an area in Lake Forest, Illinois. Apparently it was the location of several John Hughes movies and the main character is a huge fan of his work, as is the author, Jen Lancaster.) So, relating to Mia's affection for John Hughes movies, a mansion where some of the scenes were filmed is on the market. It's a huge house, near the lake, but it is within their price range and it passes inspection. It is a bit of a fixer-upper, having stood vacant for several years and has out-dated fixtures but that is not a problem. Mack wants to try his hand at doing some remodeling and Mia is anxious to redecorate.
But it turns out the building inspector was incompetent and nearly everything that could go wrong does go wrong. To start off, the neighbors are hostile and complaints keep flooding in about everything Mia and Mack are trying to do. The police even show up one day with one of the cats under arrest for peeing outdoors.
Then after Mack gets the master bedroom all fixed up beautifully, the ceiling falls in on Mia, raining scummy water and carpenter ants all over her and the new bedroom. That's when they discover they have a serious infestation problem of carpenter ants and termites.
As far as problems go, though, the house problems pale in comparison to their marital problems. Mia is getting more and more frustrated with Mack's efforts at remodeling and their communication is suffering. And the bills are piling up to the point where they have to take out a second mortgage on the house and Mack has quit his job to focus on fixing the house. Mia has become the main source of income (she writes young adult zombie romances) and the working conditions at the house are ruining her concentration. If she isn't able to get her newest novel finished by the deadline, things could get real bad real fast
And then the contractor they hired disappears with the money they paid him.

This is Lancaster's first published fiction story and it is funny and entertaining. Although the building repair disasters seem a little unlikely, with remodeling I guess it can be one thing after the other. Mia certainly gets herself into situations, including being arrested twice, but it was all quite amusing and more than a little scary, if you are ever thinking about doing some remodeling. Or buying a fixer-upper house. Be warned by Mia and Mack's struggles!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

By Sherman Alexie

Arnold, or as he is known on the Reservation, Junior, has had a lot of trouble in his life. He had a lot of illnesses as a young child but his health has improved quite a bit. His parents, Spokane Indians, have problems too. His dad drinks too much. His mother used to drink a lot too but she is better. Money is always tight or nonexistent.
Junior is a bright boy who loves to draw cartoons to poke fun at life and to help him cope with stress. In his last year of classes before starting high school, Junior throws a book at a teacher. Later the teacher stops by his house to talk to him and tells Junior that he needs to make a life for himself and not be limited by the his circumstances. He needs to leave the Reservation.
Inspired, Junior decides to attend high school in a nearby town, Reardan. Since he is pretty good at basketball, he hopes to be on the team too. It will be a great hardship for Junior to attend a school so far away from his house. His parents can sometimes take him but often he has to walk it or hitchhike.
The rest of the tribe turns against him for leaving the local school. His best friend turns against him too. But his family respects and admires him for his choice and he struggles on.
The Reardan kids are cold at first, but he gradually makes friends and becomes accepted and he does get a position on the basketball team.
Seems like all is going well for Junior. Then tragedy strikes his family, not once, not twice, but three times. Has the world turned against them? Is it his fault for daring to do something different? His questions and depression mounts as tragedy after tragedy slams down on those he loves the most.

This was a pretty good story. Junior has a lot of strikes against him but he also has the intelligence and drive to rise above. The book is mildly amusing at times but also very sad and depressing too, especially the last third of the book. A strike against it, for me, was the emphasis on sports. One whole chapter, twenty pages long, is a description of a basketball game. I just skimmed that chapter.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, although it is most definitely not the laugh-fest as portrayed by the blurbs on the back of the book. To me, it was much more sad than amusing, so that was misleading. Because of that and the boring sports descriptions, I rate it a fair read.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Quail in My Bed

By Burley Packwood

The true story of three tiny quail chicks who accidentally entered the lives of Packwood and his wife Betsi.
A few days before they were scheduled to leave on an extended camping trip, Betsi found an abandoned baby quail. She named the quail Pedro and assured her husband that the chick would not interfere with the trip. Amazingly, a few days later, she found another chick, this time wandering the aisles of a store. This one she named Pedra.
So both chicks came with them on the camping trip, coddled and cuddled by Betsi. Packwood hardened his heart against the quail but gradually came to admit that they added a lot to the trip, being entertaining little birds.
Unfortunately, Pedro managed to escape and they never found him. Native to the desert southwest, Pedro got loose in the northern United States into a habitat ill-suited to his breed, the Gambels quail. He most certainly perished when winter arrived.
Pedra remained with them on their trip although they promised to free her when they returned home to Arizona. Meanwhile, she wormed her way into the author's affections and he came to cherish the little bird as she did him, regarding him as the love of her life.
Upon returning home, they gave Pedra her freedom but she refused to go. She stayed with them, sleeping inside and have free range in their house. She also had free access to the outdoors and she spent a lot of time out there but never strayed away from their patio area.
She had quite a few ailments, possibly a result of her domesticated lifestyle. She nearly died of a lung ailment, and, on the road to recovery, was bitten by a poisonous spider. Her recovery from that and a subsequent fall was slow and painful but she eventually pulled through.
Betsi soon found another lost quail chick and Pablito joined Pedra. Pablito was a ball of fire compared to Pedra and his antics kept the two people very well entertained. Pedra pretty much ignored the new addition except when the chick tried to nestle under her feathers. Pedra refused to adopt the little orphan and usually gave him a good pecking for his efforts.
Even though he totally opposed the addition of quail to his home, the author soon came to realize that their life was much richer for the presence of the little birds.

I thoroughly enjoy this story of raising young orphan quail. I personally have never seen a wild quail where I live, but from what the author says, they must be quite common in Arizona. From this book and the previous quail book I recently read, That Quail, Robert, quail sound like very interesting and amusing little birds. Although I don't suppose the author is promoting the adoption of wild quail as pets.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rumpole Misbehaves

By John Mortimer

Rumpole has entered a bit of a dry patch when a nice juicy murder is handed to him. Graham Wetherby was discovered standing over the body of a young prostitute in her bedroom by her maid. The maid locked him in the bedroom and called the police. It seems like a clear case of murder.
Rumpole takes the case and with a little investigation discovers the dead woman was a Russian who was smuggled into the country to work as a prostitute along with several other foreign women.
Rumpole is also dealing with the other members of his chambers. They decided that the chambers would no longer allow people to eat, drink or smoke in their offices, all of which Rumpole is in the habit of doing. Of course, he disregards the new rules and carries on as usual only to find himself being charged with an ASBO, an anti-social behavior order. If he is found guilty, he could actually have to spend time behind bars!
At the same time, he has decided he might like to stop being a junior and become a QC, a queen's counsel. To do so, he has to get the help of a judge and appear before a committee. But getting the help of a judge is going to be tricky, since Rumpole has angered every judge he has ever appeared before. But if he becomes a QC, maybe he will finally get the respect he deserves and, most importantly, make his wife happy.

This was good and entertaining read. Rumpole is up to his usual tricks and saves his clients through a series of coincidences.  At times I found the story a little draggy, especially towards the end. It was fun, though, to revisit Rumpole's world with its cast of characters so familiar from the TV series.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Pillar of Cloud

By Jackson Burgess

Garvin Cooper had graduated from law school and wanted to leave his home and family and make a life for himself in the lawless west in 1858. He came to Kansas with high hopes, hopes that were dashed in the face of the conflict between the free states people and the pro-slavery people. Too much lawlessness, apparently.
During his travels, he had joined with another young professional out to make a name for himself as an engineer specializing in bridges. Bob McVey was a talented man but maybe a little too excitable.
They both decided Kansas wasn't for them and determined to head further west. They had become acquainted with a guide who was planning to blaze a new trail west to the Rockies. Cooper and McVey joined up with the guide, Ned Drum, and the small group of people he was to lead across the prairie.
So they set out, Drum, Cooper, McVey, a Quaker man and wife and few other men. The Quakers had a wagon but the rest rode horses. They experience the typical pioneer trials, days when it just rains and rains, rough river and stream crossings, failing water supply, and the hot, dry, dusty days of summer. But they soldier on, united.
Things start to go bad when they are nearly caught by a prairie fire. Some wanted to start a backfire, but Drum overruled and insisted that it would be smarter to race to a nearby river. They managed to get to the river, but it was a very close thing and people began to question Drum's leadership. And then they started encountering the natives and the story changed from adventure to just trying to survive as the clash of personalities puts all their lives at risk.

I did enjoy this tale of a small group of people setting out on a grand adventure that became much more perilous than they had imagined. The ending was sad and I wished for a happier one, but debts had to be paid and that was how the author decided to do it. Still it was a good story, exciting and interesting and seemed pretty accurate in its depiction of those times.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

A Rumpole Christmas

By John Mortimer

A collection of five short stories, featuring Rumpole and centered on the Christmas season.
In Rumpole and Father Christmas, Santa pays a visit to Chambers and leaves with something a little extra in his bag.
Rumpole's Slimmed Down Christmas  finds Mr & Mrs Rumpole spending the holiday at a fat farm.
Rumpole and the Boy sees Rumpole playing a fatherly role to a boy whose mother is standing trial for blackmail.
In Rumpole and the Old Familiar Faces, Rumpole and wife are off to the country for Christmas, where Rumpole encounters an old client.
And finally, Rumpole and the Christmas Break, sees Rumpole defending a Muslim accused in a religious murder.

All the stories are good and are typical Rumpole stories. If you are a fan of Rumpole, you will enjoy this slim volume of Rumpole stories. I know I did.