Friday, May 27, 2016


By Marne Davis Kellogg

Cyrus Vaile is having a party and Lilly Bennett, rich, privileged, snobbish private detective is invited. She goes, dreading it, because Cyrus is the epitome of the dirty old man who will make a pass at anything in a skirt. At the party, Cyrus tell Lilly he needs her help investigating the disappearance of a twenty million dollar fund set up to benefit the local thespian society, the Roundup Repertory Theater. But Cyrus dies at the party and Lilly, trained in criminology and toxicology, recognizes the signs of digitalis poisoning.
Pretty soon Lilly is knee deep in all the drama and drama queens of the Roundup Repertory Theater and, inevitably, becomes the target of the killer too.

This was an OK read. I personally did not care for the main character, Lilly Bennett, born in the lap of luxury and who has never had to worry about paying her bills, and who has a history of sleeping with other women's husbands. Another problem I had with the novel is the deathbed confession of the murderer. So corny when the killer spills the beans because they think they have the upper hand but don't really.
This book is a typical entry in the murder mystery genre, nothing special about it or particularly interesting either.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Secrets of the Model Dorm

By Amanda Kerlin and Phil Oh

After doing some modeling in her home state of Virginia and in Florida, young Heather is ready to take on New York City. She signs with a small New York agency and moves into company housing, an apartment she shares with three other young model hopefuls.
Heather has it all, youth, beauty, height. But her boss, former model and owner of the agency, Rachel, wants her to lose fifteen pounds. Even at the tender age of eighteen, Heather is finding it near impossible to lose the required weight. Of course, her partying lifestyle may have something to do with it. Instead of sticking to a strict diet and hitting the gym every day, Heather and her three roommates are out on the town, getting loaded and picking up men. One of the roommates, Kylie, spends her evenings, when she is at home and not out on the town, getting wasted on Metamucil cocktails: vodka and Metamucil.
The girls are given a list of casting calls to attend every day. They are dressed, interviewed and photographed, and, hopefully, get that call back to an important, major fashion job. The days are spent running from appointment to appointment, the nights are spent running from club to club.
But gradually the pressure gets to be a bit much, and following a romantic disappointment, Heather begins to think that maybe being a model is not the lifestyle for her. But what else can she do? She dropped out of high school to start her modeling career and she really knows nothing else but modeling. She can't face the idea of returning home a failure, though. And now that Rachel, the boss, has learned Heather has a part time receptionist job and has still failed to lose the fifteen pounds, her time with agency may soon be coming to an end.

This was an OK read. Heather and the other models lead decadent, self-destructive lifestyles, crammed together in their crowded, grungy apartment. Sex, booze, parties, drugs, it's the old story of young people on their own for the first time, giving into every excess. An old story and not particularly interesting anymore. Heather does avoid most of the excesses except for the alcohol abuse. All the models drink far too much, it's like that is the only way they know of to have fun and relax.  The author used to be a model and I suppose she knows what it is like to be a young model in NYC.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Lilies on the Lake

By Katherine Kingsley

Portia "Pip" Merriem has a dream to visit Egypt. But young gentlewomen of her time, the early 1800s, did not travel alone to such far off places. But now Pip is in her late twenties and has found another young woman who is willing to travel with her and together they are off to explore the exotic sights of a far away land: Egypt!
Things don't go as Pip had hoped. Turns out the traveling companion has a huge secret --- she is pregnant. And unwed. She hid her condition from Pip until they arrived in Egypt.
Things go from bad to worse when the woman dies while giving birth, leaving Pip with a newborn baby boy. Pip is baffled as to what to do next. It would be unthinkable to leave the baby behind in Egypt. It would also be unacceptable to Pip to give the baby to strangers. But if she returns home with a baby in her arms, everyone will think the worst and dismiss as a lie that the baby's real mother died.
Fortunately, an old friend from childhood, John Henry Lovell, is also in Egypt and he saves the day by volunteering to marry Pip and raise the baby as his own son. Perhaps the fact that he has been carrying a torch for Pip since they were teens might have something to do with it. But his love was unrequited and Pip feels trapped by the circumstances. She does agree to marry him and pass the baby off as their own child. Pip believes that John Henry, who comes from a more humble background than her, is marrying her to improve his own social standing. Little does she know that John Henry is now Sir John Henry Lovell, knight of the realm, and a very wealthy man, who needs neither her money, her social standing nor her connections, having done very well for himself on his own. And so they return home, wed but with no bliss. John Henry, determined to prove himself to his new bride, has hidden his improved standing and finances from Pip. And Pip is eaten up with resentment to John Henry for taking advantage of her difficulties to trap her in marriage. Looks like they are off to a very rocky start.

This was a pretty good read. I didn't really understand John Henry's motive for keeping his success a secret from Pip. Mainly it was just to add tension to the story, I guess. Seemed kind of silly and pointless. Also, after returning to England, Pip doesn't share the truth with her mother and stepfather, keeping the baby's origin secret for some reason that didn't make any more sense to me than John Henry keeping his secrets from Pip. More plot devices, I suppose.
Another thing I found more than a little odd was the rather graphic sex scenes juxtaposed with the pious, prayerful scenes. Not being a religious person myself, I wonder if readers who appreciate the piety would also care to read what is virtually porn:

Pip spread her legs beneath him, urging him to come into her, her small hand reaching for his engorged shaft, guiding it to her entrance.

 I guess it's not porn if you say shaft instead of penis and entrance instead of vagina.
Porn aside and contrived plot twists aside, it was a pretty good story and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Hollywood Wives

By Jackie Collins

Making movies, making money, making a spectacle of themselves --- these seem to be the goals of the show biz folks of Hollywood.
Ross and Elaine Conti: He will soon be fifty and his star is fading. He needs a good role in a good movie. Elaine Conti, his wife, knows she is only important to Hollywood society as long as he is important. So it is vital that Ross score a good role. Or Elaine goes back to being the nobody she used to be.
Buddy and Angel Hudson: devastating good lucks have so far failed to make him a star and his innocent young wife has no idea of what he has done to stay alive in Hollywood. Nor does she know of his failed relationship with his doting mother. Angel, who is equally as gorgeous as her handsome husband, wants only to be a good wife and a good mother. But Buddy's secrets may bring their new marriage to an end.
Neil and Montana Gray: Montana took Neil under her wing and helped him dry out and reestablish himself as the talented director he used to be. Montana has written a script and is certain she and Neil can make an important and profitable movie. But Neil is cheating and gradually falling off the wagon and Montana is losing control of the script she has labored so hard to bring to completion.
Sadie La Salle: high powered agent to the stars. She could get Ross Conti the work he needs but she bears a long-standing grudge against the aging star and would rather see him dead than lift a finger to help him.
Karen Lancaster: daughter of Hollywood royalty, she lives a pointless, privileged existence. Best friend of Elaine Conti, nevertheless, she is having a torrid affair with Ross, Elaine's husband.
Deke Andrews: a psychopath on a rampage, he leaves a trail of corpses as he travels to Los Angeles, looking for some kind of sick revenge for the sorry life he has led. More blood will be shed if he has his way.

How much of what Collins writes about Hollywood is true, I don't know. She certainly tells a tale of cheaters, drunks and druggies, people more concerned with pleasure, sex and appearances than they are about their own decency. I found the story to be fairly interesting but way too long. I also could have done without the whole Deke Andrews subplot, which I didn't think added much to the story. It was an OK read.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Star Wars: Rogue Planet

By Greg Bear

"Three years after the events of [the movie] The Phantom Menace Anakin Skywalker and Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi encounter a mysterious world. . ." --- from the blurb on the back of the book.
Anakin is still a boy, but now a teenager. Typical teenager, he rebels against his training and competes in an illegal race. But one of the other racers has it out for Anakin and makes an attempt on his life. He fails and it becomes clear that the attempt was not just poor sportmanship, but that he was there solely to kill Anakin.
Someone is worried about Anakin's growing powers and wants him taken out. But before the unknowns can strike again, Anakin and Obi-Wan are sent on a mission to discover why a Jedi has gone missing. The Jedi was sent to Zonama Sekot, a mysterious planet that is the source of living space ships. Equipped with a large sum of money, Obi-Wan and Anakin are to pose as travelers desirous of having a living ship grown for them.
The Republic is entering a period of turmoil and forces are gathering, preparing to grab whatever power they can. One group has heard about the living space ships and they are anxious to discover where Zonama Sekot is and how the ships are created. Their plans for the planet are not pretty: invade and conquer. They follow Anakin and Obi-Wan to Zonama Sekot and all hell breaks loose. Turns out defenseless, backward Zonama Sekot is not quite the sitting duck everyone believed it to be.

No matter how much you may like stories about Anakin, he grows up to become Darth Vader, one of the major bad guys of fiction. So it is hard to sympathize with a character that you know will become the embodiment of evil.  Also, the story just kind of drags along, it just never really comes alive. About the best about it are the alien beings you get to encounter, especially Charza Kwinn, who has a very strange relationship with the crew of his space craft. Other than that, it was just not that engaging of a story.

Ranch of Dreams

By Cleveland Amory

Cleveland Amory loved animals and his love of animals only intensified after he read Black Beauty as a child. The book inspired a dream to have a place where animals could live out their lives in peace and comfort.
As an adult, Amory had a successful working life as an author, reporter and TV commentator and was financially able to buy a ranch in Texas and start his dream of a sanctuary for animals. Thus began Black Beauty Ranch. The first animals placed on the ranch were wild burros destined to be exterminated by the Park Service. Amory and Fund for Animals rescued hundreds of burros. But burros were not the only creatures who found a second life on the Black Beauty Ranch. Elephants, chimps, dogs, cats, goats, bison, big cats, and, of course, horses all found a home there. In this book, Amory tells harrowing stories of the unnecessary suffering inflicted on animals by callous and uncaring human beings and points out the desperate need for intervention by those who can see the world beyond their own selfish needs and desires.

The Black Beauty Ranch sounds like a wonderful place and Amory's role in establishing it makes for a terrific and inspiring tale. A worthy read for anyone who cares at all about this planet and the creatures that share it with humanity.

The Black Beauty Ranch is now run by the Human Society. Cleveland Amory died in 1998 but he left behind an amazing legacy. The Humane Society has a short video on YouTube about the ranch:

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont

By Elizabeth Taylor

Mrs Palfrey is now a widow and has moved into the Claremont, a hotel in London that is popular with the older set. Once there and trying to fit in with the other elderly residents, Mrs Palfrey discovers that having visitors raises a person in esteem among her peers. But Mrs Palfrey doesn't have many people in her life after living abroad for decades. She has a daughter,  but they are not close. The daughter has a son who works and lives in London and Mrs Palfrey begins to talk up her grandson, hoping to gain points with her fellow residents. But the grandson never comes to visit and the pitying glances of her fellows starts to bother the old woman.
Out one day, Mrs Palfrey stumbles and cuts her leg. A nice young man, Ludo, comes to her rescue. They become friends and Mrs Palfrey asks him to impersonate her grandson. Ludo wants to be a writer and sees this invitation as a chance to study an old person in their natural environment plus, being chronically short of money, he gets a free meal.
Ludo is a charming, attractive and pleasant young man and he is well received by the elderly residents of the Claremont. But then one day the real grandson, egged on by his mother, shows up to visit his granny. So here you would think comedic complications would break out, but not really. Mrs Palfrey has fallen again and is now dying in the hospital. She doesn't know about the real grandson coming to see her and passes away unknowing.

This book is highly praised for its insightful depiction of old age and how it robs a person of their independence and standing in society, about how the elderly often end up cast aside and forgotten. As I mentioned, it does not end nicely, Mrs Palfrey dies alone and unconscious in the hospital. Up until that, I had been enjoying the book quite a bit. But that ending just ruined it for me.

For another review, see

As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl

By John Colapinto

When Bruce was just a baby, he and his twin brother developed a medical condition. His parents were informed that both babies should undergo circumcision to treat the condition. Bruce was the first to be operated on. The doctor used a cautery instrument but something went horribly wrong. Baby Bruce's penis was badly burned. Over the course of mere days after the attempted circumcision, his penis dried up and crumbled away.
At the time this happened, a psychologist at John Hopkins had an enthusiastic following in the medical community. This psychologist, John Money, had a pet theory that was pretty much accepted as fact by the medical community. Money's theory was that sexual identity was not set in stone and could be manipulated by the child's environment in hermaphroditic children and male children who suffered loss of their male genitals, if the manipulation was begun at a very young age. The puzzling thing about the medical community's acceptance of this theory is that there was really no proof that it worked. So when poor, mangled Bruce entered into Money's view, Bruce and his twin brother Brian became the test case that would prove Money's claims.
Bruce's parents were not well educated. Neither of them graduated from high school. So when the medical establishment advised them to raise Bruce as a girl, they thought it was the best thing, the right thing to do. At that time, reconstruction of the penis was just not a good or practical option, as the results would be less than satisfactory and would require Bruce to undergo many surgeries.
So Bruce had his testicles removed and was renamed Brenda and dressed in girls' clothing and given girls' toys and raised to be a girl. The only problem: Bruce was not a girl despite the loss of his male genitalia. The result was an unhappy little misfit who didn't identify with his female counterparts and was excluded by his male counterparts.
Neither Bruce, now Brenda, or Brian remembered when Brenda used to be Bruce, as this all happened when they were less than one year old.  After the sex reassignment took place, both kids were taken to be examined by John Money on a yearly basis. The purpose was to see how well Brenda was dealing with her new gender and to reinforce the idea that he was now a she. The two kids were put through a lot of very distressing interviews. It got so bad that eventually Brenda threatened to kill herself if she had to go see Money again. Her parents finally agreed to discontinue the visits. But their child's increasing misery and unhappiness was not enough to stop them from initiating the recommended hormone therapy. Eventually her parents told her the truth about herself at which point he rejected his female identity and started living as a male and called himself David.
I wish his story had a happy ending and it briefly did. He married a woman with three kids and they were happy together for a time. But sadness and sorrow were not long absent from his life. David's twin brother Brian had mental issues and died from a drug overdose. Then David's wife decided she wanted to end the marriage and David, unable to deal any longer with such a troubled and unhappy existence, killed himself. John Colapinto published a follow-up article after David's death here:

This is the sad story of a child tortured simply to prove a pet theory of a man who was too full of himself to see the damage he was inflicting on an innocent child and on that child's family. It made me very angry to read the way Bruce and his family were treated by John Money. Money's influence over Bruce's family and Bruce's doctors was ridiculous and the way no one questioned his pet theory is quite amazing and upsetting. Colapinto's book ends on a positive note, but, not long after the book came out, David chose to end his own life. It's is all very tragic.

For another review, see