Friday, March 31, 2017

Love Me

By Garrison Keillor

Larry is just an ordinary guy living in Minnesota. He wants to be a novelist. And he succeeds. His novel is a big hit. He's famous, acclaimed, money pouring in. Now he wants to take advantage of it all and move to New York and work for the New Yorker. But he's married and his wife refuses to leave Minnesota. She is not interested in the advantages that New York offers. So she stays in Minnesota and Larry goes to New York.
New York is everything Larry wanted. He loves life in the city. He loves his apartment, especially the terracer. He loves being at the New Yorker. Only two things are messing it up for him. He's got writer's block and his wife is adamant about staying in Minnesota.
The years pass. His writing career is in the toilet. He is drinking too much. He is chasing after women. His wife is leading her own life. He ends up writing an advice column for a newspaper. It isn't until he thinks his wife is becoming attached to someone else that he finally returns home to Minnesota.

I enjoyed this story quite a lot. It got my attention from the very start, always a good sign. It has some fun and rather silly bits and the advice column stuff is really great, maybe one of the best parts of the whole thing. One of the advice-seeking letters is from a famous George:

"I grew up in Midland, Texas, and went to Yale though I am no reader and married a fine woman who supported me through my Lost Weekend years when I goofed around in the oil business and got high as a kite on weekends and went around making a fool of myself. With the help of dear friends, I was able to sell my bankrupt company at a handsome profit and then obtain a major-league baseball franchise and get public financing for a ballpark, whereupon I sold the team for a fabulous profit. What a lucky duck. Now that I'm off the sauce, I am considering taking a stab at politics (my dad was a politician though not a very good one, IMHO,) but I hate hanging around with dull people who yak about the fine points of public finance or Whatever! And my wife says, "Why don't you try writing? You have so many good ideas." What do you think?"

And since I included the George letter, I want to also include Larry's rant about Republicans:

"...Bullet-headed ideologues devoted to prisons and sterile office parks and McMansion developments and pumping oil and destroying the Alaska wilderness to power their SUV's while taking away funds for homeless children sleeping in doorways to pay millions to fat-cat farmers and ranchers firmly attached to the right hind teat of federal welfare." 

 The only thing I didn't care for in the whole story was the ending, which was depressing and disappointing. Oh, well.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Ellen Foster

By Kaye Gibbons

Ellen has it rough. She is only nine years old when her mother dies of an overdose of heart medicine. Her father is an abusive drunk. Ellen fantasizes about killing him and is finally forced to run away when he starts making sexual advances.
She finds a temporary home with her art teacher, but is soon taken and placed with her grandmother on her mother's side.
The grandmother is a mean old woman who hates Ellen's father and blames Ellen for the mother's death.  Ellen tries to be a good but the grandmother is unyielding. Ellen's father dies and even that doesn't improve the grandmother's feelings towards her granddaughter. However, the old woman is soon dead too.
Ellen is next placed with her maternal aunt but things don't get any better. The aunt and her daughter are not welcoming and things come to a head one Christmas when the only gift Ellen receives is a package of drawing paper. Although it is exactly what she said she wanted when her aunt asked her what she would like for Christmas, Ellen had a childish fantasy that her aunt and cousin would realize they loved her and buy her some nice presents. After an angry confrontation, her aunt kicks Ellen out. Ellen sets off to find the love and acceptance that has been lacking all her young life.

This was a pretty good story.  From the beginning of the story, Ellen has apparently found the family she has been craving as she describes her life with "new mama." She has her own bedroom, nicely decorated. There is plenty of good, wholesome food and new mama treats Ellen and the other kids in the house with love and patience and kindness. The house is kept clean and tidy, the kids are also clean and properly dressed, everything is orderly and disciplined and new mama seems to be the real deal. But is she a real person or just the fantasy figure of a little girl desperate for a loving home?

See also


By Luanne Rice

Honor's marriage was in trouble but it seems only she knew it. She kept her unhappiness to herself but it affected her work. A talented painter, her spark was now gone and she blamed her husband, John.
When they first fell in love, John was everything she thought she wanted. He too was a talented artist who constructed ephemeral sculptures built from rocks, sticks and things he found in the environment. He was quite successful and traveled to locations around the world to create his sculptures.
But then the babies arrived and as her family grew, Honor found herself turning away from her husband, yearning for a more settled lifestyle.
Honor and their daughters accompanied John on one of his sculpture trips, this time to Ireland. John built a large sculpture located on a cliff. But a local man began vandalizing John's work and John threatened to kill him in front of witness. Then one rainy night, John confronted the vandal on the cliff top and the man was killed. John's oldest daughter Regis was there too and saw everything. John ended up in prison when he pleaded guilty, sentenced to six years.
So the six years go by and John is out of prison and wanting to reconnect with his wife and children. He turns up in their home town and his three daughters are thrilled to have him back in their lives. But his wife is not thrilled. She is still angry about what she sees as his failings and about what happened in Ireland.
Having their father locked up for six years has traumatized his three daughters. The worst off is Regis, who can't remember what happened that fatal night. The girls are also anxious for their parents to get back together, but Honor is not ready to accept John back into their lives. She is very distant and remains so until her daughters' crises forces John and Honor to confront their differences.

I didn't like Honor and her three daughters. The daughters are all loons and Honor is pissed at John for being himself, the same person he was when she fell in love with him.  I also didn't much care for the emotionalism of the characters and the needless drama they create. Also, it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out pretty quickly that (spoiler alert) Regis was the one who caused that man's death and that her father took responsibility for it to protect her. I  guessed it by the end of Chapter 3. So no big shocking reveal for the reader who knows way before she and her brainless family does that she is the killer.
I found this story boring. It didn't appeal to me. It wasn't suspenseful, the mystery is not mysterious and the whole lot of them come off as either stupid or unstable. I was glad when it came to its predictable conclusion.

For another review, see

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Daddy's Girl

By Lisa Scottoline

Natalie Greco is a young professor when she is invited by a fellow professor to accompany him on a visit to the local prison where he teaches a clinic and provides legal aid to the inmates. Unfortunately, they get caught up in a prison riot where Natalie is attacked and nearly raped and where she stumbles upon a dying guard in just enough time to hear his dying words, "Tell my wife it's under the floor."
When Natalie tries to pass on the dead man's message to his wife, her life becomes extremely complicated. She ends up being accused of the murder of a policeman, the wife ends up in the hospital with two gunshot wounds to her chest, Natalie breaks up with her long time boyfriend and hooks up with the professor who got her involved in the whole mess, and she ends up on the run as a suspect for murder and drug dealing.

This was an OK read. I found much of it rather boring The reason for the professor taking Natalie to the prison to begin with is never really fully explained.  Also I am a lot foggy on why the  prisoner and the guard were murdered during the riot. Because they knew too much, it is said. But exactly what they knew or how they found out or which was the real target or were they both targets escaped me. Anyway, there is quite an amazing plot twist at the end, which I really didn't like and which seems to paint the heroine as a bit of a dope for not having good judgment. Too bad.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Unwanted Wedding

By Barbara Cartland

The Duke of Tynemouth is in a bit of a bind. Queen Victoria is rumored to have chosen a bride for the Duke, a fat, homely German princess. The Duke is involved with a married woman, Aline, the Countess of Langstone.  He is certainly not interested in having a wife, especially not the fat princess.
Aline convinces him that his only way out is find himself a willing bride and forestall the Queen's matchmaking. And she has the perfect candidate, Honora, her niece.
Honora, an orphan, has been away at school in France for years. Now she is returning home to England and to the only relatives she has, her aunt and uncle.  Her parents had no money and so Honora is dependent upon her aunt and uncle for her support. This is how Aline coerces Honora into agreeing to this arranged marriage. Either agree to wed the Duke or be shut away in a convent for the rest of her life.
Aline is a bit of a dope. She thinks the Duke will marry Honora then dump her at his country estate and return to London to be with herself. Of course, it doesn't work out that way. Honora is a young, beautiful innocent girl and the Duke, resentful at first, finds himself quickly thawing out, especially after having to rescue Honora from kidnappers. And the more time they spend together, the clearer it becomes that the two have many of the same interests and a lot in common. So what will the Duke do about Aline when she stupidly crashes his and Honora's honeymoon?

This was not a good read. The idea is kind of interesting but the story seems sparse and unfilled out. The characters are pretty much stock Cartland characters, the handsome Duke, the innocent beauty, the evil slutty woman. It is just the bare bones of a story though, kind of lifeless and rote. It just lacks the liveliness, the color, the juice of her earlier novels.

The Wings of Love

By Barbara Cartland

Amanda Burke is the innocent young daughter of an impoverished vicar in Regency England when she finds herself the unwilling focus of the very wealthy local lord's attention.
Lord Ravenscar is the sort of man that any decent, god-fearing young woman would most want to avoid. Cruel, dissipated and domineering, known to live a life of vice and corruption, when he finds Amanda in his garden, he is smitten by her beauty and innocence. Determined to make her his own, he approaches her parents, asking for Amanda to be his bride.
This puts Amanda is a very uncomfortable position. Her family needs the money. Her father, the vicar, owes his living to Lord Ravenscar. Ravenscar uses his power and position to woo Amanda's family, promising her father a new, better-funded vicarage, promising to introduce Amanda's younger sister to society, promising to get Amanda's little brother into college. But even these blandishments are not enough to overcome Amanda's distaste for Ravenscar.
Meanwhile, Amanda has stumbled across a handsome, young, wounded stranger on Ravenscar's grounds. He needs her help or the local dragoons will haul him off to be hanged as a smuggler or as a spy. In short order, the two young people know they are in love and clever Ravenscar is onto them. He gives Amanda a choice, agree to marry himself or see her young beau hauled away to certain death. She gives in and agrees to be his wife.
Lord Ravenscar is anxious to seal the deal and hauls Amanda off to London to be outfitted in a manner suitable to a man of his wealth and position, leaving behind her parents and siblings. The only one to stand between him and Amanda is his sister, a sad. older woman who, it turns out, actively despises her brother. She also rather despises Amanda who she thinks is marrying Ravenscar for his money. The sister is not the only one in London who hates Amanda. Ravenscar was involved with a society woman who was counting on being his bride. When she finds out that Ravenscar has chosen Amanda, she goes off the deep end, hatching a plan to have Amanda snatched and sold into sexual slavery. Amanda, finding out that her true love is dead and that Ravenscar is through waiting and has arranged for the marriage to take place shortly, leaves her feeling well and truly trapped and totally alone.

This was an Okay read. Given Ravenscar's unsavory reputation, you would think that Amanda's parents would keep their beautiful daughter at home every time he is known to be in the area. Instead, she is sent to gather flowers for the altar from his greenhouse and runs afoul of the evil lord. If her parents or herself had any foresight, all of this could have been easily avoided. Oh, well.
This book dates to the early 1960s and has a pretty decent plot, unlike Cartland's later works, when she was just coasting on her reputation.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Notorious Nineteen

By Janet Evanovich

Stephanie is after another bail skip, this time for a man accused of stealing $5,000,000.  While out on bond, the accused became ill with appendicitis and had to have his appendix removed. But he vanished from the hospital after the surgery. The mystery is that no one saw him leave. Nor did any of the security cameras show him leaving either.
Besides the main quest, Stephanie has two side quests. Track down a wooden tiki god that was pledged as collateral for a bond and help Ranger deal with an unknown person who has a vendetta against Ranger.
With the help of Lula, Grandma and the tiki god, Stephanie cracks the case, with Ranger doing most of the heavy lifting.

This was an OK read. The Stephanie Plum books have gotten very formulaic. The main character is still pretty much incompetent at her job, still lives in her apartment with her hamster and is still stringing along both Ranger and Morelli, the cop who is her other love interest. And her car is still getting destroyed. In other words, the Stephanie Plum stories have become stagnant. Too bad. It was fun in the beginning but now it has become too predictable.