Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Morality for Beautiful Girls

By Alexander McCall Smith

Things are changing at the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. The biggest change is that the agency is moving into a room at  J.L.B. Matekoni's garage, Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. For another, Mma Ramotswe, founder of the agency, has given her assistant Mma Makutsi a raise and a promotion from mere assistant to assistant detective.
Mma Makutsi even ends up managing the garage and the detective agency. Mma Ramotswe has to leave town on a case and J.L.B. has become overwhelmed with guilt about something in his past and has lost interest in the garage and is under the care of a doctor after some persuasion and management by Mma Ramotswe.
Mma Ramotswe is out of town of a case brought to her by an  important government man who is worried about his brother. The brother, recently married, manages the family farm and the government man thinks his new wife wants the farm for herself and is trying to poison her husband.  So he arranges for Mma Ramotswe to pay a visit to the farm to see if his suspicions are correct.
Meanwhile, back in town, Mma Makutsi is managing both the agency and the garage and seems to be doing very well. The two apprentice mechanics seem to enjoy being under her eye and business is booming.  She also has an important to case to investigate all on her own. The owner of a beauty pageant ran into a little disgrace with the previous contest when one of the girls turned out to be an unsavory character. So this time, he wants the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency to do some sniffing around and make sure the five finalists are upstanding and virtuous.

This was a pretty good read, if a little thin on plot. Three of the story lines are left open-ended. Mma Makutsi makes her recommendations about the beauty contest girls but we are not told definitely that her judgments are correct. J.L.B.'s guilty secret is not revealed. And the story of a little lost boy who appears only briefly is only hinted at and made not plain. So those unfinished plot lines were quite annoying.
But despite the obvious cliffhangers designed to lure the reader into opening the next book in the series, this was still an enjoyable read. Reading one of these No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books is like taking a little mini-vacation to a foreign and different land. They are a breath of fresh air.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

How to Murder Your Mother-In-Law

By Dorothy Cannell

Mother-in-law trouble.
Ellie has invited her husband's parents, Magdalene and Elijah, to visit and to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Ben, the husband, warned her that his parents weren't all that keen to celebrate their anniversary, but Ellie perseveres. She even invites a very old friend of Magdalene's, Beatrix, to dinner, only to find out that the Beatrix and Magdalene have not been on speaking terms for forty years. When they were young adults, Beatrix talked Elijah into skinny dipping and Magdalene has never forgiven her for doing so.
Magdalene is the cliché mother-in-law, overly critical and nitpicking at Ellie. Having her in the house is a real burden for Ellie. But it turns out that Ellie is not the only one having mother-in-law troubles. Beatrix lives with her son and his wife. Beatrix is a bit eccentric. At one point she puts hair remover in the shampoo bottle without bothering to tell anyone. She also accidentally cooked her granddaughter's pet goldfish.
Two other friends are dealing with difficult mothers-in-law. Pamela and her husband live with his mother and she calls all the shots. The husband has to turn his paycheck over to his mother and she gives him a small allowance. She also requires that no one speaks during meals, among other overbearing and controlling behaviors.
Ellie's other friend Eudora's mother-in-law is a thorn in her side. Eudora is the vicar of the local church and a nonsmoker. Her mother-in-law is an atheist who constantly pokes fun of the Bible and, despite Eudora's requests not to, continues to smoke her cigarettes in the house, evenutually sparking a small fire in the house.
The friends get together one evening and jokingly plot ways to murder their mothers-in-law, all in good fun. That is until one of the old ladies is pushed off a cliff, one is poisoned and one's brakes on her bike are tampered with. The four friends begin to doubt each other and, to make it worse, Ellie is being blackmailed.

I had a hard time getting into this story but it began to grow on me after awhile.  I guess what I didn't like was Magdalene being such a cliché and Ellie being such a doormat. But I warmed up to the story and by the end I quite enjoyed it.

Review from Publishers Weekly.

Friday, January 26, 2018

A Difficulty with Dwarves

By Craig Shaw Gardner

Ballad of Wuntvor, Book 1

Wuntvor, the apprentice to the wizard Ebenezum, is trying to help the wizard find a cure for his affliction, allergy to magic. Unfortunately, the allergy has spread to the other wizards and the demons of the Netherhells have not given up their assault on the world above. As a last resort, Ebenezum is sending Wuntor to the  realm of the dreaded Mother Duck, who, it is rumored, bakes intruders into bread. Of course Wuntvor will be accompanied by the usual motley crew he has attracted over the course of the previous three stories: A Malady of Magics, A Multitude of Monsters,  and A Night in the Netherhells.

The thing about this book is that it is all talk and no action. Wuntvor, who is portrayed as afflicted with acne, bad breath, poor posture and stupid nonetheless attracts a loyal following, for no apparent reason that I could see. And these followers love standing around and talking, talking, talking. Even the attacking demons spend most of their attacks talking. Even worse, the book ends with no resolution, with Wuntvor captured by Mother Duck. Book tries very hard to be funny, but mostly is just tedious.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Too Fat to Fish

By Artie Lange and Anthony Bozza

The story of Artie's young life. Artie Lange grew up in New Jersey. His childhood was typical of the area until his father, Arthur, was paralyzed in a fall from a ladder. Arthur Lange died a few years later from complications of the paralysis. These years and the loss of his father hit Lange, in his early twenties at the time, really hard. While his mom and sister managed to cope and carry on, Lange began his slide into gambling addiction, alcoholism and drug abuse.
Lange attended college briefly but then got a job as a longshoreman. He was able to save a fair amount of money and start trying to develop a career as a stand up comic, traveling from New Jersey to New York to do his act in the comedy clubs and other venues and driving a taxi to support himself.
Artie Lange landed an audition for a new TV show, Mad TV. He moved to California and became an important member of the cast in a show that went on to last for several years. But the pressure of performing and committing to a schedule was too much and he tried to commit suicide. He ended up in the hospital and rehab and began a pattern of sobriety, then relapse, rehab again, over and over. Still he managed to maintain his career despite all his problems, performing in movies, doing stand up and working on the Howard Stern Show. He even managed to control himself long enough to perform for the troops in Afghanistan via the USO for a couple weeks. He fell off the wagon at an airport on the way home, unfortunately, getting drunk and causing a scene. Towards the end of the book, he describes his switch from cocaine to pain pills to heroine, all washed down by massive amounts of alcohol, and maintaining his huge size with a lifestyle that would turn most people into walking skeletons. He must have outstanding stamina.

I really don't remember why I wanted to read this book. I had it for two years before I got around to reading it. I wonder if I thought that it would be amusing. It has an amusing title and was written by a comedian. If that is the case, I was mistaken.
Artie Lange has had a life I wouldn't wish on anyone. Sure, he has had some great times and made some good money and helped his family out. But I bet they would have been just as happy if he had stayed a longshoreman or taxi driver and was sane and sober and gotten and settled and had raised a family as an ordinary fellow from New Jersey. God knows he has put those who care about him through hell. All that fame and money cannot make up for all that misery and unhappiness. And when I did a Google search, he apparently is still stuck in the drug abuse and rehab cycle, over and over. I hope someday Lange can get the help he needs to stay sober before he dies of abusing himself.
This is not a funny book. It was very frustrating to read as he wrecks his life with booze and drugs. You just want to shake some sense into him. It has such a feeling of hopelessness and I was not surprised to find out he is still in trouble. Sigh.

Review from Publishers Weekly:

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The White Chip

By Nelson C. Nye

Banker Snude and a young woman, Serafina, believe the map she owns will lead them to a lost gold mine in the Superstition Mountains of Arizona.  The banker is partially funding the expedition and several other men are also funding it and coming along. Chuck was one of the men and he had the advantage of being familiar with the area.
One the way there they encounter bad guys and one man gets stabbed in the night by persons unknown. They find the mine and it is stacked to the ceiling with bags of ore, more ore than their little expedition can handle. They need to find help and they get the bright idea to hire a gang of smugglers, which turns out about as well as one would expect, dealing with criminals.  They get ambushed, the smugglers make off with the ore, but they manage to get it back only to discover when they get to Snude's bank that the smugglers switched the ore with rocks. In the process, more members of the expedition die.
Chuck, who has grown attached to Serafina, talks her into going back to look for the ore. He knows the smugglers must have stashed it until they could get together enough mules to pack it out. Taking the banker's mules, he and Serafina head back out and sure enough, they find the stolen ore. But nothing turns out the way Chuck had hoped, plus one of the peaks of the Superstitions has decided to be a volcano.

I read this story because my father was one of those hopefuls who went looking for gold in the Superstitions. Like everyone else, he found nothing. So the idea of gold hunters in the Superstitions has some nostalgia for me. Too bad the story turned out to be really stupid and boring. Total waste of time.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Green Darkness

By Anya Seton

Celia and Richard are newlyweds and very much in love. But when Richard brings his bride home to his ancestral manor in England, everything falls apart.
Richard turns cold and judgmental and Celia is bewildered and distraught. So much so that she has a kind of seizure and ends up in the hospital near to death. Richard, meanwhile, has locked himself in the manor's nursery room and is playing Gregorian chants on his record player, deaf to the pleas of his friends to come out.
Fortunately a friend of Celia's mother was visiting the newlyweds at the time. This friend, Dr. Akananda, is an Eastern mystic and he has diagnosed the problem as leakage from two young people's past lives in which a murder was committed and unavenged. Together the doctor and Celia travel into her past life to discover the secret that is ruining her's and Richard's marriage.

This was an OK read. Most of the story is about Celia of the past, who lived during the turbulent years after King Henry VIII died and before Queen Elizabeth I reigned. Quite and interesting time in history to read about, as Catholics in England first rejoiced at the ascension of Queen Mary and the grave disappointment at the failures of her reign. How accurate the author's depictions of this time are I don't know, not being a big fan of history myself. But she paints quite a detailed picture. Maybe too detailed, as I got rather tired of it and wanted to get back to Richard and Celia in modern times. But the majority of the book is about the olden days and modern days get short shrift.

Review by All About Romance: