"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Thursday, December 20, 2012

In Black & White Life of Sammy Davis Jr. by Wil Haygood

I disliked the way this book was organized. It did not read like a typical bio at all. The first two chapters were about the previous collaborative biographers of Sammy's and their writing and publishing nightmares of "Yes I Can". I couldn't tell if this book was about Sammy or his previous biographers. The narrative is fragmented and repetitive. The story was too roundabout to capture my interest. I found it infuriating and I gave up half way through. Sorry I cannot give this bio a good recommendation.

The Sea Lady by Margaret Drabble

Perhaps I am missing something...and I admit I quit reading this after about 30 pages...but I simply could not continue. It was so disjointed and boring!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard

This book was so boring I could barely stand it. In fact, I had to abandon ship halfway through. The main character is kind of interesting, as are the two kids, but the story itself is so slow-paced that the characters can't carry the book. I found myself daydreaming everytime I tried to read it. The writing was over the top...the author sounds as if she's writing to try to get an award rather than tell a story. Pretentious readers may try to act like they enjoyed this mess, but don't believe them. One of the worst books I've ever read.

Monday, December 3, 2012

My Antonia by Willa Cather

My Antonia by Willa Cather is a classic American novel. Cather tells the story of Jim Burden and Antonia Shimerda. Jim is sent to live with his grandparents in Nebraska after being orphaned and Antonia arrives with her parents from Bohemia. The story is told through Jim's point of view. We see the harsh realities of living on the prairie while trying to scratch a living from the dirt. We are given the constant contrast between town and country living, growing up and facing the consequences of our choices. Both characters make choices, some sad and others life altering. This is not a love story per se, but both characters share an affection and caring for each other despite the life choices each make.

While reading this story I kept hoping Antonia and Jim would end up together. Instead, the reader is given more and perhaps a true depiction of what life was like during the time. You grow to care for the characters and there are times when you wish you could reach into the book and make them choose differently. While the story ends differently than one would expect, it is still satisfying

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin

The main character of The Pleasure of My Company is Daniel Pecan Cambridge, a man with so many flaws, tics and odd phobias that I will limit myself to describing those which immediately come to mind—fear of curbs, a need to touch all the corners of all the printers at Kinko’s, a need for all the lights in his apartment to always be running at an amount equal to 1125 watts, obsessively sorting his mail, and an almost religious devotion to the local Rite-Aid. These tics and phobias are his way (though he would never directly admit it) of restoring order in the universe. He is amazingly smart with numbers, yet he seems to be almost incapable of human interaction. These interactions between Daniel and other human beings are frequently the funniest parts of the novel—his social ineptitude and extremely bad timing cause many problems for both those who surround him and himself.

Daniel is, in spite of his mathematical obsessions, a hopeless romantic who maintains crushes or goes after almost every woman in the novel. He tries to get the women’s attention in various ways, usually relating to their work situation. (In the case of Elizabeth, the realtor that he spies from his window one afternoon, he invents a long-winded and complex tale about needing a new apartment, just to spend time with her.) His success varies through the novel, though, like all good comedies, he finds happiness at the end. He has a crush on his therapist, Clarissa, whose self-imposed distance from him makes him more attracted to and interested in her. He has a crush on Zandy, the girl behind the prescription counter at the all-holy Rite-Aid. Through the novel, his quirks vary depending on the situation—sometimes he can pass as a “normal” person; other times he can’t help but appear odd to others (even those, like Clarissa, who know him very well). At one point in the novel, perhaps in a nod to French novelist Georges Perec, he stops using the letter “E” in his speech. This goes very well, except for the fact that he cannot say his name.

With nothing else going on in his life at the moment, Daniel finds himself entering into an essay contest sponsored by Tepperton’s Frozen Apple Pies. Asked to explain “why I am the most average American,” he quickly comes up with an essay so full of sap that it isn’t surprising that he winds up making it to the finals. As a reason to hang around Zandy while at the Rite-Aid one day, he takes out another entry form and writes another essay, without even thinking about what he is doing.

There are, really, two parts to Daniel Pecan Cambridge, and these are exemplified in his two essays. He is able to see both sides to a point, even if he radically disagrees with one or doesn’t really
understand what’s going on.

By the end of the book, Daniel slowly loses some of his obsessive-compulsive habits—though he still does keep making magic squares, trying to balance out his universe. While he may adjust to society by the end of the book, he still remains his own man—he does not lose his colorful identity like so many others. And there is hope for him in the end—like in every great comedy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie is a great character. Excessively smart, she gets up very early before the rest of the household, to read in the library for a couple of hours, before she has to start her day as a maid in the house. One day she is busted by the Lord and Lady who actually hadn't yet come home from their evening out, and Lady Rowan takes Maisie's education in hand, partnering with her friend Maurice Blanche to be sure Maisie's learning properly. By 16, she takes the entrance exam for Cambridge and passes. While at school, she makes an eccentric friend, Priscilla, who introduces her to a handsome young doctor, Simon, and inspires her to do something for the Great War.

In 1929, Maisie has finished her apprenticeship with Maurice and embarks on her own, setting up shop as a private investigator. A gentleman suspects his wife of an affair, and Maisie discovers it isn't at all what he thinks but the investigation opens a door to a suspect home for crippled veterans. Lady Rowan's son wants to join this unusual and mysterious group, including signing over all his money to them, so Maisie has two reasons to find out more about The Retreat. Along the way she recalls images and feelings from the past that bring her affair with Simon back to her, and we learn some of the privations and horrors Maisie experienced as a field nurse in France.

Maisie solves the mystery with help from Maurice and Billy, a friendly neighbor and fellow vet, and all is well. Except that you know all isn't well with Maisie. She's not fully recovered from France, from the loss of Simon, and she's investigating in order to be able to put things right, since there are important things in her own life which cannot be righted.

Maisie is from the lower classes (her father is a vegetable seller, turned into a horse groom), but with her smarts and education she manages both to fit in everywhere, and no where. She has a distinctive voice, and in the scenes when she is much younger, the voice very believably is more naive. Maisie's common sense and her devotion to Maurice's lessons, as well as to her beloved Dad, make her an endearing and well-rounded character. I truly enjoyed spending time with her, and looked for the sequel at the library today (checked out.) I hope to be spending more time with Miss Maisie Dobbs in the future.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

This book is wonderfully written, and opens up people's eyes to see the ENTIRE aspect of slavery that people may often overlook.

In summary,Henry and Caldonia Townsend are black plantation owners in Manchester County, Virginia. They are highly respected by most everyone in the county. Henry himself was once a slave for Mr. Robbins, and it is Mr. Robbins who helped Henry to become the plantation owner he is today. In the beginning of the book, Henry dies at a young age, leaving Caldonia (his wife) the sole owner of the plantation. Though they are her slaves, Caldonia still treats them like humans. Her daily discussions with the married slave overseer, Moses, eventually leads to an affair between the two.

The many daily occurences-both good and bad- that go on in the Townsend's slaves' lives are revealed in snippets throughout the book, making it hard to put down. Church services the slaves have on the plantation are described, punishments for disobedient slaves are seen, and the yearning that some slaves, such as Moses, have for freedom is brilliantly revealed. Additionally, the book follows an affair between the white Mr. Robbins and one of his slaves. The two go on to have children together, and one of them eventually marries Caldonia.

This novel is so engaging because it opens people's eyes to all circumstances of slavery. People see how slaves themselves viwed slavery, how plantation owners viewed it, and how others such as deputies and on-lookers viewed this matter.

Additionally, the book is very historically accurate. It mentions the Underground Railroad and US Census statistics, which further strengthened the book.

This book was overall great. It is very easy to read. It provides a number of different viewpoints that people had in this trying time over the slave issue. The only downside to the novel is that it gets off to a somewhat confusing start with all of the characters. However, there is a character list in the back of the book which greatly helps to keep track of who is who. As the novel progresses, it becomes more and more engaging with each turn of the page.

This book is amazing, and would most likely be enjoyed by anyone, no matter if they are interested in history or not. Most definitely this is a must-read.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier

Set in the late 18th century with William Blake also part of the foreground to the story, this gives you a brutally honest picture of what life was like in Britain for the working class. Anyone slightly middle class is on the periphery of the story as it deals with working class men and women and how very early in life children were forced to become adults, take on the responsibility and cares of adults and how they managed as well.

Tracy Chevalier brings together a rural Dorsetshire boy Jem and a street smart Londoner Maggie together in a very tender story - not the romance that was expected of the encounters but more of something deeper and unusual for the age of our two youngsters.

Thomas Kellaway moves from rural Dorsetshire with his family after his son dies in a tragic accident, hoping that the move will help them with their grief. He comes to London and joins the Astley's who run a very successful circus. The Kellaways are makers of chairs but they take on carpentry jobs with the circus which is financially better but does not bring them the satisfaction of a craft. Anne Kellaway is distrustful of Londoners, the circus and the Astleys but she does seem to mellow by the end of the story, but it is the story of Jem and Maisie the two Kellaway children which are at the heart of the story.

How Maisie is seduced by the wily John Astley. A simple village girl she was ripe for the plucking and Jem has to cope with the wily way of Londoners who realize he is just a simpleton who can be taken for a ride. Maggie is the one who comes to their rescue on more than one occasion because Maggie realizes that there is an innocence in both the Kellaway youngsters which she feels must be safeguarded as they are unaware of their own gullibility. How Maggie risks her own family's wrath to do this is also part of the story.

The backdrop of a revolution pending in France - seemingly very remote to the hard life of a working class family - it also brings its effect to them all despite the feeling that it is something very far away.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism by Ann Coulter

I really did try to read this book,but just couldn't get through it. I don't know if Ms. Coulter is mentally ill or just sociopathically angry, but for sure her style never changes, twisted facts, facts taken out of context, facts distorted, and always always the anger and hatred. It is sad to think that this kind of book has an audiance in America, doesn't speak very well of us.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Newland Archer, of a wealthy old New York family, has become engaged to pretty, naive May. But as he tries to get their wedding date moved up, he becomes acquainted with May's exotic cousin, Countess Olenska, who has returned home after dumping her cheating count husband. At first, the two are friends, but then they become something more.

After Newland marries May, the attraction to the mysterious Countess and her free, unconventional life becomes even stronger. He starts to rebel in little ways, but he's still mired in a 100% conventional marriage, job and life. Will he become an outcast and go away with the beautiful countess, or will he stick with May and a safe, dull life?

There's nothing too scandalous about "Age of Innocence" in a time when J.Lo acquires and discards boyfriends and husbands like old pantyhose. Probably it wasn't in the 1920s, when the book was first published. But this isn't a book to read if you appreciate sexiness and steam -- instead it's a social satire, a bittersweet romance, and a look at what happens when human beings lose all spontaneity and passion.

Wharton brings old New York to life in this book -- opulent, beautiful, cultured, yet empty and kind of boring. It is "where the real thing was never said or done or even thought," so tied up in tradition that nobody there really lives. And even though the unattainable countess is beautiful and sweet, it becomes obvious after awhile that Newland is actually in love with the idea of breaking out of his conventional life.

Wharton's writing is a bit like a giant rosebud -- it takes forever to fully open. So don't be discouraged by the endless conversations about flowers, ballrooms and gloves. Wharton put them in to illustrate her point about New York at that time, and all the stories about different families, scandals and customs are actually very important.

Newland seems like a rather boring person, since he only has brief bursts of individuality. But he gets more interesting when he struggles between his conscience and his longing for freedom. May is (suitably) pallid and a bit dull, while the Countess is alluringly mysterious and unconsciously rebellious. The fact that she doesn't TRY to rebel makes her far more interesting than Newland.

"Age of Innocence" considered a story about a man in love with an unattainable woman, but it's also about that man straining against a stagnant, hypocritical society. Rich, intriguing and beautifully written.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Qualify of Life Report by Meghan Daum

Lucinda Trout works for a local morning show in Manhattan, surrounded by vain, appalling Sex In The City wannabes, and a Devil Wears Prada-esque boss. That's where the chick lit similarities end. Lucinda doesn't WANT to remain immersed in the shallow pool, she's looking for a more simple life. Her chance arrives when the show sends her to the deepest Midwest to report on "housewife heroin", a new drug that COULD BE COMING TO NEW YORK! Her boss loves the cheap, tabloid-y angle of the story, but stresses that Lucinda should avoid showing fat Prairie City residents on camera. Christiane Amanpour she isn't.

Lucinda is so dissatisfied with her life in Manhattan, and so surprised by the friendly, cool people she meets on location in Prairie City, that she decides to move there. By convincing her boss that she can report remotely on the unique "quality of life" inherent in the heartland, she manages to keep her job and her ties to the city. But life isn't quite as simple as she thinks...

I laughed with Lucinda as she gets herself into increasingly more ridiculous situations - my favorite scene involves throwing a "barn party" using the residents of Prairie City as props, and a Manhattan stylist who sends precise instructions regarding the appropriate apparel for Lucinda's human mannequins - but in the end, Lucinda learns that relocating doesn't make life simpler at all.

The Quality of Life Report is a classic fish out of water story with a twist.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

Nayeli is a young woman who works in a taqueria in Tres Camarones, a coastal village in Mexico too poor to be of interest to most people, attacting a few surfers occasionally. But then the village's remoteness and its lack of men (almost all of whom have gone north to the US) makes it appealing to those involved in the drug trade. With the help of two friends and her entertaining and spunky aunt Irma, Tres Camarones' new mayor, Nayeli concocts a plan to reclaim the village from the criminals. After seeing the movie The Magnificent Seven, Nayeli knows she must go to the US and find seven men to come back to Tres Camarones and defend the people. But this quest is more than just a public service to her village, Nayeli hopes to find her father who has long since disappeared into the US and to bring him home where he belongs.

When Nayeli and her two friends set off on their noble quest, the story really starts cooking along. The girls' travels through Mexico are vivid and not uneventful. After all, what is a noble quest without windmills to overcome? Unfortunately for the girls, the windmills are very often not of their imagining but instead real obstacles to their goal. Getting into the US is not easy and the irony of the matter is that once they are there as illegal immigrants, it will also be illegal for them to try and get back into Mexico. But first they must find seven men who are willing to return with them and then to take back their town.

The characters in the book are vividly written and just plain fun. They are real and entertaining and funny and a delight to spend time reading about. The tone of the book stays fairly light despite the deep and heavy themes of perseverance, illegal immigration, discrimination, poverty, and bravery. But it is this very lightness that allows the reader to think clearly about these loaded political and emotional issues. There is humor galore here and I read much of the book with a smile. Nayeli's strength is apparent to all but herself and she is a totally engaging and appealing main character. A well-constructed, beautifully paced novel, this is a great reading group choice, the adventure and the balanced look at life for illegals in the US make it eminently discussable as well.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Second Glance by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult brings the supernatural world of ghosts and other phenomena to life in an unusual tale of love that transcends time and death.

Second Glance is a story about the difference between life and really living. It is also about love.

As the tale evolves the possibilities of loving and living beyond all time are gently unwrapped and placed before the reader.

There is the mother with a son who has a rare disease, and as she focuses all her energy on him, the child sees the importance of living a rich full life.

A young man who is a ghosthunter enters. He is haunted by past events in his life that grow more and more confusing to him as he delves into the lives of those surrounding him, both dead and alive.

A young girl who lives far away from all of this, is thought to be going mad when she claims to be haunted by visions that are unexplained....

The stage for this story is a building site that once disturbed, seems to trigger a series of unnatural occurrences in a small Vermont town. When these phenomena cause the construction crew to walk off the job until an explanation can be found the ghosthunter is called in. The existence of an Indian burial ground elicits an investigation into that possibility. Between the ghosthunting and the legal and historical investigation, the facts of the past are uncovered, and the events that link everyone together are laid bare,and the truth is revealed.

Each person in Second Glance questions the value of time as it relates to living and loving and Jodi Picoult brings them to a wondrous revelation that will change the very fabric of their lives.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

In nineteen minutes a world can be turned upside down, inside out, and transform into a hell on earth. That's what happens inside Sterling High School. It's like Columbine happening all over again, only I get to listen in and get acquainted with the shooter, families, and victims.

I love Jodi Picoult's writing technique----the reader is allowed to climb inside every character's psyche, perspective, opinion, and view of the world. And I get to meet the shooter in an intimate way.

Reading "Nineteen Minutes," I thought-- "Who gives a damn about Peter Houghton, he's a killer, a monster." But Picoult being the author she is, brought me on a journey of the past and present of Peter's childhood, the taunting, the bullying, and the terror of his every day existence.

On his first day of Kindergarten, his mom has packed a lovely lunch in his little tin box: sandwiches, Twinkies, an apple. Somebody throws the whole box out of the bus window and I'm left with an image of a large red apple rolling down the cement highway. And this is only the beginning of Peter's tormented school experience.

Alright, this is not a justification for Peter to murder ten high school classmates, which is ridiculous, it is a scenario of how one can be pushed to the edge. I felt empathy and even a little understanding for this poor, redheaded, freckle faced misfit.

The narrative weaves back and forth, each character getting his or her chance to speak, scream, cry, or analyze the tragedy: Peter's mom, the families of the victims, the students, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and teachers.

In the end, I can decide if I truly want to forgive Peter or understand him or sympathize with him.

One thing for sure, Picoult will brought me on a roller coaster ride of emotion and heartbreak and indecision. Nothing, absolutely nothing-- is ever only black or white or this way or that way.

"I never found who I really wanted to kill." Peter confesses to his attorney.

"Who was that?" He asks

"Myself." Peter says.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer

In ZZ Packer's "Drinking Coffee Elsewhere", I was treated to a compilation of eight short stories. Each story depicts a young person in turmoil, learning a lesson or seeking an answer to life's questions.

In Speaking In Tongues, young Tia runs away from her overly strict aunt and church to search for her mother in Atlanta. As with most runaways, she is easily targeted by an area pimp. However her values forces her to fight her way out of his grasp, though there are close calls when it looked as if she would falter.

In Brownies, a group of young girl scouts, lead by bullies Arnetta and Octavia, seeks to fight a white Brownie troop who are also at camp due to trumped up charges that they called one of the girls the "N" word. Only they find out the group is made up of developmentally disabled Brownies.

The Ant of the Self is the only story featuring a male main character. Spurgeon can barely stand to be in the presence of his father, Ray Bivens, Jr. After bailing his father out of jail, Spur is attempting to drive him back to Indiana when Ray coerces him into driving to Washington, DC to the Million-Man March. Spur would rather be back at school participating in the debate team competition. Even after hearing the speeches at the March, Spur and his father still can not see eye to eye and can not improve their relationship.

Reading a collection of short stories is a rare experience for me, but this was an enjoyable one. Each offering is complete and as a reader I was satisfied with each story; not needing them to be any longer or wishing they were a complete book. Each short story offers a lesson and a different perspective on life. Though many of the characters are rural women with very strict religious backgrounds, the author does a wonderful job of developing them all with their own taste of individuality. This book is highly recommended.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Here We Go Again by Betty White

This book was hard to put down! Betty White is like the Energizer Bunny! I learned so much about early television and how the business grew. I realized how Betty White was such a trail blazer. Betty has had a career on television and radio that spans over 70 years! She has had not just one… but several television shows named after her. Early on, she was on TV 5 hours a day all week long! Comments about how they decided to tape talk shows so the host would be able to take time off and re-runs would be shown… and how game shows used to be filmed every day until the idea was that money could be saved by filming many in one day… just seemed fascinating… because, today, we take it for granted.

She seemed to know just about everyone in the industry. I love the way she was so honest and frank as she told her stories and also about her own life and loves. I still look forward to every chance to see her in front of the camera!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Derailed by James Siegel

This book takes the best bits of The Firm and throws in a smattering of Fatal Attraction to deliver a lightning-paced read with enough twists, turns and downright unexpected seismic shifts to keep you turning the pages late into the night.

Charles is a well-paid advertising executive who's living a treadmill-like existence until he meets a beautiful stranger on a train. Besotted by the green-eyed Lucinda, he embarks on an illicit affair, momentarily forgetting his wife of 18 years and their sick teenage daughter. But his moment of pleasure turns quite unexpectedly into a violent nightmare in which rape, blackmail and murder all play a part.

Derailed has been turned into a film, but this book does not read like a padded-out screenplay (hello, Mary Higgins Clark!) Siegel is an accomplished story-teller. His writing is taut and he knows how to deliver enough cliff hangers and shocks to keep even the most jaded reader turning the pages. The dialogue is believable and his characterisation is spot on too.

Despite the unlikely situation that the narrator finds himself caught up in, not once did I find myself suspending belief, not once did I think how ludicrous. And perhaps that's what makes this thriller such a rollicking good one: you know it could happen to you because it's a classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or is it?

My only quibble with this book is its its too-neat ending. Still, it's an entertaining read and you'd be hard pressed to find a better thriller that pushes all the right buttons in all the right places. If you like that kind of thing.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood

What would you do if your five year old daughter, your only child, suddenly dies from meningitis? Would you be able to pick up the pieces of your life, after your whole world has come crashing down? Would you ever be able to have joy, happiness and love again? These are the questions that Mary Baxter had to deal with in The Knitting Circle.

Mary and Dylan Baxter were living the goodlife, each was successful in their professions, she was a reviewer for a local newspaper and he was an attorney. They had a happy home life that included their cherished only child, five year old Stella. Their happy little world came crashing down with the sudden death of Stella to meningitis. As they struggled with the the pain of their loss and the grieving process, their marriage starts to crumble as Mary sinks into a deep depression, unwilling and unable to allow anyone, including Dylan, to help her move on with her life.

Paralyzed by her grief, Mary is unable to work, socialize, or perform normal daily activities. Upon the constant unwanted urging of her estranged mother, Mary joins a local knitting circle, even though she doesn't know how to knit. Mary is warmly welcomed into the Wednesday night knitting circle by Alice, owner of Big Alice's Sit and Knit, and the rest of the members: Scarlet, Lulu, Ellen, Beth and Harriet.

At first, Mary is reluctant to share her story with the other ladies,but as each teaches her new knitting techniques, they also share their own personal stories of love, loss, hope and recovery ... for everyone has secrets and a story to tell. Through their mutual love of knitting and comforting
companionship, the ladies of the knitting circle form a strong bond of friendship that helps Mary to heal and start living her life again.

The Knitting Circle is a beautifully written and poignant story that pulled at my heartstrings. The author weaves a deeply moving and emotional story about the trauma of loss, the stages of grief, and how through a strong bond of friendship through knitting one stitch at a time, people can recover and learn to live a happy life again.

This is a painfully realistic portrayal of the grieving process that every person will experience at some time in their life, but mixed with the interesting concept of learning how to knit, one can find the soothing and comforting peace to help their wounded heart and spirit heal.

This story is semi-autobiographical that mirrors the author's own personal tragic loss of her young daughter to a rare form of strep, and while grieving she learned to knit.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl

I am one of those people who always gives a book a fair chance to impress or entertain me. Even if I am bored, I'll keep reading (or in this case listening to it) in the hopes that it will get better. This one didn't and after getting a third through it, I had to put myself out of my misery. Or else I might have fallen asleep while driving listening to this boring, boring, boring book.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Red Cat by Peter Spiegelman

Growing up brothers John and David March detested one another; as adults their scorn for the other remains unabated. Thus John is more than shocked when his snobbish business executive David turns to him for help. The married David used an Internet site to arrange a tryst. The woman videotaped their performance, which if revealed would cost the older sibling his job and probably his wife; he wants his younger sibling, a private investigator to find out what is going on and how to prevent the personal disaster from occurring. The only additional clue is a red cat tattoo on the hooker.

John learns the female is Wren, who is not blackmailing David per say, but considers herself an artist selling her tapes of married men cheating with her to the highest bidding collector. The scenario takes a deadly spin when someone murders Wren. John assumes that a sex client committed the homicide, but wonders if righteous David could have performed the deed even as he ponders whether blood is thick enough to propel him to protect David especially if he turns out to be the killer.

Red Cat is a dark, brooding work, full of secrets, shame and desperation in even the most unexpected corners. John is terrific as he loathes his pompous "superior" older brother, but also resolves to do his best by him as he is family. Peter Spiegelman provides a great whodunit starring one of the best sleuths to hit the information age.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Utopia by LIncoln Child

Utopia's not just a theme park--it's a world. Or, rather, four seperate worlds, located in the remote Nevada desert. High tech--Utopia runs on robotics, all controlled by the Metanet, developed by Dr. Andrew Warne. Incidently, Warne's ex-lover, Sarah Boatwright, is running the park.

Utopia's a safe, fun place. Everything is "real"--it's as if you've stepped out of the normal world, and into a side demension. It's so nice, the security force doesn't even carry weapons.

Today, however, is different. Because today, someone new has entered the park. He calls himself John Doe: a suave, intelligent, sophisticated, ruthless man looking to earn himself a retirement fund from his day job--terrorism. With Doe is a small team of professional terrorists and hackers. Their goal: to take control of Utopia.

Doe is perfectly willing to negotiate transactions with Boatwright in secret, without the guests of Utopia knowing. But if she dares to cross him...well, if that should happen, then Doe will turn this Heaven into Hell on Earth.

"Utopia" is a thrillride of thrillrides, a pulse-pounding race as Warne, Boatwright, a robotics technician, and a professional bodyguard who happens to get caught up in the action, pursue the menacing Doe through the park. You will be on the edge of your seat the entire time, I kid you not.

Lincoln Child's "Utopia" is a suspense novel to be reckoned with. The park comes alive around you, and the characters develop their own heartbeats. It's a novel of suspense, emotion, humor, thrills, and science, as a "perfect" world is turned upside down by one man's horrific greed.

I'm surprised this novel never did do to theme parks what "Jaws" did to the ocean. Definitely a must-read for thrill seekers!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Welcome to down-and-out small-town America: the dreamers, the unemployed, the hunters, the meth addicts, the damaged, the rape survivors, the prematurely old.

Edgy and brutally honest, this collection of short stories by Bonnie Jo Campbell shows the dark side of rural life in post-industrial Michigan. The characters are downtrodden and suffering in some way. Their lives are depressing, but in spite of all the poverty, addiction, violence and hopelessness, the characters live and love vigorously, and dream of better lives.

In the first story “The Trespasser,” a family finds that squatters have turned their vacation cottage into a meth lab. Remnants of their depravity remain scattered throughout the home, and while the story is only a few pages long, it conveys a devastating loss of innocence.

In another story, a man stockpiles gas in anticipation of Y2K. Jovial and goodnatured, Hal Little repairs washing machines, and warns a young couple of the possible disaster. His paranoia is amusing especially combined with his fanatical religious beliefs, make this a delightful break from the glum seriousness of most of the other stories in the collection.

These stories are overwhelmingly about people you hope you'll never meet (or be), but you can believe in them, and care about what happens to them.