Friday, May 21, 2010

A New Meg Gardiner Mystery

The Memory Collector (Jo Beckett)

This was one of the mysteries in the boxes of books given to me recently. I'm finally free to dig into the boxes and enjoy, for a while anyway. I read it quickly; it's that kind of book. Just hold on and enjoy the ride.

Forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett is the hero (heroine?) of this mad chase from South Africa to San Francisco. It takes a bit of stretching to let your mind believe for the duration that a company has invented a product called "Slick" that has gone terribly wrong. It enters the blood stream, heads to the brain, and destroys memory from that time forward. Ian Kanan has been infected and from that moment on can only remember things for about five minutes. Stop a minute and think about that.

He remembers perfectly everything that happens up until then so all of his special forces and sniper skills are intact. Trouble is, he can contaminate anyone he comes into contact with. What a setup, huh? Add to that the kidnapping of his wife and son and you have a real thriller.

No spoilers here. I can't say much more about the story. What I can say is that Gardiner writes well enough to pull me in even though the premise of the story made me laugh at first. The panic, the danger, the idea of what could happen did get to me and I read the last third of the book in a sort of tense anticipation, wondering how it would end.

I think I had read a review of this book somewhere some time ago but can't remember where - and no, I'm not contaminated with "Slick." :)

The Memory Collector is available from Amazon. I am an Amazon Associate.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Original Sins, A Novel of Slavery & Freedom

I won this ARC from LibraryThing. Since I had never read anything by its author, Peg Kingman, I went into it with no preconceptions at all. However, it is set in Philadelphia and a plantation in Virginia in 1840, and I do know a lot about that period of our history. Either Kingman does too, or her research was impeccable since the story is true to the times.

It's a fascinating story. The main character is Grace MacDonald Pollocke, a Scot who has lived all over the world. She met and married her American husband Daniel, who is a China trader, in Canton and they settled in Philadelphia where she makes a modest living painting portraits. The story involves her decision to go to a plantation in Virginia to paint miniatures of the Grant family as a gift for their elderly father. She has an ulterior motive for the trip and cannot reveal that she is actually related to this family. The story gets complicated so I won't try to tell you more, and besides, I don't want to ruin it for you.

This is a well-written novel with wonderful characterizations. It delves into strong beliefs not only about slavery but also religion and the lack of women's rights at that time. Grace is a strong woman who butts heads with everyone because she stands up for her own opinions, refusing to be a passive "womanly" woman. She is particularly infuriated when she discovers she has no legal standing and must have her husband deal with the law on her behalf.

I do have some quibbles about the book. First, it is too long. I enjoyed long passages of her thoughts on various topics and description, but I can imagine many readers thinking, just get on with the story already! Second, the major villain is too evil. No one is completely evil in real life. For instance, there is one scene involving a chess game that is completely unnecessary. We already know the man is a real bad guy. Also, there are too many coincidences. I'm the type of reader who will give an author a lot of wiggle room with coincidence for the sake of a good story, but even I was thinking, oh come on!

Having said all that, I do recommend Original Sins because it's a rattling good story and very well written. I am an Amazon Associate.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

When I was born, in 1940, people didn't live as long as is normal now so the fact that I had 3 great-grandmothers and 2 grandmothers, and 3 of the bunch still had living husbands warranted an item in our local small town newspaper. I still have the clipping.

I knew and loved all of them; they were an odd assortment of people though I must say. One of my great-grandmothers was very short, under 5', and so bowlegged it made her even shorter. She lived in what we would now call a shack, just two rooms and an outhouse, but it was immaculate. In winter she lived by her potbelly stove to stay warm, and fortunately had the water pump in the kitchen by her sink. To her that was high toned living.

Another great-grandmother was very tall and thin with gorgeous white hair which she braided and then wound the braids around her head. She had a beautiful home which she shared with her youngest daughter and a black and white Boston terrior named, for some unknown reason, Alky.

The third one and my great-grandfather lived in a small house at the edge of the town where I was born. They had tried homesteading in Nebraska, and my grandfather and his sister were born there. However after serious trouble they returned home. She was the best baker in the world; her biscuits were to die for.

I grew up just a block from my maternal grandparents so we were very close. When I wasn't in school I was helping Gram with laundry, etc. because they ran a rooming house a block from the state capitol building. I used to love brushing her hair on their lovely front porch in the summer. My paternal grandparents moved to Phoenix when I was only six years old so I only saw them every three years when we drove out there.

All are gone of course but I have lasting memories of them. My mother is gone too, but my best memories are of her. Mom and I didn't get along that well when I was a child, particularly when I was an impossible to get along with teenager. When I finally grew up though, we became more tolerant of each other and at long last a loving mother and daughter. As she lay dying I learned that she was stronger and braver than I had ever given her credit for, and since her death I've missed her more intensely than I had expected. She was pure love.

Happy Mother's Day to all of you who are mothers. And daughters, please overlook your mom's habits you find embarrassing or grating, just appreciate her for her good qualities, remembering that she won't always be with you.

Friday, May 7, 2010

What Hath God Wrought by Daniel Walker Howe

This is the huge book I have been reading for many weeks, with an occasional light mystery thrown in for a break. It is 855 pages of text followed by a bibliographic essay and index! Part of The Oxford History of the United States, its subtitle explains the length: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848.

I love American history, particularly the antebellum period, so I bought this book knowing I would enjoy it. However, I expected it to be rather dry, not something I would recommend for nonacademic readers. Just shows how wrong you can be. I really would recommend it for the general reader who is interested in the early years of our country, the people (famous and otherwise) who peopled the land, brought about the industrialization of the North, brought Texas into the U.S., initiated our free educational system, and all the other things that make America what it is.

One of the many interesting things I learned involves the Smithsonian Institution. It's common knowledge, I think, that it was the result of James Smithson's will. He was an English scientist, a very wealthy one in fact, who willed his estate to us for "an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge." Congress voted to accept the money and it was shipped across the Atlantic in 1838 in the form of a half million dollars in gold coins. You see, President Jackson didn't trust paper money so he would only accept gold.

Then there ensued a long debate over what the heck to do with all that gold but finally in 1846 Congress agreed on a museum, laboratory, library and an art gallery, collectively called the Smithsonian Institution. Thanks to the bequest, we have museums and art galleries that we could spend days in and not see everything. I personally have toured the place until my feet practically fell off and I would go back in a minute.

Obviously I can't relate everything of interest in this monumental work, but despite its length I have been engrossed for weeks. Actually I haven't finished it yet but hope to in the next few days; I just couldn't wait any longer to tell you about it. This is easy reading that isn't the old history of dates and presidents and wars. This is, to borrow a subtitle from a PBS special, the story of us, our culture, national personality, religions, educational institutions, plus presidents and wars, and so much more. I recommend it, but put aside a good long time to read it.

I am an Amazon Associate.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Rainy Mondays, etc.

After mowing too much over the weekend, I happy to say it's a rainy Monday. Since I'm still not finished with the 800+ opus on antebellum 19th century history I'm enjoying, I'll take this opportunity to do some thinking out loud about what's going on in the world.

First, Lynn Redgrave is dead at 67. I've always thought of her as Georgy Girl; she was so touching in that movie which I saw in Stamford, CT when I was single and living in an apartment there. Brings back memories to think of her. Oddly, I also always thought of her as a sophisticated, calm, beautiful woman - definitely not a Georgy Girl type. Sad that she died after fighting breast cancer so long.

Another new item that has my attention is the attempted car bombing in Times Square. They have a photo of a man who looks suspicious and I hear they have some other clues. They'll catch him, I have no doubt, because police work has become so efficient at ferreting out criminals.

Too bad "CSI/New York" isn't on the case. With their fancy lab equipment they'd have the case solved in a few days. It always makes me laugh when I watch those shows (and I watch them all the time), that the female CSI's go to crime scenes with low cut blouses, short-short skirts or very tight pants, and spike heels. Recently I saw one at a fire/murder scene with white pants on! The Miami version is the worst, but then I think of that show as a comedy anyway. Horatio, that's a cause for both hands on your hips! I suppose it's good for ratings but get real.

Like everyone else I'm watching the oil slick in the gulf, frustrated that they can't stop it from moving ashore or stop the leak. Doesn't it seem to you like an oil company should have a plan beforehand of exactly how they will seal off a leaking pipe in deep water? I've been very disappointed that President Obama wants to approve oil drilling off the east coast. Now maybe he'll have second thoughts about it.

Meanwhile I worry about the wildlife caught in the oil. The people too of course, but mostly I am anxious for the animals and fish. The gannet shown in the news that was being cleaned looked scared half to death. Thankfully some will be saved, but how many thousands of animals will die?

Lastly, Tiger Woods. He played like a duffer at Quail Hollow, and now I hear he's blaming hecklers! Again, let's get real. The people have been very supportive of his return to golf, but he just can't stand the idea that he isn't at the moment the world's greatest golfer. Turns out Tiger is human after all, and the loss of his personal reputation and possibly his family and the respect of millions actually affects him. He can't blame his previous mistakes on anyone but himself so he'll blame his (temporarily) diminished golf skills on anyone. He'll be back at the top, but he has a lot more damage control and personal issues to solve before he can concentrate on his game enough to get back to the top.

In the meantime, my favorite, Phil Mickelson, is really doing well and I'm thrilled for him.