Monday, October 31, 2011

Deep Shadow by Randy Wayne White

Randy Wayne White has written 16 previous novels about the same hero that appears in Deep Shadow but I hadn't read any of them. This book was a gift to me some time ago and I just now got around to reading it. Now I think, if my heart can stand it, I'll look for the rest of his books. He's also written nonfiction about sea creatures and travel, and he lives in Florida where he used to be a fishing guide.

I like the hero, Marion "Doc" Ford, who is a biologist who supplies fish. Two of his best friends are funny characters. Captain Arlis Futch is an old swamp expert, Tomlinson is a hippie who smokes too much pot but has a good heart, and Will Chaser is an Indian teenager who has been brought to Florida to learn more about diving. These four guys are very entertaining and we get to know all of them well, as we hear their individual experiences and point of view.

The reason my heart has something to do with whether I read more of these novels is that I read this book alternately clenching my jaw, holding my breath, and fighting the need to do anything but read. In fact, my jaw aches today after finishing the book this morning.

Capt. Futch talks the other three into going with him to a teardrop shaped lake he found. He's positive it's where a plane loaded with gold crashed in late 1958. That was when Castro was closing in on Cuba's leader, Batista, so Batista loaded four planes with gold raided from the treasury and anyplace else it was stashed and fled the island. Three of the planes landed safely but the fourth apparently wandered off course and was never found. Futch has actually bought the land the lake is on so they can dive and look for the plane, because he has found gold coins and a broken propeller.

They think they're alone but unfortunately a couple of really desperate bad guys are watching. There is also apparently some kind of "creature" in the lake area that has been killing a neighbors cattle. Spooky enough for you?

I learned a lot about what's under what we all see and enjoy in Florida. There are limestone caves and underground rivers. There are also many exotic animals living and breeding there. They had been brought into the country, then escaped or were simply turned loose to thrive in the swamps of the state. Very interesting stories.

I think this is meant to be a guy's novel, but it's full of all the ingredients for making your heart race as you turn the pages. Great story that I highly recommend if you like action and danger.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

My Halloween Story

I may have told this story before so I apologize if you've already read it.

In the 1940s when I was a girl Halloween was a night when kids went out in two's and three's and knocked on every door in the neighborhood. Well, except that one house where the scary old lady wouldn't answer the door. My friend Phyllis and I loved the candy, but I hated to wear a costume (still do). Hence, I would throw an old sheet over my head with two holes to see through and out we went. This was before people thought to put dangerous stuff in your bag, when it was actually safe to prowl through the neighborhood, giggling all the way.

We already had lots of candy in our bags when we reached the corner. Across the street was "the" house. The people who lived there loved to see kids in costume. They always invited us in and made us do a trick before we got our treat. We dreaded it, but they gave the best candy ever, so we were deciding what to do as our trick before we crossed the street.

About that time here came the neighborhood bully, Harold. He was in our class but he had older friends and they were with him. Phyllis froze, knowing they would take her whole bag of goodies. As they approached, I suddenly grew a spine, spun around and ran as fast as I could - right into a tree! The holes in my sheet hadn't turned with me. They were now on the back of my head.

I came to with Phyllis kneeling over me crying, thinking I was dead, candy strewn all over the corner, and no bullies in sight. They thought I was dead too, I guess, because they abandoned their plans and took off. Poor Phyllis - until she realized I was okay (except for a bump on my head of course) and not only that, we had all of our candy. It was a great victory!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Finally Saw "Invictus" - Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon

Ever since we got Netflix I've been catching up on movies I wanted to see in the theater but missed. This week it was "Invictus." I figured anything with Morgan Freeman in it had to be good, and I think Matt Damon is an underrated actor too.

We liked this movie but it didn't have quite the thrill I expected. Have to say Morgan Freeman took on an impossible task playing Nelson Mandela. How in the world do you portray a man who is admired in most of the world, a man who has achieved fame that very few leaders do. His charisma, his charm, his genuine determination to make South Africa into a rainbow nation all combine to make him a person no one could hope to portray really well. Freeman had his posture, his mannerisms, and his firmness with those who only sought revenge down pat, but the charm and charisma just weren't there.

The poem that inspired him, "Invictus," is the one that ends:

"It matters not how strait the gate
How charged with punishment the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul."

Most critics hate it but who can argue with the inspiration it gave Nelson Mandela to survive the long years of imprisonment without coming out full of plans for revenge.

For once Matt Damon's good looks were appropriate for his role as the captain of South Africa's rugby team. I expected his leadership after meeting Mandela to be sort of "pow" but it was more subtle and therefore more realistic. I liked very much the scene where he took the team to Robin Island to see where Mandela had been imprisoned. What was "pow" was his build. He obviously hit the gym a lot preparing for the role.

As for Netflix, we weren't affected by the recent price hike at all. We chose the plan where we get one DVD at a time in the mail. We aren't interested in immediate streaming of the movie on our television set. Our monthly fee remained exactly the same and we are just as happy as we were before the mess that made so many people unsubscribe.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Stranger in Paradise, Robert B. Parker

Since Robert B. Parker died, I've been saving the few novels of his that I hadn't read. I parcel them out to myself very slowly. Yesterday I allowed myself the pleasure of reading this Jesse Stone novel.

If you've read any of this series or have seen a TV interpretation of one, you know Jesse has a drinking problem which got him fired from the police force in California, and an ex-wife who just refuses to stay away from him so he can get over her. He is now the police chief in Paradise, MA. He sees a shrink regularly in a vain attempt to handle his problems.

In Stranger in Paradise we have a character who is much like Hawk of the Spenser series. This guy is a crook, but he has scruples. He won't kill women, for instance; he likes them. And the women are fascinated by him, including me. He claims to be an Apache Indian and goes by the single name Crow although his real name is Wilson Cromartie. To my mind he makes this novel.

Detective "Suitcase" Simpson has changed since the beginning of the series, in what was to me a very surprising way. As usual, the story is punctuated by witty dialogue, a laid back approach to detecting, and some very snobby folks who are incensed because a half dozen little children are being transported to their neighborhood Monday through Friday to a new school. The residents keep going on about "the camel's nose in the tent" as if these little kids are going to steal their silver and put graffiti on their mansions. It's very funny, and of course Jesse gives them enough rope to hang themselves.

I'm not an unbiased reviewer in this case because I've loved Robert B. Parker novels forever, but really who wouldn't like this book. I urge you to read it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reminder - Giveaway has a week to go

Just a reminder that next Monday night at midnight is the cut-off date for my giveaway of the audio version of Jeffrey Archer's Only Time Will Tell. It is read by Roger Allam and Emelia Fox, and provided complements of Macmillan Audio. There is also a bonus interview with Archer to tempt you.

Don't forget to comment and include your email address before next Monday night to have a chance to win.

The Train of Small Mercies by David Rowell

In June 1968 Robert Kennedy's funeral was held in New York. Afterward, his casket, his family and friends, the press and others were carried by train to Washington, D.C. where he was buried near his brother, President John F. Kennedy. This novel's core is that train and what Bobby's death meant to Americans, using the stories of six characters who view the event from different perspectives.

Anyone who remembers 1968 knows what a devastating impact Bobby's murder had on us as a nation. It seemed like the world was off its axis; first the president, then Dr. Martin Luther King, and finally Bobby Kennedy. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who was frightened, thinking that our best leaders were being assassinated one after another. What would become of us?

We all, regardless of party affiliation felt terrible for Ethel Kennedy and the children, especially the child yet to be born who would never know his father.

These characters reflect those feelings. A mother crying for Ethel and the children, a Vietnam vet who came home missing a leg, a young black man working his first day as a conductor assigned to that very train, a boy who has just been returned to his mother after being kidnapped by his father, and others. All are affected in different ways, most realize what a momentous tragedy it is.

I liked this book but wasn't thrilled about the way it was written. Having said that, I don't know how the author would have done it any other way. It is definitely worth reading.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Silence by J. Sydney Jones

I'm delighted that J. Sydney Jones sent a PDF of this book to me for review. It is the third in a series of mystery novels set in historic Vienna, a city Jones lived in for some time years ago. The fact that I hadn't read the first two was no barrier to enjoyment of this one, but certainly convinced me that I must read the others very soon. They are, in order: The Empty Mirror and Requiem in Vienna, both published last year. I should add that these are print books with gorgeous covers appropriate to the setting.

Attorney and private inquiries agent (private detective) Karl Werthen is the protagonist but by no means alone in his investigations. His wife Berthe is one of my favorite characters, so level-headed, patient, and fully invested in each case. She gives him fresh eyes and good ideas. Another partner in solving the crime is a real person, Dr. Hanns Gross who was the father of criminology. He is gruff and abrupt with people but has a better grasp of the issues than anyone else.

In addition to his case, Werthen is beset by family squabbles involving his orthodox father-in-law, and his snobbish parents who apparently don't credit Werthen and his wife with the good sense to take care of their baby daughter, the apple of Werthen's eye. Leave it to the grandparents to muddy the waters when the first grandchild is born.

Werthen is at first hired to find a wealthy family's oldest son. As he goes to their mansion we learn one of the many things about 1900 Vienna that make this book so charming and interesting to read. The wife has a migraine, so city workers have been dispatched to spread straw on the street to muffle the sound of horses' hooves. There are descriptions of homes, the architecture of city buildings, the sounds and smells of the city, and the Vienna Woods. We also learn of the anti-Semitism rampant in the city so long before WW II, and the great gulf between the rich and the poor.

At the same time, a councilman who is second in power only to Mayor Karl Lueger (who has visions of undermining the rule of Emperor Franz Josef) has apparently committed suicide in his office. Werthen becomes involved in that case as well and finds himself and his family in great danger.

Two of my favorite characters are two young boys, one a son of the wealthy family, the other a street urchin that Werthen's legal assistant wants to adopt. The boys become unlikely friends. I liked both of them immensely.

I find it difficult to tell you much about the story, partly because there are several plotlines, but also because I don't want to give anything away. Let me just say that it is a great story told by an author who is capable of putting the reader in 1900 Vienna (so much so that I was startled when a horn honked outside my house), and the characters are ones that you will enjoy getting to know. My next job is to order the first two books. Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Loose Diamonds by Amy Ephron

This book is just what I needed after finishing a long classic novel. It's Amy Ephron's collection of memories of her life. You may know her from her articles in pretigious magazines and her previous books.

Ephron has a delightful sense of humor. She reminds me of a former neighbor who could go in her van to pick up a new chair she had ordered, and come home with a story about the experience that would have the neighborhood in hysterics. Ephron once pulled into a parking space in front of her son's school only to have a Mercedes rear end her - twice. The driver was another mother who had been dating (and dumped by) Ephron's ex-husband. Ephron could only assume she was taking it out on her for divorcing him and setting him loose among the women of the world.

She also writes very movingly about her mother, a woman who kept up appearances even while falling apart. The day Ephron's first child was born is touching even though it turned into a surreal scene in the ICU with Elizabeth Taylor's daughter-in-law screaming in labor across the aisle. The dog (yes, in the ICU) kept barking, the assistant's mobile phone kept ringing, and the mother-to-be sat up and waved merrily in between contractions. It's hilarious.

This short book should cheer up anyone. I read it in one day when we were running errands and I was often in the car waiting for my husband. Lots of fun. I do recommend it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

It seems like I've been reading Jane Eyre forever but I finally finished it last night. My paperback copy is so old it only cost 60 cents. The print was tiny and the pages were a little brown, but my eyes survived the ordeal and I learned that, with maturity and patience, I really like this book.

The book requires patience because of the writing style of Bronte's era. In the beginning Jane is only 10 years old, yet she thinks and speaks in an adult manner. She says her future is too uncertain for conjecture, for instance. She studies faces of the other orphans and their teachers at Lowood Institute and describes individually each feature, nose, lips, hair, hands, etc. Each feature tells her something about the character of the person she observes, and that does get somewhat tiring at times. Not to worry, though; you can skim and not miss a thing.

Jane is an orphan whose kindly uncle has undertaken to give her a home and raise her. Then he dies and his horrid widow treats Jane wickedly, while brainwashing the little girl into thinking herself evil. Finally, escape comes in the form of being sent to Lowood where the children are underfed, taken outdoors in winter without warm clothing, and strictly monitored 24 hours a day.

As Jane becomes an adult she finds a position as governess to one child in the home of Mr. Edward Rochester on a large estate. I think most people know that she and Rochester fall in love but there is an unsurpassable burden in the way of marriage; he already has a wife - the madwoman in the attic.

Margaret, of BooksPlease, has said that reading this as a youngster she was terrified of the madwoman in the attic. Frankly, I was nervous as to what the woman was capable of. After all, she did set fire to the bedcurtains in Rochester's room one night. From the time Jane arrives at this estate the story gets better and better. There are coincidences that are unbelievable but I think that was common in Bronte's day, and therefore forgivable.

Reading Jane Eyre has convinced me to go back and reread or read for the first time many other classic novels so I'll be reviewing a classic now and then. Hopefully the rest of them will have a bit larger print.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Update on The Magnificent Medills

On September 2nd I reviewed a nonfiction book called The Magnificent Medills, a saga about one of the most important families in newspaper publishing. My only complaint at that time was that my ARC copy didn't have pictures.

Now HarperCollins Publishers has been kind enough to send me the published book, and lo and behold, there are pictures. We can see Joseph Medill, founder of The Chicago Tribune and major player in nominating Abraham Lincoln for the presidency. We have portraits of his two daughters, the "she-devils," as well. Kate was the mother of Col. Robert R. McCormick of the Tribune. Nellie Medill Patterson was a beautiful but difficult person.

One of the best photos is of Joseph with his four grandchildren who carried on his tradition of newspapers and politics. There are many others of which I was most interested in seeing the controversial Cissy Patterson.

With that major quibble taken away, I can wholeheartedly recommend this book by Megan McKinney.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Last Sunny Day for a While

I haven't been posting lately because it's been way too nice to stay indoors. After our rainy summer and floods, we have had seven sunny, warm days in a row! I've been frantically working outdoors to catch up, which has been the name of the game this year. I never have actually finished the yard work at all this year because of all the rain.

Also, Dave has been cleaning out his shop in preparation for going out of business so we've been driving back and forth to a scrap yard in Scranton with loads of metal. Forty miles each way plus unloading takes a huge chunk out of your afternoon. That also means he hasn't been helping with the yard work of course.

As all good things have to end sometime, the forecast for tomorrow is rain. My plans then are to catch up on blog reading, maybe even have some time to read my current book, and housecleaning.

I'm reading Jane Eyre, a book I had tried to read years ago but couldn't finish. This time I'm enjoying it. Unfortunately, I'm reading an old paperback with tiny print and the pages have browned a little. I could have sworn I had a nice copy but can't find it. Jane, as a child at least, appeals to me. I do chuckle a bit at the stereotypical characters - her aunt and cousins, the owner of Lowood, and the people there - but like the florid style (a child thinking in huge words for instance), it's just typical of the era. I'm interested enough to go on with it to see what happens to Jane.

In other words, I haven't croaked or anything drastic, I've just been super busy. Soon I'll be back to reality and blogging and commenting.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Surprise! I'm Having a Giveaway!

For the first time ever, thanks to Macmillan Audio, I'm having a giveaway and it's an audiobook.

You've seen Jeffrey Archer's Only Time Will Tell reviewed here and on several other blogs. Now you can own a brand new audio version of this book. It is read by Roger Allam.

Since I like things simple, all you have to do is leave a comment with your email address by the end of October. November 1st we'll all find out who won and I will let the winner know.

Good luck!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad

This is a difficult book to review, although I must say from the start that I truly enjoyed it. If you read it, I have a suggestion. Pretend that you are at a library or an outdoor event, in a group gathered around to listen to a great storyteller. There is tea for everyone and perhaps some dates, nuts, and other little snacks. Then the 80 year old Jamil Ahmad begins to tell strange and wonderful stories about the people of the tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He gives some idea of the harsh landscape and living conditions, but for the most part his stories are about the people he has worked among and understands. Tribal leaders who make their point in meetings through parables, men who treat their animals better than their women, women who nevertheless manage to exert influence on decisions for the tribe, children who know instinctively who to trust.

In short, this isn't a novel as you normally think of it. A child, the Falcon, who is 5 years old in the first story is the thread upon which Ahmad weaves his fictional tales. In another story he is 7, then 13, then a young man. He appears in each tale but sometimes only in a cameo appearance. The stories tell about the customs and unwritten laws by which the tribal people of this wild country govern their entire lives.

I've read a little about the city people of these countries but wanted to know more about the mysterious tribal people. This is Ahmad's first book, but I hope that even at his advanced age he will continue to tell these stories. I highly recommend this book.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Sound Among the Trees by Susan Meissner

This is the story of Holly Oak, a house in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and the generations of women who lived in the house between the Civil War and present day. A cannonball still stuck in the side of the house is a reminder that it survived the war, but it did so because the family had connections to both sides. Rumors say the house is haunted, that there are Yankee soldiers buried in the cellar, and that one of the women in the family was a spy for the North.

Beginning in this way, with Adelaide, the great-granddaughter of the supposed spy, hosting a wedding reception in her garden, I had high hopes for the book. Adelaide's daughter and her husband Carson had lived in the house. Their two children were born there. Then the wife died and Carson and his kids had stayed at Holly Oak, believing the children shouldn't be moved from the only home they had ever known. Now Carson has married a young woman from Texas and they too will live at Holly Oak.

The bride, Marielle, has had a successful career and is presumably an intelligent woman. But this is where the story begins to fall apart for me because Marielle suddenly turns into a timid, frightened, gullible child/woman.

Holly Oak is full of secrets and rumors that no one has bothered to investigate and set to rest. It's like a soap opera where everyone keeps secrets which cause all kinds of problems. I kept thinking, "What's the big deal? Why don't these characters just come out with it?" This could be such a good story but I'm sorry, it just didn't work for me. Nor was there any sense of place and motivation was lacking for the characters' actions.

This is just my opinion of course and you might love the book. It is coming out Monday, Oct. 3, 2011. If you like family sagas and historical fiction, this may well be the book for you.