Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Secret Between Us by Barbara Delinsky

The Secret Between Us by Barbara Delinsky opens with a conflict that is practically a cliche: a mother lies to protect her daughter. In this case, sixteen-year-old Grace Monroe hits a pedestrian while driving on her learner's permit. When the small town police chief assumes mother Deborah was driving, no correction is offered and Sir Walter Scott's prediction unfolds:
Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!
However, Barbara Delinsky is no ordinary writer, and this is no ordinary cautionary tale. First the characters: mother, daughter, grandfather, ex-husband, sister, widow, brother. Like Family Tree by Barbara Delinsky, this is a book of complex family relationships. I found the characters engaging and deep. Even though I knew, following the initial car accident, things were going to get much worse (and they did), I was so interested in the characters I read on with anticipation.

With plotting reminiscent of Charles Dickens, the threads of all the characters with their individual crises all resolve themselves at the end. As each character grew and change, I cried with joy as they overcame their challenges. While many of today's novels are about a single character, often a serialized one with no change, and a single conflict, often a murder or political plot, this book weaves a story of a family where everyone grows and changes.

I wish there were more authors like Barbara Delinsky.

A Lick of Frost by Laurell K Hamilton EXPLICIT

Meredith Gentry is a modern days fairy princess.
There was a sound from the mirror, almost a clanging of swords. I glanced at the clock. "We are expecting a call from Kurage, Goblin King," I said.
"You have call waiting on your mirror?" she said.
I nodded.
"I've never heard of such a thing. Who did the spell?"
As befitting her half-fairie, half-human lineage, Merry's life integrates the two worlds.
"May I suggest that we get some cold metal for the rest of you to carry?"
"Cold metal?" Nelson made it a question.
"I think some of the office supplies of this fine law firm might just help the rest of you have clear vision when we deal with the King Taranis."
"Office supplies," Cortez said. "You mean like paper clips?"
"Maybe," Veducci said. He turned to me. "What do you think, Princess, would a paper clip be helpful?"
As with other stories of royalty, A Lick of Frost by Laurell K Hamilton centers around the succession of King and Queens and political intrigue. I was reminded ot Stars Wars, Episode I.

In the opening conflict, King Taranis accuses Princess Meredith's guards of rape - in human court no less. Ultimately, they are cleared when the Princess explains that she has sex with her guards on average three times a day with two to four in each session, so they are all well satisfied and have no reason to rape anyone. Ignoring the bizarre notion that men who do not have sex twice a week should be suspected of rape, this sets the stage for this modern fantasy of sex and politics.

While most of the story centers on succession plots, potential plots, imagined plots, and discussions of the suspected plotters, sex is not ignored. As might be expected by the heroine's rape defense, she has her share of satisfying sex. This is a brief extract from a much longer scene:
The rhythm of his body changed, grew more urgent, and it was too much. I could not watch his eyes while his body ran through mine.
I finished the book with similar feelings to those after Star Wars, Episode I: neither the characters nor the politics held my interest. However, if you liked one, you might certainly check out the other.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lush Life by Richard Price

Matty Clark is a NYPD homicide detective in a Brooklyn neighborhood that's been in transition for decades, even centuries. Today it is a mixture of Orthodox Jews, various Asian populations, and various people of color. Economically it ranges from the PJs (projects) with families living on the edge of poverty to newer upscale residents. Matty's two sons, The Big One and The Other One, live upstate with his divorced wife and regularly get in trouble with the law.

Eric Cash is a twenty-something, personable and successful as a manager in a fashionable restaurant, but driven by demons asking for more. Something more creative, maybe a writer or and actor. Neither his creative aspirations nor his love life match his expectations. Eric also gets in trouble with the law.

Tristan, a good kid from the PJs, baby sits for his three younger step-siblings, while getting beaten by his ex-stepfather for thanks. Among the other kids, he is invisible unless his is the butt of jokes. He writes raps and dreams of a better social life.

These three lives wind and unwind around a accidental murder during a late-night robbery gone awry.

In Lush Life, Richard Price creates a broad array of interesting and sympathetic characters, but the attraction to this story is how many small (it seemed like a good idea at the time) decisions by many people (nice, sincere ones all) leading their independent lives somehow work together to create a royal mess.

When the premise is fatalistic and depressing, the humanity of each character leaves the reader with a warm, uplifting feeling. The writing is excellent, easy to read - a page turner.

Only once in the book, I was thrown out of the story when a simile seemed completely foreign the the characters and setting.
Tristan quick-stooping over [the murder victim], like to take a bite out of his face, hissing, "Oh!" Little Dap hissing, "Go!" yanking him out of there, and then the two of them just flew straight south on Eldridge. ... They swooped around one drunk couple like white water past a rock. (emphasis added)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Blood Alone by James R Benn

Blood Alone by James R Benn is a wonderfully literary World War II mystery. Set in Sicily during the allied invasion, the novel combines the efforts of General Eisenhower and Lucky Luciano to defeat the Germany and Fascist occupiers of Sicily. With a balance between historical fact and engaging characterizations, the story moves quickly.

Literary touches include many fresh and appropriate metaphors and similes.
The echos rattling in a narrow passageway between stone buildings until it sounded like a hysterical mob on our heels.
The literary style is also demonstrated in the title: Blood Alone. Mussolini said:
Blood alone moves the wheels of history.
The Sicilians only trust blood relatives. The wine becomes blood when served by the priests.

A real pleasure to read.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Protect and Defend by Vince Flynn

Protect and Defend by Vince Flynn starts out with some heavy handed right-wing anger.
Ego and political ambition trumped national security for far too many elected officials.
In the prologue, this take-no-prisoners attitude defends our hero as he murders of a political operative said to have used dirty tricks to elect a Democratic president. However, with the editorial posturing out of the way, Vince Flynn spins a tense and intriguing political fantasy about middle east politics using the usual players (Israel, Hezbollah, Iran, and Iraq), but put together with a mixture of familiar themes, but unique and surprisings twists.

In a mixture of the macho super spy, Mitch Rapp, versus the terrorists and the alternate history, Protect and Defend provides plenty of tension and plot twists, and a fantasy happy ending.

In a side note, even though the book was published in 2007, history has over taken fiction.
"The European markets are in a free fall."
"I should have seen that coming. Oil futures?"
"Through the roof. They jumped to ninety dollars a barrel."
Of course in 2008, oil approached $150!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

One Hundred and One Ways by Mako Yoshikawa

Yukiko is torn between Phillip, her romantic ideal, but dead, lover, and Eric, the considerate and successful suitor. But One Hundred and One Ways by Mako Yoshikawa is not about men at all.
There are lots of ways a woman can love a woman.
The story is about generations of women. Yukiko's mother is Akiko, her grandmother is again Yukiko, and her great-grandmother is again Akiko. As these mothers and daughters blend together, the repeating pattern of common names becomes a metaphor of repeated patterns in relationships, lovers and love.

It is also a story of choices and fears.
It must be scary to have gotten everything one ever wanted, or could want. If a person has always been that lucky, then he does not know how much misfortune he can take, and how far he can fall without dying.
I doubt anyone would be disappointed with this brilliant addition to the friends and fashion genre.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe chronicles the first twenty years of Eugene Gant, beginning with sketches of his ancestors to his decision to attend Harvard following his graduation from college. His father, simply called Gant, was an alcoholic and a carver of grave monuments. His mother, Eliza Pentland Gant, ran a boarding house and invested in real estate.
Her vision of land and population was clear, crude, focal - there was nothing technical about it; it was extraordinary for its direct intensity. Her instinct was to buy cheaply where people would come.
Eugene was the youngest child in a large family. The story shows Gene's struggle to escape from the history of his families (The Pentlands are obsessed with settling down and making money and the Gants are unsettled alcoholics.)
The seeds of our destruction will blossom in the desert, the alexin for our cure grows by a mountain rock, and our lives are haunted by a Georgia slattern, because a London cutpurse went unhung.
The style is poetic and pedantic.
And he knew suddenly the joy of obedience: the wild ignorant groping, the bling hunt, the deparate baffled desire that was now to be ruddered, guided, controlled. The way through the passage to India, that he had never been able to find, now would be charted for him. Before he went away she had given him a fat volume... He was drowned deep at midnight in the destiny of a man who killed a bear, the burner of windmills and the scourge of banditry.
The is not a story of optimism and uplift. Though Eliza is successful in her real estate investments, nothing good comes of it, aside from the acquisition of more property - the family lives in poverty with little fodd on the table and less heat in the winter. Though Gant comes down with cancer, there is no resolution here either. Thus, the book ends as it begins.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Carry On, Jeeves by P G Wodehouse

Carry On, Jeeves by P G Wodehouse lives today in the Ask Jeeves search engine.

Jeeves is a "gentleman's personal gentleman," or valet during the 1920s. He is unflappable, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. In each of the little vignettes, Jeeves cleverly solves some personal problem, often through his contacts with relatives or other servants. Many of the problems center around young men about town having their allowance cut off.

The book is also fun to read for the idiosyncratic language.
He was a chap who never borrowed money. He said he wanted to keep his pals, so never bit anyone's ear on principle.
While most of these phrases has passed from current usage, others are alive and well, and doing quite nicely, thank you.
However, if you don't want to be one of the What is Wrong With This Picture brigade, you must observe convention, so I shook his hand as warmly as I could.
Light reading from the roaring twenties.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut was just recently published when I met my wife. On one of our first dates, she gave me a stack of books by Vonnegut and Richard Bautigan. I read them all and the rest is history, as they say.

Rereading Slaughterhouse-Five after almost forty years, I'm not surprised that it is still in Amazon's top 1000 best sellers. Vonnegut's style and images stand the test of time.

The story is about the bombing of Dresden during World War II and might be considered to be of the antiwar genre so popular during the sixties, but it is much more.
It was a movie about American bombers in the Second World War and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this:
American plans, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen.
Over France though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.
When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped backed to the USA, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in romote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.
A great book.