Friday, February 27, 2009

Tailspin by Catherine Coulter

Rachel Abbott, spent her early years with her single mom in rural, very rural, no cellphone coverage rural, Kentucky. A short while ago, she found out her father was a rich, famous senator. Six weeks later he was murdered. Now someone is trying to murder her.

Dr. Timothy McLean, a famous psychiatrist, has frontal lobe atrophy. A disease that releases social inhibitions. He is breaking patient confidentiality about powerful people to everyone he meets. Someone is trying to murder him and the list of possible suspects is seemingly endless.

Mix in some terrorists, nasty relatives, affairs, murders, and a love story and you have Tailspin by Catherine Coulter. This is a flawless thriller where plot and characters keep the story in a tailspin but never crashing until the ending where all is revealed.

An excellent recreational read.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Zapped by Carol Higgins Clark

Zapped by Carol Higgins Clark opens when Lorraine Lily returns home from performing in London to discover her luggage has been lost, her husband has filed for divorce, he's already sold the loft in Manhattan where she intended to spend the night, and New York has a blackout - no electricity, no air conditioning, no elevators, on one of the hottest summer days. And that's just the beginning - there's also a contractor breaking into a renovated apartment, a smash and grab at a art gallery, a women preying on unsuspecting men and daughter estranged from her father. Rapidly, these people get into deeper and deeper trouble while all meeting and greeting each other.

I couldn't put the book down as they all became tied into one enormous mess. Of course, Carol Higgins Clark didn't become a best selling author without the ability to unravel the morass and straighten everyone out in the end.

I had one objection. Everyone landed on their feet, except Loraine Lily. I couldn't believe it. I read the ending three times and even outlined to missing chapter, but in the end poor Lorraine was left in the cold.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Odyssey: The Fitzgerald Translation

The Odyssey: The Fitzgerald Translation, when first published in 1961, won the Bollingen Award for the best translation of a poem into English, and was adopted into many college curricula. However, during the sixties, I had no time for reading classics or even protesting the (Vietnam) war. I directed my energy towards more pressing, personal goals: advanced calculus, physics, chemistry, and college girls. Only the latter yielded to my efforts.

When I recently reviewed my old college texts, I had no energy to dive into the depths of advanced math and science, but I felt it was time to make amends and read the book that was assigned so many decades ago.

I discovered The Odyssey is much more than the Cyclops and the Sirens - each of which only take a few pages. The poem's stories-within-stories structure has Odysseus retell his adventure of meeting famous people in the after world (shades) and they in turn retell much of Greek mythology (Sisyphus, Persephone, ...). In addition the story includes small bits of practical advice:
Now here, sir, look to the lid yourself, and tie it down against light fingers, if there be any, of the black ship tonight while you are sleeping.
and clever word play as when Odysseus tells the cyclops his name is Nobody:
"Nobody, Nobody's tricked me, Nobody's ruined me!"
To this rough shout they made the sage reply: "Ah well, if nobody played you foul there in you lonely bed, ...
Odyssey: A long trip.

The long-trip part of the Odessey tale ends in the middle of the book when Odysseus returns to his native Ithaca. What is the second half of the story?

The original Die Hard! Odysseus is a single guy, ignored, laughed at, and under estimated. In the end in kills all hte bad guys. Cetrainly a plot and a story for the ages.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

Something I look for in a novel is a surprise, something unexpected. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris delivers this and more. The book opens as a clever story constructed around the lives of copywriters and art directors in an ad agency going through a steady stream of layoffs.

The narrative centers around the office chat, especially discussions of past events. Through this technique the present and the past are intermingled:
{past event} [Yop] lifted the suitcase and climbed over the breaker one leg at a time ... and began to walk away, but stopped and turned back to address Jim. "I would thank you for your help, Jim, "he said, "but I've always considered you an idiot.

{present reaction} Yop's final remark to Jim Jackers sent Marcia over the edge.
This almost too clever style and the dark humor approach to the layoffs lulled me into an expectation of light fiction, but this novel has more to it. Gradually, circumstances - a fired employee returns to shoot up the office and the boss's breast cancer - break down the characters' facades and the reader's expectations. By the point everyone is gathered in the hospital, tears rolled down my cheeks.

In his first novel, Joshua Ferris shows himself to be more than a clever writer.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Alexander and Alestria by Shan Sa EXPLICIT

In the fourth century BCE, starting in Macedonia, Alexander the Great conquered the known world: the adjacent Greece, south to Egypt, and east to India, including the powerful kingdom of Persia. Against this backdrop, Alexander and Alestria by Shan Sa, unfolds a complex story of love, romantic, irrational, inexplicable love.

Alexander begin life dressed as a girl and reviled by her father. He is teased in school until he learns to control the other boys through sex (a kind of love). As a teenager he cements his leadership position with a multitude of sexual relationships with the other boys. These relationships continue throughout his life, only ending as each childhood lover dies.

At home, he turns to his mother for support.
She [Alexander's mother Olympias] and I were harnassed together by the timeless link that joins a man and a woman. Philip was dead. I in turn had become her intrepid warrior, her devouring force, her hand reaching out to expand its territories over the world. ... I killed and she dressed the wounds.
Alestria is queen of the Amazon - a warrior tribe from Siberia that survives by adopting unwanted girls. Alexander has seem Alestria in a vision - while he has many male lovers, both in long and short relationships, she is the one woman he can love.

She falls in love with him, except:
I [Alestria] carry within me the curse of the Amazons, which forbids me to love a man. Marrying Alexander means leaving Siberia, abandoning my kingdon, fleeing with him like every other Amazon in the past who has fallen for a man.
These two lovers struggle with their destiny.
Now I had nothing but love, that feeble flame on a vast plain shrouded in darkness. I had only that fire to talk to me, to warm me and support me as I struggled with the shadows and battled by fear.
This is not a happily ever after love story, but it explores the nexus of love and power, romance and reality.

Translated from the French.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Shoot Him If He Runs by Stuart Woods (EXPLICIT)

Stone Barrington is a successful (rich) lawyer, consultant to the CIA, and, now, confidant to the President (of the US). This thriller (mystery with dozens of short chapters) concerns a rather confused notion that the CIA needs to find a lost assassin before his existence spoils the President's chance for reelection. Much of the book's logic requires similar suspension of rational thought processes.

The confusing ending also disappoints by brushing the entire event away in a conceit that was popular in 20th century spy thrillers - it is fiction, but it could have been true because it was all covered up in the end. I prefer the newer style, set in the present, but clearly fiction, such as: Protect and Defend.

Interesting notes:

The President's wife runs the CIA.

Much of the (discreetly written) sex is oral, male on female.

Two of the minor characters are James Tiptree and Thomas Hardy, both famous authors

Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

I must confess. When I opened Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella, I recognized her as the author of the best-selling Shopaholic series. I expected light humor from in the fashion and feelings genre. There were plenty of fashion labels: Armani, Chanel, Lancome, Estee Lauder, Jo Malone, and especially La Perla. The post-feminist (pre-feminist?) dialogue included such wisdom as:
"Women need chocloate. It's a scientific fact."
However I was pleasantly surprised to find a character-driven plot, complete with twists and turns reminiscent of the finest 19th century authors.

The story opens with a 25-year-old career women having a night on the town with her girlfriends - drinking, dancing, enjoying their freedom and friendship. Suddenly, Lexi Smart wakes in a hospital and while her last memory is that night of partying, she realizes:
I'm twenty-eight, I have perfect white teeth, a [business] card saying "director," and a husband.
How the hell did all that happen?
The remainder explores her reconciliation of the friend-loving, fun-loving Lexi she remembers, and the bitch-boss from hell (aka the Cobra) she is living.

I found her character real and engaging and I eagerly turned to pages to learn of Lexi's next discovery about her past and her responses. As in a good Dickens novel, the plot grows with each new revelation, but finally in the end all the various threads are woven together into a wonderful tapestry. This is a book more like The Secret Between Us than Poisoned Tarts.

A rich novel and a fast read.