Saturday, April 30, 2011

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

Did you miss the whole '60's scene? The hippie, wanna-be-free feeling of beachfront California? Fear not. Readers can revisit this environment in Thomas Pynchon's book, Inherent Vice. Pynchon fans will recognize his style here; a rambling story that meanders from cultural icon to cultural icon, taking the reader along to whatever destination Pynchon has in mind, entertaining them along the way.

Inherent Vice is the story of Doc Sportello, a private investigator who spends as little time working as he can get by on. He is visited by his ex-girlfriend, Shasta, who wants Doc to find her new boyfriend who seems to have disappeared. In the process of unraveling this mystery, Doc leads the reader through the discovery of the Internet, beach/surf music, a diabolical Eastern drug cartel, various right-wing thugs working for governmental or police agencies, Las Vegas before it was turned into Disneyland West, tons of marijuana smoking, lots of sex, and plenty of dubious characters. The whole chaotic journey devolves into a satisfactory conclusion where all the puzzles are solved and the good guys prevail.

This book is recommended for all readers. Pynchon is an American treasure, one of the authors whose work will be read far into the future. His keen eye notes the details that make up a culture while his style entertains. Pynchon fans will be pleased with this book, and those who haven't yet discovered this author will be pleasantly surprised.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Heart Of Deception by M. L. Malcolm

Leo Hoffman has led an unconventional life.  Born in Hungary, he fled to Shanghai with his adored wife after WWI.  When Shanghai fell and his wife was killed, he was able to get his daughter Maddy out and on her way to America.  Leo ended up in Cairo where his ability to speak multiple languages and willingness to be considered a shady character made him the perfect spy as WWII heated up.  On Leo's side, he was willing to take on this dangerous role for the reward offered; citizenship papers in the United States and a reunion with Maddy.

But the best-laid plans often go awry in war and the shadowy world of espionage.  Leo is captured by the Germans and sent to a work camp.  Years later, when he makes it to America, Maddy is a teenager, bitter that he had disappeared from her life and unwilling to let him back in.  He goes back to the world he knows and disappears once again, his whereabouts known only to his superiors at the CIA.

Maddy grows up, but into trouble.  She is torn between two men, one a boring conventional doctor whose family refuses to accept her as his wife, the other an exciting but dominating man she alternatively craves and fears.  She flees to the safety of a marriage to the doctor, but when it falls apart, she finds herself drawn back into the circle of the dangerous man she wanted to avoid.  As things grow steadily more dangerous, can Leo come back and be there for Maddy in her time of greatest need?

M.L. Malcolm has written a novel that will appeal to many readers.  It has romance, intrigue and suspense.  She artfully weaves real people, many in the early stages of the spy game, into the novel to lend it authenticity.  This book is recommended for readers who enjoy reading about life choices, where they lead, and the gift of second chances.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Memoirs Of A Widowed Mistress by Megan van Eyck

On a trip to Hawaii, Megan van Eyck sat next to a man who she felt an instant attraction to.  Although she was married, she fantasized about meeting with him.  After her return when he called she immediately agreed to meet him, and quickly fell into an affair.  He was on his third marriage with grown children.  Van Eyck had two small children and a husband she felt was inattentive.

So started a five and a half year affair.  They met daily when he was in town, having hours of sex in her bedroom or in his.  She traveled on exotic trips with him, telling her husband her girlfriends had free air travel miles and wanted her to go with them.  Since she did not work outside the home, she was able to conceal her affair from her husband.

Megan came from an abusive background.  Her father alternately showered her with affection and then ignored her, chasing other women.  She learned from him and his women that women's only value is their looks and their ability to fulfill men's desires.  Her mother had mental issues, and after a divorce from her father, fell into an existence with little food in the house, filth everywhere and total emotional abandonment of her daughter.  Megan came out of this background with an emotional makeup that constantly led her to choose men who could not or would not love her.

Megan's affair went on for five years, ended only by the death of Carlos, her lover.  As he went through a final illness, she was banished from his life as his wife was with him.  She did not get to have a final goodbye with him, and the experience showed her how little she had settled for.  After Carlos' death, her husband found out about the affair by finding the memoir on her computer.

This book is recommended for readers interested in the mindset of those willing to have extramarital relationships.  Many will be turned off by Megan and her duplicitous ways, her willingness to betray her husband and children in an attempt to find a man who loved her.  Others will question her portrayal of her husband, who she admits was a great father and who supported the family by himself.  The reaction of her sons when they grow up and read this graphic account of their mother's sex life will upset some readers.  Others will admire her frankness and willingness to tell everything about her life.  The author remains married and with her family.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Chimp Who Loved Me by Annie Greer

Geared towards animal lovers and readers looking for a humorous read, The Chimp Who Loved Me is Annie Greer's memoir about her veterinary practice with her husband Kent, another veterinarian. 

Based in Florida, the couple treats household pets, but also work with large farm animals and even exotic animals.  The book is broken into three sections.  The first section talks about the exotic animals such as chimps, giraffes, wolves, tigers and camels that the couple has either worked on or fostered.  Annie talks about the fact that the biggest issue with wild animals is the human belief that loving an animal changes its wild nature.  Most humans who are hurt by these animals have decided to believe that the animal has been tamed, but this is far from the truth.  The recent case where a chimp almost killed a woman is one example.

The second part of the book is about the Greer's time as owners of a petting zoo and their current time as farmers with cows, pigs, sheep, goats and poultry.  Greer's love of animals shines in this section, with stories about their pet pig and a pet turkey that are heart-warming.  It also discusses the thrill of going to very rural areas in order to purchase livestock and some of the scares they have had on such expeditions.

The last part of the book relates some of the stories of strange pet owners they have encountered over the years.  Some of these stories will make the readers hair stand on end!  This book is recommended for animal lovers.  Greer has an amusing, light-hearted tone throughout, but her passion and love for animals shines through the humour. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Case Closed? by Susan Hughes

In Case Closed?  Nine Mysteries Unlocked by Modern Science, author Susan Hughes uses ancient and more recent historical mysteries to introduce children to the marvels of science.  The book is geared to children in middle school and up.

Each case is formatted the same way.  The mystery is introduced, the historical background is given, and then the way the researchers used science to discover answers is given.  Additional cases in the same category are explained.  Finally, whether or not a discussion on whether or not the case is solved is presented.

Cases include people such as the Pharoah Hatshepsut, the Russian princess Anastasia, Amelia Earheart, Sir John Franklin (a polar explorer) and George Mallory, a mountainclimber.  Other cases discuss a city, Ubar, that disappeared, and an entire North American Indian culture, the Anasazi, who left thriving cities around 1300 and disappeared from history.  Finally, there are cases of journeys such as a trip across the Pacific on a bamboo raft, and submarines and airplanes that disappeared mid-journey.

This book is recommended for young readers interested in science, or for parents who are looking for books to interest teen readers.  The mysteries are presented engagingly, and the science is explained in such a way that it can be easily followed.  Readers learn of medical advances, imaging from space, plant analysis, forensic anthropology, DNA analysis and many more scientific fields.  The book is an interesting gateway to careers in many areas of science. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Separate Kingdoms by Valarie Laken

A woman waiting in the hospital as her father lies dying.  A man who is trying to help his wife regain her life after a horrible car accident that has taken her leg.  Refugees trying to fit into the culture of another country.  A man left behind in his parents' house as the neighborhood dissolves into poverty and decay.  These are the protagonists in Valerie Laken's stories found in Separate Kingdoms.  Each faces a challenge that separates them from others; each struggles to find a way to span the void and reestablish contact with those around them.

Laken was born in Illinois and has lived and worked in Russia, Poland and the Czech Republic.  Her work has appeared in journals such as Ploughshares, the Missouri Review, the Antioch Review and the Chicago Tribune.  She has also written a novel, Dream House.  She has won a Pushcart Prize, the Missouri Review Editors' Prize and two Hopwood Awards.  Laken teaches at the Universary of Wisconsin.

Readers interested in short stories will be struck by the stark beauty of Laken's stories.  Her characters face challenges, some of them bodily, some of them isolation, but regardless of their bleak situations, a tendril of hope insists on growing and searching for connection and a better tomorrow.  This book is recommended for readers of modern fiction and those searching for an answer to how others face the everyday challenges life throws at most of us sooner or later.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Elizabeth And The Prince Of Spain by Margaret Irwin

Elizabeth And The Prince Of Spain opens with the marriage of Prince Philip of Spain to Elizabeth's sister, Mary.  Mary is the daughter of Henry VIII's first wife, Katherine of Aragon, and she has no sisterly love for the offspring of his next wife, Anne Boleyn.  The marriage is one of political convenience for Spain; Mary is more than a decade older than Philip.  While he is polite, he has no real interest in Mary.  Mary, on the other hand, after a lifetime of no love interest, falls devotedly and jealously in love with Philip.

This love is both the greatest danger and the safety net for Elizabeth.  Left to her own devices, Mary would put Elizabeth back in the Tower and take her life.  Instead, to please Philip, she restrains herself, and even brings Elizabeth to court.  This is a double-edged sword.  While she pleases Philip, she now watches his every move intently, afraid that he will fall under Elizabeth's spell.

Elizabeth also faces the double-edged sword.  She must please Philip enough to retain him as her protector and keep him interested in her, but at the same time, she must keep him at arm's length.  An affair with Philip would end her life as it would be the one crime Mary would never forgive.

Margaret Irwin has written a trilogy about Elizabeth and this one is the third in the series.  It easily stands alone, however, as there is little suspense in the story of the Tudors for most readers.  Irwin's forte is characterization; her characters act in ways that are believable to the reader while retaining enough mystery to intrigue them.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Race To Splendor by Ciji Ware

The year is 1906.  Amelia Bradshaw has just returned to her beloved San Francisco from Paris, where she is one of the first women to become an architect.  But her return is hardly a happy one.  Her beloved grandfather has died.  Even though he left her the family fortune built with one of San Francisco's most prominent hotels, disaster is waiting.

Her father gambles away the family hotel in a drunken all night gambling spree.  Although the will states that it is Amelia and not he who holds legal title, and although California has recently passed laws giving women the right to control their own property, laws must be interpreted in courts by judges.  Amelia is unlucky enough to draw a judge adamantly opposed to the new freedoms given to women and he awards the hotel to her father's poker opponent. 

Left destitute, Amelia joins the first female architectural firm, headed by one of her college friends and mentors.  But worse is waiting.  Within a month, the great earthquake of San Francisco occurs.  The city is almost destroyed.  Amelia survives and now must do her part to make her way in the world and to help rebuild the city she loves, and the hotel she has lost to a charming scoundrel.

Ciji Ware is acknowledged as one of the best historical fiction authors, and she does not disappoint in A Race to Splendor.  Meticulously researched, she transports the reader to turn of the century San Francisco and makes them feel the devastation and the pioneering spirit that rebuilt the city.  The characters are sympathetic and the romance between Amelia and her rival is believable.  The world seems to be in another cycle of devastating earthquakes the last few years, and Ware makes the reader feel the devastation in a new light, not only the few minutes of terror, but the aftermath of months of privation and the strength needed to rebuild.  This book is recommended for readers interested in historical fiction and the start of women professional lives. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Booksie Comes Clean!

I'm very excited about this interview at Gatekeepers:

It explains how I pick a book for review, what I've read lately I loved and other topics.  Thanks to the folks at Gatekeepers!

The Beauty Of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb

Maggie Hai has come to Vietnam.  Her job is to catalog the art of a grand hotel in Saigon; her mission is to discover more about her father's life.  She lost her father early but knows he had a hard life in Vietnam.

After searching for anyone who may have known him in the pre-war days, she is directed to Old Man Hung.  Hung has lived what most would consider a life of deprivation and sorrow.  Pushed from his family by a mother who did not value him, he has made his life in the city as a pho cook.  For years he had his own restaurant but now he pushes his cart to a new location each day.  He has never married but made a family from those who surround him, taking care of everyone he encounters.

Before the war, his restaurant was the gathering place for the artists and poets and authors who made up the revolution.  They called their movement The Beauty of Humanity Movement.  They wrote against the dynasty and French government that ruled them, then after the French were overthrown, they turned their criticism against the Communists who, they said, were betraying their ideals.  That led to their downfall.  The men were brutally seized and taken to reeducation camps.  There not only their bodies were crushed but their minds also.  An artist might have his hands shattered, and that had happened to Maggie's father.  A poet might have his tongue removed.  No one knew what happened to the men once they were seized.

Hung was left as the guardian of their ideals.  He kept a shrine to Dao, a poet who took the time to educate him when he found Hung had no schooling.  As Maggie and Hung talk and she meets his friends, her father's story starts to emerge also.

Camilla Gibb has written an important book illuminating how Communism impoverished the nations it overtook.  While the material poverty was great and obvious, what was more stunning was the impoverishment of free thought and art.  The reader will experience the book as languid at first, but it slowly reveals stunning moments that will never be forgotten.  The characters are finely drawn, and the ability of men like Hung to make a life out of whatever life allows them is inspiring.  This book  is recommended for all readers.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Angelology by Danielle Trussoni

Sister Evangeline is one of the few young nuns in the convent.  She was brought there as a young child by her father, and has grown up in the safety of the convent, raised in the adoration of God. 

Now something is changing.  Evangeline is learning that her family history makes her unique.  She is the latest generation of angelogists.  These men and women have devoted their lives to defeating the terror and danger of the Nephilim.  The Nephilim are the offspring of angels and humans, and have ruled the world for centuries.  They are beautiful yet ruthless and have the means to control money, lands, businesses, anything they want.  What they want more than anything is the treasure that the Angelologists have managed to keep hidden.

Evangeline is drawn into the age-old battle between the two sides.  She is reunited with her grandmother, Gabriella, who was one of the most famous angelogists of the 1940's.  That was the year in which an expedition of angelogists entered the cave in which the Fallen Angels have been imprisoned for all time, and who retrieved a vast treasure from that cave.

Now Evangeline must leave the convent to save the nuns, and find a way to help the Angelologists in their fight against those who would destroy humanity.

Danielle Trussoni has written an entrancing, lyrical, compelling book. The book gains authenticity from the historical backdrops Trussoni inserts.  It starts out slowly yet the reader is compelled to continue the story as they are drawn more and more deeply into the hunt for the treasure and the fight between the species.  By the end of the book, the tension is so high that it is frightening.  This book is recommended for thriller readers.

Blue by Lou Aronica

Becky and her father Chris created a magical land, Tamarisk, when Becky was five and fighting leukemia.  Now she is fourteen and the close relationship she had with Chis has disappeared along with thoughts of magic.  Chris and Polly, Becky's parents, couldn't take the strain of her illness and ended up divorcing when she was ten.  Now they are in a strained relationship and with limited time together, Chris and Becky can't find their way to the easy trust they had in each other.

But all of that is about to change.  Becky discovers one night that Tamarisk was not just a fantasy; it is a place that really exists.  Somehow she is transported there.  The land needs her; it is in crisis.  A terrible blight has attacked the plants there, and without vegetation, animals and humans cannot survive.  Becky feels that there is a reason she has been brought to this land created in her imagination, and after returning there multiple times, even finds a way to transport Chris with her.  As Chris and Becky fight to save Tamarisk, they also find their way back to each other, and learn to love so much that no sacrifice is too great to make.

Lou Aronica has created a magical fantasy that is guaranteed to touch the hearts of every reader.  He taps into the love between parents and children, and into the belief in magic that touches each and every person, stirring their imagination and making their life more real.  This book is recommended for readers ready for inspiration and hope.

Quick update:  Blue can currently be purchased in e-book format for $2.99 as it's price has been reduced.  Readers may want to take advantage of this offer.