Happy Anniversary!

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Twenty two years ago today, I was married. At the time I was nervous, anxious, excited, and breathless. I was ready; I wasn’t ready. I wanted the ceremony to be over already; I wanted it to last forever.

I “knew” that marriage was not the end of the journey but the beginning, but I didn’t “know” it deep inside. Now I do.

My husband and I took a leap of faith all those years ago. We believed that we were meant to be together through troubles and joys, when we had good times and bad times, when we were healthy and sick, and when we felt like it and when we didn’t. In twenty two years, I think we’ve probably hit all those conditions, although most likely not at the same times.

Marriage is a place of terrifying intimacy. When I was a teenager, I thought that if I ever got married, I would wake up before my husband and put my makeup on before he saw me in the morning. I thought I would wear fancy nightgowns every night, and we’d have witty conversation every evening. Reality is something different. We’ve seen each other at our worst, in almost every way. We trust that even when we’re ugly or sick, the other will see past that and love us anyway. Also, we will always be there for each other, even when we disagree. We are no longer “you” and “me”, but “us”, although “you” and “me” still exist. When you are married, you can’t really hide from your spouse. You have to trust that they will understand you, and you will understand them. You are always on a two-way street. Everything you want for yourself, you have to be prepared to give your spouse. If you need forgiveness, you should be prepared to forgive; if you need understanding, you need to understand; if you want a safe haven, you must provide a safe haven.

I like being married. I like being married to my husband. He’s my best friend. That sounds like a cliché, but it is true. On our first date, I told him I could imagine several paths for us – we could be great friends; lifelong, even, because we had so much in common, or we could see where else the path would take us. We decided to take the path, and guess what, we got to be great friends as well.

 

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Last Night I Dreamed of Africa

I returned from a vacation to South Africa recently and for weeks after, I dreamt about my experience. The dreams are not direct reflections of my time there, but in the way of dreams, they are evocative of my overall experience. When I wake, there is a moment when I am not sure where I am, at home or back in the lodge.

The trip to South Africa was a birthday present from my husband. Earlier this year, he reminded me that this was the year for a milestone birthday, and that I should think about what I’d like to do for it. Typically, I tried to defer making a decision. Anyone who knows my husband understands that this strategy could not last for long. He suggested a few possible vacation locations and said I should pick one. I thought about it and decided I should go for the one place that seemed so very far from our regular life – Africa. Naturally, this choice involved a lot of research, and eventually we got a plan for travelling to South Africa, making a tour of the country.

The Journey

A significant part of this kind of experience is the journey. We live in the Seattle area, so travel to South Africa is not an easy or quick thing to schedule. Our plan called for us to take a trip to Dubai, then connecting to Cape Town. Seattle to Dubai took about 14 hours. Dubai to Cape Town took another 8 hours. Unfortunately for me, I had a lot of trouble sleeping on the plane. I normally have trouble sleeping on planes. I don’t know if it is the sound, the vibration, the seat, or some other factor, but the most I can manage is a light doze for about a half hour at a time. During the flight to Dubai, I dozed for about an hour, total. The airline, Emirates, has great “lie flat” seats, and they even provide a “mattress” (something like a light futon), but even with the eye mask, I just couldn’t fall asleep. I was so glad when we got to Dubai, because our long layover made it possible to get a hotel room where we could catch a few Z’s.

I have to say that this first leg of our trip was pretty great on Emirates. The seats were pretty comfortable, the food was good, the wine was good, and they have a really nice in-seat entertainment system (ICE – Information, Communication, Entertainment) that beats most in-flight options elsewhere. The ambience is really nice. They have a “sky” ceiling that shows something like constellation patterns when the cabin lights are dimmed, and (at least in business class) they even provide sound cancelling headphones for watching the ICE.

The Dubai airport was amazing. We landed at what I thought was a pretty early hour (around 7pm) but the area was empty. Everything was closed. We followed the signs to where we thought we needed to go, but needed to ask a few people for additional info. The airport is HUGE! It is also very modern and kind of glitzy. It was a bit intimidating. We finally figured out where to go and went outside to catch the shuttle to our hotel. Wow! Leaving the air-conditioned airport, we were saturated with heat and humidity. After a few hours of sleep, we headed back to the airport. Again – wow! Even at around 2:00 am, it was hot and humid. Unbelievable.

The flight to Cape Town took about 9 hours. By this time, I was able to get a nap in. Thank goodness! Leg 2 on Emirates wasn’t quite as stellar as leg 1. The remote for the ICE kept recycling, making it harder to it use the system (but I managed). The in-seat massage control didn’t work for my system, but it did for my husband. Meaning that HE could control the massage on my side. How odd!

Cape Town

Finally in Cape Town, we were met by a driver who took us to the Cape Grace Hotel. The weather was very much like it is here in Seattle; kind of drizzly, overcast, and cool. It was a good thing we brought clothes for slightly cool weather. Unfortunately, the weather precluded us doing some of the things we’d hoped to do in Cape Town – go to the top of Table Mountain, visit Robben Island. Sad, but that’s how things fall out, sometimes. We still got to do quite a lot. We visited lots of historical sites, and many local sights.

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Torrential Rain

Our day tour took us to Hout Bay. We stopped at an outdoor flea market to look at some of the local wares. As we perused the various stalls, the wind came up, and suddenly there was a torrential rain, and we were standing in the open without even an umbrella. A friendly vendor invited us into her covered stall, and we spent a good 15 – 20 minutes chatting with her. Then squall passed and the sun came out as though nothing had happened. Naturally we bought some of her wares, but our real souvenir was the time we spent sheltering with a local and chatting.

Penguins!

One highlight was our visit to Simon’s Town. We are big-time penguin lovers. It is one of the things that we have in common that drew us together many years ago (small, but true). We really looked forward to the opportunity to see penguins in the wild. Simon’s Town hosts a colony of penguins. As we moved toward the beach area where the penguins live, we noticed a number of local houses that have barriers set against the penguins. Apparently, the penguins are mischievous, getting into garages, sheds, and whatever. As enchanting as they are for us visitors, they become tiresome for the local residents.

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Cape of Good Hope

We made the trip to the Cape of Good Hope and we climbed to the old lighthouse at Cape Point.

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Later, we went to the Kirstenbosch Gardens. We didn’t have too much time to spend there, but it was wonderful!

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After this, we went to the Winelands, to visit some of South Africa’s wineries.

Our driver was a very knowledgeable, and took us to some of the best wineries in the area. We thought that he probably took us to the best one first, but all were very good. We had the chance to taste local wines. We also had lunch at a wonderful restaurant, located in the midst of one of those vineyards.

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After our winery tours, we went to our accommodation for the next few nights, La Residence. What a fabulous place! It was like time-travelling back nearly a century to stay at someone’s luxurious mansion for a weekend. Our room was very lux, very comfortable. It was like a dream. The bed had sheets of real linen – the type you have to iron. Even the bathroom was amazingly plush.

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There were peacocks on the grounds, and a wonderful lake with an little island. It was like a daydream. I wish we spent longer there, it was so delightful.

The first part of our trip was so special! It was like a world away, and yet somewhat familiar. There was just enough of the strange to make it a bit exotic, but not so unfamiliar that we felt completely alien. All the people we met were wonderful – helpful and friendly. I know that no country is universally wonderful, but our experience in South Africa made us feel such warmth toward the people, even if it was based only on the few we interacted with.

 

 

 

 

Books – April 2014

I am working on catching up with my reading. I’ve had a few problems this year keeping my list up to date, but I’m gradually moving forward. April seems to have been a light reading month for me. I looked to see if I’ve overlooked something. If I have, I’ll have to add them later.

Title Author
I Am Livia Phyllis T. Smith
The Last Week Marcus J. Borg and Dominic Crossen
Virgin F. Paul Wilson

 

I Am Livia – Many* years ago, I was hanging out in the bookstore at the mall (Midland Mall in Warwick, RI) and I came across a book called I, Claudius.  I don’t know what drew me to the book, but I was intrigued by the story of Claudius and his (pretty horrible) family in ancient Rome. The dark heart of the book was Claudius’ grandmother Livia, a woman of ambition and intellect who would do anything to achieve her aims. Those who have read I, Claudius, or watched the BBC dramatization will know what I mean when I say that I never imagined that I could feel an ounce of empathy for Livia.

Yet, this book presents Livia in a different light. It begins with her as a young girl, betrothed to an older man as part of her father’s allies. From there, we see how Livia struggles to survive in an increasingly hostile political climate, using her wits to gain whatever advantages she can.

The historical details are presented in a way that makes it easy for the reader to follow. It is interesting to see a different perspective on many well known people, like Marc Antony, Cleopatra, Brutus, Cicero, and so on.  I don’t know which version of Livia is closer to the way she really was, but they do say that history is written by the victors, so perhaps Liva wasn’t quite as devious an adversary as she’s been portrayed before.

The Last Week – this is the last week of Jesus’ life as told by religious scholars, not Bill O’Reilly. So, this book spends more time examining the biblical texts than providing a timeline. This is important as a comparison of stories across the gospels shows some variations. Of course, some differences can be attributed to the fact that the gospels were not written as they happened, but other differences depend on the points the individual writers wish to emphasize.  The authors of this book also want to emphasize certain points of the story, specifically the political and social influences affecting Israel at this time. The importance of some of Jesus’ actions during this week are somewhat lost on most of us who don’t have a clear historical context for them. Some actions are simple, but provocative and some are symbolic. It may be difficult for the modern person to imagine what it must have been like during that turbulent time. In fact it can be hard for us to reach back a scant 30 or so years to appreciate how events affected people, but this book did a lot to provide some way for the reader to attempt to understand how events transpired so long ago.

Virgin – I didn’t read this book concurrently with The Last Week, and it is a good thing because they couldn’t be more different.  This is a book of fiction, which concerns an ancient scroll which has come into the hands of people who want to translate it, although it appears to be a forgery.  Not too much of a spoiler: it turns out that the contents of the scroll are authentic. What happens next ventures into an area that is a cross between supernatural and thriller, with a hint of apocalyptic fiction included. This was an interesting read, but I wouldn’t look to this book to provide solid theology.

Books – March 2014

Title Author
A Plague of Zombies Diana Gabaldon
Inferno Dan Brown
Murder 101 Maggie Barbieri
Before We Met Lucie Whitehouse
Stallion Gate Martin Cruz Smith

 

A Plague of ZombiesOutlander is one of my favorite series. In fact, since I’ve been so delinquent in publishing this list from March, the new novel in the series has just been released (Written in My Own Heart’s Blood). The problem is that usually several years elapse between releases. Fortunately the author publishes a few novellas during that time. These stories typically are about some of the secondary (or even tertiary) characters from the main series. One of those characters is Lord John Grey,  a soldier in the English army.  The novellas that feature him take place outside the action of the Outlander series, at various points in Lord John’s career.

In A Plague of Zombies, Lord John is sent to Jamaica to quell a slave rebellion. Once there, he finds that the governor is threatened by zombies under the control of the rebels. As a military man, Lord John is required to provide support to the governor, but the governor may not be worthy of the effort.

It seems like this book is a nod to the zombie trend, but Gabaldon includes information about historical, rather than pop culture, zombies (one of her sources was The Serpent and the Rainbow, about folk medicine and zombies in Haiti). There is a mystery to be solved, and some quiet references to the Outlander series, so if you are already a fan, this is an entertaining read. I don’t know how engaging it would be to someone who hasn’t at least read the other Lord John stories, but if you are interested in some quick historical mystery stories, reading the Lord John novellas is a good choice.

Inferno  – Dan Brown returns to Europe for this novel centered on the work and life of Dante, set in Florence. As in The Da Vinci Code, elements of Dante’s life and the history and art of Florence are integral to the plot.

The story opens with Robert Langdon being treated for a gunshot wound, but he has amnesia and can’t remember who shot at him or why.  Before he can orient himself, he’s attacked again, and he finds himself on the run with his young doctor. He soon becomes involved in the search for a scientist whose concerns about over population lead him release a new plague on the world, unless he can be stopped. As with other Robert Langdon books, much of the fun comes from learning of the back story to pieces of art and literature. The mad scientist and conspiracy plots are only ok because some aspects of them weren’t very convincing to me, although I think this story was better than Brown’s previous book, The Lost Symbol.

Murder 101 – When a quiet English professor‘s car is stolen, it is one more bad thing that has happened to her recently. When it is recovered with the body of one of her students in it, everything goes from bad to worse, as she becomes a primary suspect. School politics, police procedures, an ex-husband, and troublesome students complicate matters while Alison tries to clear herself and find out who killed her student. This was a quick and fun read, and I’ll be reading more of this series.

Before We Met – When Hannah’s husband doesn’t return on time from a business trip, her worry causes her to try to find him. Her efforts to determine what happened result in more questions and the suspicion that all is not what it seemed in her marriage or her life. Some of the twists in this story were not too hard to figure out, but overall it was a good read and a cautionary tale along the lines of “if something seems too good to be true…” It also convinced me that my belief that people who want to get married should not propose (or accept a proposal) until they at least see their prospective spouse through four seasons, two major holidays, and one family get together, (with an optional trip to a non-glamorous spot) is apt and would have helped this character immensely.

Stallion Gate – Before we went to this year’s open house at the Trinity test site, I remembered this book by Martin Cruz Smith. I read it years ago when it was first published, and I thought it would be good to revisit it. The main character is Sgt. Joe Pena, an Indian in the U.S. Army. Joe has a number of flaws, and he’s liberated from the stockade by Capt. Augustino with orders to provide evidence that J. Robert Oppenheimer is a spy for the Communists. Pena was friends with Oppenheimer in his youth and thinks this idea is ridiculous, but he’s caught in a sticky web of deceit. Pena learns that there are spies at Los Alamos, and he tries to uncover them before they can interfere with the nuclear test which is scheduled for the Trinity site. He also wants out from Augustino’s thumb, and he’d like to make a new life for himself. However, accomplishing all this is less than likely. Given that we all know how the test turned out, and the identity of the spies, the novel still manages to be suspenseful. I was just as touched by the ending as I was when I first read this book back in the 1980s.

Books – February 2014

Title Author
I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies Jeanine Basinger
Nos4a2 Joe Hill
Dead Men’s Boots Mike Carey

 

I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies – I saw this in the bookstore and was immediately interested in it. This is a discussion of the ways that marriage is portrayed in movies and how it changes based on evolving social mores and current events. For example, in some early marriage-oriented movies the focus is on happy endings after minor problems, but during World War II the tone of the films became more serious and concentrated on the way that couples, and especially women, coped with long separations followed by difficult readjustments when the husbands return home.

It was interesting to read the author’s analysis of some favorite old movies in terms of how they treat relationships and marriages. If you are interested in considering films from a different perspective, this is a good read.

Nos4a2 – this book seemed a little like old-school Stephen King. Of course, it isn’t by Stephen King; it is by his son, who apparently learned some interesting things from his dad. On the positive side, it includes a very creepy villain and his extremely creepy sidekick, who touch on fears of child molestation and kidnapping with their “Christmas Land” come on.

The title, echoing Nosferatu, doesn’t reference vampires in the usual way. These guys don’t actually drink blood for sustenance. Rather, they suck the life essence from their victims. The predators approach children who need some attention and convince them that there’s a child-friendly utopia waiting for them. Vic McQueen, a young girl with a special gift for “finding” things crosses paths with them. Vic’s clash with Manx spans decades. The book seems to go on a little too long, but has a satisfying conclusion.

Dead Men’s Boots – Felix Castor is asked by a friend’s widow to help prevent her husband’s body from being exhumed and cremated. Naturally, nothing goes as expected, and Felix is drawn into a case that appears to include a long-dead serial killer and a group that seeks immortality so they can continue to exert their power and control over others. In the course of the investigation, Juliet accompanies Felix to the United States, which advances the story and also gives some insight into Juliet’s personality. As usual, Felix makes some interesting “strange bedfellows” alliances which are convenient in the short-term. This series continues to be entertaining, especially if you like the combination of noir-like detective stories and supernatural elements.

Books – January 2014

Title Author
The Husband’s Secret Liane Murphy
Once Upon a Lie Maggie Barbieri
The Jewel of St. Petersburg Kate Furnivall
The Descendants Kaui Hart Hemmings

 

The Husband’s Secret – I picked this up on a whim. I think it might have been one of the suggested books on some list, and it sounded interesting. It was interesting, although the tone was a little hard to pin down. At times, it seemed like a satire of modern Australian family lives, but it turned out to be something closer to a cross between a mystery and a story about how women cope with family issues. The book involves several stories that are related. In each one, a woman has to deal with a difficult issue. Some of them are easier than others, but all are emotionally and socially challenging. There are secrets involved everywhere. Some are small, and some are very big. What matters most is how the people involved manage the problems.

 

Once Upon a Lie – what if you had a relative who was obnoxious and toxic and they died mysteriously? Would you feel bad? Would you try to find the killer? Maeve’s cousin Sean was always mean and abusive to her, and now that he’s been murdered, she isn’t too sorry. Unfortunately, Maeve’s father is being looked at as a suspect. Complicating things, her dad is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, so it is very hard to clear his name. Who killed Sean? What secrets are hidden in a family? Maeve tries to cope with a challenging personal life as well as her small business while attempting to ensure that her ailing but feisty dad isn’t railroaded for a murder he didn’t commit. I enjoyed this book as a change of pace.

The Jewel of St. Petersburg – In imperial Russia, Valentina Ivanova is pushed by her parents, especially her father, to find a rich, influential husband. This is not Valentina’s goal, though. Since her younger sister was injured in a revolutionists’ attack, she has planned to learn how to help people by becoming a nurse. As the story unfolds, Valentina and her family are caught in the events that lead to the Revolution. As an historical novel, this does not rival something like Doctor Zhivago (in fact, now I feel that I should re-read that book, since it has been many years since I read it!), but it is still a good book that attempts to include the many aspects of the Russian Revolution while still maintaining a convincing romance.

The Descendants – I saw the movie, and then read the book. Either way, I found this story of a family in flux and crisis fascinating. When Matt King’s wife is critically injured, her secrets and the truths about his marriage, come to light. Matt has many responsibilities, to his daughters as well as his extended family, and he is working to determine what the right things to do are. Should he find his wife’s lover and let him know that she is dying? Should he sell his family’s land holdings? How can he make connections with his daughters? This is a touching story of how a person and family move on when the worst happens.

Books – December 2013

Title Author
 Harrowgate Kate Maruyama
 Countdown City Ben Winters
 The Vicious Circle Mike Carey
 Mary Poppins P.L. Travers
 A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens

Late, late, late! Well, at least this should be finished before February, so I will count that as a little victory.

In December, I revisited a couple of books I read in the past and followed up on a few series I’ve started to read. I also read one very “different” story about a new family.

Harrowgate – A man returns home to discover that his pregnant wife has already given birth. As happy as he is that he has a new son, he finds the adjustments to their new life odd and disturbing. Perhaps his wife is experiencing post-partum depression? That might explain why she doesn’t want any visitors except for the somewhat creepy doula who has been helping with the new baby. Or perhaps there’s a more sinister reason. About halfway through the novel, the reason for these changes becomes clear. This is a strange story about how people cope with change and loss. This is an interesting story, but strange and a bit frustrating to read.

Countdown City – Hank Palace has lost his job as a policeman in Concord, NH about 2 months before an asteroid is due to strike Earth. Despite his unemployment, Hank continues to find meaning by taking on investigations on his own. The woman who used to babysit Hank and his sister comes to Hank and asks for his help finding her husband. She is convinced that he would not go “bucket list” and abandon her before the comet strike, so something must have happened to him. In the course of his investigation, Hank finds that many people (and organizations) have found ways to make the impending disaster work for their agendas. Some hoard supplies, some indulge in hedonism, and some use the breakdown of society to grab power and control over others.  I find this trilogy fascinating, and I can’t wait for the last book. Will the asteroid strike, or is that a story told by those who have something to gain by the crisis?

The Vicious Circle – The follow-up to The Devil You Know finds Fix Castor reluctantly re-entering the exorcism business. He gets involved with a strange missing person case – a couple has asked Fix to locate the ghost of their daughter. They say that they believe she has been kidnapped. While finding ghosts isn’t exactly in Felix’s line, the couple will pay enough money to pay off his bills, so he takes on the challenge. Naturally, nothing is as it seems. Felix soon finds himself tracked by lycanthropes, assaulted by mobsters, and threatened by a fellow exorcist. This series has the style of a noir mystery and the fun of supernatural fiction. Felix gets himself into and out of trouble, while trying to keep his few relationships intact and follow his own quirky code of ethics. I’ve already downloaded the next book in the series.

Mary Poppins –  I haven’t thought of Mary Poppins in years, but the ad campaign for the movie about the making of Mary Poppins (the film) made me wonder what differences existed between the book and the movie. I haven’t re-watched the Disney film, but I did re-read this book. I think that I originally read it as a child, but that was a very long time ago, and the particulars didn’t stick with me. My first thought on reading this book was that I didn’t really like Mary Poppins. She’s vain, stuck-up, and a terrible know-it-all, but she does seem to know a lot of interesting people. It just wasn’t clear to me why so many of those interesting people held her in such high regard. Once in a while Mary does something kind or thoughtful, but those are not her most obvious attributes. I’ll just have to take some readers’ words for it that this represents a typical English sensibility of the early part of the twentieth century, and that children adored this character. Maybe I’m a sucker for Disney, but give me the Julie Andrews version with the dancing penguins any day.

A Christmas Carol – Now for something that I did like very much – A Christmas Carol. This story never gets old, although as time moves on Dickens’ writing seems more antique. Oh well, it never hurts to stretch your vocabulary a bit, and fend off the modern need for constant “action” in a story. If you have never heard of A Christmas Carol, the brief synopsis is that Ebenezer Scrooge, a dour miser with a bad attitude, especially about Christmas, has a visit from the ghost of his late partner (Jacob Marley) on Christmas Eve. Marley warns Scrooge that if he doesn’t change his ways, he, too, will be doomed to wander the earth in search of peace. To help Scrooge avoid this fate, Marley will send three other ghosts to help Scrooge: Ghost of Christmas Past, Ghost of Christmas Present, and Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Each ghost gives Scrooge insight into his life and choices which have led to his current situation.

A Christmas Carol is a classic redemption story, and from the beginning, we have a good idea of how it will end, but the beauty of the narrative is in the details. Dickens presents a clear picture of what life was like in England at that time, and much of it is not pretty. There are no safety nets for children living in poverty, and working conditions could be horrible. For all the images we have of happy, fashionable people living in quaint houses, there are images of poor houses, illness, and the callousness of society to its most vulnerable members.  One of the quotes that seem to convey Dickens’ feelings about the world he lived in is still true today: “They are Man’s and they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance and this girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”

A Christmas Carol is must reading, at least once.

Books – November 2013

Title Author
Doctor Sleep Stephen King
Lost at Sea Jon Ronson
The Last Policeman Ben Winters
Tyrannosaur Canyon Douglas Preston
Deadly Heat Richard Castle

Doctor Sleep – This is a follow-up to The Shining; Danny, the young boy with “the shining”, has grown up and has had to deal with the repercussions of the horror/disaster at the Overlook hotel.  Unfortunately, life hasn’t been easy for Danny, and he became an alcoholic drifter. Chance (?) has brought him to a small town in New Hampshire, where he finds a measure of peace, as well as a new challenge. He has to save a young girl who has an even greater gift than his from predators who seek the “steam” released when young people with “the shining” die.

I enjoyed reading this book, although like many Stephen King books, it could probably have been cut quite a bit without suffering. There were some parts that just dragged on for me. I could have done without the endless (or at least they seemed endless to me) descriptions of Danny’s struggles for sobriety. I’m not saying that the story should have said it was simple, but I didn’t feel that I had to attend every AA meeting with the character.

Although the villains were a little over-the-top, there were some truly scary moments as they stalked their victims. Those were the moments that seemed to have an old-fashioned Stephen King feel to them.  There were also a few places where the plot seemed to stray into soap opera territory, with some ret conning of  Shining characters to accommodate the plot devices. It made for a neat package, but felt somewhat contrived to me.

Despite these criticisms, I enjoyed this story.  It was a good opportunity to revisit old characters in a new setting, and find out “what ever happened to”.

Lost at Sea – I’ve been a Jon Ronson fan since I read Them: Adventures with Extremists some years ago. This guy has a way of finding odd but true stories and asking the questions that any of us would like to ask if we were there. In this outing, Ronson explores the type of mysteries that we don’t often read about: how is it decided who will get credit card solicitations; who (or what) are Indigo Children; what kind of people professionally assist suicides? It seems to me that the reader has more questions after reading a story than before, but that makes the stories more intriguing. One segment that struck me was the title one – it is about a mysterious disappearance from a cruise ship. It turns out that the fact that cruise ships usually are registered in distant locations, far from their cruising itineraries. This contributes to confusion when there are crimes or disappearances at sea. According to the article, when something bad happens on a cruise, getting to the bottom of it is almost impossible, because of confusing jurisdiction. After reading that, I felt even less inclined to take a cruise, aside from the other issues of mechanical problems and norovirus outbreaks.

The Last Policeman – What happens to daily life when the Earth is facing the apocalypse? Some people go “bucket list”, some people kill themselves, some people act out, and some people devote themselves to keeping life as we know it intact. Detective Hank Palace is one of the last types. He was recently made a detective, which was a life-long ambition. However, the Earth is now in the way of a large asteroid, and there are only a few months until the collision occurs which will end much of life on the planet. Now that society is starting to fall apart, he’s still intent on doing his job. In this case, it is investigating what appears to be a suicide in a McDonald’s. Something about the death seems inconsistent to Det. Palace, though, so he begins to investigate whether it could be a homicide. Along the way, he gets little help from the people of his town, mainly because no one can see the point in investigating a suspicious death when nearly everyone on the planet will be dead soon. The story works as a mystery as well as a study of how society changes under severe circumstances. It is part one of three.

Tyrannosaur Canyon – A treasure hunter is killed in the desert, but not before he manages to hand off a message for his daughter to someone. It turns out that the dead man has found something worth a lot of money, which many people covet. There are museums, governments, and other treasure hunters involved. As the plot thickens, lab workers, agents, a veterinarian, an assassin, and a monk are all in pursuit of the information needed to locate this treasure. There’s a lot of action in this very readable book. If it were summer, I’d call it a beach book, but it actually worked well as an airplane read.

Deadly Heat – This is the latest Nikki Heat mystery. This one starts where the last one left off, with Nikki continuing her search for the person who killed her mother. Complicating the search is the appearance of a serial killer. Nikki also has to work with several federal law enforcement officers, including one who was once involved with Rook. As expected, the two cases are related, even though Nikki is kept busy working on the serial killer case mainly. Many elements of the “Castle” TV show appear in the book, like a case where a corpse is found in a pizza oven. The books stand alone as a mystery series, but if you watch “Castle” there is an extra level of meaning to them that makes them even more fun to read.

Books – October 2013

Title Author
W is for Wasted Sue Grafton
Me Before You Jojo Moyes
The Devil You Know Mike Carey

W is for Wasted – This is the twenty-third book in the Kinsey Millhone series, which means there will be only three more books. Since the series does not play out in real-time, the year is 1988. This means that many of the technologies that are part of our daily lives are not available to Kinsey. She has no cell phone, for example, and the use of computers is limited. In just a few years, of course, this will all change.

In this story, Kinsey becomes involved in the mysteries of two dead men. One is a PI that she knew in the past, and the other is a homeless man who had Kinsey’s name in his pocket. It quickly becomes clear to the reader that these cases are related, but the mystery is how. Kinsey becomes acquainted with the homeless man’s friends, and later finds a previously unknown branch of her family.

Throughout the book, Kinsey seems uncharacteristically low-key. She allows herself to be manipulated, and doesn’t assert herself in the way she used to. This caused a number of negative reviews on Amazon, with a lot of people saying that the preferred the “old” Kinsey, and that Sue Grafton must be losing her touch, or at least her interest in the series. I think that this is not the result of Grafton’s indifference, but part of a long-term strategy. I think that “W” is the set up for a mid-life crisis for Kinsey, one that will cause her to reexamine the way she has lived until now. I am looking forward to

Me Before You – When Louisa Clark loses her job in a down economy, she struggles to find a new one. Louisa doesn’t have the work skills for most of the positions available, and she’s convinced that she lacks the intelligence to learn new skills. As a last resort, Louisa interviews for a 6 month “caregiver” position, and she’s surprised when she is hired, despite her lack of experience. It turns out she has been hired to be a companion to Will Traynor, the son of the area’s most affluent family, who has become quadriplegic after an accident. The six month term of employment is not random, as that is the amount of time that Will has promised his parents he will give them before he decides to terminate his life. During this time, Louisa and Will, two people who are damaged in different ways, get to know each other, and explore the opportunities their lives offer.

In some ways, this is very much a tear-jerker novel. Louisa and Will begin to share their lives, including the things that have hurt them, and gradually fall into a tentative kind of love. Although Will has suffered a devastating injury which has obviously affected his life, Louisa has also been injured, although in ways that aren’t as visible. As Will and Louisa become closer, they share the things that have shaped their lives, good and bad.

There are criticisms of this novel because the author does not always emphasize the ways that a quadriplegic can have a happy and satisfying life, but I don’t think that the story requires that all aspects of quadriplegia need to be thoroughly covered in a piece of fiction. This story is more about how two people from different backgrounds whose paths wouldn’t ordinarily cross learn about each other and grow through their relationship.

The Devil You Know – I felt that this book had a lot in common with the Joe Pitt novels; it is set in an alternate existence where supernatural beings coexist with “regular” humans. In both cases, the hero is a person who deals with supernatural as well as natural elements. Felix (Fix) Castor is an exorcist in London. He has a native talent for locating ghosts and “helping” them move on. Unfortunately, a miscalculation resulted in a serious problem, and Felix has given up his job as exorcist. Without a paying job, he’s been living with his old friend who is now in dire need of cash, so he takes a job that seems like it will be a sure thing with a big payoff. As in many noire stories, this is just the start of a long, convoluted case, which will not turn out the way that Felix expects.

I liked the use of classic detective elements in this story. In some ways, Felix is very like Marlowe, getting himself involved in something deeper than it appears. Felix never knows when to leave something alone; he has to learn the truth behind the mystery, even if it could cost him – money, reputation, or his life.  In the course of this apparently routine exorcism, Felix encounters ghosts, pimps , were-creatures, demons,  crime lords, and politicians, all of which are out to stop him from solving his case.

If you like classic mysteries, and enjoy seeing supernatural twists, this would be a good read for you. The story is twisty and the writing is good. Felix is not Spenser; as I said, he’s closer to Joe Pitt, and this is a fun read for people who like mysteries and are looking for something a little different.

Books – September 2013

Late, late, late….

It is a good thing that the calendar does not depend on me to have things ready before holidays come around. However, today is the “fall backward” day, so I have an extra hour to work on all the things that I should be doing when I choose to invest my time in “Plants vs. Zombies 2” or yet another viewing of “Men in Black” on television. Is an hour enough??

Finally, then, here are the books I read in September 2013.

Title Author
Bruce Peter Ames Carlin
Ender’s Game Orson Scott Card
Austenland Shannon Hale
Defending Jacob William Landay
The Silent Wife A.S.A. Harrison

Bruce – I started this book back in August, but didn’t finish it until September. It is a thorough biography of Bruce Springsteen. The first part of the book concentrates on his early life and upbringing, while the later part is more concerned with his career. The author had access to Bruce and many members of his family along with his band members past and present so there is a lot of insider information included. As a long-time Springsteen fan, I was interested to hear about his early years, and what he and the band went through. It is so strange to see that at the same time I was dancing to “She’s the One”, Bruce and company were still feeling insecure about their futures, musical and financial. As a listener, I was sure they were all “set for life”, but as musicians, they saw a more unstable situation.

Few details beyond what was available in gossip magazines are given about Bruce’s short marriage to Julianne Philips, and events much beyond that are not dealt with in great details. The last part of the book is more of a history of Bruce’s (and the band’s) musical releases. It is still interesting, but there is less meat there than you might have hoped for.  One thing that did stand out is that Bruce finally turned to therapy to help him deal with some the issues that he has dealt with since childhood. According to the book, he’s found therapy very helpful, and not at all a negative influence on his creativity and career.  Overall, I was glad I read the book; although there are still many questions I could ask. If you are a Bruce fan, it could be well worth your while.

Ender’s Game – I read this book years ago (I think around the time it was first published in paperback). I hadn’t been sure this was going to be a book I would enjoy, but it captivated me. There is a reason this book is a classic. It has much in common with other “coming of age in a boarding school” books, but the threat of alien invasion is always in the background, giving the “school yard” feuds and harsh training more significance. Although this is a science fiction story, the book asks questions that are relevant to our lives; questions about the nature of war, what war does to the participants on and off the field, what makes a good soldier, what happens to child soldiers, and how much control the government has over the population. It was just as engaging to me as it was the first time.

Austenland – The BBC version of Pride and Prejudice has inspired many people (especially women) to become Jane Austen fans. It has also become a modern cultural touchstone for some women, with Colin Firth as the most desirable Darcy ever. In this book, the main character Jane is bequeathed a trip to “Austenland”, a cross between Disneyland and “Westworld” for women who crave a Jane Austen experience. A woman goes to Austenland to experience what she believes to be the same sort of experiences that heroines in Jane Austen novels do. Of course, reality is not the same as fiction, whether it was then or now. Our Jane arrives in Austenland a little disoriented, and tries to make the experience memorable. This is a cute read; Jane struggles to reconcile her real life with fantasy, even though she has paid to have the fantasy.

Defending Jacob – Andy Barber, an assistant district attorney, is called to a homicide involving a boy from his son’s school.  After the investigation is underway, it turns out that his son is a suspect in the murder. This is the story of how a father who is also part of the law enforcement establishment deals with the situation. The theme of parents dealing with possibly criminal children isn’t that unusual (see We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Fifth Child, and Before and After, for example), but the twist in this story is that the father has already started to be involved in the murder investigation when his son becomes a suspect. To what extent will he compromise his integrity or principles for the sake of his child? Would acknowledging the clues leading to his son mean that he does not have faith that his son is innocent? What could possibly have happened that would make his son a suspect? We don’t get a clear picture of Jacob – whether he could have murdered someone – but we do see the knots his father ties himself into to believe that all the evidence is wrong.  The ending seems unexpected, although it was a little reminiscent of another classic “bad child” novel, The Bad Seed.

In a very superficial way, I was also very interested in the book because I used to work in Newtonville, a village in Newton, Massachusetts, the setting of the book.

The Silent Wife – This was curious book to me. The main characters are a wealthy couple, Todd and Jodi, living an affluent life in Chicago. They are almost stereotypes – she’s the gorgeous, smart wife, with a small psychology practice, he’s a real estate developer. They have time for their upscale interests, fashionable dinners, and stylish home. They seem to have it all. Then Todd finds himself more deeply involved with one of his dalliances than he expected, and their seeming perfect, or at least balanced, life together begins to fall apart. Jodi can’t believe it, but Todd wants out of their relationship, and he doesn’t really seem to care what happens to her.  Everything that she has believed about her relationship and life is at stake. How she deals with this blow to her identity, and how Todd handles his changes circumstances are at the core of the book.  After so many years together, how do these people manage to separate and move on?

One interesting aspect of this book is that there are not really any likeable characters. I just wanted to shake everyone and tell them to either wake up or shut up.  Still, it is a testament to the author’s talent that even such unlikable characters were interesting, and I wanted to find out what happened to them.