Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thursday Book Review

I finished reading T is for Trespass, by Sue Grafton. As usual for Sue Grafton, it was a fantastic story. Our villain was a woman who took home-nursing jobs with elderly people and while caring for them, she sold off their valuables, got control of their bank accounts, and drained them dry. She kept them drugged so they couldn't get help from outside, and the elderly patients eventually died, earlier than God had intended. She made the mistake of taking a job with Kinsey Millhone's neighbor, Gus. Kinsey, a private investigator, was hired to do a cursory background check, but one of the villain's habits was assuming other people's identities. She did a very thorough job of it so that on paper, she was clean. She also knew how to use the legal system to her own advantage, and she thwarted Kinsey at almost every turn, including taking out a restraining order on her. This villain was one scary individual, not to mention downright evil. Grafton did a good job of throwing in plot twists so you had to keep turning pages. I really liked this novel.

Steve Hockensmith's On the Wrong Track is the second in his series of "Holmes on the Range" mysteries. Gustav and Otto Amlingmeyer are at it again, this time on a train from Ogden, UT, to San Francisco. They've been hired by the Southern Pacific Railway to do some detectivin' into why the Give 'em Hell gang are so successful at robbing the train so often. There is quite a cast of characters. Gustav ("Old Red," the illiterate brother) gets motion sickness on trains, so he has that to deal with in addition to his deducifyin'. Otto ("Big Red," the one who can read) is the narrator of the story. The dialogue is funny, and the scene in the men's room with the snake is priceless. I damn near had a laughing fit. I think this book is even funnier than the first one, Holmes on the Range. I already have the next one in the series, The Black Dove, on my Amazon wish list.

I thought this was going to be one of those random posts, but it turned out to be a book review.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Blossom Was A Good Old Dog

Blossom was not her real name, but by the time we found out her real name, we were so used to calling her Blossom we couldn't switch.

She showed up in our driveway on the first day we were house-shopping. Blossom was a friendly dog. She came wagging her tail and practically smiling, so naturally Richard petted her and gave her a good back-scratching. He made a friend for life. She was there on the day we moved in, and nearly every day after that for years.

On days when Richard was working in his woodshop, she would hang out on the steps of the shop. If Richard was cooking a couple of pork butts on the smoker, Blossom would be there. She helped him garden, and she helped him build our small fish pond. On occasion, Blossom would take a dip in the pond. It freaked out the fish, but Blossom was happy.

Blossom toured the neighborhood a lot. Many people fed her, including us, and she started gaining weight. At one time we didn't see her for about a week and then a flyer showed up in all the neighborhood mailboxes telling us that she was diabetic and please don't feed her any more treats. She went on a strict diet and got insulin shots, but then she started developing the cataracts that most diabetic dogs get. She usually found her way to our house (we live just two doors away) and we'd find her snoozing in the garage or on the front porch. She stopped wandering around the neighborhood so much. Since she was going blind, we would always speak to her first so that she would recognize our voices and not be afraid of us. Once we spoke, her tail would start wagging. We could tell she was getting old and tired.

Blossom passed away last week. She was a good old dog.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Reading Frenzy Continues...

Well, after I finished NOT reading The First Patient, I picked up Irish Tiger by Andrew M. Greeley. I had never read one of Father Greeley's books before, so I thought I'd give it a shot. It turned out to be quite good. Parts of it are a little far-fetched, but if you just go along with it, you'll like it. Irish Tiger is one of Greeley's Nuala Anne McGrail novels. Nuala Anne is known for being able to solve problems and the couple with the problem comes to her. The couple's biggest problem seems to be his grown daughters, who have taken a serious dislike to her, even before they met her. In a mystery, you know that can't be the extent of it. Before the story ends, we have the mob, terrorists, relatives, and various "colleagues" of both members of the couple involved. Parts of the novel are funny, parts are serious, and overall it was a good read.

My next reading adventure was Death's Half Acre by Margaret Maron. Maron is one of my all-time favorite mystery authors. The main character is Judge Deborah Knott. This story has an arrogant preacher, Deborah's former-bootlegger-father Kezzie, a woman from a disadvantaged background who made good but is still insecure, and various others. The woman from the disadvantaged background is chair of the county Board of Commissioners and tends to blackmail people to get them to vote her way on county business. This woman is also our murder victim. The solution to the murder hinges on one very-hard-to-find flash drive. The story is very exciting, the murderer was a surprise (to me) but it was logical, and Deborah's father Kezzie also solved a county problem. I enjoyed it tremendously.

I can't say enough good things about Last Light Over Carolina by Mary Alice Monroe. It's a mainstream novel and it is an excellent story, beautifully told. Wow! Wow! WOW!! Bud Morrison, a shrimper, and his wife Carolina, a schoolteacher, have been married for over 30 years. As expected, things have cooled a bit for them. Both of them need to be forgiven for things they did. The story takes place on September 21, 2008, the 19th anniversary of Hurricane Hugo. Bud goes out as usual on his shrimp boat, except his crew, Pee Dee, oversleeps, so Bud goes out alone. Throughout the novel, Bud and Carolina's story is told via flashbacks. Early in the book Bud gets his hand caught in the winch and can't call for help. A storm comes up and Carolina and the people of McClellanville, SC, start to get concerned, so an all-out search for Bud is begun. The story is beautiful; the end is exciting, but also touching. I found myself tearing up more than once. Please read this book. It's wonderful.

I am currently engrossed in T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton. I've always enjoyed the Kinsey Millhone books and this one is shaping up to be just as good as previous ones in the series.

I hope this reading frenzy continues for a while. I'm enjoying it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Reading Frenzy

I've been on a short reading frenzy. The book I picked up after finishing Always Looking Up was Robert B. Parker's Night and Day. It's one of his Jesse Stone novels. As usual, I really enjoyed it. Also, as usual, I zipped right through it. Parker does not write cumbersome novels. They're quick reads but he never leaves anything out. You get a well-told, engrossing story. This one involved a frustrated school administrator, swingers, a peeping tom, an abusive husband and father, and several children. The novel was not a murder mystery, but there was plenty of mystery for Jesse to unravel.

Compared to Night and Day, Damage Control, by J.A. Jance, had bodies dropping like flies. Jance's books are page turners, though denser than Parker's. I started reading Damage Control on Saturday and finished it up early Monday morning. This was one of Jance's Joanna Brady series. Brady is the sheriff of Cochise County in Arizona. Throughout the whole series, we get to know Joanna and her friends and family. A few threads were tied up in this novel, but several others started. I'm hoping subsequent books will tie up some of them and continue with others. Chapter 1 of Damage Control opens with an elderly couple having a picnic and then driving off a cliff to their deaths. They leave a suicide note, but Joanna later hears something that makes her think murder. Unraveling that one takes most of the book and our bad guy turns out to be more of a stinker than your usual run-of-the-mill killer.

In an unusual turn of events, for me anyway, I picked up a book that I quickly decided not to read. It is The First Patient by Michael Palmer. The book was given a glowing review by Bill Clinton and one of Palmer's previous books was on the NY Times bestseller list. I was expecting great things, especially after I read the first page and found it to be a real grabber. But then I turned the page and the writing took a precipitous nose dive into thinly-disguised exposition. I'm surprised his editor didn't make him do a re-write. It was amateurish writing and I quickly lost interest. I'm sure some people might have slogged through that, but there are too many good, well-written books out there for me to waste my time on something that may or may not get better.

Now I can get back to working on my still-growing TBR pile.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Tears in the Night

The title of Always Looking Up (Michael J. Fox) is, as Fox explained, a short joke (he's not quite 5'5"). The book is not a laugh a minute, but there are flashes of his humor throughout. He's divided it into four sections: work, politics, faith, and family. We learn about his trials with Parkinson's disease, which was very enlightening for me. The sub-title of the book is The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist and it is well-named. Always Looking Up covers the past ten years of his life and I enjoyed reading it so much I may go back and read his first book, Lucky Man.

At about 2:00 in the morning last Saturday, I woke up -- and lay there awake for another hour. At 3:00 I decided to get up and do something. I knew I wasn't getting back to sleep any time soon. I put on my bathrobe, slippers, and glasses, fixed myself a glass of ice water, and sat down in the recliner. I put the footrest up, thinking maybe I could get some more sleep, but that was not to be. I picked up Always Looking Up and finished the section on politics, then went into the section on faith. Near the end of that section, he told about his sister's death and how he and his family said goodbye. I found myself reaching for more than one tissue. They had the doctor turn off Karen's respirator and as she passed away, the family sang her favorite song. It was gently humorous but also very touching, and there I was crying like it was a member of my own family. But I'm like that: I could go to a stranger's funeral and I'd be the one weeping and sniffling the loudest.

Because it was my birthday weekend, I will tell you about it, as I don't want to end this post on a sad note. On Friday night, Richard and I went to the Tarragon Grill in Moultrie, GA. The place was packed (it only has about fifteen tables, if that many) but we were smart: we made reservations. I had the fettuccine Alfredo with grilled shrimp; Richard had the huge serving of lasagna. For dessert, we shared a fat chocolate-chip brownie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. To say we were stuffed would be an understatement. I had iced tea with my meal and it was so weak it was, as Monty Python said, like making love in a canoe. I'd explain that, but it would involve the use of a four-letter word with -ing at the end.

On Saturday, we went to Richard's sister's house in Senoia, GA, to celebrate. It's always nice to gather with family. We had food; I got gifts. I thought I was going to get away without them singing "Happy Birthday" to me, but somebody remembered. It's a good thing they didn't put candles on the cake. It would have been like a bonfire.

Beverly (SIL) and Paul (BIL) have a new kitten, Albus. When we got there, the little darling was running around, bouncing off the walls, playing with cat toys, scratching the carpeted post. To say he was active would be putting it mildly. Then right before lunch, Albus ran out of steam and curled up on the sofa for the rest of the afternoon. He's so cute (what kitten isn't?) it was impossible not to pet him.

This was a milestone birthday for me. Paul asked how old I was and I told him I was old enough that I don't have to answer that question any more. So there.