Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sick Puppy

Sick Puppy by Carl Hiaasen

When Twilly Spree, an environmental terrorist and financially independent, sees Palmer Stoat throw trash out of his car window on the freeway, he is on his tail seeking revenge. Stoat is a political fixer involved with all sorts of characters: Dick Artemus, ex-car salesman, now governor; Robert Clapley, a crooked land developer with an unhealthy interest in Barbie dolls; and his goon, Mr. Gash, who plays his favorite 911 compilations in the tape deck.

Twilly, after filling Stoat's car with dung beetles and not reforming him, kidnaps both Palmer's dog and his wife, Desie. Twilly uncovers a conspiracy to force a bill through the Florida legislature to develop a bridge to Toad Island, a wildlife sanctuary. This will allow the island to be developed and money to be made by all. Chapley wants Twilly silenced and dispatches Mr. Gash. Palmer wants his wife and dog back and asks Dick Artemus to help in the rescue by manipulating the introduction of the bill.

Trooper Jim Tile is the policeman involved in finding the kidnapper along with ex-Governor Clinton Tyree, aka Skink or the Captain, who lives in the wilds of the Everglades.

Development is shown to be what it is, a stripping away of the environment for the gains of a few. There is loads of dark humor. I loved Desie as a character and what is funny is that she is only a minor character. Some of the others were just too over the top for me but this is a Hiaasen book and what he is known for. A weird and strange kind of mystery

First Line: "On the morning of April 24, an hour past dawn, a man named Palmer Stoat shot a rare African black rhinoceros."


Ordeal by Sea

Ordeal by Sea by Thomas Helm

This is the story of the USS Indianapolis. On July 30, 1945 just having delivered an atomic bomb the ship hurried to rendezvous with the rest of the Pacific fleet. A Japanese submarine launched a torpedo and the ship began to sink. The order was given to abandon ship and 1,196 men did so. Five days later they were finally rescued but only 317 remained.

Ordeal is a very apropos name as that is what the men went through. Terrible shark attacks and dehydration were a few of the nightmares these men suffered. Several mistakes were made but I felt the Captain was made to take the blame for most of them.

The ship had zigzagged for most of the evening when the threat of sub attack was high but having reached what was considered a safer area according to the fleet's reports they quit taking the time to zig zag to their peril. The torpedo hit and there seemed to be some chaos.

For all the men who ended up in the water there were not enough life boats and so some had to cling on to the sides and face potential shark attack. There was also dehydration and the subsequent hallucinations following the drinking of salt water.

No one in the fleet command thought to pay attention to this ship's whereabouts and subsequently these men were not looked for and only found by luck. The Captain was eventually court martialed. In this case it seems that the lowest man on the totem pole gets the blame.

A very interesting book about the hardship of abandoning ship.

First Line: "At 2300 Navy time or eleven p.m. 29 July 1945, Commander Mochitura Hashimoto mounted the conning tower of his submarine I-58."


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

Shay Bourne is convicted of murdering a young girl and her step-father after having done some contracting work in the household of the Nealons. June Nealon is pregnant with her second child at the time and has to raise Claire without her father or sister. Eleven years later, Shay has exhausted all of his appeals and is scheduled to be killed by lethal injection within the next few months. Taken to the I-tier for his remaining days, Shay learns that June's daughter is in need of a heart transplant and Shay believes that providing her with his heart after he dies is the way to his salvation. Maggie, a lawyer, becomes involved in his case, as does his spiritual advisor, whom also happened to serve on Shay's jury.

Typical to all Picoult novels, this is written in separate voices of a few different characters in this novel. One of them was June and I would have liked to hear more from here as she wasn't featured too much. There was a twist in this book, which I picked up on about 20% through the book but knowing what was going to happen didn't detract from the story. Everything followed Picoult's formula of how she write books. The last time I read one of her books it annoyed me but I think there was a long enough gap between this one and the last one that everything didn't feel completely regurgitated.

First Line: "In the beginning, I believed in second chances."


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Think of a Number by John Verdon

Think of a Number by John Verdon

Dave Gurney is a retired cop, famous for solving a few serial murder cases. After moving out of the city with his second wife, he expects to have left that life behind when he receives an email from an old college buddy Mark Mellery asking to meet. Gurney agrees to meet with him and is shown a series of letters, one where the person that writes the letter tells Mellery to guess a number between one and one thousand. Mellery guesses 658, which matches the number guessed by the letter writer and sets Mellery in to a panic. What follows is a threatening letter about non-specific items that Mellery has done in his past. Mellery wants to know who could know him so well that he could guess what number he was thinking and wants to know what this person is going to do to him. Gurney sets to find out.

Gurney looking in to this matter upsets his wife, who wants him to leave his old life behind. Gurney doesn't find out much until the investigation takes a sharp turn and suddenly the police are involved.

This is a debut novel for Verdon and while there are sections that were great, the story overall felt a bit muted. I think the main problem with this story is that it started in the wrong area. Gurney's investigation of the letters himself felt very slow and like he wasn't getting anywhere. The book didn't start moving until the police got involved, which is when things got interesting. Unfortunately for the book, that was about a third the way through the book and it was too late to save the entire story.

In terms of characters, I liked Gurney, though I think he would have been better written as a current detective rather than a retired one. What annoyed me was his wife's reaction to everything he did, which to me felt like it was always met with hostility, annoyance, and anger. I can understand that she was upset about him getting back to his old life, but it felt like she never let that go the entire book.

Overall not a bad debut novel, but I don't think I'd seek out another of Verdon's novels voluntarily.

First Line: "'Where were you?' said the old woman in the bed. 'I had to pee, and no one came.'"


Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Time and Again by Jack Finney

Time and Again by Jack Finney

Simon Morley, or Si, leads a boring life as an illustrator in the 70s. He feels like there's something more out there for him and knows that to be the case when he is contacted by an unknown man to be part of a "project". Without fully knowing what it is, Si agrees and finds himself in the middle of a time travelling experiment. The board of directors of this experiment wants Si to go to San Francisco before the big earthquake, but Si has a selfish time chosen out for himself. New York of 1882 to see a letter delivered that his girlfriend has kept for a very long time.

Si has to learn all of the tricks of time travel and eventually makes it back. He's asked to go back a few more times to see if events in the present are different when he comes back and to learn the history about some of the men he meets in the past.

The premise of this book is quite interesting but the real charm of the book lies in the story telling of 1882. Si meets the people of the time and grows close to some of them, experiencing life as he would back in that time. However at the start of the book, it took me a while to figure out what was going on and why. I'm sure the time travel part of the book could have been a bit better thought through.

First Line: "In shirt-sleeves, the way I generally worked, I sat sketching a bar of soap taped to an upper corner of my drawing board."


Monday, March 05, 2012

Whitethorn Woods

Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy

The town of Rossmore, Ireland has been growing and a new highway is proposed which will alleviate some traffic problems. But as in all development something else has to go. St Ann's Well, a local shrine, may be the casualty. St Ann's Well has been the place where troubled people go to ask for cures, husbands and solutions to other problems.

This book is a collection of short stories about the people who are connected to the well. Father Flynn is the local priest who does not believe in the well but wants to cover all angles and goes to the well to ask for a sign. There is amiable Neddy Nolan who is billed as a simpleton but is smart where it counts and Dr. Dermot,an old doctor who wants to keep his patients at any cost and Lilly Ryan whose first child was abducted 22 years earlier. These are only a few of the people in Rossmore who have a tale to tell and a lesson to teach.

I am not too much into short stories but some of these were very good and the following story was the same story from a different viewpoint which made it very interesting. I love Binchy's novels but find her collections a little wanting.

First Line: "Father Brian Flynn, the curate at St. Augustine's, Rossmore, hated the feast day of St Ann with a passion that was unusual for a Catholic priest."


Thursday, March 01, 2012


Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Historical Fiction

Susan Trinder is seventeen and a foster kid in a family of fingersmiths (thieves). She has been cared for and somewhat coddled if one can be in this environment. A plot is hatched whereby she is to act as a lady's maid to young and wealthy Maud Lilly. She is to gently push her into the arms of Mr. Rivers. Maude Lilly and Mr. Rivers get married and then put Maude in a nuthouse and make off with her fortune. On the surface that is the story. But nothing is as it seems and there are numerous twists and turns.

This is a Victorian historical novel at its best. Full of dodgers, thieves, lunatics, murderers, swindlers, child marketers, charlatans,and orphans, this reads like a Dickensian book. And a la Waters style there is a little lesbian love thrown into the mix.

This is a book where the reader is always wondering what will come next. Waters delivers a masterpiece that is a thrill to read. Waters develops her characters and plot superbly and this is a book not to be missed

First Line: "My name, in those days, was Susan Trinder."