Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summertime Book Reviews

So I've been reading a variety of books this summer, some old, some new, most very good. My sister loaned me a copy of THE HELP, and if you haven't read it yet, do so before August 15th when the movie version is released. (Ten bucks says they'll massacre the book, but you never know; sometimes Hollywood gets it right.) Kathryn Stockett's tale of life in the 1960's in Jackson, Mississippi may or may not be semi-autobiographical, but that really doesn't matter. What does matter is, she's written a compelling novel about a young white woman whose clandestine recordings of meetings with local black maids becomes a bestselling book that starts tongues wagging in Jackson. Skeeter Phelan is only looking to attract the attention of a New York editor when she convinces cautiously wise Aibileen and sassy-as-hell Minny to share their accounts of working for the town's white elite. But the task takes on a life of its own when Skeeter's best friend Milly proposes a local ordinance that will greatly affect the maids. Written in 2009 and set during the civil rights struggles of the '60's, this is both a coming-of-age and a coming-to-freedom story for black and white women alike.

Lee Driver's just released FATAL STORM is the fifth book in her mystery/paranormal series featuring sexy mystery man and P.I. Chase Dagger and his Native American shape-shifting companion Sara Morningsky. The pair investigate when newspaperwoman Sheila Monroe, Chase's old girlfriend, goes missing while spending a stormy night in the abandoned Sebold mansion with three members of a group called the Indiana Paranormal Investigators. Cedar Point's finest are stumped by the disappearance, but welcome Chase's help when they find a corpse with Sheila's scarf wrapped tightly around his neck. Is Sheila a murderer, or is she the kidnap victim of a murderer?Chase and Sara must delve into another long forgotten disappearance to solve this puzzling case. This is another fun read in the ever-evolving Chase Dagger series.

As a fan of military thrillers, I looked forward to reading Patrick Robinson's NIMITZ CLASS, a book written in 1997 but set in 2002 that I found at the library. Unfortunately, this novel didn't match the brilliance of Tom Clancy's early work, relying more on flag-waving jingoism and stereotypical characters than crisp writing and original thinking. While the plot had merit, the action was so slow as to be boring. The biggest mistake made by the author was setting the story so far in the future; what might have seemed reasonable in '97 was no longer believable in 2002, much less today. Along with NIMITZ CLASS, I borrowed a second Robinson book from the library, but I'll be returning that one unread.

If you enjoy historical novels enriched by reliable details and stunning characters, you'll love Edward Rutherfurd's NEW YORK. This is the saga of the van Dyck/Masters family, starting in 1664 Old New York, also called New Amsterdam, and leading up to several years post-9/11. The book is 800+ pages long, and I hardily recommend you chose the 2010 trade paperback edition over the hard cover if, like me, you read in bed. But don't let the length of the book dismay you. This is a real page-turner that will keep you reading long after the twilight hour. From fur traders to bankers to artists, from Dutch to English to Irish and Italian, from wealthy to poor, free men to slaves, this book tells the story of those who struggled to create a great city out of an Indian fishing village on the American coastline. This well written novel will leave you wanting to read more by talented author Rutherfurd.

Sometimes it's fun to re-read books by favorite authors. I did just that this summer, once again enjoying NATURE GIRL and SICK PUPPY by Carl Hiaasen. SICK PUPPY features Twilly Spree, an independently wealthy young man with an anger management problem who loathes human despoilers of the Florida wilderness. Determined to teach litterbug Palmer Stoat a lesson in eco-friendly living, Twilly engineers a series of mishaps to Stoat's property that, unfortunately, leaves the man befuddled but unrepentant. It's not until Twilly kidnaps Stoat's Labrador retriever that Florida's most powerful political lobbyist takes action. What happens next is ribald entertainment at its best.

In NATURE GIRL, single mom Honey Santana takes revenge on Boyd Shreave, a telemarketer who makes the fatal mistake of interrupting her cherished dinner hour with her son Fry. Having thrown away the psych pills her latest doctor prescribed, Honey's in a mood to do her worst to the foul-talking Shreave. And she does just that after luring Boyd and his reluctant mistress Eugenie into the wilds of Florida's Ten Thousand Islands. Unbeknownst to Honey, she's being followed into the wilderness by her former employer Louis Piejack, a man obsessed with ridding himself of his wife and installing Honey in her place. And unbeknownst to Piejack, he's being followed by Honey's ex-husband Perry and her son Fry. Unbeknownst to all of them, they're being followed by a P.I. named Dealey who's been hired to take pictures of Boyd and Eugenie's illicit lovemaking activities by Boyd's divorce-seeking wife Lily. Adding to the mayhem, the island to which Honey leads them is already inhabited by Sammy Tigertail, a half Seminole and half white young man who is hiding from the law after the unfortunate death of a tourist on his swamp boat. The resulting confusion makes for great satire.

That's my book list for June and July. Hope you enjoyed the reviews. Next week I'll be featuring more book reviews, but these will be by my good friend Carl Brookins. Hope you can stop by then.