Wednesday, August 3, 2016

June/July reading

There was no April or May reading post because although I started several books, I didn't finish any. That was rectified in June and July. Barely. But for the most part they were good ones.

1984  by George Orwell
Thanks to a lot of disturbing crap I've seen in the news lately, I decided to take another swing through 1984, since it's been years since I first read it. The past few years I've found myself often saying that Orwell was frighteningly prescient, he was just off by a few decades. I'm right. The capitulation of common sense, self and backbone that I've seen recently in the news isn't the path taken by The Party to arrive in the world Winston Smith finds himself in, but I can easily see us sliding toward the iron rule of Big Brother and the Thought Police.

The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except for fear, rage, triumph and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy - everything. Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the revolution.

Luckiest Girl Alive  by Jessica Knoll
Ani (pronounced Aunie) FaNelli is a successful women's magazine writer who has risen into the world of the chic and elite of New York City, with her engagement to a handsome, successful scion of class and wealth seeming to be the icing on her cake. While wedding planning takes up the most of her time and attention, she's also preoccupied by her upcoming participation in a documentary about an event that took place at her high school fourteen years earlier. We don't learn what the event was (or Ani's role in it) right off the bat - Knoll, who I saw a few months ago at the L.A. Times Festival of Books - takes her sweet time unfurling Ani's story until it comes to "the event" and its aftermath, and she does it with mesmerizing story telling.

Ani is a snobbish, unsympathetic protagonist/narrator, but her relentless drive to rise above her origins (which aren't exactly impoverished, but not anywhere near the level to which she'd like to become accustomed) to a rich, glamorous life she feels entitled to is fascinating even when it's repellent. In the hands of a lesser writer it probably would have been off-putting, but the care and detail taken to introduce you not only to Ani now, but how her misadventures (to put it politely) at the elite Bradley School when she was fourteen culminated in a tragedy that would dog those lucky enough to be among its small band of survivors sucks you in so that you have to stick with it and find out what happened.

Luckiest Girl Alive has been optioned by Lionsgate, where it will be produced by Reese Witherspoon. Knoll is writing the screenplay and I'm looking forward to this movie.

Note: The version I "read" was the audio book. It's read (wonderfully) by Madeleine Maby.

I never once saw the Kaplans when I came to Olivia's house. Her father had a ferocious temper, which Olivia wore in moody bruises on her wrists, and her mother was usually recovering from some kind of plastic surgery. This parental amalgam, abusive and vain, only further solidified Olivia in my mind as the glamorous poor little rich girl I longed to be for so many years after I knew her. Not even what she did to me, not even what happened to her later, was enough to quench my blood lust.

Night Sins  by Tami Hoag
Tami Hoag is the Guest of Honor at this year's Writers Police Academy. I'm woefully unfamiliar with her work and decided that was a shortcoming that needed to be rectified. Hoag is the author of more than thirty novels, but Night Sins was her first New York Times bestseller, so I decided to start there.

The case of a small-town nine year old who disappears when his mom is late picking him up from hockey practice totally sucked me in. The protagonists - Mitch Holt, the town's widowed police chief and Megan O'Malley, a female state agent trying to crash the glass ceiling - not so much. They're constantly going back and forth between keeping their professional distance from each other to practically jumping each other's bones, even while on the job. And while neither holds back, Holt's pursuit of Megan is creepily predatory at times. Maybe it's a sign of the times - Night Sins was published in 1995 - but it was just annoying. And despite the on again-off again "relationship", they're suddenly discussing marriage at the end of the story. Neither character appealed to me. I just wanted to find out what happened to Josh, the kidnapped boy.

The ending was dissatisfying to me because although the kidnapper is caught, we never learn who is behind the periodic diary entries supposedly from the bad guys, the first of which ends with the riveting line, "We are twelve." This is never explained. There's also a stereotypical religious nut/suspect thrown in for good measure, because we've never seen that character before. I would like to read some of Hoag's more recent books because I think they're probably a lot better. I just didn't click with the main characters in this one. And I'm still sore that, "We are twelve," was never explained.

"Come on, O'Malley," Mitch goaded. "What are you - chicken?"
"I'm not scared of you, Holt," she returned. Her breath hitched in her throat and she scowled.
"So prove it," he challenged her, stepping closer, sliding his fingers into her hair, cupping the back of her head. "Tell me you love me."
Megan met his gaze, his tough-cop look, his eyes that looked a hundred years old. Eyes that had seen too much. She raised a hand and traced a fingertip over the scar on his chin.
"Break my heart and I'll kick your ass, Chief."
A crooked smile broke across Mitch's face. "I guess that's close enough."

The Last Woman Standing: A Novel  by Thelma Adams
As a subscriber to Amazon Prime, one of the perks is that each month they give you the opportunity to download a new release for free. That's how I ended up with The Last Woman Standing, the story of a beautiful young Jewish woman from San Francisco, her journey to Tombstone, Arizona to marry a future sheriff and how she eventually ended up as the wife of Wyatt Earp. And I'm glad I did.

Adams does an amazing job of bringing to life the collision of two very different ways of life in the 1880's. Josephine Marcus is the daughter of devout Jewish immigrants. A wild streak - and her beauty - set her up for a meeting with Johnny Behan, a handsome resident of Tombstone who would go on to become the town's crooked sheriff. Josephine is overwhelmed by this charming, handsome man to the dismay of her family, whose plans for her to marry a respectable member of the local Jewish community fall by the wayside when Johnny invites her to join him in Tombstone. Unfortunately for Josephine, as she's adjusting to life in the wild west, she also discovers that Johnny doesn't seem as set on making their relationship legal as she is.

On the other hand, her arrival in Tombstone introduces her to Wyatt Earp and his brothers. There is an immediate charge between her and Wyatt, and to her credit although she recognizes it, she works hard to resist it, so dedicated is she to Johnny. But Johnny, despite his desire for her, isn't the monogamous type.

Eventually Johnny's duplicitous nature is revealed - in his relationship with Josephine, his broken promises to both her and Wyatt, and his perjurious testimony to try to discredit and ruin the Earp brothers - and it's too much for Josephine to overlook despite her love for him. She ends up in Wyatt's arms.

Adams has a lively writing style and peppers the novel with historic accuracies. It all flows naturally. The customs of both Josephine's Jewish community and the wild west of Tombstone are explained simply and without taking the reader out of the story. Josephine's voice crackles with authenticity and hooked me into her story from page one. Highly recommended.

Where Wyatt was tall, Johnny was short - not much taller than I am, though he tended to wear higher heels on his handcrafted boots. But he was dapper - a snappy dresser - and a born politician who could talk a hen out of her feathers. Likable as all hell, he had a round, pleasant face, merry black eyes and even, white teeth in a mouth born to smile - and that was a rarity, given frontier dentistry.

Got some good ones lined up for August. Hopefully more than the past few months.

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