Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Are Men Necessary? by Maureen Dowd (2005)

Maureen Dowd is one of my favorite opinion columnists, along with Barbara Erehnreich, and the recently deceased Molly Ivins. I've been reading this book for a few months, as it really isn't a story, but a series of essays on gender issues. Many of her facts are quite disconcerting - the huge increase in plastic surgery in the last few years, the way the younger women seem to be going backwards on many women's rights issues. Fascinating compilation of current cultural indicators, but not in an academic sense. This kind of book cries out for footnotes and a bibliography, but it is not that kind of an academic book.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille (1990)

I don't remember why this book was recommended to me and, for a while, I thought that the 25 hours of listening time would never be over, but I have to say, the book grew on me. When I finished it, I went back to the introduction to again hear how DeMille was inspired by The Great Gatsby, and described his idea as "Godfather meets Great Gatsby on the Gold Coast". I have to admit, that even though I grew up in the New York City area, I had never heard of the Gold Coast - the northern shore of Long Island, where the richest of the rich used to have their mansions. DeMille himself grew up on Long Island and remembers the great construction boom, which I was aware of, as many Latvian immigrants found jobs building up Long Island in the 50's and 60's.

The story is narrated by John Whitman Sutter, a blue blood lawyer, who has married Susan Stanhope Sutter, who grew up in one of the now deserted mansions. I was interested in the history of this Gold Coast, how the rich settled out here, and how taxes and the Great Depression made these mansions impossible to maintain, so they were often deserted, bulldozed, or sold to institutions. I had a hard time listening to the idle lifestyle of the rich. John is a lawyer, and at least does some work, but still has time for long lunches at the club, and takes off weeks or months to spend in a summer home sailing. Susan rides her horse every day, does some gardening, socializing, and belongs to the Gazebo Club. I guess I need to understand that there are people that live that way, but it was a frustrating read. All people have their demons, and John Sutter's seemed to arise out of boredom, maybe some discontent of this laid back lifestyle. In the first line of the book, John meets Frank Bellarosa, the biggest Mafia don remaining in New York, who has just moved into the estate next door - Alhambra. As a straight laced lawyer, John is repelled by this man and wants nothing to do with him, but Bellarosa is engaging and definitely not boring. Susan too was drawn to this man, as was I. John keeps repeating how this man is dangerous and manipulating, but gets drawn into Bellarosa's life anyway, and watches his own crumble. I am naive in many ways and want to believe the best in people, so I was drawn to Bellarosa's humor, ties to his community, the way he bought goodies for his wife, or planted tomato and other edible plants. I was totally intrigued by the descriptions of Little Italy and the Italian immigrant community, finding some parallels with Latvians. We never had a place like Little Italy, where all could "come home." My aunt married a Sicilian, and I was vaguely aware that he had close ties with his Italian buddies and went to his club to play cards.

For a long time I thought John's problems were outgrowths of his own discontent, but slowly realized that most of them were created by Bellarosa. Since I have never read anything by DeMille, I didn't know he is a writer of thrillers, but there was a simmering thriller underneath. This is not his typical work and it was not reviewed well, but as people started reading it, it became popular among readers, and is sometimes used as a companion to The Great Gatsby in college courses.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Smoke in Mirrors by Jayne Ann Krentz (2002)

This was recommended on some library list because the main character is a librarian. Yea! A good mystery with various twists and turns. The romances all came together a bit too patly, but hey, this was just for fun. Leonora's friend Meredith dies, and Thomas Walker comes looking for her, thinking she knows about some big money Meredith scammed out of an alumni endowment fund. Thomas' brother Deke is convinced his wife was murdered a year ago, and maybe Meredith too. The alumni house is the Mirror House, as it has a collection of antique mirrors, and a library to support that collection, that Leonora comes up to catalog online. I liked the setting in the foggy sounds of the state of Washington. There are various references to academe - getting tenure and the sort, enough to make it feel comfortable. I liked Thomas with his dog Wrench - the guy is into tools, and my favorite passage is when he dresses down Leonora's ex - the academic.

Your Oasis on Flame Lake by Lorna Landvik (1997)

I picked this book up becuase I really enjoyed her Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons. I had a harder time getting into this book, but found it depicted family connections and disconnections pretty well. The story is told by various members of two families - Devera and Dick with daughter Darcy and BiDi and Sergio. Devera and BiDi are best friends from high school, and all the adults seem to be going through a mid-life crises. BiDi seems pretty shallow with ther focus on looks and totally not understanding her daughter Franny, who plays on the hockey team. Sergio really loves BiDi and is very supportive of Franny, though she is not his daughter. Devera is looking for something and ends up having an affair. Dick works on his dream of having a neighborhood nightclub in his basement. He enjoys singing and his daughter Darcy loves to MC and tell jokes. She also becomes a good friend to Franny. Her older sister goes through usual teenage angst, though Franny has the hardest time. I was amazed at the goodness of these two men, and this turned into a feel-good novel for me, even BiDi redeamed herself at the end.

Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen (2006)

I saw this reviewed in a few places, so I listened to this mostly funny book set in the Everglades. It has a wide range of characters that somehow end up connected. My favorite was Sammy Tigertail, a half-seminole who is trying to get away from it all and figure out who he really is, except that these attractive, very talkative women keep offering to be his hostage. I found this very funny. More poignant is a boy, whose parents are divorced, and who would like to see them back together again, but doesn't want to be hurt again by their fighting and splitting. His mother, Honey Santana, is the "nature girl" who takes revenge on Boyd Shreve, a phone salesman, who is such a slimy and stupid guy, that I actually had a hard time listening to the sections about him. Honey cons Boyd into coming to Florida, and takes him and his girlfriend out on a kayak trip around the islands in the Everglades. All sorts of other people end out there and for a while it is like a Midsummer Night's Dream with people looking for each other, except a couple of them have guns with them. I guess it all was pretty entertaining.