THE MANY WORLD OF MAGNUS RIDOLPH by Jack Vance

“Magnus Ridolph, at first glance, did not look like an interstellar troubleshooter. He was not tall and muscular, his skin had not been turned to a rugged color by the numerous distant suns he had visited, and his voice and manner seemed far too mild for an adventurer. Yet there was a chill hardness in his mild blue eyes that warned of the deceptiveness in his appearance.

Throughout the galaxy, there were men and other beings – Yellowbirds, Tau Gemini ant-things, Hecatian anthropes – who could testify to the deadliness that lurked behind those eyes.”

Written in 1980 by the wildly popular Jack Vance,  this is a collection of all stories featuring the urbane Ridolph.  He was Vance’s anti-hero, the opposite number of the suave and cosmopolitan action heroes of the day.  The many worlds are fun, diverse, and really really weird, and you just have to love them all.

The plots are not too heavy weight, and the conclusions somewhat implausible even for implausible worlds, but it was a fun read anyway.

SPEECHLESS by Stephen Puleston

The story:  The body of a young Pole working in Cardiff is pulled from the River Taff. His tongue has been amputated in some sort of ritual. 

More murders in the Polish community take Inspector John Marco and his team into the East European immigrant community and the murky world of people trafficking. 

But what is it that links all the deaths together?

When the evidence points to one of the city’s criminal and the involvement of a gangster from Poland Marco faces the challenge of gathering evidence from a close knit and secretive community.

And why do the Polish Secret Service seem to be interested?

When Marco finds himself entangled emotionally its impossible for him to think clearly. In search of an answer Marco travels to Poland only to find himself implicated in a murder and hoping he can avoid another. 

Racing back to Cardiff he hopes he has enough to unravel the case and arrest the perpetrators.

The title comes from the fact that several of the bodies have their tongues cut out.

OK, a competent enough crime/police procedural, but it suffers from having a former alkie cop, which alcolism ruined his marriage and his relationship with his young son, and a new girlfriend whom he basically has no time for, thereby replicating his former problems with his relationship life.  And ignoring and frankly exhibiting no interest whatsoever in his son.  You know, THAT trope.

I did not find Marco much of a sympathetic character,  as he is obviously married to his job, what I call the “Brandy Syndrome”.  You know the song,  “Brandy, you’re a fine girl”, What a good wife you would be, But my life, my lover, my lady is the sea.”  And THEN he goes and starts boinking one of the women involved in the case.  Despite the fact he is living with his girlfriend, Trish.  I call that infidelity.  I call that scumbaggy.

So, no, thanks.  I think I am done with this series.

STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG by Kate Atkinson

No matter your fav genre, when you come upon a book titled “Started Early, Took My Dog”, you HAVE to read it, just to see what that was all about, right?

This is apparently the final volume of the Jackson Brodie series.  I have in my queue the third book, which I have not read in order, stupid me, but will soon.

This was terrific.  Retired Police officer Tracy Waterhouse leads a quiet, ordered life – a life that takes a surprising turn when she encounters Kelly Cross, a habitual offender, dragging a young child through town. Both appear miserable and better off without each other – or so decides Tracy, in a snap decision that surprises herself as much as Kelly. Suddenly burdened with a small child, Tracy soon learns her parental inexperience is actually the least of her problems, as much larger ones loom for her and her young charge.

Meanwhile, Jackson Brodie, the detective of the previous novels in the series, is embarking on a different sort of rescue – that of an abused dog.

Brodie is traveling the country trying to find the origins of a women in New Zealand who was adopted from the UK as a two-year-old, and has hired him to find her ancestry, so to speak.  That origin seems to hinge on a 30-year-old murder of a prostitute, in which a young child was discovered having been locked in the apartment with his dead mother for three weeks, and which Tracey was involved in as a young cop.  Along his travels, Brodie happens upon a guy being mean to a sweet little dog.  Brodie steps in, and now owns a dog, which he takes with him in a duffle bag.  Now we have Tracey, traveling with the little four year old (whom she bought from a woman, and no one is sure that woman is even the mother of this kiddle diddle, and and we have Jackson traveling with his newly acquired canine.  Interesting thought here.  In the Tarot deck, the No. 1 card is The Fool, usually portrayed carrying a bundle on a stick, with a little dog gamboling at his side, about to step off a cliff as his gaze is directed elsewhere.  He represents naivety and innocence, and the dog is said to represent protection, which as it turns out, comes to pass in the story.

So, dog, child, cats, wives, how many were going to St. Ives.   Another great puzzle which all comes together at the very end, in true Atkinson style.

HOW TO BE BLACK by Baratunde Thurston

Baratunde Thurston is the director of digital at The Onion, the cofounder of Jack & Jill Politics, a stand-up comedian, and a globe-trotting speaker.  He was named one of the 100 most influential African-Americans of 2011 by The Root and one of the 100 most creative people in business by Fast Company magazine.

It is pronounced 8baa-ruh-TOON-day.  It is derived from the very common Yorubwa Nigerian name Babatunde. A literal translation comes out something like “grandfather returns”

This guy had a wonderful mother, gotta say that right up front, who set him up for success by exposing him to African pride groups as well as enrolling him on scholarship in an elite Quaker school, one which Chelsea Clinton also attended.  His intelligence and ambitions got him into Harvard, and he sure has a background we all wish we had.

He is something of a black activist, but then, I think that almost all black people have to be something of a black activist just to get through their daily lives, I am ashamed to say.  His book is a satiric look at the struggles of being black in America, interlaced with biographical details of his life.

A lot of the satirical material is a bit over-the-top;  it goes on too long, like a SNL skit that is about three minutes longer than the audience’s attention span.  But then, I, a little old white lady, am not the prime audience … then again, maybe I am.   For me, he is at his best when he sounds a more serious note, and stops trying to be the funniest guy in the room.  He is interesting, clever, and has a lot to say.

Very enjoyable book.  It was published in 2012, when Obama was still in office.  I would love to see an update, and have his views on our current situation.

THE PIZZA PROPHET by David Belisle

A silly little novella about a Polish pizza delivery guy who gets bopped on the head during a heist of an armored truck gone wrong.  He is a bit woozy, and thinks his customer,  a street walker named Divine, is a version of God who is giving him prophecies to deliver.

Here is the official blurb:

Polish philosophy-trained Kosma Stankowicz is one of your more profound pizza delivery experts. He’s certainly the most respected at Lead Pipe Joe’s. Whether he’s training a mobster’s son from the ground up … or stepping lightly around a cranky boss who has 5 daughter’s weddings to pay for … or being discreet about a fellow employee’s lust for black men, Kosma is always on the clock.

Life can seem like a pizza waiting to be delivered. Following a near-death experience and an armored truck money bag gone missing – has Kosma received the greatest tip from on high? He’s convinced he’s a prophet. His oracle? A hooker named Divine. Kosma’s resulting revelations only turn up the heat on workplace romance. Any unsuspecting customer would have to wonder, is it true love or the jalapeno peppers?

Nothing deep, nothing profound, just a story for fun.  The titles of some of the author’s other work might give you some idea of the style of his writing:  The Trumpassic Period, There’s a Shark in my Hockey Pool, Chastity’s Belt, ,etc.

 

 

A FINE AND PRIVATE PLACE by Peter S. Beagle

You want a little peace and quiet, and a small, OK tiny house, landscaping carefully maintained for you, neighbors you almost never see or hear?  I have just the place for you.  A cemetery.  A graveyard.  You know, the acreage with a fence around it because people are just dying to get in?

Mr. Rebeck has lived in the city’s graveyard for 19 years, after running away from life.  He likes it there.  He stays in an abandoned mausoleum, and a crow brings him food.  He never leaves the cemetery.  He cannot bring himself to pass through the gates.

Michael Morgan is dead.  It is not working out quite as he had thought.  He managed to leave his coffin and is now free to roam around the place, were he sees Mr. Rebeck, who is not dead.  And Mr. Rebeck sees him, and can hear him.  And then sweet Laura appears, also deceased, and natch, she and Michael fall in love.

This is just the sweetest, fantasy/paranormal/almost mostly normal story.

Mrs. Clapper, widow of a Certain Age,  comes to visit her dearly departed husband in the cemetery, and meets Mr. Rebeck.  But she does not see the two ghosts.  Apparently, that is a gift that not all people have, but the night watchman also has the gift.

The raven is a hoot. He is a lousy lander.  He laments that he has never made a decent landing ever.  I kept hearing the raven’s conversation in the voice of Eddy Murphy.

The book has a Neil Gaiman feel to it, whimsical, quirky, and filled with the stories and musings about love.

And the author wrote this when he was only 19 years old.  When I was nineteen years old I was still trying to decide which color socks to wear.

 

ANGEL by Elizabeth Taylor

The book begins in the last year of Queen Victoria’s reign, in the red brick terraces of the drab brewery town of Norley, England, and Angel is sixteen.  She attends a private school paid for by her aunt who works as a lady’s maid for a wealthy woman. Angel has utmost disdain for her provincial life, her working class family, her schoolmates, her neighbors.

Angel dreams of more, finally refuses to go to school anymore, and feigning illness, stays in bed writing a novel.  She sends it to Oxford Press, who pass on it and return it.  She scrapes together enough money to send it to another publisher, whose name she scribbled from a book in the library.  Although the book is awful, over the top, and inaccurate in so many areas, the publisher takes a chance on it, and it becomes a great hit with the reading public, although the critics hate it and savage it terribly.

Angel is completely egocentric, cares about no one except herself, continues to write book after book and becomes wealthy herself.  She has wealth, but no manners and no taste.  One day while out on a drive she comes across the dilapidated manor home where her aunt once worked when it was in its heyday,  and because it was always her dream house, buys it and restores it.

She marries the somewhat neer-do-well painter son of a local country gentleman. The husband’s unmarried sister, who idolizes Angel, comes to live with her, and stays with her all her life.  The husband is injured in the war (First World War), comes back to the home and falls into depression, does nothing, gives up his painting, and eventually drowns himself in the local lake.

Interests and trends change, her wild crazy fiction style goes out of style, and she and her companion friend become mired in poverty, slowly selling off all of the furnishing and artwork in the house so they would have food.  They have no fuel, and the editor/friend of her publisher, now elderly himself, is appalled at how low she has fallen.

Angel is strange, eccentric, mean, self-centered, and one of the most unlikable woman protagonists in fiction.  Great book!  It really was!

The English author, Elizabeth Taylor, was born in the beginning of the 20th century, and was a popular if not terribly prolific writer, who has been compared to Jane Austen, Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Bowen.