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.

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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.

DRAGON’S EGG by Robert L. Forward

A fun sci fi written in 1980, about a very small neutron star that has …. gasp!  …… a sentient, intelligent species on it.  Because the star had such strong magnetic lines, and extreme gravity, the creatures were flat.  I continued to picture them as snails without shells.

Here’s the book’s description:

Dragon’s Egg was a neutron star, an incredibly dense sphere only twenty kilometers in diameter, with a surface fravity sixty-seven billion times that of earth. No human could ever land on such  a star.  Only by the most advanced technology could science even study it.

Researchers detect intelligent life: the cheela, aliens who live so fast that one of our hours is the equivalent of more than a hundred yhears to them.  The cheela struggle from savagery to science in a span of days (human days).

The cheela are flat, amoeba-type creatures about 2.5 mm in radius, and 0.5 mm high, with a density of 7 million g/cc.

After making contact through light pulses signals, the scientists begin to send down data about technology.  Since it takes weeks for even a human sentence to be completed according to the cheela’s speeded-up time perception, they have plenty of time to study the information, gradually evolving over generations to develop a technology even greater than the humans.  All this takes only about 4 human days.

It was a  truly intriguing concept for me, the vast disparity between the time lived and how the two species managed to communicate and develop relationships.  It was a wonderful break from the typical space opera battles and betrayals and ill-will between species and planets.

But.  In the sequel, a starquake rocks Dragon’s Egg, decimating the cheela.  On the surface, the few survivors fight to stay alive.  Meanwhile, in orbit above the star, their human friends face a dreadful choice: return to earth and let this alien race risk extinction, or remain to help and possibly, maybe certainly, die in the attempt.

 

MERCHANTER’S LUCK by C. J. Cherryh

OK, I am  hereby confessing I have fallen into the abyss of the Union-Alliance universe of C. J. Cherryh.  I may never be seen again.   There are 28 full length books, and four short story anthologies.  I have only read three so far.  Darn things are like salted peanuts.  Especially since although they are all set in the same universe, they span centuries,  and various characters from one book may make a brief appearance here and there, each book is a standalone, not dependent on the details of the plot line of other books.  You can dive in anywhere with little confusion, as what you need to know is explained in the book you are reading.

The books tend to be grouped loosely in thematic aggregates.  I am now involved in The Company Wars group, which started with Downbelow Station.  Merchanter’s Luck takes us a little farther along from the events in Downbelow Station, in which we learned about merchant ships, some huge freighters, some small insystem ships, and the occasional small freighter which has jump capability.*

Merchanters are operated by family, and most if not all of the crew on board these ships are related. Children are born on the ships, and most of the crew have never lived on planets or stations, but only ever on the ship.   Sandor Kreja is a young man, operating a very small jump ship solo, a rarity, and not always legal.  The ship originally carried a crew of maybe 60 people, including the children, but were attacked by pirates when Sandor was ten, and all but Sandor and two of his teen siblings who were hiding, were murdered.   The three kids do their best to survive but one by one, the two older ones die, and Sandor is left alone.  He survives somehow by scam, false papers, changing identity, and ferrying small loads that the larger ships don’t want to bother with, and carrying passengers who do not have the money for better transport.

On Pell Station, broke and desperately looking for a load out, he sees in a bar, a crew member of the mighty Dublin Again freighter , with a crew of well over a thousand folks.  The crew member is Allison Reilly.  And Sandor is instantly smitten.  Allison’s problem is ambition.  She wants to be captain, but that is never going to happen.  There are 24 levels of Helm, level 24 being the bottom, and Allison is only at level 21.  What with rejuv creating the long long lives of the crew, the likelihood of ever getting higher than level 21 Helm is remote.

When she discovers the desperate spot Sandor is in, she manipulates to leave the Dublin Again on extended leave, with a huge loan from the ship, and if not the Captain’s blessing, at least his OK.  She then manages to liberate Sandor’s ship, Lucy, and signs on with her 4 helmmates, as crew.  He is happy with the liberation, and the fact that they have acquired a nice profitable cargo run, but is unhappy with the idea of shipmates, as he is used to living and traveling solo.

Called into the office of Mallory, captain of the huge and dangerous warship Norway, (from Downbelow Station), he is given a military cargo to jump to a far and insubstantial station.  When he and the crew arrive, they find themselves in the middle of an ambush by the piratical Mazianni, former Company ship captain turned rebel and perilous.  Norway, Dublin Again and several other huge freighters and warships arrive to sort of save their bacon.  They learn they were set up by Dublin and Norway to take the hit, so that the Alliance can hopefully destroy Mazianni’s fleet.

All’s well that ends well, fortunately, and since this is only the absolute bones of this nifty book, you really must read it to get the full effect.

What I am enjoying about Cherryh’s series is the details of the worlds, station operation, culture of the stations, the freighter merchanters, all evolving in the middle of the struggle and current detente between the freighter Alliance and the station Union.   I am finding it all fascinating.  Space opera with office politics.  hahaha

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*Jump is a fictional technology for travel faster-than-light (FTL.)  Estelle Bok, (also fictional) a physicist investigating FTL travel, achieved a major breakthrough in 2230 when she found a loophole allowing the Einsteinian limit to be breached. This enabled her to derive the Bok Equation, the theoretical basis for FTL travel.

Jump takes place between two massive objects, called jump-points, which are generally stars, brown dwarves, or “rogue planets” sufficiently massive to make “pockmarks” in hyperspace. Prior to jumping, the ship’s navigators calculate an outbound vector, targeting the destination jump-point with direction and speed. The ship accelerates along this vector with a long STL burn until it is clear of the current jump-point’s gravity well. The jump engines are then engaged and the ship punctures the interface between realspace and enters jumpspace. Provided the proper heading was achieved prior to jump entry, the ship is drawn through jumpspace to the nearest gravity well on the outbound vector, the destination jump-point. Here it re-enters realspace, traveling at the same heading as it was before it entered the jumpspace, but at a velocity which is a large fraction of C (the speed of light).[4] Back in normal space the ship dumps velocity by cycling its vanes to graze the interface, like casting an anchor hyperspace, before the STL thrusters take are used to slow the ship further at system-safe velocities. It is possible to pass through several jump-points without slowing down, but this is risky as it can cause the ship’s velocity to become uncontrollable.