Chinatown Death Cloud Peril

by Paul Malmont

Ultimately I liked this book, but it didn't get anywhere close to interesting until somewhere around page 250. Most of the characters seamed rather flat to me, but it's pulp so I wasn't at all surprised or offended...since I'm not actually familiar with the pulp genre it's only a guess that characters are traditionally 2-dimensional.

The story is set in the the 1930's among the small clique of authors known as pulpsters. Malmont creates an atmosphere of reality in the midst of his fantastical, improbable plot by using real life authors of the day. Walter Gibson, writer of The Shadow, and Lester Dent, writer of Doc Savage follow seemingly unrelated clues and mysteries that ultimately bring them and their retinues together for one bone chilling climax. It's a story of death, government corruption, Chinese gangsters, revenge, maniacle ambition, and horrifying chemical warfare.

Everyone in my book group who read this one liked it. The few who hadn't quite finished it are looking forward to it and the one who didn't have time to pick it up has borrowed a copy. All agreed that the most interesting character was Norma Dent, Lester Dent's wife. We were all quite impressed with inclusion or mention of their real life contemporaries such as L. Ron Hubbard, Joe Kavelier, Robert Heinlein, Louis L'Amore, Orson Wells, and H.P. Lovecraft

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Brass

by Helen Walsh

I can't really say I enjoyed this book nor would I say that I would recommend it, but it certainly left an impression. I can't help feeling prissy as I write this, but the book was really just too crass/vulgar for my delicate sensibilities.

It's a story about a young woman's decent into depravity. Millie is in her last year at university and struggles with motivation, the defection of her mother, and the distancing of her best (male) friend to a relationship with a woman who doesn't get her guy's friendship with Millie, a much younger girl.

Reader be warned, there are more than a few extremely graphic sex scenes - hetero- and homo-. At first there seemed to be little point to them other than the shock value, but as the story progressed and the protagonist sank more and more into her depravity, the shocking scenes became necessarily the point. Uncontrolled highs followed by self-loathing lows.

At the end of the day, Millie wasn't a very likable character. Her best mate, Jamie, was marginally better. And I didn't really see how the crisis and its resolution was going to magically turn Millie into the person she seemed to want to become.

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Seeing

by Jose Saramago

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God's Pocket

by Pete Dexter

This book group selection provided for surprisingly lively discussion though some people weren't able to make it past some of the bloodiest parts in the first third of the book. I should have written this a couple of weeks ago after I finished the book. I don't have a clear recollection of everything that happened. I do recall that parts of it were hilarious - it's been a while since I laughed out loud when reading, but it definitely happened once or twice when reading this book.

The story begins when a disturbed young man, working on a construction site, pulls his knife on a co-worker. The old man who usually keeps to himself and maintains a steady work pace whacks the young man on the back of the head with a metal pipe and kills him. From there many things fall apart for many people. The old man ages. The site foreman looses the love and respect of his wife. The young man's mother falls apart and his stepfather who has loose connections with the mob selling stolen meat gets caught up in mob related business he never intended to get involved in. There is a drunken newsman reporting on the story and the neighborhood, God's Pocket, where it all takes place. Some reviewers considered his character a waste of space, but from what I understand, the reporter character may be somewhat autobiographical - though the author obviously didn't end up dead as did the reporter in the story.

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The Thirteenth Tale

by Diane Setterfield

This was a great selection for bookgroup. Everyone enjoyed reading it and would recommend it to others. It also provided lots and lots to discuss. I'm pleased as anything that it was one that I offered up to the group. Even Stepan enjoyed it though he was not looking forward to reading it at all.

This is the story of Vida Winters, a long celebrated author, and Margaret Lea, who Winters choses to write her true biography. Over the years, Ms. Winters has given many different versions of her life's story. She decides to finally reveal her truth as she suffers in the end stages of a fatal disease. Her biographer of choice, Margaret Lea, is a little known bookseller and biographer with her own secret sorrows.

I found this book to be very readable. It was dark without being morbid and it ended with a surprising twist.

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The Rag and Bone Shop

by Robert Cormier

This book group selection was offered by Elizabeth. I didn't realize until I had finished the book (about 2 hours after starting it) that the author also wrote I am the Cheese, a book I read and liked in high school, though I don't think I completely understood it at the time.

The protagonist in this book is a 12 year old boy, struggling with the trials of adolescence compounded with shyness and the knowledge that he isn't as intellectually acute as most of his peers. Following the murder of a young neighbor, he becomes the prime suspect and suffers the machinations of a police department and interrogator more interested in validating their theories than actually divining the truth of his involvement. Though the real killer ultimately is revealed, it is revealed at the expense of this young boys innocents and the interrogator's integrity.

I've heard of this having happening in real life (or some version of it) but I couldn't find any info after a quick web search. It's easy to believe, but hard to imagine. As in the finale of the book, such an incident would have incredible life-long, character-altering repercussions for the juvenile. One thing is for sure, though I'll do my best to teach my children respect for law enforcement and the judicial system, they will never be allowed to give official witness without me or Stepan present.

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Allegra Maud Goldman

by Edith Konecky

This bookgroup selection was a wonderfully fast read. It's a coming-of-age story about a young Jewish girl in Depression-era Brooklyn. While I thoroughly enjoyed it, I�m curious to find out what Stepan thinks of it � it is very much a young feminist book and one I would have available for any young girl to read.

Allegra Maud Goldman's father is self-made dress manufacturer and her mother is a society woman whose life is full of gaming (cards and mah-jongg) and socializing. Neither parent seems terribly interested in the development of their precocious daughter, convinced as they are that she�ll marry and have children someday.

It was fascinating to see how this practical young girl made sense of the world around her. She faces the prejudices of being female in pre-WWII America, comes to terms with the inevitability of death, ponders the various meanings of love, and attempts to reconcile her view of what she wants her world to be within the narrow confines placed on her by her family. It�s a book of philosophical conflict between Allegra and the world she was born into, yet she comes to accept the limitations of her world and the struggles she will have to endure to make her world one she can live within.

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Parasites Like Us

I reluctantly include this in the Sci/Fi/Fantasy category. The science fiction only appeared in the last couple of chapters. In fact, this would have made a very interesting short storywe could have very
easily done without the first 5 chapters of the book.

As with most of the novels based on the life of academics, the main character in the book, Hank Hannah, a tenured Anthropology professor, was not a very inspiring character. The professors that the book group have read about all seam to be very wishy-washy individuals who have no solid moral moorings to assist them in making the life-changing decisions inevitably faced by leading characters. Dr. Hank was sadly no exception.

Im not inclined to write too much more about the plot of this book. Suffice it to say that the book described on the book jacket is not the book you get to readoverall, an extreme disappointment.

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West with the Night

by Beryl Markham

This book group selection was a very quick read. Originally I thought this book would be an autobiography, but it leaves out so much of her life, that its probably best described or categorized as a limited memoir. In any event, it makes a fascinating story told in beautiful, poetic prose.

Beryl Markham led a remarkable life. She grew up in Africa with her father, raised/bred/raced thoroughbred horses, became the first women in Africa to get her commercial grade pilots license, and scouted for safarisand thats not to mention the many adventures and death defying episodes of her childhood. The title of the book refers to her experience as the first person to cross the Atlantic from East to West. She loved Africa and had great appreciation for its many faces. The book imparts an image of a very reserved character who enjoys the silence and solitude that is endemic to the life of an African bush pilot in the 1930s. In our book group meeting, there were numerous comments on her apparent dispassion or distance from the stories she told. Im more inclined to believe that she felt things closely and held the people who were important to her close to her heart, but was inclined to keep those aspects of her character privatenot only from her readers, but also from those who were closest to her.

As usual, I checked my book out from the library. One day at lunch, I noticed Lynn had a different library copy and I just felt completely gyppedher copy included pictures! She was kind enough to let me look at them, but that just led to additional amazement. The pictures included photos of Beryl as a 16-year-old bride as well as pictures from her 2nd marriage that included snapshots of her mother. The entire memoir never once mentioned marriage, or any contact she had with her mother. Through the discussion we had at book group, it turns out she also had a child and was considered fairly promiscuoussomething that doesnt come across at all in the book. With all of these revelations, I must again confess (as I did after reading Benjamin Franklin) that Im very interested in reading more about Beryl Markham. I understand The Lives of Beryl Markham by Errol Trzebinski would be a good biography to pick up next.

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Persepolis

by Marjane Satrapi

This book is a graphic memoir of the author's childhood in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. It has been compared to another graphic novel called Maus by Art Spiegelman which is about a Jewish-Polish family's experiences in the Nazi death camps.


The comic book format of this book made for a very quick read and was a good medium to introduce one to Iran's Islamic Revolution and war with Iraq. The story is filtered through the eyes of an adolescent/young teenage girl, Marji, so it doesn't get lost in the details (dates, names, battles) that often loose my interest in more traditional history books.

Marji's parents are well educated, progressive, and encourage their daughter through their own example to be the same. As the Iranian society gets more and more restrictive - especially for the women - the young Marji often doesn't understand the need to maintain a public facade that is completely different from her home life and consequently has a number of run-ins with the instructors at her school and various authority figures in the streets. She is a typically rebellious teenager who atypically is forced to contend with governmental oppression, persecution of friends and family, and the uncertainties of war.

I did enjoy this book and would be interested in reading the sequels about the author's life in exile. I'm also very interested in reading Maus to see for myself how the two novels compare.

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The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.

by Sandra Gulland

This is the first of three novels following the life of Josephine, wife of Napolean and Empress of France. It is told from Josephine's perspective in journal form. The diary format didn't appeal to me much at all...especially since the entries were dated chronologically and grouped into titled chapters. I just couldn't get over the fact that nobody's life goes in such an orderly fashion.

Three members of the Book Group did enjoy this book. I probably would have as well if not for the format it was written in. According to the book, Josephine was born in Martinique. In her youth, she was told by a witch that she would endure a bad marriage, become a widow, and she would be a queen.

The most interesting thing about the book was the glimpse of how people lived in those times. It didn't seem like it was a very easy life for anybody. Even Josephine, who was supposedly a member of the upper class, had terrible debt problems and lived in constant fear of the ever changing political tides. While in France, all her wealth and income was based on the holdings in Martinique...how impractical that sounds to me since there was no electronic bank transfers and travel from France to the island took months to say nothing of the near impossibility of overseeing the local managers - something that was essential even though the local manager of her properties were relatives.

Bottom line, while parts of the novel were interesting, I don't have much of a desire to read the remaining two books in the trilogy.

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

by Mark Haddon

This was a very easy read. The story is told from the point of view of an autistic 15-year-old boy who discovers the body of his neighbors murdered dog and gets accused of the crime. Fascinated with investigating this death, he sets out to discover who actually committed the crime. It the process, he uncovers some surprising and, to his mind, scary things about his own family.

I expected this to be a very light book, but was unexpectedly caught up in the drama of this boy's family intrigues. Though the book was written entirely through the point of the view of the boy, it was easy to sympathize/empathize with the parents and the decisions they made even though those decisions ended up doing more harm for all involved than good.

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Benjamin Franklin

by Edmond S. Morgan

This book group book (offered by Theresa) was a fascinating read though I didn't much like the writing style. I felt like I was reading someone's lecture. That shouldn't be too surprising considering that the author is a college professor.

I was fascinated to learn that a good portion of Franklin's early career was dedicated to preserving the union between Great Britain and America. He started to consider himself an American (as opposed to a British American) only after he tried for several years to get the British government to take heed of the rights and opinions of the English subjects living in the colonies.

This book offered many views of Franklin (scientist, statesman, ladies' man), but wasn't able to bring Franklin alive for me. It introduced questions that it didn't answer, though those questions seem to be unanswerable: who was the mother of Franklin's illegitimate son, William? how did he feel/react to the rift between him and William caused by the American rebellion? why did he spend so much time away from his wife? did he mourn her death during is extended appointment to France?

On the other hand, this book did interest me in reading more about Ben Franklin (especially his autobiography), the Revolutionary War, and biographies on other important American characters of the age, especially John Adams and George Washington.

In the final analysis, I just don't read enough non-fiction to recommend or pan this book. And while I didn't enjoy the author's writing style, I did find it an interesting and informative read.

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