Wednesday, June 27, 2018

CELINE by Peter Heller

How refreshing it is to have a heroine who is a 60-something female private investigator.  Celine’s specialty is reuniting family members, and she has a personal reason for pursuing these types of cases, often pro bono.  She takes on a case from a young woman, Gabriela, whose mother drowned when she was a child and whose father, a National Geographic photographer, vanished over 20 years ago.  He was declared dead from a bear attack, but his body was never recovered, and Gabriela now wants closure.  Celine and her very laidback husband Pete borrow her son’s popup camper and head to Yellowstone, near where Gabriela’s father disappeared.  We soon find that Celine is crafty and skilled in ways we, and her husband, never would have imagined, despite the fact that she sometimes needs supplemental oxygen, especially at high altitudes.  Plus, they are trying to outsmart a guy who is tracking them and who also may have an interest in finding Gabriela’s father.   This book does have a few flaws, particularly in the believability department.  For example, Pete and Celine are able to gather every magazine issue that featured Gabriela’s father’s work as they are making their way across Wyoming and Montana.  I also felt that the reason for Gabriela’s father’s disappearance was totally out of left field.  Still, this is an enjoyable read, especially if you like seeing a badass old lady clear out a bar full of bikers with bad attitudes.  After a few months I may not remember much about this intrepid geriatric duo, but I enjoyed the time I spent with them.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

NEW ENGLAND WHITE by Stephen L. Carter

I didn’t like this book as well as his first novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park, partly because the formula was pretty much the same.  We’re still in a New England college town, where Lemaster Carlyle is the president of the college.  His wife Julia is a dean in the divinity school, and she is the main character.  The Carlyles are black, although all of their neighbors are white.  Their teenage daughter Vanessa is having behavioral problems and seeing a psychiatrist.  She is obsessed with the murder of Gina Joule, a teenager who was murdered in the community years ago.  Meanwhile, Julia’s ex-lover Kellen Zant has been murdered, and he too seems to have been trying to find out who really killed Gina Joule.   Kellen has left Julia a slew of obscure clues, and she embarks on a dangerous scavenger hunt to discover what Kellen was up to and who killed him.  The plot is a little too convoluted, and the author keeps us (and Julia) guessing about the intentions of the secondary characters, such as the campus security chief and a writer whom Julia meets at Kellen’s funeral.  Nagging at Julia throughout the novel is her suspicion that her husband may have been involved in Gina’s murder while he was in college, or at least in a cover-up.  I actually got a little tired of Julia and her class consciousness, but what really annoyed me was that she seemed to leave a lot of conversations unfinished.  For example, at one point her husband is talking about something that happened with one of his three roommates in college, but he doesn’t tell her which one.  Obviously, he wants to keep that person’s identity a secret, but it’s not obvious that Julia even asks.  This same scenario happens several times, where Julia obtains incomplete information but doesn’t press for the full story.  I think this failing is more the author’s fault than the character’s, because Julia certainly comes across as being very thorough and leaving no stone unturned in her quest for the truth.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

ORIGIN by Dan Brown

I read this book for book club, and it did not change my opinion of Dan Brown.  The subject matter is as thought-provoking as ever, but the writing has not improved.  Still, you have to give the guy credit for tackling the origin of life and whether it can be scientifically explained.  Robert Langford is on the scene again, with the help of another beautiful woman, to find out what his friend Edmund Kirsch had discovered.  Kirsch’s highly anticipated announcement is cut short by the bullet of an assassin who is a member of an ultra-conservative religious sect.  Langford’s cohort is Ambra Vidal, engaged to the future king of Spain, but the two of them must wrestle with the question of who orchestrated Kirsch’s murder.  It could have been Ambra’s fiancĂ© or the priest who has been the long-time adviser and confidant to the king.  Catholicism is an integral part of Spanish culture, and Kirsch’s discovery threatens to discredit the Adam and Eve story.  (Hasn’t Darwin already done that?)  For me, this was not really a page-turner and had no startling revelations or surprises.  I did enjoy the discussion of the difference between patterns--which exist in nature in snowflakes and tornadoes, among other things--and codes.  DNA is the one obvious code, and Langford ruminates on the question of whether its existence implies divine intervention.  Also, am I the only person who didn’t know there is an arrow in the negative space of the FedEx logo?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018


Fern and Rosemary were raised as sisters for the first five years of their lives.  Then Fern had to leave the family, and this book deals largely with her departure and subsequent whereabouts.  Fern is a chimpanzee who learns sign language, wears human clothes, becomes potty-trained, and functions as a full member of the Cooke family, in which the father is a psychologist.  Rosemary narrates this story during her college years.  Her brother Lowell disappeared several years earlier, probably to engage in animal rights activism.  Neither sibling has gotten over Fern’s removal from the family, and we don’t learn what led to her departure until late in the novel.  Rosemary has some social issues, perhaps partly due to the grief of being separated from Fern, but more from having spent her early childhood with a chimp for a sister.  Rosemary as a child was a chatterbox for one thing, but she also adopted some chimp-like behaviors, such as touching someone’s hair, that made her a bit of a problem child during her early school years.  Now that she’s in college and in need of friends, she lands in jail with Harlow, a fellow student with behavioral problems of her own.  The beginning of the book is very funny, but things get darker in a hurry, and my enthusiasm for the book went downhill with the change of tone.  I certainly found it very disturbing that a chimp raised completely with loving humans would suddenly be thrust into an environment that was completely foreign to her.  Then again, cats do not fare too well in this novel, either.  All in all, for most of us it’s easier to read about the mistreatment of people than the mistreatment of helpless animals.