Thursday, May 23, 2013

Driving to BelAir -- William G. Jones

This novella grew on me, the farther I got into it.

The main character is Dale, who has escaped the chaos of his upbringing in a motherless household in Indiana and now lives in New York with his girlfriend.  But when his father dies, he travels home for the funeral.  There he reunites with his older brother, who is hostile to him for abandoning them; his younger brother, who's stoned most of the time; and his former girlfriend, who clearly still carries a torch for him.

Things get really interesting when Dad's will is read.  The boys' father wants them to take his ashes to BelAir, Florida, and dump them in the ocean.  There's a catch, of course; the boys must drive there in Dad's 1950s-vintage Chevy.  And somehow, Dale's New York girlfriend and his old flame end up going along for the ride.

As you might expect, things don't go smoothly, but that's half the fun.  As this band of misfits lurches from one mishap to the next, Dale learns a lot about his brothers, his girlfriend, and himself.

Driving to BelAir is a pretty quick read -- 148 pages on my Nook.

I'm embarking on a road trip of my own next week, so Rursday Reads will take a short sabbatical.  See you back here on June 6th.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Diary of a Small Fish - Pete Morin

Things are looking pretty bleak for Paul Forte.  A former politician who's now chief counsel for a transportation authority in Boston, Forte lives the good life.  He has a great condo, he eats terrific food, and he plays a lot of golf -- often with lobbyists.  Of course, his personal life is falling apart; he's divorced from his wife, whom he still loves, and his parents are dead.  And now his penchant for golf has gotten him in trouble; a crusading prosecutor named Bernard Kilroy has convinced a grand jury to indict him on charges of taking kickbacks from those lobbyists he plays golf with.

While he's second-guessing his lobbying connections and wondering whether Kilroy has a vendetta against him, he finds himself falling for Shannon, a woman on the grand jury. Together they try to figure out Kilroy's angle, as well as where they themselves fit together.  But it's when Forte's former wife calls with heartrending news that Shannon really proves her worth.

The intrigue and courtroom scenes in this book are up to snuff; Morin knows his way around Massachusetts politics and the Boston legal community, and it shows.  But some of the best scenes in the book are those with Forte, Shannon, and ex-wife Kate.  The story line involving this trio could have easily tipped into the maudlin, but Morin handles them brilliantly.  I only wish he could have worked in some sort of epiphany for Forte that would tie these scenes in better with the rest of the book.

That said, if you're a fan of legal thrillers, Diary of a Small Fish is well worth your time.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Trucking in English - Carolyn Steele

Another book that's not a fantasy, sorry -- unless you count those "Someday I'm going to chuck it all and become a..." daydreams we all have.

Steele is British, transplanted to Ontario, Canada.  She has held a number of jobs in her life -- from psychologist to paramedic to B&B operator.  But as she hit middle age, she got the brilliant idea to go back to school and learn how to drive an eighteen-wheeler.  Trucking in English is a memoir of her days in trucking school and her short, but memorable, career as a long-haul trucker.

Much of the book comes from the blog she wrote while embarking on this crazy adventure.  But it doesn't feel like a bunch of blog posts strung together, which is all to the good.  Steele's writing style is engaging, and I learned a lot.  For example, I have a far better appreciation for the difficulties of driving -- and stopping -- one of these rigs, not to mention backing one up to a loading dock whose builders enlisted a madman to design.  I've also got a lot of respect for women who try to break into trucking, particularly if they're not teaming with a husband; let's just say male chauvinism is not yet dead in many parts of North America.  What's really scary, though, are her tales of operators gaming the system to get more hours behind the wheel -- never mind that they may not be alert enough, after the extra hours they gain, to avert a disaster.

Even if you've never dreamed of getting in the cab of a big rig and hitting the road, Trucking in English is an entertaining read.  You don't want to miss it -- no, you don't.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Death of a Kingdom (The Norothian Cycle Part II) - M. Edward McNally

It's been awhile since I reviewed the first Norothian Cycle novel here, so methinks it's time for another.

My 5-star review on Goodreads for this book was terse:
This series keeps getting better. I love the focus on Tilda's friends in this book, and Allison is the most kickass princess I've ever met. Looking forward to books 3 and 4!
All of which is true (and books 3, 4, and 5 are, in fact, terrific; we will get to them in time), but it requires some elaboration.

In Death of a Kingdom, our intrepid band of friends splits up.  Tilda Lanai, the hapless Zeb Baj Nif (who's also haplessly smitten with Tilda, and why not?), and lapsed Circle Wizard Phinneas Phoarty (I started to call him a renegade, but that's too swashbuckling an appellation for poor Phin) travel with Duchess Claudja back to her home in Chengdea.  Of course, it's more complicated than that; the kingdom of Daul, of which Chengdea is a part, is crumbling, and is at risk of being overrun by Ayzantium. Claudja and her father cook up a desperate plan to save Chengdea by forging an alliance with the Codian Empire, and Tilda, Zeb and Phin are enlisted to escort Claudja to Emperor Albert's castle at Laketon and home again.

Enter Allison, Princess of Beoshore and Albert's sister.  She makes her appearance in our tale dressed as a warrior -- which, in fact, she is, and quite a good one.  Allison and Claudja bond, and Allison returns with them all to Chengdea to help in the coming battle.

Nesha-tari, meanwhile, goes home -- and learns a surprising secret there.

The only one of the Sable City band who does not appear in this book is John Deskata.  But don't worry, he turns up again in the next book.

In all, Death of a Kingdom is a satisfying second book in this epic fantasy series.