I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash


This New York Times bestselling author has written a novel about two girls and their lives during the time when Sammy Sousa was battling McGuire for the most home runs and beat Maris's record.  Years ago, their father legally gave all rights to being a parent to Easter and Ruby Quillby.  Wade was a minor league player who once played with Sousa and is now washed up.  Afterward, her mother began a quick spiral downward into drugs and depression until finally one day, when Easter was twelve and Ruby six, their mother overdoses on drugs.

They are then sent to a foster home to stay while their mother's parents in Alaska start the process of getting custody of them.  But Easter doesn't want to go to Alaska.  She's happy in Gastonia, where she has a safe home and a boyfriend, who knocks on her window and they spend time talking to each other all night.

Everything changes one night, when their father, Wade Chesterfield, who has been denied access to the girls, knocks on their window.  Easter thinks it's her boyfriend, so she opens it, only to see her father coming through the window.  Before she can stop her, Ruby runs to him.  Ruby doesn't remember that he was a bad father and husband to their mother.  Wade threatens to take off with Ruby if Easter calls the alarm, so she decides to go quietly with him.

But Wade isn't the only one looking for the girls.  A man hired by a mob boss who robbed an armored car and stole a lot of money, part of which Wade stole from him, when he was in his house doing construction repairs.  But this is also the story of Brady, Easter and Ruby's guardian ad litem, who knows Wade has the money and the bad guys are after them, but can't get the police interested.  They only care about the catching the mobster, not the lives of two innocent girls. The Brady had an unfortunate incident that got him booted off the police force and caused him to lose his family.  Helping these two girls becomes a mission for him.

Easter doesn't know what to make of Wade.  She feels so conflicted.  He left, but now he's back, but she knows that trouble is looking for them.  She wants to hold on to the resentment she has for her father, but she also desperately wants his love and attention.  This book will hit you in the gut when you think about what these poor girls have gone through and what their fate may be.  This is one not to be missed.

*Addendum: This novel won the 2014 Golden Dagger Award for Best Novel by the Crime Writers Associates.  This is a very high honor.

Link to Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/This-Dark-Road-Mercy-Novel/dp/0062088262/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477057014&sr=8-1&keywords=the+dark+road+to+mercy

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil by Deborah Rodriguez


In 2001, right before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Rodriguez, a hairdresser, joined an humanitarian aid group to go to Kabul, Afghanistan and try to help.  The country was in chaos after driving out the Russians, surviving the tribal wars, and the driving out of the Taliban.  When she arrives she's with doctors and such who are setting up clinics and doing "important things", but no one seems to know what to do with this woman with spiky dyed bright red hair that can't be contained under a scarf, until she goes to a big party held by aid group for everyone to meet each other, and when she is introduced as a hairdresser, a wild cheer goes up.  It turns out that the Taliban closed all of the salons because they believed they were brothels, which a few were.  Very few salons were open now and they didn't know how to do much.  One woman had to drive to Pakistan to get her hair colored, because no one in Afghanistan knew how to do it.  Soon she is swamped with requests to cut and do hair.

This is when she gets the idea to open up a beauty school to train Afghan women to do better hair (they didn't even have real curlers for perms and had the customer leave the solution in overnight, which resulted in frizzy hair) and to train new ones in the profession so they could earn their own money for themselves and their family.

Soon she is back home with her mean and abusive second husband and two boys, and she decides to call Paul Mitchell on a whim and they agree to send her whatever she wants.  They suggest she call other companies to donate items as well.  Soon the boxes start to arrive and there are so many she has to rent a storage shed.  While she gets up the courage to finally leave her husband, partly in thanks to the friends she made in Afghanistan and what she saw there, she finds out about an aid organization that plans to open up a beauty school and she offers to teach it.

The organization provides the salon and she has the materials to work with.  She is soon swamped with over a hundred applicants for her first class and she can only take twenty.  Her Dari is limited so she has to speak through her best friend, Roshanna, who teaches her much about the Afghan culture.  She is soon tearing her hair out trying to teach them about the color wheel that is essential to highlighting and coloring hair, when after days of this, she finally manages to reach one student, who explains it in her own way, and soon they are on their way to learning how to do hair.

Two of her Americanized Afghan friends are determined to get her an Afghan husband.  She thinks this is silly, after all, she has already failed at two marriages.  Soon, however, they find the perfect man, Sam.  Only he speaks very little English and already has a first wife with seven daughters.  After only knowing him for about twenty days, and being ten years older than he is, she marries him.  Things are rocky due to culture and language barriers.  In Afghanistan, men may hold hands or put an arm around another man walking down the street, but they don't hold the hands of their women, ever, or show affection.

When Roshanna's family has a man's mother asks for her to marry her son (it's the mother who finds the first wife in Afghan culture), they are thrilled, because, Roshanna had been engaged once, when the Taliban was in rule and they were afraid they would take her and marry her by force, they set up a marriage to a German Afghan.  After the marriage certificate is signed at the engagement party, unbeknownst to her family he rapes her and then leaves for Germany and the family soon finds out he has divorced her.  No one knows she is not a virgin.  Wedding are a very big deal in Afghanistan.  The women put on enough make-up and pile their hair up as high as possible on their head that they look like drag queens.  On the night of the wedding, there is a sheet put up between the two sexes, as men and women do not mingle at official parties.  On both sides, however, everyone is doing something beyond dirty dancing, it's so sensual.  Panic soon ensues, however, when the handkerchief is brought out with no blood on it.  She won't let him completely enter her because it hurts.  So, Debbie has a talk with her and cuts her fingernail to the quick and forces blood to come from her finger in order to smear it on the handkerchief.  Everyone is happy.

Finding funding for her second and third classes becomes hard, so Debbie opens up a beauty salon at her new home with her husband and hires the top four girls from her first class to not only work there, but to also teach the class, with the idea that in the future, these women would be teaching the classes themselves.  Each member of the class leaves with a complete kit to set up shop anywhere, including brushes, combs, curlers, curling irons, hair dryers, etc...Word spreads among the Westerners, as well as the Afghan women about the school and her salon and soon they are swamped with customers, including some men, who sneak in after hours, because it is illegal for a woman to do a man's hair, for a style and manicure.

While there are many problems that occur in her marriage, with keeping the beauty school open, and with some of the dangerous Afghan people who are still pro-Taliban, she keeps going determined to give these women their freedom to make it on their own and to finally have a say in the family's finances.  This program is changing the lives of not only the women but of the men in their lives

Link to Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Kabul-Beauty-School-American-Behind/dp/0812976738/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1479136574&sr=1-1&keywords=kabul+beauty+school+by+deborah+rodriguez

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King


In 1998, when he was promoting Bag of Bones, a fan asked King, what happened to Danny Torrence and if he'd write a sequel.  Over the years, King would wonder what age Danny was and if he had become an alcoholic like his father, only he'd joined AA.  This book answers these questions and more.

Dick Halloran teaches a young Danny how to lock up the ghosts he still sees from the Overlook Hotel into lockboxes inside his head and how to close his eyes for five seconds and the vision he sees will be gone.  As he ages, he soon starts to drink to drown out the shining.  In Wilmington, North Carolina, he just about hits bottom and his wondering ways end, when he finds himself in Frazier, New Hampshire and meets Henry, an old man, with a little bit of shine to him, who runs the small train around the park.  Henry sets Dan up with a temporary job until he can get one at the local hospice as an orderly.  At the hospice, he becomes known as Dr. Death, because when the housecat would go into someone's room and lie on their bed, it would turn out to be their time to die and Dan would be called and he would ease them into the afterworld.  He can also see when people are dying by a number of flies on their faces. And he still sees ghosts, both good and bad.

Down the road, a young child, Abra, whose shining ability makes Dan's look like a flashlight compared her lighthouse, has hidden her talent from her parents so they wouldn't worry.  One night she was able to place herself in Iowa when a group of people, the True Knot, talented folks like herself are torturing a kid with and sucking the shining out of him, which makes them younger and stronger.  Most of them have been around for centuries.  Abra reaches out to Dan and writes on his chalkboard in his room about what has happened, and for a short while they carry on a conversation in this manner.  When Abra is twelve, she sees a picture of a dead boy in a circular of missing kids and contacts Dan again for his help.

The problem is that Abra was noticed by the True Knot that night and they are searching for her because they believe they can feed off of her for years and things have been lean lately.  Also, the boy they took the shining from had the measles, and one of them gets its and dies from it.  They need Abra's antibodies to cure them as well.  She is able to go inside the leader of the group, Rose the Hat, for a moment, but when Rose tries it, Abra pushes her out easily with a loud shout that causes an earthquake on her block.

Luckily, Abra's doctor is a friend of Dan's in AA and through him, Abra and Dan must convince her dad that they need to go after this group and kill them before they come and kill Abra.  They hatch a plan for Dan and Abra to switch brains so Abra will not be in danger, but it doesn't go as they hoped and Abra gets taken by Crow, Rose's man and he's taking her back to the campsite, where the campers they travel in are, at the ground where the Overlook Hotel used to be.  Dan hatches another plan, with the help of Abra's great grandmother, who is dying and goes out face the Overlook Hotel once again.  This time, maybe for the last time, if he survives.

Though this book was low on the scare factor (maybe I'm getting too old to scare easily?), King "shines" as the master storyteller he is and it was a really great read.  I was happy to find out what happened to Danny and to see others like him and watch as he becomes the teacher that Dick Halloran was to him.  It was also nice to have the closure to Danny's story that lots of us have been dying to read about and King does it in a very wondrous way.

Quotes


We’re all dying.  The world’s just a hospice with fresh air.
--Stephen King (Doctor Sleep p 67)
 Link to Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Doctor-Sleep-Novel-Stephen-King/dp/1451698860/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1476884561&sr=1-1&keywords=doctor+sleep+stephen+king

 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

Fair warning.  You have to read The Brutal Telling before reading this book, and here is why.  In this book, Penny deftly juggles three events in the air with the dexterity of a pro.  One ball is the death of the hermit in the previous book and whether or not whom they put in jail for the crime really did it.  One ball is a devastating terrorist event that takes down some of Chief Inspector of the Surete, Armand Gamache's, officers and injures some.   You can't always save everyone.  The third ball is the murder of the amateur archeologist, Augustin Renaud, who was notorious for looking for the body of the founder of Quebec, Champlain.  Oddly enough, the Provence has found many people, minor and major, but no one has been able to find the one that everyone really wants to find, their founder. 

While Gamache sends one of his officers to investigate the hermits murder again in Three Pines, he is recuperating in the walled in part of Quebec City, with his old mentor, Emile.  The body is found at the English Literary and Historical Society, a little known English library that most Québécois would not know about, especially the French.  Gamache has been going there to do research, in order to take his mind off of the tragic events, on the last battle of the French and Indian War that made Quebec English territory. 

When Renaud's body is found buried in the basement, the local police come to investigate and meet Gamache and ask for his help.  At first he declines, but soon he can't help himself and becomes quite interested in the mystery.  The floor of the basement was scheduled to be cemented over the next week and while they advertised this, the members of the board were the ones who would best know.  The body would never have been found if the killer hadn't accidently cut the telephone wires under the basement floor. 

The other possibilities are the Society of Champlain.  Renaud had gone to them telling them he had solid information on where the body of Champlain was buried.  But Champlain the man, had secrets, and perhaps the Society would not want these secrets to come out or maybe they wanted to discover the body themselves.   No one really liked Renaud and he was known for saying he had found Champlain, only to find the basement of a Chinese restaurant. 

This book is amazingly well written and the best Penny has written so far.  I couldn't read the pages fast enough to find out what happens in Three Pines and whether the true killer was caught or not, and what exactly happened that caused so much destruction that leaves Gamache haunted by it, and last, but certainly not least, who really killed Renaud and is the body of Champlain hidden under the basement of the Literary Historical Library?