Oliver’s Story in which Oliver grows up

Oliver Barrett IV, last seen at the end of Love Story mourning his deceased wife, is still emotionally dead 18 months later when Oliver’s Story opens.

Oliver's Story dust jacket is all text: title, author, and a reference to “Love Story”
Oliver’s Story dust jacket: Just the facts.

Even Jenny’s father thinks its time workaholic Oliver started looking for a new love.

Friends introduce Oliver to a pediatrician, who doesn’t appeal to him, though he finds himself unexpectedly enjoying her family of classical musicians and their music.

Oliver starts seeing a psychiatrist.

He refuses to talk to the shrink about his relationship with his father.

Oliver accidentally meets a woman who intrigues him. He doesn’t even seem to notice that Marcie’s snappy, smart-mouth comebacks sound like Jenny.

But what Marcie Nash tells Oliver about herself doesn’t add up. What does she do with her time? Why won’t she level with him?

Oliver’s Story is twice as long as Love Story, but it’s still Oliver talking about himself—and he’s really rather a jerk.

On the plus side, Erich Segal lets readers finally learn the reason for Oliver’s alienation from his parents.

And he lets Oliver begin to act like an adult.

However, I can’t help wondering what might have happened if Segal had let Oliver accept the Steins’ invitation to join their living room orchestra.

Oliver’s Story by Erich Segal
Harper & Row, ©1977. 264 p.
1977 bestseller #5. My grade: B

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni



The Honourable Schoolboy

The Honourable Schoolboy is a John Le Carré tale from the dark underside of the West’s Cold War spy operations.

Cover of The Honourable Schoolboy: gold text on black.
Gold text suggests the gold seam of The Honourable Schoolboy 

After his unmasking of British secret service chief Bill Haydon as a 30-year Russian agent, told in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, George Smiley was appointed its caretaker.

Exploring investigations that Haydon surpressed, Smiley sends Jerry Westerby, a.k.a., “the honorable schoolboy,” to Hong Kong where he learns the owner of a trust fund to which the Russians have been covertly a “gold seam” is millionaire Drake Ko.

Ko has never touched the fund, which amounts to a half-million dollars.

Smiley wants to know what the Russian are buying.

To find out, Westerby follows some very unsavory characters in Cambodia, Thailand, and in Saigon as the North Vietnamese Army captures it.

As in the other le Carré novels about the Circus, Schoolboy holds stories nested inside one another like a wedding gift of mixing bowls.

There’s plenty of action, but the toughest work is done men and women poring over documents looking for patterns and anomalies and asking, “Why?”

The novel requires similar close attention from readers just to keep up with the twists of the story.

The Honourable Schoolboy
by John le Carré
Knopf, 1977. 533 p.
1977 bestseller #4. My grade: B+

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Illusions, like Richard Bach’s earlier bestseller, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, is a ’60s-ish, love beads, and tie-dyed little novel, but without bird photos.

Cover gives illusion of looking into the depths of the universe.
Illusions is not as dark as the jacket suggests.

Illusions opens with 14 pages that look like hand lettered text on ruled paper covered with greasy fingerprints. Those pages tell what happened to Donald Shimoda before Illusions‘ narrator, Richard , met him.

Richard is a pilot who flies an over American’s heartland, landing to pick up locals willing to part with $3 for a 10-minute ride in his old Fleet biplane.

One day in Illinois, he sees a plane on the ground below and, feeling lonely, he lands beside it.

Before nightfall, Richard and Donald, the Messiah Mechanic, are friends. Richard picks up Donald’s “Messiah Handbook” and without realizing it, he becomes a messiah-in-training.

In a few weeks, he’ll be a full-fledged messiah.

Illusions is a “spiritual” novel whose theology posits that all things are possible if you have as much as a mustard seed’s worth of imagination.

It’s not much of a theology, but it’s better than Jonathan Livingston Seagull could come up with.

The best part of Bach’s novel is the quote featured on the dust jacket:

Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t.

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Thorn Birds

As World War I sputters to its end, the Paddy Cleary’s childless older sister offers to turn her sheep station, Drogheda, over to him and his family on her death if he’ll come run it.

The Thorn Birds cover shows house, bare tree, sky, nothing else.
Barren landscape of The Thorn Birds

The Cleary family leaves the green intimacy of New Zealand for brown horizons of the Outback.

Life is hard, but even young Meggie accepts that as normal.

Four of the five Cleary boys love Drogheda; only Frank, the eldest and his mother’s favorite, hates it. He goes off to be a boxer.

The handsome priest who serves the parish is eyed lecherously by Paddy’s sister.

Determined if she can’t have Ralph de Bricassart God won’t either, she writes a new will, leaving Paddy’ s family Drogheda and its income for their lifetime, but giving the bulk of her vast wealth to the Church.

Meggie gets away from Drogheda long enough to marry a man by whom she has one child and to have an affair with Ralph, now attached to the Vatican.

The Thorn Birds is not a pretty story, but Colleen McCullough doesn’t wallow in the dirt.

Her characters make mistakes, takes their lumps, learn their lessons, move on.

And the novel’s worth reading just for McCullough’s Australian landscapes.

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
Harper & Row, 1977. 533 p.
1977 bestseller #2. My grade: B

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Silmarillion

Close-up of female figures on Silmarillion cover.
Creatures in the art on the 2001 paperback Silmarillion cover.

To the bestseller list in 1977 did The Silmarillion penned by J. R. R. Tolkien, ascend, whose passing had some four years before occurred.

By Christopher son of Tolkien in filial duty from notebooks scribbled and aged were fitted his sire’s tales of the creation and of the First Age of the World wherein Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in Middle-Earth, and the High Elves upon him made war to reclaim the Silmarils.

Those three great fiery jewels by Fëanor  made to contain imperishable the glory of the Blessed Realm had Morgoth seized and within his crown had set, guarded within his fortress Angband.

Praised much has been the beauteous language of The Silmarillion but this reader wearied of that beauty, desiring ever the longer to see characters wherein distinguished could be  Elf, or Man, or Dwarf without recourse required be to the Index of Names.

Of sentences long and cunningly crafted doth The Silmarillion consist, and rare it is for one to plainly speak and straightforward tell its tale with grammar clear and modifiers that squinteth not.

In the glory and the beauty of the Elves and in their fate may others find great pleasure, for me The Silmarillion delighteth not.

The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien
Christopher Tolkien, ed.
2nd American ed. [paperback] (pub. 2001)
Houghton Mifflin, ©1977, ©1981, ©1999. 365 p.
1977 bestseller #1. My grade: C

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

A Stranger in the Mirror

A Stranger in the Mirror is the story of a two people who have miserable childhoods and come to Hollywood in search of the attention they crave.

dust jacket of "A Stranger in the Mirror" shows Toby Temple totally alone in blackness.
In the darkness, comedian Toby Temple is at the microphone.

Born in Detroit during the Depression, Toby Temple has a domineering mother who convinces him he is going to be famous.

He’s furious when he isn’t an overnight success.

He finally submits to learning his craft, but he never stops trying to get even with the people who didn’t recognize his greatness.

Josephine Czinski, deprived at birth of oxygen for four minutes, she gets awful, recurring headaches when she’s stressed.

Raised by her widowed mother, a Polish seamstress caught up in a fire-and-brimstone religious sect, the girl has a lot of stress.

Josephine gets on a bus in Odessa, Texas, and get off in Hollywood as Jill Castle, one of hundreds of beautiful girls with dreams of stardom and no talent for acting.

Like Toby, she becomes an accomplished hater.

Without dragging readers through the dirt with them, Sidney Sheldon tells the story of two pathetically damaged individuals leading sordid lives in city full of people just like themselves.

It’s compelling reading, complete with what can only be described as a Hollywood ending: Unexpected, predictable, and dramatic.

A Stranger in the Mirror by Sidney Sheldon
Morrow, 1976. 321 p.
1976 bestseller #10. My grade: B+

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Touch Not the Cat

The mistress of atmospherics, Mary Stewart, set Touch Not the Cat on a decaying estate—complete with a moat and a maze—held in trust for the elder of two identical twins.

cat figure in mosaic tile is on dust jacket of Touch Not the Cat
This mosaic tile cat should not be touched.

When Ashley Court’s owner is killed by a hit-and-run driver, his 22-year-old daughter, returns to England to settle the estate.

The manor house is being rented by American tycoon’s family, but Bryony’s father gave her an adjacent cottage that’s not part of the trust in which she can live.

He also passed down to Bryony “the Gift”—telepathic ability— handed down the generations ever since it led to an Ashley ancestor being burned at the stake.

Bryony has been communicating telepathically with a relative she thinks of as her “phantom lover,” but she has not yet discovered which of the Ashley men he is.

I’m not sure how Stewart’s characters got from the end of the penultimate chapter to beginning of the final one, but she certainly paced the novel well and kept my interest.

Stewart’s characters are just well enough developed for her to move them through the maze—both figurative and literal—of the story.

Plot, not personalities, is the draw in this semi-spooky thriller.

Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart
Morrow, 1976. 336 p.
1976 bestseller #9. My grade: B

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni