No Greater Love by Danielle Steel

Iceberg towers over Titanic as it sinks
Where are the lifeboats?

In No Greater Love, Kate and Bert Winfield and the man who is soon to marry their daughter Edwina, perish when the Titanic sinks April 15, 1912.

Although Kate could have left the ship—women and children were given priority in filling lifeboats—she chose to go down with her husband.

Safely back home in San Francisco, Edwina takes on the task of bringing up her five younger siblings, certain that she will never marry and bitterly angry at her mother for choosing to stay with her father instead of caring for her family.

The two oldest Winfield boys, ages 12 and 16, and the two youngest, ages 4 and 12, come through the ordeal relatively unscathed. The middle daughter, a fearful child before boarding the Titanic, is emotionally damaged for life.

Edwina does an admirable job of raising the children.

The youngest are already teenagers when she begins to be interested in a man again. Thanks to him, Edwina realizes that her mother died because she loved her husband too deeply to be parted from him.

Thank you, Danielle Steel, for such an uplifting ending. It feels so much better than acknowledging that the Titanic death were due to a shortage of lifeboats and lack of satisfactory emergency procedures.

No Greater Love by Danielle Steel
Delacourt Press. ©1991. 392 p.
1991 bestseller #4; my grade: C-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Needful Things (novel)

Needful Tings is open at dusk in Castle Rock business districtStephen King’s 1991 bestseller Needful Things is set in Castle Rock, Maine as were his earlier bestsellers like Cujo, The Dead Zone, and The Tommyknockers. Some of the characters from those novels reappear here.

Castle Rock residents are surprised to see a new store called Needful Things preparing to open. Owner Leland Gaunt is a stranger to town. His business practices are odd. He opens his store before he has enough merchandise to fill his cases, and sidesteps questions about his background.

Gaunt has an instinct for knowing exactly what each customer most desires, and—most peculiar of all—Gaunt typically lets customers set their own price. All Gaunt asks in addition is that each buyer play a harmless trick of his devising on someone in town.

Even Gaunt’s most enthusiastic customers sense something sinister about him.

Once they secure their treasure, each buyer becomes paranoid, totally obsessed with the idea that someone else is plotting to steal their treasure away. Customers take steps to protect their things.

Needful Things is usually categorized as horror, but the book overall reads like a parable about human nature. Perhaps that explains why the book is still worth reading while the film version, which concentrated on horror, fizzled.

Needful Things by Stephen King
Bill Russell, Illus.
Viking. ©1991. 690 p.
1991 bestseller #3; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Sum of All Fears (novel)

airplane suggest bomb may be droppedThe Sum of All Fears is a hold-your-breath novel from Tom Clancy featuring Jack Ryan, Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Accustomed to Cold War hostilities, neither America and its allies nor Russia and hers are quite sure how to behave in the new, lukewarm conditions.

Ryan gets an idea for a Middle East peace plan brokered by the Vatican. The plan works, but all Ryan gets is the animosity of the President and his Secretary of Defense, who also happens to be the President’s bed mate.

Terrorists, to whom peace is unnatural and unsettling, have plans of their own.

As both the West and the Soviets have dismantled missiles with nuclear warheads, some of the nuclear material has simply disappeared. The owners haven’t publicized their losses. Nevertheless, a few men of ill-will know where the material is and how to use it for their ends.

Clancy provides plenty of excitement with a minimum of gore. He focuses on how people rise to or fall before a challenge for which they could not rehearse.

Clancy’s text is packed with jargon and technical details about intelligence procedures, aircraft, ships, submarines, weapons, and bomb building, which feels incredibly dull but is essential to the plot: Evil is not passive in this novel.

The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy
G. P. Putnam. ©1991. 798 p.
1991 bestseller #2; my grade: A

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Mary Higgins Clark died

In the midst of news about the impeachment, the Iowa caucuses, and the coronavirus, I missed seeing that novelist Mary Higgins Clark, “the Queen of Suspense” died on January 31. She was 92.

Her obituary in this week’s print issue of Time showed her sitting at her computer desk, her feet on a stack of books, a dictionary and other books open on the floor around her chair. Here’s a link to her Time obituary, here’s another to her Washington Post obituary, and here’s one to the New York Times obituary.

Clark began writing novels in the 1960s. The first of her novels to make the top 10 bestselling fiction list was While My Pretty One Sleeps in 1989. Her other bestsellers to make the top ten list in the 20th century are:

  • Loves Music, Loves to Dance (1991) to be reviewed here March 10, 2020
  • All Around the Town (1992), to be reviewed here April 14, 2020
  • Silent Night (1995), to be reviewed here July 25, 2020
  • Pretend You Don’t See Her (1997), to be reviewed here Oct. 6, 2020
  • All Through the Night (1998), to be reviewed here Nov. 17, 2020

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley

On cover, Scarlett has top billing over Gone with the Wind
She reminds me of Heidi the Goat Girl.

Alexandra Ripley’s Scarlett’s full title adds the words, “The sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.

Ripley picks up Scarlett O’Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler’s story at the graveside of Melanie Wilkes, whose husband Scarlett had long coveted, letting readers know that episode is closed.

Then Ripley moves to Mammy’s death bed, where Rhett Butler appears to promise the faithful black servant he’ll look after Scarlett. Rhett says his promise is a lie, but Scarlett doesn’t believe that.

For the next 800 pages, Ripley moves Scarlett around the still Yankee-occupied South like a monopoly marker, sometimes landing on Boardwalk, sometimes not passing Go.

Scarlett keeps trying to get Rhett back. They have intercourse once, after which Rhett marries someone else. Later Scarlett discovers she’s pregnant.

After being introduced to her father’s relatives, Scarlett invests in land in Ireland, becoming The O’Hara of her father’s people under English domination.

Scarlett’s daughter Katie “Cat” O’Hara is a prodigy. By age four she is more mature than her mother at 30. Katie learns from her experiences: Scarlett never does.

Rhett’s wife conveniently dies, he conveniently comes to Ireland, and he and Scarlett are conveniently reunited.

The sequel spawned a TV miniseries. Even that caused no stir in this century.

Scarlett: Sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind
by Alexandra Ripley
Warner Books. 1991. 823 p.
1991 bestseller #1; my grade: C

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

September by Rosamunde Pilcher

Fallen brown leaves cover dustjacket of “September”Rosamunde Pilcher’s September is a restful novel, full of hardworking, neighborly, nice people who, though they occasionally do things you might not approve of, are nonetheless people you’d be glad to know.

The story focuses on two families in the Scots Highlands: the Balmerinos and the Airds. The Balmerino family has a title, land, and no money.  Lord and Lady Balmerino— Archie and Isobel—take in American tourists to make ends meet.

The Airds family has money. Edmund is an executive. Virginia, more than 20 years younger, is his second wife. He has an adult daughter by his late wife, and an 8-year-old son by Virginia.

Edmund and Archie were best friends for years, but a coolness developed between them shortly before Edmund’s wife’s death.

A newcomer triggers events that resolve that coolness when she organizes a big dance for her daughter’s 21st birthday, and gets everyone in the community involved.

The story’s ending is a tad too neatly predictable, but Pilchers’s characterizations, especially in the early chapters, are beautifully sketched. Even minor characters, like the local drunk and the Pakistani couple who run the village market, feel recognizable from her descriptions.

September requires attentive reading, which it richly, calmly, lovingly, repays.

September by Rosamunde Pilcher
St. Martin’s Press. ©1990. 536 p.
1990 bestseller #10; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

Fine carved angels and lit candles are dust cover background.Imagine a mashup of a novel by Judith Krantz and one by Stephen King and you’ll have an approximation of Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour.

Rice begins her story in the present day, when a drowned man is revived by Rowan Mayfair, a neurosurgeon from a family of witches with special powers, who pulls him from the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay.

Michael Curry knows that while dead he was given some task to complete and given some unusual sensory powers. He’s forgotten what the task is and is scared by the powers.

Michael grew up poor, but grew a construction business that has made him wealthy.

By contrast, the Mayfairs are enormously wealthy and have been wealthy for four centuries: Rowan can write a check for two luxury cars on one day more casually than most people would write their monthly check to their electric company.

The duo fall in love and move to New Orleans where both their families have roots and Rowan’s family manages her trust fund.

It’s hard to care about the miseries of the super-rich, and even harder to care about the super-rich who may not even be human. Put their stories in a 965-page novel, and you’ve got a good doorstop.

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice
Alfred A. Knopf. ©1990. BCE. 965 p.
(Lives of the Mayfair witches series)
1990 bestseller #9; my grade: C-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni