To Be the Best (or not)

Dust jacket proclaims To Be the Best part of the "Woman of Substance" seriesAccording to its jacket notes, To Be the Best is the third and “the most thrilling novel yet” book in a saga about the family of Emma Harte.

That means the first two were as thrilling as watching a mud puddle evaporate.

Emma Harte strong, shrewd business woman who made a fortune creating and running a chain of elegant department stores.

Although she was devoted to her family, Emma didn’t have time to pay much attention to her children or their partners until some of them had run amuck.

Since Emma’s death and those of several other family members who presumably also appeared in earlier volumes, the family business has been run by Emma’s granddaughter, Paula.

This novel sees a series of family tragedies: murder, suicide, hemorrhage, and fire.

And Paula makes a big mistake that almost gives one of the run-amucks control of the corporation.

Despite all their ups and downs, the family sticks together. They’re always there for each other, arriving by a chauffeured limo or private jet, impeccably groomed, attired by the most fashionable designers,  glittering with gems,  always leaving behind a trace of the most exotic perfumes, always on hand for a happy ending.

To Be the Best by Barbara Taylor Bradford
Doubleday. ©1988. 514 p.
1988 bestseller #8; my grade: C-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Queen of the Damned

background image is photo of female figures on a 1889 Tiffany silver punch bowl
The plot’s as faint as the photo.

The Queen of the Damned is the third of Anne Rice’s novels about vampires. Perhaps if one has read the previous two, Queen might be interesting, or at least intelligible.

As a stand-alone, it’s a dud.

The title character doesn’t appear until page 123. Up to that point, the book has been assorted ramblings from various characters living at various times in various places around the world.

Some characters are spirits, some are vampires. Each is totally self-absorbed and incredibly boring.

The main male character is Vampire Lestat, a rock star whose fan’s think “Vampire” is his stage name:

At rock concerts, nobody knows if you’re a vampire.

Lestat’s enemies attack one of his concerts, killing masses of people.

Lestat escapes thanks to the Queen of the Damned, Akasha, who regards him as “the essence of masculinity.”  Akasha wants Lestat to join her program for world improvement: She’s going to kill 99 percent of all males, keeping 1 percent for breeding purposes.

While there are some human characters in the novel, they are depicted primarily as great, unwashed masses, fit only as food for non-humans.

Rice includes some of her husband’s poems in the book. They’re better than her story.

Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice
Chronicles of the Vampires ; v. 3
Knopf. ©1988. 448 p.
1988 bestseller #7; my grade:

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Till We Meet Again

An airplane rises against clouds that form the dust jacket background.Till We Meet Again is a predictable romance raised above the ordinary by Judith Krantz’s storytelling ability.

The novel is about three French women: Eve de Lancel and her two daughters, the dutiful and refined Delphine and the anything-but refined tomboy called Freddy.

As a teenager in 1913 Dijon, Eve is obsessed with popular music. She runs off to Paris with touring music hall singer Alain Marais.

When he abandons her, Eve becomes a singer, entertaining WWI troops always ending her performances with “Till We Meet Again.”

Post-war, she marries Vicomte Paul de Lancel, heir to a great Champagne winery and a career diplomat.

While they are stationed in Los Angeles, their daughters go rogue.

At 18, Delphine is starring in movies.

At 16, Freddy solos after secretly taking flying lessons she paid for by working at Woolworths.

The novel’s characters, while implausible as a set, seem reasonably plausible as individuals because Krantz adeptly changes focus before readers can study them a particular character too closely.

Krantz scatters her text with historical facts that help sustain the illusion of plausibility.

The novel’s ending, while too predictable, doesn’t feel pasted-on.

Till We Meet Again isn’t great literature, but it’s good popular fiction.

Till We Meet Again by Judith Krantz
Crown. ©1988. 534 p.
1988 bestseller #6; my grade: B

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Alaska is a Michener novel

Alaska’s physical features and main modes of travel are suggested in the image on the novel’s dust jacket
Geography guides Alaska’s history

Alaska is a novel to please, but not surprise, James A. Michener fans except for one astonishing fact: All the astonishing-beyond-belief stories in the novel are true.

In another novel, fictional characters like Jeb Keeler and Poley Markham, American lawyers who come to Alaska to make their fortunes by means more legal than moral, would be anomalies.

Against the background of Alaska’s real history, the two are almost dull.

Michener begins his tale with Alaska’s prehistoric origins. He focuses, however, on three historic periods: the 18th century when men in sailing ships explored the Pacific coasts, the 19th century when Russia sold Alaska to the United States, which administered it with ineptitude that beggars belief, and the 20th century when World War II revealed to the American government the importance of Alaska to its national survival.

Michener uses his fictional characters primarily to show how “ordinary Alaskans” (the term itself describes fictional characters) lived at various places at various times.

If you want to read Alaska, find a copy that doesn’t come from a library that glues protective plastic dust jacket shields to the inside covers of books:  To follow Michener’s story, you need Jean Paul Tremblay’s maps inside the book’s covers.

map inside front cover of "Alaska"
Jean Paul Tremblay’s maps are essential to understanding the novel
Alaska by James A. Michener
Random House. ©1988. 868 p.
1988 bestseller #5; my grade: A

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Icarus Agenda

“The Icarus Agenda” dust jacket White House appears target of electrical storm
Is Kendrick White House material?

Robert Ludlum’s The Icarus Agenda is not escape reading.

Ludlum’s tale is a series of inter-connected, world-wide plots further connected by a journal typed into a computer by an unidentified man who records the events for his own mysterious purposes.

In book one of the novel, terrorists have already killed 11 hostages and threaten to kill the other 236 Americans they hold hostage in the US embassy in Masqat, Oman. They demand release of 8,000 terrorists belonging to organizations ranging from the IRA to the PLO.

Evan Kendrick, a newly-elected, “accidental” Colorado congressman, convinces the State Department’s covert operations director to let him try to raise the siege using connections he made—including connections to the Sultan of Oman—while doing construction work in the Middle East.

The man at DoS agrees only because Kendrick’s offer is predicated on his role never being known to any other person.

The hostage incident is over page by 221 of the novel. After that the Ludlum’s story  gets complicated.

Although the novel is action packed, Ludlum’s characters are believably complex characters whose motivations are as complex as their personalities.

This 1988 bestselling political thriller requires—and deserves—readers’ full attention: The plot Kendrick uncovers is altogether too plausible to be dismissed in 2019.

The Icarus Agenda by Robert Ludlum
Random House. ©1988. 677 p.
1988 bestseller #1; my grade: A-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

 

Zoya: a history lite novel

Crest of Imperial Russia is focus point of Zoya front cover
Zoya was a Romanov cousin

Zoya is a Danielle Steel, riches-to-riches romance about a distant cousin of Tsar who loses everything but her life in the October Revolution.

Alone of their household escape, Zoya, 17, and her grandmother to France.

Zoya’s works as a ballerina and grandmother sells her jewels to keep support them during World War I.

Rescued by Zoya’s marriage to a rich American soldier, they once more live a life almost on a par with the Romanov days.

A few years and two children later, Clayton is dead, his money wiped out in the ’29 stock market crash.

Zoya works as a burlesque dancer before landing a job in high-end dress shop.

On a buying trip to Paris, she meets Simon Hirsch. They marry, have a son, which further alienates Zoya’s daughter, who resents both years of being poor and her mother’s remarriage.

Simon encourages Zoya to start her own store, which is immensely profitable.

After Pearl Harbor, Simon enlists and is killed.

Zoya is left at 40 with three children, a store to run, and Simon’s extensive businesses to oversee.

There’s not enough history in Zoya to call it historical fiction. The historical incidents are merely billboards glimpsed as the limousine full of cardboard characters drives by.

Zoya by Danielle Steel
Delacourt Press. ©1988. 446 p.
1988 bestseller #3; my grade: c+

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Sands of Time

Art-free front cover of “The Sands of Time” has uses gold type on a red background.I suspect that Sheldon’s The Sands of Time was a bestseller because book buyers in 1988 expected a Sheldon novel to be a bestseller.

If the author had been Anonymous, Sands wouldn’t have sold.

Most of the story’s action is set in 1976 Spain, where the 1936-39 Civil War is still being waged by the Basque terrorist organization ETA.

The powerful OPUS MUNDO cabal wants Jaime Miró and his gang rounded up, tried, and killed.

In their search for Miró, soldiers enter a convent where they rape and murder Cistercian nuns. Four escape.

Three of the four escapees are true nuns; the fourth is a woman wanted for murder.

The Miró gang run into the escaped nuns. Unwilling to kill them, they’re forced to take them along as the gang splits up to escape from the soldiers.

As they travel, Sheldon tells about the early lives of  the women and what led them each to take holy orders.

Most of Sands is told in flashbacks and because the story has so many main characters the effect is like being surrounded by the press covering the verdict in a particularly grisly murder trial.

And none of the characters is someone you’ll remember the next day.

The Sands of Time by Sidney Sheldon
Morrow. ©1988. 412 p.
1988 bestseller #1; my grade: C-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni