The Eyes of the Dragon

The Eyes of the Dragon is a once-upon-a-time fantasy written by Stephen King for his daughter, who didn’t want to read his horror stories.

Old, and never-smart King Roland favored his older son, Peter, over the younger, Thomas. Peter is handsomer and smarter than Tom and he’s had the advantage of being instructed by their mother, who died when Tom was born.

Roland’s magician, Flagg, takes advantage of Roland’s infirmities and Thomas’s jealousies.

When Roland dies under suspicious circumstances, blame falls on Peter.

He’s confined to the tower for life.

Flagg is not only an expert on killing with poisons. He’s also a master of killing peasants with excessive taxation. That and a dog are what cause Flagg’s not-a-moment-too-soon downfall.

Eyes of the Dragon will appeal to young adult readers (and older ones) who, like Naomi King, don’t care for Stephen King’s horror stories.

Eyes has time-honored features of fantasy fiction—a handsome prince, a loyal sidekick, an evil wizard, and a tall tower from which no prisoner can possibly escape.

It also has David Palladini’s charming art work to give the story a feel of antiquity.

Flagg, the dastardly magician, hooded and secretive
David Palladini’s art work

Eyes doesn’t have a princess for Peter, but even in fantasy, you can’t have everything.

The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King
Illus. David Palladini
Viking Penguin. © 1987. 326 p.
1987 bestseller #10; my grade: A-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Heaven and Hell

Front cover has 1 image suggesting 1800s western plains,1 suggesting Reconstruction-era South.Heaven and Hell is the novelistic equivalent of a film with “a cast of thousands” but no leading man or woman.

The novel is the third volume of John Jakes’ North and South trilogy and shouldn’t be read without reading the prior volumes, preferably with little time between the readings.

Of the leading men of volume one, Orry Main is dead and Charles Hazard emotionally deadened by America’s War Between the States.

The men’s family, friends, and enemies are scattered from South Carolina to California.

Jakes attempts to follow what happened to all characters, jumping in a single chapter from character to character, state to state, often separating the fictional events with quotations from newspaper headlines and other contemporaneous sources.

Jakes’ featured characters, who even in the trilogy’s first volume were scarcely more memorable than Danielle Steel’s, are as distinctive as anatomy class skeletons.

The history in the novel, particularly the rise of the Klu Klux Klan and its terror tactics, is the most interesting aspect of the book.

Unfortunately, Jakes finishes by restoring his leading characters who survived the war to a semblance of normality. The one exception is the blacks, whose post-war situation is as bad in different ways as the pre-war one.

Heaven and Hell by John Jakes
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ©1987. 700 p.
1987 bestseller #9; my grade: C-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

 

Fine Things by Danielle Steel

The “Fine Things” dust jacket is gold type on white with a modest gold ornament in the center.
Gold and silver are fine things

Fine Things is a Danielle Steel novel that takes readers inside the lives of the rich and famous to the depth of about two centimeters to show that they, too, suffer.

In Fine Things the sufferer is Bernie Fine. An only child, Bernie suffers from a Scarsdale upbringing, a stereotypical Jewish mother, and being denied the opportunity to teach Russian literature in a New England prep school.

Bernie accidentally discovers a gift for retailing, rising to be VP of an upscale department store chain at age 31.

Sent to San Francisco to open a new store, Bernie longs for New York.

An accidental meeting with a precocious five-year-old who wandered from her mother in the store leads Bernie to the altar. He falls in love first with Jane and then with her divorced, middle-class mother, who teaches second grade.

In less than three years from first their meeting, Liz is dead from cancer, Bernie has their son and her daughter to raise, and he’s still working 10 hours a day, six days a week at Wolff’s ‘Frisco store.

As recompense for his suffering, Steel gives Bernie a Mary-Poppins-lookalike nanny and a gorgeous, wealthy, child-loving second wife, and even enables him to enjoy California.

Fine Things by Danielle Steel
Delacorte Press. ©1987. 397 p.
1987 bestseller #8; my grade: C-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Presumed Innocent

A large red fingerprint is at center of “Presumed Innocent” book jacket
One bloody fingerprint

Scott Turow begins Presumed Innocent with Rusty Sabich, Kindle County’s chief deputy prosecutor, relating his usual opening speech to a jury in a criminal case.

It is their job, he always says, to determine “what actually occurred.”

When Carolyn Polhemus, another deputy prosecutor, is found raped and murdered, Randy’s boss, who is fighting for his job in a hot election, assigns the investigation to Randy.

The boss doesn’t know Randy had a brief affair with Carolyn, who dumped him a few months before.

When Raymond Horgan loses the election, the newly-elected prosecuting attorney acts swiftly to show voters they made the right choice.

Randy suddenly finds himself accused of Carolyn’s murder.

A lawyer himself, Turow uses his insider’s knowledge of the legal system to allow readers to get a close-up look through Randy’s eyes at the police, the prosecution, the defense team, and the judge.

We see even Randy’s most loyal supporters entertain suspicions about his guilt as as his case sometimes takes on the appearance of a political rivalry.

Readers, too, may wonder if Randy is guilty.

Turow gets details right without sacrificing a good story. He ends with Randy presenting his closing argument, not to a jury but to himself.

Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
Farrar, Straus, Giroux. ©1987. 431 p.
1987 bestseller #7; my grade: A

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Windmills of the Gods

Flowers and lash are art on dust jacket of “Windmills of the Gods”
   A whip and flowers

Windmills of the Gods is another in a long line of Sidney Sheldon novels destined—or perhaps designed—to be given visual treatment as a film or TV mini-series.

The story will keep readers’ attention for three or four hours, but they won’t remember it a day later.

The problem is that Sheldon’s stories have characters but they have no real people in them.

In Windmills, the newly-elected 42nd president of the United States chooses a widowed Kansas professor of Eastern European history to initiate his new be-friends-with-everybody foreign policy.

That policy doesn’t go down well with many long-time foreign service staff and with some major foreign governments.

It doesn’t help that Mary Ashley has never been further from Kansas than Colorado.

Nevertheless, Mary’s activities as Ambassador to Romania are given publicized as if she were a top Hollywood star.

After several missteps, Mary pulls off a series of diplomatic coups.

But the President’s enemies want to get rid of Mary and the President’s policies in one spectacular blow-up.

There are undoubtedly some people in the U.S. government as stupid as the people in Windmills, but putting an entire novel’s worth between the covers of one book strains credulity too far.

Windmills of the Gods by Sidney Sheldon
William Marrow. ©1987. 384 p.
1987 bestseller #6; my grade: C-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Leaving Home by Garrison Keillor

Roadside sign says houses in distance are Lake WobegonLeaving Home is a collection of Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion monologues about Lake Wobegon, the little town on the edge of the Minnesota prairie “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

Leaving Home doesn’t make any attempt at a plot. It’s simply a collection of literary oddments.

The chapters are short, usually three to five pages, often funny, and vibrating with the ring of oral stories about small town people from mid-century mid-America.

People who grew up in any rural community in America after World War II will recognize the traits that Keillor alternately mocks and lauds.

These are church-going people, with or without personal faith, but with a strong commitment to what their church represents.

They aren’t rich or famous. Some are comfortable, others not so much.

All of them wonder what the world is coming to.

The book will bring joy to fans of Keillor’s down-home style of yarn-spinning.

Leaving Home should also have a strong attraction for depressed 21st century readers wondering what the world is coming to, and yearning for models of how to live among those with whom you disagree without being disagreeable.

Leaving Home: A Collection of
Lake Wobegon Stories
by Garrison Keillor
Viking. ©1987. 244 p.
1987 bestseller #5; my grade: B+

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Misery a Stephen King novel

Man in wheelchair sits beside bedroom window in shadow of female figure with axe
Death by hatchet awaits

Stephen King terrifies most when his stories most closely reflect everyday life. In Misery, King weaves together two familiar memes, throws in a couple of  over-the-top bits of nastiness, and produces a novel which can terrify on two levels.

The story begins with Paul Sheldon waking in a strange place in incredible pain.

A few days before, Paul had typed the last page of Fast Cars, which he thinks is his best novel, way superior to the “Misery” series that made him rich and famous.

Somewhere in the Colorado Rockies, Paul crashed his car. He’s had the misfortune to be rescued by his “number one fan,” an ex-nurse.

Annie Wilkes can’t wait for Paul’s next book.

When she learns Paul killed off that novel’s lead character, Annie insists he write a novel just for her in which Misery Chastain doesn’t die.

Despite the blur of the pilfered drugs Annie feeds him, Paul realizes she’s a pathological killer and he will be her next victim.

The pathological killer in medical settings was already a familiar and terrifying figure in the ’80s.

Nearly 40 years later, we’re now getting accustomed to the other terror in King’s novel: The adoring fans determined to control the artists they idolize.

by Stephen King
Viking, 1987. 310 p.
1987 bestseller #4; my grade: A-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Kaleidoscope by Danielle Steel

image of kaleidoscope on cover of Kaleidoscope novelDanielle Steel’s Kaleidoscope is a series of stories within stories.

The outer story is about the friendship of Sam Walker and Arthur Patterson who meet in the trenches in Italy in 1943.

Sam falls for a French woman, brings her to the States. While Sam becomes a famous actor, Solange cares for their three daughters, maintains a friendship with Arthur, and tries to ignore Sam’s philandering.

One night Sam murders Solange.

After his conviction for murder, Sam commits suicide.

Unable to adopt Sam’s daughters himself—his wife hated Sam and loathes all children—Arthur finds separate adoptive parents for the two younger girls, Alexandra and Megan.

Unable to find someone to take 9-year-old Hilary, he leaves her with Sam’s sister, a drunken slut married to a drunken lout in a waterfront slum near Boston.

Thirty years later, with only a few months to live, Arthur hires a private investigator to find the three girls and give them the opportunity to be reunited.

The PI finds them, which allows Steel to tell their stories, and effect a happy ending that’s as preposterous as the “confession” Hilary says led her father to kill her mother.

Kaleidoscope by Danielle Steel
Delacorte Press. ©1987. 395 p.
1987 bestseller #3; my grade: C-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Patriot Games by Tom Clancy

a rifle is at center of front cover
Nothing’s so black and white.

Patriot Games is a thriller about good guys trying to stop terrorists before they can do bad things.

Jack Ryan, an ex-Marine and naval history professor at Annapolis Military Academy runs afoul of an ultra-nasty IRA splinter group while on vacation in London with his ophthalmologist-surgeon wife and four-year-old daughter.

When the disaffected IRA members stage a terrorist attack on the Prince and Princess of Wales right in front of him, Ryan responds saving their lives and making a deadly enemy.

With the British on high alert after the attack, the terrorists decide to strike in America, where Irish terrorists have never struck.

A planned visit by the royal couple to America and to their new friends, the Ryan family, offer the terrorists an ideal target.

A terrible thunderstorm just as the terrorists’ strike adds to the drama.

What makes the Patriot Games unusual is that author Tom Clancy focuses heavily on the different psychological characteristics of the good guys—U.S. military, the CIA, FBI, police, and their British counterparts—and the bad guys.

There’s nothing particularly startling about Clancy’s observations, but the personal angle makes a pleasant change from descriptions of weapon systems and intelligence analysis procedures.

Patriot Games by Tom Clancy
Putnam, ©1987. 540 p
1987 bestseller #2; my grade: B

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Tommyknockers: a novel

The spaceship’s green light glows against the black dust jacket
An otherworldly  light glows

The Tommyknockers is one of the horror novels for which Stephen King is famous: Its descriptions beg to be turned into visual formats.

It’s no surprise that Tommyknockers was made into both a TV miniseries and a film.

The story is about a writer who literally trips over a space ship that eons before had crashed with enough force to bury most of it in the Maine woods.

Something makes Bobbie determined to uncover the ship, despite signs that the remains are lethal.

Bobbie’s friend and ex-lover, Jim Gardener, intuiting that Bobbie needs him, pulls himself out of his alcoholic stupor and hitch-hikes to the rescue.

Jim finds that the minds of the entire community of Haven, Maine, are controlled by a sinister force.

King churns out episode after episode that are variations on one pattern: The residents of Haven are turning everyday objects into lethal weapons running on batteries.

They’re unstoppable because they can read the mind of anyone who wants to stop them. Visitors to Haven are left as piles of puke, blood, and lost teeth.

Jim very much wants to stop the murder and mayhem.

Chapters of the Tommyknockers would have been interesting presented as short stories. The book, at 558 pages, seemed interminable.

Tommyknockers by Stephen King
Putnam, © 1987. 558 p.
1987 bestseller #1; my grade: C-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni