Loves Music, Loves to Dance

A high-heeled shoe stands in a puddle of bloodLoves Music, Loves to Dance explores the dark side of media-mediated dating 1990s.

Two college friends work in New York. Erin Kelley is recognized as a rising star among jewelry designers. Darcy Scott is carving a niche for herself as decorator for the budget-conscious.

The two women are helping a third friend, a TV producer, with research for a documentary by placing and responding to personal column ads and keeping notes on the experiences.

One Tuesday evening after she was to meet a guy from an ad, Erin disappears. Later, her body is found on an abandoned pier. She’s wearing her own shoe on one foot, a high-heeled dance shoe on the other.

A cop tells Vince D’Ambrosio, FBI investigator specializing in serial killers, about Darcy’s unsuccessful attempt to file a missing person report on Erin.

Vince springs into action, investigating red herrings Mary Higgins Clark has sprinkled through the novel like ice melt in January, missing the clue that practically stands up and yells, “CLUE.”

At least Clark has the sense not to pair Darcy off with Vince.

With its big print and lavish use of white space, Loves Music, Loves to Dance will occupy readers for a couple hours before they toddle off to an early bedtime.

Loves Music, Loves to Dance by Mary Higgins Clark
Simon & Schuster. ©1991. 319 p.
1991 bestseller #10; my grade: C

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Remember by Barbara Taylor Bradford

a red ribbon tied on the b in remember is cover artBarbara Taylor Bradford sets the opening of Remember in 1989 China where TV reporter Nicky Wells and photographer Cleeland Donovan cover the student protests.

Friends before Tiananmen Square, Nicky and Clee become sex partners afterward. Clee loves Nicky; she’s not sure she loves him.

Nicky has never recovered from losing Charles Devereaux, who is believed to have committed suicide—he left a note for his mother—but whose body has never been found.

One day, Nicky sees on a TV news broadcast from Rome, a man who she is sure is Charles.

Nicky goes into investigative reporter mode to find out why he faked suicide. She suspects he might have been involved in drug trafficking or illegal munitions sales: His international wine business plus his aristocratic connections would have provided ample cover for either.

Each of the trails Nicky follows ends in a dead end, until she learns details about his parents.

The Tiananmen Square details and the European travelogue is interesting, but Nicki’s pursuit of the truth about her ex-lover has all the drama of reporting on a zoning board application.

Although the dust jacket promises readers will never forget Remember, I had forgotten most of it the morning after I’d read it.

Remember by Barbara Taylor Bradford
Random House. ©1991. 381 p.
1991 bestseller #9; my grade: C+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Night Over Water

aircraft at night over oceanNight Over Water centers around a largely forgotten piece of 20th century aviation history: the luxury aircraft the Flying Clipper, which could land and take off from the ocean.

In Ken Follett’s novel, a few days after Britain declares war on German in 1939, the Clipper takes off on a 30-hour flight to New York. Some of the passengers are trying to avoid the war, others are trying to escape their pasts.

Weather conditions had to be just right for the Clipper. It couldn’t take off or land unless the waves were less than three feet high. Unless stars were visible, the aircraft had no way to navigate and could run out of fuel. Conserving fuel often meant going through storms rather than around them.

The spark for the drama is the presence on the plane of a mobster being returned to America for trial. His gang have kidnapped the pregnant wife of the Clipper’s engineer in order to force her husband to have the plane land in the ocean off Newfoundland where they can rescue him.

Follett’s characters are types familiar to novel readers. It’s the setting that produces the drama. Few writers can milk the drama from an historical setting to entertain and inform as Follett can.

Night Over Water by Ken Follett
William Morrow. ©1991. 400 p.
1991 bestseller #8; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Firm by John Grisham

Man with briefcase climbs marble wall bearing sign THE FIRMJohn Grisham’s 1991 bestseller The Firm is a legal thriller as irresistible as it is implausible.

Headhunters from a very exclusive law firm specializing in tax work recruit Michael McDeere with a financial package he can’t refuse.

Mitch and wife, Abby, move to Memphis, knowing he’s expected to work 60-80 hours in a normal week, more during tax season. The job is worse than either expects and in ways they don’t expect. The secrecy, security measures, and loyalty requirements begin to threaten their marriage.

Mitch notices that five lawyers who had worked for the firm died in suspicious circumstances.

When a man identifying himself as an FBI agent tries to recruit him to give insider information, the firm’s management says it’s a government attempt to get clients’ confidential income information.

In a secret meeting, the FBI director personally tells Mitch a different story.

The story races to a thrilling, big-screen worthy climax.

It’s only the morning after that readers will realize they were suckered into not noticing that no one working the hours Mitch is supposedly working without the firm noticing a fall-off in his performance could possibly have engineered the outcome Grisham presents.

That morning-after realization is a sign of a superb story-teller.

The Firm by John Grisham
Doubleday. ©1991. 421 p.
1991 bestseller #7; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Doomsday Conspiracy

Front dust jacket of The Doomsday Conspiracy

Doomsday Conspiracy reads like a novel Tom Clancy and Stephen King might have co-authored while drunk, with help from Danielle Steel to make the story end happily.

Robert Bellamy, a Navy Commanding Officer, is ordered to investigate the crash of a weather balloon in the Swiss Alps and identify the tour bus passengers who saw the wreck.

Bellamy thinks it’s a very odd job to be treated as top secret and given top priority, but he follows orders. Witnesses say they saw a space craft with two dead extraterrestrial creatures in it and an empty seat that had obviously been occupied. The witnesses even had their photographs taken in front of the spacecraft.

Each of the witnesses is murdered within hours of Bellamy’s reporting their identity to his superior officer.

When Bellamy learns that three of the witnesses have been killed, he begins to smell a rat.

The liner notes say the story unfolds to reveal “why the world must never learn an incredible secret shielded by an unknown force.”

If it did, I was laughing too hard at the crazy story to notice.

The Doomsday Conspiracy is certainly the most bizarre bestselling novel since Diane of the Green Van.

The Doomsday Conspiracy by Sidney Sheldon
William Morrow. ©1991. 412 p.
1991 bestseller #6; my grade: D+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Heartbeat by Danielle Steel

is figure two gold hearts intertwined or one gold heart broken
Two hearts or one, broken?

Heartbeat is a typical Danielle Steel story about a romance between two beautiful, personable, talented, wealthy-but-hardworking people in the California television industry.

The male half of the romance is Bill Thigpen, writer-producer of the hottest daytime soap opera and father to two boys who live in New York with his ex-wife and her new husband. Bill  grieves not being able to have his sons with him.

The female half of the romance is Adrian Townsend. Adrian is a production assistant for TV news show that’s headquartered in the same building as Bill’s soap opera.

Adrian has about as much common sense as a caterpillar. She has been married for nearly three years to a hard-driving ad agency executive who is a control freak, ruthless in his drive for money and power. Adrian always explains away Stephen’s behavior as a reaction to having grown up poor.

Before they married, Stephen made Adrian promise they’d never have children. When Adrian learns she’s pregnant, Stephen says either she gets rid of the fetus or she’s rid of him.

Adrian is surprised and shocked.

Anyone who has ever read a Danielle Steel novel knows what will happen.

The happy ending is totally predictable and totally absurd.

Heartbeat by Danielle Steel
Delacourt Press. ©1991. 392 p.
1991 bestseller #5; my grade: C-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

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

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