Disclosure by Michael Crichton

Title and author's name are all that's disclosed on front cover
Inside the circle says, “A NOVEL.”

Michael Crichton’s novel Disclosure is not about disclosure. It’s about all kinds of deception.

Crichton sets his novel in the early 1990s in Seattle where DigiCom is developing a virtual reality device for information storage and retrieval. Tom Sanders, who has overseen the development of the Twinkle, hopes he’s up for promotion when DigiCom merges with educational publisher Conley-White, and Tom’s division is spun off into a separate company.

The day the merger is supposed to be announced, Tom learns the company is being restructured. Instead of being promoted, he will report to his ex-lover of a decade earlier, Meredith Johnson.

After a late-day meeting with Meredith, Tom finds himself accused of sexual harassment. He hires a lawyer and fights back, claiming that Meredith was the harasser.

Thus, Crichton sets up a story about sexual harassment with a male as the victim. For readers today, the edge is off that story.

What’s interesting today is what has not changed in those 30-plus years in employment law:  societal attitudes about women’s roles, the number of women in executive positions, the world of high technology manufacturing. Crichton’s observation remains true today:

“We all live every day in virtual environments, defined by our ideas.”

Disclosure by Michael Crichton
Alfred A. Knopf ©1993. 397 p.
1994 bestseller #10; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Accident by Danielle Steel

triangular red warning sign is art element on front of "Accident"
Accident is unexpected story from Danielle Steel.

Accident is a Danielle Steel romance in which the author throws monkey wrenches at her typical formula with a most satisfactory clang.

Page Clark is happily married. She and Brad have a son, Andy,  7, and a daughter, Allyson, 15. Page wishes Brad’s work didn’t take him away from home so much, but on the whole, she happy with her life.

Then one Saturday night Allyson and her best friend, Chloe Thorensen, say Chloe’s father is taking them to dinner and a movie.

The girls, however, have made a dinner date with two older boys. On the way home, they have an accident. The boy driving the car is killed, the other boy escapes injury. Both Chloe and Allyson are badly injured. Chloe will recover, but never have the dancing career she wanted; Allyson may never regain consciousness.

Steel’s plot is a tad more gruesome than it need be—a relationship need not be abusive for a child to dislike its mother, for example—but on the whole her characterizations are believable.

And she scores points by not exploiting the “other driver” story at the expense of her core story.

Altogether, Accident is a gushless romance that will make readers feel they know the characters.

Accident by Danielle Steel
Delacourt Press. ©1994. 305 p.
1994 bestseller #08; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Wings by Danielle Steel

an airplane propeller
The story has more action than the cover.

Wings is the second Danielle Steel novel to make the 1994 bestseller list and, like fourth-placed The Gift, and eighth-placed Accident, it breaks from Steel’s romance formula: Its heroine, Cassie O’Malley, prefers overalls to Dior gowns.

Growing up on rural airstrip and the daughter of a WWI pilot, Cassie dreams of flying, which her dad and mom think unsuitable for a woman. Her father’s wartime buddy and post-war partner, Nick Galvin, recognizes Cassie’s determination and natural talent. He secretly gives her flying lessons.

After Cassie wins a flying competition, Desmond Williams, whose firm builds aircraft, offers her a contract that entails testing new aircraft and making public appearances.

Nick thinks Desmond is up to no-good. He’s especially leery of Desmond’s plan to have Cassie repeat the round-the-world flight on which Amelia Earhart disappeared. Nick and Cassie fall out over it.

When World War II breaks out, Nick goes to England to train pilots. He never writes to Cassie.

Having made her point that women need not be confined to the kitchen and bedroom, Steel wraps the story up neatly, pairing off Cassie with Nick whose interest in Cassie, like Desmond’s, revolves around aircraft.

Wings by Danielle Steel
Delacourt Press. ©1994. 400 p.
1994 bestseller #07; my grade: B-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Politically Correct Bedtime Stories

people and animals from fairy tales drinking together around a table
Get a load of those 3 porkers.

James Finn Garner rewrote 13 classic fairy tales to replace any language that would offend the sensibilities of “Politically Correct” 1990s readers with language that will make ordinary folks laugh out loud.

Thus in Politically Correct Bedtime Stories:

    • Little Red Riding Hood becomes “a young person.”
    • The Emperor in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is not naked but merely “endorsing a clothing-optional lifestyle.”
    • The Little in Chicken Little’s name is a family name rather than a “size-based nickname,” and
    • Cinderella is put on the road to romance by an individual calling himself her “fairy godperson, or individual deity proxy.”

Garner’s long-distance nod to the historic origins of the tales is marked by a decorative capital letter, drawn by Lisa Amoroso to illustrate the story, and placed as the first letter of each story in the best tradition of early manuscripts.

Despite its extremely short length—79 pages—Politically Correct Bedtime Stories is not a work to be read in one sitting. To appreciate Garner’s humor, without being overwhelmed by the silliness, it’s best to read the stories one a night for 13 nights before bedtime.

Garner’s book was a flash-in-a-pan bestseller, ideally suited to the time in which it first appeared, but almost lusterless today when people seem unable to laugh at absurdities uttered by public figures.

Politically Correct Bedtime Stories:
Modern Tales for Our Life & Times
by James Finn Garner
Viking. ©1994. 79 p.
1994 bestseller #6; my grade: B-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Insomnia by Stephen King

Close-up black-and-white drawing of Ralph Roberts' face
                      Ralph Roberts, insomniac as drawn by David Johnson

As he so often does, in Insomnia Stephen King takes some everyday experience and turns it into something extra-ordinary.

As the story opens, retiree Ralph Roberts hasn’t been sleeping well since his wife died. He walks around Derry, ME, talking with other old-timers and trying to get tired enough to sleep.

On one of those walks, he’s shocked to see Ed Deepneau almost come to blows with another driver over a minor collision that Ed caused. Ralph knows Ed as “one of the kindest, most civil young men” he’d ever met. Ralph and his late wife had been fond of Ed’s wife, Helen, and their baby, Natalie as well. In his waking hours—of which he has more every week—Ralph tries to puzzle out what’s wrong with Ed.

When Ralph sees Helen in the convenience story parking lot, beaten, bloodied, staggering, holding her screaming infant, and muttering, “Why didn’t he stop this time?” Ralph calls the Derry police.

creature that looks like a little bald doctor carrying big scissors
Those scissors look sinister.

The next 625 pages relate the horrific consequences of that call.

The supernatural elements of King’s story are less frightening than the human horrors. And issues King raises about human behavior and human responsibility still demand attention, regardless of whether you like King’s novel.

Insomnia by Stephen King
David Johnson, illustrator
Viking. ©1994. 787 p.
1994 bestseller #4; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Gift from Danielle Steel

a home in a 1950s midwestern town is in center of dust jacket
Country scene isn’t typical for  Danielle Steel novel.

The Gift is a radical departure for famed romance-writer Danielle Steel. There’s some romance in it, but it’s almost a coming-of-age tale set in the 1950s.

When Maribeth Roberson’s father refuses to let her go to the sophomore prom in a sexy dress, she changes clothes and goes with a jerk she scarcely knows.

When the jerk gets drunk, a handsome senior gives her a ride home. He takes advantage of Maribeth’s naiveté.

Sixteen and pregnant, Maribeth leaves home. She gets off the bus in an Iowa town, gets a job waitressing, hoping to earn enough pay for the baby’s delivery. She wants to give the baby up for adoption, then go to college.

Maribeth becomes friends with 16-year-old Tommy Whittaker who eats most nights at the restaurant. Home is too depressing since his younger sister’s death. After 22 years of marriage, his parents seem to have lost all interest in each other and him.

Steel’s organization of her story makes the ending too predictable for the novel to rate an A, but the characters in The Gift come across as real people. There’s not a Hermes handbag to be seen anywhere.

And Steel doesn’t glue a happy ending on her story. She just gives glimmers of hope for the Whittakers and Maribeth.

That ending feels exactly right.

The Gift by Danielle Steel
Delacourt Press. ©1994. 216 p.
1994 bestseller #04; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Celestine Prophesy

cark green, all-text cover does not suggest adventure
Try not to get too excited.

James Redfield’s novel The Celestine Prophesy is quasi-spiritual book about an American who goes to Peru where a 600 B.C. Mayan manuscript written in Aramaic has been found showing how to achieve peace on earth in the third millennium A.D.

The Catholic Church is trying to confiscate all translations of the 10 chapters of the text, which it considers to be heresy. “This document makes it sound as though humans are in control,” a Catholic cardinal says.

The unnamed man must try to avoid being caught with pieces of the text, which he does mainly by getting in a truck and going someplace else.

The book predicts that  people will “vibrate at a new level” and “consciously engage evolution” until, in the 21st century, humans will voluntarily reduce their population, intentionally let forests grow uncut, and “the means of survival—foodstuffs and clothing and transportation—will be totally automated and at everyone’s disposal.”

At the end of his adventure—which is about as exciting as a trip to the bathroom—the man goes back to America, presumably taking with him insights he has learned:

“Live one millennium at a time.”

“Breathe in energy.”

“Consciously engage evolution.”

“Onward and upward!”

The Celestine Prophesy: An Adventure
by James Redfield
Warner Books. ©1993. 246 p.
1994 bestseller #3; my grade: C-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Debt of Honor

Mountainous island silhouetted by red sun inside final O of honor
Red sun symbolizes Japan.

Jack Ryan is introduced as National Security Advisor to the President in Tom Clancy’s 1994 bestseller Debt of Honor.

Even by Clancy’s standards, this tale of a third world war is complicated. One thread involves a computer program designed to cripple America economically by destroying records of transactions on the US-based stock exchanges.

A second thread concerns a wealthy Japanese man’s desire to revenge the deaths of his family when Americans invaded the Mariana Islands in World War II.

A third thread is about an attempt by India to invade Sri Lanka.

Clancy lays all three of these fictional threads out against the very real political-military situation in the 1990s: the mutual Soviet-US nuclear missile disarmament, the reduction of America’s naval capacity, the reliance on technology as a replacement for human observation and analysis.

About page 675, when American began fighting in the Pacific Ocean, I lost track of who was where—blame the fog of war—and picked up the story as diplomats arranged peace terms.

Readers who know military lingo will enjoy the story more than the rest of us, but no one can read Clancy’s novel without learning a great deal that’s worth knowing—and acknowledging.

Debt of Honor by Tom Clancy
G. P. Putnam’s Sons. ©1994. 766 p.
1994 bestseller #2; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Chamber by John Grisham

author, title, set in marble
Like marble, the law is inflexible.

John Grisham’s The Chamber is real as death and almost as irresistible.

In 1967, Sam Cayhall helped bomb the law office of a Mississippi civil rights activist. The lawyer’s two sons were killed in the blast.

Sam was tried for murder twice; both trials resulted in a hung jury. In 1979, he was tried a third time, convicted, and sentenced to death.

In 1990, Sam’s execution is weeks away when a young lawyer, Adam Hall, asks to work on the case.

When he was 16, Adam learned that he was Sam’s grandson. Adam’s father, Eddie Cayhill, had fled to California, changed the family’s name, and committed suicide.

Now Adam tries to keep his grandfather from the gas chamber, while he pieces together his family history.

Sam is not the easiest client to work with; Adam is inexperienced and cocky. As they count the days to the execution date, each gives up some of his pride.

However repellent they find Sam’s criminal past, readers will find it hard not to want to see him reprieved.

Grisham ends the story in the only way it could end, leaving readers to ponder the messes that people make of their lives and the impossibility of solving human problems by legal means.

The Chamber by John Grisham
Doubleday. ©1994. 486 p.
1994 bestseller #10; my grade: A+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni