Thursday, January 31, 2008

Duma Key

Duma Key by Stephen King is a new 2008 release. The hardcover has 609 pages. King's writing has unquestionably been effected by his 1999 accident, but not necessarily in a bad way. He is one of the best writers out there. His ability to create fully realized characters while slowly allowing the story to unfold and the atmosphere to change is amazing. Humor comes through naturally in his writing. The dialog is realistic. Duma Key is an excellent book and I highly recommend it. Rating: 4.5

Synopsis from cover:

"No more than a dark pencil line on a blank page. A horizon line, maybe. But also a slot for blackness to pour through...

A terrible construction site accident takes Edgar Freemantle's right arm and scrambles his memory and his mind, leaving him with little but rage as he begins the ordeal of rehabilitation. A marriage that produced two lovely daughters suddenly ends, and Edgar begins to wish he hadn't survived the injuries that could have killed him. He wants out. His psychologist, Dr. Kamen, suggests a "geographic cure," a new life distant from the Twin Cities and the building business Edgar grew from scratch. And Kamen suggests something else.

"Edgar, does anything make you happy?"

"I used to sketch."

"Take it up again. You need hedges... hedges against the night."

Edgar leaves Minnesota for a rented house on Duma Key, a stunningly beautiful, eerily undeveloped splinter of the Florida coast. The sun setting into the Gulf of Mexico and the tidal rattling of shells on the beach call out to him, and Edgar draws. A visit from Ilse, the daughter he dotes on, starts his movement out of solitude. He meets a kindred spirit in Wireman, a man reluctant to reveal his own wounds, and then Elizabeth Eastlake, a sick old woman whose roots are tangled deep in Duma Key. Now Edgar paints, sometimes feverishly, his exploding talent both a wonder and a weapon. Many of his paintings have a power that cannot be controlled. When Elizabeth's past unfolds and the ghosts of her childhood begin to appear, the damage of which they are capable is truly devastating.
The tenacity of love, the perils of creativity, the mysteries of memory and the nature of the supernatural -- Stephen King gives us a novel as fascinating as it is gripping and terrifying."

"I guess it doesn't matter; gone is gone. And over is over. Sometimes that is a good thing."

"I could have asked her if she was serious, but the light down there was very good - those racked fluorescents - and I didn't have to."

" ' Well, listen to your Mama, Sunny Jim: if you've got a good lawyer, you can make her pay for being such a wimp.' Some hair had escaped from her Rehab Gestapo ponytail and she blew it back from her forehead. 'She ought to pay for it. Read my lips: None of this is your fault."
'She says I tried to choke her.'
'And if so, being choked by a one-armed invalid must have been a pants-wetting experience.' "

"Lin's temper and Ilse's tears weren't pleasant, but they were honest, and as familiar to me as the mole on Ilse's chin or the faint vertical frown-line, which in time would deepen into a groove, between Lin's eyes."

"He was a very tall, very black black man, with features carved so large they seemed unreal. His great staring eyeballs, ship's figurehead of a nose, and totemic lips were awe-inspiring. Xander Kamen looked like a monor god in a suit from Men's Warehouse."

"A hurt body and mind aren't just like a dictatorship; they are a dictatorship. There is no tyrant as merciless as pain, no despots so cruel as confusion. That my mind had been as badly hurt as my body was a thing I only came to realize once I was alone and all other voices dropped away."

"Maybe the quality of mercy isn't strained, there are millions of us who live and die by the idea, but... we have things like this waiting."

" 'They might all come...Think of it - a mob of Michiganders.'
He shrugged and flipped up his hands, indicating they were both the same to him. Pretty snooty for a guy from Nebraska."

"According to popular wisdom, a dog is a man's best friend, but I would vote for aspirin."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Book of the Dead

Book of the Dead by Patricia Cornwell (Kay Scarpetta, No. 15) was published in October 2007. My hardcover copy is 326 pages. Most other reviews have hit this right on the mark; it is not indicative of Cornwell's earlier, and better Scarpetti novels. It is a so-so novel and I'd only recommend it for die hard fans who are going to read it anyway, which is the only reason I read it. I also noticed that some current political leanings that are perhaps Cornwell's views were included this time. Perhaps they have been in previous novels and were easily overlooked, but this time I noticed them and they annoyed me.

"It's hard to fault Cornwell for trying to redeem herself after missing the mark with her last few Kay Scarpetta novels, but this new one won't do the trick. The frosty forensic pathologist and her entourage remain as annoyingly self-absored and screwed up as ever, and their emotional baggage once again gets in the way of the story. A lengthy, vivid scene during which a young tennis star is slowly and brutally tortured sets up the mystery, which unfolds in artless leaps, mostly through halting dialogue and occasional forays into the mind of the killer. Once again Cornwell trots out venal characters from previous Scarpetta books; prominent here is psycho-bitch teleshrink Dr. Self (Predator, 2005), who is hoarding information about what turns out to be a string of loosely related murders. Then there's Scarpetta's longtime investigator, Pete Marino, foulmouthed and crude but tolerated, who reveals true ugliness in what may be the best scene in the book. As to forensic detail, it seems right up to the minute, and Scarpetta uses it often in her search for the killer, all the while trying to preserve balance in her personal life. Only for diehard Cornwell fans, of whom there are still many, despite the author's continued slump."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Bridge of Sighs

Richard Russo's latest novel, Bridge of Sighs, is a superb, incredible, enjoyable, sweeping family saga. Originally published in September 2007, my hardcover edition is 528 pages. For years I have enjoyed all of Russo's novels and Bridge of Sighs is no exception. I enjoy the skill with which Russo writes and developes his characters and their story. I liked the switching between characters to tell the story. I very highly recommend Bridge of Sighs as a must read. Rating:5

The synopsis from the cover:
"Louis Charles (“Lucy”) Lynch has spent all his sixty years in upstate Thomaston, New York, married to the same woman, Sarah, for forty of them, their son now a grown man. Like his late, beloved father, Lucy is an optimist, though he’s had plenty of reasons not to be–chief among them his mother, still indomitably alive. Yet it was her shrewdness, combined with that Lynch optimism, that had propelled them years ago to the right side of the tracks and created an “empire” of convenience stores about to be passed on to the next generation.

Lucy and Sarah are also preparing for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Italy, where his oldest friend, a renowned painter, has exiled himself far from anything they’d known in childhood. In fact, the exact nature of their friendship is one of the many mysteries Lucy hopes to untangle in the “history” he’s writing of his hometown and family. And with his story interspersed with that of Noonan, the native son who’d fled so long ago, the destinies building up around both of them (and Sarah, too) are relentless, constantly surprising, and utterly revealing."


"But my militant ignorance on the subject of all things Italian has quickly become a game between us, one we both enjoy."

"It's possible, of course, that Bobby might prefer not to see us, his oldest friends. Not everyone, Sarah reminds me, values the past as I do. Dwells on it, she no doubt means. Loves it. Is troubled by it. Alludes to it in conversation without appropriate transition."

"Can it be that what provides for us is the very thing that poisons us? Who hasn't considered this terrible possibility?"

"I am, I believe, an intelligent man, but I'll admit this isn't always the impression I convey to others. Over the course of a lifetime a man will overhear a fair number of remarks about himself and learn from them how very wide is the gulf between his public perception and the image he hopes to project. I've always known that there's more going on inside me than finds its way into the world, but this is probably true of everyone. Who doesn't regret that he isn't more fully understood? I tend to be both self concsious and reticent."

"My parents had always argued over money, since no matter how hard they worked we always came up short at the end of the month. My father wasn't a spendthrift, but saving for a rainy day wasn't in his nature. To his way of thinking, the sun was shining most of the time. My mother had inherited from her parents the exact opposite view. To her a sunny day was a rarity. Tomorrow it would rain, and the only question was how hard. She didn't think we needed an ark necessarily, but she favored only spending money on what we really needed."

"There are a great many sins in the world, none of them original."

"The loss of a place isn't really so different from the loss of a person. Both disappear without permission, leaving the self diminished, in need of testimony and evidence. This happened. I was there."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

from Chris

What kind of soap is in your shower right now?

Irish Springs, vanilla body wash, pomegranate body wash
Do you have any watermelon in your refrigerator?

What would you change about your living room?
Since we're renting until we find a house we want to buy I can't change a thing in the current living room.
Are the dishes in your dishwasher clean or dirty?
What is in your fridge?
Milk, lots of oranges, carrots, apples, various cheeses, lemons, broccoli, eggs, butter, tea, tortillas, salsa, assorted condiments
White or wheat bread?
What is on top of your refrigerator?
paper towels, large cast iron skillet, turning wood trivet, case of Korean Ramen - we have storage issues
What color or design is on your shower curtain?
In the bath with a shower curtain, it's clear.
How many plants are in your home?
40, including more than one plant per pot in several cases and some amaryllis and tulip bulbs being forced.
Is your bed made right now?
Comet or Soft Scrub?
Is your closet organized?
Can you describe your flashlight?
One is a copper colored mini mag-light, the other is a larger, black LED flashlight
Do you drink out of glass or plastic most of the time at home?
Do you have iced tea made in a pitcher right now?
If you have a garage, is it cluttered?
Oh my, yes. It is literally filled up with boxes that won't be unpacked until we buy our own home
Curtains or blinds?
blinds... stupid old aluminum blinds that I detest
How many pillows do you sleep with?
two feather pillows
Do you sleep with any lights on at night?
No, in fact I even cover up the light on my alarm clock.
How often do you vacuum?
oh... twice a week.
Standard toothbrush or electric?
Electric, but I have a standard one too
What color is your toothbrush?
blue and white
Do you have a welcome mat on your front porch?
we have a mat to wipe your feet and a rug inside the door to encourage you to wipe them again.
What is in your oven right now?
oven racks.
Is there anything under your bed?
Chore you hate doing the most?
I don't know... they all have to be done so why focus on disliking one of them.
What retro items are in your home?
Probably my husband and me
Do you have a separate room that you use as an office?
How many mirrors are in your home?
only the two in the bathrooms. We haven't hung the others up.
What color are your walls?
flat white
What does your home smell like right now?
coffee, apples and cinnamon air freshener, vanilla air freshener, slightly musty from the basement
Favorite candle scent?
vanilla or a cinnamon spice
What kind of pickles (if any) are in your refrigerator right now?
baby dills
What color is your favorite Bible?
navy blue
Ever been on your roof?
Do you own a stereo?
How many TVs do you have?
How many house phones?
well, we each have a cell phone but no house phones are connected
Do you have a housekeeper?
you're looking at her
What style do you decorate in?
eclectic, traditional
Do you like solid colors or prints in furniture?
Is there a smoke detector in your home?
In case of fire, what are the items in your house which you’d grab if you only could make one quick trip?
This was already tested once, years ago - the photo albums.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Insignia® - Pilot 4GB Video MP3 Player

5 Miunutes for Mom and Best Buy are giving away an Insignia® - Pilot 4GB Video MP3 Player with Bluetooth Technology just in time for Valentine’s Day!

The winner will also be getting a pair of Insignia® - Bluetooth Wireless Behind-the-Head Headphones
Yeah Best Buy!

The Insignia® - Pilot 4GB Video MP3 Player with Bluetooth Technology is on sale at Best Buy for $109.99 and includes these features and more:
* Plays music, videos and photos
* Built-in Bluetooth wireless audio
* Built-in FM RDS tuner (shows Song and Artist)
* 2.4″ wide viewing angle display
* Easy set-up, CD ripping and audio/video synch with included software
* and more…

A Child Called "It" and The Lost Boy

A Child Called "It" and The Lost Boy by David Pelzer briefly recalls the horrific child abuse Pelzer suffered at the hands of his mother and his subsequent years spent in the foster care system. My paperback copy of A Child Called "It" was originally published in 1995 and is 184 pages. My paperback copy of The Lost Boy was originally published in 1997 and is 340 pages. The number of pages in both of these books is not a true indication of the length of these books. The language is simple, the type is large, the spaces between sentences is great, and the margins are wide. There are also several pages of extra information in the back, like brief accounts from people who were or are in Pelzer's life now. Let's just say I read both in one night... a night in which I also took a long call from a friend, talked to family members, and made hot chocolate for everyone.

A Child Called "It" briefly tells of the appalling child abuse and torture Pelzer's alcoholic mother inflicted upon him. After years of abuse, a schoolteacher finally noticed the bruises, scratches, chipped teeth, wounds, etc., and called other's attention to it which eventually lead to David being removed from his home. There are two questions that come to mind while reading about the adults around Pelzer when he was a child. The first one is why didn't his father step in and at least try to stop the abuse. I will never understand why an adult let this malicious abuse continue to happen to their child. The second question is why didn't the school (or some other adult) notice and start documenting the evidence sooner. The Lost Boy continues Pelzer's story about his time spent in the foster care system. (At this point in his story one wonders why his mother was never charged with child abuse and thrown into prison.) I recommend both books as autobiographies, but there are probably meatier books out there if you truly want to study the causes and effects of child abuse. rating: 3

Friday, January 18, 2008


At first it appeared Lincoln Child (writing partner with Preston and author of Deep Storm ) may have been right when he wrote: "With Blasphemy, Douglas Preston has finally gone too far. One way or another, I'm afraid he may burn for this book." I was thinking these same thoughts almost until the end of the book. I stayed up way too late finishing Blasphemy. My hardcover copy was published in January 2008 and has 415 pages.

In Blasphemy, the government has built a new $40 billion particle accelerator named Isabella on the Navajo reservation. This supercollider, run by a super computer, was built in an attempt to study the Big Bang theory. A team of twelve scientists, lead by Nobel Laureate William North Hazelius, are isolated in the remote location and frantically trying to get Isabella working properly - without creating a black hole in the process. But something appears to be going wrong so the government sends in Wyman Ford, ex-CIA, ex-monk, to work undercover at Isabella. His known job is acting as a liaison with the local Navajo people, but his real mission is to try and find out why the supercollider is not working yet and what the scientists are not telling them. In the meantime, a Washington Lobbyist schemes to have a televangilist question the purpose of Isabella. This televangilist contacts a delusional preacher on the Rez who helps set into motion a small army of fanatic fundamentalists.
While reading you are going to really feel the book really is bordering on blasphemy, but keep reading. You have to finish this one to appreciate it. I highly recommend this book - but only if you read the whole book. Rating: 4.5


"The huge flat-panel screens all around suddenly woke up. A sudden singing noise seemed to float in the air, coming from everywhere and nowhere at once. 'What's that?...It sounds like the monolith in 2001' ."

"An image was appearing in the void, an image so strange, so beautiful, that at first he couldn't wrap his mind around it."

"We couldn't have found a better place, Wyman - isolated, undisturbed, uninhabited. But to me the most important thing was the beauty of this landscape, because beauty and mystery have a central place in physics. As Einstein said, 'The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true science.' "

"He was struck by their haggard appearance, their pale, cave-creature faces and rumpled clothes. They looked worse than a bunch of grad students at the bitter end of final exams."

"We will destroy that infernal machine out there in the howling desert. We will put an end to the blasphemy against You called Isabella."

" 'So you all don't believe that a Creator made the universe.'
' I'm Catholic, Mr. Begay In my view the Big Bang was simply how He did it.' "

Thursday, January 17, 2008

This week’s question is suggested by Puss Reboots:

How much do reviews (good and bad) affect your choice of reading?
If I want to read a book and am familiar with other work by that author, I can easily ignore bad reviews. A bad review from someone I know might encourage me to wait a bit before reading a new author and make reading that particular book a lower priority. Bad reviews from, say, Amazon are easy to ignore unless the majority of the reviews are bad.

If you see a bad review of a book you wanted to read, do you still read it?
Yes. Normally I choose books by author or I rely on the decription of the book. If all the reviews are bad, however, I might hesitate or make it a lower priority.

If you see a good review of a book you’re sure you won’t like, do you change your mind and give the book a try?
Maybe, if it is in a genre I like. All the good and glowing reviews in the world of a romance novel will not encourage me to read it. Of course, I'll probably never read those reviews either.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Barrel Fever

There is an uneven quality in the selection of stories and essays in
Barrel Fever by David Sedaris. Originally published in 1994, my paperback copy has 196 pages. This is not Sedaris at his best and I almost stopped reading after the first 50 pages. The only reason I kept reading was because it isn't a novel. In general, I did not enjoy most of the stories. I appreciated more of the essays. The story titled "Season's Greetings to Our Friends and Family" written as an over the top Christmas letter and the story "Barrel Fever" were both funny. By far the most enjoyable selection was the essay, "Santaland Diaries." This is a so-so recommendation, if only for the essay "Santaland Dairies." If you have never read any of Sedaris' work, pick up Me Talk Pretty One Day or Dress Your Family in Corduroy & Denim before you consider Barrel Fever. Rating: 2

"Listening to Mrs. Peacock is like trying to decipher what a ground hog might mean when it clicks its tongue three times and paws at the earth with a hind foot."

"Did I tell you what your sister Hope sent me for my birthday?...A poncho... I've written her back saying I'm sure it will come in very handy the next time I mount my burro for a three-day journey over the mountains to the neighboring village."

"[T]here was nothing of mine in those boxes [of unwanted gifts] as, at an early age, I discovered that postage stamps, cartons of cigarettes, light bulbs, and mail-order steaks are the gifts that keep giving."

"Did I tell you that your sister Charity called me? I hardly recognized her voice because it's been, what, three years since she's phoned me. It seems she lost her job at the suicide prevention hot line and is looking to borrow some money. I said, 'Hold on just a few seconds darling. It's a bit difficult to reach my purse with this IV in my arm.' "

"I am a thirty-three-year-old man applying for a job as an elf.... Even worse than applying is the very real possibility that I will not be hired, that I couldn't find work as an elf."

" They closed the meeting saying, 'I want you to remember that even if you are assigned Photo Elf on a busy weekend, YOU ARE NOT SANTA'S SLAVE.' "

"I've meet elves from all walks of life. Most of them are show business people... but a surprising number of them held real jobs... before the recession hit. Bless their hearts, these people never imagine there was a velvet costume waiting in their future. They're the really bitter elves."

"Lately I am feeling trollish and have changed my elf name from Crumpet to Blisters."

"I've had two people say that to me today, 'I'm going to get you fired.' Go ahead, be my guest. I'm wearing a green velvet costume; it doesn't get any worse than this. Who do these people think they are?"

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Run by Ann Patchett was published in September 2007 and is 295 pages long. In Run the majority of the plot revolves around one 24 hour period in the lives of two families. The main family is that of Bernard Doyle, his son Sullivan, and his two adopted sons, Tip and Teddy. Circumstances connect Tennessee Moser and her daughter Kenya to the Doyles: when they are all leaving a lecture during a snow storm, Tennessee pushes Tip out of the path of an SUV and is hit by it herself. Patchett wants us to exam "what truly defines family and the lengths we will go to protect our children." It is largely successful in this area. Although there are a couple of intriguing subplots that are left undeveloped, this doesn't detract from the story. While Run is not as compelling as Bel Canto, it is a very enjoyable book and I highly recommend it. Rating: 4.5

From Barnes & Nobel - Sarah Conrad Weisman - Library Journal:
"Two families come together in a traffic accident during a snowstorm. Nothing terribly unusual there, except that a woman has purposely thrown herself under a car to protect a stranger. It quickly becomes clear that the families-a poor, single black mother with her 11-year-old daughter and a white, Irish Catholic, former Boston mayor with a biological son and two adopted black college-aged sons whose much-loved wife died over 20 years ago-have a connection. The award-winning Patchett (Bel Canto) here presents an engrossing and enjoyable novel. While there are a few unexpected turns, the reader very quickly figures out where the plot is headed, but that does not detract from the pleasure of reading. The somewhat unusual premise is presented very matter-of-factly; this is not a story about race but about family and the depths of parents' love of their children, whether biological, adopted, given away, or otherwise acquired, and of each other."

"And why should two adopted sons, two black adopted sons, own the statue that was meant to be passed down from redheaded mother to redheaded daughter?"

"On those sunny days with the wild roses blooming red against the dunes to their right and the ocean sliding back and forth over the sand to their left, his father was the inventor of taxonomy, the namer of living things."

"Even now, when it was abundantly clear that Doyle had failed, he could not entirely abandon his drive to shape them."

"That was the way it was in any room where one person took the center stage: some of the people would listen with concentration while others couldn't tell you a single thing that was said. It didn't really matter who the speaker was, or if they were boring or passionate. You never got everyone's attention... Doyle knew this... But Teddy and Tip, at the ages of twenty and twenty-one respectively, each believed that he was the only person who had drifted off to other things."

"Besides, just because Tip was smart didn't mean that Teddy was stupid. Teddy wasn't stupid, he just wandered. Even as a little boy Tip could be pinned into place by an idea... Teddy, on the other hand, was more like a cloud."

"Somewhere along the line Teddy's love for his mother had become his love for Father Sullivan, and his love for Father Sullivan became his love for God. The three of them were bound into an inextricable knot: the living and the dead and the life everlasting."

"But then she remembered her vigilance. That was the word her mother taught her. Don't stop looking around. Don't stop watching. Every moment you've got to know where you are, what's coming up behind you, who's staring you down."

"His heart woke him up to remind him that in life there was never a limitless number of nights."

Monday, January 14, 2008

stalked by a church

Old Hat has a post up called "Baptists of the Corn." I can relate to part of his story and I'd like to send you over there to read him, but first let me share our stalked by a church story:

Several years ago we too visited a church once and then felt stalked from that point forward. And, yes, by the end of the first week the attention was just plain creepy and we never went back. I can no longer remember the exact sequence of visits, calls, and gifts, but I'm sure my kids will recall that week and I'll make corrections as needed. This wasn't a small town church either. We were living in a large city.

We had decided to visit during their Saturday night service because we thought this would be a good time to get a feel for the church and it's people. The service was OK and we might have gone back for another visit - except for their subsequent follow up. Our mistake was filling out a visitors card. After this experience, we have never made that mistake again. If a church wants to catch us visiting, someone had better notice when we're there because we are not going to leave a paper trail again.

It began on Monday when we received a phone call thanking us for visiting, which I thought was a nice touch at that time.

Tuesday we received a package of information about the church in the mail. We were good with this too and commented on how prompt they were to send out information.

Then, on Wednesday, I returned home to find a gift bag by our front door with a plastic bag of homemade cookies in it and more information about the church. This started to creep me out. Although I'm fairly certain that the church outreach team wasn't trying to poison us, I also did not know these people or who made the cookies. A small town might be able to get away with sharing homemade baked goods, but in a city, cookies follow the "candy from strangers" rule as far as I'm concerned. Over the years I've met some very kind people who have kitchens that are disaster areas. Additionally in the mail Wednesday we received even more information.

I believe this is the day the initial fund raising information started being sent to us.

Thursday is very likely the day we had another large information packet with a VHS tape mailed to us The tape may have presented the complete fund raising program information and explained why this newly built church needed a 2+ million dollar expansion. We had written instructions that informed us that after viewing the tape we were to return it to the church so they could share the exciting news with others. Our problem was that we didn't have a working VCR and couldn't watch the exciting news on the tape. This likely didn't matter because we were inundated with fund raising information from that time forward.

While other organizations might look at taking all those homemade cookies and having a bake sale to start raising money, I was a bit shocked to see this church ask in the fund raising information to be named as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy. They included information on how to get a home equity loan and donate the money to the church. They called themselves a life changing church but it looked more like a life charging program from our perspective. My son, Wonder Boy, called their fund raising plan a "give like you're rich quick scheme" which just about sums it up.

We never set foot in that church again but continued to receive requests for donations for probably 2 or 3 years afterwards.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Lost

I highly recommend Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million. My hardcover copy of this nonfiction work is 513 pages long and was originally published in September 2006. The Lost follows Mendelsohn's search for information on six family members who perished in the Holocaust. This is the story not only of these family members, but of Mendelsohn's search, his journey, trying to uncover any information he could about them. When I first heard Mendelsohn talking about his book on Book TV early in 2007, I immediately put The Lost on my wish list. It is to my detriment that I didn't get my hands on a copy and read it immediately.

This is not a book that simply enumerates the many atrocities of the Holocaust. I noticed (at Amazon) several short sighted reviewers who couldn't get through the book or didn't appreciate how Mendelsohn presented his search, his family's story. So, if you want to read a simple linear account in 100 pages or less of who was missing and what the information he finally uncovered shows him probably happened, then don't read The Lost. If you can appreciate the search for answers, the journey, the years spent in trying to piece together differing accounts from the fragile memories of aging survivors, then you will appreciate The Lost. This is a personal account of one man, in one family, and his search for the truth of what happened to their relatives. Mendelsohn doesn't simply tell the reader what the final answers to his many questions appear to be, but rather he recounts his search for these answers, for the truth or what may be the truth.
Rating: 4.5

Synopsis from The Lost:
"In this rich and riveting narrative, a writer's search for the truth behind his family's tragic past in World War II becomes a remarkably original epic - part memoir, part reportage, part mystery, and part scholarly detective work - that brilliantly explores the nature of time and memory, family and history.

The Lost begins as the story of a boy who grew up in a family haunted by the disappearance of six relatives during the Holocaust - an unmentionable subject that gripped his imagination from earliest childhood. Decades later, spurred by the discovery of a cache of desperate letters written to his grandfather in 1939 and tantalized by fragmentary tales of a terrible betrayal, Daniel Mendelsohn sets out to find the remaining eyewitnesses to his relatives' fates. That quest eventually takes him to a dozen countries on four continents, and forces him to confront the wrenching discrepancies between the histories we live and the stories we tell. And it leads him,
finally, back to the small Ukrainian town where his family's story began, and where the solution to a decades-old mystery awaits him.

Deftly moving between past and present, interweaving a world-wandering odyssey with childhood memories of a now-lost generation of immigrant Jews and provocative ruminations on biblical texts and Jewish history, The Lost transforms the story of one family into a profound, morally searching meditation on our fragile hold on the past. Deeply personal, grippingly suspenseful, and beautifully written, this literary tour de force illuminates all that is lost, and found, in the passage of time."


first sentence
"Some time ago, when I was six or seven or eight years old, it would occasionally happen that I'd walk into a room and certain people would begin to cry."

"My grandfather was famous (in the way that certain kinds of Jewish immigrants and their families will talk about someone being 'famous' for something, which generally means that about twenty-six people know about it)..."

"Like every other Jewish child I knew, I had some religious training. This was mostly to appease my grandfather, although, since the Reform Jewish education I was getting was so watered down, so denatured in comparison to the rigorously Orthodox heder learning he had required in Bolechow a lifetime ago, I and my three brothers may well have been educated by Catholic priests, as far as he was concerned."

"But I also know... that being so intimate, having too much access to what goes on inside those closest to you by blood... will sometimes have the opposite reaction, causing family members too flee one another, to seek more... 'space.' "

"As often happens in large families, we children early on adopted, or were given, what I thought of for a long time as 'labels.' "

"I had missed so much, when those elderly Jews who had surrounded me when I was a boy, and who had, it turned out, known so much that I now needed to know, were alive."

"The world is so much bigger than you can possibly imagine, if you grow up in a provincial place: a New York suburb, a Galician shtetl, it doesn't really matter. Then you start to travel."

"In my mind, that Latin half-line became a kind of caption for the poignantly unabridgeable distances created by time.. There are tears in things; but we all cry for different reasons."

"For anyone who's traveled extensively knows that, although you may think you know what you're looking for and where you're going when you first set out, what you learn along the way is often quite surprising."

"Sometimes the stories we tell are narratives of what happened; sometimes they are the images of what we wish had happened, the unconscious justifications of the lives we've ended up living."

"...I did and do believe, after all that I've seen and done, that if you search, you will, by the very act of searching, make something happen that would not otherwise have happened, you will find something, even something small, something that will certainly be more than if you hadn't gone looking in the first place, if you hadn't asked your grandfather anything at all."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen was originally published in 2006. My paperback edition is 350 pages, including an author interview and reader's guide. The synopsis of the story follows:
As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

The story progresses smoothly and it is truly an enjoyable book to read. I very highly recommend Water for Elephants and am asking myself why on earth did I wait so long to read it? rating 5

"...The novel, told in flashback by nonagenarian Jacob Jankowski, recounts the wild and wonderful period he spent with the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a traveling circus he joined during the Great Depression. When 23-year-old Jankowski learns that his parents have been killed in a car crash, leaving him penniless, he drops out of Cornell veterinary school and parlays his expertise with animals into a job with the circus, where he cares for a menagerie of exotic creatures, including an elephant who only responds to Polish commands. He also falls in love with Marlena, one of the show's star performers-a romance complicated by Marlena's husband, the unbalanced, sadistic circus boss who beats both his wife and the animals Jankowski cares for. Despite her often clich d prose and the predictability of the story's ending, Gruen skillfully humanizes the midgets, drunks, rubes and freaks who populate her book. (May 26) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information."

" 'The disaster March...means something's gone bad - real bad... Could be anything - fire in the big top, stampede, whatever...The poor rubes probably don't even know it yet.' "

"I knew how important it was to keep her secret, and keep it I did - for the rest of her life and beyond. In seventy years, I've never told a blessed soul."

"Either there's been an accident of there's roadwork, because a gaggle of old ladies is glued to the window at the end of the hall like children or jailbirds. They're spidery and frail, their hair as fine as mist. Most of them are a good decade younger than me, and this astounds me."

" 'You didn't just jump a train, boy. You done jumped the Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brother's Most Spectacular Show on Earth.' "

"And to this day I have no idea who they were. I know my children, don't get me wrong - but these are not my children. These are the children of my children, and their children, too, and maybe even theirs... You multiply five by four and then by five again, and it's no wonder I forget how some of them fit in."

"My brain is like a universe whose gases get thinner and thinner at the edges. But it doesn't dissolve into nothingness. I can sense something out there, just beyond my grasp, hovering, waiting..."

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Into the Wild

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is a nonfiction account of the wandering pilgrimage of Chris McCandless that eventually lead him to his tragic death in the Alaska wilderness in 1992. Originally published in 1996, my paperback copy is 207 pages. This is an excellent book and I highly recommend it. After I finished it I wondered why I put off reading it for so long, especially since I also really enjoyed Krakauer's Into Thin Air and Under the Banner of Heaven.
The story of McCandless is introduced right on the cover of my edition with the following words: "In April 1992, a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. He had given $25,000 in savings to a charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet and invented a life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter...." Rating: 4.5

From Amazon:
"After graduating from Emory University in Atlanta in 1992, top student and athlete Christopher McCandless abandoned his possessions, gave his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and hitchhiked to Alaska, where he went to live in the wilderness. Four months later, he turned up dead. His diary, letters and two notes found at a remote campsite tell of his desperate effort to survive, apparently stranded by an injury and slowly starving. They also reflect the posturing of a confused young man, raised in affluent Annandale, Va., who self-consciously adopted a Tolstoyan renunciation of wealth and return to nature. Krakauer, a contributing editor to Outside and Men's Journal, retraces McCandless's ill-fated antagonism toward his father, Walt, an eminent aerospace engineer. Krakauer also draws parallels to his own reckless youthful exploit in 1977 when he climbed Devils Thumb, a mountain on the Alaska-British Columbia border, partly as a symbolic act of rebellion against his autocratic father. In a moving narrative, Krakauer probes the mystery of McCandless's death, which he attributes to logistical blunders and to accidental poisoning from eating toxic seed pods. - Publishers Weekly; Reed Business Information"
"Indeed, were it not for one or two seemingly insignificant blunders, he would have walked out of the woods in August 1992 as anonymously as he walked into them in April."

"Alaska has long been a magnet for dreamers and misfits, people who think the unsullied enormity of the Last Frontier will patch all the holes in their lives. The bush is an unforgiving place, however; that cares nothing for hope or longing."

"I think maybe part of what got him into trouble was that he did too much thinking. Sometimes he tried too hard to make sense of the world..."

"He just didn't make the connection. It was like he was off in his own universe."

"Nor was McCandless endowed with a surfeit of common sense. Many who knew him have commented, unbidden, that he seemed to have great difficulty seeing the trees, as it were, for the forest."

McCandless was a seeker and he had an impractical fascination with the harsh side of nature."
"He wasn't antisocial - he always had friends, and everybody liked him - but he could go off and entertain himself for hours...He could be alone without being lonely."

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Martin Dressler

Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser won the 1997 Pulitzer for Fiction. It was originally published in 1996. My paperback edition has 293 pages. This appears to be one of those books people either enjoy or dislike. Personally, much of your reaction to this book will depend upon how you view it. Martin Dressler is subtitled The Tale of an American Dreamer for a reason. It is a multi-tiered work that encompasses an American myth. In Dressler, Millhauser has created a character that rises from humble beginnings, working in his father's cigar store, and reaches his goal, a hotel magnate. As Dressler moves more and more into his dream world and is successful with his ventures, his personal life disintegrates. When he takes his vision to the ultimate expression, the other-worldly Grand Cosmo, the question arises, "Did he dream the wrong dream?" I highly recommend. rating: 4

Martin Dressler is a turn-of-the-century New York City entrepreneur who begins in his father's cigar store but dreams of a bigger empire. That dream shapes into a series of large hotels. At first, Dressler's seems the archetypal American success story, but he does not quite grasp the future. The Manhattan of fabled skyline is about to take shape just over the horizon, but Dressler cannot see it. So the story becomes another kind of fable, as Dressler contemplates having "dreamed the wrong dream."

first sentence:
"There once was a man named Martin Dressler, a shopkeeper's son, who rose from modest beginnings to a height of dreamlike good fortune"

"And he had a gift that surprised people: he could swiftly sense the temperament of a customer and make sensible, precise suggestions."

"But if people liked him... it wasn't at all, he decided, because he was striking to look was because of something else, some quality of sympathy or curiosity that made him concentrate his deepest attention on them, made him sense their secret moods."

"As he walked, looking about, taking it all in, feeling a pleasant tension in his calves and thighs, he felt a surge of energy, a kind of restlessness, a desire to do something to test himself, to become, in some way, larger than he was."

"In Mr. Westerhoven's arguments there was always a ground of the solid and practical, but Martin knew that they were arguing... about the manager's secret desire to stop the city from it's rush into the new century, his desire to return to his childhood parlor..."

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Lost 3

This is what I've been doing in the evenings.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Giver

The Giver by Lois Lowry was originally published in 1993. My paperback copy has 180 pages. The Giver was the well earned recipient of the 1994 Newberry Medal. This is a young adult book, recommended for ages 12-14; based on that fact I am going to highly recommend it. If The Giver were written for an older audience I would have wanted to see more details and more character development, however, I do highly recommend The Giver as a worthwhile dystopian novel.

Rating: 4

In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community's Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy. With echoes of Brave New World, in this 1994 Newbery Medal winner, Lowry examines the idea that people might freely choose to give up their humanity in order to create a more stable society. Gradually Jonas learns just how costly this ordered and pain-free society can be, and boldly decides he cannot pay the price.

"For a contributing citizen to be released from the community was a final decision, a terrible punishment, an overwhelming statement of failure."

"It was one of the rituals, the evening telling of feelings."

"You're ready for the pills, that's all. That's the treatment for Stirrings"

"How could someone not fit in? The community was so meticulously ordered, the choices so carefully made."

"It's the memories of the whole world... Before you, before me, before the previous Receiver, and generations before him."

"It wasn't a practical thing, so it became obsolete when we went to Sameness."

"We relinquished color when we relinquished sunshine and did away with differences... We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others."

Chunkster Challenge

I'll be participating in the Chunkster Challenge this year since I have books on my TBR list that qualify:

Echo Maker - Powers, TBR, chunkster
The Lost - Mendelsohn, TBR, chunkster

Oppenheimer - Bird & Sherwin, TBR, chunkster
The Terror - Simmons, TBR, chunkster
The Way the Crow Flies - MacDonald, chunkster
Gold Bug Variations - Powers, chunkster
Einstein: His Life and Universe - Isaacson

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Orchid Thief

The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean was originally published in1998. My Ballentine paperback edition of this nonfiction book was published in 2000 and is 284 pages long (plus a reader's guide in the back). I really enjoyed this book. If you read it with the preconceived idea that it is going to be an exciting true crime story, then you will likely be very disappointed. What The Orchid Thief is is an interesting look at obsession and collecting, along with some Florida history, Seminole Tribe background, court cases, and several other topics. I found The Orchid Thief extremely entertaining and I highly recommend it.
Rating: 4

From Amazon:

Orchidelirium is the name the Victorians gave to the flower madness that is for botanical collectors the equivalent of gold fever. Wealthy orchid fanatics of that era sent explorers (heavily armed, more to protect themselves against other orchid seekers than against hostile natives or wild animals) to unmapped territories in search of new varieties of Cattleya and Paphiopedilum. As knowledge of the family Orchidaceae grew to encompass the currently more than 60,000 species and over 100,000 hybrids, orchidelirium might have been expected to go the way of Dutch tulip mania. Yet, as journalist Susan Orlean found out, there still exists a vein of orchid madness strong enough to inspire larceny among collectors.
The Orchid Thief centers on south Florida and John Laroche, a quixotic, charismatic schemer once convicted of attempting to take endangered orchids from the Fakahatchee swamp, a state preserve. Laroche, a horticultural consultant who once ran an extensive nursery for the Seminole tribe, dreams of making a fortune for the Seminoles and himself by cloning the rare ghost orchid Polyrrhiza lindenii. Laroche sums up the obsession that drives him and so many others:
I really have to watch myself, especially around plants. Even now, just being here, I still get that collector feeling. You know what I mean. I'll see something and then suddenly I get that feeling. It's like I can't just have something--I have to have it and learn about it and grow it and sell it and master it and have a million of it.
Even Orlean--so leery of orchid fever that she immediately gives away any plant that's pressed upon her by the growers in Laroche's circle--develops a desire to see a ghost orchid blooming and makes several ultimately unsuccessful treks into the Fakahatchee. Filled with Palm Beach socialites, Native Americans, English peers, smugglers, and naturalists as improbably colorful as the tropical blossoms that inspire them, this is a lyrical, funny, addictively entertaining read. --Barrie Trinkle

"Laroche's passions arrived unannounced and ended explosively, like car bombs."

"Schemes like these, folding virtue and criminality around profit, are Laroche's specialty. Just when you have finally concluded that he is a run-of-the-mill crook, he unveils an ulterior and somewhat principled but always lucrative reason for his crookedness."

"He is also the most moral amoral person I've ever known."

"... Florida is also the last of the American frontier. The wild part of Florida is really wild. The tame part is really tame. Both, though are always in flux..."

"[F]or years there has been an apparition wandering the swamp, the Swamp Ape, which is said to be seven feet tall and weigh seven hundred pounds and have the physique of a human, the posture of an ape, the body odor of a skunk, and an appetite for lima beans."

"Hunting clubs used to raise and fatten ordinary pigs on local farms and then let them loose in the swamp so club members could then have fun tracking them down and shooting them. Some of the pigs didn't get shot, and some of those adapted to swamp living. Their offspring are now thriving in the Fakahatchee and have been transformed into gigantic, nasty swamp pigs who are totally mad and totally wild."

"Scams and real estate schemes flourish because land in Florida is not like land anywhere else in the country. For one thing, Florida land is elastic. You can make more of it."