Monday, March 31, 2008

The Culled

The Culled by Simon Spurrier is the first book in the series The Afterblight Chronicles. It was published in 2006 and has 379 pages.
Now, time for a little honesty: if you're picking up a novel like this to read you aren't looking for great literature so we'll skip giving this novel a rating. This is pure action packed trash that has huge plot holes and makes enormous leaps in logic. It also has lots of guns, battles, and swearing by it's superhuman like former M16 hero. Although I enjoyed it, I'm not recommending The Culled. If and when you want to read a novel like this, you will know how to find one. It won't pass the first 50 pages test, but keep reading beyond that for more action and less reliance on swearing to fill dialog. Good airplane book.

Book Description from back cover:
The Blight arose from nowhere. It swept across the bickering nations like the End of Times and spared only those with a single fortuitous blood type.

Hot headed religion and territorial savagery ruled the cities now. Somewhere amidst the chaos a damaged man received a signal, and with it the tiniest flicker of hope. The chance to rediscover the humanity he lost, long ago, in the blood and filth and horror of The Cull.
Quotes (so you all know):
"On the roof I puked again. The throbbing in my ear was jacking about with my sense of direction, and it didn't help when the moonlit city put itself together bit-by-bit inside my topsy-turvy bearings." pg. 200

"When he spoke it was with an enthusiastically sleazy good nature - like a mischievous schoolboy who discovered German hardcore before he discovered snot-eating contests - and I found myself liking him and wanting to disinfect him in equal measure." pg. 249

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Secret Life of Lobsters

The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson was originally published in 2004. My paperback edition was published in 2005 and is 306 pages long. The subtitle, How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unraveling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean, basically explains what this nonfiction book is about. Combined into a single account is the differing perspectives of a select group of the fishermen who catch and sell lobsters, and a similar select group of the marine scientists and regulators who are trying to study and track lobsters. In to the mix is the environmental question: do we need protection for lobsters from the lobster industry. This really is an interesting book that mixes real life stories of fishermen and researchers, as well as the history of regulations on catching lobsters. You don't need to be a scientist to enjoy The Secret Life of Lobsters. It is written in an engaging, entertaining manner and you never feel like you are too bogged down in minute details. Very highly recommended. rating: 4.5

Synopsis from back cover:
In this intimate portrait of an island lobstering community and an eccentric band of renegade biologists, journalist Trevor Corson escorts the reader onto the slippery decks of fishing boats, through danger-filled scuba dives, and deep into the churning currents of the Gulf of Maine to learn about the secret undersea lives of lobsters.
"The eyes of a lobster can detect motion under low light conditions but don't discern much detail, especially when faced with floodlights." pg. 14

"Historians of New England often note that early settlers considered lobster a kind of junk food that was fit only for swine, servants, and prisoners." pg. 25

"When the lobster is ready to shed, it pumps in seawater and distributes it through its body, causing hydrostatic pressure to force the old shell away from the new one. The lobster remains mobile and active until the last minute, when the membrane that lines its old shell bursts and the animal falls over on its side, helpless and immobilized." pg. 36

"Jelle had apparently found a species where the females did the choosing." pg. 62

"What researchers discovered during the ensuing fights was that dueling lobsters accompanied their most punishing blows during combat by intense squirts of [urine] at the opponent's face. What was more, in a scene akin to a showdown at the OK Corral, the winner of the physical combat almost always turned out to be the lobster that had urinated first." pg. 196-197

"If the big V-notched females appeared only in the fall, he liked to think it was because the rest of the time they employed the lobster equivalent of a Romulan cloaking device." pg. 220

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon was originally published in 2000. My paperback copy has 636 pages. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is the winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I've heard it said that you are either a fan of Chabon or you aren't. Count me in as a fan.
The scope and breadth of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, numerous themes, great characters, detailed information, and descriptions all combined with Chabon's incredible writing, with equal parts of humor and pathos, to make this a great book. I could be laughing over a turn of phrase one minute and a moment later stunned into poignant silence. Any writer with that talent deserves my respect and admiration. It was well worth the Pulitzer. Rating: 5

At Barnes & Noble; from the publisher:

It's 1939, in New York City. Joe Kavalier, a young artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdiniesque escape, has just pulled off his greatest feat - smuggling himself out of Hitler's Prague. He's looking to make big money, fast, so that he can bring his family to freedom. His cousin, Brooklyn's own Sammy Clay, is looking for a partner in creating the heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit the American dreamscape: the comic book.

Inspired by their own fantasies, fears, and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapist, the Monitor, and the otherworldy Mistress of the Night, Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men. The golden age of comic books has begun, even as the shadow of Hitler falls across Europe.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a stunning novel of endless comic invention and unforgettable characters, written in the exhilarating prose that has led critics to compare Michael Chabon to Cheever and Nabokov. In Joe Kavalier, Chabon, writing "like a magical spider, effortlessly spinning out elaborate webs of words that ensnare the reader" (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times), has created a hero for the century.


first sentence:
IN LATER YEARS, holding forth to an interviewer or to an audience of aging fans at a comic book convention, Sam Clay liked to declare, apropos of his and Joe Kavalier's greatest creation, that back when he was a boy, sealed and hog-tied inside the airtight vessel known as Brooklyn, New York, he had been haunted by dreams of Harry 1

"His face was an inverted triangle, brow large, chin pointed, with pouting lips and a blunt, quarrelsome nose. He slouched, and wore clothes badly: he always looked as though he had just been jumped for his lunch money." pg. 1

"The natural smell of her body was a spicy, angry smell like that of fresh pencil shavings." pg. 5

"In 1939 the American comic book, like the beavers and cockroaches of prehistory, was larger and in its cumbersome way, more splendid than its modern descendant." pg. 74

"In the immemorial style of young men under pressure, they decided to lie down for awhile and waste time." pg. 118

"I always save room for dessert... is babka dessert?'
"An eternal question among my people... There are some who argue that it's actually a kind of small hassock." pg. 311

"It seemed to be her destiny to live among men whose solutions were invariably more complicated or extreme than the problems they were intended to solve." pg. 558

Wordless Wednesday

Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter memory

As we pause in our hectic lives to celebrate Easter and the resurrection of Christ, please allow me to share an Easter memory. I realize that most childhood Easter memories will entail bunnies and candy, Christ’s love, family dinners, or a combination of these. This particular Easter memory doesn’t. It was when I was a very bad little girl.

I know, I know… Those of you who know me personally are shocked that it is even possible that I was ever a disobedient child. As an adult, when I recall this particular Easter Sunday morning, I do believe it is a miracle that I am alive today because I was old enough to know better. Most certainly I deserved a punishment that was as memorable as my actions.

When I was around 7 years old, which would make my older brother 9 and my younger sister 5, we were visiting a large church on Easter Sunday. I believe it was the church of an extended family member. I know we were guests. We were all dressed up for Easter Sunday and just happened to be seated in the front row of a balcony. This was a resplendent, celebratory Easter service and they had a large choir singing… with a choir director.

Normally I was not the child whose behavior caused my parents concern. I was usually quiet, well behaved, and obedient. My older brother would cause trouble. My younger sister would be noisy. I, however, was the quintessential model child. But, sitting up in the front row of that balcony on that particular Easter Sunday unleashed something wild in me. My parents didn’t know what hit them. I blame the choir director.

Now, I don’t know if I had never seen a choir director use their arms to direct before or if it was the sugar from too much chocolate, but once I saw that choir, I was beyond control. First, I started to giggle. I tried to hold it in, but it just kept bubbling out and became uncontrollable. Then I simple had to start swinging my chubby little arms like that choir director. As I giggled and “directed” I looked at my brother and sister. They started to giggle. My parents now had a full-blown incident of misbehavior on their hands.

My mom reached over my sister, grabbed my hands, and gave me a look. I momentarily stopped and then started up again. My dad gave me the stern look of “I am deadly serious” that I can now see in my own adult face. It should have stopped me dead in my tracks and had me trembling in anticipation of the trouble I was now in. I couldn’t stop. My mom grabbed my arm and whispered some threat. It didn’t matter. I was a choir directing, giggling heretic sitting up in the front row of the balcony for everyone to turn around and see. I was the laughing, whirling dervish of child choir directors. Simple put, I was the bad girl poster child.

All I remember now is the feeling of uncontrollable glee as I laughed and the sheer delight I felt while swinging my arms like that choir director. It still brings a smile to my face thinking about it. It was the best feeling. It was freeing. It was delightful. It was great fun. Unfortunately, it was also during an Easter Sunday church service.

Eventually I calmed down, probably because the choir stopped singing and the sermon began. My parents looked unnaturally still and their faces looked tired and under great strain. At that point it occurred to me that my performance might result in my time on earth to be considerably shortened. The obedient child that I normally was came back and I sat quietly for the rest of church.

I don’t remember what my punishment was for my actions. I vaguely recall being severely chastised. There might even have been a spanking… and I was not a child who normally received spankings. Very likely both of these happened. All I can remember is my laughter and the feeling of great and perfect joy as I sat up in the balcony, looking down at the choir, and directing them.

Dreamers of the Day

Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell was published March 11, 2008 and is 249 pages. First I must admit that my review of any book by Mary Doria Russell is prejudiced. After reading her book The Sparrow, which is on my personal list of one of the best books ever written and one of a very few books that I have read, paused, and immediately read again, I am inclined to be an adoring fan of anything she writes. Even though they had a hard act to follow, Children of God, which finishes the story in The Sparrow, and A Thread of Grace, her historical fiction from 2005, all lived up to my expectations. Dreamers of the Day, I am pleased and proud to say, was excellent.

Dreamers of the Day is not The Sparrow. It is not science fiction and will not be on my exclusive best book ever written list. What it is, however, is historical fiction novel that takes a closer look at Agnes Shanklin, an unassuming, unmarried woman. It begins with her early years and the flu pandemic of 1918-1919 that wiped out her family but left her with the funds to take a trip of a lifetime to Cairo, Egypt. During this trip she became acquainted with Winston Churchill and T. E. Lawrence because her trip just happened to occur during what was the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference, which divided up the Middle East and set into motion many of the problems we see today. The ending is rather fanciful and yet at the same time packs a message.

Russell is an excellent writer and researcher. The dialogue and plot flowed smoothly and seamlessly for me (until the very end). The dialogue is believable. The characters are well developed. The descriptions are masterful. The last section of the book, after Agnes returns to America, does feel a bit weaker than the rest of the book and most of the message part in the rather fanciful ending could have been left out. It really is an excellent book, though, and deserves a rating of 5.

Synopsis from cover:

“I suppose I ought to warn you at the outset that my present circumstances are puzzling, even to me. Nevertheless, I am sure of this much: My little story has become your history. You won’t really understand your times until you understand mine.”

So begins the account of Agnes Shanklin, the charmingly diffident narrator of Mary Doria Russell’s compelling new novel, Dreamers of the Day. And what is Miss Shanklin’s “little story?” Nothing less than the creation of the modern Middle East at the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference, where Winston Churchill, T. E. Lawrence, and Lady Gertrude Bell met to decide the fate of the Arab world–and of our own.

A forty-year-old schoolteacher from Ohio still reeling from the tragedies of the Great War and the influenza epidemic, Agnes has come into a modest inheritance that allows her to take the trip of a lifetime to Egypt and the Holy Land. Arriving at the Semiramis Hotel just as the Peace Conference convenes, Agnes, with her plainspoken American opinions–and a small, noisy dachshund named Rosie–enters into the company of the historic luminaries who will, in the space of a few days at a hotel in Cairo, invent the nations of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan.

Neither a pawn nor a participant at the conference, Agnes is ostensibly insignificant, and that makes her a welcome sounding board for Churchill, Lawrence, and Bell. It also makes her unexpectedly attractive to the charismatic German spy Karl Weilbacher. As Agnes observes the tumultuous inner workings of nation-building, she is drawn more and more deeply into geopolitical intrigue and toward a personal awakening.

With prose as graceful and effortless as a seductive float down the Nile, Mary Doria Russell illuminates the long, rich history of the Middle East with a story that brilliantly elucidates today’s headlines. As enlightening as it is entertaining, Dreamers of the Day is a memorable, passionate, gorgeously written novel.
"No one was more surprised than I when Professor Cutler found something in me to admire. And no one was less surprised than I when he found even more in darling Lillie to desire." pg. 13

"Without literature as a guide, I expect you think of the flu as a homey, familiar kind of illness, not a horrifying scourge like the black plague or small pox. You may believe you know what the flu epidemic was like for us.
Pray, now, that you never learn how wrong you are." pg. 20

"What would she be like if you'd let her make the most of herself instead of the least?...You always acted like her life was over before it got started." pg. 44

"It was like seeing an opal turn to diamond." pg 92

"It was such a simple idea, really, but many things seemed to click into place for me. It was not scandalous or sinful or dangerous to understand a different point of view. I had been raised to believe that to do so was to risk error at least and damnation at worst." pg. 123

"Black seeds were sown, and I'm afraid you're still bringing in the harvest. Rarely has so much been decided by so few to the detriment of so many as in that fanciful hotel back in 1921... I never imagined that decisions made then would dictate history for a hundred years or more..." pg. 248

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Falling Stars

Falling Stars by Michael Flynn is the final book, #4, in the Firestar Saga. Originally published in 2001, my hardcover copy is 414 pages long. May I share two initial comments: "The earth is safe from the asteroids!" and "It's about time!" The final book in the series was a satisfying conclusion and I highly recommend it. Because of the length and the huge cast of characters, Flynn could have tightened his saga up, done some brutal editing, tried to achieve 1100 pages total, and ended up with a more satisfying but still long 2 book series. On a side note, Flynn doesn't see the need to use a lot of swearing in his books - there is virtually none - and I find that refreshing. It doesn't detract from the story or the passion of the characters. Rating: 4; Series average: 3.75

At Amazon, From Publishers Weekly
The world is menaced in true cataclysmic fashion in this epic of the near future, the conclusion to Flynn's previous books, Firestar, Rogue Star and Lodestar. The premise of the novel is exciting enough, and Flynn handles a vast number of characters reasonably well (there's a four-page list of names at the beginning), but the overall effect is exhausting. In the year 2017 certain asteroids have changed their orbit and are on a collision course with Earth. There's a global financial crash, and politics--including the quasi-fascistic machinations of a Huey Long-like politico--force the principals from Flynn's other novels to band together and voyage to an asteroid in a desperate, if not suicidal, attempt to save the world. Some of the... techno-babble is irritatingly obtuse.... Still, for readers hungry for a politically astute, crisis-laden SF novel in a well-imagined future, this is adequate fare. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

"He swiped his key card through the reader to print the rest of the article. Scuttlebutt you could get for free on the web, but copyright you had to pay." pg. 27

"No previous sighting... It's a new one, Mariesa... Estimated impact, thirteen months after the first." pg. 111

"Opinions, sure. Everyone has opinions, and sometimes at the bar or the card club they can get pretty worked up over them. But ideology doesn't drive them. It's not why they get out of bed in the morning. But there are always those for whom the Great Abstraction is real and everything they see or hear they stuff into its procrustean bed. Some - call them idealists - are willing to die for the idea. The problem... is that there are others - ideologues - who are willing to kill for it." pg. 145

"Though we really ought to pray... Not for miracles. The way I figure this God thing is, He's no performing monkey to do tricks on command. No, we need to pray - you, me, everyone - for the strength to see this through, whether that strength comes to us as God's grace, or whether we need to find it inside ourselves." pg. 159

"We create the world...with every day we live. We can never say our lives make no difference." pg. 359

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Lodestar by Michael Flynn is books three in the Firestar series. It was originally published in 2000. My hardcover copy is 365 pages long. My first comment is that Lodestar is definitely part of a series. If you are interested in the series at all, you need to start with Firestar. On top of this, it is a transitional book in the series. Flynn moves away from the hard sci fi element of the story, but puts everything in place for the conclusion of the series in the fourth book. Flynn remains an intelligent, literary writer, which I appreciate. While the second and third books have seemed to drag out a bit longer than I would have liked, I'm looking forward to the conclusion. After investing all this time reading the series, I hope we find out who the aliens are/were and more importantly can stop the asteroids heading toward earth. Rating: 3.5

At Amazon, From Booklist:
Older and wiser, the fierce Mariesa van Huyten returns in this sequel to Firestar (1996) and Rogue Star (1998). She has no more luck than before in persuading presidents of the threat asteroids pose and must humbly ask her successor at Van Huyten Industries for money to keep the sky watch alive. The book darts about Earth and near-space to chart the politics of mounting a defense against the possible end of the world. Then, through the crusading efforts of Phil Albright, the world learns that a rock big enough to obliterate Manhattan is six years from impact. Interestingly, this rock hasn't wobbled off from the Asteroid Belt but seems to have been aimed. And there may be more rocks behind it. Hope lies with black chemist Leland Hobart, whose advanced experiments with high-temperature semiconductors point to the possibility of antigravity devices. Flynn's is a good series, though so intricately plotted and beset with characters that readers may be better off starting at the beginning. John Mort

"And cheeshead borderlined rude when flatskulls said it. Holes in your head for the I/O jacks. Swiss cheese. Jack cheese. Someday she would learn the identity of the person who had coined that particular slangt, and he would suffer terribly." pg. 22

"Don't come across so high and mighty, Mr. Scientist. If the news doesn't entertain, it doesn't get watched. Maybe it was different back when people actually had to read newspapers or listen to whatever factoids got read to them on the tube. They couldn't surf-'n'-choose which bytes to 'act with; but that was then and this is now. " pg. 41

"Look dude, people aren't just faces. They're habits, preferences, turns of phrases, mannerisms." pg. 86

"They said that the worst part of fear was dread. Remove the waiting, remove the uncertainity, and the fear vanished with it. So as she had grown more certain, she had grown less terrified. Unless she had only grown old and tired." pg. 104

"Red handled his imago awkwardly. The lips moved when he spoke, though not always in synch with the words; sometimes an arm performed a wooden gesture - what virtchuosos called an algore..." pg. 111

"You want to understand some template you've created in your head. You want to know why so many of 'us' are 'off the norm'? I'll tell you why! Because in there... no one knows you're a dog. No one can judge you on superficial appearances..." pg. 206

Friday, March 14, 2008

Change of Heart

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult was published in March 2008 and the hardcover is 447 pages long. This latest release from Picoult is written in the same style as My Sister's Keeper, where each chapter is from a different character's perspective. Although not Picoult's best work - My Sister's Keeper is the better novel - this is still an enjoyable book. It does have a few flaws, however, the main one being the obvious similarity to Stephen King's The Green Mile. While I personally haven't read The Green Mile, even I knew enough about it to immediately see the similarity. I also knew very early on in Change of Heart what would be the major plot twist found at the end, although there were a few surprises.

Picoult has a gift for writing believable characters and having them interact in realistic ways during stressful situations. I agree with other reviewers who have wished she had taken more care in developing all of her characters and spent less time on the exploration of religious doctrine and trying to establish Shay Bourne as a Christ figure. Although, if you actually finish the book you are going to realize that she's not being blasphemous, she does dance close to the line for most of the book. This is potentially disturbing for some readers. I would also like to entreat some reviewers, however, to please finish a book before you review it. This is the second book that I know for a fact that some reviewers on Amazon did not finish it before posting negative reviews.

While this novel did feel rushed in some places, I did enjoy it and would recommend it, especially for Picoult fans. Rating: 4

Synopsis from cover:

Would you give up your vengeance against someone you hate if it meant saving someone you love? Would you want your dreams to come true if it meant granting your enemy's dying wish?

One moment June Nealon was happily looking forward to years full of laughter and adventure with her family, and the next, she was staring into a future that was as empty as her heart. Now her life is a waiting game. Waiting for time to heal her wounds, waiting for justice. In short, waiting for a miracle to happen.

For Shay Bourne, life holds no more surprises. The world has given him nothing, and he has nothing to offer the world. In a heartbeat, though, something happens that changes everything for him. Now, he has one last chance for salvation, and it lies with June's eleven-year-old daughter, Claire. But between Shay and Claire stretches an ocean of bitter regrets, past crimes, and the rage of a mother who has lost her child.

Can we save ourselves, or do we rely on others to do it? Is what we believe always the truth?


"This double murderer, this monster, looked like the water polo team captain who had sat next to me in an economics seminar last semester. He resembled the deliveryman from the pizza place that had a thin crust, the kind I liked... In other words, he didn't look the way I figured a killer would look, if I ever ran across one. He could have been any other kid in his twenties. He could have been me." pg. 5

"In the space between yes and no, there's a lifetime. It's the difference between the path you walk and the one you leave behind; its the gap between who you thought you could be and who you really are; it's the legroom for the lies you'll tell yourself in the future." pg. 20

"Like the teens I work with, I understand the need for miracles - they keep reality from paralyzing you." pg. 71

"I did not know the New Testament, but I did recognize a biblical passage when I heard one - and it didn't take a rocket scientist to realize that he was suggesting Shay's antics, or whatever you want to call them, were heaven sent... People were always 'finding' Jesus in jail. What if he was already here?" pgs. 82-83

"They were confusing showmanship and inexplicable events with divinity. A miracle was a miracle only until it could be proven otherwise." pg. 125

"The reason I fight so hard for Shay... is because I know what it's like when things you believe make you feel like you're on the outside looking in."
"I... I didn't realize..."
"How could you?... The guys at the top of the totem pole never see what's carved at the bottom." pgs. 375-376

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Rogue Star

Rogue Star by Michael Flynn (2nd in the Firestar series) was originally published in 1998. My hardcover copy is 570 pages. This is a sequel and has all the benefits and drawbacks of a sequel The story continues, but it definitely feels like you are in the middle of the story. There were a few errors that could have been corrected with a careful editor and proof reading. (For example, a character drives to an estate but then talks about having someone call her a cab so she could leave.) I'm looking forward to seeing where the story finally ends up and am rating it a 3.5.

From Library Journal at Amazon:
Mariesa van Huyten's fear for the safety of Earth triggers a crisis that plays out on the dual battlefields of the halls of corporate politics and the darkness of Low Earth Orbit. This sequel to Firestar (Tor, 1996) brings together familiar characters in a taut, suspense-filled sf novel that mixes personal drama with action-adventure and high intrigue. Flynn's excellently choreographed alternating of Earth and space scenes impels the action, while his characters provide a vivid cross-section of 21st century Earth. Highly recommended for most sf collections.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"However, it was a nice performance all around. Mariesa did not for one minute believe that the mini-tour had been on the spur of the moment, or that Donaldson's commentary had been anything but scripted, rehearsed, and meant for her ears." pg. 36

"The Werewolf [nickname] could not abide being in the same room with an electrical device without tinkering with it." pg 116 [My husband is exactly like this.]

"Protect the Earth from Asteroid Strikes. That was her purpose, regardless what Donaldson intended." pg. 124

""It's not a question of 'belief.' We're not a church. We're not preaching a religion."
"Some of us are... That's what bugs me. I joined the Crusades to help solve problems, not sing progressive hymns and speak in humanistic tongues."
"It's a weak sort of belief that dreads the facts." pg. 141

"Personally, the less I see of government, the happier I am. Yes, I know, I know...You can't play the game without rules and referees. What I object to is when the referees start making coaching decisions, start calling the plays,start putting sandbags on the ankles of the better players." pg. 208

"It was also somewhat of a facade. The shelved books were all for show. Display copies: one per title; because book people needed something to fondle. They loved the browsing, the happy discovery of an unexpected title, the casual conversations - Have you tried this one? The chance glimpse of an eye catching cover. An experience still hard to duplicate on the Net. If you wanted a book, you put your order in at the desk and they would download it, hardcopy it, colorprint a cover, and bind it, all in less than an hour. For the younger, more impatient crowd, a CD disk to slip into their Bookman." pg. 214

In the summers I would walk into the woods and sit with my back to a tall birch, and listen to the rush of the wind through the trees. If I listened long enough, it would sound as if the trees were hissing in a strange, whispering tongue. sometimes I could almost make out the words." pg. 247

"Did she define her entire life by a single disappointment in high school? What a sad life, if its voyage were impeded by an anchor fixed in the mud of adolescence." pg. 370

"Call it ideological triage. Don't paint with too broad a brush and don't confuse me with your character of me." pg. 487

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Life and Times of Michael K

Life and Times of Michael K by J. M. Coetzee was originally published in 1983 and is 184 pages long. The Life and Times of Michael K won the 1984 Booker. I would characterize Michael K as novel about freedom. However, it does not depict an exhilarating fight for freedom, but rather how the surrounding civil war effects the actions of a man who has no understanding of his life and times. Michael K is a simple man who would have lived a contented life in a kinder society but was not given that opportunity. This is a relentlessly sad novel written in spare, unadorned language. There are not any long, descriptive passages. It's as if Coetzee wanted to limit and simplify our understanding of Michael's surroundings in order to help us better understand Michael K, who is one of the powerless people caught up in the surrounding strife. Rating: 4 (but I reserve the right to change my mind)

Synopsis from the publisher (The Viking Press) at Amazon:

In South Africa, whose civil administration is collapsing under the pressure of years of civil strife, an obscure young gardener named Michael K decides to take his mother on a long march away from the guns towards a new life in the abandoned countryside. Everywhere he goes however, the war follows him. Tracked down and locked up as a collaborator with the rural guerrillas, he embarks on a fast that angers, baffles, and finally awes his captors. The story of Michael K is the story of a man caught up in a war beyond his understanding, but determined to live his life, however minimally, on his own terms. J.M. Coetzee has produced a masterpiece which has the astonishing power to make the wilderness boom.


"But he did not shirk any aspect of what he saw as his duty. The problem that had exercised him years ago... namely why he had been brought into the world, had received its answer: he had been brought into the world to look after his mother." pg. 7

"Lying in her bed in her airless room through the winter afternoons with rain dripping from the steps outside, she dreamed of escaping from the careless violence, the packed buses, the food queues, arrogant shopkeepers, thieves and beggars, sirens in the night, the curfew, the cold and wet, and returning to a countryside where, if she was going to die, she would at least die under blue skies." pg. 8

"There was a cord of tenderness that stretched from him to the patch of earth beside that dam and must be cut. It seemed to him that one could cut a cord like that only so many times before it would not grow again." pg. 66

"No papers, no money; no family, no friends, no sense of who you are. The obscurest of the obscure, so obscure as to be a prodigy." pg. 142

"In fact his life was a mistake from the beginning to end. It's a cruel thing to say, but I will say it; he is someone who should never have been born into a world like this. It would have been better if his mother had quietly suffocated him when she saw what he was, and put him in the trash can." pg. 155

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Little House on the Prairie

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, 352 pages

Thursday, March 6, 2008


Firestar by Michael Flynn was originally published in 1996. My hardcover copy has 573 pages; 573 densely packed pages with narrow margins and small type. This is a hard science fiction story, so it's appeal will be limited to fans of that genre. It's basically a space jockey story but with a woman as a central character. I'm a fan of hard SF and rate Flynn's Firestar, the first in a series, with a 4 for the vision and the sheer depth of the storyline. There are a few minor quibbles I have with Firestar. Flynn used dates, and as my son, Wonder Boy, has pointed out, "There's nothing you'll regret more in SF than setting it in the near future - and giving real dates." Flynn could have got away without using the dates. There were also a few editing mistakes - a couple typos in one case and something else I can't recall right off hand. I actually found the conservative politics in this book refreshing, especially when compared to the normal liberal slant I have to tolerate in author after author. Flynn continues to be an intelligent writer.

From Publishers Weekly at Amazon:
By 1999, well-meaning but misguided liberals, environmentalists and feminists have brought the U.S. economy to a near standstill. The space program is suffocating in red tape. The schools are collapsing. Technological innovation is virtually dead. All of this will change, however, because of one woman with vision, a capitalist with a heart of gold who has dedicated her life to reforming America's schools and to returning humanity to outer space. Over the past three years, a number of talented, politically conservative SF writers have turned their hands to scenarios much like this, among them Poul Anderson, Charles Sheffield and Larry Niven. Now Flynn (In the Country of the Blind, 1990) has produced one of the better books in this budding subgenre. His plot is complex, but it stays on track. His large cast of characters, particularly industrialist Mariesa van Huyten, are generally well drawn; even the villains have depth. Flynn's detailed description of new space technologies is entirely believable, too, though his solutions to current educational problems seem naive. This amalgam of ambitious SF and political agenda, the first in a projected series, may annoy some left-leaning readers, but it's likely to please most fans of thoughtful hard SF.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc
"And more important, though she did not say so, you could not build the future with the rough timber the schools turned out today." pg. 10

"The obsession to telephone in public. Pay phones, car phones, air phones. There ought to be a name for it. Is it just to demonstrate self-importance? he wondered." pg. 33

"Any process can produce defective products and shoddy workmanship. Education is no exception." pg.47

" 'What the hell could be worse than sabotage.'
'Betrayal, Ned. Betrayal.' " pg. 99

" 'Tomorrow?... I didn't come all the way up here to get the brush-off.'
'The lack of planning on your part does not constitute an obligation on mine.' " pg. 230

"The newspeople would go away when some new fascination came along to distract them. The government would go away in November, assuming the polls were right. The special interests, fearful of losing (or eager to grasp) a piece of the action, could be handled. But the nut cases would be showing up soon, and nut cases were forever." pg. 273

" 'I think...that he listens well. You need someone in your life who listens.' " pg. 363

"Assume that the scientists are honest... That's a stretch because scientists are human, like everyone else. They have passions, beliefs; and sometimes those passions intersect their scientific work and...they see what they want to see, like Margaret Mead on Samoa." pg. 499

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Monday, March 3, 2008


Have you ever had one of those days when you're painting clothes on some naked fairy pictures and a bottle of gold glitter glue explodes in your face?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

mixed bag morning

It's been one of those mixed bag mornings of bad/good.

Bad: We've been visiting so many different churches lately that I forgot what time church started. I thought 10:30, but it was actually 10:00. We left our house at 10:00.
Good: Normally it takes us around 25-30 minutes to get there. Today all the stoplights were in my favor so we made it in 16.

Bad: We walked in during a baby dedication.
Good: We managed to slip into seats in the last row.

Bad: My throat is still tickling from my earlier cold so I'm constantly wanting to cough.
Good: I managed to avoid coughing by keeping a throat lozenge in my mouth throughout the service.

Bad: Since we were late, we missed the singing/worship time.
Good: Singing would have likely made me want to cough even more.

Bad: It's an extremely windy eat dust and sand kind of day. Later it's supposed to get cold and snow
Good: Right now, it's warm.

Bad: When getting ready this AM, I managed to spray deodorant on the side of my hair in place of hairspray.
Good: It was a brief spray before I realized I am an idiot. Now that part of my head should be protected from odor incase of a sweaty hot flash.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

three random bags arrive

Thanks to Just Me we have a photo-documentation of the contents of
three random bags of crap from a Woot-off. Let's look, shall we?

opening the box

OH! How Special! Six Fairy calendars!

Camera case...

Hmmm.... an iPod shuffle battery pack - only we don't have an iPod shuffle.

Exploding gum! Surely that was worth the hours watching to Woot-Off!

Thanks again to Just Me for the amazing pictures!