Friday, November 28, 2008

The Ghost Brigades

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi was originally published in 2006. My paperback copy has 347 pages. This is a sequel to Old Man's War. While not quite as good (or as humorous) as Old Man's War, this is still a satisfying continuation of the story for fans. Rating: 3.9

Synopsis From the Publisher:
The Ghost Brigades are the Special Forces of the Colonial Defense Forces, elite troops created from the DNA of the dead and turned into the perfect soldiers for the CDF's toughest operations. They're young, they're fast and strong, and they're totally without normal human qualms.

The universe is a dangerous place for humanity—and it's about to become far more dangerous. Three races that humans have clashed with before have allied to halt our expansion into space. Their linchpin: the turncoat military scientist Charles Boutin, who knows the CDF's biggest military secrets. To prevail, the CDF must find out why Boutin did what he did.

Jared Dirac is the only human who can provide answers -- a superhuman hybrid, created from Boutin's DNA, Jared's brain should be able to access Boutin's electronic memories. But when the memory transplant appears to fail, Jared is given to the Ghost Brigades.

At first, Jared is a perfect soldier, but as Boutin's memories slowly surface, Jared begins to intuit the reason's for Boutin's betrayal. As Jared desperately hunts for his "father," he must also come to grips with his own choices. Time is running out: The alliance is preparing its offensive, and some of them plan worse things than humanity's mere military defeat.

"No one noticed the rock.
And for good reason. The rock was nondescript, one of millions of chunks of rock and ice floating in the orbit of a long-dead short-period comet, looking just like any chunk of that deceased comet might." opening sentences

"We're not sure who is attacking us or why..." pg. 8

"Fifteen months ago the Rraey and the Enesha were enemies. And then suddenly they were not, for no reason that our intelligence could figure out." pg. 21

"No one shield against seismic imaging. Most races are too busy shielding against optical and high energy electromagnetic scans to consider sound waves much of a danger. It's the fallacy of high technology; it ignores the efficiency of lower orders of technology. Like dropping rocks." pg. 22

"As the antidote coursed through Cainen's body, Sagan learned of a brewing war against humanity, and a blueprint for the subjugation and eradication of her entire species. A genocide planned in great detail, based on the heretofore unheard of cooperation of three races.
And one human" pg. 29

"You are born to protect humanity. And you are designed for it. Everything in you down to your genes reflects that purpose." pg. 86

"After watching star Wars everyone wanted a lightsaber and was irritated that the technology for them didn't really exist. Everyone also agreed the Ewoks should all die." pg. 98

James Bond

The James Bond Ultimate Collector's Set
Wonder Boy got this
He's slowly working his way through the 21 movies. Sometimes the rest of us watch; sometimes we don't.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Old Man's War

Old Man's War by John Scalzi was originally published in 2005. My paperback copy is 318 pages. This very entertaining science fiction novel is full of humor, imagination, and battles. While the previous books I read were mystery science fiction, this book is military science fiction. If you like battles with super-humans vs. aliens, this could be your series. I don't want to spoil it beyond that. I can say that while I did enjoy it very much, Old Man's War is not fine literature and I can't make myself rate it higher than a 4. If you think you'll like military science fiction, though, I highly recommend it.

Synopsis from publisher:
John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife’s grave. Then he joined the army.

The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce—and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity’s resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don’t want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You’ll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You’ll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you’ll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets.

John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine—and what he will become is far stranger.
"I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army." opening sentences

"Paragraph four: I understand that by volunteering for the Colonial Defense Forces, I consent to whatsoever medical, surgical or therapeutic regimens or procedures are deemed necessary by the Colonial Defense Forces to enhance combat readiness." pg. 14

"People join because they're not ready to die and don't want to be old. They join because life on Earth isn't interesting past a certain age. Or they join to see someplace new before they die." pg. 27

"[W]e may think we have some idea of what we're getting into, but I don't think we have the first clue." pg. 35

"I had never seen so many old people in one place at one time...'It's like Wednesday morning at the world's biggest Denny's.' " pg. 41

"Yesterday we did basic intellect and emotion. Today was basic physical movement. Again, they seem interested in the foundations of high order activity." pg. 66

An introduction to your new body,
for recruits of the Colonial Defense Forces
From the staff of Colonial Genetics
Two centuries of building better bodies!" pg. 82

Additionally, each body has its own model number for maintenance purposes. You can access your own number through your BrainPal. Don't worry, you can still use your given name for everyday purposes!" pg. 84

Monday, November 24, 2008

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Movie Night:

Monty Python

and the Holy Grail

Buried Deep

Buried Deep (4th entry in The Retrieval Artist Series) by Kristine Kathryn Rusch was originally published in 2005. My paperback copy has 372 pages. This is a solid continuation of the series that mixes science fiction with a mystery. There was a time in the middle of the novel that I wanted Rusch to get on with the story, which seemed to be momentarily slowed down, but it soon picked up and rushed on to a satisfying conclusion. Rating: 4.

Synopsis from cover:
Forensic anthropologist Aisha Costard has been summoned to Mars to examine skeletal remains recently discovered beneath a building erected by the Disty aliens. The bones belong to a human woman who vanished thirty years ago with her children. She is believed to be one of the Disappeared, outlaws wanted for crimes against alien civilizations.

To investigate the mystery of the skeleton, Aisha turns to Retrieval Artist Miles Flint. Following the trail back three decades and seeking the whereabouts of the victims missing children, Miles discovers a deadly secret that could threaten the stability of the entire solar system..."
"By the time Sharyn Scott-Olson had reached the crime scene, she already knew something was seriously wrong." first sentence

"The Disty had fled, and that made a shiver run through Scott-Olson. She knew the Disty didn't like death....Disty believed that dead bodies contaminated the environment - not just for the moment those bodies touched the ground, but for all time." pg. 1

"What she knew about Mars could be placed in a three page pamphlet, and two of those pages would have been wrong." pg. 12

" 'They'll kill you?' Costard asked.
'It's a risk,' Scott-Olson said. 'We've touched the body. We've been contaminated by it. We're useless to them.'
Costard felt a surge of anger. Someone should have told her. 'I think I'll just take the next shuttle to Earth. I am not volunteering for this.'
'It's too late,' Scott-Olson said, 'You already have.' " pg. 19

"The Disty had given Costard clearance so that she could settle the major contamination case. But they had warned her that they would come for her if she tried to run. They would hunt her down, even if she disappeared." pg. 38

"Flint suspected there were a lot more statements like the last, statements that, taken in context, praised DeRicci. But Bowles only took snippets of what had obviously been a long interview, interspersed them with video reports and confidential memos about DeRicci's job performance....The whole thing made DeRicci sound like the biggest failure to ever join the Armstrong Police Department." pg. 45

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Extremes by Kristine Kathryn Rusch was originally published in 2003. My paperback copy has 373 pages. This is the second book in Rusch's Retrieval Artist Series. Miles Flint has left the police force and is now working as a Retrieval Artist. This is a satisfying mystery that just incidently happens to be set on the Moon. Rating: 4

Synopsis from back cover:
"His name: Miles Flint
His occupation: Retrieval Artist
His job: Find the Disappeared - outlaws on the run, wanted for crimes against alien cultures.
The catch: Flint isn't working on the side of the law anymore.
One simple mistake and a Disappeared could end up dead. But this time, the death of an ailing Retrieval Artist has caught Flint's attention. He suspects it was foul play, not a viral infection. Equally suspicious is a young woman's sudden demise during the Moon's prestigious Extreme Marathon. As Flint investigates, he finds an ominous connection: Both deaths lead back to a scientist. A scientist who is now one of the Disappeared."
"The Earth glowed in front of him, green and blue and white: impossibly beautiful against the blackness of space." first sentence

"Most suits couldn't repair damage that great." pg. 4

"There was no reason for the Med Alert Team to hurry, but he wanted them there now, just in case he hadn't understood what he was seeing. Just in case he was wrong." pg. 7

"Fifteen days without a case, and Miles Flint was beginning to think he had made a mistake. He wasn't cut out to be a Retrieval Artist. The solitude was driving him crazy." pg. 9

"Retrieval Artists specialized in finding the Disappeared, people who went missing on purpose, usually to avoid prosecution or death by any one of fifty different alien cultures. The Disappeared were usually guilty of the crimes they'd been accused of, but by human standards, most of those crimes were harmless." pg. 14

"She would have been lying, of course. She really didn't care about a safe race. What she wanted was the opportunity to collect DNA from all the female runners." pg 35

"He wanted to know how the hacks in Wagner's law firm had found him so quickly, and he wasn't going to leave this tiny desk until he found out." pg. 49

"Paloma's question haunted him: Why did he still work? He didn't need the money." pg. 101

" 'You know what this could be?' He sounded surprised.
'I have my suspicions,' Oliviari said. 'Let's just hope I'm wrong.' " pg. 145

Jurassic Park

Movie night:

Jurassic Park

The Lost World

Jurassic Park III

The first is the best and still scares me.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Disappeared

The Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rusch was originally published in 2002. My paperback copy is 374 pages. The Disappeared is the first of Rusch's Retrieval Artist series. The series is a mystery novel set in space; it's part detective drama, part science fiction. I'm currently reading the second Retrieval Artist novel and while it appears that you need not read this first novel to enjoy the others, for those of you who like to read series in order, this is the starting point. The interaction between humans and different aliens based on the inter-species laws and agreements is an interesting concept and Rusch does a good job integrating the science fiction and the detective work in the book, resulting in an interesting novel, and hopefully, series. Rating for science fiction fans: 4

Synopsis from back cover:
"In a world where humans and aliens co-exist, the future can be altered forever.
In a world where murder is sanctioned, the rules of humanity no longer apply.
In a world where no one can guarantee safe haven, one man has found a job.

Retrieval Artists help the lost find their way back home...whether they like it or not. Specialized private detectives, they investigate the most unusual crimes in the galaxy. But Miles Flint isn't a Retrieval Artist. He's just a cop, trying to do his job.

In a stolen space yacht, three people have been found eviscerated - the grisly signature of an alien vengeance killing. Moments later, the border patrol halts another ship launched out of the moon's orbit - it's passengers are two human children, kidnapped by the most ruthless aliens in the universe. Both ships are linked to a woman on the run - a Disappeared relocated to the inhospitable landscape of Mars. A reluctant outlaw with a bounty on her head and a detective on her case, she's about to teach all of them a lesson: it's dangerous to gamble with your life in a universe that rigs the game."

"She had to leave everything behind." opening sentence

"She had to get him out of here and quickly. He couldn't be here when they arrived, or he would lose everything too." pg. 2

"She was taking her first steps on a journey that would make her one of the Disappeared, and she could not see where she was going." pg. 8

"In Gararin, home schooling was not an option. Children had to learn how to interact with others - the governing board had made that law almost a hundred years ago, and despite all the challenges to it, the law still stood. Someday Jamal would have to entrust his boy to others - and he wasn't sure he could do it." pg. 10

"The bodies....I've never seen anything like them." pg. 24

"They got caught because they didn't understand how important it was to be reborn as someone else. No baggage, no past life, nothing except the person Disappeared Inc told them to be." pg. 39

"She had been given a slight chance to save herself. Now she had to figure out how to use it." pg. 49

"What're the odds of two space yachts of the same make and model arriving on Armstrong with no identification and possible criminal involvement?" pg. 144

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Plainsong by Kent Haruf was originally published in 1999. My hardcover copy has 301 pages. Each chapter of Plainsong follows a different character and the chapter title tells you who it is about. The chapters alternate between the characters of Guthrie, Ike and Bobby, Victoria Roubideaux, and the McPherons. I found this very effective, especially since the novel is character driven. Guthrie is a high school teacher whose wife is having a nervous breakdown. Ike and Bobby are his two sons. Victoria is a pregnant teenage girl. The McPherons are bachelor brothers who live on a ranch. Plainsong follows these characters and their intertwined lives with other people, like teacher Maggie Jones, in the small town of Holt, Colorado. While the story can be heart warming, it is also heart breaking and very realistic. Haruf also eschews the use of quotation marks, which should be mention for those who like proper punctuation. Rating: 4.5

Synopsis form the cover:
A heartstrong story of family and romance, tribulation and tenacity, set on the High Plains east of Denver.

In the small town of Holt, Colorado, a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother retreats first to the bedroom, then altogether. A teenage girl -- her father long since disappeared, her mother unwilling to have her in the house -- is pregnant, alone herself, with nowhere to go. And out in the country, two brothers, elderly bachelors, work the family homestead, the only world they've ever known.

From these unsettled lives emerges a vision of life, and of the town and landscape that bind them together -- their fates somehow overcoming the powerful circumstances of place and station, their confusion, curiosity, dignity and humor intact and resonant. As the milieu widens to embrace fully four generations, Kent Haruf displays an emotional and aesthetic authority to rival the past masters of a classic American tradition.

Utterly true to the rhythms and patterns of life, Plainsong is a novel to care about, believe in, and learn from.

"Here was this man Tom Guthrie in Holt standing at the back window in the kitchen of his house smoking cigarettes and looking out over the back lot where the sun was just coming up." first sentence

"As soon as he was gone she turned in the bed and looked toward the door. Her eyes were intense, wide-awake, outsized. pg. 6-7

"Even before she was awake she felt it rising in her chest and throat." pg. 8

"When they arrived at the playground they separated to join their own friends and stood talking with the other boys in their own grades until the first bell rang and called them into class." pg. 16

"The girl stood over the sink working in the hot soapy water, her hands in rubber gloves. She began to scour the pots left over from the lunch trade. She came in every weekday after school and washed the pots the morning cook had used and also the plates and cups and silverware and platters from the noon hour." pg. 26

"Then how come she doesn't come downstairs? Bobby asked.
Maybe she already did. Maybe she went back up." pg. 28

"Oh, honey, she said. I do feel sorry for you. You're going to have such a hard time. You just don't know it yet." pg. 37

"I thought your mother moved out. I heard she moved into that little house over on Chicago Street.
They didn't answer. They were not surprised that he knew. But they didn't want him talking about it in his barbershop on Main Street on Saturday morning." pg. 40

"Afterward, when she was calm again, after the doctor had left, she went into the air outside the Holt County Clinic next to the hospital, and the light in the street seemed sharp to her and hard edged, definite, as if it were no longer merely a late fall afternoon in the hour before dusk, but instead as if it were the first moment of noon in the exact meridian of summer and she was standing precisely under the full illumination of the sun. Pg. 78


Eventide by Kent Haruf was originally published in 2004. My hardcover copy is 300 pages. Eventide is, in part, a continuation of the story in Plainsong. Plainsong is the better of the two novels, but Eventide helps complete the story of the McPherons and Victoria and gives the reader some closure. It also introduces some new characters in Holt: DJ Kephart, the boy who lives with his grandfather; Mary Wells and her two girls who live next door; the Wallaces, a disabled couple, and their two children; and Rose Tyler, a social worker. I thought that the character-titled chapters in Plainsong were more effective than the regular numbered chapters found in Eventide. Eventide has the same stark realism as Plainsong. Rating: 4

Synopsis from cover:
One of the most beloved novels in recent years, Plainsong was a best-seller from coast to coast -- and now Kent Haruf returns to the High Plains community of Holt, Colorado, with a story of even more masterful authority.

When the McPheron brothers see Victoria Roubideaux, the single mother they'd taken in, move from their ranch to begin college, an emptiness opens before them -- and for many other townspeople it also promises to be a long, hard winter. A young boy living alone with his grandfather helps out a neighbor whose husband, off in Alaska, suddenly isn't coming home, leaving her to raise their two daughters. At school the children of a disabled couple suffer indignities that their parents know all too well in their own lives, with only a social worker to look after them and a violent relative to endanger them further. But in a small town a great many people encounter one another frequently, often surprisingly, and destinies soon become entwined -- for good and for ill -- as they confront events that sorely test the limits of their resilience and means, with no refuge available except what their own character and that of others afford them.

Spring eventually does reach across the land, and how the people of Eventide get there makes for an engrossing, profoundly moving novel rich in the wisdom, humor, and humanity for which Kent Haruf is justly acclaimed.

"They came up from the horse barn in the slanted light of early morning. The McPheron brothers, Harold and Raymond. Old men approaching an old house at the end of summer." opening sentences

"We'll be about like old played-out work horses once you're gone. Standing around lonesome, always looking over the fence." pg. 6

"I'm not going to tell you again about this, the driver said. I've had it with you people. There's eighteen kids I got to pick up." pg. 11

"He was a small boy, underweight for his age, with thin arms and thin legs and brown hair that hung over his forehead. He was active and responsible, and too serious for a boy of eleven." pg. 18

"It was still hot outside, though the sun had begun to lean to the west, and the first intimations of fall were in the air - that smell of dust and dry leaves, that annual lonesomeness that comes of summer closing down." pg. 19

"At ten-thirty he cut the light out and fell asleep and in the morning he got up early to make their breakfast and afterward went to school across the tracks to the new building on the south side of Holt, and at school he did willingly and skillfully all that was required of him but didn't say much of anything to anybody throughout the day." pg. 23

"The man behind them shook his head at the checkout woman. Would you look at that. They're eating better than you and me and they're on food stamps." pg. 37

"You shouldn't be alone too much. I know what that's like, from when I was your age and later on in high school. This can be a hard place to be alone in. Well, I suppose any place is." pg. 105

Monday, November 17, 2008

Purple Hibiscus

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was originally published in 2003. My hardcover copy is 307 pages. Purple Hibiscus was Adichie's first novel. Since her novel Half of a Yellow Sun was on my best of 2007 list, I had planned to read Purple Hibiscus, but it was always past over for another book. The recent review by Michelle at 1morechapter put it on the top of my list and for that I will always be grateful. I do believe that I may like Purple Hibiscus even more than Half a Yellow Sun, but certainly equally as well.

Fifteen year old Kambili is a gentle narrator whose telling of her family's story belies the pain underneath the surface. It is a story that confirms the truth that wealth isn't necessarily dependent on money and that how things appear on the surface may hide the truth underneath. The novel is broken into sections: Palm Sunday; Before Palm Sunday (the bulk of the novel); After Palm Sunday; The Present. An exquisite novel. Rating: 4.5

Synopsis from the publisher, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

From the outside, fifteen-year-old Kambili has the perfect life. She lives in a beautiful house, has a caring family, and attends an exclusive missionary school. She's completely shielded from the troubles of the world. Yet, as Kambili reveals in her tender-voiced account, things are less than perfect in her wealthy Nigerian home. Although her papa is generous and well respected, he is fanatically religious and tyrannical at home. He looms over his family's every move, severely punishes Kambili and her older brother, Jaja, if they're not the best in their classes, and hits their mama if she disagrees with him. Home is silent and suffocating.

But everything changes once Kambili and Jaja visit Aunty Ifeoma outside the city. For the first time they experience freedom from their papa. Jaja learns to garden and work with his hands, and Kambili secretly falls in love with a young, charismatic priest.

As the country begins to fall apart under a military coup, tension within the family escalates. And shy Kambili must find the strength to keep her family together after her mother commits a desperate act.

Purple Hibiscus is a stunning debut that captures the fragile beauty of a young woman's awakening at a time when both country and family are on the cusp of change.

"Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the etagere." opening sentence.

"It was early rainy season, and the frangipani trees planted next to the walls already filled the yard with the sickly-sweet scent of their flowers. A row of purple bougainvillea, cut smooth and straight as a buffet table, separated the gnarled trees from the driveway. Closer to the house, vibrant bushes of hibiscus reached out and touched one another as if they were exchanging their petals." pg. 9

"There were never tears on her face. The last time, only two weeks ago, when her swollen eye was still the black-purple color of an overripe avocado, she had rearranged them after she polished them." pg. 10-11

"We had to sound civilized in public, he told us; we had to speak English." pg. 13

"Maybe Mama had realized that she would not need the figurines anymore; that when Papa threw the missal at Jaja, it was not just the figurines that came tumbling down, it was everything. I was only now realizing it, only just letting myself think it." pg. 15

"Jaja's defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma's experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, to do." pg. 16

"What is a worshipper of idols doing in my house? Leave my house!" pg. 70

"...sometimes life begins when marriage ends." pg. 75

"I wanted to tell her that....we did not watch TV. Papa did not pencil in TV time on our schedules." pg. 79

"Eugene has to stop doing God's job. God is big enough to do his own job. If God will judge our father for choosing to follow the way of our ancestors, then let God do the judging, not Eugene." pg. 95-96

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Black Scorpion

Movie night:
Black Scorpion and War of the Worlds

Black Scorpion is always enjoyable. The stop action animation is great.
This version of War of the Worlds would have been better if it had focused on being a special effects laden, plot driven masterpiece. Making the story character driven with Tom Cruise, etc. was the downfall of the movie. Come on, we watch movies like War of the Worlds to see the real aliens.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Names of the Dead

The Names of the Dead by Stewart O'Nan was originally published in 1996. My hardcover copy is 399 pages. The Names of the Dead is O'Nan's second novel. In it, Larry Markham's life is in turmoil. His wife has left him, again, with their young, disabled son. He has constant dreams of his time as a medic in Vietnam and the men who died, but is unable to talk about his experiences, even to the support group he leads. His relationship with his father is filled with tension and unanswered questions. And now a trained killer from his support group has apparently targeted him for death. While this is an excellent novel, readers should be forewarned that there is a lot of material covering Larry's time in combat in Vietnam. This is very essential to the story itself, but if you would generally avoid combat novels, Names of the Dead might not be a good choice for you. On the other hand, if you are a real connoisseur of combat novels or stories from Vietnam, this is also not a good choice for you. Fellow members of the Stewart O'Nan fan club will like it. Rating: 4

Synopsis from cover:
In Ithaca, New York, in 1982, Larry Markham awakes to discover his wife, Vicki, has taken their young son, Scott, and left him - not for the first time, possibly for the last. It is a deep blow to a life already in fragments: a dead-end job delivering Wonder Bread; a strained relationship with his aging father, a veteran of World War Two; and weekly visits to the VA hospital where Larry, a former Army medic, leads a support group for disabled Vietnam vets. As he struggles to win Vicki back, Larry finds he is in danger of a far more imminent sort: A disturbed member of the support group - a trained CIA assassin - has disappeared, and is stalking Larry and his family. His methods send an unmistakable message: The game will end in death.

At the same time, The Names of the Dead is a harrowing and heartfelt portrait of the Vietnam War and the men who fought it. The year is 1968, the place A Shau valley, and Larry Markham - nineteen and green - must find a way to keep his platoon alive. Here we see the stories Larry cannot bring himself to tell - of friends who made the ultimate sacrifice in a war their country scorned. The Names of the Dead is the story of a man trying to find his way back to himself - a story about storytelling and memories that refuse to fade. It is the story of a man rediscovering the courage to love one woman, and, through her, the world, his country, his family, and finally himself.
"Larry Markham's wife left him while he was asleep." first sentence.

"There was no real. There were the dreams and there was what Larry Markham remembered. They did not change. In both, his platoon all died." pg. 3

"She never left him for more than a few days. That was what this was. It was Monday, and he was sure to have a full truck..." pg. 4

"She was the one who turned out the light every night, and now, without her, he thought it fitting that he leave it on. When they came to him later - when Pony came, or Bogut, or Carl Metcalf, and he woke up with his hands miraculously cleansed of blood, when he missed his dead so much that he wanted to be alone with them, if only in sleep - he would need the light. To remind him that there was another world. To remind him that he was alive." pg. 38

"It don't matter if they're dead, they come get you anyway...come for you every night." pg. 59

He tried to imagine Creeley out there somewhere, field-striping his cigarettes as he prepared to break camp at the edge of someone's back pasture, but it didn't fit with the day, the slow stirring of people getting ready for work, the lunches that needed to be made, the patient drawing on of socks. Knowing he was out there among the still houses and gravel backroads made Larry uneasy." pg. 88

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Devil in the Details

Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood by Jennifer Traig was originally published in 2004. My hardcover copy is 246 pages. Traig describes how in the 70's, from the age of twelve until she started college, she suffered from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and Scrupulosity (a hyper-religious form of OCD). This was during a time before OCD was a specific diagnosis. She tackles this look back at her childhood and teen years with humor and honesty. She never sinks into self pity and in spots it was truly "laugh out loud" funny. The chapters are interspersed with short "Interstitial" sections that, in general, give the reader a glimpse into how her OCD controlled her thinking.Highly recommended; rating: 4.5

Synopsis from publisher, Little, Brown & Company:

...Jennifer Traig tells an unforgettable story of youthful obsession.

When her father found the washing machine crammed with everything from her sneakers to her barrettes, 12-year-old Jennifer Traig had a simple explanation: they'd been tainted by the pork fumes emanating from the kitchen and had to be cleansed. The same fumes compelled Jennifer to meticulously wash her hands for 30 minutes before dinner: All scrubbed in for your big casserolectomy, Dr. Traig? her mother asked. It wasn't long before her family's exasperation made Jennifer realize that her behavior had gone beyond fastidious - in her own eyes, shed gone from quirky girl to raving lunatic.

Jennifer's childhood mania was the result of her undiagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder joining forces with her Hebrew studies. While preparing for her bat mitzvah, she was introduced to an entire set of arcane laws and quickly made it her mission to follow them perfectly. Her parents nipped her religious obsession in the bud early on, but as her teen years went by, her natural tendency toward the extreme led her down different paths of adolescent agony and mortification.

Years later, Jennifer remembers these scenes with candor and humor. What emerges is a portrait of a well-meaning girl and her good-natured parents, and a very funny, very sharp look back at growing up.

My Father and I were in the laundry room and we were having a crisis. opening sentence

Many years later we would learn that what happened was a strange condition called scrupulosity, a hyper-religious form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It hit me when I was twelve and plagued me, off and on, throughout my teens, making every day a surprising and mortifying adventure. The disease manifested itself in different ways, but they were always, always embarrassing. Sometimes I had to drop to my knees and pray in the middle of student council meetings.... Sometimes I couldn't touch anything and sometimes I had to pat something repeatedly. Sometimes I had to wash my hands and sometimes I had to wash someone else's. Sometimes I had to purify my binders. Sometimes I had to put all my things in the washing machine. pg. 4

Scrupulosity is sometimes called the doubting disease, because it forces you to question everything. Anything you do or say or wear or hear or eat or think, you examine in excruciatingly minute detail. pg. 5

And into this mire had come halachah, Jewish law. I had begun studying for my bat mitzvah, twelve years old and a little bit scattered and crazy, and suddenly here were all these wonderful rules. They were fantastic, prescribing ones every movement, giving structure to the erratic compulsions that had begun to beat a baffling but irresistible tattoo on my nervous system. Halachah and latent OCD make a wonderful cocktail, and I was intoxicated. Suddenly I wasn't just washing; I was purifying myself of sin. I wasn't just patting things; I was laying on hands. Now my rituals were exactly that: rituals. pg. 6

Suddenly I was keeping kosher. I was sort of keeping kosher. I was afraid to tell my parents, so I was hiding it, spitting ham into napkins, carefully dissecting cheese from burger, pepperoni from pizza.
"Is there a reason you're hiding that pork chop under your plate?" my mother wanted to know.
"Oh, I'm just tenderizing it," I lied, thwacking it with the Fiestaware.
"Is there something wrong with the shrimp?" my father inquired.
"Seafood recall, they said on the news. You all can play food poisoning roulette if you like, but I'm giving mine to the cat." pg. 7

The fact that I had no idea what I was doing held me back not at all. Despite six years of Hebrew school and a bat mitzvah crash course, I knew next to nothing about daily Jewish practice. pg. 7

As it was I zeroed in on the biblical laws governing agriculture and livestock.... We did not have any crops, but we had a lawn, and that was close enough. I contrived to leave the corners unmown so the poor could come and glean. pg. 8

"In the end my parents came up with a plan as pragmatic and no-nonsense as they are: they drew up a contract. The terms were clear and simple." pg. 18

"Every mental illness has its pros and cons, but for all-around appeal, you can't beat OCD. It's not as colorful as multiple personality disorder or as exhilarating as bipolarity, but for consistent amusement, it's your best bet." pg. 23

"We are a secret tribe. We're like Freemasons, except that our secret handshake id followed by a vigorous washing session." pg. 24

"OCD sufferers are like hamsters on treadmills, all industrious activity with nothing to show for it." pg. 25

"In a rational society, thirteen-year-olds would be sequestered until they were properly socialized and good-looking enough to circulate among the general public." pg. 101

"I took to shuffling behind her on her errands, stuffing my pocketbook with anything that was free: samples of Sweet'n Low packets, Kleenex, and aluminum ashtrays. 'It's like shopping with Great-Aunty MeeMaw,' my mother muttered." pg. 157

"As soon as I was old enough....I was moving to a country where my unconventional looks, difficult charms, and erratic hygiene would be appreciated.
That country was France." pg. 188

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Genesis Code

The Genesis Code by John Case was originally published in 1997. My hardcover copy has 435 pages. The premise the novel set up actually had much more promise than was actually delivered in Case's novel, however, it is an enjoyable novel to read for escapism. Most readers will find the ending very predictable and, while reading, will begin to wonder when private investigator Lassiter will actually figure it out. It is also recommended for YA readers by the School Library Journal, and I concur. I recommend it and will look into reading more of Case's books in the future. Rating: 4

Synopsis from publisher:
In a remote hill town in Italy, a renowned scientist enters the confessional. A dying man, he pours out the secret that has consumed his life for years - a sin of such magnitude that the shocked priest refuses him absolution.

In a suburb of Washington DC, Joe Lassiter's only sister and her young son have been killed in a sudden fire that engulfs their home. The police believe it was arson; they soon discover that mother and child were brutally murdered before the blaze was set.

As Lassiter tries to find out why they were killed, he comes to believe others may have been murdered in similar fashion. And still more people may die if he cannot discover the elusive connection that links the innocent victims together.

"Father Azetti was tempted." opening sentence

"Having lived in the town for less than a decade, Father Azetti was an outsider, and would remain so into the next millennium. As such, he was suspect, and, being suspect, he was under constant surveillance, watched by the town's ever vigilant older residents, who pined for his predecessor." pg. 6

"Listening to the terrible and persuasive details, Father Azetti felt his heart lurch in his chest. What the man had done - what he had committed - was the most spectacular sin imaginable, a sin so deep and terminal that heaven itself might never recover from it." pg. 8

"The doctor was on a bullet train to hell, and fear radiated from him like a halo around the moon." pg. 9

"I'm saying, whoever it was - this was not a delicate job. It was obviously arson, and whoever set it didn't care who knew it." pg. 46

"He was losing someone who knew him in a way no one else ever would, someone who shared his childhood." pg. 65

"Virtually all cops spent some time in uniform and so, like actors and politicians, they expected people to react to them. It didn't matter if the reaction was negative - so long as it was there." pg. 71

"Your sister went to... one of those places? A clinic? She had, what - artificial insemination?" pg. 77

"Even so, there was something dark, and very disturbing, about listening to the details of your own family's catastrophe, broadcast as a thirty-second news segment between Howard Stern and a traffic update." pg. 78

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Ideal, Genuine Man

My hardcover copy of The Ideal, Genuine Man by Don Robertson was published in 1987 by Stephen King's Philtrum Press and includes a forward by King. It is 276 pages. This is a hard novel to read. It is very different form The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread. No one is likable in it. It is disgusting and repulsive in many places. It's hopeless and helpless and full of pain. I actually forced myself to continue reading it. Suddenly, the ending made it quite clear why King praised it so highly, why he considers it a great novel. I can't recommend it, but if you do read it, you will never forget it. I'm not rating this one and plan to send it off to Think Pink Dana for her to read. Haunting novel...

Synopsis from cover:
"Set in Houston - a Houston which in Robertson's hands becomes a simmering nightmare landscape - it is the story of Herman Marshall, a retired truckdriver whose wife is dying of cancer and who is himself trying to come to grips with the fact of his own old age in a society where the elderly are discarded like empty beer-cans.

With the deep compassion and utter refusal to turn away from the ugly underside of American life - hallmarks of his writing from his first novel - Robertson shows us places we have never been in the flossy glossy worlds of Dallas.... Here are tired, desperate men growing old in roadhouses, drinking beer in the afternoon and watching soap operas on TVs with bad color; here are lonely women who live with pain and are sometimes surprised by love. Here also is the sudden and irrational violence that has become a grotesque sort of American trademark.

Most of all, here is Herman Marshall, simmering both in the heat of Houston and the heat of anger produced by his memories of better times...and broken promises. when that anger finally bursts into flames, The Ideal, Genuine Man becomes a harrowing experience no reader will ever forget...although many may wish they could. Old, forgotten, unimportant, ordinary...and unforgettably unique, Herman Marshall is one of the most unusual and compelling characters in modern American fiction...."

"Herman Marshall squinted at the rain. He told himself he needed to get clean." opening sentences

"He was seventyfour, and he had made his living driving a truck, and he was not used to weeping." pg. 2

"And that had been forever ago. A forever of days> A forever of betrayals, beer, trucks, waitresses, prayer meetings, rodeos, guitars, bleats, guilts, death." pg. 5

"I'm too old to be mad. An listen here... in order to be mad, a man's got to be able to do somethin bout it, give somebody a whippin or whatever...and me, I'm too old to cut the mustard, you expect you can follow at?" pg. 6

"But the seventeen years of Billy had sort of wrung out Herman Marshall and Edna. Billy and his pain. Billy and his bedsores and his spine. Billy Marshall. You look at him and you said to yourself: it's like he's a human comma." pg. 18

"And he was a man, more or less. Or at least he was as much of a man as he ever would be. Which meant he came to understand the simple snaggled truth that hardly anything worked out as it should." pg. 97

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Physician's Tale

The Physician's Tale by Ann Benson was originally published in 2006. My paperback copy is 655 pages. The Physician's Tale continues the story and/or includes characters found in Benson's previous books, The Plague Tales, The Burning Road, and The Thief of Souls. The formula Benson started in these tales is to have each chapter written as parallel narratives, one set in 21st century America and the other in 14th century Europe (or 15th in Thief of Souls) . The near future events are in the wake of a global epidemic while the earlier tale is during the plague-ridden era of the Black Death. This installment of her series isn't as well defined and sharply conceived and written as the previous books. There were times when you would lose interest in what was happening in both centuries. The Physician's Tale will be a definite read for fans despite it's falling a bit flat. For those who are not acquainted with Ann Benson's work, you do need to start with the first book, The Plague Tales, in order to fully appreciate them and follow the story line. While this installment is likely a 5 for fans, it's not as good as the previous books and likely deserves a 3, so I'll give it a rating of 4.

Synopsis from cover:
In the near future, in the hills of the American Northeast, a group of men, women, and children band together for survival. Among these people is Janie Crowe, a physician whose son is her greatest hope and deepest secret. Etched into Janie’s memory is the ancient journal of a Jewish man of medicine–a man who fought for survival in his own age of plague.

In Europe, in the age of the Black Death, Alejandro Canches must hide his identity–and break his oath as a physician for the sake of his and his loved ones’ lives. As the plague ravages the countryside,, Alejandro’s daughter Kate is caught in the clutches of King Edward of England. Now Alejandro must make a desperate journey to Windsor itself, where a clever scribe named Geoffrey Chaucer has hatched a fantastic plan for Kate’s escape....

"It was the first spring after the long, hard winter that marked the second coming of the plague called DR SAM." first sentence

"Alejandro covered his nose against the putrid plague smell and put his head to the man's chest." pg. 14

"For weeks the atmosphere at Windsor Castle had been strained and stiff, and Chaucer had begun to wonder if a life of service to the royals was a wise choice." pg. 19

"Goats were gold - mostly for their milk, since only a few of the cows had survived." pg. 33

"After all, what business was it of his if a lady enjoyed bathing? Such healthy behavior was to be encouraged, especially among the stinking French." pg. 126

"Grand-pere, are you all right?... It is just that, well... you are weeping." pg. 169

"They left him alone to consider the ramifications of his first act of intercommunal diplomacy." pg. 176

"He recalled the words of the Talmud: When we face our Creator in our last hours, we must answer for all those pleasures we have not tasted: So, too, he assumed, would God hold him responsible for all the knowledge he had not managed to acquire." pg. 320

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Saturday night movie:

Journey to the Center of the Earth, 2008


The Lost World, 1960