Saturday, February 28, 2009

Terminal Freeze

Terminal Freeze by Lincoln Child was released on February 24, 2009. My hardcover copy has 320 pages. Terminal Freeze is an enjoyable book. Although a case could be made that the story has been told before (The Thing, or Relic), this is when Updike's rules for reviewing really come into play. I knew I was getting a thriller when I purchased this book and Child most certainly delivered what I wanted and what he promised. Child writes in an easy to read, fluid style while slowly building up the anticipation and suspense in the story. The unknown creature set loose in an unforgiving environment is a common theme, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable when the story is well told. Reading Terminal Freeze was a pleasure. I did like Child's Deep Storm a little better, but I most certainly highly recommend Terminal Freeze. Oh, and kudos to Child for telling this story while keeping the swearing to a bare minimum. Rating: 4.5

Synopsis from cover:
A breathtaking discovery at the top of the world . . .
A terrifying collision between modern science and Native American legend . . .
An electrifying new thriller from New York Times bestselling author Lincoln Child.

Two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle lies Alaska’s Federal Wildlife Zone, one of the most remote and inhospitable places on Earth. But for paleoecologist Evan Marshall and a small group of fellow scientists, an expedition to the Zone represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study the effects of global warming.

Everything about the expedition changes, however, with an astonishing find. On a routine exploration of a glacial ice cave, the group discovers an enormous ancient animal, encased in solid ice. The media conglomerate sponsoring their research immediately intervenes and arranges the ultimate spectacle - the creature will be cut from the ice, thawed, and revealed live on television. Despite dire warnings from the local Native American village, and the scientific concerns of Marshall and his team, the “docudrama” plows ahead... until the scientists make one more horrifying discovery. The beast is no regular specimen - it may be an ancient killing machine. And they may be premature in believing it dead.

In this riveting new thriller, Lincoln Child weaves together a stunning Arctic landscape, a terrifying mythic creature, and a pervasive mood of chaos - and fear. With Terminal Freeze, Child demonstrates why he has become a major bestselling author, and why his novels electrify and enthrall so many.

"At dusk, when the stars rose one by one into a frozen sky, Usuguk approached the snowhouse as silently as a fox." first sentence

"Only a violation of the most serious of all taboos could cause the kind of spirit fury he now paid witness to." pg. 4

"But this one is calving like a tidewater glacier. I've been measuring the basalt melt -"
"That's Sully's job not yours."
"-and it's off the scale." Faraday shook his head."Rain, unprecedented melting - and there are other things happening, too. Like the northern lights the last few night." pg. 10

"There, buried beneath the ice floor, two fist-sized eyes - yellow, with black oval pupils - were staring implacably back up at him." pg. 17

"With grant money in short supply, the university had resorted to a relatively new tactic: securing expedition financing from a media conglomerate in return for exclusive rights and access. While global warming wasn't particularly sexy, it was topical. Terra Prime had bankrolled the team as it had half a dozen hopes of snagging at least one science documentary worth developing." pg. 25

"Removing the file had exposed another behind it, almost equally faded. It's title tab had been stamped with a single word: 'Fear.'....Behind it lay another file, identical, stamped with the same word.
Both copies of a classified file stored in the same location? Something was very wrong here." pg. 46

"Privately he almost wished the thing had never been found. He was unhappy with the frantic activity, so unlike the careful, cautious approach favored by scientists. He was unhappy with how the documentary team was being coy, almost secretive, about the specifics of the project. And he was especially unhappy with how distracting it all was, how his work was hampered by so many people underfoot." pg. 50

"Cut it out you said?"
"In a single block. For transport back to our specially prepared vault The vault will be sealed, the block of ice melted under controlled conditions." pg. 53

Gwangi, sun demon

Movie night double feature:

The Valley of the Gwangi, 1969 ~ The Hideous Sun Demon, 1959

Friday, February 27, 2009

Secret Agents

Secret Agents: The Menace of Emerging Infections by Madeline Drexler was originally published in 2002. My hardcover copy is 316 pages, including the bibliography and index. This fascinating book covers the threat of deadly pathogens today. Each chapter focused on a different aspect. Areas covered include the history of the spread of infectious agents, West Nile virus, antibiotic resistant pathogens, influenza, chronic disease and infections, and bioterrorism. The information is detailed but presented in a way that is very accessible for the lay reader to understand. I would very highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the threat of infectious diseases, even a casual reader who is not highly interested in the subject is going to appreciate the information in Drexler's book. Don't miss the selected quotes from this book. Rating: 5

From the Publisher:
As timely as it is urgent, this well-researched book from veteran science journalist Madeline Drexler delivers a compelling report on today's most ominous infectious disease threats. She focuses on a different danger in each chapter-from the looming risk of lethal influenza to in-depth information on the public health perils posed by bioterrorism. With a novelist's descriptive eye and a thriller writer's sense of tension, she warns us that the most ceaselessly creative bioterrorist is still Mother Nature, whose microbial operatives are all around us, ready to pounce when conditions are right.

"In the perpetual drama of emerging infections, nature's undercover operatives are the same: viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa - a crew collectively known as 'microrganisms'....Just as all mystery writing draws on five or six plotlines, so biologists have found only a handful of pathogenic strategies, breathtakingly elaborate." pg. 8

"Any pathogen, not just those present in food, can be virtually anywhere within 48 hours." pg. 14

"The most menacing bioterrorist is Mother Nature herself." pg. 18

Laurie Girand: "I was under the mistaken impression that feeding our daughter unpasteurized juice would be healthier for her... I can't badly I was fooled by industry marketing." pg. 75

David Acheson: "Foodborne pathogens are not purely a bit of nausea and vomiting and diarrhea. They can kill a previously healthy person in the space of a week." pg. 77

"What makes E. coli O157:H7 so fearsome is the poison it churns out - the third most deadly bacterial toxin, after those causing tetanus and botulism." pg. 81

"In fact, microbiologists have found more bacterial contamination on organic than on conventionally grown produce, and no one is quite sure how much composting it takes to knock off pathogens in manure." pg. 90

Fred Angulo: "The reason we're seeing an increase in antibiotic resistance in foodborne illnesses is because of antibiotic use on the farm." pg. 91

"Today, many medical personnel expect antibiotics to cover for sloppy hygiene. Yet, of all the paraphernalia in hospitals, workers' hands remain the most dangerous." pg. 135

"If normal bacteria become drug-resistant from everyday exposure to household 'germ-fighters,' such life saving products as the antibacterial soaps used in ICUs and pediatric units could lose their effectiveness." pg. 144

"The 1918 flu singled out people in the prime of life...All over the world, about half the deaths were in the 20 to 40 age group." pg. 164

"Released through a sneeze or cough, the influenza virus spreads in aerosolized droplets that take at least 17 minutes to drift down from ceiling to floor and can survive for hours on solid surfaces such as steel and plastic. Its transmissibility is legendary." pg. 166

"But today a growing number of researchers claim that these disabling [chronic] conditions may be caused by infection." pg. 201

"One of the most surprising revelations of immunity gone awry is a childhood form of... OCD. Susan Swedo, a neuropsychiatrist....has found that infections with Streptococcus pyogenes, or Group A strep, in some children lead to a form of OCD sometimes accompanied by tics." pg. 216

"All told, of the 50 top bioweapon pathogens, only 13 have vaccines or treatments." pg. 242

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller
was originally published in 2001. My paperback copy has 315 pages, including the reader's guide. This is an incredible book in which Fuller records with the unadorned honesty of a child the memories of her African childhood with her dysfunctional family. It is not a maudlin, sentimental record of her childhood. Fuller, nicknamed Bobo, lived there during the Rhodesian civil war (1971-1979). Her family lived in and moved from Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Malawi and Zambia, always living in a brutal, unforgiving environment. While Fuller acknowledges her parents racism by honestly recording their words and actions, the love and affection she feels for them is always present. Much like the love she feels for the Africa she knows, a brutal place under white and black rule. Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight is a very highly recommended nonfiction selection. Rating: 5

From the Publisher
In Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Alexandra Fuller remembers her African childhood with candor and sensitivity. Though it is a diary of an unruly life in an often inhospitable place, it is suffused with Fuller’s endearing ability to find laughter, even when there is little to celebrate. Fuller’s debut is unsentimental and unflinching but always captivating. In wry and sometimes hilarious prose, she stares down disaster and looks back with rage and love at the life of an extraordinary family in an extraordinary time.

"Mum says, 'Don't come creeping into our room at night.'
They sleep with loaded guns beside them on the bedside rugs. She says, 'Don't startle us when we're sleeping.'
'Why not?'
'We might shoot you.' " opening

"Her eyes are half-mast. That's what my sister and I call it when Mum is drunk and her eyelids droop. Half-mast eyes." pg. 11

"The two of us are silent, listening to Mum and her stuck record, Tragedies of Our Lives....
Chapter One: The war
Chapter Two: Dead Children
Chapter Three: Insanity
Chapter Four: Being Nicola Fuller of Central Africa." pg. 22

"Before that, the land had been moveable, shifting under the feet of whatever victorious tribe now danced on it's soil, taking on new names and freshly stolen cattle, absorbing the blood and bodies of whoever was living, breathing, birthing, dying upon it. The land itself, of course, was careless of its name. It still is. You can call it whatever you like, fight all the wars you want in its name." pg. 26

"I understand, through the power of her emotions, her tears, the way she is dissolving like soap left too long in the bath, that this has been the greatest tragedy of our lives." pg. 32

"That valley, in the far east of the country, is the Burma Valley. Here, horses hang thin in the thick, wet heat. their skin stretched over hips like slings. Children are elbow-knee wormy and hollow-orange with too much heat, skin-pinching dehydration, and smoking-drinking parents." pg. 47

"We have moved, mother and father with two children, a couple of cats, three dogs, and one horse, right into the middle, the very birthplace and epicenter, of the civil war in Rhodesia and a freshly stoked war in Mozambique." pg. 54

"After Olivia dies, Mum and Dad's joyful careless embrace of life is sucked away, like water swirling down a drain. The joy is gone. The love has trickled out." pg. 95

"Vanessa patiently builds a barrier around me because she can't watch me eat. she puts a milk jug in front of my face and sits back down and says, 'Not enough.' She fetches a coffee can and some boxes and bottles from the pantry." pg. 126

"What I know about Africa as a child (because I have no memory of any other place) is her smell: hot, sweet, smoky, salty, sharp-soft. It is like black tea, cut tobacco, fresh fire, old sweat, young grass.....The other thing I can't know about Africa until after I have left (and heard the sound of other, colder, quieter, more insulated places) is her noise." pg. 130

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why I'm Like This

Why I'm Like This by Cynthia Kaplan 212 pages. I was disappointed in this book. I thought I would be reading a selection of funny, true stories. While there were some amusing stories, none of them were really funny. To top that off, the writing wasn't so good. I have a feeling that if Kaplan were telling us the stories, they would come across much funnier. While tempted to call this a so-so book, I'm going to give it a rating of 3 for the passages I did find amusing.

Synopsis from publisher:
Cynthia Kaplan takes us on a hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking journey through her unique, uncensored world—her bungled romantic encounters and unsung theatrical experiences; her gadget-obsessed father, her pill-popping therapist, and her eccentric grandmothers; her fearless husband, whom she engages in an ongoing battle over which of them is the most popular person in their apartment; and, of course, her vengeful, power-hungry one-year-old son.

Kaplan's voice is a lot like the one in our heads—the one that most of us are only willing to listen to late at night . . . maybe while locked in a closet. What a relief it is that someone finally admits that she is afraid of nearly everything; that she is jealous even of people whose lives are on the verge of collapse; and that she has, at times, tried to pass for a gentile.

"Had I known what high school would be like I would have asked my parents to set me adrift on an ice floe at puberty." pg. 11

"She had become the friend you no longer like enough to confide in so you feed them little drips and drops of your life. Just enough so you don't have to go through the bother of actually ending the friendship." pg. 45

"Even if you are a waiter for a short time, you are doomed to have waiter nightmares for the rest of your life." pg. 52

"Being a waiter at Mariella was as close as I have ever come to fulfilling the obligations of my vaguely socialist heritage. Isn't that what young socialists did? Take orders from the bourgeoisie and then gather in tetchy clumps to make coffee and compose propaganda?" pg. 58

"On vacations my mother referred to herself as 'Sandy Hold This' because my father would invariably insist that she carry his cameras and binoculars in her purse or slug over her shoulders, an upper-middle-class sherpa." pg. 77

"I am so primed for an actual confrontation that David sometimes whispers, 'Choose joy,' if I seem to be building up a particularly frothy head of steam." pg. 177

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ghost Dancer

Ghost Dancer by John Case (pseudonym for Jim & Carolyn Hougan) was originally published in 2007. My hardcover copy has 381 pages. Ghost Dancer was different from the other Case novels I've read. This was more a novel of intrigue, science, and mystery than a fast paced thriller, although there were exciting moments. You also need to note that there was a lot of information on Nikola Tesla and his work included and it is intrinsic to the story. It was very interesting and I highly recommend it, but it's also less thrill-intensive than pervious Case novels. Rating 4.5

Synopsis from publisher:
Photojournalist Mike Burke carried his camera into every war zone and hellhole on earth - and came back with the pictures (and battle scars) to prove it. He was flying high until, quite suddenly, he wasn't. When Burke's helicopter crashed and burned in Africa, he came away with his life but lost his heart to the beautiful woman who saved him. That's when he decided it was time to stop dancing with the devil. But a wicked twist of fate puts an end to Burke's dreams, leaving him adrift in Dublin with bittersweet memories . . . and no appetite for danger. But neither danger - nor the devil - is done with him yet.

An ocean away, Jack Wilson leaves prison burning for revenge. Like Mike Burke, Jack has had something taken from him. And he, too, dreams of starting life over. Only Jack's dream is the rest of the world's nightmare. Driven by his obsession with a Native American visionary, and guided by the secret notebooks of Nikola Tesla, the man who is said to have "invented the twentieth century," Wilson dreams of the Apocalypse - and plans to make it happen.

As a terrifying worldwide chain reaction is set in motion, one thing stands between Jack Wilson and the time of reckoning he is calling forth: Mike Burke. With nothing left to lose, and little understanding of precisely whom and what he's facing, Burke risks everything, one last time, in a battle of wits with an enemy who knows no fear . . . and shows no mercy.
"There was
A single, solitary noise that announced itself in the key of C - ping! - and that was that." opening

"In an instant, his life - his whole life - passed before his eyes against a veering background of forest and sky." pg. x

"Sometimes he thinks he's a character in a novel." pg. 7

"The first thing Jack Wilson did when he got to Washington was take a bath. Which was strange. Because baths had never been his thing, not at all. But after nine years of showering under surveillance, the prospect of a long hot soak by himself was irresistible." pg. 8

"Supermax was different. He'd spent four years in the Feds' Administrative Maximum prison in Colorado, locked down twenty-three hours a day for the first two years." pg. 18

"The past softens. What begins as a massacre is packaged as news and consumed as 'infotainment.' Eventually it turns into a television miniseries." pg. 21

"I think what Ray's suggesting is, this isn't about the airport. It's about the man with the sling. Someone was testing him....not the airport's security." pg. 33

"There wasn't anything to be done about the splashes of scar tissue on his chest and shoulders, but the doctors were able to make his ear, or what was left of it 'cosmetically acceptable.' " pg. 41

"It was quite a resume to compile in a short stretch of time: drug trafficker, arms dealer, gem smuggler. But the rewards were commensurate with the risks. If it wasn't the safest way for someone with no funds to make a lot of money, but it was the fastest." pg. 64

"And what he found was terrifying. Kovalenko surfed for diseases the way guys surfed for porn," pg. 232


Trish at Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'? is giving away 2 Slankets.
Doesn't this just look like the most glorious cuddly blanket in the world?

What Not to Wear

I was in Wal-Mart a couple years ago looking at casual little canvas slip-ons for summer. Several years before this incident I had picked up three pairs on clearance, and had worn out two. I wore them almost daily.

Anyway, I was in the Wal-Mart shoe department knowing FULL WELL it was the Wal-Mart CHEAP shoes department. I was looking for inexpensive canvas shoes for summer.

I was there in my bright royal blue jacket.

I have owned this jacket for years. I like it. It's comfortable. It's long. It has nice deep pockets. I even like the bright royal blue. But, if I were honest, I have toyed with getting a new, less brightly colored jacket for several years now.

So, you get the setting: I'm looking at inexpensive shoes at Wal-mart wearing a bright royal blue jacket with jeans on and tennis shoes. My short haircut at that time always looked styled. I had on makeup. I didn't really look bad. I did look colorful.

As I'm looking at the wondrous selections, I hear a little kid's voice somewhere behind me say "Mom, that lady should see Stacey and Clinton...."
Naturally, I don't think it's directed at me because the aisle was busy, full of Wal-mart shoe shoppers; not exactly the place you envision when you are looking for natty dressers.
The little voice continues.
"MOM! She should be on What Not to Wear. Stacey and Clinton would tell her not to wear that coat...."

Suddenly at this point I realized the little freak, uh, er, child, was talking about me, LOL!
I was planning to turn and look at this future fashionista while busting a gut laughing. Then I was going to say "Stacey and Clinton wouldn't like anyone to be shopping for shoes at Wal-mart..."

But then I heard the mom reply in a nasty voice.
"What are you talking about! Ssshhh! Just be quiet! I don't understand you..."
You could hear sheer terror, anger, and shame in her voice as she tried to get the child to stop letting everyone know that not only did they watch What Not to Wear, but now her child was commenting loudly and publicly on the old lady in the bright blue coat.

Walking further up the aisle while pretending to ignore what must be a very fashion conscious family behind me, I glanced back at them before turning the corner.

The kid was maybe 6 years old tops, but certainly old enough to know better. The mother had long, stringy bleached blond hair with dark roots. She was wearing well worn jeans, and an old t-shirt with an oversized torn and faded flannel shirt over it.

What not to wear indeed....

(I still have the jacket but now I fit in. It almost matches the color of an area university's team. There are lots of old people running around in bright blue coats.)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Movie night

Movie night included three selections:

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) - reputed to be the worst movie ever made. The juries out here. We still think Curse of the Swamp Creature might have been worse.

Unknown Island (1948) - for a 1948 dinosaur movie, this one is really pretty good. You will laugh at the dinosaurs, though.

Prisoners Of The Lost Universe (1983) starring Richard Hatch and Kay Lenz - Bad, bad 80's movie that was part of a 50 pack.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Murder Artist

The Murder Artist by John Case (pseudonym for Jim & Carolyn Hougan)was originally published in 2004. My hardcover copy has 435 pages. The Murder Artist is different from other Case novels, but keeps the level of suspense high. It is written as a first person narrative of Alex Callahan, whose sons are abducted at a visit to a Renaissance Fair. This thriller focuses on the investigation and search for Sean and Kevin. This is a fine thriller, well written and fast paced, with good character development. My only quibble was with the very abrupt ending, which angered me last night, but, upon reflection, I'm more accepting of it today. Very highly recommended. Rating: 4.5.

Synopsis from cover:
As a television news correspondent, Alex Callahan has traveled to some of the most dangerous corners of the globe, covering famine, plague, and war. He's seen more than his share of blood and death, and knows what it means to be afraid. But what he's never known is the terror that grabs him when, on a tranquil summer afternoon, he ceases to be an observer of the dark side and, to his shock, becomes enmeshed in it.

Separated from his wife, and struggling not to become a stranger to his six-year-old twin sons, Alex is logging some all-too-rare quality time with the boys when they vanish without a trace amid the hurly-burly of a countryside Renaissance Fair.

Then the phone call comes. A chilling silence, slow, steady breathing, and the familiar, plaintive voice of a child — "Daddy?" — complete the nightmare and set in motion a juggernaut of frenzy and agony.

The longer the police search, exhausting leads without success, the deeper Alex's certainty grows that time is running out. And when, at last, telltale signs reveal a hidden pattern of bizarre and ghoulish abductions, Alex vows to use his own relentless investigative skills to rescue his children from the shadowy figure dubbed The Piper.

Whoever this elusive stranger is, the profile that slowly emerges — from previous crimes involving twins, from the zealously secret world of professional magicians, and from the eerie culture of voodoo — suggests that The Piper is a predator unlike any other. A twisted soul hell-bent on fulfilling an unspeakably dark dream. A fiend with a terrifying true calling. What Alex Callahan is closing in on is a monster with a mission.

"Five hours of sleep. I rub my eyes, head out front, and bend down to extract my rolled up copy of The Washington Post from beneath an azalea bush." opening

"The boys and I are doing great so far - although after only six days, I'm already wiped out and playing catch-up at the station. This would make Liz happy, both the sleep deprivation and the fact that after less than a week, I'm already falling behind at work." pg. 4

"They don't mind my lack of excitement. I used to fake it, revving up bogus enthusiasm on those occasions Liz guilt-tripped me into going along on some kid-centric outing. It didn't fly, so it's a relief to realize that they don't actually care if Dad is having a good time. They're kids; it's about them." pg. 12-13

"I sit on the hay bale for longer that I should because, as I eventually figure out, the moment I leave and walk away from the jousting arena, I'll be admitting that my sons are really gone, that something terrible has happening, something that requires the police. It's dumb fear wrapped in desperate hope, but several minutes tick by while I'm paralyzed in this fog of superstition." pg. 20

"I'm still hanging on to the idea that the boys are lost. The word abduction crashed through my head like a dum-dum bullet." pg. 31

"Christiansen rambles on. 'Nine times out of ten, it's someone who knows the kid. Nine times outta ten, it's a parent.'
Here's the truth: Christiansen isn't babysitting. I'm a suspect." pg. 46

"I realize - and the thought fills me with guilt - that I am tired of my parents, that I wish they would go home. Jack too. I know they've come because they had to come and lend whatever support they can. I guess I'd be hurt if they hadn't come. But it feels as if Liz and I have to take care of them." pg. 82

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Eighth Day

The Eighth Day by John Case (pseudonym for Jim & Carolyn Hougan) was originally published in 2002. My hardcover copy has 378 pages. Although I found this very enjoyable, it wasn't quite as good and started out a little slower than their previous novels. While I enjoyed the character of Danny Cray, having Jude Belzer actually hire him to begin with was really implausible and stretched the bounds of believability. Danny's actions also didn't seem entirely realistic, especially for a character who is supposed to be only 26 and not wealthy. At the very end of The Eighth Day, and I'm wording this carefully, I would have liked to find the answers to the unanswered questions: how did Danny get home, and was he ever reimbursed by anyone. The rest of the conclusion was nice. I do highly recommend it, though. Rating: 4

Synopsis from the Publisher:
For Danny Cray, a struggling artist and part-time private investigator, the offer is too good to be true. A wealthy, enigmatic lawyer, Jude Belzer, would like to retain Danny for a little damage control. His client, an elusive billionaire, is the target of a vicious campaign by the Italian press that threatens to destroy his reputation. Belzer wants Danny to find out who is responsible - and he will pay handsomely.

Danny's only lead is the meager estate of a recently deceased professor of religious studies, a man so deeply terrified that he buried himself alive in the basement of an isolated farmhouse. Belzer swears that if Danny can get the late professor's files, the conspiracy against his own reclusive client will unravel. It's the perfect assignment, in a way, and Danny can sure use the money. But the more he probes, the more apparent it becomes that nothing is what it seems. There is something he isn't being told. Something that's not quite right. Something dark, fast, and sinister that's coming at him from behind.

From the powerful world of Washington D.C., to the ancient grandeur of Rome, from the mysteries of Istanbul to the high-stakes drama of Silicon Valley, The Eighth Day is a briskly paced, globe-trotting thriller of electrifying suspense. Packed with unexpected reversals and astonishing twists of plot, this is John Case's most gripping novel to date.

"It was the mailman who reported it, calling 911 half an hour before Delaney's shift was supposed to end." opening sentence

"Despite their entirely different career tracks and backgrounds, they were so attuned that half the time they could read each other's mind. Same brain, they'd say when one spoke aloud the thoughts of the other." pg. 13

"There was something in Belzer's voice, a tone more than an accent, that made Danny think the lawyer already knew what he looked like. And maybe a lot more." pg. 19

"Of course he was crazy, but... what I'm getting at is this: What made him do it? Even crazy people have reasons for what they do. They're just crazy reasons." pg. 25

"She was a South Dakota girl, right out of Pierre - which, as she liked to remind people, was not pronounced in the French way but in the clipped, no-nonsense accent of the Dakotas: It's 'Peer,' she'd insist, just 'Peer.' " pg. 39

"And that raised a question, a very interesting question, a question so fundamental that he didn't even want to think about it.
What if I'm on the wrong side?" pg. 70

"Rome or no Rome, the business with Belzer was making him nervous. There was too much bad news - too much violence on the periphery of it all. And as much as he was enjoying it, the assignment itself was entirely too swank, too good to be true." pg. 78

"They've made a conscious decision to venerate Satan because the Black Writing tells them that on the eighth day God grew weary of the world and gave it to the devil. To them, the devil is not evil; he's the Tawus, sort of the chief angel." pg. 89

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Syndrome

The Syndrome by John Case (pseudonym for husband and wife team of Jim & Carolyn Hougan) was originally published in 2001. My hardcover copy is 455 pages. This is one novel that lives up to the title of thriller and is probably the best of the three John Case novels I've read so far (The Genesis Code and The First Horseman). The intrigue starts immediately and continues straight through a series of seemingly unconnected events to the unraveling of the mystery and conclusion. My only complaint was that the end seemed rather abrupt after all the action leading up to it. This was a great read for escapism. Rating: 4.5

Synopsis from the publisher:
A promising research fellow for a venerable think tank in Zurich is forced into a grisly experiment...A seductive young woman coolly sharpshoots an old man in a wheelchair as he basks in the late afternoon sun...A psychologist who helps patients confront past trauma battles his own silent demons...In The Syndrome, John Case combines these intriguing elements into a pulse-pounding, mind-twisting new thriller.

Dr. Jeff Duran suffers from severe panic attacks when he ventures too far outside his home office. And he is inexplicably haunted by mysterious memories, and phrases of a foreign language he never learned. Then, after a patient tormented by "recovered" memories commits suicide - and her half-sister, Adrienne Cope, blames Duran - his life spirals out of control.

Suddenly targeted by unknown assassins, he and Adrienne must run for their very lives. Forced to trust each other, they must now work together to unlock the reason why one or both of them is marked for death. For beneath the intrigue lies a dark conspiracy that stretches halfway around the world - and a sinister plot that could change the course of history.

A relentlessly paced thriller in which nothing is what it seems, no one can be trusted, and nothing is secure - especially one's own memories - The Syndrome is a chillingly, brilliantly conceived novel from a proven master of suspense.
"Music, books, and running were McBride's secret nicotine and, without them, he became restless and unhappy. They were the reason he did not own (could not afford) a sailboat - which he wanted very much." pg. 2

"There was only a fraction of a second to take things in, and no time at all to make sense of it. What he saw was this: a man in surgical scrubs with a gas mask over his face." pg. 7

"Opdahl began the procedure known as "degloving," delicately prying the younger man's face away from the skull, peeling the skin back to reveal a direct passage into his brain." pg. 10

"Like everyone else, she had her highs and lows except, in her case, the highs were in orbit and the lows could give you black lung. The lithium kept her on an even keel - which was good, if you liked even keels." pg. 14

"For whatever reason, he was peculiarly attuned to the pitches and hums of machines - the whir and chink of the icemaker, the somnolent hum of the air conditioner, the gush and gurgle of water in the dishwasher. Any change in the acoustics of his appliances, no matter how subtle, struck him immediately, the malfunction as apparent as a burglar's sneeze at midnight." pg. 56

"The truth was: when you got right down to it, it wouldn't be unfair to say that he didn't remember a soul. Not really. Not at all." pg. 100

In defense of Stephen King, or What is good writing, anyway?

I've been following the whole Stephen King slamming Stephenie Meyers saga, and really appreciated this article:

In defense of Stephen King, or What is good writing, anyway?
February 6, 11:09 PM by Michelle Kerns, Book Examiner

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Everyday People

Everyday People by Stewart O'Nan was originally published in 2001. My hardcover copy has 295 pages. Everyday People is set in East Liberty, a deprived area in Pittsburgh. The novel's action is compressed to one week in the lives of the African-American Tolbert family. As much as I love O'Nan, this novel wasn't quite as compelling reading for me, in comparison to his other novels. It is well written; where O'Nan missed the mark for me was his characters use of a black inner city dialect and he left a few minor story lines unfinished. I was going to rate this a 4, in comparison to O'Nan's other novels, but in comparison to all novels the rating is a 4.5

Publishers Weekly:
Crest Tolbert, 18, was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair after slipping, along with his best friend, from an overpass he was tagging with graffiti. His friend died from the fall. His father, Harold, is having a homosexual affair, a fact he cannot admit to his family, whom he would leave if it weren't for Crest's condition. His mother is certain that Harold is cheating on her with a younger woman and is torn between setting him free and trying to win him back. Vanessa, Crest's girlfriend and the mother of his son, has enrolled in her first college class and is learning about the rich history of their people. Eugene, his brother, is a reformed gangbanger, a born-again Christian whose mission in life is to save young gang members before they end up in prison. Although this is not one of the brilliant O'Nan's best efforts, Esposito comes through with a brilliant reading of the text. His quickness and ease with street slang and verbal posturing fit the characters perfectly and make listening to this tale of day-to-day struggle a truly engaging experience. Simultaneous release with the Grove hardcover (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"East Liberty doesn't need the Martin Robinson Express Busway. It's for the commuters who come in every day from Penn Hills and sit in front, hiding behind their Post-Gazettes, their briefcases balanced across their knees." opening sentences

"Good man, Martin Robinson, not one of those sorry-ass Al Sharpton, greasy-hair-wearing, no 'count jackleg preachers with five Cadillacs and ten rings on his fingers and twenty lawyers playing games." pg. 3

"I'll be there, you know I will, cuz, but I'm just being straight with you, it's not all gravy, this thing. Everything comes with a price, and too many times that price is us. I'm getting real tired of paying it, know what I'm saying?" pg. 4

"All day he's been waiting to be with someone, just lying in bed while the buses and rush hour went by, watching talk shows, then getting up and eating lunch with the noon news." pg. 15

"They came to her about their husbands, their children, their money troubles. They came about their infidelities, their terrors, their failures, and in the basement of the East Liberty A.M.E. Zion, in the empty Sunday school room after choir practice, Sister Marita held their hands and listened, nodding in sympathy, trying not to interrupt." pg. 22

"...but then he left and the night spread endlessly in front of her, the rotation of the earth - the entire universe - her enemy." pg. 109

"Sleep would be merciful. And it was, it was, just not quickly enough." pg. 112

"She remembered almost vomiting when her mother told her how white people kissed their dogs on the nose. 'And it's not like they don't know where that nose has been,' her mother said. 'There's one place a dog's nose loves to go, and that is not somewhere you want to be kissing.' " pg. 134

Saturday, February 14, 2009

King Kong marathon

It was King Kong marathon night.

King Kong (1933) Director: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack Cast: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher

King Kong (1976) Director: John Guillermin Cast: Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange, John Randolph

King Kong (2005) Director: Peter Jackson Cast: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann

The 1933 movie is still strong and the stop-motion animation remains impressive. I could argue that this version would be my favorite of the three.

The 1976 version is probably best avoided. First it doesn't follow the original storyline. It's the 70's and due to the oil crisis, they are looking for oil on Skull Island. The island natives were an embarrassment. In 1933 you expect some stereotypes and politically incorrect scenes, but in the 70's... This was one bad movie. When the audience members here all pulled out books to read while it was on, we decided to skip through several scenes. The ending climatic scene is played out on the twin towers, which is sort of poignant to watch now but might be more so if the movie was any good. In the end, though, all we wanted was the ape, Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges to all die.

The 2005 had a nice approach - remaking the 1933 original King Kong and keeping it set in that time period. The natives this time were creepy and sort of zombie-like, but probably the best of the three. There are many more (long and drawn out) battles with creatures in this version. The final scene on the Empire State building is also too long and drawn out. Anne Darrow (Fay Wray 1933, Naomi Watts 2005) is still actually played better by Fay Wray. Naomi Watts (or Jackson's direction of her) is too in love with Kong. We all get the ape loves her, but he's a huge ape... she shouldn't be feeling the same way. We decided that this could be a case of Stockholm Syndrome and that also, subconsciously, she felt she was sacrificing herself to save the people of NYC.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Songs for the Missing

Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan was originally published in 2008. My hardcover copy has 287 pages. Songs for the Missing is another finely drawn, intimate character study by O'Nan. This time it is the Larsen family, whose daughter Kim disappears one summer when on her way to work. This is not a crime novel or a mystery; it is an honest character study of a family involved in a mystery and how they and their daughters friends cope with the devastating effects of having a missing child and friend. If you are looking for a fast-paced thriller, don't bother; this isn't about the search as much as it concerns the numbing effects of living while waiting for bad news. Excellent novel. Rating: 5.

Synopsis from cover:
An moving portrait of a family and a town in the wake of a daughter’s disappearance.
“It was the summer of her Chevette, of J.P. and letting her hair grow.” It was also the summer when, without warning, college-bound Kim Larsen disappears from her quiet Lake Erie town. Her parents, her little sister, her best friends and new boyfriend now must do everything to find her. As time passes and local search parties give way to wider television appearances, private investigations unearth dirty secrets, and we follow those closest to Kim as they struggle to maintain hope, and finally, as the news cameras turn away, to hang on to both her and themselves. Stark and honest, this is an intimate account of what happens behind and beyond the headlines when those who stay after the media leaves deal with the real consequences of a very American tragedy.

Stewart O’Nan’s new novel opens with the suspense of a thriller and soon deepens into an affecting family drama of loss. On the heels of his critically acclaimed and nationally bestselling Last Night at the Lobster, Songs for the Missing is a wrenching, heartfelt account of one family’s quest to find their child. With a soulful empathy for his ordinary heroes, O’Nan draws us into the world of this small Ohio town and lets us to feel a part of Kim's inner circle.

"July, 2005. It was the summer of her Chevette, of J.P. and letting her hair grow. The last summer, the best summer, the summer they'd dreamed of since eighth grade, the high and pride of being seniors lingering, an extension of their best year." opening

"Trucks lit like spaceships shuddering under her feet, dragging their own hot wind, their trailers full of unknown cargo. Slowly, night by night, the dream of leaving was coming true - with her family's blessing, their very highest hopes." pg. 1

"She'd worked seven days a week since graduation and hadn't missed a shift. Later the police would call this strict pattern a contributing factor." pg. 2

" 'Just let us know where you're going to be,' her mother said, as if that was the least she could do. What she meant was, stay out of the police log in the Star-Beacon so you don't hurt your father's business." pg. 4

"Not knowing any better, they did what he told them. The first thing they needed to do was call around and let everyone know they were looking for her." pg. 29

"She was slow to pick up on jokes, and often found herself rewinding conversations to see where she'd lost the meaning. People thought she was weird and shy, but really she was just dense and self-centered. Like now with Kim, she knew she should be feeling more than this." pg. 34

"On top of that, he knew the secret they were keeping was nothing compared to Kim being missing, and felt selfish and small for protecting it." pg. 37

"The technique was familiar to Ed - burying the client's naive question beneath an avalanche of shoptalk. As in any business, flashing a little knowledge with nothing to back it up was a red flag to a professional. He had thought the guy doddering and incompetent; now he realized how truly screwed they were." pg. 49

"Somehow - as if she subscribed to a satellite radio station dedicated to their old lives - she had news of neighbors and childhood friends he could no longer recall." pg. 158

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A World Away

A World Away by Stewart O'Nan was originally published in 1998. My hardcover copy has 338 pages. The Stewart O'Nan fan club is back in session. A World Away is the story of the Langer family one summer during WWII. Much like O'Nan's Wish You Were Here, this is a painfully honest character study where you are privy to the inner thoughts of members of the family. What is there left to say about such a well crafted, thoughtful, heartbreaking novel? Rating: 5

From Publishers Weekly:
Granta-listed O'Nan ("Snow Angels") fulfills his promise with this affecting and nuanced examination of family alliances tested by infidelity, illness and the pervasive impact of WWII. James Langer, repentant over an affair with one of his high-school students, tries to reconcile himself with his wife, Anne, who responds with silence, fury and a lover of her own. Some rapprochement seems less possible yet all the more necessary as the strain on the marriage increases. As the novel opens, the couple and their tepidly unhappy adolescent son, Jay, have come to the Hamptons to care for James's father, felled by a stroke. Yet the wound that runs deepest is the uncertain fate of their older son, Rennie, a former conscientious objector who became a medic and is now missing in action in the Pacific. The potential for melodrama increases as Rennie's wife, Dorothy, joins the family in the Hamptons after giving birth to their child. Yet O'Nan avoids that pitfall by focusing on the continually shifting tensions and alliances that animate the family: Anne's ambivalence about forgiving her husband; James's anxieties about the damaged family around him; and young Jay's growing confidence as he cares for his ailing grandfather. The narrative's subtle balance falters a bit with Rennie's homecoming; frustratingly, O'Nan holds the returned soldier somewhat aloof from the reader, rigorously keeping the focus on James and Ann. Still, this is a compassionate, acutely observant and deftly understated novel that evokes the longings that tug at one's heart as it unfurls in elegant prose. (PW best book of 1998)
"They drove the night, through the blacked-out city and out along the Island. Fog stole in from the sea, lay heavy over inlets, white wooden bridges. The roads ran empty for miles, starlit, desolate." opening sentences

"As a child, the sea smashing at night woke him, and he cried. His mother stopped in his doorway in her robe, her candle shaking the walls. When she died, they boxed her clothes and shipped them to her sister in Wisconsin, land of black lakes." pg. 6

"It was the war, on the radio like a show, London crackling with static. Anne didn't like Jay to hear. James tried to reason with her but she was always right, always questioning his motives when he had none." pg. 8

"His mother packed her knitting in her basket and started to leave. She did this every Wednesday, blamelessly, it seemed to Jay, as if provoked and holding her temper." pg. 44

"You mustn't trust rumors, his father said, but Jay could tell from the way he listened to the Pacific - then switching off in the middle of the airforce bombing Sicily - that he believed." pg. 45

"True revelation or not, he revered the scene and came to view the letter and accept its effect as fate, destiny. He worked without anger, ate without appetite. The camp, in its isolation, its patient wasting of his fellow CO's energies, began to seem unreal." pg. 59

"They were in the stagnant depths of summer now, the endless mornings and labyrinth afternoons, the gray, fading twilights." pg. 178

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

John Updike - rules for reviewing

I read this at Wendy's Caribousmon. "In June 2006, Critical Mass featured an article about John Updikes Rules for Reviewing that is worth reading - especially for bloggers who like to review books on their blogs."
I thought the rules were worth repeating here and set forth a goal for me to follow:

Thirty-one years ago John Updike laid down his own six rules for reviewing. They are still the single best guide to fairness today:

"My rules," he writes, "shaped intaglio-fashion by youthful traumas at the receiving end of critical opinion, were and are:

1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.

2. Give him enough direct quotation--at least one extended passage--of the book's prose so the review's reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.

3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.

4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending.

5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author's oeuvre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?

To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an ideological battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never... try to put the author "in his place," making him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Trench

The Trench by Steve Alten was originally published in 1999. My hardcover copy has 296 pages. This is the second book in Alten's Meg series. I specifically went looking for The Trench to pass it along to my nephew, Movie Dude, who will like it as much as he liked Meg because it reads like a made-for-tv movie, and that is OK. The Trench is an entertaining book full of exciting escapism and action that would have actually made a fun summer vacation read, or airplane book. I actually think it's a better book than Meg. It has it all: prehistoric creatures, good guys, villains, shark attacks. Alten does a nice job bringing readers up to speed on the story so you don't even need to read Meg in order to enjoy The Trench, should you happen to stumble across a copy. No rating on this one - it was for fun.

Synopsis from cover:
Its appetite is ravenous. Its teeth scalpel-sharp. Its power unstoppable as it smashes the steel doors holding it in a Monterey, California aquarium. For the first time the captive twenty-ton Megalodon shark has tasted human blood, and it wants more.

On the other side of the world, in the silent depths of the ocean, lies the Mariana Trench, where the Megalodon has spawned since the dawn of time. Paleo-biologist Jonas Taylor once dared to enter this perilous cavern. And he wears the painful scars of that deadly encounter. Now, as the body count rises and the horror of a monster's attack grips the California coast, Jonas must begin the hunt again.

But to do that means returning to the dark terror of the trench... where the Meg is waiting. Using himself as bait, Jonas will enter the ultimate battle - a fight to the death between man and beast in the darkest recesses of the ocean... and a fight for his sanity from the depths of his own tormented soul.
"Retired Navy deep-sea pilot Barry Leace wiped the sweat from his palms as he checked the depth indicator of the Proteus." first sentence

"Four years earlier, through man's intervention, Carcharodon megladon, a prehistoric sixty-foot species of Great White shark, had risen from this very trench to wreak havoc." pg. 3

"Jonas stared at the monitor. A mintes passed, and then a white blur shot past the camera, accelerating toward the gateway faster than a tractor trailer, moving at more than one hundred feet per second." pg. 16

"You want me to stop living in fear? Let's drain the lagoon and kill the... monster before it escapes." pg. 19

"A minute later, she fell into a restless sleep, unaware of the trail of black fingerprints she had left along the porthole wall." pg. 52

"Too weak to care, he shut his eyes and continued rising through the trail of his own blood, buoyed by what little air remained in his BCD vest." pg. 59

Saturday, February 7, 2009

We Thought You Would Be Prettier

We Thought You Would Be Prettier: True Tales of the Dorkiest Girl Alive by Laurie Notaro was originally published in 2005. My paperback copy has 221 pages. This is my first Notaro book and I felt the humor in the stories was uneven. While parts of it were truly hilarious and had me gasping for air while laughing out loud, other parts were completely forgettable. In some ways the funny parts, which were really very funny, can compensate for the rest of the book, but not quite. Notaro's constant whine about how her size 14 is fat and the formula she follows in writing her stories, which made them too predictable at the end, made We Thought You Would Be Prettier less enjoyable in some stories. Since other reviewers liked Notaro's previous books more than this one, I will read her again with hopes that they are more consistently humorous. A recommended book with a rating of 3.5.

She thought she'd have more time. Laurie Notaro figured she had at least a few good years left. But no-it's happened. She has officially lost her marbles. From the kid at the pet-food store checkout line whose coif is so bizarre it makes her seethe "I'm going to kick his hair's ass!" to the hapless Sears customer-service rep on the receiving end of her Campaign of Terror, no one is safe from Laurie's wrath. Her cranky side seems to have eaten the rest of her-inner-thigh Chub Rub and all. And the results are breathtaking.

Her riffs on e-mail spam ("With all of these irresistible offers served up to me on a plate, I WANT A PENIS NOW!!"), eBay ("There should be an eBay wading pool, where you can only bid on Precious Moments figurines and Avon products, that you have to make it through before jumping into the deep end"), and the perils of St. Patrick's Day ("When I'm driving, the last thing I need is a herd of inebriates darting in and out of traffic like loaded chickens") are the stuff of legend. And for Laurie, it's all true.

"'No one is going to wait in line for a dumb old signature like that! I had fancier signatures in my high school yearbook!"
"Well, I guess I could add, 'Stay sweet!' or 2 Good 2 Be 4 Got 10" or 'Have a bitchin' summer, dude,' " I said. "Or I could embellish my signature by dotting my i's with clouds or hearts for full fancy potential." pg. 16

"I tried to tell my husband what was going on now in our kitchen, but this is a man who chooses to exert what little control he has over his life by ignoring me to the point that one time I actually thought he was dead for several days until I noticed he had fresh crumbs on his shirt." pg. 31

"You know, there are some things mothers and daughters should never share. Just because I'm back in therapy doesn't mean I'm now a blank slate on which you now can feel free to inflict a whole other lifetime's worth of damage on. Maybe if you were paying for it, but this time it's on my Visa, so let's pay some attention to that 'boundary' talk we had, all right." pg. 50

"Remember when you thought the Year 2000 bug was going to end the world and we had to stay home on New Year's Eve because you hadn't finished filling up every container you could get your hands on with water? Because of you I NEVER got to party like it was 1999!"
"It was for our own safety," I protested.
"...And you bought those titanium bicycle helmets that we were supposed to wear all the time in case a meteor smacked us in the head?"
"It was a precaution," I argued. pg. 82

"People were everywhere, staggering this way and that, much as if the Betty Ford Clinic's security staff had gone on strike and the streets were suddenly inundated by free-range substance abusers on holiday." pg. 87-88

Friday, February 6, 2009


Brisingr by Christopher Paolini was originally published in 2008. My hardcover copy has 748 pages, not including the notes at the back. Let me be honest, this was a struggle to finish. I would have set it aside long before finishing it but I felt I had something invested in reading the series after reading the first two books, Eragon and Eldest. Part of my struggles with Brisingr early on is basically the fact that Paolini's fallen back on magic curing everything. Wounded? Fix it like new! Problems in battle? Let's think up a spell! If characters are truly hurt, wounded, struggling to overcome some huge malevolent foe, it makes for a richer novel, in my opinion. I also grew weary of all the characters having the same voice. My favorite line in a review of Brisingr at Amazon summed it up nicely when he wrote, "Also, are we gonna SEE Galbatorix before this series ends? There is an evil EMPEROR in this evil empire, correct?"

Paolini is a young writer and since he was homeschooled, I wish him the best. I can't help but think his best is maybe yet to come. The first two books were good. This one is hugely bloated. I don't know if Paolini got carried away thinking about some of his own PR or if the publisher was thinking of profits, but someone should have told him to edit it all down and stick with the original idea of a trilogy. Now, this is just my opinion as an old woman who is NOT part of the target audience for his books. And I'm not really interested in fantasy sci fi or dragon books in general. If you are a rabid fan, you'll hate this review and read it anyway. If you've managed to hold off on reading the first two books, my advice would be to wait and see if the fourth is really the end to the series. No rating.


"Eragon stared at the dark tower of stone wherein hid the monsters who had murdered his uncle, Garrow." first sentence

"The smell now, with both Lethrblaka present, resembled the sort of overpowering stench one would get from tossing a half-dozen pounds of rancid meat into a barrel of sewage and allowing the mixture to ferment for a week in summer." pg. 42