Sunday, May 31, 2009

Handle with Care

Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Atria, a division of Simon & Schuster
March 2009
Hardcover - 453 pages
contemporary literature
ISBN-13: 9780743296410
Very Highly recommended

Synopsis from the Cover:
Every expectant parent will tell you that they don't want a perfect baby, just a healthy one. Charlotte and Sean O'Keefe would have asked for a healthy baby, too, if they'd been given the choice. Instead, their lives are made up of sleepless nights, mounting bills, the pitying stares of "luckier" parents, and maybe worst of all, the what-ifs. What if their child had been born healthy? But it's all worth it because Willow is, well, funny as it seems, perfect. She's smart as a whip, on her way to being as pretty as her mother, kind, brave, and for a five-year-old an unexpectedly deep source of wisdom. Willow is Willow, in sickness and in health.
Everything changes, though, after a series of events forces Charlotte and her husband to confront the most serious what-ifs of all. What if Charlotte should have known earlier of Willow's illness? What if things could have been different? What if their beloved Willow had never been born? To do Willow justice, Charlotte must ask herself these questions and one more. What constitutes a valuable life?

Emotionally riveting and profoundly moving, Handle with Care brings us into the heart of a family bound by an incredible burden, a desperate will to keep their ties from breaking, and, ultimately, a powerful capacity for love. Written with the grace and wisdom she's become famous for, beloved #1 New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult offers us an unforgettable novel about the fragility of life and the lengths we will go to protect it.

The O'Keefe's were just an average blended family until they have a daughter, Willow, who has an extraordinary disease, OI, or osteogenesis imperfecta - brittle bone disease. The chapters in Handle with Care are all from the point of view of several different characters in the novel: Charlotte, Willow's mother; Sean, Willow's father; Amelia, her sister; Marin, an attorney; Piper, a doctor and friend. There are also several recipes scattered throughout the book, from Charlotte, a former pastry chef, that include more than just instructions. I found this technique of alternating between character's voices, which Picoult has used before, to be very effective. Jodi Picoult is extremely good at what she does best, looking at the gray areas found within current social issues in her novels, and I can't help but think some reviewers are trying to punish her for this fact. I didn't find Handle with Care to be formulaic. Yes, I could tell Picoult wrote it, but that's a complement and a homage to her skill. No spoilers about the ending but to those who complained about it, I found it very believable. I think Handle with Care, like most of Picoult's novels, would make for a great book group discussion.
Very Highly recommended


Things break all the time. Glass, and dishes, and fingernails. Cars and contracts and potato chips. You can break a record, a horse, a dollar. You can break the ice. There are coffee breaks and lunch breaks and prison breaks. Day breaks, waves break, voices break. Chains can be broken. So can silence, and fever.
For the last two months of my pregnancy, I made lists of these things, in the hopes that it would make your birth easier.
Promises break.
Hearts break. opening

I gave birth shortly after three, but I didn't see you again until it was eight p.m. Every half hour, Sean left to get an update: She's being X-rayed. They're drawing blood. They think her ankle might be broken, too. And then, at six o'clock, he brought the best news of all: Type III, he said. She's got seven healing fractures and four new ones, but she's breathing fine. I lay in the hospital bed, smiling uncontrollably, certain that I was the only mother in the birthing center who had ever been delighted with news like this.
For two months now, we had known that you'd be born with OI — osteogenesis imperfecta, two letters of the alphabet that would become second nature. It was a collagen defect that caused bones so brittle they might break with a stumble, a twist, a sneeze. There were several types — but only two presented with fractures in utero, like we'd seen on my ultrasound. And yet the radiologist could still not conclusively say whether you had Type II, which was fatal at birth, or Type III, which was severe and progressively deforming. Now I knew that you might have hundreds more breaks over the years, but it hardly mattered: you would have a lifetime in which to sustain them. pg. 6

When she didn't answer, I walked to the other side of the bassinet, so that you were caught between us like a secret. "Is this what the rest of my life is going to be like?"
For a long time, Piper didn't respond. We listened to the symphony of whirs and beeps that surrounded you. I watched you startle, your tiny toes curling up, your arms open wide. "Not the rest of your life," Piper said. "Willow's."
Later that day, with Piper's words ringing in my ears, I signed the do not resuscitate order. It was a plea for mercy in black and white, until you read between the lines: here was the first time I lied, and said that I wished you'd never been born. pg. 10-11

People ask all the time how I'm doing, but the truth is, they don't really want to know. They look at your casts....They smile at me....but the whole time they are thinking, Thank God. Thank God it was her, instead of me. pg. 36

Pick ten strangers and stick them in a room, and ask them which one of us they feel sorrier for - you or me - and we all know who they'll choose. It's kind of hard to look past your casts; and the fact that you're the size of a two-year-old, even though you're five; and the funny twitch of your hips when you're healthy enough to walk." pg. 18

Everything that had ever been good and kind in me, everything people imagined me to be, had been poisoned by the part of me that had wished, in the darkest crack of the night, that I could have a different family. The real me was a disgusting person who imagined a life where you had never been born. pg. 26

My heart had turned into a ball of rubber bands, and they were snapping, one by one. pg. 228

Dr. Rosenblad had given us a note years ago that should have served as a Get Out of Jail Free card, because lots of parents with OI kids are accused of child abuse when the case history isn't known - and Charlotte's always carried it around in the minivan, just in case. But today, with everything we had to remember to pack for the trip, the letter was forgotten, and what we got instead was a trip to the police station for interrogation. pg. 28

"Would you be willing to release your medical records to us? We'll have to do some research on whether or not you have a cause of action-"
"I thought we didn't have a lawsuit," I said.
"You might, Officer O'Keefe.....Just not the one you thought." pg. 47

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lucky to be alive

Hipee is lucky to be alive. Really, it was miraculous that she managed to reach the ripe old age of six. You know when people say that God must have kept someone around for a reason because they survived some tragic accident? God must have dispatched a whole battalion of Angels to protect Hipee so she could become the high powered executive she is today.

Three memorable brushes with disaster come quickly to mind. These don’t even take into account the numerous times as a young child that Hipee, taking any available opportunity to go exploring, just wandered off. She was one of those kids that should have been kept on a leash, a short leash… with a bell. I’m not even including the time she crashed through a glass door.

The first accident occurred when Hipee was a toddler, probably 1 or 2 so I was around 3 or 4. I had a dollhouse that was made out of metal. While I can’t remember any sort of jagged edges on it, Hipee managed to trip over it and sliced open her leg. She was rushed off to the hospital for stitches. My dollhouse was thrown out. Our mother still calls it “that stupid tin doll house.” Hipee has a smiley face scar today that marks the place she had stitches. I had a homeless dollhouse family.

The second disaster was when Hipee decided to pretend she was driving. As she sat in the car parked on the sloping driveway the silly girl managed to put the car in neutral so it started rolling down the driveway. Hipee, knowing that riding in a moving car under her control was not a good thing, decided to pull a James Bond. She jumped out of the moving car, onto the driveway, right under the tire, which proceeded to roll over her. Yes, Hipee managed to run over herself in our driveway. She was rushed off to the hospital and survived to live another day.

The third event was equally bad. We were playing hide and seek. Hide and seek was more like a competitive sport at my house and you had to come up with good, inventive spots in order to stand even a small chance of winning. Hipee went and climbed into an old refrigerator. Today we all know exactly why they tell you to take the doors off them or tie them shut. At that time my parents felt that repeatedly telling us to stay away from it until they got rid of it was sufficient. The warning worked for Ed and me, but not for Hipee, who decided that it was the perfect hiding spot. She is lucky we heard her banging on the door to let her out. I would imagine some Angels were helping her pound so we could hear. At least Angels probably have a heavenly retirement program with perfect benefits.

Readers may have noticed a decided focus on stories involving my sister, Hipee this month. There is a reason for this. It’s the birthday weekend we’ve all been waiting for:

Happy Birthday, Hipee!

Don’t work those Angels watching over you too hard! We need to keep all of you high powered executives in the world today!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Geek Love

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
Warner Books, 1990 edition
(my edition is not the edition pictured)
trade paperback - 355 pages
contemporary literature
ISBN-13: 9780446391306
Very Highly Recommended

Description from the back cover::
Geek Love is the story of a carnival family, the Binewskis, who save their traveling "Carnival Fabulon" from bankruptcy by giving birth to fabulous freaks - the children born to Lil Binewski after she ingests drugs, insecticides, arsenic, radioisotopes, anything to make her babies more "special." The result is a world readers have never entered before, a place of horror and humor, where vengeance and love are realized in unimaginable ways. And where some unforgettable "Ripley's Believe It or Not" characters are both exotically unique - and hauntingly, chillingly, just like us.
I never would have picked up this book if not for book bloggers. The title alone would have made me pass it by, thinking it was a love story featuring computer geeks. It's not a love story. This is really a disturbing, twisted, revolting, horror story about sibling rivalry, a freak show, cults, and family bonds. This is a world where being a "norm" is a bad thing. Think of the original usage of "geek" as in circus geeks. The narrator of Geek Love is Olympia Binewski, or Oly, a bald, albino, hunchbacked dwarf. She and her siblings were all bred by their parents, Art and Lily, to be oddities. Arturo the Aquaboy, who has flippers for limbs and performs swimming inside a tank, soon learns how to manipulate his audience. Electra and Iphigenia, or Elly and Iphy, the Siamese twins are accomplished pianists. Fortunato, nicknamed Chick, appears normal, but has a mysterious gift. Oly's story about her family slowly unfolds in two time frames, some chapters tell the reader what happened in the past and some are "notes for now" about the present.

Geek Love is very likely a love it/hate it book. It can be disgusting. There are a few problems late in the book with the plot and the writing isn't always exemplary, but, basically if you've made it far enough into Geek Love to notice the problems, you don't care. You will finish the book. When a writer can introduce you to a dark, shocking story and completely immerse you in the tale, then it's a successful novel.
Very Highly Recommended - but not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach


"When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets," Papa would say, "she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing. 'Spread your lips, sweet Lil,' they'd cluck, 'and show us your choppers!' " opening

"Al was a standard-issue Yankee, set on self-determination and independence, but in that crisis his core of genius revealed itself. He decided to bred his own freak show." pg. 7

"It was this passion that made her an eager partner in Al's scheme. She was willing to chip in on any effort to renew public interest in the show. Then, too, the idea of inherited security was ingrained from her childhood. As she often said, 'What greater gift could you offer your children than an inherent ability to earn a living just by being themselves?' " pg. 7

"It was a disappointment when I emerged with such commonplace deformities. My albinism is the regular pink-eyed variety and my hump, although pronounced, is not remarkable in size or shape as humps go. My situation was far too humdrum to be marketable on the same scale as my brother's and sisters'. Still, my parents noted that I had a strong voice and decided that I might be an appropriate shill and talker for the business. A bald albino hunchback seemed the right enticement toward the esoteric talents of the rest of the family. The dwarfism, which was very apparent by my third birthday, came as a pleasant surprise to the patient pair and increased my value. pg. 8

"I'm never sure how deaf she is. She always hears the ring of the pay phone in the hall but she may pick up its vibration in her slippered heels. She is also blind. Her thick, pink glasses project huge filmy eyes." pg. 11

"Lily chose to forget me and I choose not to remind her, but I am terrified of seeing shame or disgust in my daughter's face. It would kill me. So I stalk and tend them both secretly, like a midnight gardener." pg. 13

"Those poor hoptoads behind me are silent. I've conquered them. They thought to use and shame me but I win out by nature, because a true freak cannot be made. A true freak must be born." pg. 20

" 'One of my teachers says I draw like a mass murderer. I hate that ditsy crap, though. Inchy little lines like the hesitation cuts on a suicide's wrist.' " pg. 25

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

random thoughts

I am reading, I'm right in the middle of Geek Love, but I'm also watching X-Files (we're on season 5) in the evenings with my college aged kids. When summer school starts next week my reading will pick up again.

Lisa had a great post this week:
7 Ways To Make Sure No One Reads Your Blog Posts
Be sure to read all the comments too.

Question: Why do you subscribe to blogs or be a follower?
Along the same lines, why do people require you to be a follower of their blog for extra entries in various give-aways? I follow, all on my own, in my favorites, many, many blogs. If I have the time I'll check them. If I'm busy, I don't. I follow my (small number) of followers. I'm happy with my system. I don't need extra email and don't mind the extra time it might take to check out the blogs on my favorites list. Sometimes I feel people are trying to "coerce" me into officially following them. To be honest, this makes me feel stubborn and I always briefly consider not reading their blogs again.

Hipee and kindergarten

Hipee’s formal education got off to a rocky start. Notes came home from the teacher on a regular basis. Hipee (my sister, the high powered executive) was having kindergarten issues. We all knew it. This was not because she was misbehaving or not ready to start school, but because she was too sociable.

Back in the 60’s in the towns we were living in at that time they had a daily naptime during the half-day Kindergarten classes. I don’t even think they do this anymore during all day Kindergarten and I completely understand where this could be difficult for some children. My son, Wonder Boy, would have flunked naptime as a baby if he were being graded. Not all children need a vast amount of rest time; however, the norm was a quiet time, a naptime during morning or afternoon kindergarten. Perhaps this was more for the benefit of the teachers rather than the students. Anyway, while many children were able to lie there quietly for the required time period, Hipee was simply not equipped for a personal challenge of this magnitude.

Hipee was a chatty, friendly, active child. To require that she quietly lay down on a rug, even if she was not tired, was too great a feat. Even though she put her naptime rug down next to a neighborhood friend, the rule was no talking. She had to talk. Talking is in Hipee’s blood. Singing is in Hipee’s blood. Moving is in Hipee’s blood. Kindergarten naptime was a soul zapping experience. The notes from the teacher flew home with the constant mantra: “Hipee is talking to [the neighborhood friend] during naptime.”

To top that off, after her morning of being restricted and restrained, Hipee often felt that post-kindergarten time was her social time. Instead of walking home, off she would go, home with another student, to visit their family. The trouble was that often her friends of choice were two little Cuban girls whose parents didn’t speak English. While she was perfectly safe there, Mom didn’t know where she was and the parents had no way to figure out exactly who was their friendly little guest. More than once Mom was frantically trying to find Hipee after kindergarten. It reached a point where the Cuban families would be patiently waiting, expecting Mom to eventually figure out she had lost a child there… again.

All in all, it is probably for the best that we moved the summer after Hipee’s kindergarten year. This was also the summer of the flood. I’m not sure there is a connection. Some small note may have made it into her permanent records that were sent on to our new school in another city, but the teacher would not be able to verbally pass along the complete reality of her reputation. Of course first grade meant a whole day of school, which to a social butterfly like Hipee was probably a wondrous turn of events.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Out Stealing Horses

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, Anne Born (Translator)
Graywolf Press, St. Paul, MN
original copyright 2003; translation 2005
Hardcover - 258 pages
contemporary literature, Norwegian
Very Highly Recommended - one of the best

Synopsis from the publisher:
Out Stealing Horses has been embraced across the world as a classic, a novel of universal relevance and power. Panoramic and gripping, it tells the story of Trond Sander, a sixty-seven-year-old man who has moved from the city to a remote, riverside cabin, only to have all the turbulence, grief, and overwhelming beauty of his youth come back to him one night while he's out on a walk. From the moment Trond sees a strange figure coming out of the dark behind his home, the reader is immersed in a decades-deep story of searching and loss, and in the precise, irresistible prose of a newly crowned master of fiction.
Out Stealing Horses has won the 2007 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and the Norwegian Booksellers' Prize.

Out Stealing Horses finds 67 year old Trond Sander living a solitary existence. In part this is due to his own yearning to be alone but it is also his way of dealing with some recent grief. An encounter with a neighbor triggers a series of memories and reflections, most of them from the summer when he was fifteen. Out Stealing Horses is not about stealing horses but, rather, it's about how in life you choose what will hurt you. Petterson has achingly, stunningly beautiful writing. So many passages were simply exquisite. I loved this book.
Very Highly Recommended - one of the very best


"Early November. It's nine o'clock. The titmice are banging against the window. Sometimes they fly dizzily off after the impact, other times they fall and lie struggling in the new snow until they can take off again. I don't know what they want that I have." opening

"All my life I have longed to be alone in a place like this. Even when everything was going well, as it often did. I can say that much. That it often did. I have been lucky. But even then, for instance in the middle of an embrace and someone whispering words in my ear I wanted to hear, I could suddenly get a longing to be in a place where there was only silence. Years might go by and I did not think about it, but that does not mean that I did not long to be there. And now I am here, and it is almost exactly as I had imagined it." pg. 7

I want to use the time it takes. Time is important to me now, I tell myself. Not that it should pass quickly or slowly, but be only time, be something I live inside and fill with physical things and activities that I can divide it up by, so that it grows distinct to me and does not vanish when I am not looking. pg. 8

I have grown accustomed to the dark. I cannot remember ever being afraid of it, but I must have been, and now it feels natural and safe and transparent - no matter how much in fact is hidden there, though that means nothing. Nothing can challenge the lightness and freedom of the body; height unconfined, distance unlimited, for these are not the properties of darkness. It is only an immeasurable space to move about inside. pg. 10

" 'You decide for yourself when it will hurt,' he said, suddenly getting serious." pg. 30

"My father could not have told me all this, not with all the details; but that is the way it is printed in my memory, and I do not know whether I began filling out this painting at once or if it is something I have done over the years." pg. 49

"People like it when you tell them things, in suitable portions, in a modest, intimate tone, and they think they know you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are facts, not feelings, not what your opinion is about anything at all, not how what has happened to you and how all the decisions you have made have turned you into who you are. What they do is they fill in with their own feelings and opinions and assumptions, and they compose a new life which has precious little to do with yours, and that lets you off the hook. No-one can touch you unless you yourself want them to." pg. 73 *

"Outside the blue hour has arrived." pg. 99

"And when someone says the past is a foreign country, that they do things differently there, then I have probably felt that way for most of my life because I have been obliged to, but I am not any more. If I just concentrate I can walk into memory's store and find the right shelf with the right film and disappeared into it ...." pg. 231

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Sense of Fashion

Several years ago I found the best birthday card for Hipee. It was almost as if I commissioned a custom card. The front said something like, “Do you remember how you used to dress as a child?” Then inside, “You can stop it now.”

As a child Hipee had zero fashion sense, maybe even less than that. Yes, most children don’t carefully plan their wardrobes for the day, but for Hipee it was almost as if she tried to find the worst combinations possible. Although we all know that I will tell tales out of school (diary entry) this is not the case now. If you knew her, she would freely admit that it was true. If you met her today you would find it hard to believe. She’s currently a well-polished professional with a real flair for fashion. She’s a very classy woman who always looks put together. You would think she was joking or exaggerating if she mentioned her quizzical fashion choices as a child. Let me let you in on the sad truth: she’s not kidding. Hipee was a fashion disaster. If they had had a What Not to Wear for kids way back then, we all would have nominated her.

I wish I had pictures to document the full scope of her fashion foibles. Alas, we were in a devastating flood that filled up the basement of our house and ruined most of our early family photos. We have a few, damaged prints left from her early years. To top it off, she was the third child, and, well, no matter how cute she may have been there were far fewer pictures of her to begin with.

After losing vast numbers of photos to the flood, Dad decided to have all the family pictures from that point on made directly into slides. This means that if we want to see photos from several years of our childhood we have to set up a slide show. Although there are some great shots, they are all faded and not easily accessible. Our younger sister Whiy is always eating in the pictures. Always. There is a great one where ED, a Boy Scout, got a hatchet for Christmas. It shows him in mid-yell wearing thermal underwear with his new hatchet raised high in the air. (I may have to look into getting my hands on that and see if I can enlarge it as a photo for a memorable Christmas gift.) But, for all of Dad’s good intentions, the faded slides really never captured Hipee’s peculiar style of dress.

I do have a photocopy of an old water damaged black and white photograph. It shows ED, Hipee, and me standing between our Dad and Uncle. They are holding up fish. (A whole new story could be entitled “Us, Holding up or Posing by Dead Things.” Dad was an avid outdoorsman and hunted and fished. We ate what he caught. We also posed for pictures by many dead things.) In this particular photo ED is holding up fish. I’m taking a pose with my stomach sticking out. Hipee is a skinny little thing in shorts and a shirt. The shirt is unbuttoned and wide open, flapping in the breeze. It looks like she was holding up her shorts and having trouble standing still. She may have needed to find a restroom.

Old pictures of half dressed kids aren’t rare. What I vividly recall is that it was the colors and separates which Hipee chose to combine that reflected the worse choices available. You can’t capture that in a black and white photo. In my mind’s eye I can picture her in the early 70’s wearing bright purple silky polyester gaucho pants that had this wild trim on them. (FYI Hipee: gauchos are back in style!) She made them in junior high home ec. I believe she liked a green shirt with them, but it’s hard to say. It would have been anything that contrasted. Orange would be a good selection too – go to your color wheel and think contrasting colors. That was Hipee’s color palette.

The summer of the swimsuit solved all her fashion problems. Yes, Hipee spent a whole summer wearing a swimsuit every day. Every. Blessed. Day. Usually it was this 2 piece red number that featured red and black checks on it. I don’t remember what she wore when this was being washed. Perhaps she never had it washed. Her summer of the swimsuit is a well-known documented fact in our family. We can date events by it. “Oh, I think that happened the summer of the swim suit.”

In addition to her poor fashion choices, Hipee and I were also forced to wear matching clothes on occasion. I can not express how much I disliked this, but as the oldest sister, I actually came off in good shape. We both received a matching outfit; I out grew it and passed it along to Hipee. Hipee had to out grow her outfit and grow into my hand-me-downs. But Whiy, Whiy had it worst of all. She had identical hand-me-downs from Hipee and me.

Two particular matching outfits come to mind. Our grandmother made these matching outfits for us. The first was this sleeveless dress, a simple A-line, with a ruffle at the hem. It was a blue and green abstract pattern. I actually liked this dress when I wore it. I grew to dislike it as Hipee wore it for years and years, first hers and then my old one. She was a skinny little thing and it took her forever to grow out of anything. She even extended the life of my old dress by wearing it as a shirt with shorts under it. She prolonged the life of that dress, which was originally made for a young child, by wearing it well into her early teens.

Hipee loved the second set of matching outfits I was glad to out grow. They were these little shorts and shirts with a Popsicle print on them. Sounds cute, right? Sounds cute until you live through years of your sister saying “You want a [grape or orange or cherry or lime] Popsicle?” and then grabbing at one on either her outfit or yours and pretending to lick it. Cute, sweet, funny, until you’ve been through it for ten million imaginary Popsicle grabs and tastes. Then it becomes annoying. Very annoying.

I think our parents were secretly worried that their third child was destined to become a bag lady, or at the very least one of those adult women that you meet from time to time who have no idea that the impression their clothing choices are leaving with people is not good. The whole family was thrilled that Hipee eventually outgrew her clothing issues. Since this miracle would have occurred sometime in the 70’s (not a good decade for fashion by most standards) it’s hard to pin point the exact moment she saw the light, but, rest assured, that light was bright enough to signal the end of disco – or an alien abduction.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Blooding

The Blooding by Joseph Wambaugh
William Morrow and Company, Inc; Perigord Press, 1989
hardcover - 288 pages.
nonfiction; true crime
very highly recommended

From Publishers Weekly
In this latest venture into true crime, Wambaugh ( The Onion Field ; Echoes in the Darkness ) triumphs again. Here he turns to Leicestershire, England, and the slayings of two teenagers, Lynda Mann in 1983, and Dawn Ashworth three years later, killings that were eventually solved through scientist Alec Jeffreys's discovery of "genetic fingerprinting." This discovery was made, ironically, at Leicester University, close to the scene of the crimes, and the technique may revolutionize detection. Wambaugh, ever a master of plotting, first leads readers into suspecting the wrong man and then switches to the actual murderer and the taking of thousands of blood samples in one of the more bizarre investigations ever conducted. Genetic fingerprinting was determined to be foolproof, and the real culprit, Colin Pitchfork, was identified without question. As Wambaugh's fans have come to expect, this is an eminently readable and most impressive book. Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Michelle Kerns at the Book Examiner
recommended The Blooding in her article 20 best non-fiction books for people who think they hate to read non-fiction I remembered reading it years ago but decided to read it again. In The Blooding, Joseph Wambaugh covers the first serial killer who was caught and convicted through the use of DNA testing. Even though it is nonfiction, The Blooding reads like a good fiction novel. Wambaugh does not spend much time dwelling on the scientific discovery. Instead he skillfully presents the interwoven stories of the victims, their families, the murderer, the scientific discovery of DNA testing, and the policemen who were involved in the hunt for the Narborough Village murderer. Very Highly Recommended.


"They say that in remote little English villages a newcomer can be accepted by the locals provided he buys property, pays his bills, and stays in continuous residence for about ninety-five year." opening sentence

"But there's no debate that it's in a village pub that an outsider can often come closest to monitoring the local pulse. It was in the village pubs that reporters would meet to seek gossip and tittle-tattle during the time of the Narborough Murder Enquiry. And it was in a pub that a casual comment would lead toward the solution of a case destined to become a landmark in the annals of crime detection." pg. 16

"But until November of 1983 there had never even been a murder inquiry in the villages of Narborough, Enderby, and Littlethorpe." pg. 33

"There would always be a "but" with a man like Derek Pearce. Some of the adjectives preceding his name were: immature, talented, abrasive, ruthless, charming, insensitive, generous. But everyone called him complex. A driven perfectionist, he expected everyone to do the job as well as he would." pg. 34-35

"And Dr. Alec Jeffreys knew he was looking at huge numbers of genetic markers that showed both an astonishing level of variability and an amazing degree of individual specificity." pg. 74

"A name for the technology had to be chosen. The bold and logical choice was 'genetic fingerprinting.' " pg. 74-75

"Parents of murdered children quickly learn that all they have for barter and trade is a bit of solace." pg. 138

Monday, May 18, 2009

Cemetery Dance

Cemetery Dance by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Grand Central Publishing, May 12, 2009
Hardcover: 435 pages
Very highly Recommended - especially for fans

From inside cover (resembles a torn out newspaper article):
William Smithback Jr., a prominent New York Times reporter, was killed in a brutal attack last night in his Upper West Side apartment. His wife, Nora Kelly, an archaeologist at the Museum of Natural History, was injured as well. Multiple eyewitnesses identified the assailant as a neighbor in the building, Colin Fearing: a man who by all reports, was dead and buried ten days ago. There are reports that FBI Special Agent Pendergast has taken an interest in the case, but no further...

Faithful fans of Preston and Child will not be disappointed - after they recover from the shock of Bill Smithback being murdered right away. This is no spoiler either since it's widely publicized, they have the synopsis written as if it were a Times newspaper article about the murder, and it happens well before my self imposed no- information-or-quotes-beyond-approximately-page-50-that-would- be-spoilers rule. While I can see where some fans would long for plots that more closely resemble earlier Preston and Child books, this was a welcome addition to the Pendergast books. I thought it was better than their last book, Wheel of Darkness. Since I've been a faithful reader of their books for years, I'm not sure any review I would write would be without prejudice. I'm a fan. I know all the characters and plots from all their books and I like everything Preston and Child have written, together and separately.
Very Highly Recommended - especially for fans


" 'Can you believe it, Bill? I still can't. They told me almost twelve hours ago and still I can't believe it.' " opening sentence

"The last of the SOC team came out of the apartment and logged out, leaving D'Agosta alone with his thoughts. He stood for a minute in the empty hallway, trying to settle his frayed nerves. Then he snapped on a pair of latex gloves, pulled the hairnet close around his balding pate, and moved toward the open door. He felt faintly sick. The body had been moved, of course, but nothing else had been touched." pg. 9

"Then there was the bizarre [stuff] the killer left behind. A mashed-up bundle of feathers, tied with green twine. A piece of a garment covered with gaudy sequins. A tiny parchment bag of dust with a weird design on the outside. The killer had floated them in the lake of blood, like offerings. The SOC boys had taken them away, of course, but they were still fixed in his mind." pg. 10

" 'My dear Vincent, in an already puzzling case, there is one thing about that tape that strikes me as especially baffling. Did you notice what he does when he enters the lobby for the first time, on his way in?'
'Yeah, what?'
'He glances at the camera.'
'He knew it was there. He lived in the building.'
'Precisely,' And the FBI agent lapsed once more into contemplative silence." pg. 18

"The fog of painkillers was gone, and when she realized sleep would not return she lay very still, trying to hold back the tide of horror and sorrow threatening to overwhelm her. The world was cruel and capricious, and the very act of drawing breath seemed pointless." pg. 24

"By the time the door finally opened and they were ushered into the elegant office, D'Agosta was spoiling for a fight. And as soon as he saw the arrogant, annoyed face of the assistant medical examiner, he knew he was going to get his wish." pg. 37

" 'I do not know why it is, Vincent, but there are certain people in positions of power who take pleasure in obstructing others. I'm afraid I take an equally base pleasure in dislodging them. A bad habit, I know, but it is so hard at my age to rid oneself of the minor vices.' " pg. 42

"...entered the barn through the side door and treaded softly in the vast space..." pg. 389

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Facts of Life

No, not those facts. It’s a custom in our family to not really speak about those facts. Mom took Hipee and me to a beautiful, sensitive movie - just for mothers and daughters. It was bad enough that we had to learn about such personal things in a public forum, but to attend a beautiful, sensitive movie with your mother and sister was in and of itself enough to guarantee that you weren’t going to really be paying attention to the movie as much as horrified that your own mother was tearing up and thought attending this beautiful, sensitive movie was a great idea, as well as a great way to spend a Saturday. We might have received a beautiful and sensitive pamphlet to go along with the movie. In reality, I learned about those facts years before from an older friend. She learned from her parents and immediately ran over to tell me. I was 7. She was 8. We hid by the side of the garage and she told me everything. I wasn’t sure I believed her, but I carefully took it all under advisement.

I have no idea what Hipee thought about the movie, but Hipee was a strange one. She probably thought it was beautiful and sensitive. She was ready for those mysteries of womanhood. She wanted to wear a bra. She wanted to wear a bra long before there was even a slight hint that she may need to wear one sometime in the future. I was forced to go out and get one. I think Hipee came along on that bra buying trip for fun and begged for one too, the little freak.

But, no, that’s not what I was going to tell you. This facts of life story happened years before the beautiful and sensitive movie. This is in the bad behavior file – and it was ED’s idea. We were probably around 9 and 7. This was during the same time as the black widow story.

ED happened to have a friend over at the same time I had a friend over to play. What brought us together, I would imagine, is that both groups probably wanted to play in the clubhouse, or shed. It wasn’t really a sharing kind of thing. Then ED had this idea. He and my friend would go into the clubhouse and show each other theirs after his friend and I would go in and show each other ours, if you get my drift. It wasn’t really what I had in mind for the afternoon. I knew it was wrong, and I knew it could mean big trouble.

As I’ve mentioned before, ED was a big boy, even when young, and he could be a bully. But ED didn’t scare me because I could manipulate the stuffing out of him and the situation, a skill that has stood me well for years. He might have me beaten in any contest of physical strength, but mentally we were at least an even match, although I would argue that I had a slight advantage; I was quiet and ED never knew what I was thinking. One way to manipulate ED was to allow him to think you were following his directives, but then to do what you wanted to do. When his friend and I went into the clubhouse, I set the rules right after the door closed. There would be no showing anybody anything, thank you very much. That was wrong. We would, instead, pound the walls of the shed and stomp on the floor for a little bit. Then we would exit.

The facts of life session went exactly as I had planned with one little glitch. Either Mom looked out the window, saw ED’s friend and me entering the shed, and realized that something wasn’t quite right, or Hipee went in to tattle. In any event, it resulted in Mom running out of the house yelling at all of us, but mostly ED.

Here ED thought he was going to get a little grade school anatomy lesson that day, but as the oldest with three younger sisters he would have been better off watching Mom change Whiy’s diaper. Instead he learned some different facts of life concerning women: Moms see and know much more than you realize and sisters, no matter what their age, are unpredictable and uncontrollable.

Note: If I shared this story with my mother, she would be very concerned that it put our family in a bad light and might make people think poorly of us. All in all, I think kids have been playing that kind of show and tell for years and our adventure was pretty tame compared to others as nothing was shown.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

One Second After

One Second After by William R. Forstchen
Forge books; Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
March 2009
hardcover - 350 pages
Very Highly Recommended

Synopsis from cover:
New York Times best selling author William R. Forstchen tells a story that might be all too terrifyingly real. A story in which one man struggles to save his family and his small North Carolina town after America loses a war that sends our nation back to the Dark Ages.
A war lost because of a terrifying weapon, an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP). And it may already be in the hands of our enemies.
Months before publication, One Second After has already been cited on the floor of Congress as a book all Americans should read, a book already being discussed in the corridors of the Pentagon as a realistic look at EMPs and their awesome ability to send catastrophic shockwaves throughout the United States, literally within seconds. It is a weapon that the Wall Street Journal warned could shatter our nation. In the tradition of On the Beach, Fail Safe, and Testament, this book, set in a typical American town, is a dire warning of what might be our future...and our end.

One Second After is a post apocalyptic novel that can be favorably compared to Alas, Babylon and On the Beach, only the story is updated to show just a small portion of what would happen to society if the nuclear explosions were calibrated to set off EMPs, a very real threat. Although Forstchen isn't, perhaps, a gifted writer, it is very easy to overlook any shortcomings in that area once you and the characters begin to understand the reality of what has happened. The story starts out rather slow and uninteresting - just an ordinary day in the life of Professor John Matherson, a retired Colonel living in Black Mountain, North Carolina. When the EMP hits, it's really a non-event until people begin to realize what has happened. There are some emotional moments in One Second After, as well as some horrific scenes, but I found it all very realistic, if not even a bit tame compared to what would really happen if our whole infrastructure failed. The lack of medications that we take for granted alone would potentially bring about horrific results. Think about it... do you know people on high blood pressure medicine, insulin, heart medication, and anti-depressants?

William R. Forstchen is a professor at Montreat College who specializes in military history and military technology. In One Second After, he examines what could potentially happen in his own community if there was an EMP strike. Newt Gingrich wrote the introduction to One Second After and Captain Bill Sanders, U.S. Navy, wrote the afterword.

Edited to add: Both my husband and son have now read One Second After and enjoyed it very much.

Very Highly Recommended - one of the best


Acknowledgments: "...I hope this book never comes true. The threat is real, frightfully real, made even more frightening when you take the time to study it, question the experts, and have a sense of history. The moment of a fall from greatness often comes just when a people and a nation feel most secure. The cry 'the barbarians are at the gates' too often comes as a terrifying bolt out of the blue, which is often the last cry ever heard." pg. 8

Newt Gingrich: "In short form here, when an atomic bomb is detonated above the earth's atmosphere, it can generate a 'pulse wave,' which travels at the speed of light, and will short-circuit every electronic device that the 'wave' touches on the earth's surface." pg. 11

Newt Gingrich: "Few in our government and in the public sector have openly confronted the threat offered by the use of but one nuclear weapon, in the hands of a determined enemy, who calibrates it to trigger a massive EMP burst. Such an event would destroy our complex, delicate high tech society in an instant and throw all of our lives back to an existence equal to that of the Middle Ages." pg. 12

John paused and looked back down the street for a moment.
I'm living in a damn Norman Rockwell painting, he thought yet again, for the thousandth time. pg. 18

" 'Sweetie, I think you better check your blood sugar; you seemed a bit winded coming up the hill,' John finally said, and his words came out heavily, breaking the moment.
'Yes, Daddy.'
Jennifer leaned against the wall, took off her backpack and pulled out the blood-sugar test monitor. It was one of the new digital readout models. No more finger pricking, just a quick jab to the arm." pg. 25

" 'Look, John, something's up. Got a problem here. I gotta—'
The phone went dead.
At that same instant, the ceiling fan began to slowly wind down, the stereo in Jennifer's room shut down, and looking over to his side alcove office he saw the computer screen saver disappear, the green light of the on button on the nineteen- inch monitor disappearing. There was a chirping beep, the signal that the home security and .re alarm system was off- line; then that went silent as well." pg. 30

"'s weird down there. No traffic jam, just cars stopped all over the place." pg. 34

"Something had gone wrong, what, he still wasn't sure, but there were too many anomalies, with the power off, the cars stalled, except for the Edsel, no planes...Something was wrong." pg. 42

"Unlike the vast majority of men who had made careers in the army, he had never adjusted to early morning rising and hated all those who could do it, especially the cheerful ones. His instinct was to be a night owl, to go to sleep around two or three, then wake up at nine or ten for his first lecture at eleven." pg. 52

" 'So why didn't we just protect ourselves?'...
'Kate, it's some rather technical stuff, but it meant retrofitting a lot of stuff, hundreds of billions perhaps, to do all of it. And besides, a lot of people in high places, well, they just glaze over when scientists started with the technical jargon, the reports would go to committees, and..'
'And now we got this,' Charlie said coldly...
"Global warming, sure, spend hundreds of billions on what might have been a threat, though a lot say it wasn't. This, though, it didn't have the hype, no big stars or politicians running around shouting about it..." pg. 66-67

"We are as isolated now as someone in Europe seven hundred years ago and there is a rumor, just a rumor, that the Tartars are coming or there is plague in the next village." pg. 191

Captain Bill Sanders: "Unlike a lightening strike, an EMP explosion is both much faster in producing damaging power surges and much broader and far-reaching in causing simultaneous burnout and failure of electrical and electronic systems over a large area. A well-designed nuclear weapon detonated at a high altitude over Kansas could have damaging effects over virtually the entire continental United States. Our technologically oriented society and its heavy dependence on advanced electronics systems could be brought to its knees with cascading failures of our critical infrastructure." pg. 348

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Playing Library

Hipee wrote a note recalling her pink cash register:
“I do remember my pink cash register and the noises that accompanied each ring. I guess I just felt that the cash register did not have enough UMPH with each ring thus ‘my personalized ring’ was born... Oh how I loved my pink cash register - I could play with it or play library for hours and hours...”

Oh dear… playing library was another one of Hipee’s obsessions that I remember well. We can blame the genesis of that one on our mother.

We were all readers, with the exception of our youngest sibling, a baby brother I’ll call Pretty Boy, PB for short. PB was a pretty baby. He was a pretty little boy. He was blond with delicate features, and well, compared to the rest of the motley crew, he was an especially pretty child. My mother actually had someone ask her about my father’s first wife, you know, the mother of the older three children. She is our Dad’s first and only wife, and mother to all five of us. Whiy was very blond too, which made her an acceptable sibling for the even younger PB.
People often mistook PB for a little girl, which angered Hipee to no end.
“What a pretty little girl!”
“That’s my brother. He’s a boy.”

PB just isn’t a reader. The rest of us are voracious readers. ED and I are probably the worst or best, depending upon your point of view. High Powered Executives don’t have as much free time to read or Hipee might be just as bad. Whiy reads but not as much as the rest of us and maybe with more censure and less abandon.

We moved around as a family when ED, Hipee, and I were young. Whatever city we moved to, Mom would immediately locate the library, get us all cards, and then we would all visit the library on a regular basis. On top of that we were also members of book clubs and books were also purchased at stores or through Scholastic book orders from the schools we attended. We always had lots of books around us. We all still do.

All these books made playing library a natural. It was always referred to as “playing library,” not librarian. What was unnatural were the cards Hipee made, the taped notes in the books, and the little check-out notations written on the covers of the books she checked out to you. A child today would just scanned the books, “beep,” to check them out, but that was back in the days of checkout cards in pockets attached inside the front pages of the books. You had to write your name on the card to show you were checking the book out. Then the librarian took the card, stamped the due date on the card, took the card to file it, then stamped the due date on the book, and gave you the book. This was times five or six for each person, depending upon the limit of books you could check out at that particular library. Each librarian had her own system for dealing with checking out patrons. I liked the ones who took the cards, stamped all the books, gave them to you, and then stamped the cards. It was a lot of busy work to check out a book.

The busy work at the library could have been the compelling part to Hipee, the future high powered executive. Also, come to think of it, the librarians we always seemed to come across weren’t always the nicest people around. Perhaps that’s why it was playing library and not librarian. Please, don’t take offense if you currently are a librarian, but you certainly must have run across some mean spirited, old librarians when you were young and just starting out. I’ve known some wonderful librarians since then, as an adult, but all the librarians I remember as a child, in several different cities, were old and mean. I was generally well behaved and quiet, so I didn’t have any run-ins with a librarian, but Hipee may have been reprimanded at some time for talking too loudly. Hmmm… that could be the explanation for playing library, not librarian.

I think Whiy actually went along with playing library with Hipee much more than I did. I was likely trying to protect my books from her, her tape and card system, and her scribbly written check out notations. This could be the root of the protectiveness and hoarding behavior I exhibit around books today. I could still be subconsciously trying to protect my books from Hipee, the mad player of library.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Host

The Host by Stephenie Meyer
Little, Brown & Company, 2008
hardcover - 619 pages
recommended - with reservations

Synopsis from cover:
Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. Our world has been invaded by an unseen enemy. Humans become hosts for these invaders, their minds taken over while their bodies remain intact and continue their lives apparently unchanged. Most of humanity has succumbed.

When Melanie, one of the few remaining "wild" humans, is captured, she is certain it is her end. Wanderer, the invading "soul" who has been given Melanie's body, was warned about the challenges of living inside a human: the overwhelming emotions, the glut of senses, the too vivid memories. But there was one difficulty Wanderer didn't expect: the former tenant of her body refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.

Wanderer probes Melanie's thoughts, hoping to discover the whereabouts of the remaining human resistance. Instead, Melanie fills Wanderer's mind with visions of the man Melanie loves - Jared, a human who still lives in hiding. Unable to separate herself from her body's desires, Wanderer begins to yearns for a man she's been tasked with exposing. When outside forces make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, they set off to search for the man they both love."

I have not read anything by Stephenie Meyer before this and do not plan to read anything else by her.

It's not that The Host is bad, but it certainly isn't breaking any new ground. Many previous books have explored what it is to be human. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" stories are a common theme and abundant in science fiction. I enjoy a good alien invasion body snatching story (see Scott Sigler's series starting with Infected) as much as other science fiction enthusiasts. I actually thought I was going to enjoy The Host at the beginning, when it still appeared to be following a science fiction theme, but then it turned into a weird love story, and, well, that was just too much.

This should be classified as a YA book. It's supposed to be Meyer's first book for an adult audience, but it certainly reads like a YA novel. The writing and language is simple, the plot is very linear, there is no complex development of several storylines. Actually, I'm glad I read The Host after The Hunger Games. The Hunger Games is a far better book in comparison. It's not that The Host is bad, I will recommend it, but it just isn't living up to all the hype. After the beginning, the story slows down to a snails pace. I'm quite certain that Meyer didn't need most of the 619 pages in order to cover the persistence of love theme. It is an easy book to read, though, so you can whip through those pages quickly. Science fiction fans might want to avoid this one or be forewarned that it is more love story than alien invasion.
Oh, and the ending stinks.

Recommended for those who like tame love stories and can handle a little tiny bit of science fiction.

Edited to add:
My daughter, in college, liked The Host and would highly recommend it. I've asked her, when she has time (she's taking summer classes) to write up her more positive review. Look for that soon. Additionally, we're going to start the Twilight books and maybe continue dual reviews.

"The Healer's name was Fords Deep Waters.
Because he was a soul, by nature he was all things good: compassionate, patient, honest, virtuous, and full of love. Anxiety was an unusual emotion for Fords Deep Waters." opening

" 'This soul was especially picked for the assignment,' Darren said soothingly. 'She is exceptional among our kind - braver than most. Her lives speak for themselves. I think she would volunteer, if it were possible to ask her.' " pg. 4

"The soul shone in the brilliant lights of the operating room, brighter than the reflective silver instrument in his hand. Like a living ribbon, she twisted and rippled, stretching, happy to be free of the cryotank. Her thin, feathery attachments, nearly a thousand of them, billowed softly like pale silver hair. Though they were all lovely, this one seemed particularly graceful to Fords Deep Waters." pg. 6

" I knew it would begin with the end, and the end would look like death to these eyes. I had been warned.
Not these eyes. My eyes. Mine. This was me now. The language I found myself using was odd, but it made sense. Choppy, boxy, blind, and linear. Impossibly crippled in comparison to many I'd used, yet still it managed to find fluidity and expression. Sometimes beauty. My language now. My native tongue.
With the truest instinct of my kind, I'd bound myself securely into the body's center of thought, twined myself inescapably into its every breath and reflex until it was no longer a separate entity. It was me.
Not the body, my body. " pg. 9

"But there were whispers of this: of human hosts so strong that the souls were forced to abandon them. Hosts whose minds could not be completely suppressed. Souls who took on the personality of the body, rather than the other way around. Stories. Wild rumors. Madness.
But that seemed almost to be the Healer's accusation....
I dismissed the thought. The more likely meaning of his censure was the distaste most of us felt for the Seeker's Calling. Who would choose a life of conflict and pursuit? Who would be attracted to the chore of tracking down unwilling hosts and capturing them?" pg. 19

"I know what they will realize when they return, the monsters who look like a nice couple in their early fifties. They will know exactly what I am, and the search will begin at once. pg. 32

"It would be nice to be alone again. To have my mind to myself. This world was very pleasant in so many novel ways, and it would be wonderful to be able to appreciate it without the distractions of an angry, displaced nonentity who should have better sense than to linger unwanted this way." pg. 48

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic Press, 2008
hardcover - 374 pages.
Young Adult novel, ages 12 and up.
Very Highly Recommended

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before - and survival, for her, is second nature....
This is a dystopian YA novel where the society forces chosen teens from the outlying districts to fight to the death in a televised game show. There have been numerous recommendations for The Hunger Games, and I agree with those assessments. Some adult readers could quibble that this plot has been done before, and that Collins didn't provide many in-depth details on the society, setting, or the cameras, which is all true, but I still felt this was a very successful YA book. Since it is told from the point of view of Katniss, a teenager from one of the more oppressed districts, I believe that she doesn't know all the societal details or much more information about the setting than she is sharing. It might have been nice to know how the cameras worked, but I can accept the fact that Katniss knows they are there and so does the reader, without an explanation. At the very beginning I thought the simple reading level would start to frustrate me, and it briefly did, until I was so caught up in the story that I forgot all about it, a fact that also recommends the book. As it is, I felt The Hunger Games was a very successful novel, and I'm looking forward to book two, Catching Fire. Very Highly Recommended, probably for ages 14 and up


"When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping." opening paragraph

"Even though trespassing in the woods is illegal and poaching carries the severest of penalties, more people would risk it if they had weapons. But most are not bold enough to venture out with just a knife. My bow is a rarity, crafted by my father along with a few others that I keep well hidden in the woods, carefully wrapped in waterproof covers. My father could have made good money selling them, but if the officials found out he would have been publicly executed for inciting a rebellion." pg. 5

"But here’s the catch. Say you are poor and starving as we were. You can opt to add your name more times in exchange for tesserae. Each tessera is worth a meager year’s supply of grain and oil for one person. You may do this for each of your family members as well. So, at the age of twelve, I had my name entered four times. Once, because I had to, and three times for tesserae for grain and oil for myself, Prim, and my mother. In fact, every year I have needed to do this. And the entries are cumulative. So now, at the age of sixteen, my name will be in the reaping twenty times. Gale, who is eighteen and has been either helping or single-handedly feeding a family of five for seven years, will have his name in forty-two times." pg. 13

"Just as the town clock strikes two, the mayor steps up to the podium and begins to read. It’s the same story every year. He tells of the history of Panem, the country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained. The result was Panem, a shining Capitol ringed by thirteen districts, which brought peace and prosperity to its citizens. Then came the Dark Days, the uprising of the districts against the Capitol. Twelve were defeated, the thirteenth obliterated. The Treaty of Treason gave us the new laws to guarantee peace and, as our yearly reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated, it gave us the Hunger Games." pg. 18

The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins. pg. 18

"To the everlasting credit of the people of District 12, not one person claps. Not even the ones holding betting slips, the ones who are usually beyond caring. Possibly because they know me from the Hob, or knew my father, or have encountered Prim, who no one can help loving. So instead of acknowledging applause, I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence. Which says we do not agree. We do not condone. All of this is wrong." pg. 23-24

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Hipee and the Cash Register

Hipee was always meant to grow up and become the high powered executive and professional bargain shopper she is today. When she was young there was a toy that totally captured her imagination. It was a pink cash register. It may have been a Tom Thumb as in the picture.

Oh how Hipee loved her pink cash register! She could ring up items on it all day, selling you things, and making (fake) change. She was working on her sales patter and on fostering good interdepartmental relationships even when she was a child. She was always a cheerful cashier and encouraged you to buy more. If your fake money had all been spent, she would open up that pink cash register and give you more.

The oddest thing about her cash register obsession, and it was an obsession, was the noise she made to accompany adding purchases up on the register. It was sort of a low “eerrrrrrrr” that turned into a higher pitched “uhh” at the end. Eerrrrrrrr-uhh. The clicking of the keys on the register wasn’t enough. She had to make the noise too, after every keystroke. “Eerrrrrrrr-uhh.”

“Oh, corn is on sale today!”
“What a nice jar of pickles!”
“And that Truly Scruptious doll is a great deal!”
“Eerrrrrrrr-uhh. Eerrrrrrrr-uhh.”
“Will that be all today, m’am?
“Eerrrrrrrr-uhh, eerrrrrrrr-uhh, eerrrrrrrr-uhh.”
“The total is $215.”
“Thank you and please come again!”

The unspoken part of “please come again” was “immediately” since when Hipee was at her register, she was in her element. She was in the zone. You were required to shop until you drop at Hipee’s store.

I suppose kids make a beeping noise to imitate scanning purchases now. I’m not sure exactly how Hipee’s noise imitated the cash registers found back then. It seems like it was more of an old adding machine noise. That aside, the real burning question in my mind is does Hipee still make her “eerrrrrrrr-uhh” noise now, even if just in her head, when she’s using a calculator, or doing other high powered executive type stuff involving money? “Eerrrrrrrr-uhh.” Does she do it in her head when paying bills? “Eerrrrrrrr-uhh.” Is it lurking at the back of her thoughts when making purchases at a store. “Eerrrrrrrr-uhh.” Or am I the only one haunted by this sound effect? “Eerrrrrrrr-uhh.”

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Third Pandemic

The Third Pandemic by Pierre Ouellette was originally published in 1996. My mass market paperback copy has 403 pages. The Third Pandemic is an excellent example of a book that could easily have been outdated a few years after publication but the author, Ouellette, was prescient enough to write a good book with some staying power. There were a few little facts that dated the book, such as a brief mention that the internet was dependent on the phone system (pg. 302), but certainly not enough to not recommend the book. Obviously, the subject is relevant today, even to the relatively brief mention of the media doing special reports of the outbreak, only for a good reason in this case. The characters weren't especially well developed - there were several of them, including the bacteria, and maybe a little too much jumping from one character to the next at the beginning - but all in all it was an enjoyable book. Recommended

Synopsis from back cover:
The disease starts out like a cold - and soon turns deadly. It is caused by a highly communicable, wildly aggressive bacteria that is immune to all know antibiotics, it will kill sixty percent of the global population within one year... At this point it is just a theory - a brilliant, highly credible bit of research by California scientist Dr. Elaine Wilkes. Then, a world away, a bizarre confluence of events makes it real. As the fatal epidemic races toward America's shores, communications crumble, the dead pile up, and the law of the streets takes over. In the midst of the madness.... a psychopathic genius readies the final, stunning blow.
"The metal detector screeched nastily as Philip Paris passed through the electronic security portal. The last thing he expected was that the power would still be on here." opening

"The tribe went by the name of Salmonella, a form of bacteria legendary for stalking the poultry of the world. But this particular tribe had recently endured a horrific battle against a devious chemical called tetracycline, which crippled, shriveled, and decimated their number." pg. 7

"Some time back, he had made the right connections and worked his way into the Virtual Reality Surgery Center out of Stanford. He knew the jargon, he knew the medicine, and he studied each procedure with great care before he participated." pg. 24

" 'I got a little sick,' she whispered. 'Then I got a little sick again. And again.'
Paris went into full alert. she had that stare, that terrible stare. He'd seen it many times on the street, with gunshot and accident victims." pg. 31

"There's been five more cases since her E. coli. all the same strain. The lab reports are still coming in. The public health people are already on it." pg. 33

"The world had now come out of a pleasant fifty-year slumber, when infectious diseases seemed flat on their backs, and awakened to find them making an insidious comeback." pg. 47

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion was originally published in 2006 and was the winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction. My paperback copy has 227 pages. This is a highly personal account of author Didion's attempt to cope with the grief following the death of her husband while their daughter was extremely ill. The Year of Magical Thinking was highly recommended by many people after it was published. I wanted to appreciate this book and my heart aches for Didion, but reading this book sometimes made me feel alienated, like I was reading a personal journal, not a published book. Sometimes the names and details included made it feel like Didion was trying to show their place among the intellectual illuminati. I'll have to admit that I found no encouraging message in The Year of Magical Thinking that would help others I know deal with their grief and would not recommend this book to anyone grieving the loss of a loved one. A great part of the reason for this is that Didion doesn't have the spiritual strength and support found in deeply held religious beliefs. A deep and abiding faith in something greater than yourself would have served Didion well, along with some grief therapy.
So-so for me; Recommended by many

Library Journal Synopsis:
On December 30, 2003, Didion witnessed the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, from a massive coronary in their living room. The couple had just returned home after visiting their daughter, Quintana, who had been hospitalized and placed on life support several days earlier, diagnosed with a severe case of septic shock. Several weeks later, their daughter recovered, only to collapse two months later from a massive hematoma that required emergency brain surgery and an arduous recovery. (Quintana Roo Dunne Michael died on August 26, 2005.) This work is both a memoir of Didion's family life and a meditation chronicling the course of her grief. Throughout this account she describes her attempts to study grief, reading extensively on the topic because "information was control." While the events and emotions disclosed are tragic and uncomfortable, the author's description of her relationship with her husband and daughter lend beauty to the tragedy. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information

"Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self-pity." opening

"It was in fact the ordinary nature of everything preceding the event that prevented me from truly believing it had happened, absorbing it, incorporating it, getting past it. I recognize now that there was nothing unusual in this: confronted with sudden disaster we all focus on how unremarkable the circumstances were in which the unthinkable occurred, the clear blue sky from which the plane fell, the routine errand that ended on the shoulder of the road with the car in flames, the swings where the children were playing as usual when the rattlesnake struck from the ivy." pg. 4

"It is now, as I begin to write this, the afternoon of October 4, 2004.
Nine months and approximately five days ago, at approximately nine o'clock on the evening of December 30, 2003, my husband, John Gregory Dunne, appeared to (or did) experience, at the table where he and I had just sat down to dinner in the living room of our apartment in New York, a sudden massive coronary event that caused his death. Our only child, Quintana, had been for the previous five nights unconscious in an intensive care unit at Beth Israel Medical Center's Singer Division, at that time a hospital on East End Avenue (it closed in august 2004) more commonly known as 'Beth Israel North' or 'the old Doctor's Hospital,' where what had seemed a case of December flu sufficiently severe to take her to an emergency room on Christmas morning had exploded into pneumonia and septic shock. This is my attempt to make sense of the period that followed, weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I had ever had about death, about illness, about probability and luck, about good fortune and bad, about marriage and children and memory, about grief, about the ways in which people do and do not deal with the fact that life ends, about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself." pg. 6-7

"I needed to be alone so that he could come back.
This was the beginning of my year of magical thinking." pg. 33

"I realized that I had never believed in the words I had learned as a child in order to be confirmed as an Episcopalian: I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting, amen.
I did not believe in the resurrection of the body.
Nor did Teresa Kean, Parlance, Emmett McClure, Jack Broderick, Maurice Dodd, the four people in the car, Charles Buckles, Percy Darrow, or Walden McClure.
Nor had my Catholic husband.
I imagined this way of thinking to be clarifying, but in point of fact it was so muddled as to contradict even itself.
I did not believe in the resurrection of the body but I did believe that given the right circumstances he would come back." pgs. 149-150