Friday, July 31, 2009

We Need to Talk about Kevin

We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
hardcover, 400 pages
Counterpoint Press, 2003
ISBN-13: 9781582432670
contemporary literature
re-read, very highly recommended

Synopsis from the publisher:
The gripping international bestseller about motherhood gone awry
Eva never really wanted to be a mother—and certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker, and a much-adored teacher who tried to befriend him, all two days before his sixteenth birthday. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood, and Kevin's horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her estranged husband, Franklin. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.
My thoughts:

I previously reviewed We Need to Talk About Kevin on 9/3/07 and quite possibly found it even more brilliant and horrendous the second time through, even when I knew what was coming. Eva's introspective, searching, brutally honest letters to her husband, Franklin, slowly and painfully tell the story of their son, Kevin, and restlessly search for the answer to the nature versus nurture question. The foreshadowing of what is to come seems more evident and darker reading it for the second time; the information and insight into Eva, Franklin, and Kevin more insistent. Shriver is a gifted writer and that is clearly evident with this reread. Every sentence is carefully crafted, every word deliberately selected. reread, Very Highly Recommended - one of the very best


November 8, 2000
Dear Franklin,
I'm unsure why one trifling incident this afternoon has moved me to write to you. But since we've been separated, I may most miss coming home to deliver the narrative curiosities of my day, the way a cat might lay mice at your feet: the small, humble offerings that couples proffer after foraging in separate backyards. opening

I seem finally to be learning what you were always trying to teach me, that my own country is as exotic and even as perilous as Algeria. I was in the dairy aisle and didn't need much; I wouldn't. I never eat pasta these days, without you to dispatch most of the bowl. I do miss your gusto. pg. 1

This is the one place in the world where the ramifications of my life are full felt, and it's far less important for me to be liked these days than to be understood. pg. 4

"What possessed us? We were so happy! Why, then, did we take the stake of all we had and place it all on this outrageous gamble of having a child? Of course you consider putting that very question profane. Although the infertile are entitled to sour grapes, it's against the rules, isn't it, to actually have a baby and spend any time at all on that banished parallel life in which you didn't. But a Pandoran perversity draws me to prize open what is forbidden." pg. 12

I never, ever took you for granted. We met too late for that; I was nearly thirty-three by then, and my past without you was too stark and insistent for me to find the miracle of companionship ordinary. pg. 21

Much less could I foresee the aching O. Henry irony that in lighting upon my consuming new topic of conversation, I would lose the man that I most wanted to talk to. pg. 24

That was one of your favorite themes: that profusion, replication, popularity wasn't necessarily devaluing, and that time itself made things rare. You loved to savor the present tense and were more conscious than anyone I have ever met that its every constituent is fleeting. pg. 37

Funny how you dig yourself into a hole by the teaspoon - the smallest of compromises, the little roundings off or slight recastings of one emotion as another that is a tad nicer or more flattering. I did not care so much about being deprived of a glass of wine per se. But like that legendary journey that begins with a single step, I had already embarked upon my first resentment. pg. 53

"But any woman who passes a clump of testosterone-drunk punks without picking up the pace, without avoiding the eye contact that might connote challenge or invitation, without sighing inwardly with relief by the following block, is a zoological fool. A boy is a dangerous animal." pg. 62

What Little Girls Are Made Of...

Sugar and spice and everything nice, right? Ed would disagree. I think Ed would have liked to be an only child, or the youngest in the family. He didn’t particularly enjoy being the oldest brother of three younger sisters, or at least the older brother of Hipee and me. ED is almost 15 years older than our youngest brother, Pretty Boy, so by the time he came along, ED was ready to go.

ED normally kept his room very clean and organized. While I am now considered to be a very neat and clean adult, I wasn’t as a child. Hipee wasn’t either. Our shared room was usually a mess until we were forced to clean it up. ED’s room was a paragon of organization. He had a place for everything and everything in its place. This meant that we always knew where ED would keep his stuff, like the chocolate bars he hide in the bottom drawer on the right-hand side of his desk.

Yes, we stole chocolate from ED. I stole chocolate from ED. Shamelessly. I was the worst. He would buy chocolate, and put it in the bottom right-hand drawer of his desk, without any security concerns or stealth involved. What was ED thinking? This would be another clue that although ED wasn’t dumb, he wasn’t an Einstein either. I mean, come on… Chocolate candy bars left in the same drawer every time with two younger sisters in the house who were known chocolate thieves. Everyone knows that stashes of chocolate need a hiding place.

Today I still “hide” the chocolate but everyone in my family knows where it is hidden. I’m good with that now. Sometimes they can help me find it if I've forgotten the hiding place. Actually the best hiding place is in plain sight. I had a large bag of peanut MM’s sitting right out in the center of the pantry and no one touched them for months. I finally had to set them out on the kitchen counter in order to get people to see them and eat them. This was done when we were loading a moving truck with help from friends and I needed to either clean up what was left in the pantry or pack it.

But poor ED just never quite got the idea that you might need to hide your chocolate, or switch around where you put it, especially with sisters in the house. A youngest child could get away with this behavior, but the status of the oldest in the family is much more of a dog eat dog position and ED needed a reality check. I tried to help give him a clue that he should hide his candy bars, but, alas, he just never got it. He could yell all he wanted about sister’s invading his room and violating his stuff, but at the end of the day his chocolate was still gone and his sisters had no money to replace it.

Never fear though, ED was eventually compensated for his loss. Several years ago Hipee and I bought enough candy bars to fill up a medium-sized box and gave them to ED for Christmas. He was very pleased. We don’t know if ED hid the candy bars from his wife. We do know that after he opened the gift, he kept that box in sight at all times, didn’t offer anyone anything in it, and whisked it out and into his locked truck ASAP. ED may have learned a lesson after all.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009



By displaying the Blog with Integrity badge or signing the pledge, I assert that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is important to me.

I treat others respectfully, attacking ideas and not people. I also welcome respectful disagreement with my own ideas.

I believe in intellectual property rights, providing links, citing sources, and crediting inspiration where appropriate.

I disclose my material relationships, policies and business practices. My readers will know the difference between editorial, advertorial, and advertising, should I choose to have it. If I do sponsored or paid posts, they are clearly marked.

When collaborating with marketers and PR professionals, I handle myself professionally and abide by basic journalistic standards.

I always present my honest opinions to the best of my ability.

I own my words. Even if I occasionally have to eat them.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The 19th Wife

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
trade paperback, 525 pages
Random House, June 2009
ISBN-13: 9780812974157
historical fiction/mystery
Very Highly Recommended

It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of a family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how a young woman became a plural wife. Soon after Ann Eliza’s story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds–a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father’s death. And as Ann Eliza’s narrative intertwines with that of Jordan’s search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love and faith.
My Thoughts:

The 19th Wife follows two parallel stories that deal with polygamy. One involves one of Brigham Young's wives, Ann Eliza, while the other is a modern day murder mystery set in a polygamous community in Utah. Ebershoff does a commendable job switching voices between a nineteenth-century Mormon wife (and others) and a contemporary gay young man who has been excommunicated from the church. He also includes an impressive bibliography in his notes, which I always appreciate. You can tell that he has done his research and is writing his novel from a place of knowledge. Normally I'm not a great fan of historical fiction because you can often tell the author has not done any research, but this was not the case with Ebershoff at all. At first I thought the modern mystery would be the more interesting story, but soon I was actually more interested in the historical storyline. There is a tie in concerning faith and that every religion claims it is the only way. " a mystery, elusive to many, and never easy to explain."

The contemporary mystery does have some strong language and adult situations, so be forewarned if that bothers you then this isn't the novel for you. I really appreciated the Random House readers circle questions and answers in my trade paperback copy. If you enjoyed Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven, a nonfiction book concerning modern polygamy, then you will likely appreciate The 19th Wife. Be sure to check out David Ebershoff's website.
Very Highly Recommended

I won this book in a give away that I entered because I wanted to read the book.


In the one year since I renounced my Mormon faith, and set out to tell the nation the truth about American polygamy, many people have wondered why I ever agreed to become a plural wife. Everyone I meet, whether farmer, miner, railman, professor, cleric, or the long-faced Senator, and most especially the wives of these-everyone wants to know why I would submit to a marital practice so filled with subjugation and sorrow. When I tell them my father has five wives, and I was raised to believe plural marriage is the will of God, these sincere people often ask, But Mrs. Young - how could you believe such a claim?
Faith, I tell them, is a mystery, elusive to many, and never easy to explain. opening

I write not for sensation, but for Truth. I leave judgment to the hearts of my good Readers everywhere. I am but one, yet to this day countless others lead lives even more destitute and enslaved than mine ever was. Perhaps my story is the exception because I escaped, at great risk, polygamy's conjugal chains; and that my husband is the Mormon Church's Prophet and Leader, Brigham Young, and I am his 19th, and final, wife.
Sincerely Yours,
Ann Eliza Young
Summer 1874 pg. 6

According to the St. George Register, on a clear night last June, at some time between eleven and half-past, my mom-who isn't anything like this-tiptoed down to the basement of the house I grew up in with a Golden Boy .22 in her hands. At the foot of the stairs she knocked on the door to my dad's den. From inside he called who is it? She answered me, BeckyLyn. He said-or must've said-come in. What happened next? Nearly everyone in southwest Utah can tell you. She nailed an ace shot and blew his heart clean from his chest. pg. 7

He was a religious con man, a higher-up in a church of lies, the kind of schemer who goes around saying God meant for man to have many women and children and they shall be judged on how they obey. pg. 8

The paper says she didn't resist. Tell me about it. She didn't resist when her husband married her fifteen-year-old niece. She didn't resist when the Prophet told her to throw me out. "No point in making a fuss"-she used to say that all the time. For years she was obedient, believing it part of her salvation. pg.9

I'm just a guy who got totally screwed when he was fourteen and by all odds should be in jail or dead or both but actually is managing just fine. pg. 14

After I was kicked out (they call it excommunicated, but whatever), I honestly thought I'd never see her again, and I have to say I didn't really care. I was amd, starting with God, then the Prophet, but my mom was next on the list. I'm still mad at him - God I mean - because my mom tossed me on the highway at tom a.m. in his name.. Trust me: that can mess you up. pg. 18

I should probably make it clear why the Firsts aren't Mormon.... they hate the Prophet almost as much as I do. They call him a heretic, a blasphemer, and a whole bunch of other things like rapist, pedophile, and tax cheat. The point of contention between the Firsts and the Mormons - you probably already figured this out - is polygamy. pg. 33

She concludes her long assessment by writing, "In the end, I suppose my greatest disappointment has been in realizing my father, like Joseph and Bringham before him, tried to shroud his passions in the mantle of religion. He used God to defend his adultery. I have yet to hear him acknowledge his lies." pg. 213

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Man Who Knew Too Much

The Man Who Knew Too Much
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: James Stewart, Doris Day, Brenda de Banzie, Bernard Miles

After having watched the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much numerous
times, I didn't realize until yesterday that Hitchcock made two versions of this movie. The 1934 version just happened to be on TV yesterday while we were planning to watch this, the 1956 version, last night. While I am also a fan of many movies with Jimmy Stewart, readers of She Treads Softly will know that I am a major fan of Doris Day movies. Her acting range and versatility is shown exceptionally well in The Man Who Knew Too Much. The tension slowly builds through the whole movie. The Albert Hall sequence is incredible. It lasts 12 minutes without a single word of dialogue and yet the tension and emotion is palatable. You can just feel her agony. Doris Day's "Que Sera, Sera" won Jay Livingston and Ray Evans the Best Song Oscar. Bernard Herrmann, the composer of the score, can be seen conducting the orchestra during the Albert Hall sequence.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hearts and Minds

Hearts and Minds by Rosy Thornton
Headline Publishing, June 2008
trade paperback, 437 pages
ISBN-13: 9780755333899
highly recommended

Synopsis from cover:

St Radegund's College, Cambridge, which admits only women students, breaks with one hundred and sixty years of tradition by appointing a man, former BBC executive James Rycarte, as its new Head of House. As Rycarte fights to win over the feminist dons, the Senior Tutor, Dr. Martha Pearce, faces her own battles: an academic career in stagnation, a depressed teenage daughter and a marriage which may be foundering.
Meanwhile, the college library is subsiding into the fen mud and the students are holding a competition to see who can 'get a snog off the Dean'. The question on everyone's lips is: how long will Rycarte survive at St. Radegund's without someone's help?
My thoughts:

I really enjoyed this novel. It is a well executed, clever satire of a fictional women's college in Cambridge. Anyone who has ever worked in the education field or been on a board for any organization, or, really, anyone who has ever worked with a number of co-workers is going to appreciate the characters Thornton has carefully developed because they were all very true to life. I know these people. (While reading Hearts and Minds I even dreamed I was teaching again.) A great part of what made Hearts and Minds so enjoyable is this realism. You can understand how stressful it is for Martha Pearce to juggle the demands of her career and home. Along with James Rycarte, you've met those contrary people who, it seems, are always looking for a fight or who always want to be right. As a mark of a good book, I even found myself losing sleep, staying up to read one more chapter. (What were those students planning?) Although I'm not going to give a spoiler here, I do want to thank Thornton for the ending. It could have headed off in a different direction, which would have caused me to lessen my rating, but instead the ending was pitch-perfect for the book.

Hearts and Minds is also quite funny. I found myself chuckling out loud several times. For example, see the quotes for the description of the "Mistress's Lodging". Living by a large university, I also completely understood the description of the arrival of the students (see quotes) and am preparing for the onslaught soon here.

In fact, I really only have one complaint about Hearts and Minds and that quibble has nothing to do with the book at all. It's the cover. While Hearts and Minds is going to appeal more to women than men, it's not really chick lit or a romance, but the cover would have you thinking otherwise. Perhaps it's the inner artist/designer in me, but the cover would have been much better if it were, perhaps, a black and white photo of a bicycle, with it's basket full of various items leaning against a building. The current cover is too cute. Highly Recommended

Hearts and Minds was sent to me by the author.


The accommodation required to refocus her eyes from computer screen to watch face took more effort that it would once have done - more effort than it should. That was one further unwanted thing she would have to contrive to jiggle into her complicated diary over the next week or two: a visit to Dollond & Aitchison. Martha removed her reading glasses and laid them on top of the scatter of papers on her desk. pg. 1

In two minutes the students would be at the door, and in five days he would be arriving at St Rad's. She had just eight days to update the term's lectures, as well as to finish writing the sixteen new ones she had to give because of Jane Billington's sabbatical leave. Eight days before the new intake of freshers would arrive, requiring the annual round of introductions and greetings, and bringing with them a whole new set of tutorial headaches as yet unguessed. pg. 3

James Rycarte hoped very much that it was not a portent when he missed the college the first time. The signboard announcing St Radegund's College to the passing motorist in reassuringly unfeminine black capitals was all but obscured by foliage, which seemed to have been allowed to burgeon unpruned since his last visit in February. pg. 7

The public reception rooms downstairs were not so bad: in the dining room there was in fact a very fine oak refectory table and a set of twelve dining chairs with understated sepia upholstery. But the curtains were richly sprigged with rosebuds, and elsewhere in the house the rosebuds had been allowed to ramble and blossom wholly unchecked. Worst of all was what Rycarte enjoyed the irony of thinking to himself as the master bedroom. Here the frills and flounces so garlanded that the room could have served as the set for a school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. pg. 10

The Student Union had made no secret of their opposition, last year, to the election of a male Head of House. Room rents merely gave them an excuse to stir things up, to make life difficult for James Rycarte even before his formal investiture. pg. 15

Only towards the end of that first afternoon, after a day of briefing meetings with all the people who pulled the strings in his new workplace, and several others who wished they did, did Rycarte finally persuade the University's central computing service to divulge to him the details of his e-mail account. pg. 30

Cycling through the city, nobody familiar with Cambridge could have failed to notice the unaccustomed density of traffic in the semi-pedestrianised streets immediately surrounding the central colleges, or the proliferation of people carriers and family estate cars, driven slowly by parents unfamiliar with the town and laden high with boxes, blocking rear-view mirrors. pg. 33

Lucia seemed never to be far from the edge of tears. If one of Martha's tutorial students had been in this state, with what ease would she have voiced her suspicion of depression and advised seeing a doctor; why was it then so hard in her daughter's case? pg. 35

Six days in post and he recognised that already Martha Pearce had become his barometer for gauging what mattered in the college; if St Rad's had a beating heart she was it, or close to it. pg. 42


Remember the feeling of space and freedom you had when you got rid of a old huge bulky monitor and switched to a sleek, new LCD monitor?
I have that same feeling of freedom.
I've dumped the huge bulky box computer and now just have the Acer hooked up to the monitor and a wireless keyboard and mouse for everyday usage.
And it's all more powerful and has more memory than the big box computer. Plus I can unplug the Acer, and take it with me. I have 6 hours of battery life.

I can't believe all the room and space I have on my desk! Heck, my desk is looking too big now!
My next step is to get my hands on a magic stick, as I like to call it. Wonder Boy insists it is a Bluetooth USB dongle. The magic stick will allow me wireless access to the printer. Ain't technology grand!

Friday, July 24, 2009


I have a new little friend,

an Acer D150 Netbook

I have a feeling we are going to be very good friends. I'm saying goodbye to the big box computer. This little guy is great!

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Glasshouse by Charles Stross
mass market paperback, 333 pages
Penguin, 2006
ISBN-13: 9780441015085
science fiction

Publishers Weekly:
The censorship wars-during which the Curious Yellow virus devastated the network of wormhole gates connecting humanity across the cosmos-are finally over at the start of Hugo-winner Stross's brilliant new novel, set in the same far-future universe as 2005's Accelerando. Robin is one of millions who have had a mind wipe, to forget wartime memories that are too painful-or too dangerously inconvenient for someone else. To evade the enemies who don't think his mind wipe was enough, Robin volunteers to live in the experimental Glasshouse, a former prison for deranged war criminals that will recreate Earth's "dark ages" (c. 1950-2040). Entering the community as a female, Robin is initially appalled by life as a suburban housewife, then he realizes the other participants are all either retired spies or soldiers. Worse yet, fragments of old memories return-extremely dangerous in the Glasshouse, where the experimenters' intentions are as murky as Robin's grasp of his own identity. With nods to Kafka, James Tiptree and others, Stross's wry SF thriller satisfies on all levels, with memorable characters and enough brain-twisting extrapolation for five novels. (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
My Thoughts:

Glasshouse almost didn't pass the 50 page rule. While the importance of history along with an exploration of our current society could be considered themes in Glasshouse, it is also sort of cyberpunk/ Film noir/ video game novel. I'm not really a cyberpunk kinda gal. It had me feeling out of sorts and ready to set it aside more than once but then Stross would do something clever that looked promising and I would decide to stick with it. I never really cared what happened to any of the characters. The book did get less annoying as it progressed, but there were still sections where I just wanted it to end. In the end I'd have to say I just didn't care for Glasshouse. I am going to give Stross another try, though, because the parts I thought were good, were very good.
So-So rating - because some people might respond better to this novel


A dark-skinned human with four arms walks toward me across the floor of the club, clad only in a belt strung with human skulls. opening

I pick up my glass for the first time and take a sip of the bitingly cold blue liquid. "You've just spent an entire prehistoric human lifetime as an ice ghoul and people are needling you for having too many arms?" I shake my head. pg. 4

There's a certain type of look some postrehab cases get while they're in the psychopathetic dissociative stage, still reknitting the raveled threads of their personality and memories into a new identity. The insensate anger at the world, the existential hate - often directed at their previously whole self for putting them into this world, naked and stripped of memories - generates its own dynamic. pg. 6

"An experimental society?"
"Yes. We have limited data about many periods in our history. Dark ages have become all too frequent since the dawn of the age of emotional machines....But the cumulative result is that there are large periods of history from which very little information survives that has not been skewed by observational bias. Propaganda, entertainment, and self-image conspire to rob us of accurate depictions, and old age and the need for periodic memory excision rob us of our subjective experiences. pg. 17

"It's a closed community running in a disconnected T-gate manifold. Nobody gets to go in or comes out after it starts running, not until the whole thing terminates." pg. 29

There's no avoiding it now. I'm going to have to take a backup - and then I'm going to have to seek sanctuary inside the Yourdon experiment. As an isolated polity, disconnected from the manifold while the research project runs, it should be about as safe as anywhere can be. Just as long as none of my stalkers are signed up for it..." pg. 37

"The core element in this society is something called the nuclear family. It's a heteromorphic structure based on a male and female living in close quarters, usually with one of them engaging in semi-ritualized labor to raise currency and the other preoccupied with social and domestic chores and child rearing. " pg. 48

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Random Reading Challenge

I'm going to participate in the Random Reading Challenge
August 1, 2009 – July 31, 2010

For this challenge, readers will be choosing books randomly, using a random number generator, from their TBR stacks. I'm planning on going for Level III, where I will read 12 books for the challenge

Check out all the rules at Random Reading Challenge

Monday, July 20, 2009

Antarktos Rising

Antarktos Rising by Jeremy Robinson
Variance, 2008
mass market paperback, 453 pages
ISBN-13: 9781935142003
Christian action-adventure/science fiction
very highly recommended

A phenomenon known as crustal displacement shifts the Earth's crust, repositioning continents and causing countless deaths. In the wake of the global catastrophe, the world struggles to take care of its displaced billions. But Antarctica, freshly thawed and blooming, has emerged as a new hope. Rather than wage a world war no nation can endure, the leading nations devise a competition, a race to the center of Antarctica, with the three victors dividing the continent.
It is within this race that Mirabelle Whitney, one of the few surviving experts on the continent, grouped with an American special forces unit, finds herself. But the dangers awaiting the team are far worse than feared; beyond the sour history of a torn family, beyond the nefarious intentions of their human enemies, beyond the ancient creatures reborn through anhydrobiosis - there are the Nephilim.
My thoughts:

I really enjoyed Antarktos Rising. This was a perfect summer book. It was almost non-stop action and had me racing through it to see what happened next. This is a Christian apocalyptic end of the world thriller but it's not like the Left Behind series in any way. I would say that it has a Christian world view and it might help you follow the story if you are a Christian, but I also think it is a novel any action/adventure junkie will highly enjoy. There are also definite science fiction elements. It seems that most of the bad reviews of Antarktos Rising are hardly impartial at all because they seem intent to fault it for even mentioning Christianity and for some unrealistic events. Come on, can't Christians experience some action adventure science fiction and mention their faith? And I seem to recall many other novels where even more unrealistic events happened and nary a whine was heard. So, if you like action adventure science fiction and don't mind that a novel doesn't bash Christianity, then I would imagine you will also enjoy Antarktos Rising.
Very Highly Recommended


"Leave the fossil! Follow my voice!"
"What's that noise?"
"Ignore it! We need to find each other!"
Merrill, I -hmph!"
"Aimee? Keep talking so I can find you! Aimee? Aimee!" pg. 2

The temperature shift struck her as odd - a cold front and heat wave battling for supremacy. New England was known for its drastic weather changes, but this variation in temperature during a mid-summer day seemed downright freakish. pg. 13

The old man scanned the world around him. It was white and frozen. His eyes turned back to the whale. Its skin sparkled with frost - it was frozen solid. It was only then that he noticed the biting cold nibbling at his skin. pg. 15

When she looked back, all that was left of the coastline was a small river flowing out of the Piscataqua and a sliver of blue, far on the horizon. The ocean was gone....Whitney realized what must be happening. Tsunami. pg. 23

She saw an illusion. It had to be. A wall of blue and white churning water surged back into view, spilling from the northeast straight for shore. As the wall grew closer, she knew it was real. A tsunami, more massive than she'd ever imagined the phenomenon to be, was headed straight for her home town. pg. 27

Extending out from ten feet below her home's foundation all the way to the horizon was a sheet of ice. Thick flakes of snow fell from the sky. pg. 32

Since 1994, when the first dinosaur remains - a predator named Crylophosaurus - were found on the seventh continent amid fragments of several prey animals, the idea of life flourishing on Antarctica in millennia past was no longer debated....Some believed that a civilization had once thrived on the mainland of the southernmost continent before it froze over. pg. 36-37

He would have continued in this pattern of work, starvation, and prayer until his dying day, but again God disturbed his plans. When he knelt to pray on the night of July 21, just over a year since his return, the ground began to shake. pg. 37

But now the land was brown and gray. The landscape was barren as ever except for the occasional pool of water, but otherwise, as far as he could see, Antarctica was free of ice and there wasn't a volcano in sight.
The continent had thawed. pg. 51

Life was expanding on the thawed Antarctic continent like a sponge toy in a bowl of water. pg. 82

When the Bible says the world was corrupt, it doesn't just mean morally - it's talking genetics. pg. 318

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov, Leo G. Carroll

Has everyone else watched this wonderful film but me? Where have I been? Dreaming?
Spellbound is a murder mystery solved through psychoanalysis. Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck were both simply wonderful. Even though psychoanalysis is no longer practiced as it is portrayed in the film - which makes some of the scenes humorous - Hitchcock's ability as a director to create suspense still makes Spellbound an excellent film. Although I'm not personally a great fan of artist Salvador Dali, it was incredible to see what remained of his dream sequences. Apparently the original ran for twenty minutes, but only part of it was filmed and then most of what was filmed was cut. And, although the movie is in black and white, there were two frames during the climactic scene that were hand-tinted red. Spellbound was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor (Michael Chekhov), but won for Miklos Rozsa's score.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Camouflage by Joe Haldeman
Penguin, 2005
ISBN-13: 9780441012527
mass market paperback, 289 pages
science fiction

Unknown to anyone, two creatures have wandered the Earth for generations. The aliens have no knowledge of each other: but share a residual memory of a mysterious sunken relic - and an affinity for deep water. One, the changeling, has survived by adaptation, taking the shapes of many different organisms. The other, the chameleon, has survived soley by destroying anything or anyone that threatens it.
Now, finally brought up from the bottom of the sea by marine biologist Russell Sutton, the relic calls to them both... to come home. For all these generations there have been two invincible creatures on Earth. But the chameleon has decided there's only room for one.
My Thoughts:

Camouflage follows three storylines, that of two alien shape shifters and the mystery of a metal artifact bought up from the ocean floor. The story explores what it means to be human, although this is sometimes done in disturbing ways. It is basically a very entertaining and successful novel - until the end, at which point I found it incredulous, unbelievable, and abrupt in comparison to the rest of the story. It is a Nebula Award winner. I'm torn on the rating for this one because of the ending but I'm not going to spoil it and tell you what bothers me. Recommended


The monster came from a swarm of stars that humans call Messier 22, a globular cluster ten thousand light-years distant. opening

A million years before the monster's man is born and its story begins, one such vessel splashes into the Pacific Ocean. It goes deep, following an instinct to hide. the creature that it carried to Earth emerges, assesses the situation, and becomes something appropriate for survival. pg. 2

"The trench is seven miles deep there. The artifact is under another forty feet of sand."
He nodded. "A quarter of a million years ago."
Russ stared at him for a long moment. "Didn't I read about this in an old Stephen King novel?" pg. 6

"We tried to get a sample of the metal for analysis. It broke every drill bit we tried on it."
"It's harder than diamond. And massive. We can't estimate its density, because we haven't been able to budge it, let alone lift it." pg. 7

It walked down the beach toward the lights of San Guillermo, a strapping handsome young man, duplicated down to the fingerprints, a process that had taken no thought, but an hour and a half of agony.
But it couldn't speak any human language and its bathing suit was on backward. It walked with a rolling sailor's gait: except for the one it had just killed, every man it had seen for the past century had been walking on board a ship or boat." pg. 10

...he didn't like this boy, and for some reason was afraid of him. Maybe it was his psychiatric residency in the penal system - maybe he was projecting from that unsettling time. But he always felt Jimmy was studying him intently, the way the intelligent prisoners had: what can I get out of this man?
A better psychiatrist might have noticed that the changeling treated everyone that way. pg. 20

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I Feel Bad about My Neck

I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron
Random House, 2006
hardcover, 137 pages
ISBN-13: 9780307264558
personal essays
highly recommended

With her disarming, intimate, completely accessible voice, and dry sense of humor, Nora Ephron shares with us her ups and downs in I Feel Bad About My Neck, a candid, hilarious look at women who are getting older and dealing with the tribulations of maintenance, menopause, empty nests, and life itself.

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed I Feel Bad about My Neck, Ephron's short collection of essays. In order to appreciate many of her essays, I think it helps being a bit older and understanding all too well about the neck thing. There are essays that younger readers will enjoy too, particularly "I hate My Purse." When my children were young my purse closely resembled hers and I never had a purse I liked. I will admit that there were parts of her essays that I couldn't relate to at all. She's lived a privileged life, mainly in NYC. She doesn't even blow dry her own hair. She gets her hair done twice a week. And our political views are very different. The last chapter about the death of her good friend was very touching. Highly Recommended - especially for "older" women


I feel bad about my neck. Truly, I do. If you saw my neck, you might feel bad about it too, but you'd probably be too polite to let on. opening

Sometimes I go out to lunch with my girlfriends - I got that far into the sentence and caught myself. I suppose I mean women friends. We are no longer girls and have not been girls for forty years. pg. 4

Oh, the necks. There are chicken necks. there are turkey gobbler necks. There are elephant necks. There are necks with wattles and necks with creases that are on the verge of becoming wattles. There are scrawny necks and fat necks, loose necks, crepey necks, banded necks, wrinkled necks, stringy necks, saggy necks, flabby necks, mottled necks. There are necks that are an amazing combination of all of the above. According to my dermatologist, the neck starts to go at forty-three, and that's that...short of surgery, there's not a damn thing you can do about a neck. The neck is a dead give-away. Our faces are lies and our necks are the truth. pg. 5

His recipes were precise and I followed them to the letter; I was young, and I believed that if you changed even a hair on a recipe's head, it wouldn't turn out right. pg. 21

The point wasn't about the recipes. The point (I was starting to realize) was about putting it together. The point was about making people feel at home, about finding your own style, whatever that was, and committing to it. The point was about giving up neurosis where food was concerned. The point was about finding a way that food fit into your life. pg. 29

Why do people always say you forget the pain of labor? I haven't forgotten the pain of labor. Labor hurt. It hurt a lot. The fact that I am not currently in pain and cannot simulate the pain of labor doesn't mean I don't remember it. pg. 43

I hate that I need reading glasses. I hate that I can't read a word on the map, in the telephone book, on the menu, in the book, or anywhere else without them. pg. 53

I can't believe how real life never lets you down. I can't understand why anyone would write fiction when what actually happens is so amazing. pg. 105

I've just surfaced from spending several days in a state of rapture - with a book. I loved this book. I loved every second of it. I was transported into it's world. I was reminded of all sorts of things in my own life. I was in anguish over the fate of its characters. I felt alive, and engaged, and positively brilliant, bursting with ideas, brimming with memories of other books I've loved. pg. 117

When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you. pg. 125


Threshold by Ben Mezrich
Grand Central Publishing, 1996
massmarket paperback, 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780446605212
medical thriller
recommended - great summer reading

Synopsis from back cover:
For a lifetime, he has channeled the fear and guilt of a childhood trauma into an impassioned mission to save others. Now, inside seventy-two hours, Jeremy Ross will have to defuse an audacious plot to genetically rewire the human race. And in a heartbeat, allied with an ex-lover on a desperate quest of her own, he'll experience the greatest terror man or woman ever faced - while confronting a threat more devastating than any living creature can imagine.
My thoughts:

I saw Ben Mezrich in an interview where he gave a little shudder over his writing Threshold. I don't know why because, really, it wasn't that bad. It's a good medical thriller, full of action and adventure. Sure, you have to suspend disbelief because many parts aren't realistic, for example the medical student always getting the best of highly trained special agents or managing to clandestinely get a copy of high public officials autopsy report, but it was fast paced and entertaining. No, he's no Crichton, but I thought Mezrich successfully did what he intended.
Recommended - great summer reading fun


Secretary of Defense Warren T. Walker grunted approvingly as thunderous applause swirled through the sea of black gowns and tasseled hats. opening

The medics didn't know - he could see it in their silence. They'd never seen anything like this before: a grown man tearing at his own face, trying to mutilate himself, conscious of his actions but unable to control them. pg. 4-5

In some places the stretchers were seven thick, queued up for a chrome parade. Already the room was bursting at the seams, and it still seemed like the entire city was waiting outside.
A bystander might have assumed that this was the aftermath of some sort of catastrophe - perhaps an earthquake, or a hurricane. But at New York City Hospital's emergency room, this was just another Friday night. pg. 6

The EKG screen looked like Colorado in the summer, filled edge to edge with bright green mountains. pg. 12

He was immediately on guard. Was she in some kind of trouble? What kind of favor couldn't wait until morning? pg. 19

"I was hoping that you could get a look at my father's autopsy report," she said, leaning forward and lowering her voice. "I want to get your opinion on the cause of his death. A lot of what I've read in the newspapers has been confusing and I need to know the truth." pg. 25

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Second Genesis

Second Genesis by Jeffrey Anderson
Penguin, July 2006
massmarket paperback, 371 pages
ISBN-13: 9780515141986

Synopsis from backcover:
Survival is instinct. So is fear.
In a private compound deep in the jungles of the Amazon rain forest, a team of scientists, expert in stem cell engineering, is playing God. With unnerving success. Among them, young biologist Jamie Kendrick is grappling with the implications of the lab's creation - a genetically altered chimpanzee, as intelligent, as soulful, and as sentient as man. It reads. It writes. It reasons. And like man, it hunts.
My thoughts:

Second Genesis was entertaining escapism. It would be a great airplane book. I'll be the first to say that the writing is uneven and illogical jumps seem to take place in the story. The ending is rather abrupt and inconclusive. I thought Anderson did a nice job trying to show the Dr. Frankenstein-like recklessness and arrogance in the scientists secretive genetic modifications of the chimps and addressing the morality and ethics involved in the existence of a human-created sentient creature. While parts of the book are quite intriguing, other parts are lacking.
Recommended - for summer reading fun

Jamie left the commons, kicking a tree root with her boot, and walked toward her research station, built a half mile deeper into the forest.... She had built the entire structure herself 120 feet up on an emergent evergreen tree. It was a fifteen-foot platform lashed in the crook of three sturdy branches. The structure gave her excellent visibility over the lower canopy of the rain forest, including a view of the banks of the Rio Vicioso as it infiltrated the rain forest to join with the Amazon River ten miles downstream. pg. 11

A fence? She looked again. What was a fence doing in the middle of the amazon Jungle?
She picked herself up and limped toward the structure. It wasn't just a fence, but a massive barrier thirty feet high with five feet of barbs at the top that looked as thought they had been lifted out of San Quentin." pg. 13

Slowly, gingerly, the creature emerged from the tree. She completely lost her breath. It was definitely an ape. Anything that big was an Old World Primate.... There was nothing that large in the New World. pg. 16

On the ground, in large block letters facing her, upside down to the chimp, was written, WHO AM I pg. 19

He finally looked her in the eyes, resolutely. "I might consider a limited partnership. I could bring you on as a consulting scientist, and if I see evidence that you can be a team player, have something to offer, your role will expand. I can offer you a small stipend, an office. But this has to be with one condition: this experiment is strictly confidential." pg. 35

And from the acknowledgments:
My editor, Natalee Rosenstein, deserves all credit for turning the manuscript into a beautiful finished project. For all my readers who love a great story but do not spend pleasant nights recapitulating the mathematics of perturbation theory in population strategy spaces for zero-sum games, Natalee is your champion."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


2009; PG-13
Director: Alex Proyas
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, Ben Mendelsohn

All Movie Guide: A time capsule containing a cryptic message about the coming apocalypse sends a concerned father on a race to prevent the horrific events from unfolding as predicted in this sci-fi thriller...

We enjoyed Knowing. No spoilers here if you haven't seen the film.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Children's Blizzard

The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin
HarperCollins, November 2004
hardcover, 307 pages
ISBN-13: 9780060520755
very highly recommended, reread

Synopsis from cover:
January 12, 1888, began as an unseasonably warm morning across Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, the weather so mild that children walked to school without coats and gloves. But that afternoon, without warning, the atmosphere suddenly, violently changed. One moment the air was calm; the next the sky exploded in a raging chaos of horizontal snow and hurricane-force winds. Temperatures plunged as an unprecedented cold front ripped through the center of the continent.

By Friday morning, January 13, some five hundred people lay dead on the drifted prairie, many of them children who had perished on their way home from country schools. In a few terrifying hours, the hopes of the pioneers had been blasted by the bitter realities of their harsh environment. Recent immigrants from Germany, Norway, Denmark, and the Ukraine learned that their free homestead was not a paradise but a hard, unforgiving place governed by natural forces they neither understood nor controlled.

With the storm as its dramatic, heartbreaking focal point, The Children's Blizzard captures this pivotal moment in American history by tracing the stories of five families who were forever changed that day. Drawing on family interviews and memoirs, as well as hundreds of contemporary accounts, David Laskin creates an intimate picture of the men, women, and children who made choices they would regret as long as they lived. Here too is a meticulous account of the evolution of the storm and the vain struggle of government forecasters to track its progress.

The blizzard of January 12, 1888, is still remembered on the prairie. Children fled that day while their teachers screamed into the relentless roar. Husbands staggered into the blinding wind in search of wives. Fathers collapsed while trying to drag their children to safety. In telling the story of this meteorological catastrophe, the deadliest blizzard ever to hit the prairie states, David Laskin has produced a masterful portrait of a tragic crucible in the settlement of the American heartland.
My thoughts:

The Children's Blizzard is another one of my favorite non-fiction books. Like Isaac's Storm, it's also another book for weather geeks. This time the weather disaster is the January 12, 1888 blizzard that hit the Great Plains. Since this occurred just 12 years before the Galveston Hurricane, there was present in the national Weather Service infighting, jealousy, and control of information, and another disaster happened without any clear warning sent to the public. Arguably, in this case, even if the storm had been correctly predicted and the information passed on, very few of the people in the vast region the storm hit would have received any notification or warning. Laskin includes information about the immigrants in the region and history on the government's weather service. I thought Laskin, another good writer, did a commendable job in setting the tone and the historical context while leading up to the blizzard and its aftermath.

One of the reasons The Children's Blizzard is a favorite of mine is that I basically know the area of the country in which the blizzard occurred. I recognize the names of towns and can place them not only on a map but can "see" the land surrounding them. My paternal grandparents were Swedish settlers in Nebraska. I also know how quickly the weather can change in the area. I went to college in the Great Plains and vividly recall one day in early Spring where we woke up to warm, short sleeved shirt and shorts weather. Early in the afternoon the weather suddenly began to change, temperatures quickly dropped and we had a huge blizzard that night. Even today you hear stories about motorists thoughtlessly driving into a blizzard and getting stranded in their vehicles. With all our advances in weather forecasting and weather radar, people still need to understand that a natural disaster can occur. They need to take warnings seriously and have a healthy respect for how quickly weather can change rather than assigning blame every where but at themselves. Reread, Very Highly Recommended - one of the best


On January 12, 1888, a blizzard broke over the center of the North American continent. Out of nowhere, a soot gray cloud appeared over the northwest horizon. The air grew still for a long, eerie measure, then the sky began to roar and a wall of ice dust blasted the prairie. opening

Chance is always a silent partner in disaster. Bad luck, bad timing, the wrong choice at a crucial moment, and the door is inexorably shut and barred. The tragedy of the January 12 blizzard was that the bad timing extended across a region and cut through the shared experiences of an entire population. The storm hit the most thickly settled sections of Nebraska and Dakota Territory at the worst possible moment-late in the morning or early in the afternoon on the first mild day in several weeks, a day when children had raced to school with no coats or gloves and farmers were far from home doing chores they had put off during the long siege of cold. pg. 2

One of the many tragedies of that day was the failure of the weather forecasters, a failure compounded of faulty science, primitive technology, human error, narrow-mindedness, and sheer ignorance. America in 1888 had the benefit of an established, well-funded, nationwide weather service attached to the Army and headed by a charismatic general-yet the top priority on any given day was not weather, but political infighting. Forecasters-"indications officers," as they were styled then-insisted their forecasts were correct 83.7 percent of the time for the next twenty-four hours, but they were forbidden to use the word tornado in any prediction; they believed that America's major coastal cities were immune to hurricanes; they relied more on geometry and cartography than on physics in tracking storms; they lacked the means and, for the most part, the desire to pursue meteorological research. pg. 4

Many of the "great storms and waves of intense heat or intense cold" escaped them altogether-or were mentioned in their daily "indications" too late, too vaguely, too timidly to do anyone any good. When it came to "great disasters," they knew far less than they thought knew. pg. 5

The blizzard of January 12, 1888, known as "the Schoolchildren's Blizzard" because so many of the victims were children caught out on their way home from school, became a marker in the lives of the settlers, the watershed event that separated before and after. The number of deaths-estimated at between 250 and 500 -was small compared to that of the Johnstown Flood that wiped out an entire industrial town in western Pennsylvania the following year or the Galveston hurricane of 1900 that left more than eight thousand dead. But it was traumatic enough that it left an indelible bruise on the consciousness of the region. The pioneers were by and large a taciturn lot, reserved and sober Germans and Scandinavians who rarely put their thoughts or feelings down on paper, and when they did avoided hyperbole at all costs. Yet their accounts of the blizzard of 1888 are shot through with amazement, awe, disbelief. pg. 6-7

What follows is the story of this storm and some of the individuals whose lives were forever changed by it. Parents who lost children. Children who lost parents. Fathers who died with their coats and their arms wrapped around their sons. Sisters who lay side by side with their faces frozen to the ground. Teachers who locked the schoolhouse doors to keep their students safe inside or led them to shelter-or to death-when the roofs blew off their one-room schoolhouses. Here, too, is the story of the Army officer paid by his government to predict the evolution of the storm and warn people of its approach. In a sense it is a book about multiple and often fatal collisions - collisions between ordinary people going about their daily lives and the immense unfathomable disturbances of weather. pg. 7

Today a "surprise" storm that killed over two hundred people would instigate a fierce outcry in the press, vigorous official hand-wringing, and a flood of reports by every government agency remotely involved, starting with the National Weather Service. But in the Gilded Age, blame for the suffering attendant on an act of God was left unassigned. Hardly anyone believed that government agencies had either the expertise or the obligation to forestall disaster... pg. 254

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Isaac's Storm

Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History
by Erik Larson
Random House, August 1999
hardcover, 324 pages, including notes, sources, index
ISBN-13: 9780609602331
reread, very highly recommended - one of the best

Synopsis from the publisher:
September 8, 1900, began innocently in the seaside town of Galveston, Texas. Even Isaac Cline, resident meteorologist for the U.S. Weather Bureau failed to grasp the true meaning of the strange deep-sea swells and peculiar winds that greeted the city that morning. Mere hours later, Galveston found itself submerged in a monster hurricane that completely destroyed the town and killed over six thousand people in what remains the greatest natural disaster in American history-and Isaac Cline found himself the victim of a devastating personal tragedy.

Using Cline's own telegrams, letters, and reports, the testimony of scores of survivors, and our latest understanding of the science of hurricanes, Erik Larson builds a chronicle of one man's heroic struggle and fatal miscalculation in the face of a storm of unimaginable magnitude. Riveting, powerful, and unbearably suspenseful, Isaac's Storm is the story of what can happen when human arrogance meets the great uncontrollable force of nature.
My thoughts

Both Wonder Boy (my adult son) and I would put Erik Larson's Isaac's Storm on our lists of top nonfiction books that everyone should read. We often refer to it in conversations. Not only is it about the devastating hurricane that hit Galveston in 1900, but all of the mistakes made that prevented any prediction of a hurricane. It's a brief history of weather forecasting. It's about how hubris and ambition can sometimes prevent accurate gathering of data. It's about how the combination of personalities in the right place allowed the existence of an hurricane to be basically ignored until it made landfall and wiped out an entire city. It's about the deception and misinformation some people perpetrated in order to cover up their errors in the aftermath. It is a nonfiction book with a story so compelling that it reads like fiction. It's a book any weather geek or disaster freak will love.

Now that I've established that I love this book, let me also add that Erik Larson is a good writer. Often in nonfiction books a case can be made that there are "boring" parts, sections of the book that move too slowly, especially when compared to a fiction book. It's a difficult balance to pass along accurate information, historically or technically, while keeping the book itself satisfying and interesting. In Isaac's Storm Erik Larsen was pitch-perfect. Isaac's Storm is Very Highly Recommended - one of the best

(Summer Lovin' Challenge)


September 8, 1900
Throughout the night of Friday, September 7, 1900, Isaac Monroe Cline found himself waking to a persistent sense of something gone wrong. opening

Upon first meeting Isaac, men found him to be modest and self-effacing, but those who came to know him well saw a hardness and confidence that verged on conceit. pg. 4

...Isaac was aware of himself and how he moved through the day, and saw himself as something bigger than a mere recorder of rainfall and temperature. He was a scientist, not some farmer who gauged the weather by aches in a rheumatoid knee. Isaac personally had encountered and explained some of the strangest atmospheric phenomena a weatherman could ever hope to experience, but also had read the works of the most celebrated meteorologists and physical geographers of the nineteenth century, men like Henry Piddington, Matthew Fontaine Maury, William Redfield, and James Espy, and he had followed their celebrated hunt for the Law of Storms. He believed deeply that he understood it all. pg. 4-5

They talked about the weather. A familiar dynamic emerged. Joseph, as the younger brother and junior employee eager to prove himself, made the case too strongly that something peculiar was happening and that Washington must be informed. Isaac, ever confident, told Joseph to get some sleep, that he would take over and assess the situation and if necessary telegraph his findings to headquarters. pg. 10

Where critics most faulted Galveston was for its lack of geophysical presence. The city occupied a long, narrow island....Its highest point, on Broadway, was 8.7 feet above sealevel; its average altitude was half that, so low that with each one-foot increase in tide, the city lost a thousand feet of beach. pg. 12

Many years later he [Isaac] would write, "If we had known then what we know now of these swells, and the tides they create, we would have known earlier the terrors of the storm which these swells...told us in unerring language was coming." pg. 14

He had stumbled into the deadliest storm ever to target America. Within the next twenty-four hours, eight thousand men, women, and children in the city of Galveston would lose their lives. The city itself would lose its future> Isaac would suffer an unbearable loss. And he would wonder always if some of the blame did not belong to him.
This is the story of Isaac and his time in America, the last turning of the centuries, when the hubris of men led them to believe they could disregard even nature itself." pg. 16

Moore and officials of the bureau's West Indies hurricane service had long been openly disdainful of the Cubans. It was an attitude, however, that seemed to mask a deeper fear that Cuba's own meteorologists might in fact be better at predicting hurricanes than the bureau...
Through Dunwoody, Moore persuaded the War Department to ban from Cuba's government owned telegraph lines all cables about the weather....
It was an absurd action. Cuba's meteorologists had pioneered the art of hurricane prediction... pg. 102

[Clara] Barton was accused of withholding clothing....and of squandering money...The Palmetto Post.... called her a vulture. None of it fazed her. The same thing occurred at every disaster she attended. "It is," she wrote, "an unfortunate trait in the human character to assail or asperse others engaged in the performance of humanitarian acts." pg. 256