Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ken Burns: The National Parks: America's Best Idea

Ken Burns: The National Parks: America's Best Idea
Are you watching the new Ken Burns series on PBS this week? I'm enjoying it very much!

Sunday, September 27, 2009


I just learned that many people have a problem reading blogs with dark backgrounds and light text so, even though I really liked my dark blue/green background, I'm trying out black on white for awhile. Let me know what you think - feel free to email me privately about it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Stolen Innocence

Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs
by Elissa Wall, with Lisa Pulitzer
Hardcover, 438 pages
HarperCollins Publishers, 2008
ISBN-13: 9780061628016
highly recommended

In September 2007, a packed courtroom in St. George, Utah, sat hushed as Elissa Wall, the star witness against polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs, gave captivating testimony of how Jeffs forced her to marry her first cousin at age fourteen. This harrowing and vivid account proved to be the most compelling evidence against Jeffs, showing the harsh realities of this closed community and the lengths to which Jeffs went in order to control the sect's women.

Now, in this courageous memoir, Elissa Wall tells the incredible and inspirational story of how she emerged from the confines of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and helped bring one of America's most notorious criminals to justice. Offering a child's perspective on life in the FLDS, Wall discusses her tumultuous youth, explaining how her family's turbulent past intersected with her strong will and identified her as a girl who needed to be controlled through marriage. Detailing how Warren Jeffs's influence over the church twisted its already rigid beliefs in dangerous new directions, Wall portrays the inescapable mind-set and unrelenting pressure that forced her to wed despite her repeated protests that she was too young.
My Thoughts:

Part of what makes Stolen Innocence so compelling and, well, disgusting, is that this memoir tries to explain the FLDS way of life and how their beliefs affect families, all from the point of view of a young girl growing up in the cult. It is unforgivable to have any adult force a fourteen-year-old to marry an adult male. What made this arranged marriage even worse is the naiveté of the young girls before their arranged marriages. Quite honestly, I was feeling pretty ticked off at all of these men, and not just Warren Jeffs but all the FLDS patriarchs. I was also wondering how do the adult women, the mothers of these children tolerate this treatment. Make no mistake about it, the FLDS cult treats women as property. They have no say. I normally have pretty vivid dream. While reading Stolen Innocence I had a reoccurring odd dream in which I was being treated like an animal. Then it hit me: this is exactly how FLDS women are treated and that was were the odd dreams were coming from.

Elissa Wall's account is not perfect. She loves her mother and seems to make excuses for her mother's behavior. She also doesn't explain everything that happened very clearly and parts are repetitious. Part of this is probably due to her only 8th grade education and being raised without the vocabulary to talk about or explain what was happening to her. Part of it may be due to her fuzzy memories of all the events in her life. Wall is not a writer and even with the help of a professional, this is a story that is written in a simple way. It is such an honest, compelling recollection of her past and abuse that most readers are going to overlook the simplicity of the writing. You will be suffering with Wall as her family is moved around, siblings are forced to leave, and she is forced into a marriage. You will be cheering for Wall as she escapes from the FLDS cult and agrees to testify against Warren Jeffs.
Highly Recommended


When I'd awoken that morning, I was a fourteen-year-old girl hoping for the miracle of divine intervention; my prayers, however, had gone unanswered. With no other choice, I'd submitted to the will of our prophet and had married my nineteen-year-old first cousin. As a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), I'd been raised to believe marriages were arranged through a revelation from God, and that these revelations were delivered through our prophet, who was the Lord's mouthpiece on earth. prologue, pg 1

It didn't seem at all unusual that we would have a third mother—or that our family would continue to grow. That was just a part of the only life I had ever known as a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a group that broke away from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—more popularly known as the LDS Mormon Church—so that they could continue to practice plural marriage. Sure, our home already had two mothers and almost a dozen kids, but many of the children I knew had far more than that in their families. pg. 7

At the time, I didn't really know why everything had to be so different; all I knew was that I had to "keep sweet" and not complain. We were God's chosen people—and when Judgment Day came, we would be the only ones allowed into heaven. Judgment Day was known to the FLDS people as the day the destruction of the Lord would sweep across the earth, bringing fire, storms, and death in its wake. The wicked would all be destroyed and when it seemed like none would survive, the Lord would lift the worthiest people—us—off the earth while the devastation passed beneath us. Then we would be set back down and would build Zion, a place without sadness or pain. We would reside there with God and enjoy a thousand years of peace. pg. 8

From birth, girls are prepared for this role. their way of life is chosen for them by the priesthood. They are told who to marry, what to believe, and how to live their lives. Women are taught that they have already chosen their destiny before their birth, at which point they chose to willingly place their lives in the hands of the prophet and priesthood, having everything dictated for them. pg. 19

Through Uncle Warren, we'd been told that the prophet had ordered that all the books in the school library that were not priesthood approved would be burned, claiming that those who read the unworthy books would take on the "evil" spirit of their authors. pg. 37

While for years the church had openly taught us to hold prejudices against anyone whose skin color didn't match our ours, now Warren's language became even harsher. He taught us that non-white people were some of the lowest, worst sinners on earth and that association with them was one of the most disobedient things and FLDS member could do. pg. 71

Marriage wasn't about God, or the prophet, or any of that. It was about controlling women, trapping them into believing that they didn't have any other options.... pg. 147

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder

The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder by Rebecca Wells
hardcover, 416 pages
HarperCollins Publishers, July 2009
ISBN-13: 9780060175313
highly recommended

Synopsis from the publisher:
The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder is the sweet, sexy, funny tale of Calla Lily's life set in Wells' ever-growing fictional Louisiana. In the small river town of La Luna, Calla Lily enjoys a blissful childhood under the loving light of the Moon Lady, the feminine force that will guide her throughout her life. From her mother, M'Dear, Calla learns the old, womanly art of healing through "fixing hair."
On the same river banks, Calla tastes the sweetness of first love. But when a broken heart knocks the breath out of her, Calla transforms hurt into inspiration and heads for the wild and colorful city of New Orleans to study at L'AcadÉmie de BeautÉ de Crescent. In that extravagant big river city, she comes to understand fully the power of her "healing hands" to change lives and soothe pain, including her own.
A tale of family and friendship, tragedy and triumph, loss and love, The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder features the warmth, humor, soul, and wonder that have made Wells one of today's most cherished writers, and gives us an unforgettable new heroine to treasure.
My Thoughts:

Here is where all of my previous stereotypical statements are proven to be lies, or, err, misstatements, for The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder is definitely chick lit and a romance and I really enjoyed it. Much like Fannie Flagg's books, there is something simple, sweet, and down-to earth about Rebecca Wells' book as it follows Calla Lily's life from childhood to adult. I'm going to admit I cried, several times, and smiled, several times, while reading. Now, it's not a perfect novel. I'm not convinced that the Moon Lady as a sort of goddess was needed at all. I'm not as entranced by hair and fashion as Calla and her friends. Sometimes I did find the characters a little too simple. The plot was not filled with suspense and there really were no surprises. But, all of that set aside, I truly found The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder to be a good, uncomplicated, pleasant novel about different kinds of love.

This isn't an extension of the YaYa sisterhood but then I didn't expect it too be. With all the phenomenal success that Wells experienced after the YaYas, I think we, readers, need to give her the space and freedom to find her way and move beyond that one story line. I did love the Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood and enjoyed the second, Little Altars, too. (I actually haven't read the third book yet.) However, I wasn't looking for another YaYa book. I've read that Rebecca Wells was suffering from Lyme disease while writing this novel (she recognizes others for their support in the acknowledgements). She deserves kudos alone for this reason: she continued writing and tackling new characters while battling Lyme disease.
highly recommended

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


I know the moon and the moon knows me. I am the moon and the moon is me. I am life itself. prologue, pg. xi

Whether or not they see me, moonlight bathes my raggedy, tender people. Sometimes they are capable of unimaginable kindness. Other times they are filled with near-paralyzing fear. even when it is dark, though, when all light seems to be eclipsed, there is light on them. Light in them. I see it. pg. xii

My name is Calla Lily Ponder and I was born in 1953 in La Luna, Louisiana, on the banks of the La Luna River That is where my mother cut and curled hair, and my father and mother together taught tango, waltz, and the Cajun two-step. opening

M'Dear taught me about the Bible early on. " 'A woman's hair is her crowning glory,' the Bible says. It's a beautiful quote. Along with the Beatitudes and the Commandments, it's one of the teachings I hope you and your brothers will learn. And don't just learn them, let them into your heart." pg. 4

What I first learned about love, I learned on that dock with M'Dear. The La Luna River flowing by with it's river sounds, the river banks with their lovely sweet citrus scent of jasmine, the scent of M'Dear's hair, the oils of her scalp, the fullness of her thick, long curls against my hands, our breathing together, the closeness of her love for me - all this knit my soul together. pg. 7

Uncle Richard always carried a book with him everywhere he went. He said it was the best drug he knew of to ease pain. With his full head of thick reddish-blond hair, nobody would have guessed that he was so banged up inside. I suppose that's the way it is with everyone, really, that line between what's inside and what's out. pg. 13

I saw that M'Dear's hands were doing much more than just washing dirt out of a person's hair. Much, much more. I saw that washing and setting a person's hair could sometimes change her world. That was something I never lost. pg. 19

After a long minute, Sonny Boy said, "All right, new boy, I'll do it. I'll go first, to show you how, so you don't get yourself killed."
Just as he was getting up, Sonny Boy leaned over and whispered to Will and me, "Keep your eyes peeled out for M'Dear, will you?"
"Sonny Boy," I said, "are you crazy? You're the one who's gonna get killed if M'Dear sees you out there."
"Just give me a whistle if you see any sign of her, okay?"
"No, I'm not giving y'all any whistle," I said. "I'm coming with y'all."
So we all started our adventure. pgs. 34-35

"...I suspect you have the gift of beauty, honey. Anyone that can make Ruth Ellen Ronson look that good has got to have the divine grace. You ought to get yourself some training, sweetheart. Start up a career. A career's an important thing..." pg. 46

Monday, September 21, 2009


Book Examiner Michelle Kerns has another fun article:
This new list is from Mr. Robert McCrum in an article for the Guardian. It is "his list of the most egregious clichés publishers inflict upon book flaps, book jackets, and those press release thingys handed out like candy canes to impressionable young book reviewers."

Cult novel: no publicity to speak of but it got a review in Time Out.

Word-of-mouth sensation: thank God for Amazon.

Multicultural phenomenon: no one can pronounce the author's name.

American bestseller: someone had a long lunch in New York.

Manga novel: a comic book.

Cult manga sensation: a comic book that's won a prize.

Bestselling manga sensation: DreamWorks has bought the film rights.

European sensation: we got drunk at Frankfurt.

Lacerating: excruciating.

Warts and all: a few dirty bits.

Authorised: deadly.

Writing at the peak of his/her powers: basically past it, but who knows?

Long-awaited: we sacked two editors and it's still overdue.

Her masterpiece: she's been around for years and with a bit of luck this one will click.

His masterpiece: we have reached the end of the line with this one, but fingers crossed.

Witty and profound: three jokes and an inexplicable reference to Wittgenstein.

Now, follow Michelle's example and start looking for examples of publisherspeak on all your book jackets today!


Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer
Mass market paperback, 319 pages
Tor, copyright 1999
ISBN-13: 9780812580341
science fiction
highly recommended

From the cover:
A scientific experiment begins, and, as the button is pressed, the unexpected occurs: Everyone in the world goes to sleep for a few moments while everyone's consciousness is catapulted more than twenty years into the future. At the end of those moments, when the world reawakens, all human life is transformed by foreknowledge.
My thoughts:

An event that causes everyone on Earth to simultaneously pass out, during which time almost all of them receive a glimpse - in under two minutes - of something that appears to be occurring 21 years in their future is the fascinating premise for Flashforward. Actually the whole concept of an event of this magnitude makes Flashforward compelling reading because you want to know what happens and how the characters deal with what they've seen in their future - and what those glimpses (or not) may imply. Can they change the outcome or is the future predetermined? Even the question of free will comes into question. Start thinking about all of what this could entail and you'll see why the idea is so compelling. Now, Sawyer has a whole lot of theoretical physics talk that might make some readers eyes glaze over. For those of you who aren't great hard science fiction fans, you can skim over the theoretical discussions, but they are pretty interesting.

Sawyer excel's at the ideas in Flashforward, debating the whole concept, but the actual writing, character development, and plot seem uneven. The best part of the book is the philosophical discussions of what a glimpse into the future means and I'm not convinced that a TV show can capture that and hold it's audience. Oh, yes, you've probably heard that a TV series of the same name will be premiering this Thursday night, although in the TV series the glimpses people experience are only six months into the future. I wanted to read the book before I watched the series - if I watch it. (Apparently Flashforward will be competing with Survivor and, well, Survivor wins on Thursday nights. Hopefully I can watch the repeat episode scheduled for Friday night.) My recommendation is based entirely on the concept: Highly Recommended

A slice through spacetime… opening

Lloyd Simcoe, a Canadian-born researcher, sat at the injector console. He was forty-five, tall, and clean-shaven. His eyes were blue and his crewcut hair so dark brown that one could get away with calling it black—except at the temples, where about half of it had turned gray.
Particle physicists weren’t known for their sartorial splendor, and Lloyd had until recently been no exception. But he’d agreed a few months ago to donate his entire wardrobe to the Geneva chapter of the Salvation Army, and let his fiancée pick out all-new things for him. Truth be told, the clothes were a little flashy for his taste, but he had to admit that he’d never looked so sharp.pg. 12

Lloyd was director of the collaborative group of almost a thousand physicists using the ALICE (“A Large Ion Collider Experiment”) detector. He and Theo had spent two years designing today’s particle collision—two years, to do work that could have taken two lifetimes. They were attempting to recreate create energy levels that hadn’t existed since a nanosecond after the Big Bang..... In the process, they hoped to detect the holy grail of high-energy physics, the long-sought-after Higgs boson, the particle whose interactions endowed other particles with mass. If their experiment worked, the Higgs, and the Nobel that would likely be awarded to its discoverers, should be theirs. pg. 13-14

And then, suddenly, everything was different. pg. 14

—and, suddenly, incredibly, thankfully, amazingly, Lloyd Simcoe was back at CERN, back in the LHC control room. For some reason, he was slumped in his vinyl-padded chair. He straightened himself up and used his hands to pull his shirt back into position.
What an incredible hallucination it had been! .... Lloyd took a moment to reorient himself. There had been no transition between here and there: no flash of light, no sense of wooziness, no popping of his ears. One instant , he’d been at CERN, then, in the next, he’d been somewhere else, for—what?—two minutes, perhaps. And now, just as seamlessly, he was back in the control room.
Of course he’d never left. Of course it had been an illusion. pg. 18

“They use the fire trucks for first aid as well as fires,” said Sven.
Michiko realized the magnitude of what Sven was suggesting. “We should check all the rooms here; make sure everyone is all right.”
Lloyd nodded and moved back to the corridor. “Antonia, you check everyone in the control room. Michiko, you take Jake and Sven and go down that way. Theo and I will look up this way.” He felt a brief pang of guilt at dismissing Michiko, but he needed a moment to sort out what he’d seen, what he’d experienced. pg. 21

As he said that, Michiko re-emerged. Her skin was even paler than normal, and her voice was quavering as she spoke. “There won’t be any ambulances,” she said. “Not anytime soon, anyway. The emergency operator told me they’re all tied up in Geneva. Apparently every driver on the roads blacked out; they can’t even begin to tally up how many people are dead.” pg. 25

Theo felt woozy, shell-shocked. Although he hadn't had a vision, it seemed everyone else had. pg 37

It had to be the LHC experiment: it couldn't be a coincidence that the highest-energy particle collision in the history of the planet happened at precisely the same moment as the onset of the phenomenon. pg. 41

Friday, September 18, 2009

Blue World

Blue World: And Other Stories by Robert R. McCammon
Mass market paperback, 435 pages
Pocket Books, 1990
ISBN: 0671695185
horror, short stories
highly recommended

From the battlefields of a Vietnam veteran's memory to an old-time movie hero's search for a serial killer, from Halloween in a special town--where the rules of trick-or-treat are written in blood--to a Texas road where a wrong turn leads to a nest of evil, horror master McCammon is at his terrifying best in this collection of stories.
My Thoughts:

I don't normally read short stories. Because it requires such great skill for a writer to craft a truly good short story, many I've read over the years haven't been enjoyable. This collection by McCammon is an exception. Blue World includes 12 short stories and one novella. All of the stories are worth reading. McCammon excels at establishing the setting and bringing his characters to life, and he does this quite quickly and nimbly in these short stories. The stories included in this collection run the gamete, from frightening to disturbing to strangely hopeful. "Yellow Jacket Summer" (as well as a few of the other stories) reminded me of an X-Files or Twilight Zone episode. "Pin" was just disturbing and I don't want to think about it any more. "Something Passed By" was very good and I wonder if it couldn't be developed into a novel. My favorite was probably "Night Calls The Green Falcon". Although there were a couple of the stories I enjoyed less than others, I would still say, all in all, I would highly recommend this whole collection.

Read for the RIP IV Challenge

Quoted from the introduction:

I've built my own fast cars. They're in this book, and they're eager for passengers.....All of them have a starting point, and all of them have a destination. You can sit behind the wheel, but I have to steer. Trust me.

We will travel, you and I, across a tortured land where hope struggles to grow like seed in a drought. In this land, a place with no boundaries, we'll run the freeways and back roads and we'll listen to the song of the wheels and peer into windows at lives that might be our own, if we lived in that land. Sometimes we'll have the wind at our backs, and sometimes in our faces....Our road will lead us onward, deeper into the tortured land, and as the speedometer revs and the engine roars, we may find strange visions on that twisted highway.
A man who awakens one morning to find a skeleton in bed where his wife had been the night before.
A small-time their who steals a makeup case, and learns a dead horror star's secret.
A roadside diner, where a Vietnam veteran comes seeking shelter from the storm.
A young man in prison who finds beauty and hope on the wings of a yellow bird.
Halloween in a very special residential area, where trick-or-treating is deadly serious.
A red house on a street of gray houses, and a breath of fresh sweet fire.
The adventures of a has-been serial hero, who dons his old costume and goes in search of a serial killer.
A priest obsessed by a porno star, and his realization that both of them are being stalked by a third shadow.
We will see worlds within worlds from the windows of our fast car. We might even see the end of the world, and we might sit on a front porch for awhile and sip a glass of gasoline on a hot December day.....
Novels are limousines, stately and smooth. Some of them can ride like tanks, slow and heavy. The fast car of short stories: those are the vehicles that let us zoom close to the ground, with the wind in our hair and the speedometer's needle vibrating on the dangerous edge.... pages ix-x

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Last Last Chance

Last Last Chance by Fiona Maazel
hardcover, 337 pages
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, March 2008
ISBN-13: 9780374183851

Synopsis from cover:
A lethal strain of virus vanishes from a lab in Washington, D.C., letting loose an epidemic - and all the world thinks Lucy Clark's dead father is to blame. The "superplague" may be the least of Lucy's problems, though. There's her mother, Isifrid, a peddler of high-end hatwear, a crackhead and pagan theologian. There's her twelve-year-old half sister, Hannah, who is obsessed with disease and Christian fundamentalism; and there's Lucy's lover, Stanley, who's hell-bent on finding a womb for his dead wife's frozen eggs. There's her grandmother, Agneth, who believes in reincarnation (and who turns out to be right).

And then there's Lucy herself, whose wise, warped approach to life makes her a guide to love among the ruins. Romping across the country from New York City to rural Pennsylvania and the Texas desert, Lucy tries to get the better of her drug addiction and keep her family intact - and she tells us, uproariously, all about it.
My Thoughts:
I don't know if it's because I have a head cold or what, but Last Last Chance did not live up to the great reviews for me. Basically, it's a rather slow-paced novel about self-absorbed junkies. The superplague, while there, is just one more background thing to be anxious about, and certainly not as important as the drugs, reincarnation, illness, or even Lucy's failure at romance. While Maazel's writing is full of wit and humor, combined with the actual storyline, it started to become annoying and really distracting. Last Last Chance, although it did have some insightful moments, really didn't do it for me. So-so


People I love know how to get on with their lives. In evidence: A girlfriend from elementary school was getting married. Day after tomorrow, Plaza Hotel. The invitation was piped in copper and rice, maybe because the bride was Indian. It promised a groom on horseback. This I'd like to see. I knew the groom, which made it tough to imagine horseback nothin'. A horse could make him cry. A horse could make me cry. How fortuitous. When the crying starts, blame horse. opening

The vistas were great. But the feeling was claustral. I'd been exiled, and though I could leave anytime, I felt I deserved this. And that's the thing about exile, you tend to feel extra trapped if you know the comeuppance is just. pg. 4

The rehab was fancy and a little dumb, and had supplied every bathroom with Listerine. The day after Kam left, a staffer found me drinking from the bottle, hiding in a shower stall and sniffing the replacement grout for fumes of advisable use. pg. 11

Your mother was on the floor, crushing pills and snorting them with a straw. pg. 14

What everyone knows: it's been 237 days since vials of the plague were stolen from my dad's lab and 180 days since he took his life. What everyone just found out: The bacteria he cultured are sprightly. They do not degrade in the open air and no antibiotic can kill them. They are, in a word, immortal. pg. 16

Dad had been in charge of hiring our nannies. The arrangement was this: he'd offer asylum, they'd offer themselves to science. It's true that human vaccination trials border on genocide. That as a result of the trials, hundreds of illegal immigrants died and none were missed. But Dad had an answer for everything. If pressed, he'd reason that human trials were the only was to devise vaccines, that many diseases simply do not reproduce in animal hosts. pg. 21

"Then it's me. Someone in this house is sick, I can feel it."
I nodded. I'd already seen her cough up black sludge that cleaved to the sink. She wheezed. Had chronic sore throat. Fever, sweats, nausea. But that was just because of the drug abuse. Not a real illness, just drugs. pg. 30

Over the years, many specialists have told me I need to feel the feelings. But when the experience of hurt begins to feel like a dry heave, I think you do better to suppress with all you got. pg. 42

He says someone in Minnesota just got sick with superplague. They are short on details but long on gist: the man is gonna die pronto. pg. 45

The meeting goes on. No one mentions superplague, but then no one would. We are entirely too self-centered to let such matters upstage miseries of our own devising. pg. 70

Friday, September 11, 2009

Roses of Glory

Roses of Glory by Mary Pershall

massmarket paperback, 366 pages
Berkley, 1987
ISBN-13: 9780425100066
historical romance

Synopsis from Cover:

Roanna Royson
The beautiful tavern wench from the lusty London docks whom fortune made a lady.... She was as bold and rebellious as the wild mane of hair that tumbled around her shoulders -until one man's savage passions possessed her.
Giles fitz William
The bastard son of one of England's noblest families, the stableboy who became a knight...he longed for the fiery tempered Roanna, had always wanted her, would never stop wanting her...
Destined for Danger, Desire, and Triumph
While all of E
ngland writhed in the flames of rebellion, they loved and fought with a passion that could never be conquered. Surrounded by treachery, accused of treason, forced into captivity, neither would surrender... until a final ravishing climax brought the lady and the knight together on the peaks of burning love...
My Thoughts:

How perfectly clever and diabolical was my daughter, Just Me, in her selection for this month's Critical Monkey and Don't be A-Hatin' Amendment book. She chose not just a romance with a hot couple on the cover, but a historical romance - a medieval historical romance set in 1259. The combination, for me, was excruciatingly painful. It's almost more than a person should have to bare, but I'm going to try to embrace it for what it was: a mess.

Pershall wanted Roses of Glory to be compared to The Taming of the Shrew. No, really, she did. The book is divided into four parts and an epilogue. Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew is quoted at the beginning of each section. I think this is supposed to make you feel more virtuous and educated while reading Roses of Glory. The plot, well, what there was of a plot, was uneven and jumped around. I don't even know where to begin discussing it other than to note that it appeared Pershall was trying to fit the romance into some sort of historical context, and she did have her characters run around a great deal in order to give the impression of great action.

Obviously, I shouldn't have to point out that there are historical inaccuracies in Roses of Glory. I don't think the target audience (which clearly does not include me) is looking for completely accurate historical details. I think just the hint that it's vaguely historical is enough. The family trees for the Marshals and Plantagenets at the beginning is probably enough. Nor are they likely looking for finely crafted dialogue. The dialogue almost had me throwing Roses of Glory across the room. "Lud" must have been some character I didn't know about for the number of times Roanna and everyone else said it. (I know... it's probably meant to be a bastardized "Lord" or, although this is not likely, it could be an oath in reference to Lud son of Heli, the founder of London, but come on... that would be too much historical trivia.)

For those of you who enjoy romance novels, please know I understand, I really do, reading books that are not exactly fine literature for escapism and sheer enjoyment. I get it. However, I know that when I read for sheer escapism I'm much more likely to be looking for an action adventure kind of novel. If there's someone struggling up the face of a mountain in the moonlight with a gun in his hand and a knife between his teeth, the book might be closer to my preferences. On a positive note after reading Roses of Glory, Pride and Prejudice, in comparison, is the best romance novel ever written. At least the writing is excellent, there is a plot, and the dialogue is clever.


Roanna spooned the hot stew into her mouth, thinking that she had never tasted anything so good in her life. opening

Then he came into her life. It was the beginning of the end. If she had even suspected, in those moments when she was wrestling with the goat, what was to come, she would have fled Durham House then and there. But, nay, she had remained, day after day, until she had made a complete and total fool of herself. pg. 6

She raised her head to find his face inches from her own. Transfixed, she stared into deep blue eyes, crinkled at the corners with tiny laugh lines. Soft, wet, chestnut curls hung over a tanned forehead and a handsome face that left her breathless. His body was lean and hard beneath hers, his teeth white and healthy as he grinned at her. Lud, she thought, he's bloody gorgeous. pg. 10

Young women, scantily clad, were dancing about the long table. They were dark-skinned with long black hair, wearing brief cloths about their breasts and hips, their legs covered only by thin veils of sarcenet.
"They're Saracen women!" Maud hissed, coming up behind her. "I 'eard a squire say that Lord Edward brought 'em 'ere just for this. They be captives, 'eld by some blighter earl in Normandy. Lud, Roanna," she said, giggling, "ain't it exciting?" pg. 14

Lud, had she imagined it? Oh, the reaction of others confirmed that it had happened, but it did not seem real.... She regretted that she had been so rude, but lud, what did he expect?.... He had saved her, though hardly from a fate worse than death - lud, only a man would say that - but certainly from a bloody 'orrible experience. pg. 19

"Pah, not so," Dorine interrupted and sighed heavily with dramatic emphasis. "A waste, t' be sure, fer one so 'andsome - but alas, our 'andsome knight was born on the wrong side of the sheets. "is mother be a mystery, one the family keeps guarded. Makes 'im all the more excitin', eh?" pg. 21

"Because, my love, long ago I capitulated and resigned myself to being the willing slave to your superior designs. Lead me, Eleanor, I surrender." pg. 39

"You know, it amazes me that one who was raised as you were should be such a spoiled brat. Do not say a word!" he warned at the sound of her gasp. pg. 107
("Brat" would not have been used as such at this time.)

"Go bleedin' rot!" she cried, backing farther away until she came up against a table. "I won't go! Tell friggin' Edward he can bloody - " pg. 317
(So, now we know, "friggin' " was in common usage in the 1200's.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I-don't-know-how-to-love-him badminton

Since I can’t sing this game must have been Hipee’s idea. There is no conceivable universe where my old-enough-to-know-better self would be saying, “Let’s play ‘bad mitten’ and sing.” This is one of those occurrences where common sense and caution tells you to deny it ever happened but I can’t because there were witnesses.

What we did was exactly what it sounds like. We played badminton while singing “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar.

What was wrong with us?

“Your serve.”

“I iiii… don't know how to- umph - love him. What to do, how to…”

“… moooooove him. Ive been CHANGED, yessss really….”

“…changed. In these paststttttt few days, when I've seen myself..."

“I seem – that was out! My serve - like someone else. – hurumph…”

“I don't know- owwweh- how to take this. I don't …”

“…see why he moves me. –umph- He's a man. He's just…”

“… a man. Annnnnnd I've had so many men before…”

“In very –eryyyyy- many ways, He's just one more.”

“Should I bring him - your serve - dowwwnnn?"

"Should I scream – mmmuph- and shout?"

"Should I speak of – ffffffve - love, Let my feelings…”

“… out? I never –errrrrr- thought I'd come to this. “

“What's it all about? –umph - Don't you think it'ssssss…”

“…sssss rather funny, I iiiiii should be in this positionnnnnnn.”

“I'm the one- uunnnn- “

“Out, my serve - who's always beennnnn ssso calm…”

“… so coolllllllll, nooooo lover's fool, running…”

“… every –eeeeeee- show. He scares me so.”

“I never thought – umph - I'd come to thisssssss.”

“What's it all aboutttttt? Yet, if he said he…”

“… loved me, I'd be lost – osttttt- . I'd be frightened. “

“I couldn't cope – eehhht - just couldn't cope. I'd turn…”

“… my head. I'd –ddddd - back away. I wouldn't want to…”

“… know- oooooooo. He scares me so.

“I want him soooooooo. –“

“I love him soooooooo”

“Want to go again?”

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Flower Children

Flower Children by Maxine Swann
massmarket paperback size, 211 pages
Penguin, copyright 2007
ISBN-13: 9781594483110

Synopsis from the Publisher:
From an award-winning short story writer comes this spare, lively, moving novel, quickly embraced by critics and readers, portraying the strangely celebrated and unsupervised childhood of four hippie offspring in the 1970s and 80s. Based on the author's own upbringing, Flower Children tells the story of four children growing up in rural Pennsylvania, impossibly at odds with their surroundings. In time, as the sheltered utopia their parents have created begins to collapse, the children long for structure and restraint—and all their parents have avoided.

My Thoughts:

The first thing you need to know is that the 211 pages belie the reality - this is really more of a novella than complete novel. The pages have large margins and type, as well as large spaces between the lines. Put this book in a more traditional format and you are going to have about 100 pages. A case could also be made that this is really a collection of related short stories and since some of the stories previously appeared as such in different places, this may be closer to the reality. Apparently this novella was expanded form a prize winning short story. However, since Flower Children was published as a novel I'm going to evaluate it as one.

While the quality of the writing is certainly good and the concept intriguing, in the end this is an enjoyable yet entirely forgettable novel. I think that Swann needs to reevaluate her decision to make this a fictional account loosely based on her own childhood and just write a memoir. Either that or she should have perhaps abandoned the idea of expanding her prize winning short story into a novel. In my opinion a memoir would come across as more honest and, well, real. As it is now, there really isn't the character development necessary for a novel and this could be because Swann has some underlying assumptions that we know the story because she knows the story. The prose also seems disjointed at times, with some parts written in first person and some in third person. The current collection of interconnected stories turned into a novel actually needed some more work to tie the stories together more fully and develop the characters more completely.


They're free to run anywhere they like whenever they like, so they do. opening

Their parents don't care what they do. They're the luckiest children alive! They run out naked in storms. pg. 2

Their parents are delighted by these children in every way, these children who will be like no children ever were. In this house with their children, they'll create a new world - one that has no relation to the would they have known - in which nothing is lied about, whispered about, and nothing is ever concealed. pg. 6

They learn not to swear. They get prizes for obedience, for following the rules down to the last detail. They are delighted by these rules, these arbitrary lines that regulate behavior and mark off forbidden things and they examine them closely and exhaust their teachers with questions about the mechanical functioning and the hidden intricacies of these beings, the rules.... pg. 12

They're mortified by what they know and have seen. They're sure that if they mention one word, the other children will go home and tell their parents who will tell their teachers who will be horrified and disgusted and push them away. But they also think they should be punished. They should be shaken, beaten, for what they've seen. pg. 12-13

We were all of us two years apart, Lu, then me, then Tuck and Clyde. pg. 23

Each of our father's girlfriends is weirder than the one before. pg. 52

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Unit

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
Marlaine Delargy (Translator)
trade paperback, 268 pages
Other Press, translation copyright 2008
ISBN-13: 9781590513132
dystopian suspense
very highly recommended

From the Publisher
One day in early spring, Dorrit Weger is checked into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. She is promised a nicely furnished apartment inside the Unit, where she will make new friends, enjoy the state of the art recreation facilities, and live the few remaining days of her life in comfort with people who are just like her. Here, women over the age of fifty and men over sixty–single, childless, and without jobs in progressive industries–are sequestered for their final few years; they are considered outsiders. In the Unit they are expected to contribute themselves for drug and psychological testing, and ultimately donate their organs, little by little, until the final donation. Despite the ruthless nature of this practice, the ethos of this near-future society and the Unit is to take care of others, and Dorrit finds herself living under very pleasant conditions: well-housed, well-fed, and well-attended. She is resigned to her fate and discovers her days there to be rather consoling and peaceful. But when she meets a man inside the Unit and falls in love, the extraordinary becomes a reality and life suddenly turns unbearable. Dorrit is faced with compliance or escape, and…well, then what?

THE UNIT is a gripping exploration of a society in the throes of an experiment, in which the “dispensable” ones are convinced under gentle coercion of the importance of sacrificing for the “necessary” ones. Ninni Holmqvist has created a debut novel of humor, sorrow, and rage about love, the close bonds of friendship, and about a cynical, utilitarian way of thinking disguised as care.

My Thoughts:

I really liked The Unit. Since it was originally written in Swedish, there is always the possibility that some nuances have been lost in the translation, as in Rolvaag's books, but I thought this dystopian suspense novel held together quite well and my attention was riveted to it right up to the end. It does appear that The Unit has some similarities to Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, however there are also marked differences between the two. Besides, it could easily be argued that all dystopian novels share a common theme - along with the label. The Unit is a welcomed addition to the genre.

One of the more frightening and chilling aspects of this scenario, where certain people who are labeled dispensable must enter a Reserve Bank Unit for biological material, is that I could actually envision society heading in this direction. Left unsaid or simply mentioned as facts are several horrifying underlying societal assumptions. Written in a matter-of-fact way, The Unit joins the ranks of other cautionary tales of possible societal outcomes in a reaction to current events. It is a thought provoking, terrifying, and heart breaking novel that was well worth reading.
Very Highly Recommended

RIP IV Challenge


It was more comfortable than I could have imagined. A room of my own with a bathroom, or rather a suite of my own, because there were two rooms: a bedroom and a living room with a kitchenette. It was light and spacious, furnished in a modern style and tastefully decorated in muted colors. True, the tiniest nook or cranny was monitored by cameras, and I would soon realize there were hidden microphones there too. opening

Perhaps it was because of this "almost loving" that as late as six weeks before my fiftieth birthday, in a final attempt at least to gain a dispensation with regard to the date, I turned to him and asked him to save me - yes in my desperation I actually used that expression... pg. 10

I didn't cry until I said good-bye to Jock, my dog; we'd been so close for so many years. pg. 11

My older sister Siv didn't exist anymore, at least I didn't think so. She had no children and was seven years older than me, so the probability that she might still be alive wasn't particularly great, that's if she had become dispensable.... pg 15

"I remember the debate and the referendum. I also remember that it really wasn't much of a debate to begin with.... and very few people took the proposal seriously. I wasn't particularly interested in politics, and I was far too young to be able to identify with concepts like middle age. Every time the subject came up, in the media or with other people, I heaved a bored sigh and turned the page or switched the channels or changed the topic of conversation. Societal issues of this kind just had nothing to do with me.... pg 23

The question came up again in different guises and different packaging, and somehow it had slipped into the manifestos of some of the bigger and more established parties, and when the referendum finally took place, opinion had shifted. pg. 24

Then day care became compulsory for eight hours a day for all children aged between eighteen months and six years. The housewife and her male provider have not only been out of fashion for a long time, they have been eradicated. pg. 27

As new arrivals we had four consecutive free days, Sunday to Wednesday. It was so we could make ourselves at home in the unit before the compulsory health check; after that we would be allocated to appropriate human experiments of begin to donate. pg. 31

"Well, it's because there are so many intellectuals here. People who read books."
"I see," I said again.
"People who read books," he went on, "tend to be dispensable. Extremely." pg. 48

"...They own everyone's life. And life is capital. A capital that is to be divided fairly among the people in a way that promotes reproduction and growth, welfare and democracy. I am only a steward, taking care of my vital organs." pg. 103

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Freaks of the Storm

Freaks of the Storm by Randy Cerveny
Trade paperback
371 pages, including bibliography and index
Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006
ISBN-13: 9781560258018
highly recommended

Synopsis From the Publisher:
In the course of his numerous talks and presentations to college and grade school students, civic clubs, and nursing homes, climatologist Randy Cerveny found that people of all ages are fascinated by the "unusual"-and he seized on that fascination to tell them about strange weather. Now, in his first book, the rest of us can learn of real, documented stories such as these: Odd occurrences of chickens losing all their feathers during tornadoes (so-called "chicken plucking"); Strange stories of finding lightning victims who have been completely stripped of all of their clothes (through a process known as "the vapor effect"); Weird stories of how past powerful hailstorms have both led to the ending of one war-and the complete prevention of another; Bizarre uses of weather-such as the strange contraption called a "windwagon" that literally "sailed" nearly 500 miles from Kansas to Colorado; Each chapter in Freaks of the Storm encompasses the oddities of a specific type of weather, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning, and hail. The author also divides specific conditions into a set of categories associated with the overall phenomena.
My Thoughts:

Freaks of the Storm: From Flying Cows to Stealing Thunder: The World's Strangest True Weather Stories by Randy Cerveny is great! OK, ok... I am a weather geek so I'm bound to enjoy a book that features all sorts of unusual weather events. There is a brief chapter on the history of collecting weather facts and explanations for them. After that Cerveny has chapters covering: Tornadoes; Lightning; Hail; Rain; Hurricanes; Hot, Cold, Wet and Dry; Snow; Wind; Dust Devils and Waterspouts; The Oddest Weather Extremes; Oddest Forecasts: and State Weather Oddities. In each chapter he has some great examples of freaks of the storms along with explanations for them.

This book is about exactly what its title states - strange weather events. It is not a general meteorology book. It is not a textbook. If you have an understanding of the whys of weather or even if you just like reading about odd occurrences associated with weather then you will likely enjoy this book. It's a collection of odd things, not a detail treatise on one storm. Also, alas, it really did need a good editor to do some grammar and spell checking. Some mistakes (a monument called a "moment" pg. 327, and the District of Columbia called "District of Colombia" pg. 318) are really very pitiful and there were a few other writing errors. Now, I enjoyed the subject enough that I was able to overlook the errors but if they are going to bother you, then you might want to skip this book.
Highly Recommended - the very was left out due to the need of editing, but I did very much enjoy it


Such odd happenings in relation to weather were tagged in the first part of the last century with the phrase "freaks of the storm." pg. 3

Research of these unusual aspects of weather has led to some surprising breakthroughs. We now know that there is a scientific explanation behind many of the anomalies.... But given all of our incredible improvements in weather research and technology, do freaks of the storm still occur? pg. 20

In each of the following chapter, I have created a number of basic categories of weather oddities and selected an assortment of interesting (and, hopefully, entertaining) anecdotes to present their basic nature. This book contains well over five hundred different - and odd - stories of unusual weather from my archive of eight thousand entries.....Each individual chapter also contains a section on general safety recommendations for each type of given weather. pg. 21

Boys, girls, ladies, and gents, step right up! Come one, come all! Be entertained, be amazed, and be frightened! Encounter the outlandish, the odd, and the weird... the Freaks of the Storms! Step right up and hear the strangest plethora of wind, rain, and storm stories ever to be assembled in one place.

Do you have the courage to hear the creepy story of "Ice Spear of Death"? Can you endure the tale of the "Lightening Strike that ignited a Man's Stomach"? Have you the willingness to witness the cattle "Herd Shot around the World"? Do you have the nerve to learn the secrets of the horrifying "Rains of Blood or the macabre "Killer Fog of Pennsylvania"? Are you brave enough to learn the gruesome details of the Tornado Crucifixion" or bold enough to discover the intriguing secrets of the "Hurricane Pig"?

The Weird. The Bizarre. The Unusual. It's all here... so boy and girls, ladies and gents: Prepare to enter the baffling world of... the Freaks of the Storm! pg. 22

Movie Dude Weekend

I'm starting a new series here on She Treads Softly called Movie Dude Weekend. The movie dude is my nephew who loves all things movie related. He and his brother often stay overnight on Friday nights. The evenings consist of watching movies and talking. Many of the conversations result in some unforgettable comments. Movie Dude Weekend will chronicle (maybe) all of the movies we watched and any conversational highlights from the evening.

Movie Dude Wisdom:
What happens when vampires get in the sun?
They burn.
They Burn.
What happens in Twilight?
They get sparkly, glittery, and pretty. I don't like the movie. Vampires are not teenagers forever.
Robert Pattinson is the worst actor of our time. Kristen Stewart is just cute and that's it.

Movies watched:

Pirates of the Caribbean - At World's End
(We watched the first two on an earlier weekend.)
Director: Gore Verbinski
Actors: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley

Donovan's Brain (1953)
Director: Felix E. Feist
Actors: Lew Ayres, Gene Evans, Nancy Davis (yup, that Nancy Davis)

Attack of the Puppet People (1954).
director: Bert I. Gordon
Actors: John Agar, John Hoyt, June Kenney

During the evening several games were played. During one, in homage to Donovan's Brain, we tried to mentally transmit images or sentences to everyone else in the room. The closest we came to information being sent and receive was:
Sent: I'm sticking two carrots up my nose
Received: I like carrots.
Pretty darn good for novices at mental telepathy, but we better all hold on to our brains for right now.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Sum and Total of Now

The Sum and Total of Now by Don Robertson
Berkley trade paperback edition August 2009
copyright 1966, 290 pages
ISBN-13: 9780425230848
highly recommended

Synopsis from back cover:
It is the summer of 1948. Thirteen-year-old Morris Bird III lives in Cleveland with his parents and little sister. His mother aggravates him, his sister is a pain, and his father's radio personality ego is out of control - as is Morris's own body when in the presence of girls. But over in Columbus [sic], his grandmother is dying. She is the greatest influence on his life, and cancer is stealing her away from him.
As his parents and aunts and uncles bicker over his grandmother's belongings, young Morris distracts himself with the Cleveland Indians' race for the pennant, Phillip Marlowe stories, and the common daydreams of a teenage boy. But in the end, Morris must find courage and strength within to face the harsh reality around him - and the choices he must make - because he's the only one who can.

My Thoughts:

This is the second of three Robertson novels featuring the unforgettable Morris Bird III. Fans of the first novel, The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread were anxiously waiting for this recently re-released edition. It's been 4 years and Morris is now 13 - and experiencing everything that that entails. While the story does start out slow and the climax might also be easy for others to correctly guess, The Sum and Total of Now was certainly worth the effort. My eyes perhaps glazed over a little during the baseball discussions, but then they also did in real life during game discussions when my son was this age. This isn't quite as good as the first novel, but it has been said that it is more of a transition novel between the first and the third. The final novel in the Morris Bird III trilogy is The Greatest Thing That Almost Happened and it's also just been re-released.

If you've read and enjoyed The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread, you will have been introduced to Don Robertson's writing style. He does have sections where the writing is following Morris Bird III's thoughts and it's all stream of consciousness writing. While these sections could potentially bother some people, I haven't had a problem with them.
Highly Recommended - and let's face it, fans of the first will be reading it anyway

People were forever telling the boy that confusions were a part of Growing Up. opening

He called on the sum and total of his personal now, and he supposed it was a long way from being good old Maturity, but what else was there for him? pg. 2

His complexion. Some complexion. It was killing him. Especially his forehead. It put him in mind of the surface of the moon. pg. 3

This wasn't much of a family for people to see fit to tell other people much of anything. But this didn't mean they didn't talk...Oh there was plenty of talk, and especially from Morris Bird III's father. The man was actually paid to talk. pg. 8

Things changed. Things forever adjusted themselves and took new shapes. His grandmother had been brave beyond bravery, wise beyond wisdom, but now her face was all wrinkled and yellowish, and she didn't even have the strength to keep from crying in front of her grandchildren. pg. 11

Baseball in Cleveland that summer was a serious business; it grabbed people by the throat. pg. 13

Morris Bird III loved the movies. He loved them because they made sense. Things worked out. You knew who the bad guys were, and you knew they would lose. Nothing was left hanging. pg. 15

Almost four years ago now, on the day (October 20, 1944) .... Morris Bird III had behaved in a courageous manner (helping some injured people), and thus he had made it up to Logan MacMurray and erased his early dropkick and speedometer embarrassments, but a lot of things had happened since then, and the world had revealed itself as being a lot more complicated, and Courage was a harder word to understand. Here he was, thirteen now and pocked and angry, immersing himself in baseball and movies and mournful lonely deep knee bends, and oh boy oh boy oh boy how things forever changed. He saw himself as a thing of now, and whatever he was, was the sum and total of his now, but the now forever changed, and he was a clamor of arrivals and departures and memories and aches and growth and rot, openings and closings, enthusiasms and rejections..... pg. 21