Monday, May 31, 2010

Cat's Eye

Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
copyright 1988
Knopf Doubleday, paperback, 445 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385491020
very highly recommended, reread

Cat's Eye is the story of Elaine Risley, a controversial painter who returns to Toronto, the city of her youth, for a retrospective of her art. Engulfed by vivid images of the past, she reminisces about a trio of girls who initiated her into the fierce politics of childhood and its secret world of friendship, longing, and betrayal. Elaine must come to terms with her own identity as a daughter, a lover, an artist, and a woman - but above all she must seek release from her haunting memories. Disturbing, hilarious, and compassionate, Cat's Eye is a breathtaking novel of a woman grappling with the tangled knot of her life.
My Thoughts:

This is one of my favorite novels and it still resonates with me today as much as it did when I first read it. First and foremost, Margaret Atwood is an incredible writer. Her deft handling of and the richness found in her descriptions and narrative is exquisite. Cat's Eye is more than a novel about girl bullies - it transcends that simple description. It is about Elaine, an adult woman, taking an introspective look at her life and the impact her childhood played in her development as well as her feelings of inadequacy and loneliness. But Cat's Eye also covers these same feelings as experienced by Elaine as an adult. Cat's Eye is still one of my favorites.
Very Highly Recommended - reread


Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space. If you can bend space you can bend time also, and if you knew enough and could move faster than light you could travel backward in time and exist in two places at once.
It was my brother Stephen who told me that, when he wore his raveling maroon sweater to study in and spent a lot of time standing on his head so that the blood would run down into his brain and nourish it. I didn't understand what he meant, but maybe he didn't explain it very well. He was already moving away from the imprecision of words. opening

Lately I've caught myself humming out loud, or walking along the street with my mouth slightly open, drooling a little. Only a little; but it may be the thin edge of the wedge, the crack in the wall that will open, later, onto what? What vistas of shining eccentricity, or madness? pg. 6

I can feel my throat tightening, a pain along the jawline. I've started to chew my fingers again. There's blood, a taste I remember. It tastes of orange Popsicles, penny gumballs, red licorice, gnawed hair, dirty ice. pg. 9

Until we moved to Toronto I was happy. pg. 22

I want some friends, friends who will be girls. Girl friends. I know that these exist, having read about them in books, but I've never had any girl friends because I've never been in one place long enough. pg. 29

There are days when I can hardly make it out of bed. I find it an effort to speak. I measure progress in steps, the next one and the next one, as far as the bathroom. These steps are major accomplishments. I focus on taking the cap off the toothpaste, getting the brush up to my mouth. I have difficulty lifting my arm to do even that. I feel I am without worth, that nothing I can do is of any value. least of all to myself.
What do you have to say for yourself? Cordelia used to ask. Nothing, I would say. It is a word I came to connect with myself, as if I was nothing, as if there was nothing there at all. pg. 43

You can't wear pants to school, you have to wear skirts. pg. 48

I don't know what to say. I know the unspoken rules of boys, but with girls I sense that I am always on the verge of some unforeseen calamitous blunder. pg. 50

Also I don't like it that this is where paintings end up, on these neutral-toned walls with the track lighting, sterilized, rendered safe and acceptable. It's as if somebody's been around spraying the paintings with air freshener, to kill the smell. The smell of blood on the walls. pg. 90

Most mothers worry when their daughters reach adolescence, but I was the opposite. I relaxed, I sighed with relief. Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life-sized. pg. 125

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Alive, and Kickin’

I'm still alive. We've successfully packed, moved, and began unpacking our stuff again - but not all of it. We're leaving many boxes packed and stored. Even so, there's still a lot of work to do.

Some of you will remember my infamous scathing book review (from about 3 years ago) that some freak recently decided to take issue with and tell me why I was wrong to dislike the book. Well, kiddos, one of the many reasons for my dislike of this book, that is still disliked but shall not be named, was the section where the writer was discussing how these poor kids from a rural school couldn't quite figure out how to use the bathroom facilities in a hotel. The author implied it was because they were backward. I always maintained that even well traveled people can have difficulties at some time figuring out how everything works in an unfamiliar bathroom. My point was proven and with a flourish recently when three of us were in one of the bathrooms here trying to figure out how to make the shower work. ROTFLOL!
(No worries - we figured it out.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Science Fiction Century

The Science Fiction Century by David G. Hartwell (Editor)
Hardcover, 1005 pages
Tom Doherty Associates, 1997
ISBN-13: 9780312863388
45 Short stories
highly recommended

Synopsis from Publisher:
A definitive collection of the literature that has shaped the past hundred years, The Science Fiction Century includes stories from the founding fathers of the field, such as H. G. Wells and C. S. Lewis and genre mainstays like Roger Zelazny and Jack Vance. Also noted are influential female scribes like Connie Willis and Nancy Kress, and writers such as E. M. Forster, Michael Shaara, and Harlan Ellison - contributors who are also recognized outside of the genre. A treat for readers of all literary interests.

My Thoughts:

Little did I know the treasure I was finding in the clearance section of our local used book store when I picked up The Science Fiction Century, a massive anthology of 45 science fiction short stories edited by David Hartwell. Almost all of the selections included were outstanding, but I especially enjoyed the stories noted with an asterisk below. Each selection opens with a brief biography of the writer and their work, which I really appreciated.
Highly Recommended

Table of Contents
* Beam Us Home - James Tiptree Jr.
Ministering Angels - C. S. Lewis
* The Music Master of Babylon - Edgar Pangborn
A Story of the Days to Come - H. G. Wells
Hot Planet - Hal Clement
* A Work of Art - James Blish
* The Machine Stops - E. M. Forster
Brightness Falls from the Air - Margaret St. Clair
2066 Election Day - Michael Shaara
The Rose - Charles Harness
* The Hounds of Tindalos - Frank Belknap Long
* The Angel of Violence - Adam Wisniewski-Snerg
Nobody Bothers Gus - Algis Budrys
The Time Machine - Dino Buzzati
Mother - Philip Jose Farmer
As Easy as A.B.C. - Rudyard Kipling
* Ginungagap - Michael Swanwick
* Minister Without Portfolio - Mildred Clingerman
Time in Advance - William Tenn
Good Night Sophie - Lino Aldani
* Veritas - James Morrow
Enchanted Village - A. E. van Vogt
The King and the Dollmaker - Wolfgang Jeschke
Fire Watch - Connie Willis
Goat Song - Poul Anderson
* The Scarlet Plague - Jack London
Drunkboat - Cordwainer Smith
Another World - J. H. Rosny-Aîné
If the Stars Are Gods - Gregory Benford and Gordon Eklund
* I Still Call Australia Home - George Turner
Liquid Sunshine - Alexander Kuprin; trans. by Leland Fetzer
Great Work of Time - John Crowley
* Sundance - Robert Silverberg
Greenslaves - Frank Herbert
* Rumfuddle - Jack Vance
The Dimple in Draco - Philip Latham
* Consider Her Ways - John Wyndham
Something Ending - Eddy C. Bertin
He Who Shapes - Roger Zelazny
Swarm - Bruce Sterling
* Beggars in Spain - Nancy Kress
Johnny Mnemonic - William Gibson
Repent Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman - Harlan Ellison
Blood's a Rover - Chad Oliver
Sail the Tide of Mourning - Richard A. Lupoff

Quotes from introduction:

Science fiction is a literature for people who value knowledge and who desire to understand how things work in the world and in the universe. In science fiction, knowledge is power and power is technology and technology is good and useful in improving the human condition. It is, by extension, a literature of empowerment. pg. 17

It is a source of both amusement and frustration to SF people, writers and readers, that the public consciousness of science fiction has almost never penetrated beyond the first decade of the field's development. Sure, Star Wars is wonderful, but in precisely the same way and at the same level of consciousness and sophistication that science fiction from the late twenties and early thirties was: fast, almost plotless stories of zipping through the ether in spaceships, meeting aliens, using futuristic devices, and fighting the bad guys (and winning). SF people generally call this sci fi (affectionately, "skiffy"), to distinguish it from the real, grown-up pure quill. pg. 19

In the end this anthology is a collection of attempts to get at the truth of the human condition in this century, so contoured and conditioned by science and technology. Overall, perhaps, you can see the big picture, surely a bigger picture than any other. pg. 20

Thursday, May 13, 2010


... do utility companies have to make it so difficult to establish service?
... do they apparently think the more hoops they can they make a person jump through, the better?
... are my spammers so darn persistent?
... does the spider for Topspot Promotions, another spammer, think my spam needs to be in Dutch?
... will I have to wait for them to catch the link of Topspot Promotions = SPAM before they stop.
... does the porn spammer think all messages need to be in characters, I think Chinese?
... do I have to sit and wait for 2 hours in an empty house for the water service to be turned on?
... are there ants?
... do ants need to get into where I'm living?
... do ants always try to set up housekeeping in the mailbox here?
... did the big dog pick today to have intestinal problems?
... am I the only one who apparently is capable of cleaning up after all intestinal problems?

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Avatar, 1999
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang

The CGI didn't disappoint, but after spending $230 million (The New Yorker) to nearly $500 million (The New York Times) to make Avatar, we expected to see some good CGI. The actual plot of the movie really took quite a traditional form (the noble savage theme in literature goes back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans) and was easily predictable. We all knew right from the start where the story was going and who was good and who was bad. It was really very simplistic. The characters were one dimensional stereotypes; we've seen them all before. While we all enjoyed watching Avatar, it is hardly the best movie ever made and falls quite short of Cameron's wish to make a sci-fi epic that trumps all previous sci-fi epics. Watch it for the CGI.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Fever Dream

Fever Dream by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Special Agent Pendergast Series #10
Advanced Reading Copy, 405 pages
Grand Central Publishing; publication date: May 11, 2010
ISBN-13: 9780446554961
Very Highly Recommended

At the old family manse in Louisiana, Special Agent Pendergast is putting to rest long-ignored possessions reminiscent of his wife Helen's tragic death, only to make a stunning-and dreadful-discovery. Helen had been mauled by an unusually large and vicious lion while they were big game hunting in Africa. But now, Pendergast learns that her rifle-her only protection from the beast-had been deliberately loaded with blanks. Who could have wanted Helen dead...and why?
With Lieutenant Vincent D'Agosta's assistance, Pendergast embarks on a quest to uncover the mystery of his wife's murder. It is a journey that sends him deep into her past where he learns much that Helen herself had wished to keep hidden. Helen Pendergast had nursed a secret obsession with the famed naturalist-painter John James Audubon, in particular a long-lost painting of his known as the Black Frame.
As Pendergast probes more deeply into the riddle-the answer to which is revealed in a night of shocking violence, deep in the Louisiana bayou-he finds himself faced with an even greater question: who was the woman he married?
My Thoughts:

Preston and Child's latest novel, Fever Dream, featuring Special Agent Pendergast is a must read for fans of the series. I am a long time fan and let me tell you, this is Pendergast as you have never seen him before. Twelve years after the fact, Pendergast discovers that the death of his wife, Helen, was not an accident. As he struggles to keep his emotions under control, and with D'Agosta's help, Pendergast proceeds to follow the cold trail in an attempt to discover who wanted his wife dead and why. The investigation actually involves Helen Pendergast's secret interest in the painter John James Audubon. For those of you who have not been reading Preston and Child's books, please note that Fever Dream is also a very satisfactory stand-alone novel. I enjoyed the fast paced plot and the twists the investigation followed. No spoilers here, but I found the ending... perfectly chilling. Additionally, there is a special announcement by Preston and Child at the end of the book that has me giddy with excitement.
Very Highly Recommended

Special thanks to Hatchette book and Henry Choi, for this ARC. Both my husband and I were thrilled to received it. Thrilled. We are both fans of everything Preston and Child have written, as a team and individually. I'd show pictures of all their books in our bookcase, but, alas, books are packed up in anticipation of our move which is starting this weekend. Yes, it's true. We are moving and I took the time to read Fever Dream before finishing the packing. It was worth it.


The setting sun blazed through the African bush like a forest fire, hot yellow in the sweltering evening that gathered over the bush camp. The hills along the upper Makwele Stream rose in the east like blunt green teeth, framed against the sky. opening.

"Poor Aloysius, you miss your juleps. Well, if you take that FBI job Mike Decker's offering, you can drink juleps day and night." pg. 2

"She said the lion was peculiar."
"How so?"
"It had a red mane"
"You mean, a little darker than usual? That's not so uncommon."
"Not darker than usual. This lion's mane was deep red. Almost blood red." pg. 5

"Of the two of us," said Pendergast, "my wife is the better shot. On top of that, it's essential to have two expert shooters when stalking lion in the bush." He paused. "Unless, of course, you'd care to be the second shooter?" pg. 11

"The local Nyimba claimed the Red Lion could not survive without the nourishment of human flesh - but with it, he would live forever." pg. 7

“That’s a rather big gun for such a slender woman,” said Woking.
“I think a big-bore weapon is rather fetching,” replied Helen. pg. 16

“Done!” he said. “You are now certified to have visited your grandfather’s grave. I shall not have to disinherit you from the Pendergast family trust—at least, not for the present!” He gave a short chuckle.
Pendergast rose, and the little man stuck out a pudgy hand. “Always a pleasure, Mr. Pendergast, and I trust I shall have the favor of your company in another five years?” pg. 26

Every object, every knickknack and painting and paperweight and silver ashtray, was in its place, and every little thing carried a thousand memories of people long since under earth, of weddings and christenings and wakes, of cocktail parties and masked balls and children stampeding the halls to the warning exclamations of aunts.
Gone, all gone. pg. 28

Pendergast sat back in the chair. One hand—trembling ever so slightly—rose to his mouth.
Helen Pendergast’s death had not been a tragic accident. It had been murder. pg. 31

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
Mass Market Paperback, 402 pages, including recipes
Random House Publishing, 1987
ISBN-13: 9780804115612
very highly recommended

An American classic resplendent with the charm, grace, and grit of all good southern literature, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is Fannie Flagg’s enduring tale of the beloved folks who live in a small Alabama town. At its center are some truly remarkable women, connected by a place and a generosity of spirit grounded in family, good friends, and good food.
The story begins in 1985 with the friendship between shy, middle-aged Evelyn Couch, sadly aware she’s gotten “lost along the way,” and Ninny Threadgoode, an eighty-seven-year-old resident of the Rose Terrace Nursing Home in Birmingham. Evelyn soaks up the older woman’s stories of Whistle Stop, Alabama, where Ninny’s irrepressible sister-in-law Idgie and Idgie’s friend Ruth ran a cafe–the center of life in this small town. Indeed, it is the story of wild, wonderful Idgie, and her big sense of humor and bigger heart, that give Evelyn the courage to find her own happiness.
My Thoughts:

I have seen the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, but couldn't remember if I had ever read the book. I have read all of her other books, and Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is also certainly worth reading. The book, naturally, is better than the movie. In a heartwarming, endearing style, Flagg not only captures a feeling of warm, Southern hospitality through her characters, she also manages to touch on some hot issues, but does this with such grace and charm that few could take offense. The story is set in two time frames. The earlier story begins in the 1920's while the present day story starts in 1985. The story set in the past is slowly revealed and developed throughout the whole book, and partly through Mrs. Threadgoode's stories. Evelyn Couch's friendship with Mrs. Threadgoode and listening to her reminisce/tell stories about her past, helps present day Evelyn, as she struggles with her self worth. I didn't have any trouble following the various storylines and time frames. Dates are clearly given at the beginning of each new section. (I hesitate to say chapters because some sections are one page.) Stories in both time frames are equally engaging. The characters are well developed and memorable; the dialogue is easy to follow. Very Highly Recommended


The Whistle Stop Cafe opened up last week, right next door to me at the post office, and owners Idgie Threadgoode and Ruth Jamison said business has been good ever since. Idgie says that for people who know her not to worry about getting poisoned, she is not cooking. opening

Evelyn Couch had come to Rose Terrace with her husband, Ed, who was visiting his mother, Big Momma, a recent but reluctant arrival. Evelyn had just escaped them both and had gone into the visitors' lounge in the back, where she could enjoy her candy bar in peace and quiet. But the moment she sat down, the old woman beside her began to talk ... pg. 3

"It's funny, when you're a child you think time will never go by, but when you hit about twenty, time passes like you're on the fast train to Memphis. I guess life just slips up on everybody. It sure did on me. pg. 4

One hour later, Mrs. Threadgoode was still talking. pg. 8

"Idgie used to do all kinds of crazy harebrained things just to get a laugh. She put poker chips in the collection basket at the Baptist church once. She was a character all right, but how anybody could ever have thought that she killed that man is beyond me." pg. 9

"I, for one, am delighted at the new addition to our busy street. Just think, now you can mail a letter, have a meal, and get your hair done all on the same block." pg. 26

"And when she couldn't bear to be home any longer, she'd just take off and go stay with Sipsey over in Troutville... but she never did cry. She was too hurt to cry... You know, a heart can be broken, but it keeps on beating, just the same." pg. 35

Evelyn was forty-eight years old and she had gotten lost somewhere along the way. pg. 38

The night she and Ed went to their thirtieth high school reunion, she had been hoping she'd find someone to talk to about what she was feeling. But all the other women there were just as confused as she was, and held on to their husbands and their drinks to keep themselves from disappearing. pg. 42

The quiet hysteria and awful despair had started when she finally began to realize that nothing was ever going to change, that nobody would be coming for her to take her away. She began to feel as if she were at the bottom of a well, screaming, no one to hear. pg.61

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Lucky by Alice Sebold
Trade Paperback, 258 pages
Little, Brown, and Company, 1999
ISBN-13: 9780316096195
nonfiction, memoir
very highly recommended

Synopsis from cover:
In a memoir hailed for its searing candor and wit, Alice Sebold reveals how her life was utterly transformed when, as an eighteen-year-old college freshman, she was brutally raped and beaten in a park near campus. What propels this chronicle of her recovery is Sebold's indomitable spirit - as she struggles for understanding; as her dazed family and friends sometimes bungle their efforts to provide comfort and support; and as, ultimately, she triumphs, managing through grit and coincidence to help secure her attacker's arrest and conviction. In a narrative by turns disturbing, thrilling, and inspiring, Alice Sebold illuminates the experience of a trauma victim even as she imparts wisdom profoundly hard-won: "You save yourself or remain unsaved."
My Thoughts:

Sebold's memoir, Lucky, is an incredible book. It is also a blunt, honest book, graphically detailing her brutally violent rape as an 18 yr old young woman and the subsequent trial. It is not for the faint of heart. Also, since this is a memoir, events, encounters, and the conclusion aren't all as neat and tidy as one would find in a novel, but real life can be complicated and messy. Sebold begins Lucky with a detailed account of her rape when she was a freshman at Syracuse University, which is difficult to read, but essential to understanding the aftermath it caused in her personal relationships and her struggle for justice and recovery. Some reviewers have criticized Sebold for being self absorbed, but I didn't find Lucky to be any more self absorbed than any other memoir -after all, it is an account from her perspective. Sebold is an excellent writer and her story needed to be told.

I was initially reluctant to read Lucky because I wasn't quite as taken with The Lovely Bones as many other people were. A friend (who happens to be a librarian) and I both felt it was geared more to teen readers (her young adult daughter loved it) or at least younger readers. While Lucky is definitely for a mature reader, I would not hesitate to recommend it to an older, mature teen. Yes, I would do so with caution. Young women need to know this: Rape is a reality; they need to be aware of their surroundings at all times. I am a few years older than Sebold, but I too, remember a girl who was raped on campus during my freshman year of college. I understood exactly what Sebold meant when the "news" spread and she became known as the girl who was raped. Even today there are alerts on campuses across the country about a rapist in the area. Knowledge can be power.
Very Highly Recommended


In the tunnel where I was raped, a tunnel that was once an underground entry to an amphitheater; a place where actors burst forth from underneath the seats of a crowd, a girl had been murdered and dismembered. I was told this story by the police. In comparison, they said, I was lucky. opening

This is what I remember. My lips were cut. I bit down on them when he grabbed me from behind and covered my mouth. He said these words: "I'll kill you if you scream." pg 5

At that moment I signed myself over to him. I was convinced that I would not live. I could not fight anymore. He was going to do what he wanted to me. That was it. pg. 6

I've always hated it in movies and plays, the woman who is ripped open by violence and then asked to parcel out redemption for the rest of her life.
"I forgive you," I said. I said what I had to. I would die by pieces to save myself from real death. pg. 13

I don't remember how long it took -- not long because it was university property and the hospital was only six blocks south. The police arrived first, but I have no memory of what I said to them there.
Then I was on a gurney, being strapped down. Then out in the hallway. There was a large crowd now and it blocked the entrance. I saw the RSA look over at me as he was being questioned.
A policeman took control.
"Get out of the way," he said to my curious peers. "This girl's just been raped." pg. 16

It was horribly changed and marked, my friend's smile. It was not free and open, born of the silliness our smiles had been all year, but it was a comfort to me. She cried more than I did and her face became mottled and swollen. pg. 17

I told the police not to call my mother. Unaware of my appearance, I believed I could hide the rape from her and from my family. My mother had panic attacks in heavy traffic; I was certain my rape would destroy her. pg. 19

The others were foggy and off to the side. They were watching my life as if it were a movie. In their version of the story, where did they fit? I would find out over the years that in a few versions, I was their best friend. Knowing a victim is like knowing a celebrity. Particularly when the crime is clouded in taboo. pg. 25

comment approval

The spammer wanting to link to porn sites is still with me. Since word verification didn't slow him down, I'm going to have to approve comments for awhile.