Sunday, October 31, 2010

Brain Plague

Brain Plague by Joan Slonczewski
Tom Doherty Associates, 2000
Hardcover, 384 pages
Elysium Cycle Series, 4th book
ISBN-13: 9780312867188
highly recommended

An intelligent microbe race that can live symbiotically in other intelligent beings is colonizing the human race throughout the civilized universe. And each colony of microbes has its own personality, good or bad. In some people, carriers, they are brain enhancers, and in others a fatal brain plague, a living addiction. This is the story of one woman's psychological and moral struggle to adjust to having an ambitious colony of microbes living permanently in her own head. This novel is one of the most powerful and involving SF novels of the year.

My Thoughts:

Brain Plague by Joan Slonczewski is the forth book in the Elysium Cycle Series (the other three are A Door Into Ocean, Daughter of Elysium, and The Children Star) but it is also a stand-alone science fiction novel. In many ways Brain Plague encompasses a treatise on symbiotic relationships between individuals and societies, nanotechnology (with the microbes), artistic creativity, free will and personal responsibility, and what it means to be a god.

On the planet Valedon a struggling artist, Chrysoberyl (Chrys), agrees to be colonized by Eleutherian Micros, an race of intelligent, sentient microbes. The Micros live just beneath the skull, in the arachnoid, a web of tissue between the outer linings of the brain. They communicate with her neurally and live an accelerated life -something like an hour for us is a year to them.

Chrys accepts the Eleutherians Micros originally for better health care and a healthy bank account, as well as protection against the other, plague carrying Micros but soon they are helping her with her art, and serving as collaborators all while living a very accelerated life. Chrys' Micros can be helpful, annoying and rebellious.

While parts of the novel are very intriguing it does become bogged down as Chrys deals with her own rebellious Micros and the ever present and repeated threat of Plague-carrying slaves. Even though I liked the concept of worlds within worlds and enjoyed Brain Plague in many ways, I'm not sure it was entirely successful for me.

The biggest problem I had was the flaw I perceived in communication between humans and their Micros. Chrys and her Micros talked in real time to each other and other carriers but the Micros are supposed to be living a very accelerated life which, logically, makes that communication impossible to accept. Additionally, she would also threaten them with an eclipse (shutting her eyes for a short period of time) but that darkness would already be happening when she slept. I also became very tired of the word "plast." If I were giving numbers, this is a 3.5 - Highly recommended - as long as you overlook the inconsistencies involving the accelerated time for the Micros.


"Lord of Light."
"I see you, Green. why have you come.?"
“We pray you, give us our Promised World.”
“Every day you come to my eyes to demand a new world. Is it not enough that I saved you from death and sheltered you for seven generations?”
Green remembered that a generation of children grew old in a god’s day. Seven generations in exile; a mere seven days, for the Lord of Light. But in each generation, Green asked again. “The Blind God promised us a New World. Let my people go.” opening

Chrys knew real lava well enough, the heat rising like a blast of hell from Mount Dolomoth, where she was born. But Lava Butterflies was on display in Iridis, the planet Valedon’s fabulous capital. Never mind the brain plague, and the cancers crawling up from the Underworld; an artist made it in Iridis, or died trying. pg. 12

“There are ways to raise credit.”
Chrys eyed him coolly. “Like, I should join the slaves and rob a ship?” The “mind slaves,” their brains controlled by the plague, terrorized deep space.
Topaz frowned. “That’s no joke. The slaves took a friend of mine—nobody knows how they knew his flight plan.” The brain-plagued hijackers shipped their captives to the hidden Slave World, where they were building an armed fortress for their mysterious Enlightened Leader. The Valan Protector always pledged to find that Slave World and nuke it. But he hadn’t yet.
“Anybody could be a slave,” warned Pearl. “Anyone you know. At first you can’t tell, but they end up vampires.” “Vampires,” late-stage slaves with jaundiced eyes and broken veins, stalked the Underworld for a neck to bite before they died. pg. 14-15

Pearl shook her head. “Brain enhancers come from the mind slaves.”
“No,” said Chrys. “Brain enhancers are cultured cells. They boost brainpower—like mental mitochondria.”
Zircon repeated, “I don’t know.” His eyes widened. “What if they turned out smarter than me?”pg. 18

A mass of something was oozing heavily up along her foot. Cancerplast; a piece of a building root that had gone wrong, like a cancer that metastasized, its cells creeping blindly in search of a power supply. Usually plast metastasized only down in the Underworld, where inspectors never came. But here was a blob of cancer right up in her neighborhood, within two blocks of her own apartment. And nearby lurked a vampire. pg. 19-20

If brain enhancers could do all that, what might they do for her studio? Chrys had waited long enough for saints and angels. She blinked to close her window for the night, then set the volcano above her bed to explode at seven in the 23

“Green and Unseen.” The blue angel flashed its message from the Lord of Light. “The gods have found your New World.”
“Our New World!” flashed Green. “As the Blind God promised.” After seven lonely generations.
“A world of our own,” added Unseen, “behind the brilliant eyes of a new deity.”
“A new Eleutheria.”
pg. 24

“So these brain enhancers—they’re a different species?” Like different species of bacteria: Some made yogurt, others made people sick.
“They require human hosts; they can no longer live anywhere else. They are extremely intelligent, and extremely dangerous.”
“The brain plague, you mean.”
“Brain plague or brain enhancers. They’re genetically the same.” pg. 28

Micros are intelligent,” he said.
“Well, sure.” Intelligent buildings, intelligent medical machines—everything was “intelligent” these days.
“Intelligent people.”pg. 30

The doctor added, “You can meet the micros yourself and ask them your questions.”
“‘Meet them?’ Where?”
“Micros can’t live outside a human host,” the doctor said. “They live just beneath the skull, in the arachnoid, a web of tissue between the outer linings of the brain.” pg. 31-32

Friday, October 29, 2010

Talk Talk

Talk Talk by T. C. Boyle
Bloomsbury (Great Britain), 2006
Trade Paperback, 416 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0747586197
Very Highly Recommended

For his riveting eleventh novel, Boyle offers readers the closest thing to a thriller he has ever written, a tightly scripted page turner about the trials of Dana Halter, a thirty-three-year-old deaf woman whose identity has been stolen. Featuring a woman in the lead role (a Boyle first), Talk Talk is both a suspenseful chase across America and a moving story about language, love, and identity from one of America’s most versatile and entertaining novelists.
My Thoughts:

Dana Halter is a 33 year old PhD who teaches the deaf. She also happens to be deaf herself. At the beginning of Talk Talk, Dada is stopped for a minor traffic violation and subsequently arrested and taken to jail. She has been a victim of identity theft and the man who stole her identity is wanted for some serious crimes. After the mistake is discovered and Dana is released, she and her boyfriend, Bridger Martin, set out to find and stop the man who has stolen her identity.

The story then introduces us to William "Peck" Wilson, the scam artist who has stole Dana's identity. He figures out that they are on to him and flees across the country, with Dana and Bridger in pursuit. As the novel unfolds, we alternate between the point of view of these three characters. It is a pursuit and a trip of self discovery.

Boyle is a great writer. I really think he could take any plot and make it better simply based on his skill. But, as I was looking over various Amazon reviews, I noticed that several implied that details were left unexplained. Not true. I can recall an explanation for everything they questioned. So, that leaves me to believe that their reviews did a disservice to T.C. Boyle. Boyle is an excellent writer that you need to read carefully. He chooses words carefully, with clear descriptions and explanations. You need to follow what he reads, not skim through the book for the action as you would other novels because, while I thought the action kept the momentum and suspense going, I really think the action was just a vehicle for other, deeper explorations of the human psyche, identity, and the meaning of communication.

Okay, off the soap box. I really enjoyed Talk talk. I wasn't crazy about the ending, but I understood and accepted it. Very Highly Recommended


She was running late, always running late, a failing of hers, she knew it, but then she couldn't find her purse and once she did manage to locate it (underneath her blue corduroy jacket on the coat tree in the front hall), she couldn't find her keys. They should have been in her purse, but they weren't, and so she'd made a circuit of the apartment — two circuits, three — before she thought to look through the pockets of the jeans she'd worn the day before, but where were they ? No time for toast. Forget the toast, forget food. She was out of orange juice. Out of butter and cream cheese. The newspaper on the front mat was just another obstacle. opening

The color rose to her face — she was being arrested , and in public no less — and for a moment she was paralyzed. All she could think of was the shame of it, a shame that stung like some physical hurt, like the bite of an insect, a thousand insects seething all over her body — she could still feel the hot clamp of his hands on her ankles, her thighs. It was as if he'd burned her, scored her flesh with acid. pg. 8

It took her a moment, the blood burning in her veins, her face flushed with shame and anger and frustration, until she understood: it was a case of mistaken identity. Of course it was. Obviously. What else could it be? Someone who looked like her — some other slim graceful dark-eyed deaf woman of thirty-three who wasn't on her way to the dentist with a sheaf of papers she had to finish grading by the time her class met — had robbed a bank at gunpoint, shot up the neighborhood, hit a child and run. It was the only explanation, because she'd never violated the law in her life except in the most ordinary and innocuous ways, speeding on the freeway alongside a hundred other speeders.... pg 9

She was beside herself. Hurt. Furious. Stung. “There must be some mistake,” she insisted over and over again. “I'm Dana, Dana Halter. I teach at the San Roque School for the Deaf and I've never... I'm deaf, can't you see that? You've got the wrong person.” She watched them shift and shrug as if she were some sort of freak of nature, a talking dolphin or a ventriloquist's dummy come to life, but they gave her nothing. To them she was just another criminal — another perp — one more worthless case to be locked away and ignored. pg. 10-11

"No," Bridger said, "you don't understand. She didn't do anything. It's a mistake. I need to, well - I know this sounds crazy but I need to go down there and bail her out. Right now." pg. 19

She was wandering, again she was wandering, and she was thinking, unaccountably, of the talk fests they used to have in the dorm at Gallaudet, in Sign mainly, but with people speaking aloud too in a way that was all but unintelligible to a hearie, a kind of sing-along moan that underscored the signs. Talk talk. That was what happened when the deaf got together, a direct translation into English - they talked a lot, talked all the time, talked the way Bridger was talking now, only with their hands. Index finger of the four hand at the mouth, tapping, tapping to show the words coming out. When the deaf get together talk talk all the time. Communication, the universal need. Information. Access. Escape from the prison of silence. Talk, talk, talk. pg. 234-235

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Fragment by Warren Fahy
Random House, 2009
Mass Market Paperback, 528 pages
ISBN-13: 9780553592450
highly recommended

From the Publisher
In this powerhouse of suspense scientists have made a startling discovery: a fragment of a lost continent, an island with an ecosystem unlike any they’ve seen before... an ecosystem that could topple ours like a house of cards.
The time is now. The place is the Trident, a long-range research vessel hired by the reality TV show Sealife. Aboard is a cast of ambitious young scientists. With a director dying for drama, tiny Henders Island might be just what the show needs. Until the first scientist sets foot on Henders - and the ultimate test of survival begins...
For when they reach the island’s shores, scientists are utterly unprepared for what they find - creatures unlike any ever recorded in natural history. This is not a lost world frozen in time, an island of mutants, or a lab where science has gone mad: this is the Earth as it might have looked after evolving on a separate path for half a billion years.
Soon the scientists will stumble on something more shocking than anything humanity has ever encountered: because among the terrors of Henders Island, one life form defies any scientific theory - and must be saved at any cost.
My Thoughts:

Fragment puts a new spin on the long running theme that prehistoric beats survived extinction. While in the South Pacific, members of the cable reality show SeaLife respond to a distress beacon from Henders Island. When trying to explore the island several of the show's scientists are immediately slaughtered by bizarre predators that have seemingly evolved separate from other life on Earth. These creatures are so aggressive that if released they would bring catastrophe to the rest of the world.

This is The Lost World theme on adrenalin. Dinosaurs isolated on a mountain top are tame compared to these creatures. If anyone is wondering how to continue the successful Jurassic Park movies with some new CGI, Fahy has the answer with his creatures in Fragment. Be sure to look at his website for artist drawings of the beasts, but don't look at the spoilers until after you have read the book.

Fragment is wildly successful on what it promises to deliver. Admittedly, Fahy isn't a gifted writer and his character development is lacking, but this isn't a book one would pick up looking for great character development and a finely crafted plot full of delicate nuances. The bad guys are bad and the good guys good; we know who is who. And the creatures are scary, gory, chilling. There is even some humor. This is, as The Library Journal said, "bone-chomping, blood-spurting action-adventure mayhem with intriguing (if improbable) scientific speculation."
There is certainly another book coming out as the ending left room for a series.
highly recommended


When the American Association for the Advancement of Science met in Anaheim, California, in 1999 to discuss an urgent report on the impact of alien species, the scientist gathered weren't discussing species from another planet - their report referred to species imported to the United States from other parts of this planet. opening, prologue

"What do you make of this island, Mister Eaton?"

"Aye, it's strange," Eaton said, lowering the glass—but a glimpse of Frears falling to his knees at the edge of the crevasse made him raise it hastily to his eye. Through the spyglass he found Frears kneeling in the crack and saw him drop what appeared to be the copper funnel he was using to fill the small kegs. The funnel skittered down the rock face into the water.

A red flash appeared at the sailor's back. Red jaws seemed to lunge from the twilight and close over Frears's chest and head from each side, jerking him backwards. pg. 16

As the men scrambled from the boat, the captain asked, "Mister Grafton, what has become of Mister Frears?"

"He's been et by monsters, sor!" pg. 19

Chartered for the cable reality show SeaLife, the Trident comfortably quartered forty passengers. Now an "on camera" crew of ten who pretended to run the ship, fourteen professionals who really ran the ship, six scientists, and eight production staffers, along with a handsome bull terrier named Copepod, rounded out her manifest.

SeaLife was chronicling the Trident's yearlong around-the-world odyssey, which promised to encounter the most exotic and remote places on Earth. In its first four weekly episodes the cast of fresh young scientists and hip young crew had explored the Galapagos Islands and Easter Island, launching SeaLife to number two in the cable ratings. After the last three weeks at sea, however, enduring back-to-back storms, the show was foundering.

The ship's botanist, Nell Duckworth, glared at her reflection in the port window of the Trident's bridge, repositioning her Mets cap. Like all the other scientists chosen for the show, Nell was in her late twenties. pg. 23-24

"If you want to find an untouched ecosystem, you certainly came to the right place," Glyn conceded.

"It must be twelve hundred miles from the nearest speck of land, I reckon," Samir said. pg. 38

"Well, according to Nell, it was discovered by a British sea captain in 1791. He landed but couldn't find a way to the island's interior. There's no other record of anyone landing, and there are only three recorded sightings of it in the last 220-" pg. 39

He raised his hand to swat it and hundreds of miniatures rolled off the spider's back. A red gash melted open on his calf as, in the space of two seconds, the yellow edge of his tibia was exposed and more white disks fired into the gaping wound. pg. 67

Apart from their striped fur, they were nothing like mammals - more like six-legged tigers crossed with jumping spiders. With each kick off their back legs, they leaped fifteen yards over the sand. pg. 70

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Virgin Suicides

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Picador, 1993
Trade Paperback, 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9780312428815
very highly recommended

From the Publisher:
This beautiful and sad first novel tells of a band of teenage sleuths who piece together the story of a twenty-year old family tragedy begun by the youngest daughter’s spectacular demise by self-defenstration, which inaugurates “the year of the suicides.”

My Thoughts:

The Virgin Suicides was Eugenides first novel. Set during the 1970s in suburban Detroit, Michigan, the novel is narrated by a group of neighborhood high school boys who revered the Lisbon sisters during that time, and try to tell their story, which is the story of the Lisbon sisters. When it begins (see quotes below) we immediately learn that all five of the teenage Lisbon daughters will commit suicide. The Lisbon girls were: Cecilia (13), Lux (14), Bonnie (15), Mary (16), and Therese (17).

The immaturity and obsessive nature of the teenage narrators lends an authenticity to the story. After the youngest succeeds in committing suicide on her second attempt, they watch the family and slowly see the sisters become isolated by their parents. Not every question is answered because what we learn about the Lisbon family and specifically the sisters, is all told from the perspective of these observant, obsessed outsiders speculating after the fact. They only have the information on what they can piece together based on what they want to know.

Eugenides is a brilliant writer. His ability helps The Virgin Suicides stand apart as a real modernist literary accomplishment. The story of the teenage girls as told by the infatuated, adolescent male narrators just feels so real, so true to life. Eugenides descriptions are incredible as he captures what the teenage boys would notice - and in doing so, perhaps, what they missed. I certainly felt that there were clues to answer the question "why?" that were missed by the boys even as we were told the story. (I've never seen the movie and don't plan too, but I certainly recommend the book.)
Very Highly Recommended


On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide-it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese-the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to lie a rope. They got out of the EMS truck, as usual moving much too slowly in our opinion, and the fat one said under his breath, "This ain't TV, folks, this is how fast we go." He was carrying the heavy respirator and cardiac unit past the bushes that had grown monstrous and over the erupting lawn, tame and immaculate thirteen months earlier when the trouble began.

Cecilia, the youngest, only thirteen, had gone first, slitting her wrists like a Stoic while taking a bath, and when they found her, afloat in her pink pool, with the yellow eyes of someone possessed and her small body giving off the odor of a mature woman, the paramedics had been so frightened by her tranquillity that they had stood mesmerized. But then Mrs. Lisbon lunged in, screaming, and the reality of the room reasserted itself: blood on the bath mat; Mr. Lisbon's razor sunk in the toilet bowl, marbling the water. The paramedics fetched Cecilia out of the warm water because it quickened the bleeding, and put a tourniquet on her arm. Her wet hair hung down her back and already her extremities were blue. She didn't say a word, but when they parted her hands they found the laminated picture of the Virgin Mary she held against her budding chest. opening

Dr. Armonson stitched up her wrist wounds. Within five minutes of the transfusion he declared her out of danger. Chucking her under her chin, he said, "What are you doing here, honey? You're not even old enough to know how bad life gets."
And it was then Cecilia gave orally what was to be her only form of suicide note, and a useless one at that, because she was going to live: Obviously, Doctor, she said, "you've never been a thirteen-year-old girl." pg. 7

The Lisbon girls were thirteen (Cecilia), and fourteen (Lux), and fifteen (Bonnie), and sixteen (Mary), and seventeen (Therese). They were short, round-buttocked in denim, with roundish cheeks that recalled that same dorsal softness. pg. 7

Whenever we saw Mrs. Lisbon we looked in vain for some sign of the beauty that must have once been hers. But the plump arms, the brutally cut steel-wool hair, and the librarian's glasses foiled us every time. We saw her only rarely, in the morning, fully dressed though the sun hadn't come up, stepping out to snatch up the dewy milk cartons, or on Sundays when the family drove in their paneled station wagon to St. Paul's Catholic Church on the Lake. On those mornings Mrs. Lisbon assumed a queenly iciness. Clutching her good purse, she checked each daughter for signs of makeup before allowing her to get in the car, and it was not unusual for her to send Lux back inside to put on a less revealing top. None of us went to church, so we had a lot of time to watch them, the two parents leached of color, like photographic negatives, and then the five glittering daughters in their homemade dresses, all lace and ruffle, bursting with their fructifying flesh. pg. 8

He moved with the sluggish swagger of urban predators who smelled of cologne and had manicured nails. pg. 11

We didn't understand why Cecilia had killed herself the first time and we understood even less when she did it twice. pg. 32

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Pandora by Alan Rodgers
Bantam Book,1994
Mass Market Paperback, 371 pages

There's a story that goes 'round about strange events outside Roswell, New Mexico, and how they led to a hangar in Ohio and the three dead aliens that lie stored inside it. Most everyone has heard the tale at one time or another. And because it goes 'round the way it does - metamorphosing ever so slightly with every retelling - some people say the tale is nothing but a scrap of modern folklore; a legend alive in every bar and coffee house across the land.
Pandora knows better. Pandora knows all about the strange events outside Roswell - and she knows even more about the stranger ones that followed. She knows that there weren't three dead aliens in the wreckage of the doomed ship. Not three, but four. Three dead adults and a single living, breathing infant. That infant was Pandora. Years now the government has raised her in captivity, unknowable and secret inside a classified Air Force Facility in Ohio.
This morning Pandora escaped in the dark dark hours before dawn. And through the miracle of modern satellite television, all the world has seen her. And the government wants her back.
My Thoughts:

The crash of an alien flying saucer at Roswell did result in the death of three aliens, but also the survival of one alien infant, whom the government names Pandora. She is hidden away in a secret bunker in Ohio. Even though Pandora is over 40 years old, she is still a child because time is distorted around her - she isn't moving through time the same way we do. Then an incident happens that causes Pandora to escape from her captors and the survival of the Earth may hang in the balance.

At the beginning of each chapter Rodger's mentions a modern myth or urban legend, for example: Roswell, the devil in a malls basement, zombies, UFOs, crop circles, haunted trains, and an alien invasion. The chapter then ties in the myth he mentions to the story of Pandora. This organization of the chapters has the capacity to be clever, but I'm sorry to say that once Pandora made her way to a shopping mall, started shopping, and kept calling herself a little space alien girl who is looking for her daddy, I could no longer take the story seriously. It became a comedy for me.

Despite my viewing the novel now as a comedy rather than sci fi/horror, it was intended to be, it certainly a compelling, entertaining story and kept my interest - and laughter. If you happen to find a copy, as I did in the clearance section of the local used book store, I'd recommend it as an entertaining book, but don't go out of your way to find it.


There is a place out in the middle of Nowhere New Mexico that the federal authorities absolutely refuse to discuss. opening

"They're wrong, you know. about those Aliens in the hangar on the air base in Ohio. There aren't three of them."
"Yes. There are three and a half." pg. 2

"I don't know what you did to bring this duty down on yourself. But before you throw any tantrums, remember that every single one of us here in the Pandora Project is in the same damn boat you're in. The brass who put you here aren't around to hear you swearing. The truth is that they don't even want to know about it." pg. 6

He is in the narrow room for fifteen minutes when he looks up through the door to see Pandora enter the clerk's office.
Nothing he has read to that point could possibly prepare him for the sight of her. pg. 7

She looks almost human. Mostly. But her eyes are enormous; great boopic saucerlike things five times the size of an ordinary child's eyes. pg. 7-8

"How old is she, anyway?"
The clerk equivocates. "She was born nearly forty years ago," he says, "but she's younger than that - the scientists say she isn't moving through time the way we do. And even if she were, she's an Alien, not a human - she isn't growing up the way an earth girl would." He shrugs. "Some ways she acts seventeen. Other ways she acts like a six-year-old." pg. 9

The time distortion that suffuses her admits - no demands - a physics that our theories and hypotheses don't imagine. Time, event, and cause all twist in her presence, and in no discernible pattern.
If the Enemy could master time and space, he could devour us. pg. 21

Shopping glorious shopping at the miracles and wonders piled high everywhere before her, inviting her, begging her to Buy! Buy! Buy! pg 72

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Human Stain

The Human Stain by Philip Roth
Random House, 2000
Trade Paperback, 361 pages
ISBN-13: 9780375726347
highly recommended

It is 1998, the year in which America is whipped into a frenzy of prurience by the impeachment of a president, and in a small New England town, an aging classics professor, Coleman Silk, is forced to retire when his colleagues decree that he is a racist. The charge is a lie, but the real truth about Silk would have astonished even his most virulent accuser.
Coleman Silk has a secret, one which has been kept for fifty years from his wife, his four children, his colleagues, and his friends, including the writer Nathan Zuckerman. It is Zuckerman who stumbles upon Silk's secret and sets out to reconstruct the unknown biography of this eminent, upright man, esteemed as an educator for nearly all his life, and to understand how this ingeniously contrived life came unraveled. And to understand also how Silk's astonishing private history is, in the words of The Wall Street Journal, "magnificently" interwoven with "the larger public history of modern America."

My Thoughts:

The Human Stain by Philip Roth is set in 1998, during the Bill Clinton/ Monica Lewinsky mess "when - for the billionth time - the jumble, the mayhem, the mess proved more subtle than this one's ideology and that one's morality." (pg 3) It is a novel of outraged people and outrageous events that questions a culture of self-righteousness and moral correctness.

In The Human Stain, the third novel in Roth's thematic American trilogy, Coleman Silk has been driven from his position as Dean of Faculty at Athena College, a small New England school, because of a remark purposefully misconstrued as racist. After this event and his wife's death, which Coleman blames his persecutors for, he begins an affair with a much younger cleaning woman.

Coleman, a light skinned black, has been passing as a Jew for many years. He ruthlessly cut himself off from his family, his roots, and never told his Jewish wife or their children his secret. His whole life has been based on a lie. Or perhaps the labels we use imprison us. Or maybe we over-react to the things people do and say, making us too sensitive, too pious.

Goodness. I don't think I'm intelligent enough to fully appreciate Roth, or rather, Roth is too intelligent for me. While I appreciated The Human Stain, I can't say I enjoyed it - but I don't think it's the kind of book that is meant to be enjoyed. Reading Roth is a lot of work, mentally, rather than an enjoyable way to relax. He has dense passages of prose as well as some brilliant insight. I think, perhaps, Roth's writing style doesn't quite appeal to me. I fully accept this as my short coming. I will remember it.
Highly Recommended - with the understanding that reading it requires total concentration


It was in the summer of 1998 that my neighbor Coleman Silk—who, before retiring two years earlier, had been a classics professor at nearby Athena College for some twenty-odd years as well as serving for sixteen more as the dean of faculty—confided to me that, at the age of seventy-one, he was having an affair with a thirty-four-year-old cleaning woman who worked down at the college. opening

Ninety-eight in New England was a summer of exquisite warmth and sunshine, in baseball a summer of mythical battle between a home-run god who was white and a home-run god who was brown, and in America the summer of an enormous piety binge, a purity binge, when terrorism—which had replaced communism as the prevailing threat to the country's security—was succeeded by c---sucking, and a virile, youthful middle-aged president and a brash, smitten twenty-one-year-old employee carrying on in the Oval Office like two teenage kids in a parking lot revived America's oldest communal passion, historically perhaps its most treacherous and subversive pleasure: the ecstasy of sanctimony. In the Congress, in the press, and on the networks, the righteous grandstanding creeps, crazy to blame, deplore, and punish, were everywhere out moralizing to beat the band: all of them in a calculated frenzy with what Hawthorne (who, in the 1860s, lived not many miles from my door) identified in the incipient country of long ago as "the persecuting spirit"; all of them eager to enact the astringent rituals of purification that would excise the erection from the executive branch, thereby making things cozy and safe enough for Senator Lieberman's ten-year-old daughter to watch TV with her embarrassed daddy again. No, if you haven't lived through 1998, you don't know what sanctimony is. pg. 2

Coleman told the dean, "I was referring to their possibly ectoplasmic character. Isn't that obvious? These two students had not attended a single class. That's all I knew about them. I was using the word in its customary and primary meaning: 'spook' as a specter or a ghost. I had no idea what color these two students might be. I had known perhaps fifty years ago but had wholly forgotten that 'spooks' is an invidious term sometimes applied to blacks. Otherwise, since I am totally meticulous regarding student sensibilities, I would never have used that word. Consider the context: Do they exist or are they spooks? The charge of racism is spurious. It is preposterous. pg. 6

Under his leadership, promotion became difficult—and this, perhaps, was the greatest shock of all: people were no longer promoted through rank automatically on the basis of being popular teachers, and they didn't get salary increases that weren't tied to merit. In short, he brought in competition, he made the place competitive, which, as an early enemy noted, "is what Jews do." And whenever an angry ad hoc committee was formed to go and complain to Pierce Roberts, the president unfailingly backed Coleman. pg. 9

"That's what comes of hanging around all his life with people like us. The human stain," she said, and without revulsion or contempt or condemnation. Not even sadness. That's how it is - in her own dry way, that is all Faunia was telling the girl feeding the snake: we leave a stain, we leave a trail, we leave our imprint. pg. 242

Sunday, October 17, 2010

L. A. Nuts

L. A. Nuts: A Collection of the Cult-Hit Columns by Joe Dungan
Trinco Publishing, 2009
Trade Paperback, 268 pages
ISBN-13: 9780982034569
highly recommended

Have you ever been to Los Angeles? Have you ever strolled among its denizens? Have you ever lived next door to any of its countless eccentrics? Writer and L.A. native Joe Dungan has. He's been writing about Los Angeles and its colorful inhabitants for years. And when you read about Joe's L.A.- when you encounter all the characters, misfits, crackpots, and cream puffs Joe has run across - you'll discover a side of L.A. that you've never seen before. This collection of classic essays will put a smile on your face and a shot of espresso in your heart. "With just half a Splenda, if you please."
My Thoughts:

L. A. Nuts, a collection of humorous columns written by Joe Dungan, isn't just for those from L.A, the "Land of Fruits and Nuts."The first several stories found me laughing so hard that tears were running down my face. Dungan not only writes with humor and a sharp wit, but there are also some very insightful comments.

Dungan is a native of Los Angeles and has been a writer and editor for over a decade. This collection of short pieces started as a blog in which Dungan ranted against his neighbors and became a regular column for In October 2009 Dungan was awarded First Place in the Writer's Digest Self-Published Book awards for humor for L.A. Nuts.

I could relate to almost all of the stories. Some of this is due to frequent moves around the country, so I've had many different neighbors over the years. Part of this is from recently living in Reno, NV and experiencing how the natives felt about anyone from California. (My husband actually had a car side-swiped by a car from the opposite direction. That was also a hit and run.) And part of my understanding is due to renting rather than buying for the past several years. (We've very recently experienced the joys of living in rented place where upkeep was a theory and even more recently discovered the joys of neighbors who are, quite frankly stupid, and didn't think you'd be trying to sleep at 2:30 A.M. wondering "Exactly when can we party?")

He needs to write another book soon. I need to know the further adventures of Clyde Langtry.
Highly Recommended


In the four years Clyde Langtry has been my neighbor, I've had an awful lot of conversations with him and made careful observations. opening

Being a polite guy, I try to listen, giving him the benefit of the doubt every time that what he's about to say is going to lead to something remotely relevant. Doubt has long been erased. Now I just listen to him for the material. pg. 3

"I'm very good at reading people," Clyde likes to say during such conversations. He can't figure out why he has no friends but he's very good at reading people. pg. 4

There were a handful of days in my San Fernando Valley childhood where the air was so toxic that we were ordered to breathe as little as possible during recess and lunch. We were not allowed to take handballs and kickballs out, and playground supervisors ordered us not to run. Twice a day, we sat around in little clusters, occasionally getting up to walk over to some other cluster to see their version of doing nothing. Looking back, it was probably good practice for office life. pg. 7

Wednesday, out in the parking lot, I headed to my car as Clyde was digging something out of his trunk. He looked up at me and said, "Enjoy your hamburger."
I wasn't going to get a hamburger. We hadn't been talking about hamburgers. I don't think we've ever discussed hamburgers. I have no idea why he told me to go enjoy my hamburger. After careful consideration, the best I can determine is that he meant to say "hi" and it accidentally came out "enjoy your hamburger." It's not much of a theory, I admit.
Because of this elegantly bizarre moment, however, I'm inspired to purpose that "enjoying the hamburger" become an expression meaning "using crazy people for entertainment purposes." pg. 33

And upkeep was merely a theory. Thin crappy brown carpet, ticky-tack walls, plaster peeling off - indoors - a huge gap above the door, through which piles of dust blew in and climate-controlled air wafted away. And that's just the stuff I could see. No telling what kinds of toxins were seeping out of the paint. pg. 41

Ever since the pilgrims gave England the finger and fled to this continent, we've been wailing away on the English language as if it were a sparring partner. That proud tradition is on display in Los Angeles too. Sometimes we just slur and sometimes we mispronounce things entirely. But on occasion, what comes out of our mouths is so cryptic that it can't be defined. pg. 138

The guy ahead of me, driving an old economy car in the fast lane, swayed way over the double yellow and sideswiped a jeep that was in the left-turn lane, pointed the opposite direction. And he kept going.. pg. 139-140

Jezbo (to me): "Could you hear us?"
Me: "Yes."
Jezbo: You shoulda' said something. I didn't know you was sleepin."
Me: "It's 4:30 in the morning. I'm usually sleeping at this hour." pg. 222

Friday, October 15, 2010

Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland

Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clarke
Random House, 2000
Paperback, 528 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385335157
highly recommended

She lived at full throttle on stage, screen, and in real life, with highs that made history and lows that finally brought down the curtain at age forty-seven. Judy Garland died over thirty years ago, but no biography has so completely captured her spirit — and demons — until now. From her tumultuous early years as a child performer to her tragic last days, Gerald Clarke reveals the authentic Judy in a biography rich in new detail and unprecedented revelations. Based on hundreds of interviews and drawing on her own unfinished — and unpublished — autobiography, Get Happy presents the real Judy Garland in all her flawed glory.

...Gerald Clarke sorts through the secrets and the scandals, the legends and the lies, to create a portrait of Judy Garland as candid as it is compassionate. Here are her early years, during which her parents sowed the seeds of heartbreak and self-destruction that would plague her for decades ... the golden age of Hollywood, brought into sharp focus with cinematic urgency, from the hidden private lives of the movie world's biggest stars to the cold-eyed businessmen who controlled the machine ... and a parade of brilliant and gifted men — lovers and artists, impresarios and crooks — who helped her reach so many creative pinnacles yet left her hopeless and alone after each seemingly inevitable fall. Here, then, is Judy Garland in all her magic and despair: the woman, the star, the legend, in a riveting saga of tragedy, resurrection, and genius.
My Thoughts:

Gerald Clarke's Get Happy is, perhaps, the definitive biography of Judy Garland. It was very well researched over ten years, including over five hundred interviews. At the back, the book includes an extensive section of notes, referenced to the book by page numbers, and a vast bibliography. Get Happy also features an index, photo credits, and acknowledgments. If you want to know anything about Judy Garland, this is the biography to read first.

Starting with her parents, Clarke follows Judy Garland's life with a meticulous attention to detail. He really leaves nothing out. This chronicle of her sad life is sensitive and kind but also carefully reported and honest. Some of the details are scandalous and shocking, but Clarke treats them not as a form of gossip, but merges them together into a haunting portrait of a talented but troubled woman. Judy Garland, sick and exhausted, died in 1969 of an apparent barbiturate overdose. From Clarke's work we can assume that she never did "Get Happy."

Die hard fans of Judy Garland may want to avoid this biography as it really does tell all, and not everything revealed is flattering or even tasteful, especially information regarding her sex life. Additionally the book would have benefited from more photos and additional information about her relationship with her children.
highly recommended


As she was the youngest, she was known as Baby, and Baby was the name to which she answered. pg. 19

Not only had she seen the future, she had heard it: she was, at the age of two and a half, an entertainer. pg. 21

Action was what Ethel got, and her shrewd dark eyes searched restlessly for an opening through which she could propel her daughters into show business. Never too proud or shy, she pushed every door, hoping to find one unlocked. In August 1928, she finally succeeded. pg. 28

Despite her care, her concern and her watchfulness - despite all the things she did - an essential ingredient was missing from Ethel's notion of motherhood. perhaps it was something as simple as tenderness. Not once in all the years the Gumms lived in Lancaster did Babe's [Judy] young companions see Ethel open her arms to hold or hug her, as Frank so often did. Not once did they witness an open display of affection. If Frank's love was like the Niagara, unending and unstoppable, Ethel's could be compared to the flow that comes out of a faucet: a meager stream that she could turn on and off. pg. 35

Thus, even before she had reached her tenth birthday, did Babe become acquainted with the drugs that were her companions ever more. And her mother, her guardian, her defender, her shield against the world, had made the introductions. pg. 37

For Babe, love for her mother was always mixed with fear. pg. 39

Providing an education was not the primary reason for the school's existence - Variety received more attention than Shakespeare - and one sometime student, Mickey Rooney, was undoubtedly right when he said that "if the truth be known, Ma Lawlor's school was a dodge, a way of pacifying the LA Board of Education." pg. 44

With the untiring aptitude intellectuals sometimes display for seeing everything but the point, the New Yorker's Russel Maloney, for example, dismissed it [The Wizard of OZ] as "a stinkeroo." pg. 104

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Children's War

The Children's War by Monique Charlesworth
Knopf, 2004
Hardcover, 367 pages
ISBN-13: 9781400040094
very highly recommended

This is the story of two children caught in the midst of war.
It is 1939 and thirteen-year-old Ilse, half-Jewish, has been sent out of Germany by her Aryan mother to a place of supposed safety. Her journey takes her from the labyrinthine bazaars of Morocco to Paris, a city made hectic at the threat of Nazi invasion. At the same time in Germany, Nicolai, a boy miserably destined for the Nazi Youth movement, finds comfort in the friendship of Ilse’s mother, the nursemaid hired to take care of his young sister. Gripping and poignant, The Children’s War is a stunning novel of wartime lives, of parents and children, of adventure and self-discovery.

My Thoughts:

Set during WWII, The Children's War follows Ilse Blumenthal and Nicolai Bucherer in two parallel story lines.

Ilse Blumenthal is a thirteen year old with a Christian mother and Jewish father. Her mother sends her to Algeria to live with her uncle, but she ends up being sent to Paris to live with her estranged father when her uncle enrolls in the French Foreign Legion. Ilse longs for her mother, who was the parent who consistently loved and cared for her. Her father, Otto, is an ineffectual parent. Since they engage in little dialogue, her relationship with him is based almost entirely in her imagination and her ideal of what a father should be. Eventually Otto is arrested and Ilse has to fend for herself.

Ilse mother, Lore, is working as a nursemaid in Hamburg and agonizes over when she will see her daughter again. One of the children she is in charge of is thirteen year old Nicolai Bucherer. Nicholai is devastated by his father's absence, and feels alienated from his family, especially since his mother is emotionally distant from him. He secretly hates the Nazi's and eventually learns of Lore's daughter, who, along with Lore, occupies his thoughts.

In The Children's War, Charlesworth writes beautifully. She includes details and descriptions that set the tone and the place for each scene. Historical events are allowed to propel the story forward while the tension mounts. As the story progresses and the children mature, she gives their characters better insight into the events surrounding them, as children caught up in something they can do nothing about.

One of the themes involves the devastation that results from parental failure. Both Ilse and Nicolai long for the presence of caring, compassionate parents, but they are denied this. The war is larger than their comprehension and seemingly changes moralities and loyalties. Small weaknesses in people are amplified when the stakes are life or death.

The two parallel story lines never intersect in The Children's War. In fact, at the very end, the novel follows only Ilse. While I appreciated both story lines, in many ways Nicolai's story could have been left out of the book because it ended quite abruptly and left me feeling that it was incomplete. It was also the less compelling of the two stories.
Very Highly Recommended - I'd give it a 4.5 out of 5


Marseilles, March 1939
Ilse held her suitcase safe between her knees. There was a continuous loud crackle of announcements, which she could not understand. After an hour she moved to the corner seat beside the frosted glass window, for this gave an angled view of the Gare St. Charles. There she watched the constant flickering of single and multiple blurs against the yellow advertisement for Amer Picon. Any one of those blurs might open the door from the huge vault of the station and solidify into the person collecting her. This was distracting. Each time the door opened and it was not for her, she could not settle. opening

She watched the short figure stumping out to disappear into the haze, the last link in the human chain that had moved her to this place. She knew that the woman was supposed to see her onto the boat. Sitting on the suitcase, Ilse was level with the legs shuffling towards the ticket office. She had been wrong to mind the smell of sweat. The Red Cross woman was the sort of person whose kindness was all used up in her work, leaving nothing over for conversation, no space into which other people might intrude. She would probably never talk to the children she took from place to place. pg. 6

Ilse, sitting proudly beside him, saw how the cafes were already busy with groups of men drinking glasses of tea. Others wearing long dresses, which Willy said were called djellabas, led little donkeys to the souk, their panniers charged with merchandise. Young men in Western clothes wove in and out of the narrow streets on bicycles; one woman was modern in a short skirt and heels and stockings, though others wore long robes in bright colours. pg. 17

Though she might entertain dark thoughts about her father, Ilse could not bear for Toni to voice them. The truth was something even worse. Her father had been in and out of prison for years.... If the police picked him up, they would send him to prison or worse. Communists were banned. He was a Bolshevik and a Jew, doubly an enemy of the Reich.
The state had confiscated everything he owned. pg. 21

"Be generous, Nico, be kind," his father often said, being himself both of those without any effort. Nicolai tried to comply. His mother held the monopoly of a certain kind of knowledge, sensible seeming and reasonable, that was never to be argued with. Always right, she completely missed the essence of things. pg. 27

"...I expect you in uniform by the end of the week. This school will have one hundred per cent membership. One hundred per cent. The years of struggle are over. We are all part of the German community now. Tell your father he will be prosecuted if he does not comply." pg. 34

If Willy chose to fight, Toni said that they had to send her back. She mentioned Belgium or France. Willy said they could not do that. They had a promise to keep. Toni said a good deal about the duties of parents. She kept saying that they had to be practical. Ilse, who knew that Toni was very practical indeed, could not bear to hear any more and put her pillow over her head. pg. 57-58

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Dead Boys

The Dead Boys by Royce Buckingham
Penguin Young Readers Group, September 2010
Hardcover, 208 pages
Age Range: 8 to 12
ISBN-13: 9780399252228
highly recommended

In the desert town of Richland, Washington, there stands a giant sycamore tree. Horribly mutated by nuclear waste, it feeds on the life energy of boys that it snags with its living roots. And when Teddy Matthews moves to town, the tree trains its sights on its next victim.
From the start, Teddy knows something is very wrong with Richland-every kid he meets disappears before his eyes. A trip to the cemetery confirms that these boys are actually dead and trying to lure him to the tree. But that knowledge is no help when Teddy is swept into the tree's world, a dark version of Richland from which there is no escape . . .
My Thoughts:

This is a creepy book for readers age 9-12. Teddy has moved with his mother to Richland, Washington where a huge, old sycamore tree is in the yard of the abandoned house next door. Teddy soon realizes that there is something odd about the kids he is meeting - and the tree.

While the story is dark - and creepy - it didn't seem too over the top scary for the intended age group. I thought it had just the right balance of fast paced suspense, mystery, and spooky happenings. Perhaps not for a child with too vivid an imagination, especially if they have large, old trees in their yard.

The Dead Boys would actually be an easy read for this age group. I think kids will appreciate the illustration of the tree changes at the beginning of each chapter. I know I did. This is perhaps, the time of year for a creepy story.
highly recommended for 9-12


In its early years, the sycamore tree stretched its branches up toward the light, reaching for the desert sun and its life giving energy. Beneath the ground, it groped for scarce water and nutrients. opening, prologue

The tree soaked up the new radiation directly into its porous wood. It couldn't know that the energy came from the Hanford nuclear plant upriver. pg. 1, prologue

Years later, however, when the boys energy was almost fully sapped, the tree began to grow hungry again.... pg 2, prologue

"C'mon," his mother prodded playfully. "Once we get there, you just need to find your place. Don't worry. I'm sure there will be lots of kids for you to meet."
Teddy sighed - he couldn't help but worry. He was about to become the new kid in a strange town for the first time in his life. pg. 5

Dead grass and dry weeds crinkled beneath his feet, while the tree hovering over the yard seemed in perfect health. It was as though the giant thing was sucking the life from all the plants below, and the lawn was a graveyard of the dried yellow husks of its victims. pg. 7-8

She nodded at the old house. "Whatcha doing hanging around that nasty place?"
"Nothing?" Teddy replied.
"A kid disappeared there, you know." Without any further explanation, she marched back down the walkway and drove off.
Nope, he thought. I did not know that. pg. 9

Friday, October 8, 2010

Schindler's List

Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally
Simon & Schuster, 1982 (1993 edition)
Trade Paperback, 398 pages
ISBN-13: 9780671880316
very highly recommended

Schindler's List is a remarkable work of fiction based on the true story of German industrialist and war profiteer, Oskar Schindler, who, confronted with the horror of the extermination camps, gambled his life and fortune to rescue 1,300 Jews from the gas chambers.
Working with the actual testimony of Schindler's Jews, Thomas Keneally artfully depicts the courage and shrewdness of an unlikely savior, a man who is a flawed mixture of hedonism and decency and who, in the presence of unutterable evil, transcends the limits of his own humanity.
My Thoughts:

After watching the movie, I put off reading Schindler's List. The movie made a powerful, horrific, profound statement and left one emotionally and visually overwhelmed. However, I am quite glad that I did finally read the book on which the Spielberg's movie was based.

Keneally won the Booker Prize for Schindler's List, a novelization of
the true story of Oskar Schindler and the Schindler Jews. Schindler's List, while presented in the form of a novel, is very well researched and based on fact. While researching Schindler's List, the author traveled to seven nations and interviewed fifty of Schindler's Jews. He visited the locations in the book.

Right at the start, Keneally lets us know that Oskar Schindler is a flawed man, not a virtuous one. He has a penchant for women, drink, and fine comforts. But this flawed hero also gambles millions to save the Jews under his care from the gas chambers. The book, I think, makes Schindler's extraordinary gift for negotiating and bribing the right people at the right time quite evident.

In Schindler's List the importance of bearing witness and surviving to testifying about the atrocities is stressed. There are several passages where it is pointed out that the Nazi's permitted witnesses because they believed the witnesses would all perish too. The seemingly casual murders of a hundred people, a thousand people, three thousand people, here and there, is stunning and sickening, especially when you start to think of how many people the six million murders represent.

It seems in the end that the one purpose to Schindler's life was to save the Schindlerjuden. After the war he remained at loose ends and never again found professional success. But he did manage to save the lives of over one thousand three hundred people. It makes one wonder what could have been if there were more Oskar Schindlers.

Additionally, I must mention that I found Keneally to be an excellent writer. I also appreciated all the research he did to write Schindler's List. (Long time readers of She Treads Softly know how I feel about historical novels that are not well researched or based on facts.) In this case the melding of facts into a novel was perfect.

Very Highly Recommended - one of the best


This account of Oskar's astonishing history is based in the first place on interviews with 50 Schindler survivors from seven nations.... It is enriched by a locations that prominently figure in the book... But the narrative depends also on documentary and other information supplied by those few wartime associates of Oskar's who can still be reached... pg. 9-10

To use the texture and devices of a novel to tell a true story is a course that has frequently been followed in modern writing.... I have attempted, however, to avoid all fiction, since fiction would debase the record, and to distinguish between reality and myths which are likely to attach themselves to a man of Oskar's stature. It has sometimes been necessary to make reasonable constructs of conversations of which Oskar and others have left only the briefest record. But most exchanges and conversations, and all events, are based on the detailed recollections of the Schindlerjuden (Schindler Jews). of Schindler himself, and of other witnesses to Oskar's acts of outrageous rescue. pg. 10

For this is a story of the pragmatic triumph of good over evil, a triumph in eminently measurable, statistical, unsubtle terms. pg. 14

Unhappily, Madritsch and Titsch and he, Oskar Schindler, were the only ones he knew who regularly spent money on black market bread. pg. 20

On one hand, Oskar has made it his business to know the full face of the system, the rabid face behind the veil of bureaucratic decency. He knows, that is, earlier than most would dare know it, what Sonderbehandlung means: that though it says "Special Treatment," it means pyramids of cyanotic corpses in Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, and in that complex west of Cracow known to the Poles as Osiecim-Brzezinka but which will be known in the West by its German name, Auschwitz-Birkenau. pg 29-30

There was, of course, in men like Stern an ancestral gift for sniffing out the just Goy, who could be used as a buffer or partial refuge against the savageries of others. It was a sense for where a safe house might be, a potential zone of shelter. pg. 46

The Aktion of the night of December 4 had convinced Stern that Oskar Schindler was that rarity, a just Goy. There is the Talmudic legend of the Hasidei Ummot Ha-olam, the Righteous of the Nations, of whom there are said to be - at any point in the world's history - thirty-six. pg. 68

They permitted witnesses, such witnesses as the red toddler, because they believed the witnesses all would perish too. pg. 130

He was one of those men who, even in the years of peace, would have advised his congregation that while God may well be honored by the inflexibility of the pious, he might also be honored by the flexibility of the sensible. pg. 207

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Our Little Secret

Our Little Secret: The True Story of a Teenager Killer and the Silence of a Small New England Town
by Kevin Flynn, Rebecca Lavoie
Penguin Group, May 2010
Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780425234655
true crime

Synopsis from publisher:
The true story of a teenage killer and the silence of a small New England town.
For twenty years Daniel Paquette's murder in New Hampshire went unsolved. It remained a secret between two high school friends until Eric Windhurst's arrest in 2005. What was revealed was a crime born of adolescent passion between Eric and Daniel's stepdaughter, Melanie- redefining the meaning of loyalty, justice, and revenge.
My Thoughts:

True crime aficionados will probably enjoy this book or be better able to compare it to other books of that genre. This wasn't necessarily a well written true crime novel, but I am certain that residents or former residents from Hopkinton, New Hampshire, and the surrounding area will find it interesting. It certainly details the case and the investigation.

While the reader knows who did it before hand - due to the back cover alone for those of us who didn't follow this case - this true crime story wasn't quite as disturbing as one would imagine. Or at least it wasn't to me. The murdered man was a child molester and the killer an impressionable teenager. Those who initially knew and kept silent were basically a very small group of teens. There have been many other cases where people have kept quiet about a murder.
recommended - if you like true crime


Danny Paquette's killer walked into the visitors' room at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men. He was cheerful - even pleased - to see a new face, someone who hadn't known him before he was arrested. opening

It took twenty years to solve the case of who shot Danny Paquette in his own backyard. Not twenty years of complete mystery - for the police seemed to be perpetually close to cracking the case open - but twenty years of silence. Though some regarded his killing as a senseless murder, many more weren't the least bit sorry that Danny Paquette was dead.
Only one person's finger pulled the trigger, but dozens of others pressed their fingers to pursed lips in silence that perfectly aimed bullet ruined many other lives in addition to the one it ended that day. But as the years passed and the silence grew, many people judged the crime righteous and justified. Many knew. No one spoke. Their reasons varied, but the act of frontier justice was all made easier to bear because of one thing:
Danny Paquette had it coming. pg. 2

In those fleeting moments, they still believe Danny had been injured while working on a bulldozer. pg. 12

No one could have predicted during Danny Paquette's childhood that the investigation of his killing would render such a lengthy list of suspects. pg. 22

On one of these nights, he realized with the force of an avalanche what it was that wasn't right inside him. The feeling he had wasn't nausea, or homesickness for New Hampshire.
The feeling was unbearable, soul-eating 126

Monday, October 4, 2010

One Door Away from Heaven

One Door Away from Heaven by Dean Koontz
Bantam Books, 2001
Mass Market Paperback, 681 pages
ISBN-13: 9780553582758
very highly recommended

Synopsis from cover:
Michelina Bellsong is on a mission. She is following a missing family to the edge of America... to a place she never knew existed - a place of terror, wonder, and shattering revelation.
What awaits her there will change her life and the life of everyone she knows - if she can find the key to survival.
At stake are a young girl of extraordinary goodness, a young boy with killers on his trail, and Mickey's own wounded soul.
My Thoughts:

One Door Away from Heaven follows several different storylines and characters until they all converge at the end. We meet: Micky, a woman who is trying to get her life back together after some bad choices; Leilani, a precocious nine-year-old girl who is trying to overcome her upbringing as well as her birth defects; Curtis, a ten year-old boy and his dog who are both running away from killers; as well as several other memorable characters including Aunt Geneva, P.I. Noah, a drug addled mother, a truly evil stepfather, and some amazing twins.

This is not a horror novel, although it has some terrifying moments. It's a cross-genre novel. There is plenty of action, suspense, humor, compassion, and terror. The novel is a mix of action and science fiction, but also carries a real-life message concerning bioethics with some spiritual undertones.

I really enjoy Koontz's writing style in One Door Away from Heaven, all of it, including the metaphors, alliteration, and long descriptions. I enjoyed the humor and message mixed in to the story too. The characters are all well developed and memorable. You care about what happens to these broken people. You want them to succeed, to overcome. I also want to believe that good triumphs over evil, that there is always hope.

One Door Away from Heaven was a very enjoyable book. It kept its fast pace throughout the whole novel for me. No spoilers, but, although I am a dog lover who found the ending full of hope and satisfying based on the world created in the novel, I will also admit that it was a little far-fetched for me. And I loved the dog in the book.
Very Highly Recommended

THE WORLD IS FULL of broken people. Splints, casts, miracle drugs, and time can’t mend fractured hearts, wounded minds, torn spirits. opening

Closing her eyes again, turning her face to the deadly blazing heavens, Micky said, “Well, I don’t intend to live forever.”
“Why not?”
“Maybe you haven’t noticed, but nobody does.”
“I probably will,” the girl declared.
“How’s that work?”
“A little extraterrestrial DNA.”
“Yeah, right. You’re part alien.”
“Not yet. I have to make contact first.”
Micky opened her eyes again and squinted at the ET wannabe. “You’ve been watching too many reruns of The X Files, kid.”
“I’ve only got until my next birthday, and then all bets are off.” The girl moved along the swooning fence to a point where it had entirely collapsed. She clattered across the flattened section of pickets and approached Micky. “Do you believe in life after death?” pg. 2

Until now, Micky hadn’t noticed this deformity. “Everyone’s got imperfections,” she said.
“This isn’t like having a big schnoz. I’m either a mutant or a cripple, and I refuse to be a cripple. People pity cripples, but they’re afraid of mutants.”
“You want people to be afraid of you?”
“Fear implies respect,” Leilani said. pg. 5

Geneva added one thought before changing the subject: “It’s also true that sometimes — not often, but once in a great while — your life can change for the better in one moment of grace, almost a sort of miracle. Something so powerful can happen, someone so special come along, some precious understanding descend on you so unexpectedly that it just pivots you in a new direction, changes you forever. Girl, I’d give everything I have if that could happen for you.” pg. 9

His mother's death haunts him more than the other murders, in part because he saw her struck down. pg. 13

"I'm always working on a screenplay in my head. In film school, they teach you everything's material, and this sure is." pg. 25

He is amazed to be alive. He doesn't dare to hope that he has lost his pursuers. They are out there, still searching, cunning and indefatigable. pg. 26

Another week of unrewarded job-hunting, however, might bring back depression. Also, more than once during the day, she'd been troubled by a new version of her former rage; this sullen resentment wasn't as hot as her anger had been in the pas, but it had the potential to quicken. pg. 37

"So now," said Micky, "in addition to your perpetually wasted tofu-peaches-bean-sprouts mother and your murderous stepfather, we're to believe you had a brother who was abducted by aliens." pg. 49

Gen often said that what we perceive to be coincidences are in fact carefully placed tiles in a mosaic pattern the rest of which we can't apprehend. Now Micky sensed that intricate mosaic, vast and panoramic, and mysterious. pg. 472

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I Am Legend

I Am Legend (and Other Stories) by Richard Matheson
Tom Doherty Associates, 2007
Trade Paperback, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780765318749
very highly recommended

From the Publisher
Robert Neville may well be the only survivor of an incurable plague has mutated every other man, woman, and child into bloodthirsty, nocturnal creatures who are determined to destroy him.
By day, he scavenges for food and supplies, and is a hunter, stalking the infected monstrosities through the abandoned ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for dawn....

My Thoughts:

Matheson is a Grand Master of Horror and past winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement, he has also won the Edgar, the Hugo, the Spur, and the Writer's Guild awards. Many other writers, like Rod Sterling and Stephen King, give Matheson credit for inspiring them or influencing their work. Matheson stories are the originals, on which newer stories are based, and classics at this point.

I'm including the years of the original copyright dates of the stories included in this edition:
I am Legend, 1954
Buried Talents, 1987
The Near Departed, 1987
Prey, 1969
Witch War, 1951
Dance of the Dead, 1954
Dress of White Silk, 1951
Mad House, 1952
The Funeral, 1955
From Shadowed Places, 1960
Person to Person, 1989

After having watched several movies based on Matheson's I Am Legend for a Movie Dude weekend:
I Am Legend Marathon
Aliens vs. Avatar and Zombies
I felt it was about time to actually read the original story after I found this edition at my local used book store's clearance section (one of my favorite hang-outs.)

Of the movies, The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price is actually the closest to Matheson's original story. Written in 1954 the story takes place in a future 1976. Excellent story and I'm glad I read the original rather than just relying on movie viewing. I was also quite pleasantly surprised with the other short stories included in this collection. They were creepy, every one.
Very Highly Recommended


I Am Legend
On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back. opening

He knew he should burn up the paper plates and utensils too, and dust the furniture and wash out the sinks and the bathtub and toilet, and change the sheets and pillowcase on his bed; but he didn’t feel like it.
For he was a man and he was alone and these things had no importance to him. pg. 14-15

When he was finished stringing the garlic cloves, he went outside and nailed them over the window boarding, taking down the old strings, which had lost most of their potent smell.
He had to go through this process twice a week. Until he found something better, it was his first line of defense.
Defense? he often thought. For what?
All afternoon he made stakes. pg. 16

He still heard them outside, their murmuring and their walkings about and their cries, their snarling and fighting among themselves. Once in a while a rock or brick thudded off the house. Sometimes a dog barked.
And they were all there for the same thing. pg. 18

Why didn’t they leave him alone? Did they think they could all have him? Were they so stupid they thought that? Why did they keep coming every night? After five months, you’d think they’d give up and try elsewhere. pg. 20

It was the ugliest doll she had ever seen. Seven inches long and carved from wood, it had a skeletal body and an oversized head. Its expression was maniacally fierce, its pointed teeth completely bared, its glaring eyes protuberant. It clutched an eight-inch spear in its right hand. pg. 182

Dress of White Silk
Granma locked me in my room and wont let me out. Because its happened she says. I guess I was bad. pg. 221

Mad House
Her husband is releasing another cloud of animal temper. It is mist that clings. It hangs over the furniture, drips from the walls.
It is alive.
So through the days and nights. His anger falling like frenzied axe blows in his house on everything he owns. Sprays of teeth-grinding hysteria clouding his windows and falling on his floors. Oceans of wild, uncontrolled hate flooding through every room of his house; filling each iota of space with a shifting, throbbing life. pg. 229

From Shadowed Places
"I'm being hexed," he said. pg. 272

Person to Person
He could still hear the sound of a telephone ringing.
Several moments passed before it came to him that the ringing was inside his head. pg. 294

Friday, October 1, 2010


Intruders: The Incredible Visitations At Copley Woods by Budd Hopkins
Random House,1987
Mass Market Paperback, 319 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345346339
not recommended

There have been tens of thousands of verified UFO sightings and landings. But it is the actual temporary abductions that are the most controversial and dramatic stories behind this phenomenon. In the summer of 1983, Kathie Davis was floated out of her room in rural Indianapolis, while she slept, then subjected to a physical examination inside a UFO. The story she told the world afterwards, and corroborated by specialists and hundreds of other victims all over the country, is not to be missed or dismissed lightly.
My Thoughts:

I found this book at a local thrift store for next to nothing and had to pick it up. This is not exactly a well written book, but I thought it would be interesting to read an alien abduction book published in 1987.

Since a group of former military personnel recently claimed that unidentified flying objects are real, I'm not going to debate whether UFOs are real or not. Nor am I going to share any personal conjecture on whether abduction is real or not. I do, however, question Hopkins heavy reliance on hypnosis to get people to remember the "true story" of their abductions and his insistence that the subjects didn't know about other alien abduction stories. Hey, I most certainly knew about alien abduction stories in the 1970's

Additionally, I think that you should all be aware of the fact that we humans are part of a breeding experiment by the aliens. (Wasn't this an X-Files episode too?) The fact that Hopkins doesn't have any proof to support any of his conjecture won't matter for true believers. Much of the book involves people "remembering" having ova or sperm taken by aliens and some resulting "hybrid" children.

There were some great leaps in logic from writing that "it could be this" to "it is this." A good example is in the last quote. Dreaming about a big silver train does not equate being abducted by aliens. Sometimes a train is just a train. Granted, sometimes it may be something else, but being something else doesn't necessarily mean an alien spaceship. I'm not convinced that Hopkins is actually the best choice in interpreting this. The rest of us can decide what we think.

In any event, I can sleep peacefully knowing that encounters with aliens are rare after age 40 and that I survived past the year 2000.

Not Recommended - unless you like 1980's alien abduction books, then it's recommended.


Whether you are a physicist, a housewife, a UFO researcher or a dabbler in the occult. this book will almost certainly strain your credulity to the breaking point. opening

Realize that if any aspect of the UFO phenomenon as reported is true, then any of the rest of the reported phenomena may be true too. pg. xiii

It appears that most UFO abductees have had more than one such experience, their first abduction generally occurring in childhood around the age of six or seven. Often they are picked up and examined several times after that, though these later encounters are rarely reported past the age of forty or so. pg. 7

The effects gradually wore off, but she was left with one strong thought: that by the year 2000 the world would be totally different than we know it, but it would be only for the young and strong. pg. 14

In this book I will present new and compelling evidence that an ongoing genetic study is taking place - and that the human species itself is the subject of a breeding experiment. pg. 36

The fear I sensed in her voice when she talked about the house and her dream of the big silver train, as well as certain other of her glimmering half memories, made me feel that she may very well have been abducted at that 1980 location as well. pg. 188