Monday, January 31, 2011


Jamestown by Matthew Sharpe
Soft Skull Press, 2007
Hardcover, 327 pages
ISBN-13: 9781933368603

Jamestown chronicles a group of “settlers” (more like survivors) from the ravaged island of Manhattan, departing just as the Chrysler Building has mysteriously plummeted to the earth. This ragged band is heading down what’s left of I-95 in a half-school bus, half-Millennium Falcon. Their goal is to establish an outpost in southern Virginia, find oil, and exploit the Indians controlling the area. Based on actual accounts of the Jamestown settlement from 1607 to 1617, Jamestown features historical characters including John Smith, Pocahontas, and others enacting an imaginative re-version of life in the pioneer colony. In this retelling, Pocahontas’s father Powhatan is half-Falstaff, half-Henry V, while his consigliere is a psychiatrist named Sidney Feingold. John Martin gradually loses body parts in a series of violent encounters, and John Smith is a ruthless and pragmatic redhead continually undermining the aristocratic leadership. Communication is by text-messaging, IMing, and, ultimately, telepathy. Punctuated by jokes, rhymes, “rim shot” dialogue, and bloody black-comic tableaux, Jamestown is a trenchant commentary on America's past and present that confirms Matthew Sharpe’s status as a major talent in contemporary fiction.
My thoughts:

Jamestown by Matthew Sharpe is an odd, modern-day dystopian novel. Sharpe calls Jamestown, "an ahistorical fantasia on a real event." What he has done is take the historical Jamestown story, added Disney's Pocahontas to it, as well as other more diverse elements, and set it in an uncertain future USA.

Chapters are each told from a different character's point-of-view. At the beginning, the story alternates between Johnny Rolfe and Pocahontas, while later sections add the first -person accounts of other characters. At first I really enjoyed Jamestown. The premise was intriguing and the often satirical, black humor was funny. But soon it became a bit over-the-top for me. The jokes became stale and eventually the whole novel felt gimmicky.

Jamestown gets some things right. The quality of the writing is good and I liked the alternating chapters told by different characters. On the other hand actual character development is lacking and some of the humor became old. In the end, I think the whole premise of the story is what let me down. While I did enjoy reading it, I wasn't loving it. I felt anxious to finish it and start a more enjoyable novel.

Jamestown is not a book I would necessarily recommend to everyone, but I know it has an audience that enjoys satires and would enjoy it a bit more than I did. I thought Jamestown would be a recommended book until the end when it ultimately was So-so for me


Chapter 1: Johnny Rolfe
To whoever is out there, if anyone is out there:
Today has been an awful day in a run of awful days as long as life so far. The thirty of us climbed aboard this bus in haste, fled down the tunnel, and came up on the river's far bank in time to see the Chrysler Building plunge into the earth. The grieving faces of my colleagues being worse to look at than that crumpling shaft of glass, brick, and steel, I used my knees to plug the sockets of my eyes, put my fingers in my ears, and clamped my nose and mouth shut with my thighs. All main entries to my head remained sealed till Delaware, where I looked up in time to see John Martin vault his seatback, steak knife aimed at George Kendall's throat. Kendall, bread knife aimed at Martin's throat, said, "How dare you say that!" Some great, quaint pre-annihilation philosopher described the movement of history as thesis, antithesis, synthesis, whereas I've seen a lot more thesis, antithesis, steak knife, bread knife. John and George jabbed each other's arms once each before a couple guys broke up the fight, not because they didn't want to see George dead, or John dead, but because we'd signed a contract with our employer stipulating no murder on the bus. Murders off the bus must be approved by a majority of the bus's five-man board of directors. We don't yet know who those five are: their names are sealed in a black box we're meant not to open till we pass from Maryland into Virginia-that is, from civilization into its counterpart, if indeed civilization's what to call what we're fleeing, or exporting, or both. I am this trip's communications specialist, having taken a degree from the Manhattan School of Communications Arts, where I received certificates in linguistics, diplomacy, typing, modern dance, telecom, short and long stick. opening

Never have I seen a hare open its mouth as wide as did the red hare who now bit the small head off the brown thing, whose red blood stained the stiff, brown grass. The second brown thing fled along the stalks, but not in time to not get caught by hare two and sheared in half. That was when I turned away and opted not to hunt the hares. pg. 5

Chapter 2: Pocahontas
To the excellent person I know is reading this:
Hi! My name is Pocahontas and I'm nineteen, but Pocahontas isn't my real name. I will never say my real name. If I say my real name you will die. Anyone who hears my real name will die. Pocahontas is my nickname, it means "person who cannot be controlled by her dad." My dad didn't make up my nickname, my mom did, before she died, and he's kind of mad that that's my nickname because every time someone says it-which is any time anyone says my name because anyone who says my name name will die, which has been proven, but right now I can't talk about that because in English, which is not my mom tongue, you can talk about only one thing at a time, at most-any time anyone says my nickname they're also saying my dad can't control his daughter, and that's bad for my dad, my dad claims, because he's chief of our town and a bunch of other towns in this general area-Superchief, I think y'all might say in English. pg. 7

"Why, whenever you talk about the future, do you sound as if you're describing a country where only sad people live?"
"To counteract the nostalgia for the future that you and everyone else around here seem to feel. To counteract the naïve idea that what makes the future good is that it's the future."
Well it hit me pretty hard when he said that about him and me not getting married, an event we'd been planning since we met at birth. I think he's right but I don't know why. Maybe he's right because he said it. Does that ever happen in English, where saying something makes it true? That happens in my language all the time so people have to be careful what they say but no one ever is, enough.
Then some time passed in the woods that I don't remember anything about, a little wedge of life that's disappeared. And then he said one more thing to me, a single word that caused a single feeling in my breast. The feeling I remember well, but not the word that was its maker. Ugh, I wish I hadn't written this. Too late now. pg. 9-10

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Revelation Space

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
Penguin Group (USA), 2000
Mass Market Paperback , 592 pages
Revelation Space Series #1
ISBN-13: 9780441009428
Synopsis from cover:
Nine hundred thousand years ago, something annihilated the Amarantin civilization just when it was on the verge of discovering space flight. Now one scientist, Dan Sylveste, will stop at nothing to solve the Amarantin riddle before ancient history repeats itself. With no other resources at his disposal, Sylveste forges a dangerous alliance with the cyborg crew of the starship Nostalgia for Infinity. But as he closes in on the secret, a killer closes in on him. Because the Amarantin were destroyed for a reason - and if that reason is uncovered, the universe - and reality itself - could be irrevocably altered..."

My Thoughts:

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds is a hard science fiction space opera and the first book in the three volume Revelation Space series. Since Reynolds has a Ph.D in astronomy, we are seriously talking hard science fiction. For fans of hard science fiction, this means Reynolds writes from a knowledge base that lends authenticity to the narrative. He seriously explores theories and explanations for the universe he creates. In other words, there is real science in this science fiction.

The narrative follows three unpredictable characters: Sylveste, Khouri and Volyova. At the beginning, the story moves slowly as Reynolds introduces and explores the background, lives, and motivations of the main characters. Since they are all quite different and start out during different time periods, early on you need to pay close attention to the details. All three stories do eventually merge.

I have a feeling that the careful reading of Revelation Space, keeping in mind descriptions, times, locations, etc, will pay off as the series continues. All three of the characters are unreliable narrators. Reynolds clearly has his characters withhold information, delaying revelations until later in the story - and hugely at the end.

In general I felt the writing was good, as were the characterizations. Reynolds really excelled at establishing a setting for the story and I think you really get a feeling for the vastness of space, as well as the strangeness of those who only live on ships. That, along with details about the ship Nostalgia for Infinity, also set a rather dark, dangerous, and, er, decaying tone to the novel. There are some surprising twists and information at the very end.
Highly Recommended for fans of hard science fiction


Mantell Sector, North Nekhebet, Resurgam, Delta Pavonis system, 2551
There was a razorstorm coming in.
Sylveste stood on the edge of the excavation and wondered if any of his labours would survive the night. The archeological dig was an array of deep square shafts separated by baulks of sheer-sided soil: the classical Wheeler box-grid. The shafts went down tens of meters, walled by transparent cofferdams spun from hyperdiamond. A million years of stratified geological history pressed against the sheets. But it would take only one good dustfall-one good razorstorm-to fill the shafts almost to the surface. opening

Nine hundred thousand years had passed since the Event. Most of that stratification was permafrost-typical in Resurgam's subpolar latitudes; permanent frost-soil which never thawed. Deeper down-close to the Event itself-was a layer of regolith laid down in the impacts which had followed. The Event itself was a single, hair-fine black demarcation-the ash of burning forests. pg. 3

"And what exactly might this terrible warning have concerned?"
Her question was largely rhetorical, as Sylveste well knew. She understood exactly what he believed about the Amarantin. She also seemed to enjoy needling him about those beliefs; as if by forcing him to state them repeatedly, she might eventually cause him to expose some logical error in his own theories; one that even he would have to admit undermined the whole argument.
"The Event," Sylveste said, fingering the fine black line behind the nearest cofferdam as he spoke.
"The Event happened to the Amarantin," Pascale said. "It wasn't anything they had any say in. And it happened quickly, too. They didn't have time to go about burying bodies in dire warning, even if they'd had any idea about what was happening to them."
"They angered the gods," Sylveste said. pg. 6

"Not bad?" Sylveste said. "It's bigger and better preserved than anything we've found to date by an order of magnitude. It's clear evidence of a more advanced phase of Amarantin technology ... perhaps even a precursor phase to a full industrial revolution. " pg. 14

The trouble with the dead, Triumvir Volyova thought, was that they had no real idea when to shut up.
She had just boarded the elevation from the bridge, weary after eighteen hours in consultation with various simulations of once-living figures from the ship's distant past. pg. 17

"...Don't you understand? The Event didn't just happen to the Amarantin. They caused it. They made it happen." pg. 25

Later that day, when the man came to offer her a job as a contract assassin, she found it surprisingly easy to accept.... Assassins, it turned out, had to be among the sanest, most analytical people on the planet. pg. 45

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Movie Dude Weekend: T3 & T4 buffet edition

Movie Dude weekends have been scare lately.

The Movie Dude hasn't been scare, he (and his kin on alternate Fridays) is here every Friday night, but we haven't had an official Movie Dude approved weekend.

Last Friday, for example, we watched
Hello Dolly, 1969, with Barbra Streisand,
Walter Matthau, and Michael Crawford


Dr. Doolittle, 1967,
with Rex Harrison

But this weekend is officially Movie Dude approved.

We watched Terminator 3 and 4.

Terminator 3 - Rise of the Machines, 2003
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristan
na Loken

ator Salvation, a.k.a. Terminator 4, 2009
Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood


Pick-up Lines for Wonder Boy from T3, as selected for him by Movie Dude and Just Me:

"Desire is irrelevant."
"All I need is a healthy female of breeding age."
"You remind me of my mother."

Earlier Quote from Movie Dude:

"Don't you hate it when you go to an all-you-can-eat buffet and then they tell you you've had enough? I was on my eleventh round at the buffet and an employee told me, 'Sir, you've had enough. Please go back to your table.'"
"My record of plates full without getting caught is 14."
"I'm not sure it qualifies as a super power."

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Hunt for Atlantis

The Hunt for Atlantis by Andy McDermott
Random House Publishing Group, 2009
Mass Market Paperback , 544 pages
ISBN-13: 9780553592856
Wilde & Chase series #1
highly recommended

It’s one of history’s most enduring and controversial legends—the lost city of Atlantis. Archaeologist Nina Wilde is certain she’s solved the riddle of its whereabouts—and with the help of reclusive billionaire Kristian Frost, his beautiful daughter, Kari, and ex-SAS bodyguard Eddie Chase, she’s about to make the most important discovery in centuries. But not everyone wants them to succeed: a powerful and mysterious organization will stop at nothing to ensure that a secret submerged for 11,000 years never resurfaces.
More than one would-be discoverer has already died in pursuit of Atlantis’s secrets—including Nina’s own parents. Failure isn’t an option. From the streets of Manhattan to the Brazilian jungle, from a Tibetan mountaintop to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, Nina and Eddie will race against time—and follow a trail of danger and death to a revelation so explosive, it could destroy civilization forever….
My Thoughts:

The Hunt for Atlantis by Andy McDermott represents a genre that is one of my guilty pleasures: action/adventure novels. As Publisher's Weekly said, McDermott "raises the bar to please adventure junkies who prefer to mainline their action." And that is the reality here. The Hunt for Atlantis is a fast paced, globetrotting novel that has plenty of action. It is like a merge of Indiana Jones and 24. Really. The novel goes from one adventure plus narrow escape to another.

Let me be honest here. When reading action/adventure novels I'm not necessarily looking for great character development or subtle plot shifts. I want the pure adrenaline rush that non-stop action and narrow escapes provide. That's it. And McDermott delivers the goods. It is also very humorous at times and McDermott, a former movie critic, includes lots of movie references.

You do have to suspend disbelief to enjoy the story, after all, the action is the whole point, but I did have to roll my eyes several times. One good example occurred when the characters are in Paris, and are going to see the sights. They only spend the morning at the Louvre, go shopping in the afternoon, and Nina still had time to be back at her room in the afternoon for a nap. Yeah... But, if you are just seeking escapism and can overlook the characters ping-ponging across the globe with seemingly little or no preparation, narrowly surviving every fatal circumstance, then you're going to enjoy The Hunt for Atlantis.

The Hunt for Atlantis was on my wish list for a couple years so I was pleased to see that currently there are five books in the series, with more due out. I guess we all know what I'll be looking for at my local used book store. In the mean time I know a couple other people who will enjoy The Hunt for Atlantis.
Highly Recommended


The sun had not yet risen above the Himalayan peaks, but Henry Wilde was already awake. opening

The Golden Peak - until today nothing more than a legend, a piece of ancient folklore - was the final piece in the puzzle Henry had been assembling his whole life. Exactly what he would find there, he wasn't sure. But what he was sure of was that it would provide him with everything he needed to reach his final goal
The ultimate legend.
Atlantis. pg. 3

"This justifies us coming here all in its own!" He jumped to his feet and let out a triumphant whoop, then hugged Laura. "We did it! We actually found proof that Atlantis wasn't just a myth!" pg. 17

"...I cannot allow you to continue your search. The risk to the world is far too great. My apologies." He lowered his head for a moment, then stepped back. "It's nothing personal."
The laser lines fixed on Henry and Laura.
Henry opened his mouth. "Wait-"
In the confines of the tomb, the noise of the automatic weapons was deafening. pg. 20

"It had to be done," said Qobras. "The Brotherhood can never allow Atlantis to be found." pg. 22

She let down her hair, then huddled up on the couch under a large knitted blanket. All she needed to complete the portrait of a sad, lonely loser was a CD of sappy, depressing songs. And maybe three or four cats. pg. 36

She clenched her teeth. "What the hell's going on?"
"Short version? Bad guys want to kill you. Good guys want to stop them. I'm one of the good guys."
"Why do they want to kill me? What did I do?"
"It's not what you've done, Doc. It's what they're afraid you might do..." pg. 51

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Strange Relation

Strange Relation: A Memoir of Marriage, Dementia, and Poetry
by Rachel Hadas
Paul Dry Books, February 2011
Trade Paperback, 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781589880610
personal memoir
very highly recommended

In 2004 Rachel Hadas's husband, George Edwards, a composer and professor of music at Columbia University, was diagnosed with early-onset dementia at the age of sixty-one. Strange Relation is her account of "losing" George. Her narrative begins when George's illness can no longer be ignored, and ends in 2008 soon after his move to a dementia facility (when after thirty years of marriage, Hadas finds herself no longer living with her husband). Within the confines of those difficult years, years when reading and writing were an essential part of what kept her going, she "tried to keep track....tried to tell the truth."

My Thoughts:

Strange Relation by Rachel Hadas is a memoir in which Hadas shares how she managed to cope with the progression of her husband's dementia. It is an honest, achingly personal account of how she turned to literature and poetry, her most faithful companions, to help her endure her husband's deteriorating condition and the deepening silence. This is not a book full of facts on how to handle your spouse's diagnoses with dementia. It is the deeply personal account of how one woman tried to keep herself on track and tried to tell the truth about what she was feeling and experiencing.

Strange Relation is a memoir for those of you who love literature and poetry and know it can sustain you through personal trials. This is the book you would write if you carefully recording unexpected insights and deeper meanings in what you were reading while experiencing a major life crisis. Rachel Hadas also clearly shows the therapeutic benefits of your own writing and self expression. It is a book penned by a true writer - a true writer coping with a great loss.

I think many readers will note a poignant passage or gain new insight while reading, however, the really careful, poetic readers are those who can record how these new insights helped them live amid their stress, inner turmoil, and insidious silence. Rachel Hadas is one of gifted souls among us who stayed in touch with her feelings and managed to express them.

While I greatly appreciated Rachel Hadas' memoir, I must point out that those who don't necessarily enjoy poetry might not be quite as enamored of it as I am. The reflections really are very much literature/poetry based. But, on the other hand, if given a chance it could also be a great comfort to others going through similar circumstances.

Very Highly Recommended

*Disclosure: I received this copy from the publisher in a giveaway.


In early 2005, my husband, George Edwards, a composer and professor of music at Columbia University, was diagnosed with dementia. He was sixty-one years old. I was fifty-six. opening, pg vii

When George's dementia was first diagnosed, we were told that it was unclear whether he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease or frontotemporal dementia (FTD). pg. VII

Since all these diseases are at present incurable, a precise diagnosis finally doesn't matter very much. It's equally quixotic (though perfectly natural) to hope for a clear diagnoses or for a cure. pg. VIII

I wrote most of it between 2005 and 2007, years when I was living with George but in a zone of deepening silence. During those years, literature was often my most faithful companion, so this is in part a book about literature. More precisely, it's about various literature. pg. ix

...[T]hese works of literature didn't soothe or console or lull me with their beauty. On the contrary, they made me sit up and pay attention. Each in its own way, they helped me by telling me the truth, or rather a truth, about the almost overwhelming situation in which I found myself. I learned what isn't always obvious under such circumstances: I wasn't alone. pg. ix

Within the cloudy confines of those years when reading and writing were part of what kept me going, I tried to keep track; I tried to tell the truth. pg. xi

The silence was the worst. Silence not as in solitude or concentration, but as in living with, eating with, waking up next to someone who has nothing to say to you. pg. 1

Allegra Goodman writes in an essay called "Pemberley Previsited":

I think unfolding is what rereading is about. Like pleated fabric, the text reveals different parts of its pattern at different times. And yet every time the text unfolds, in the library, or in bed, or upon the grass, the reader adds new wrinkles. Memory and experience press themselves into each reading so that each encounter informs the next. pg. 31

You're married to someone; you have presumably made a commitment, and you trustingly assume a relation of lasting reciprocity with the person you have chosen to spend the rest of your life with. But slowly and insidiously your partner changes from the person you married into someone else, someone who, while he still dwells alongside you, no longer cares about your well-being, who may in fact actively wish you ill. pg. 50

Much has been written about dementia as an insidious disease. Few writers, however, talk about the insidiousness of the way a person living alongside the disease is first blind to it and then grows used to it. pg. 115

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Remember when I made this Admission and declared my love of (fake) Crocs?

Well, my sister Hipee heard my cry of love and devotion. She decided that I needed Crocs for Christmas. Real Crocs.
I can't recall when a gift has pleased me more.

She gave me a stylish bright blue pair, with flamingo buttons
and a comfy brown pair with, for goodness sakes, a flannel lining.

I have been wearing Crocs every day since they arrived.

I love them.

Me and Crocs: BFF

The blue ones even match my What Not to Wear jacket.

(And yes, I know they still resemble clown shoes, but I'm good with that.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Shutter Island

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
HarperCollins Publishers, 2003
Hardcover , 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780688163174
very highly recommended

Summer, 1954.
U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels has come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Along with his partner, Chuck Aule, he sets out to find an escaped patient, a murderess named Rachel Solando, as a hurricane bears down upon them.
But nothing at Ashecliffe Hospital is what it seems.
Is he there to find a missing patient? Or has he been sent to look into rumors of Ashecliffe's radical approach to psychiatry; an approach that may include drug experimentation, hideous surgical trials, and lethal countermoves in the shadow war against Soviet brainwashing ...
Or is there another, more personal reason why he has come there?
As the investigation deepens, the questions only mount. The closer Teddy and Chuck get to the truth, the more elusive it becomes, and the more they begin to believe that they my never leave Shutter Island.
Because someone is trying to drive them insane ...

My Thoughts:

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane is an atmospheric psychological thriller set in the 1950's on Shutter Island where Ashecliffe Hospital, an asylum for the criminally insane, is located. U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his new partner, Chuck Aule, have been sent there to investigate a missing patient, Rachel Solando, but things are not as they seem. Teddy also has another agenda, the asylum seems to hold other, more sinister secrets, and a real storm is brewing off the ocean.

The setting and tone are both dark in Shutter Island, which helps establish the atmosphere and create a feeling of foreboding. I read that Lehane wrote the dialogue based on early B detective movies and I really appreciated learning that. It also help establish a sense of time and place for me. Shutter Island is plot driven and Lehane did an outstanding job developing the story - the slowly revealed twists, the doubt creeping in as the investigation continues, the surprise ending.

I haven't seen the movie based on the book, but I can tell you that the book is great. While I did easily figure out the clues left for the reader half-way through the novel (and I don't think Lehane was trying to prevent that from happening),it only enhanced the suspense and the ending did still hold several surprises. Be forewarned that Shutter Island is dark, tense, and has some violence.
Very Highly Recommended


May 3, 1993
I haven't laid eyes on the island in several years. The last time was from a friend's boat that ventured into the outer harbor, and I could see it off in the distance, past the inner ring, shrouded in the summer haze, a careless smudge of paint against the sky.
I haven't stepped foot on it in more than two decades, but Emily says (sometimes joking, sometimes not) that she's not sure I ever left. She once said that time is nothing to me but a series of bookmarks that I use to jump back and forth through the text of my life, returning again and again to the events that mark me, in the eyes of my more astute colleagues, as bearing all the characteristics of the classic melancholic. opening

I want to write these things down, then. Not to alter the text so that I fall under a more favorable light. No, no. He would never allow that. In his own peculiar way, he hates lies more than anyone I have ever known. pg. 4

He would prefer to do just about anything - swim in that water even - rather than speak of Dolores, of the facts of her being on this earth for thirty-one years and then ceasing to be. Just like that. pg. 20

He said to Chuck, "Heard much about this place?"
"A mental hospital, that's about all I know."
"For the criminally insane," Teddy said. pg. 22

"You gentlemen will be accorded all the courtesies we have to offer, all the help we can give. During your stay, however short that may be, you will obey protocol. Is that understood?"
Teddy nodded and Chuck said, "Absolutely."
McPherson fixed his eyes on a point just above their heads. "Dr. Cawley will explain the finer points of protocol to you, I'm sure, but I have to stress the following: unmonitored contact with patients of this institution is forbidden. Is that understood?" pg. 27

"There is no facility like his in the United States. We take only the most damaged patients. We take the ones no other facility can manage." pg. 32

"We know a female prisoner is missing." Teddy placed his notebook on his knee, flipped the pages. "A Rachel Solando."
"Patient." Cawley gave them a dead smile.
"Patient," Teddy said. "I apologize. We understand she escaped within the last twenty-four hours." pg. 35

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ibid: A Life

Ibid: A Life by Mark Dunn
MacAdam/Cage, 2004
Hardcover , 270 pages
ISBN-13: 9781931561655
very highly recommended

A life by inference is better than no life at all.
Dunn pushes his propensity for quirky to the limit, creating a full-length novel entirely upon the margins of a fictitious biography of Jonathan Blashette, as three-legged circus performer—cum—entrepreneur and humanitarian. When his editor loses the manuscript of this biography, he offers to publish the only text left: the footnotes.
Dunn holds up a funhouse mirror to the pedestaled residents of the twentieth century and has a laugh at the expense of the events and luminaries of an era that perhaps took itself just a little too seriously.

My Thoughts:

I have been looking forward to reading Ibid: A Life by Mark Dunn. It is the imaginative biography of Jonathan Blashette, a three-legged man. After opening with several letters between the author, his editor, and his brother, that explain what happened to the actual manuscript, the entire story consists of the endnotes (the use of "footnotes" is obviously a pun) to the missing fictional biography.

I found Ibid hilarious, and really did laugh out loud several times. It tackles, tongue in cheek, the addition of all sorts of real historical references while obliquely telling Jonathan Blashette's life story by inference, through endnotes. Using real historical references and people to tell the story made Ibid even more successful and accessible for me. Most of the endnotes themselves are quite funny.

While telling a story through endnotes seems like it might be awkward, I thought it really flowed smoother than most of my experiences in reading endnotes and was a fresh take on another way to tell a story. The fact that many of the footnotes were long and rambling segues added to the humor.

My one suggestion would have been to make some of the endnotes more closely resemble those you see in other biographies. Often biographers will discuss the problems with previous biographies or mention discrepancies between them - but that's a minor quibble. All in all, I really quite enjoyed Dunn's Ibid, although I also know it will not be a good choice for everyone.
very highly recommended


Dear brother Clay,

My editor, Pat Walsh, has just made an offer to publish the endnotes that accompanied my now tragically water-pulped biography of businessman Jonathan Blashette.

By themselves.

I am torn over what to do. These notes, while extensive, are still, by definition, subordinate to the lost text....While the notes illuminate the dusty crepuscular corners of this man's life, they tell its story only through sidebar and discursion. The book, therefore, becomes a biography by inference....

Publishing these notes by themselves allows me the opportunity to examine the role that each played in the man's life, in ways that I could not in the original text. There is a certain freedom here-stitching as I am upon the fringes of that life the kind of piping that usually defines the whole garment.

On the other hand, can the cloth of a man's life truly be defined by it's embroidery?" pg. 5-6

5. And yet on the whole, Jonathan was generally well-regarded and with the help of friends and family adjusted easily to his unique anatomical circumstances. Several years were to pass before Thaddeus Grund arrived with his invitation for Jonathan to join his Traveling Circus and Wild West Show... pg. 10

7. Lutherfurd, however, lingered for days, his ultimate expiration well attended. No one among the cluster of friends and relatives who attended Lutherfurd at his deathbed seems to be in agreement as to just what constituted the old man's last words. I have listed some of the more colorful contentions....

According to Benjamina Tasslewhite: "The light. It shimmers so beautifully Look! Look! The arms of my Redeemer are open and beck--!"

According to Rev. George M. Plint: "Satan, I come to you now, the bargain fulfilled." pg. 18

4. Memories of a merry Christmas, however, were marred by an unfortunate accident. According to family historian, Candida Isbell Loring, it is unlikely that the story is true. Given the personality profile she has pieced together of Jonathan's Great Aunt Harriet, it is doubtful that the old woman would have simply lain without complaint beneath the fallen Christmas tree and waited patiently for her presence to be detected. She would, in all likelihood, have bellowed without recess until rescue became assured. One can only subscribe to the truth of the prevailing account by accepting the theory that the ornament lodged in her mouth made the broadcasting of her whereabouts a futile endeavor... pg. 26-27

7. "I think she likes me." Young Jonathan misinterpreted the wink. Little "Annette of the Skies" was victim to periodic blepharospasm, or spasmodic winking. Jonathan later suspected his error after catching the prepubescent trapeze wonder winking at a draft horse. Joseph Alksnis-Lochrie, "Childhood Under the Big Top," Calliope: The Magazine of the Circus 12 (fall 1957):37-38. pg. 39-40

The Man of 1000 Responses Jinks Nyberg will offer bare-tongued rebuttal and rejoinder to all comers. Then he will do some long division. pg. 48

6. Jonathan displayed a knack for making easy friendships with some of the other students. Jonathan befriended even the terminally friendless among the residents of Orville House. This group included Jiminy Crutch, a mestizo who lived in fear of squirrels, and thus found himself constantly confronted by them in his bed, wardrobe, and dresser - placed there by the more mischievous among his dormitory mates. Young Jiminy won abundant sympathy and support from Jonathan, who encouraged the quaking, stuttering young man to shake hands with his fear and turn it to become the nation's foremost expert on squirrel aggression, and in 1941 was awarded the prestigious Van Weems Small Mammal Research Prize for his paper on the infamous 1826 Hamilton County, Indiana, squirrel migration - an aberration of nature that residents of Noblesville still speak of today. Contemporary accounts note that thousands of squirrels one morning decided to move en masse across the county. Swimming like otters across the picturesque White River, and foraging voraciously along the way, the squirrels were met by angry club-wielding farmers at every turn. The devastation wreaked by the two-week rampage took months to repair. Cordell Glover, Three Legs, One Heart, 45-48; Belva Curry, "On the Move" Sciuridae: Journal of the American Squirrel, 1952, No. 4, 366-75. pg. 71-72

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
by David Grann
Vintage Books, 2009
Trade Paperback , 448 pages
ISBN-13: 9781400078455
very highly recommended

After stumbling upon a hidden trove of diaries, acclaimed New Yorker writer David Grann set out to solve "the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century": what happened to the British explorer Percy Fawcett and his quest for the Lost City of Z? In 1925, Fawcett ventured into the Amazon to find an ancient civilization, hoping to make one of the most important discoveries in history, but he and his expedition vanished. For decades, scientists and adventurers have searched for evidence of Fawcett's party and the lost City of Z. David Grann's quest for the truth and his stunning discoveries about Fawcett's fate and Z form the heart of this complex, enthralling narrative.
My Thoughts:

The Lost City of Z by David Grann is actually two stories. The main story and focus of the book is the life of explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett. Chapters alternate between Fawcett's story and that of the author, David Grann, who, while researching Fawcett's life, decided to follow Fawcett's last known footsteps and entered the Brazilian jungles himself.

Fawcett was among the last of the gentleman explorers who set out to explore and map the jungles of the Amazon. The tales of Fawcett's explorations in the jungles were often horrifying. The expedition that captured the world's attention was the one in 1925. Accompanied only by his son Jack and Raleigh Rimmell, Jack's boyhood friend, they entered the jungle looking for the legendary city of Z. None of them ever returned. After this, the 1925 expedition has been the subject of much speculation and many rescue parties.

The chapters shift between he story of Fawcett's life and his expeditions and Grann's research and preparations to follow Fawcett's last known trail. While Fawcett's story is impressive and fascinating, I also found Grann's story interesting, especially when he starts following Fawcett's trail and it is evident how much the jungle has changed.

In the end The Lost City of Z truly is a tale of obsession - that of Fawcett's determination to find Z (or El Dorado, or a lost civilization) and the obsession of Gran with Fawcett's explorations. While Grann's book has no great, surprising revelations or conclusions, it was interesting.

The Lost City of Z includes photos, maps, a note on the sources, notes, a selected bibliography, and index. All in all, I really quite enjoyed it, although it should be noted that some reviewers have found the focus of the narrative itself and the conclusion lacking in depth.
very highly recommended


I pulled the map from my back pocket. It was wet and crumpled, the lines I had traced to highlight my route now faded. I stared at my markings, hoping that they might lead me out of the Amazon, rather than deeper into it. preface, pg. 3

I told myself that I had come simply to record how generations of scientists and adventurers became fatally obsessed with solving what has often been described as "the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century" - the whereabouts of the lost City of Z. The ancient city, with its network of roads and bridges and temples, was believed to be hidden in the Amazon, the largest jungle in the world. pg. 4

At times I had to remind myself that everything in this story is true: a movie star really was abducted by Indians; there were cannibals, ruins, secret maps, and spies; explorers died from starvation, disease, attacks by wild animals and poisonous arrows; and at stake amid the adventure and death was the very understanding of the Americas before Christopher Columbus came ashore in the New World. pg. 5

He was Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, and his name was known throughout the world.
He was the last of the great Victorian explorers who ventured into uncharted realms with little more than a machete, a compass, and an almost divine sense of purpose. For nearly two decades, stories of his adventures had captivated the public's imagination: how he had survived in the South American wilderness without contact with the outside world; how he was ambushed by hostile tribesmen, many of whom had never before seen a white man; how he battled piranha, electric eels, jaguars, crocodiles, vampire bats, and anacondas, including one that almost crushed him; and how he emerged with maps of regions from which no previous expedition had returned. He was renowned as the "David Livingstone of the Amazon," and was believed to have such unrivaled powers of endurance that a few colleagues even claimed he was immune to death. pg. 7-8

Fawcett, however, was certain that the Amazon contained a fabulous kingdom, and he was not another soldier of fortune or a crackpot. A man of science, he had spent years gathering evidence to prove his case-digging up artifacts, studying petroglyphs, and interviewing tribes. And after fierce battles with skeptics Fawcett had received funding from the most respected scientific institutions, including the Royal Geographical Society, the American Geographical Society, and the Museum of the American Indian. Newspapers were proclaiming that Fawcett would soon startle the world. The Atlanta Constitution declared, "It is perhaps the most hazardous and certainly the most spectacular adventure of the kind ever undertaken by a reputable scientist with the backing of conservative scientific bodies."
Fawcett had concluded that an ancient, highly cultured people still existed in the Brazilian Amazon and that their civilization was so old and sophisticated it would forever alter the Western view of the Americas. He had christened this lost world the City of Z. pg. 12

As reporters clamored around him, Fawcett explained that only a small expedition would have any chance of survival. It would be able to live off the land, and not pose a threat to hostile Indians. The expedition, he had stated, "will be no pampered exploration party, with an army of bearers, guides and cargo animals. Such top-heavy expeditions get nowhere; they linger on the fringe of civilization and bask in publicity. Where the real wilds start, bearers are not to be had anyway, for fear of the savages. Animals cannot be taken because of lack of pasture and the attack of insects and bats. There are no guides, for no one knows the country. It is a matter of cutting equipment to the absolute minimum, carrying it all oneself, and trusting that one will be able to exist by making friends with the various tribes one meets." He now added, "We will have to suffer every form of exposure.... We will have to achieve a nervous and mental resistance, as well as physical, as men under these conditions are often broken by their minds succumbing before their bodies."
Fawcett had chosen only two people to go with him: his twenty-one-year-old son, Jack, and Jack's best friend, Raleigh Rimell. Although they had never been on an expedition, Fawcett believed that they were ideal for the mission: tough, loyal, and, because they were so close, unlikely, after months of isolation and suffering, "to harass and persecute each other"-or, as was common on such expeditions, to mutiny. pg. 14

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Books haven't been finished and reviews have been scarce due to a death in the family.
Your prayers are always appreciated.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Finch by Jeff VanderMeer
Underland Press, 2009
Trade Paperback, 339 pages
ISBN-13: 9780980226010
Ambergris Cycle, book 3
very highly recommended

A noir thriller/visionary fantasy set in the failed state of Ambergris, 100 years after Shriek: An Afterword. The gray caps, mysterious underground inhabitants, have re-conquered Ambergris and put the city under martial law, disbanding House Hoegbotton, and controlling the human inhabitants with strange addictive drugs, internment in camps, and random acts of terror. The rebel resistance is scattered, and the gray caps are using human labor to build two strange towers. Against this backdrop, John Finch, who lives alone with a cat and a lizard, must solve an impossible double murder for his gray cap masters while trying to make contact with the rebels.

Nothing is as it seems as Finch and his disintegrating partner Wyte negotiate their way through a landscape of spies, rebels, and deception. Trapped by his job and the city, Finch is about to come face to face with a series of mysteries that will change him and Ambergris forever.

My Thoughts:

Finch by Jeff VanderMeer is the third book in his Ambergris Cycle. VanderMeer returns to fungus-laden Ambergris with Finch, a dark, atmospheric noir. And while it is a gritty police procedural, it's also a genre-bending fantasy/science fiction novel. John Finch has a double murder to solve, but the real danger is in dealing with the living, including the fungus.

I don't want to say too much more about Finch because I don't want to give away any of the plot twists and turns. There is plenty of intrigue. Since it is set 100 years after Shriek, there have been some big changes in Ambergris. The Gray Caps are now in charge, but they also have a hidden agenda. Other's involved in the investigation have their own plans. Everyone is trying to manipulate each other. Even Finch has secrets.

VanderMeer's writing and the complicated, layered plot make this a joy to read. Personally, I think you really need to have read the other two books, City of Saints and Madmen and Shriek: An Afterword, to fully appreciate Finch, although the book can stand alone.

VanderMeer wrote in the "About the Book" section at the end of Finch:

"While remaining true to an overarching narrative about the history of Ambergris, each book has used the approach and style best suited to its characters and stories. The first Ambergris novel, City of Saints and Madmen, was a mosaic novel composed of multiple narratives that played with postmodern techniques, mixing formal experimentation with the tropes of weird, uncanny fiction. That first book used a stylized, baroque approach to language and was dedicated to the idea of book-as-artifact.

"The second novel, Shriek: An Afterword, presented a sixty-year family chronicle through the eyes of a dysfunctional brother and sister, whose dueling voices form the heart of the book. Although steeped in war, intrigue, and bizarre events, Shriek lay more in the realm of works by Vladimir Nabokov and Marcel Proust - dreamlike yet precise, chronicling the unhappy, the strange, the quirky.

"Finch, by contrast, combines elements of noir, the thriller, spy stories, and fantasy, and in so doing gets to the true nitty-gritty of Ambergris. It's the first time readers have a chance to explore the city - albeit during a time of occupation, crisis, and change - almost as if seeing what the main character sees by way of handheld camera." Finch, About the Book, pg. 338-339

Very Highly Recommended


Interrogator: What did you see then?
Finch: Nothing. I couldn't see anything.
I: Wrong answer.
[howls and screams and sobbing]
I: Had you ever met the Lady in Blue before?
F: No, but I'd heard her before. opening

Finch, at the apartment door, breathing heavy from five flights of stairs, taken fast. The message that'd brought him from the station was already dying in his hand. Red smear on a limp green circle of green fungal paper that had minutes before squirmed clammy. pg. 3

Then Finch's eyes adjusted to the light from the large window and he saw: living room, kitchen. A sofa. Two wooden chairs. A small table, an empty vase with a rose design. Two bodies lying on the pull rug next to the sofa. One man, one gray cap without legs.
Finch's boss Heretic stood framed by the window. Wearing his familiar gray robes and gray hat. Finch had never learned the creatures real name. The series of clicks and whistles sounded like "heclereticalic" so Finch called him "Heretic." Highly unusual to see Heretic during the day. pg. 4

"What's the situation?" Finch asked.
Heretic smiled: rows and rows of needle lines set into a face a little like a squished-in shark's snout. Finch couldn't tell if the lines were gills or teeth, but they seemed to flutter and breathe a little. Wyte said he'd seen tiny creatures in there, once. Each time, a new nightmare. Another encounter to haunt Finch's sleep. pg. 4

"Who reported this?" Finch asked.
"An energy surge came from this location," Heretic said. "we felt it. Then spore cameras confirmed it."
Energy surge? What kind of energy?
Finch tried to imagine the rows and rows of living receivers underground, miles of them if rumor held true. Trying to process trillions of images from all over the city. How could they possibly keep up? The hope of every citizen. pg. 5

"Write down whatever you encounter, whether you understand it or not."
Mercifully, Heretic looked away. "A gray cap and a man. Dead in such a manner. We need to know everything." pg. 8

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Shriek: An Afterword

Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer
Tom Doherty Associates, 2006
Trade Paperback , 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780765314666
highly recommended

From the Publisher
An epic yet personal look at several decades of life, love, and death in the imaginary city of Ambergris—previously chronicled in Jeff VanderMeer's acclaimed City of Saints & MadmenShriek: An Afterword relates the scandalous, heartbreaking, and horrifying secret history of two squabbling siblings and their confidantes, protectors, and enemies.
Narrated with flamboyant intensity and under increasingly urgent conditions by ex-society figure Janice Shriek, this afterword presents a vivid gallery of characters and events, emphasizing the adventures of Janice's brother Duncan, a historian obsessed with a doomed love affair and a secret that may kill or transform him; a war between rival publishing houses that will change Ambergris forever; and the gray caps, a marginalized people armed with advanced fungal technologies who have been waiting underground for their chance to mold the future of the city.
Part academic treatise, part tell-all biography, after this introduction to the Family Shriek, you'll never look at history in quite the same way again.

My Thoughts:

Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer is his first novel set in the fungus-laden city of Ambergris, which was introduced in the City of Saints and Madmen collection. We were introduced to siblings Janice and Duncan Shriek in City of Saints and Madmen. This afterword, written by Janice to accompany Duncan's The Early History of Ambergris, is a memoir, or autobiography, of their lives. It also tries to explain, among other things, Duncan's obsession with and theories about the underground-dwelling mushroom people, or Gray Caps, and his ill-fated relationship with Mary Sabon.

While Janice wrote this afterword after she presumed Duncan was dead, Duncan finds her manuscript after it was written and comments about what Janice has written, which is shown to us in brackets as we read the text. So we are getting both points of view about the same incidents, which are told in the form of flashbacks. The whole novel foreshadows one pivotal confrontation that is told in completion at the end.

VanderMeer is an excellent writer and the development of his characters is exceptional. In many ways this is a character study set in a mythical universe - it's fantasy, but with elements of science fiction. I guess it's also classified as steampunk.

The whole, totally unique mushroom/fungus infested world already has a history established, so I can't imagine reading Shriek without having first read City of Saints and Madmen. They are really interconnected. Additionally, Shriek is not an easy read and, even though it does get a bit repetitious at times (enough with the flesh necklace, already), it is well worth the time you'll invest in following the story.
Highly Recommended - but only after reading City of Saints and Madmen


Mary Sabon once said of my brother Duncan Shriek that "He is not a human being at all, but composed entirely of digressions and transgressions." I am not sure what she hoped to gain by making this comment, but she said it nonetheless. I know she said it, because I happened to overhear it three weeks ago at a party for Martin Lake. opening

I had not invited her, but the other guests must have taken her invitation for granted: they clustered around her like beads in a stunning but ultimately fake necklace. The couples on the dance floor displayed such ambition that Sabon's necklace seemed to move around her, although she and her admirers stood perfectly still. pg.15

For a time, Duncan sat next to the desk in my apartment—in an old comfortable yellow chair our parents had bought in Stockton many years before. There he would sit, illumined by a single lamp in a twilight broken only by calls to prayer from the Religious Quarter, and chuckle as he read over the transcript of his latest chapter. He loved his own jokes as if they were his children, worthy of affection no matter how slack-jawed, limb-lacking, or broken-spined. pg. 16

Not that Ambergris didn't have a rich past of its own—just that we knew much less about it. We knew only that Ambergris played host to some of the world's greatest artists; that it was home to the mysterious gray caps; that a merchant clan, Hoegbotton & Sons, had wrested control of the city from a long line of kings; that the Kalif and his great Western Empire had thrice tried to invade Ambergris; that, once upon a time, some centuries ago, a catastrophe called the Silence had taken place there; and that the annual Festival of the Freshwater Squid often erupted into violence, an edgy lawlessness that some said was connected to the gray caps. The gray caps, we learned from helpful relatives seeking to reassure us, had long since retreated to the underground caverns and catacombs of Ambergris, first driven there by the founder of the city, a whaler despot named Manzikert I. Manzikert I had razed the gray caps' city of Cinsorium, massacred as many of them as he could, and built Ambergris on the smoldering ruins. {It all sounded incredibly exciting and exotic to us at that age, rather than horrifying.} pg. 20

I do remember that in our mother's absence one of my aunts tried to help orient us to the city, telling us, "There's a Religious Quarter, a Merchant Quarter, and an old Bureaucratic Quarter, and then there are places you don't go no matter what. Stay out of them." Faced with such vague warnings, we had to discover Ambergris in those early days by exploring for ourselves or asking our classmates. pg. 22

I was happy. After years of unhappiness. {It's easy to think you'd been unhappy for years, but I remember many times you were invigorated, excited, by your art, by your studies. The past isn't a slab of stone; it's fragmented and porous.} pg. 54

I have to say, I loved the sheer randomness of it all - there is nothing more liberating than playing an illogical game where only you understand all of the rules. pg. 77

Thursday, January 6, 2011

City of Saints and Madmen

City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer
Random House Publishing, 2006 edition
Trade Paperback, 704 pages
ISBN-13: 9780553383577
very highly recommended

In City of Saints and Madmen, Jeff VanderMeer has reinvented the literature of the fantastic. You hold in your hands an invitation to a place unlike any you’ve ever visited–an invitation delivered by one of our most audacious and astonishing literary magicians.
City of elegance and squalor. Of religious fervor and wanton lusts. And everywhere, on the walls of courtyards and churches, an incandescent fungus of mysterious and ominous origin. In Ambergris, a would-be suitor discovers that a sunlit street can become a killing ground in the blink of an eye. An artist receives an invitation to a beheading–and finds himself enchanted. And a patient in a mental institution is convinced he’s made up a city called Ambergris, imagined its every last detail, and that he’s really from a place called Chicago.…
By turns sensuous and terrifying, filled with exotica and eroticism, this interwoven collection of stories, histories, and “eyewitness” reports invokes a universe within a puzzlebox where you can lose–and find–yourself again.
My Thoughts:

City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer is a collection of short stories and supporting material that is classified as postmodern fantasy. The connection between the stories and other material is that they are all set in VanderMeer's fictional city of Ambergris.

VanderMeer has created a totally new, unique world in Ambergris and for that he is to be applauded. Although humans currently live in Ambergris, they are not the original, or only inhabitants. Originally a race of mushroom-like humanoids nicknamed "gray caps" had a city on the same site, but they were violently killed or driven underground and their city was mostly destroyed. In Ambergris you will celebrate the Festival of the Freshwater Squid, which is even more dangerous than walking down Albumuth Boulevard. And you will want to get off the streets at night when the gray caps come out.

Since City of Saints and Madmen features recurring characters and self-referential plots, you need to take your time reading it because the details and characters will matter. Even though it is very involved, dense material, it will not be difficult or drudgery to read because VanderMeer is a very good writer and there is a lot of humor found in the stories and supporting material.

I enjoyed the footnotes in "The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris." In "The Strange Case of X," the institutionalized X is a writer who carries around his book, City of Saints and Madmen. He is convinced he is really from a city called Chicago and made up Ambergris. "The Transformation of Martin Lake" is a World Fantasy Award winning short story. Even the Glossary, A Note on Fonts, and About the Author sections should not be skipped.

I should note that there were earlier editions of City of Saints and Madmen that do not have all the material found in the 2006 edition. I wanted to read City of Saints and Madmen before VandeerMeer's other two books set in Ambergris, Shriek: An Afterword and Finch.
Very Highly Recommended - but it's not going to be for everyone

Table of Contents:
The Book of Ambergris
The Real VanderMeer: Introduction
Dradin, In Love
The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris
The Transformation of Martin Lake
The Strange Case of X
A Letter from Dr. V to Dr. Simpkin
X's Notes
The Release of Belacqua
King Squid
The Hoegbotton Family History
The Cage
In the Hours After Death
A Note from Dr. V to Dr. Simpkin
The Man Who Had No Eyes (encrypted)
The Ambergris Glossary

Dradin, in love, beneath the window of his love, staring up at her while crowds surge and seethe around him, bumping and bruising him all unawares in their rough-clothed, bright-rouged thousands. For Dradin watches her, she taking dictation from a machine, an inscrutable block of gray from which sprout the earphones she wears over her delicate egg-shaped head. Dradin is struck dumb and dumber still by the seraphim blue of her eyes and the cascade of long and lustrous black hair over her shoulders, her pale face gloomy against the glass and masked by the reflection of the graying sky above. She is three stories up, ensconced in brick and mortar, almost a monument, her seat near the window just above the sign that reads "Hoegbotton & Sons, Distributors." Hoegbotton & Sons: the largest importer and exporter in all of lawless Ambergris, that oldest of cities named for the most valuable and secret part of the whale. "Dradin in Love," pg. 7

The heat withers him this far from the river, but he ignores the noose of sweat round his neck. "Dradin in Love," pg. 8

"He's a Living Saint. A professional holy man. You should remember that from your theology classes. I know I must have taught you about Living Saints. Unless, of course, I switched that with a unit on Dead Martyrs. No other kind, really. That's a joke, Dradin. Have the decency to laugh." Dradin in Love," pg. 51

3. I should add to footnote 2 that he most interesting information will be included in footnote form, and I will endeavor to include as many footnotes as possible. Indeed, information alluded to in footnote form will later be expanded upon in the main text, thus confusing any of you who have decided not to read the footnotes. This is the price to be paid by those who would rouse an elderly historian from his slumber behind a desk in order to coerce him to write for a common travel guide series. "The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris," pg. 103-104

One blustery spring day in the legendary metropolis of Ambergris, the artist Martin Lake received an invitation to a beheading. "The Transformation of Martin Lake," pg. 196

No matter: the words of his colleagues still reverberated in his head: "X is trapped between the hemispheres of his own brain" ; "X is a tough nut to crack"; "X will make an excellent thesis on guilt." "The Strange Case of X," pg. 279

He ignored my probing, said, "Do you think I wanted to write that stuff? When the book came out, all anyone wanted were more Ambergris stories. I couldn't sell anything not set in Ambergris. And then, after the initial clamor died down, I couldn't write anything else. It was horrible. I'd spend ten hours a day at the typewriter just making this world I'd created more and more real in this world. I felt like a sorcerer summoning up a demon." "The Strange Case of X," pg. 286-287

FLATULENCE, ORDER OF. The most deadly of the orders. See also: Living Saints. "The Ambergris Glossary," pg 19

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Doomsday Key

The Doomsday Key by James Rollins
HarperCollins, 2009
Hardcover, 448 pages
Sigma Force Series #6
ISBN-13: 9780061231407
very highly recommended

At Princeton University, a famed geneticist dies inside a biohazard lab. In Rome, a Vatican archaeologist is found dead in St. Peter's Basilica. In Africa, a U.S. senator's son is slain outside a Red Cross camp. The three murders on three continents bear a horrifying connection: all the victims are marked by a Druidic pagan cross burned into their flesh.
The bizarre murders thrust Commander Gray Pierce and Sigma Force into a race against time to solve a riddle going back centuries, to a ghastly crime against humanity hidden within a cryptic medieval codex.
Aided by two women from his past - one his ex-lover, the other his new partner - Gray must piece together the horrifying truth. But the revelations come at a high cost, and to save the future, Gray will have to sacrifice one of the women at his side.
That alone might not be enough, as the true path to salvation is revealed in a dark prophecy of doom...

My Thoughts:

In The Doomsday Key, the sixth book in James Rollins' Sigma Force series, three bodies are discovered on three continents. All three were murdered under mysterious circumstances and are marked with the pagan symbol of a cross within a circle. The Sigma force becomes involved and the action-packed mystery takes members to Rome, and across England, Norway, and France as they try to unravel clues while narrowly escaping the bad guys.

I thoroughly enjoyed this addition to the series. Rollins did an excellent job blending together historical references and theories with modern research and development. He includes background information at the beginning and, after you have read the book, he has an author's notes section at the end that is not to be missed. But, the main pleasure of this fast paced book is the non-stop action, adventure, and narrow escapes the main characters endure while trying to solve the mystery.

I need to point out to readers who have never read Rollins that the Sigma Force series is better appreciated if you read the books in order. The character development and background is ongoing. By the time you have reached the sixth novel in a series, most fans are well acquainted with the main characters. Rollins has several stand alone action/adventure novels that I would very highly recommend.

However, if you are simply looking for escapism with an action/adventure novel and don't care about character development or background, then you can certainly enjoy The Doomsday Key without reading the rest of the books in the Sigma Force series. If you like it though, you'll want to read them anyway.
Very Highly Recommended, especially for fans


Spring, 1086; England
The ravens were the first sign.
As the horse-drawn wagon traveled down the rutted track between rolling fields of barley, a flock of ravens rose up in a black wash. They hurled themselves into the blue of the morning and swept high in a panicked rout, but this was more than the usual startled flight. The ravens wheeled and swooped, tumbled and flapped. Over the road, they crashed into each other and rained down out of the skies. Small bodies struck the road, breaking wing and beak. They twitched in the ruts. Wings fluttered weakly.
But most disturbing was the silence of it all. opening

Some grew to suspect there was another reason for such a grand survey of all the lands. They compared the book to the Bible’s description of the Last Judgment, where God kept an accounting of all mankind’s deeds in the Book of Life. Whispers and rumors began calling the result of this great survey the Doomsday Book.
These last were closer to the truth than anyone suspected. pg. 2

Martin stared at the gutted boy. Here was the secret reason the survey had been undertaken to begin with. To search for this blight on their homelands, to stamp it out before it spread. The deaths were the same on that lonely island. The deceased appeared to eat and eat, yet they still starved to death, finding no nourishment, only a continual wasting. pg. 6

Present Day:
Not knowing what else to do, Marco simply fled, staying low. He knew he would most likely die, but the secret he held was more important than his own life. He had to survive long enough to reach the far exit, find one of the patrolling Swiss Guards, and get word to the Holy See. pg. 9

Back in the twelfth century, an Irish saint named Malachy had a vision of all the popes from his century to the end of the world. According to his vision, there would be 112 popes in total. He described each with a short cryptic phrase. In the case of Urban VIII—who was born five centuries after Malachy’s death—the pope was named “the lily and the rose.” And like all such prophecies, the description proved accurate. Pope Urban VIII had been born in Florence, whose coat of arms was the red lily.
But what was most disturbing of all was that the current pope was next-to-last on St. Malachy’s list. According to the prophecy, the next leader of the Church would be the one to see the world end.
Marco had never believed such fancies before—but with his fingers clutched tight to the tiny leather satchel, he wondered how close they truly were to Armageddon.
Footsteps warned Marco. One of the assassins was closing in. He had only enough time for one move. pg. 11

His relief matched hers—until she lifted a pistol and fired three times into his chest. The shots felt like punches, knocking him backward to the floor. Fiery pain followed, turning the night even darker. Distantly he heard gunfire, explosions, and more screams. pg. 21

A new noise intruded.
The roar of a motorcycle, coming up fast.
Gray sat straighter. Down the road, his target had swung around and was barreling back toward him. pg. 25

On the screen shone a digital map. It traced a crooked red line from Thailand to Italy.
The path of the assassin ended in Venice.
Sigma had been tracking her for over a year. Her location was marked by a small red triangle on a computer monitor. It glowed in the middle of a satellite map of Venice. Buildings, crooked streets, and winding canals were depicted in precise grayscale detail, down to the tiny gondolas frozen in place, capturing a moment in time. pg. 27-28

A sense of foreboding jangled through him.
Something was wrong with this whole situation. He sensed a storm brewing out there, but Gray didn’t know which way the winds were blowing. He knew only one thing for certain.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” he promised Rachel. pg. 32