Saturday, August 27, 2011

Started Early, Took My Dog

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson
Little, Brown & Company, March 2011
Advanced Reading Copy, 385 pages
Jackson Brodie Series #4
ISBN-13: 9780316066730

Tracy Waterhouse leads a quiet, ordered life as a retired police detective-a life that takes a surprising turn when she encounters Kelly Cross, a habitual offender, dragging a young child through town. Both appear miserable and better off without each other-or so decides Tracy, in a snap decision that surprises herself as much as Kelly. Suddenly burdened with a small child, Tracy soon learns her parental inexperience is actually the least of her problems, as much larger ones loom for her and her young charge.
Meanwhile, Jackson Brodie, the beloved detective of novels such as Case Histories, is embarking on a different sort of rescue-that of an abused dog. Dog in tow, Jackson is about to learn, along with Tracy, that no good deed goes unpunished.

My Thoughts:
Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson is her fourth novel featuring private eye Jackson Brodie. This novel explores hidden crimes all connected to the 1975 murder of a prostitute in Leeds. It appears to be another victim of the Yorkshire Ripper, but appearances can be deceiving. And what happened to her child, found starving in the apartment along with the body of the presumed mother.
Started Early, Took My Dog has multiple narratives following several characters in the past and present. These narratives include Tracy Waterman, currently a retired policewoman, who was one of the investigating officers in 1975. But Tracy has her own issues. She inexplicably finds herself buying a young child from her mother, an abusive prostitute. She sets out to create a new life for her and her new daughter.
Recurring character Jackson has now rescued a dog (a border terrier) while searching for the real parentage of an adopted woman currently living in New Zealand. Another character, Tilly, is an aging senile actress. Additional characters are part of the police force, many now retired.
As the story progresses, coincidences seem to be something more than happenstance. Eventually all the characters from the various narrative strands start to come together. Started Early, Took My Dog is a clever, well written book, but it also requires your complete attention and focus to follow the various narrative threads. (I'm not sure I was completely up to the task and reading it over a week wasn't helpful in that area. Taking the time to finish it in one sitting today was very helpful, though.
Highly Recommended if you can give it your complete attention (and maybe read it in a shorter time span.)

1975: April 9
Leeds: “Motorway City of the Seventies.” A proud slogan. No irony intended. Gaslight still flickering on some streets. Life in a northern town.  opening
Her stomach rumbled like a train. She’d been on the cottage cheese and grapefruit diet for a week. Wondered if you could starve to death while you were still overweight.

“Jesus H. Christ,” Arkwright gasped, bending over and resting his hands on his knees when they finally achieved the fifteenth floor. “I used to be a rugby wing forward, believe it or not.”

“Ay, well, you’re just an old, fat bloke now,” Tracy said. “What number?”

“Twenty-five. It’s at the end.”

A neighbor had phoned in anonymously about a bad smell (“a right stink”) coming from the flat.

“Dead rats, probably,” Arkwright said. “Or a cat. Remember those two dogs in that house in Chapeltown? Oh no, before your time, lass.”

“I heard about it. Bloke went off and left them without any food. They ate each other in the end.”

“They didn’t eat each other,” Arkwright said. “One of them ate the other one.”

“You’re a bloody pedant, Arkwright.”

“A what? Cheeky so-and-so. Ey up, here we go. Fuck a duck, Trace, you can smell it from here.”

Tracy Waterhouse pressed her thumb on the doorbell and kept it there. Glanced down at her ugly police-issue regulation black lace-ups and wiggled her toes inside her ugly police-issue regulation black tights. Her big toe had gone right through the hole in the tights now and a ladder was climbing up toward one of her big footballer’s knees. “It’ll be some old bloke who’s been lying here for weeks,” she said. “I bloody hate them.”

“I hate train jumpers.”

“Dead kiddies.”

“Yeah. They’re the worst,” Arkwright agreed. Dead children were trumps, every time.

Tracy took her thumb off the doorbell and tried turning the door handle. Locked. “Ah, Jesus, Arkwright, it’s humming in there. Something that’s not about to get up and walk away, that’s for sure.”

Arkwright banged on the door and shouted, “Hello, it’s the police here, is anyone in there? Shit, Tracy, can you hear that?”


Ken Arkwright bent down and looked through the letter box. “Oh, Christ—” He recoiled from the letter box so quickly that Tracy’s first thought was that someone had squirted something into his eyes. It had happened to a sergeant a few weeks ago, a nutter with a Squeezy washing-up bottle full of bleach. It had put everyone off looking through letter boxes. Arkwright, however, immediately squatted down and pushed open the letter box again and started talking soothingly, the way you would to a nervy dog. “It’s OK, it’s OK, everything’s OK now. Is Mummy there? Or your daddy? We’re going to help you. It’s OK.” He stood and got ready to shoulder the door. Pawed the ground, blew air out of his mouth and said to Tracy, “Prepare yourself, lass, it’s not going to be pretty.”  pg. -6

Monday, August 22, 2011


Germ by Robert Liparulo
Thomas Nelson,  copyright 2006
Trade Paperback, 496 pages
ISBN-13: 9781595541703

If you breathe...It will find you.
The list of 10,000 names was created for maximum devastation. Business leaders, housewives, politicians, celebrities, janitors, children. None of them is aware of what is about to happen—but all will be part of the most frightening brand of warfare the world has ever known.
The germ—an advanced form of the Ebola virus—has been genetically engineered to infect only those people whose DNA matches the codes embedded within it. Those whose DNA is not a match simply catch a cold. But those who are a match experience a far worse fate. Within days, their internal organs liquify.
Death is the only escape.
The release of the virus will usher in a new era of power where countries are left without defense. Where a single person—or millions—could be killed with perfect accuracy and zero collateral damage. Where your own DNA works against you.
The time isn't coming. It is now. Pray the assassins get you first.

My Thoughts:
When I came across Germ by Robert Liparulo, I was initially excited to see it featured the Ebola virus used in germ warfare. That premise alone made me anxious to read it. Once the concept that the virus was modified, encoded, to attack the specific DNA of individuals was introduced in the "Facts" section at the beginning of the novel, I was hooked. In Germ, special agent Julia Matheson must figure out what is happening and why she and Dr. Allen Parker are being targeted by assassins before the deadly weaponized infection is released to ten thousand people.
While it would appear that the premise would be enough to keep readers interested in the plot, the short chapters and switching to the view point of multiple characters made this novel feel choppy. Additionally, the number of gun fights, chase scenes, hand-to-hand combat, narrow escapes, etc., could have been edited down. This would have tightened up the novel and helped the pacing. As difficult as it seems, I was becoming bored with the sheer overwhelming number of fight scenes.
There is no "who done it" mystery to solve, so the main suspense is in asking what will happen next. The action scenes are the star of the novel, with the Ebola virus taking a back seat to it. Ebola is horrific enough that I will admit to being a bit disappointed that it didn't take a more prominent place in the action throughout the novel.
This is Christian fiction, but I don't think that that really matters at all except for the lack of colorful language. There really are not pages of theological discussions. One character is a minister and there were a few Biblical quotes, but that's about it. All in all, it was okay for a thriller (but not so much for a virus novel).
Quotes; Chapter One:

Hardly resembling a man anymore, the thing on the bed jerked and thrashed like a nocturnal creature dragged into the light of day. His eyes had filled with blood and rolled back into his head, so only crimson orbs glared out from behind swollen, bleeding lids. Black flecks stained his lips, curled back from canted teeth and blistered gums. Blood poured from nostrils, ears, fingernails. Flung from the convulsing body, it streaked up curtains and walls and streamed into dark pools on the tile floor.

Despesorio Vero, clad in a white lab coat, leaned over the body, pushing an intratrachael tube down the patient's throat; his fingers were slick on the instrument. He snapped his head away from the crimson mist that marked each gasp and cough. His nostrils burned from the acidic tang of the sludge. He caught sight of greasy black mucus streaking the blood and tightened his lips. Having immersed his hands in innumerable body cavities—of the living and the dead—few things the human body could do or produce repulsed him. But this . . . He found himself at once steeling his stomach against the urge to expel his lunch and narrowing his attention to the mechanics of saving this man's life.

Around him, patients writhed on their beds. They howled in horror and strained against their bonds. Vero ached for them, feeling more sorrow for them than he felt for the dying man; at least his anguish would end soon. For the others, this scene would play over and over in their minds—every time an organ cramped in pain; when the fever pushed beads of perspiration, then blood, through their pores; and later, during brief moments of lucidity.

The body under him abruptly leaped into an explosive arch. Then it landed heavily and was still. One hand on the intratrachael tube, the other gripping the man's shoulder, Vero thought mercy had finally come—until he noticed the patient's skin quivering from head to toe. The man's head rotated slowly on its neck to rest those pupil-less eyes on the doctor. With stuttering movements, as if a battle of fierce wills raged inside, the eyes rolled into their normal position. The cocoa irises were difficult to distinguish from the crimson sclera.

For one nightmarish moment, Vero looked into those eyes. Gone were the insanity of a diseased brain and the madness that accompanies great pain. Deep in those bottomless eyes, he saw something much worse.

He saw the man within. A man who fully realized his circumstances, who understood with torturous clarity that his organs were liquefying and pouring out of his body. In those eyes, Vero saw a man who was pleading, pleading . . .

The skin on the patient's face began to split open. As a gurgling scream filled the ward, Vero turned, an order on his lips. But the nurses and assistants had fled. He saw a figure in the doorway at the far end of the room.

"Help me!" he called. "Morphine! On that cart . . .

"The man in the doorway would not help.

Karl Litt. He had caused this pain, this death. Of course he would not help.

Still, it shocked Vero to see the expression on Litt's face. He had heard that warriors derived no pleasure from taking life; their task was necessary but tragic. Litt was no warrior. Only a monster could look as Litt did upon the suffering of the man writhing under Vero. Only a monster could smile so broadly at the sight of all this blood. pg. 1-2

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Reliable Wife

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2009
Hardcover, 291 pages
ISBN-13: 9781565125964

He placed a notice in a Chicago paper, an advertisement for "a reliable wife." She responded, saying that she was "a simple, honest woman." She was, of course, anything but honest, and the only simple thing about her was her single-minded determination to marry this man and then kill him, slowly and carefully, leaving her a wealthy widow, able to take care of the one she truly loved.
What Catherine Land did not realize was that the enigmatic and lonely Ralph Truitt had a plan of his own. And what neither anticipated was that they would fall so completely in love.
Filled with unforgettable characters, and shimmering with color and atmosphere, A Reliable Wife is an enthralling tale of love and madness, of longing and murder.

My Thoughts:
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick is a moody gothic tale set in 1907 to 1908. Ralph Truitt, a fifty-four year old wealthy business man from rural northern Wisconsin has advertised for a reliable wife. Catherine Land has answered his personal ad. Catherine is not the simple daughter of a missionary that she claims to be, but circumstances lead them to marry anyway; as the story says repeatedly: "These things happened."
In the novel, Ralph is very aware that the winters in Wisconsin are cold, bleak, and depressing - a setting that compels people to commit horrendous, violent acts in desperation. Goolrick does an admirable job setting the dark tone to the novel and the psychological torment the characters are going though. Neither character is precisely what they appear to be. Both of them hold their own dark secrets and reasons for wanting to marry.
Although I found parts of the plot of A Reliable Wife predictable, the quality of Goolrick's writing does elevate the book above the ordinary. He has a real gift for setting a mood and elevating the tension between the characters. The longing and sexual tension is palatable in his very real, complex characters. These characters want: they want love; they want to escape; they want redemption; they want hope - but they don't feel they are worthy of any of it.
I'm going to have to admit that I found the pacing of A Reliable Wife uneven and inconsistent. At times I did feel a compulsion to read on until I hit parts where it felt flat and repetitious. And, as I mentioned, the plot itself offered no great surprise. It was certainly worth reading. 
highly recommended
It was bitter cold, the air electric with all that had not happened yet. opening
Ralph Truitt checked his silver watch. Yes, the train was late. The eyes around him were staring silently; they knew. He had counted on the train being on time today. To the minute, he had told them. He ordered punctuality that way another man might order a steak cooked to his liking. Now he stood like a fool with everybody watching. And he was a fool. He had failed at even this small thing. It would come to nothing, this last small spark of hope. pg. 4
Some things you escape, he thought. Most things you don't, certainly not the cold. You don't escape the things, mostly bad, that just happen to you. The loss of love. The disappointment, the terrible whip of tragedy. pg. 5-6
You can live with hopelessness for only so long before you are, in fact, hopeless. He was fifty-four years old, and despair had come to Ralph as an infection, without his even knowing it. He could not pinpoint the moment at which hope had left his heart. pg. 8
Love and money. She could not believe that her life, as barren and as aimless as it had been, would end without either love or money. pg. 17
But this woman was not expected. He was angry. He was confused. He had read her letter until it fell apart in his hands. He had looked at her picture a thousand times. Now it was clear she wasn't the woman in the photograph, and he had no idea who she might be. pg. 31
Her true heart was buried so far inside her, so gone beneath the vast blanket of her lies and deceptions and whims. Like her jewels now beneath the snow, it lay hidden until some thaw might come to it. She had no way of knowing, of course, whether this heart she imagines herself to have was, in fact, real in any way. pg. 49
Learning became her. She loved the smell of the books from the shelves, the type on the pages, the sense that the world was an infinite but knowable place. Every fact she learned seemed to open another question, and for every question there was another book. pg. 170

Monday, August 15, 2011

New Job!

Started my new job today!

I have a new job(!!!) and I'm excited - but it may mean a few changes here at She Treads Softly. I'm hoping my reviews will still be out in a timely manner, but please forgive me if they temporarily slow down during this transition time.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Due Preparations for the Plague

Due Preparations for the Plague by Janette Turner Hospital
Norton & Company, 2003
Hardcover, 401 pages
ISBN-13: 9780393057645
very highly recommended

From the author of the critically acclaimed novels Oyster and The Last Magician comes a psychological suspense tale that crystallizes our deepest hopes and fears for the twenty-first century. Lowell, a single father, is haunted by the memory of a hijacked Paris -- New York flight on which his mother was killed when he was a teenager. A stranger, Samantha, has recently begun harassing him with phone calls about information from declassified documents. She is obsessed with learning the whole truth about Air France 64. "I was on that flight. I was six years old. I have a right," she says. "What can be worse than not knowing?" It is the death of Lowell's father, and his legacy of a blue sports bag crammed with documents and videotapes, that finally convinces Lowell to join Samantha's search for a shadowy figure called Salamander, a man she believes was a sinister key figure in the tragedy. Janette Turner Hospital's electrifying new novel is a tightly woven web of familial and national histories, of sexual and political passions, and of individual and national complicities in the age of terrorism. In this murky world of endless aliases and surveillance, who can be trusted? When does the quest for truth become a dangerous obsession? When does the assembling of facts tip into paranoia? And what difference can the truth make? Hospital probes with astonishing acuity the worlds of espionage and intelligence gathering, and the painful meaning of survival.
My Thoughts:
Due Preparations for the Plague by Janette Turner Hospital focuses on characters that all have one thing in common: they all have some connection to a plane that was hijacked by terrorists thirteen years earlier. When he was sixteen, Lowell's mother was on the flight and killed during the hijacking. Lowell's life is still tormented by her death. Samantha is a survivor. She was a six year old child and allowed off the plane. She is searching declassified documents connected with the hijacking and trying to discover the identity of a shadowy agent called Salamander. Additionally, it seems that all those connected with the hijacking are dying mysterious deaths. After Lowell's father dies and leaves him a bag filled with documents and tapes about the hijacking, he and Samantha team up.
This is a psychological thriller that deals with terrorism and espionage. It will play on your emotions as it tells a tale of deceit and deception and how one man's duplicity affects the lives of many. The story switches narrators and points-of-view, drawing out surprising connections between the people involved and offering the reader more insight into the whole terrifying event.
Certainly recent events give Due Preparations for the Plague a poignancy and timelessness that bodes well for the lasting impact it has on the reader. It could be a real story. The paranoia running rampant through the characters could be a legitimate feeling that they should be paying attention to. Today we know there are terrorists, unethical political maneuvers, humans used as collateral, and chemical warfare. 

Due Preparations for the Plague also deals with the psychological destruction of personal loss and death. As the overleaf quote, from Daniel Defoe's Due Preparations For the Plague says: "I have often asked myself what I mean by preparations for the plague... and I think that preparations for the plague are preparations for death. But what is it to make preparations for death? or what preparations are proper to be made for death?"  Exactly what preparations can you make for your own death that are truly beneficial and not simply reactions to the obvious? What risks must be taken? What must we be willing to leave behind?

Due Preparations For the Plague is a beautifully written literary novel with sharp characterizations. Every little detail is also well researched and woven seamlessly into the plot. The different narrators are fully formed and developed characters; each of them has a distinct and individual voice. While this is a political thriller that requires some effort and concentration to read, in the end you will feel your time was well spent. "To state quite simply what we learn in time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise." Albert Camus, The Plague
Very Highly Recommended 

Brightness falls from the air, and so do the words, which rush him. opening

But it is after a death, Lowell knows, that riddles and slow torments begin. pg. 8

Lowell thinks that his losses may have become simple at last. He thinks they may have become simple and respectable and therefore manageable. He thinks he will be able to speak of them almost lightly. My mother died in that airline disaster of '87 when I was sixteen years old, he will be able to say, and the effect on my father was devastating. Our lives were never the same. pg. 13

He feels the pain of his like a razor blade in his heart. He is never sure which might inflict greater damage: not spending enough time with his children, or spending time with them. pg. 15

"He claimed all he ever really wanted to be was a classics professor."
"Sometimes I believed that," Lowell says. "But mostly I didn't. What made him take the direction he finally did, I've never understood."
"They needed linguists," she says. "In intelligence. That's what he told me. Especially ones with scientific training as well. An old friend from his prep school recruited him, he said." pg. 21-22

One month after the funeral, Lowell receives a letter of sorts and certain documents in his father's handwriting. Dr. Reuben delivers the package, and the circumstances are strange. pg. 27

"I don't know precisely. A journal, I believe. And some papers, possibly classified ones. And some videotapes - I don't know of what - but the tapes are of crucial importance. Crucial, your father said..." pg. 31

Some days, when she watches children playing in the park, she can feel the ground giving way. You have no idea, she wants to tell the children. The swings, the sandbox: they are all illusions. You have no idea how unreliable things are, or how suddenly the sky can turn to fire. pg. 50

"But this is the mystery, she thinks: how do we ready ourselves for what might happen tomorrow?
What possible preparations can be made? pg. 401

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Northwest Corner

Northwest Corner by John Burnham Schwartz
Random House, July 2011
Hardcover, 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9781400068456

Very Highly Recommended

From the Cover:
John Burnham Schwartz reintroduces us to Reservation Road’s unforgettable characters in a superb new work of fiction that stands magnificently on its own. Northwest Corner is a riveting story about the complex, fierce, ultimately inspiring resilience of families in the face of life’s most difficult and unexpected challenges.
Twelve years after a tragic accident and a cover-up that led to prison time, Dwight Arno, now fifty, is a man who has started over without exactly moving on. Living alone in California, haunted yet keeping his head down, Dwight manages a sporting goods store and dates a woman to whom he hasn’t revealed the truth about his past. Then an unexpected arrival throws his carefully neutralized life into turmoil and exposes all that he’s hidden.
Sam, Dwight’s estranged college-age son, has shown up without warning, fleeing a devastating incident in his own life. In its way, Sam’s sense of guilt is as crushing as his father’s. As the two men are forced to confront their similar natures and their half-buried hopes for connection, they must also search for redemption and love. In turn, they dramatically transform the lives of the women around them: the ex-wives, mothers, and lovers they have turned to in their desperate attempts to somehow rewrite, outrun, or eradicate the past.

My Thoughts:

Northwest Corner by John Burnham Schwartz continues the story from his novel Reservation Road.  Dwight Arno is now fifty years old and out of prison. He is now living in California and is the manager of a sporting goods store. Dwight is surprised by an unexpected visitor, his estranged son, Sam. Sam has left college in Connecticut and is running from something he has done. Northwest Corner examines the lives of ordinary men and woman who are all damaged in some way and are all searching for meaning and redemption.

All the chapters are short and each one is from the point of view of a different character. Rest assured, though, that you do not need to have read Reservation Road in order to appreciate Northwest Corner. For those who have read Reservation Road, the characters include: Dwight, Sam, Ruth, Penny (Dwight's girlfriend), and Emma Learner.   

Schwartz explores his damaged characters, their desires and fears, while slowly building an emotional tension that should resonate with most readers. The characters are all so very, very real - so true to life.The sheer raw emotion that leaps off the page is heart wrenching, yet does not feel manufactured.  The characters feel like real people. You know these people. You feel their sadness and despair. You may have been through circumstances similar to these tortured souls. You will hope that they find redemption, that there is some resolution to their pain.

This is an incredible novel, exquisitely written. Schwartz is a gifted, poetic writer with a keen sharp insight into human character. There are observations throughout the novel that are brilliant gems of perfect cut and clarity.  His descriptions transport you into the scene with the characters. While the plot itself is not full of action, the emotional landscape explored is packed full to overflowing.

Very Highly Recommended - one of the best


“Arno — bus.”
Coach dips out of the locker room. Sam listens to the footsteps echoing down the long corridor and only now, knowing he’s the last, removes the towel draped over his head. He picks up the thirty-one ounce aluminum bat lying by his feet, jams it into the UConn duffel with the rest of his gear, and zips the bag closed.  opening

Jake’s voice is almost insultingly tender. The comfort you receive when, bases loaded and two out in the tenth inning of the college playoffs, you strike out without taking a swing, ending your team’s season.  pg. 3

O’Doul’s is hot and crowded, the walls painted dark. A long time, Sam stands drinking by himself. When a stool at the bar finally opens, he slides onto it, the UConn duffel shoved down into the sawdust-and-gum shadows at his feet. A Bacardi mirror with fogged glass hangs above the backbar next to a St. Pauli Girl clock, the clock’s hands frozen at twelve minutes to six, permanent happy hour.  pg. 5

Listen to me. These are the sorts of thoughts that too often come back while you're spending thirty months in the hole. And after, too. There's violence in the air even when nothing is happening. pg. 7-8

My red plastic SoCal Sports tag says Dwight Arno, Manager in clear white letters. Under expected circumstances I would be a figure of rectitude and probity.
To which I can add that I still want to be. pg. 9

Rage rises in him like animal blood. And suddenly everything but what burns inside him is underwater-quiet. He doesn't think; at last he just becomes. pg. 11

According to the law, as I still recall it, words are our fate, perhaps our character, too: they will make us or break us. But the gloomier truth is that the breakage usually happens in an instant, life changing in a single wordless act. The words are the last thing you hear before you slip into the darkness of afterward, mere nails in the coffin. pg. 25

Because it's been like this for so long - half Emma's entire life - that the memory of that earlier, supposedly happy time is like an old sheet that's been washed too many times: thin, stained, torn, in places translucent - you can see right through it.
And that's what life is now. pg. 42

Her parents were close and loving once, she is almost certain. There are photos that stand as, if not proof, then emotional attestations to familial and marital happiness, what human lives produce instead of proof. pg. 54

... a "practical relocation," her parents call it, as if she's a head case and can't tell the difference: separation, divorce, the long, cold withdrawal into an ever smaller and more isolated chamber of the heart. pg. 55

A boy and his dad. Folks as good as extinct now, or at best reduced to cheap replicas of themselves in foreign lands. pg. 71

But who, she desperately needs to know, will be there in the end to see her over to the other side? pg. 77

A hard breath taken into the lungs: washing out the unsaid things that seem to clot any room, even this moving one, in hitch they find themselves together. pg. 147

You cannot reach fifty years of age and still think that nothing is better than something, unless you are a fool as well as an a**hole. Despite what the mathematicians assure us, zero is not a meaningful number in real life. pg. 157

Because if you are not taken in, if exile is as guaranteed as death, then you are kicked out and alone.
Who will have you then? Who? The fire is no more. The fire that was love. pg. 174

Disclosure: As a part of TLC Book Tours I received a copy of this book for review purposes.


John Burnham Schwartz’s TLC Book Tours TOUR

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Valley of Day-Glo

Valley of Day-Glo by Nick DiChario
Robert J Sawyer Books, copyright 2008
Hardcover, 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9780889954106
highly recommended
Broadway Danny Rose is on the move!
In this brightly satiric, postapocalyptic novel of the far future, a young Indian brave named Broadway Danny Rose embarks upon a quest across the desolate planet Earth to find the mysterious Valley of Day-Glo, where plants and animals and large bodies of water are rumored to still exist, and where, according to legend, "death becomes life."
Valley of Day-Glo is a brilliant blend of Douglas Adams' farcical humor and Kurt Vonnegut's droll absurdity. Hugo Award-nominee Nick DiChario delivers a witty and poignant story that deals with the power of myth, the search for truth, and the meaning of life and death.
My Thoughts:
Valley of Day-Glo by Nick DiChario is a post-apocalyptic novel where tribes of natives are all that's left in a dry, desolate wasteland where the white men, or Honio’o, all perished (along with the yellow and dark skinned people)in the Great Reddening. Broadway Danny Rose is a member of what is left of the Gushedon’dada tribe. He and his mother, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, are taking his dead father, The Outlaw Josey Wales, to the mythical Valley of Day-Glo. His father told stories about the existence of the Eden-like valley where death becomes life. The dangerous journey to the valley takes them through the lands of other hostile tribes.
Now, if that description makes you think this is a sad, serious tale of struggle and woe, then you need to know that Valley of Day-Glo is at times entertaining, philosophical, humorous, original, and warped. DiChario himself calls Valley of Day-Glo absurdist fiction, and while it is absurd it is also much more. In the introduction, Nancy Kress says to DiChario, "You have a very warped mind."(pg 9) but she goes on to say: "His warp may be fanciful and wildly inventive, but his cross-threads are deadly serious. They are love and the price that love exacts, violence and the grief it causes, striving and the ways that striving can be twisted by the larger world. Nick's tapestry is a life-like design of brilliant, heart-breaking colors, including that imaginative warp." (pg. 10)
Nick DiChario is a very talented writer, and Broadway Danny Rose is an unforgettable (and rumored impotent) hero who seemingly stumbles through life constantly being confronted with human stupidity along the way. This is a highly original novel in many ways but also archetypal in others.  Oh, and definitely read the "Book Club Guide" at the end of the novel. It will be well worth your time... maybe.
highly recommended   

The day Mother Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? killed Father The Outlaw Josey Wales, they were arguing again about the Pre-Reddening game of Major League Baseball. opening
Here is another tale Father The Outlaw Josey Wales used to tell before Mother Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? strangled him to death:
There is a valley that glows brightly called the Valley of Day-Glo, where all the colors of the pre-Reddening Earth can be found. Flowers are in constant bloom there. Trees reach up so far into the sky that it is impossible to know where the branches end and the clouds begin. Water flows freely. Fruits and vegetables flourish. In the Valley of Day-Glo, Father used to say, "death becomes life." pg. 13
Out of all the Gushedon’dada in the worlds, Mother was my least favorite, as I was her least favorite. The irony that we two should be the only surviving Gushedon’dada must have come as an equally crushing blow to Mother as it had to me. pg. 14
Mother placed the Tribal Jug in the dirt, stepped aside, and said with an intonation of pride in her voice, "This is an original Igloo water cooler." pg. 18
You win some, you lose some, Father seemed to be saying from behind his death mask in his old familiar way. But wait, wait, I saw him move. He slowly shook his head, opened his death-glazed eyes, looked at me, and then he said:
"Hey, Danny Boy, what's going on in the Land of the Living?" pg. 27
"Ha-Ha!" she called from deep in her belly. "This must be the infamous asexual boy named Broadway Danny Rose we have heard so much about." pg. 29
"Didn't it hurt you to be treated so poorly? Why did you live such a lie for so long?"
I nodded, not at all understanding. "I have never been in love."
"I know. I'm sorry about that. I always loved your mother. That is the one thing I would miss if anything mattered over here in the Land of the Dead. I would miss loving your mother." pg. 5-56

Monday, August 8, 2011

Un Lun Dun

Un Lun Dun by China Miéville
Random House Publishing Group, copyright 2007
Trade Paperback, 496 pages
Young Adult Fantasy
ISBN-13: 9780345458445

What is Un Lun Dun?
It is London through the looking glass, an urban Wonderland of strange delights where all the lost and broken things of London end up . . . and some of its lost and broken people, too–including Brokkenbroll, boss of the broken umbrellas; Obaday Fing, a tailor whose head is an enormous pin-cushion, and an empty milk carton called Curdle. Un Lun Dun is a place where words are alive, a jungle lurks behind the door of an ordinary house, carnivorous giraffes stalk the streets, and a dark cloud dreams of burning the world. It is a city awaiting its hero, whose coming was prophesied long ago, set down for all time in the pages of a talking book.
When twelve-year-old Zanna and her friend Deeba find a secret entrance leading out of London and into this strange city, it seems that the ancient prophecy is coming true at last. But then things begin to go shockingly wrong.

My Thoughts:
Un Lun Dun by China Miéville is young adult fantasy novel set in London, initially, and then mainly in Un Lun Dun (un-London). In Un Lun Dun, two young friends, Zanna and Deeba, notice that things seem amiss in their world. They stumble into another world by accident (or prophecy?) where Zanna is the "Shwazzy," or, as they learn in French class choisi, or the "chosen" one. But after their first visit, Zanna is sidelined, all the prophecies appear to be wrong, and Deeba, the sidekick, is the one who finds a way back to Un Lun Dun to save them from the evil, black smog.
Un Lun Dun is a richly imaginative work that, although it can be dark with a building sense of foreboding, also allows Miéville to explore his sense of humor and show a whimsical side. It is well paced and the action moves right along. And, it isn't so dark that it would give it's intended readers nightmares. The predatory giraffes are contrasted with Curdle, the loyal milk carton. There is a good balance. This is successful world-building that will remind readers of Lewis Carroll and Madeline L’Engle stories or Neil Gaimen's Neverwhere. It even foreshadows Miéville's own The City and The City.
For adults there are themes that will be very apparent, for example corruption in government, the problems in disposal of obsolete technology and trash, and abuse of power, to name three, but you need not worry that the message is heavy handed. It's completely woven into the plot.
I enjoyed Un Lun Dun, but I caution adult readers that it is a YA novel. If I were to directly compare it to Miéville's other novels, it would not rate as high as the ones I've read. However, it's a very enjoyable well-written YA novel that has a complex plot and many imaginative characters.
very highly recommended - as a YA novel.

There was no doubt about it: there was a fox behind the climbing frame. And it was watching.
“It is, isn’t it?”
The playground was full of children, their gray uniforms flapping as they ran and kicked balls into makeshift goals. Amid the shouting and the games, a few girls were watching the fox.
“It definitely is. It’s just watching us,” a tall blond girl said. She could see the animal clearly behind a fringe of grass and thistle. “Why isn’t it moving?” She walked slowly towards it.
At first the friends had thought the animal was a dog, and had started ambling towards it while they chatted. But halfway across the tarmac they had realized it was a fox. pg. 3

The fox finally moved. Still looking at Zanna, it bowed its head. It did it once, then leapt up and was gone.
Deeba watched Zanna, and muttered, “This is just getting weird.” pg. 5

It was hard to say exactly when it all started. Things had been getting strange for at least a month.
"Remember when I saw that cloud?" said Deeba. "That looked like you?"
"That was weeks ago, and it didn't look anything like anything," Zanna said. "Let's stick to real stuff. The fox today. And that woman. What was on the wall. And the letter. That sort of thing."
It had been early autumn when the odd events had started to occur. pg. 7

Wafts were rising from he gutters. The smoke was a horrible dirty dark. It emerged in drifts and tendrils, reaching through the metal grilles of the drains like growing vines or octopus legs. Ropes of it tangled and thickened. They coiled around the wheels of vehicles and under their engines. pg. 13

"The smoke, the car, everything? It was all thick around me. It was trying to get me." pg. 14

Shaking with effort, the claw-wing-thing hauled itself through shadows, spidery and bedraggled. It approached Zanna's house. It huddled in the dark by the wall, leapt suddenly up, and hung below the window.
The two girls gasped. The thing was just visible, now, in the faint lamplight.
It was an umbrella. pg. 17

Zanna was turning off the traffic. The spigot turned off all the cars, and turned off the lamps.
It was turning off London. pg. 23

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Random House, 2010
Trade Paperback, 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780307477477
highly recommended

From the cover:
Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. With music pulsing on every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption.
My Thoughts:
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer for fiction this year. It was a National Book Critics Circle Award Winner, and a PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist. Obviously it is one of the must read books this year and I have been anxious to read it because it is also an unconventional book. It is a novel that covers the music industry, but also how our lives are interconnected with the lives of other people. The characters are struggling with failure and trying to find a greater meaning in their lives. The stories are set in the late 1970's to the early 2020's. 
The chapters in A Visit from the Goon Squad can be read as stand-alone stories. The stories are not told in chronological order. Considered separately, each story is an excellent character study piece. Taken as a whole Egan has tackled several subjects including friendship, growing up and growing old, the power of influence, the devastation of failure, teenage rebellion and ideals, and  the responsibility that comes with maturity. All the characters display, however, an overwhelming amount of self-absorption. All the characters in the  chapters/stories are definitely interconnected.
While presenting a novel in the form of short stories that are not in chronological order may not be a new idea, including the chapter that is a PowerPoint presentation is a new idea. In my edition his Power Point presentation ran from pages 234-309. While I thought it was certainly interesting, I can see where people might have issues with it as a chapter in a book. It does capture a new generation and the direction technology is going, as does the texting chapter.
I found the individual chapters to be fully realized character studies and I appreciated the way the lives of the different characters in the chapters were interconnect. It could be a bit depressing, though.
highly recommended

It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel. Sasha was adjusting her yellow eye shadow in the mirror when she noticed a bag on the floor beside the sink that must have belonged to the woman whose peeing she could faintly hear through the vaultlike door of a toilet stall. Inside the rim of the bag, barely visible, was a wallet made of pale green leather. It was easy for Sasha to recognize, looking back, that the peeing woman's blind trust had provoked her: We live in a city where people will steal the hair off your head if you give them half a chance, but you leave your stuff lying in plain sight and expect it to be waiting for you when you come back? It made her want to teach the woman a lesson. opening
Sasha, who was thirty-five, had passed that point. Still, not even Coz knew her real age. The closest anyone had come to guessing it was thirty-one, and most put her in her twenties. She worked out daily and avoided the sun. Her online profiles all listed her as twenty-eight.
As she followed Alex from the bar, she couldn't resist unzipping her purse and touching the fat green wallet just for a second, for the contraction it made her feel around her heart. pg. 6
More than once, Coz had tried to connect the plumber to Sasha's father, who had disappeared when she was six. She was careful not to indulge this line of thinking. "I don't remember him," she told Coz. "I have nothing to say." She did this for Coz's protection and her own- they were writing a story of redemption, of fresh beginnings and second chances. But in that direction lay only sorrow. pg. 8-9
The shame memories began early that day for Bennie, during the morning meeting, while he listened to one of his senior executives make a case for pulling the plug on Stop/Go, a sister band Bennie had signed to a three-record deal a couple years back. Then, Stop/Go had seemed like an excellent bet; the sisters were young and adorable, their sound was gritty and simple and catchy (“Cyndi Lauper meets Chrissie Hynde” had been Bennie’s line early on), with a big gulping bass and some fun percussion — he recalled a cowbell. Plus they’d written decent songs; hell, they’d sold twelve thousand CDs off the stage before Bennie ever heard them play. A little time to develop potential singles, some clever marketing, and a decent video could put them over the top. pg. 19
The sisters looked fantastic - if not right out of high school, then at least right out of college, especially if they'd taken a year or two off or maybe transferred a couple times. pg. 28
It's turning out to be a bad day, a day when the sun feels like teeth. pg. 88
"This is reality, right? You don't look good anymore twenty years later, especially when you've had half your guts removed. Time's a goon, right? Isn't that the expression?" pg. 127