Tuesday, March 29, 2011

LaRue Across America

LaRue Across America: Postcards From the Vacation by Mark Teague
Scholastic, March 2011
Hardcover, 40 pages
Age Range: 4 to 8
Lexile: AD900L
Series: LaRue Books
ISBN-13: 9780439915021

Bestselling, award-winning author/illustrator Mark Teague makes readers laugh aloud when LaRue goes on vacation with Mrs. Hibbins's cats! Ike's plans for a peaceful cruise with Mrs. LaRue are thwarted when their neighbor, Mrs. Hibbins, falls suddenly ill from heat stroke. Mrs. LaRue suggests that she and Ike care for her cats while Mrs. Hibbins is in the hospital, inviting them along on the cruise. But cats aren't allowed, and Mrs. LaRue decides to take them all on a week's vacation of road-tripping. Ike begs and begs for bus fare in his letters to Mrs. Hibbins, but why does she not respond? As they drive farther and farther from the coast, his wistful dreams of a cruise fade into desperation over the desert horizon. Ike complains he is low on bones, and Mrs. LaRue is almost out of patience. It now seems that nothing short of an empty gas tank can bring this horror show of a road trip to a haulting stop. But then what?
My Thoughts:

LaRue Across America: Postcards From the Vacation by Mark Teague is one of a series of books featuring Ike LaRue, a dog, his owner Gertrude LaRue, and the (horrid) cats who live next door. In this book, the cat's owner, Mrs. Hibbins, needs to be hospitalized due to a heat wave. Mrs. LaRue offers to care for her cats. She cancels her planned vacation, an ocean cruise with Ike, and replaces it with a cross country trip by car. Ike immediately starts sending postcards to Mrs. Hibbins in an attempt to get rid of the cats.

This book is hilarious and the illustrations are wonderful. Teague has Ike picturing the way he remembers the event in black and white (since dogs are colorblind) while the real scenes are in color. It's a nice juxtaposition. The endpapers include a map of the United States with their route marked. Ike's self-delusion while he thinks he is covering his true motives should be obvious to children in the target age range, 4-8. (The Lexile score is AD900L, so it's based on adult directed reading.)

I do have one nagging question running through my mind, however. Do people still write postcards? It occurred to me that having Ike send email pleas might be more current than postcards. Certainly most children would now understand email messages.

I am passing this gem of a book along to my niece and will add any of her comments about it at a later date.

(disclosure: I won this in a giveaway at http://webereading.com/ which I entered just because I thought my niece would enjoy it.)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Deep Black: Death Wave

Deep Black: Death Wave by Stephen Coonts and William H. Keith
St. Martin's PressFebruary 2011
Hardcover, 390 pages
Deep Black Series, #9
ISBN-13: 9780312671136

Deep within the NSA is Desk Three, a top-secret unit of special operatives inserted into the field when the threat is great and the response demands sensitivity and invisibility. Charlie Dean, a former Marine sniper, is a senior officer. With his colleagues Lia DeFrancesca and newcomer Ilya Akulinin, they form the core of a high-tech team known as Deep Black.
Off the coast of Africa lie the beautiful Canary Islands, a resort destination of millionaires. Underneath this idyllic paradise is one of the most volatile fault lines in the world. There, an alliance between radical Islamic terrorists and a rogue element of the Chinese government is planning to unleash an act of unimaginable geological terrorism that could devastate the U.S. East Coast, striking it with waves up to a thousand feet high. They plan to set off nuclear devices to precipitate a gigantic landslide that will send a death-dealing tsunami across the Atlantic.
In the Central Asian Republic of Tajikistan twelve nuclear warheads, stolen by the Russian Mafia, are about to be smuggled out of the country and delivered into the hands of the conspirators. Charlie and Ilya go on an intercept mission, but before they can retrieve them, the weapons vanish....

My Thoughts:

Deep Black: Death Wave by Stephen Coonts and William H. Keith is the ninth book in the Deep Black military fiction series. Charlie Dean and his partner, Ilya Akulinin, are both field operators for the National Security Agency's Desk Three Deep Black operations. They have come to Tajikistan to locate twelve suitcase nuclear weapons, as well as figure out the targets for the use of the weapons.

Even though the action jumps around, Coonts and Keith have a header informing us of the location and the time in which the following section is taking place. This ensures that you can easily keep track of where the action is and you never feel lost.

Field agents in the Deep Black series are in almost constant contact with their handlers at Desk Three via transceivers imbedded behind their ears. This means that the agents always have help and extra information about a situation, and we are privy to this information. In some ways it lessens the suspense because you know the agents have access to help and people generally know where they are and what they are encountering. Actually, I didn't feel any nail-biting suspense until the very end of the novel.

While I like action adventure thrillers, I'm not sure if military fiction is, in general, as interesting to me. I will say that even though I have not read the previous books in the series, I was easily able to follow the action and the characters. I guess I didn't care quite as much about all the little details of the mission.
Recommended by me, but highly recommended for fans of military fiction.

Disclosure: I received this novel from the publisher.


If I were a two-kiloton nuclear weapon disguised as a suitcase,” Charlie Dean said with a nonchalance he did not feel, “where would I hide?”
“The cloakroom of the U.S. Capitol Building?” his partner replied over their radio link.
“Actually, I’d like to find the damned things here, Ilya. If they make it to D.C., it’s too late.”
Charlie Dean stood on the tarmac of an apparently deserted military airstrip, which shimmered beneath a harsh mid afternoon sun. Sweat prickled at his spine beneath the khaki uniform blouse, the heat dragging at him, sucking the energy from his body.
He decided, yet again, that he was really getting too old for this sort of thing. A former U.S. Marine, he’d served in the Gulf, and later, before Bill Rubens had asked him to join Deep Black’s Desk Three, he’d worked with an independent intelligence service in Afghani stan. The heat reminded him of those deployments.
Dean didn’t look the part of one of the National Security Agency’s Deep Black senior field operators, though that, of course, was the idea. He was wearing the uniform of a wing commander in the Indian Air Force, the equivalent of an American lieutenant colonel, with his skin and hair dyed dark to give him more of a subcontinental look.
“Hey, Charlie!” The voice of his partner sounded in his ear. “I’m picking something up over here.”
He could see the other man thirty yards away, standing next to a battered Russian-made ZiL-131 truck parked in the shade beside a shed. Charlie glanced around. No one else in sight. He started walking toward the other Desk Three operator.
His partner was Ilya Akulinin, sometimes called Sharkie, a reference to the English translation of his family name; when friends called him Ilya, it was with the proper Russian pronunciation, with the accent on the “ya.” His cover for this op was that of a major in the Russian Air Force, where pale skin and blond hair were not out of place. He looked the part, and he’d come by that honestly. Akulinin’s parents were Russian émigrés, living now in the Little Russia community of Brooklyn, New York.
Their current mission, code-named Haystack, had brought them to Ayni, a military and civil airport just fifteen kilometers outside of Dushanbe, the capital of the Republic of Tajikistan. A few years ago, Tajikistan had struck a deal with New Delhi to turn a dilapidated air base at Farkhor on the border with Afghanistan over to the Indian military. The arrangement had been intended to give India a greater military and political reach in the region, and Tajikistan greater security on its southern border with Afghanistan. pg 3-4

Both Dean and Akulinin wore small but extremely sensitive Geiger counters strapped to their legs just above their ankles, hidden beneath their uniform trousers. The readout was audible only through their transceivers— a faint, rapid-fire clicking that Dean could hear through the implant as he walked beside the truck. By walking slowly across different parts of the airfield, they could pick up minute traces of radioactivity left behind by the shipment they were looking for. They’d already paced through two small storage sheds and a hangar, without result. pg. 6

The Indians, Dean knew, were pursuing the investigation themselves, as were the Russians, but his orders were to keep Desk Three’s investigation carefully compartmentalized from those of both the Indian military and the Russian FSB, hence the lie. The FSB, the Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federaciyi, or Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, was the modern successor to the old KGB, and was riddled with Russian mafiya influence, political infighting, and outright corruption. Desk Three believed that those unconventional weapons had been sold by members of the mafiya— one of Russia’s organized crime families—to an Islamist terror group, using a Tajik criminal named Zhernov as the go-between.
Desk Three wanted to find both the buyer and the consignment without tipping off either the Russians or the Indians and thoroughly muddying the metaphorical waters of the case. pg 10

The shipment, it seemed, had already been delivered. By now it might already be out of the country and on its way to its ultimate destination, wherever in an unforgiving hell that might be.
Someone—not the Russians, perhaps, but someone— was going to pay a very dear price because of that. pg 15

Friday, March 25, 2011

Georgia Bottoms

Georgia Bottoms by Mark Childress
Little, Brown & Company, February 2011
Hardcover, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316033046

Georgia Bottoms is known in her small community of Six Points, Alabama, as a beautiful, well-to-do, and devoutly Baptist Southern belle.
Nobody realizes that the family fortune has long since disappeared, and a determinedly single woman like Georgia needs an alternative, and discreet, means of income. In Georgia's case it is six well-heeled lovers-one for each day of the week, with Mondays off - none of whom knows about the others.
But when the married preacher who has been coming to call (Saturdays) decides to confess their affair in front of the whole congregation, Georgia must take drastic measures to stop him. In GEORGIA BOTTOMS, Mark Childress proves once again his unmistakable skill for combining the hilarious and the absurd to reveal the inner workings of the rebellious human heart.

My Thoughts:

In Georgia Bottoms by Mark Childress the title character keeps herself busy trying to support her mother and brother in a small Alabama town. She's a mistress to six men - each one knows nothing about the others. Each man leaves her a little something after their evening is done. And Georgia has another on-going money making scheme. The problem is that Georgia's carefully planned way of life is threatening to fall apart.

Despite the fact that it does have some funny moments, Georgia Bottoms is not hilarious. Although I was interested in seeing her through her various predicaments, Georgia is a shallow and self-centered character. I never felt she was this loveable, quirky character full of Southern charm. Additionally, there are parts that could very easily even be offensive to some readers. Examples include Georgia's feelings about religion, her taking advantage of one group of women for profit, the use of the "N" word, the racism, and Georgia's annoyance that 9/11 precludes her ladies luncheon.

Perhaps it is because I'm not at all familiar with small Southern towns, but I actually found it hard to believe this novel was set in recent time, especially with the racism. It felt like it was set earlier. Georgia Bottoms is a quick, easy, and entertaining novel - amusing, but basically forgettable. I do think that Childress is a good writer, which helped elevate the novel to Recommended status for me.

Disclosure: My copy was sent to me by the publisher after I won a giveaway.


If only Eugene didn't run on so long in his sermons, Georgia thought, a person might not have time to think about how hot it was in this church. opening

She never missed a Sunday in church. There had to be other doubters in the crowd, but Georgia was fairly certain she was the only one who attended every Sunday without believing a single word of it... pg. 6

Members of Georgia's family had sat in this pew for generations, since before her grandmother Big Sue changed the family name from Butts to Bottoms because she thought it sounded more genteel, pg. 7

Eugene in bed was much like Eugene in the pulpit: earnest, sincerely grateful for your attendance, but always wandering off down these unproductive side alleys. pg. 9

She saw how it was going to go. Eugene meant to confess his infidelity right here in front of God and everybody. In front of Brenda and his lovely daughters and the congregation....
What he didn't realize was that he was risking much more than Georgia's reputation. One word could ruin a lot more than that. pg. 12

Georgia made sure she was well into the aisle, clear of the pews on both sides. She didn't want to get hurt. Her eyelids fluttered. Her gaze turned upward. all the muscles in her body went limp. She collapsed into a heap on the carpet - a most convincing and ladylike faint. pg. 13

To Georgia, the silliest argument of all was this endless wrestling match over race. As far back as she could remember, everyone in Alabama had been re-fighting the Civil War, a hundred forty years later. Someone was always trying to send the black man back into slavery, or raise him up higher than he was ready to go. To Georgia, the solution seemed simple: Everybody just forget about it. White people, get used to it. Black people, stop dwelling on it. Let's just pretend we're equal, and get on with our lives. pg. 30

Each man thought he was the only one. That was essential to Georgia's arrangement. She never let herself get cavalier about the details. Only by observing strict rules of separation was she able to keep all these plates spinning on sticks.
It wasn't just for herself that she was doing this. It was for Little Mama, who'd had three husbands but never one who left her a nickel... and for useless Brother... but mainly for someone who waited for a sum of money every fourth Saturday at the Western Union, Poydras Street, New Orleans.
An old debt Georgia was still paying down. pg 38-39

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Feed by Mira Grant
Orbit, 2010
Mass Market Paperback, 608 pages
Newsflesh Series, #1
ISBN-13: 9780316081054
highly recommended

The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beat the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED.
NOW, twenty years after the Rising, Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives - the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will out, even if it kills them.

My Thoughts:

Feed by Mira Grant takes place in 2039, 25 years after the Kellis-Amberlee virus that turns infected people into zombies was released. Now zombies are simply a part of life and social media, especially blogging, is how people get their news. The protagonists who own a blogging news site include: George (Georgia), Shaun (George’s brother), and Buffy. They are all thrilled when Sen. Peter Ryman invites them to be the bloggers who cover his presidential campaign. At the end of each chapter are excerpts from the characters’ blogs.

This is a world where a bloggers' market share rules and people have learned to cope with the zombies. Actually, Feed is more a political thriller than a zombie novel. The zombies are there, but generally secondary to the intrigue. While there isn't much blood and gore, there is a clear indication of how living in a society where zombies are a reality is handled, including constant blood tests for infection and sterilization techniques in place. Various zones are rated by degree of safety.

I liked the way Grant had the Kellis-Amberlee virus developed from the mixing of two cures. She also handled all the precautions people would learn to take by necessity well. There was, however, also a lot of repetition of information that could have been edited out.

While some people likely will enjoy all the pop culture reference, personally, I didn't care for all of them because I didn't think some of them would still be in use in this future. What they do is place the novel firmly in the current time period. For example An "Irwin", as in Steve Irwin, is a blogger who likes action or "to poke things with sticks" - in this case, Shaun. I became quite weary of reading, as a running joke, about how Shaun wanted to poke a zombie with a stick. Mentioning it a few times would have been enough. I get it. Other pop culture references abound: Hunter S. Thomas, JFK, mp3's... even Buffy's nickname seems unlikely.

I also couldn't buy these young adults, born after the zombie apocalypse, describing something as "a cross between a carnival and a frat party" (pg. 196) when it is made quite clear that young people in this future do not like crowds and avoid them due to the risk that someone may go zombie-viral. Both a carnival and frat party are unlikely events. Sometimes it felt like some of Grant's references and/or descriptions distracted from the story.

Feed is told in a first-person narrative, which works well for a novel featuring bloggers but it might have been even better if it were told from multiple viewpoints. It is entertaining escapism even though the antagonist is easily and immediately identifiable. (Mira Grant is the pen name of author Seanan McGuire.) This is the first book is a purposed 3 book series. While I basically enjoyed it, I'm not planning to immediately get the next book in the series.
Highly recommended - for fun


Everyone has someone on the Wall.
No matter how remote you may think you are from the events that changed the world during the brutal summer of 2014, you have someone on the Wall. Maybe they’re a cousin, maybe they’re an old family friend, or maybe they’re just somebody you saw on TV once, but they’re yours. They belong to you. They died to make sure that you could sit in your safe little house behind your safe little walls, watching the words of one jaded twenty-two-year-old journalist go scrolling across your computer screen. Think about that for a moment. They died for you.
Now take a good look at the life you’re living and tell me: Did they do the right thing? opening

Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot—in this case, my brother Shaun—deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what happens. pg. 5

You get enough of the infected together and they’ll start displaying pack hunting techniques; they’ll start using actual tactics. It’s like the virus that’s taken them over starts to reason when it gets enough hosts in the same place. pg. 7

Most of California was reclaimed after the Rising, but no one has ever managed to take back Santa Cruz. The geographical isolation that once made the town so desirable as a vacation spot pretty much damned it when the virus hit. Kellis-Amberlee may be unique in the way it interacts with the human body, but it behaves just like every other communicable disease known to man in at least one way: Put it on a school campus and it spreads like wildfire. U.C. Santa Cruz was a perfect breeding ground, and once all those perky co-eds became the shuffling infected, it was all over but the evacuation notices. pg. 11-12

Kellis-Amberlee blood testing units hurt on purpose. Lack of sensitivity to pain is an early sign of viral amplification. pg. 20

After five years of work, we've managed to convert a mostly gutted Channel 7 news van into a state-of-the-art traveling blog center, with camera feeds, it's own wireless tower, a self-sustaining homing device, and so many backup storage arrays that it makes my head hurt when I think about them too hard. pg.22

"They picked up our application. They picked us. We're going to do it.
We're going to cover the presidential campaign." pg 47

Before them, blogging was something people thought should be done by bored teenagers talking about how depressed they were. pg. 47

The "real" media was bound by rules and regulations, while the bloggers were bound by nothing more than the speed of their typing. We were the first to report that people who had been pronounced dead were getting up and noshing on their relatives. pg. 48

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Packing for Mars

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
by Mary Roach
W.W.Norton & Company, 2010
Hardcover, 334 pages
ISBN-13: 9780393068474

From the Publisher
Space is a world devoid of the things we need to live and thrive: air, gravity, hot showers, fresh produce, privacy, beer. Space exploration is in some ways an exploration of what it means to be human. How much can a person give up? How much weirdness can they take? What happens to you when you can’t walk for a year? have sex? smell flowers? What happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space walk? Is it possible for the human body to survive a bailout at 17,000 miles per hour? To answer these questions, space agencies set up all manner of quizzical and startlingly bizarre space simulations. As Mary Roach discovers, it’s possible to preview space without ever leaving Earth. From the space shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA’s new space capsule (cadaver filling in for astronaut), Roach takes us on a surreally entertaining trip into the science of life in space and space on Earth.

My Thoughts:

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach is an informative, engrossing, and entertaining examination of what it takes to actually get humans into space. Roach includes many witty footnotes throughout the text. At the end of the book is a brief time line of space exploration and an extensive bibliography.

In Packing for Mars Mary Roach provides the answers to many of the questions you didn't even know you might want to ask, including the psychological profiles of those best suited for space, zero gravity, space suits, motion sickness, bodily elimination (lots of bathroom talk), hygiene, eating, and, well, keeping the astronauts alive. Although she certainly doesn't even remotely try to provide extensive scientific information about all space programs, what she does provide is a very entertaining look into several different aspect of the space program.

While Stiff had me feeling queasy for much of the book, it was a pure pleasure reading Packing for Mars. Some readers might be put off with all the bathroom talk, but handling bodily functions is, by necessity, a big concern in any space travel. In fact I never personally really seriously considered all the problems that had to be solved in order to even consider a space program.

I found Packing for Mars entertaining as well as informative and would very highly recommend it, but be forewarned about all the talk of bodily elimination - pee, poop, and vomit.
Very Highly Recommended


To the rocket scientist, you are a problem. You are the most irritating piece of machinery he or she will ever have to deal with. You and your fluctuating metabolism, your puny memory, your frame that comes in a million different configurations. You are unpredictable. You’re inconstant. You take weeks to fix. The engineer must worry about the water and oxygen and food you’ll need in space, about how much extra fuel it will take to launch your shrimp cocktail and irradiated beef tacos. A solar cell or a thruster nozzle is stable and undemanding. It does not excrete or panic or fall in love with the mission commander. It has no ego. Its structural elements don’t start to break down without gravity, and it works just fine without sleep.

To me, you are the best thing to happen to rocket science. The human being is the machine that makes the whole endeavor so endlessly intriguing. To take an organism whose every feature has evolved to keep it alive and thriving in a world with oxygen, gravity, and water, to suspend that organism in the wasteland of space for a month or a year, is a preposterous but captivating undertaking. Everything one takes for granted on Earth must be rethought, relearned, rehearsed — full-grown men and women toilet-trained, a chimpanzee dressed in a flight suit and launched into orbit. An entire odd universe of mock outer space has grown up here on Earth. Capsules that never blast off; hospital wards where healthy people spend months on their backs, masquerading zero gravity; crash labs where cadavers drop to Earth in simulated splash-downs. opening

Welcome to space. Not the parts you see on TV, the triumphs and the tragedies, but the stuff in between — the small comedies and everyday victories. What drew me to the topic of space exploration was not the heroics and adventure stories, but the very human and sometimes absurd struggles behind them. pg. 18

Early in my research, I came across a moment — forty minutes into the eighty-eighth hour of Gemini VII — which, for me, sums up the astronaut experience and why it fascinates me. Astronaut Jim Lovell is telling Mission Control about an image he has captured on film — “a beautiful shot of a full Moon against the black sky and the strato formations of the clouds of the earth below,” reads the mission transcript. After a momentary silence, Lovell’s crewmate Frank Borman presses the TALK button. “Borman’s dumping urine. Urine [in] approximately one minute.”

Two lines further along, we see Lovell saying, “What a sight to behold!” We don’t know what he’s referring to, but there’s a good chance it’s not the moon. According to more than one astronaut memoir, one of the most beautiful sights in space is that of a sun-illumined flurry of flash-frozen waste-water droplets. Space doesn’t just encompass the sublime and the ridiculous. It erases the line between. pg. 19

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Reality Is Broken

Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal
Penguin Group, 2011
Hardcover, 388 pages
ISBN-13: 9781594202858

From the Publisher:
More than 174 million Americans are gamers, and the average young person in the United States will spend ten thousand hours gaming by the age of 21. According to world-renowned game designer Jane McGonigal, the reason for this mass exodus to virtual worlds is that videogames are increasingly fulfilling genuine human needs. In this groundbreaking exploration of the power and future of gaming, McGonigal reveals how we can use the lessons of game design to fix what is wrong with the real world.
Drawing on positive psychology, cognitive science and sociology, Reality is Broken uncovers how game designers have hit on core truths about what makes us happy, and utilized these discoveries to astonishing effect in virtual environments. Videogames consistently provide the exhilarating rewards, stimulating challenges and epic victories that are so often lacking in the real world. But why, McGonigal asks, should we use the power of games for escapist entertainment alone? Her research suggests that gamers are expert problem solvers and collaborators, since they cooperate with other players to overcome daunting virtual challenges, and she helped pioneer a fast-growing genre of games that aims to turn gameplay to socially positive ends.
My Thoughts:

In Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, Jane McGonigal purports that gamers can make reality better for everyone. She writes, "The real world just doesn't offer up as easily the carefully designed pleasures, the thrilling challenges, and the powerful social bonding afforded by virtual environments. Reality doesn't motivate us as effectively. Reality isn't engineered to maximize our potential. Reality wasn't designed from the bottom up to make us happy." (pg. 3)

The book is divided into three sections: Part I: Why Games Make Us Happy; Part II: Reinventing Reality; Part III: How Very Big Games Can Change the World. At the end of the book she helpfully includes an appendix to help you find more information on the games she's mentioned, notes on her sources, and an index.

Jane McGonigal is most enlightening and convincing in the first part of her book where she is explaining how games can make us happy. In parts two and three, she began to lose me. Part two deals with specific games and mainly some she's work on designing. In part three, although I could see some of the benefits she was claiming, I ended up feeling more concerned than hopeful. (More on that later.) She certainly validates gamers and the time they spend gaming as a new form of collaboration and community building.

The book itself is a quick and easy read. Although she's not the best writer, the writing is very accessible. Actually, since a speech she made motivated her to write this book, the whole book comes across as a motivational speech stretched out to book length. But at least in this form it includes the appendix, notes, and index.

Basically, I had three problems with Reality Is Broken.

I might as well admit that while reading Reality Is Broken the song "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades" by Timbuk3 started playing through my head in a continuous loop. And that is one of the huge problems with her whole argument. She never addresses any negatives (or dismisses them quickly.) She's w-a-y too much of an optimistic futurist rather than a pessimistic realist. McGonigal is an enthusiastic, chipper, pro-gaming cheerleader.

She writes, "The truth is this: in today's society, computer and video games are fulfilling genuine human needs that the current world is unable to satisfy. Games are providing rewards that reality is not." (pg. 4)
Additionally, she notes that "Philosophers, psychologists, and spiritual leaders agree: the single best way to add meaning to our lives is to connect our daily actions to something bigger than ourselves - and the bigger, the better." (pg.97)

I have a problem with the whole premise that games are the bigger thing that we need to connect to in order to have meaning in our lives. Is it truly better to have an unending supply of meaningless rewards in order to be happy? It seems to me that if people are playing games to escape reality the problem runs much deeper than something games can fix. I'm not sure if providing more rewards or making up games for more escapism is truly beneficial. And do all of these gamers who want to escape reality also want to save the real world?

But my main problem with her book is the Big Brother overtones that come with tracking where people are through their cell phones - in order to play a game. I find it truly frightening when she writes "...it represents the new kind of epic win that is possible in a world where more and more people are willing to use their mobile phones to broadcast where they are and what they need." (pg. 257) Being tracked is not an "epic win" in my mind. And I can also see where many of her ideas for creating happiness while interacting with others could also easily be used for nefarious activities. The final part of the book only convinced me that in the future there will be an even greater need for more safe guards of our personal online security.

I would be remiss if I didn't add that I could see several positive uses for new games in the future that would be epic wins, especially in education, which is why the book is recommended.


(Disclosure: I received this copy from the publisher after winning an online giveaway.)

(Additional note: My son, a programmer, said to tell people to read Halting State by Charles Stross. It's relevant to the topic but not nearly so optimistic.)


Gamers have had enough of reality. opening

What if we decided to use everything we know about game design to fix what's wrong with reality? What if we started to live our real lives like gamers, lead our real businesses and communities like game designers, and think about solving real-world problems like computer and video game theorists? pg. 7

And I've come to believe that people who know how to make games need to start focusing on the task of making real life better for as many people as possible. pg. 8

The people who continue to write off games will be at a major disadvantage in the coming years. Those who deem them unworthy of their time and attention won't know how to leverage the power of games in their communities, in their businesses, in their lives. They will be less prepared to shape the future. pg. 11

In fact, it's a truism in the game industry that a well-designed game should be playable immediately, with no instruction whatsoever. pg. 25

....it's evidence that gamers aren't escaping their real lives by playing games. They're actively making their real lives more rewarding. pg. 51

Games like Lexulous and FarmVille ensure we'll show up and do our part to nurture our relationships daily, and make a gesture of friendship whenever it's our turn. pg. 81-82

By the age of twenty-one, the average young American has spent somewhere between two and three thousand hours reading books - and more than ten thousand hours playing computer and video games. pg. 266

Friday, March 18, 2011

Into the Looking Glass

Into the Looking Glass by John Ringo
Baen Book; copyright 2005
Mass Market Paperback , 366 pages
Looking Glass Series #1
ISBN-13: 9781416521051
highly recommended

When a 60-kiloton explosion destroyed the University of Central Florida, and much of the surrounding countryside, the authorities first thought that terrorists had somehow obtained a nuclear weapon. But there was no radiation detected, and, when physicist Dr. William Weaver and Navy SEAL Command Master Chief Robert Miller were sent to investigate, they found that in the center of the destruction, where the University's physics department used to be, was an interdimensional gateway to.... somewhere. An experiment in subatomic physics had produced a very unexpected effect. Furthermore, other gateways were appearing all over the world¿and one of them immediately began disgorging demonic visitors intent on annihilating all life on Earth and replacing it with their own.
My Thoughts:

Into the Looking Glass by John Ringo is the first book in his Looking Glass series. When an accident in a physics lab at University of Central Florida causes a huge explosion, physicist William (Bill) Weaver and Navy SEAL Command Master Chief Robert Miller are sent in to investigate. They discover that an experiment in subatomic physics has produced a gateway to another world - and the gateways are spreading.

This is military science fiction novel. Ringo adds some humor along with the science (and some parts were quite funny), but the star of this book is the military action. After the initial explosion the novel slowed down while the physics of the event were being explained, but the action soon took off at a breakneck pace.

Let me reiterate that this is military science fiction. If supporting the American military or the warrior culture of the military is going to offend you, don't read this book. It's pro-military. It's also science fiction, so, if (simplified) scientific explanations are going to confuse you, don't read this book. If neither the military nor science aspects are going to bother you, then by all means read Into the Looking Glass. (Additionally, keep in mind that the novel supports conservative political views.)

Ringo is not the best writer technically but then, that's not really what you'd be looking for in a military science fiction novel. He does deliver on the action and the battle scenes. I'm looking forward to reading the other three novels in this series sometime: Vorpal Blade (Looking Glass, Book 2) by John Ringo; Manxome Foe (Looking Glass, Book 3) by Travis S. Taylor; Claws That Catch (Looking Glass, Book 4) by John Ringo
Highly Recommended - especially if you enjoy military science fiction


The explosion, later categorized as in the near equivalent of 60 kilotons of TNT and centered on the University of Central Florida, occurred at 9:28 a.m. on a Saturday in early March, a calm spring day in Orlando when the sky was clear and the air was cool and, for Florida, reasonably dry. It occurred entirely without warning and while it originated at the university the effects were felt far outside its grounds. opening

The rumble of the detonation was felt as far away as Tampa, Cocoa and Ocala and the ascending mushroom cloud, roiling with purple and green light in the early morning air, was visible as far away as Miami. Flaming debris dropped into Park Avenue in Winter Park, setting the ancient oaks along that pleasant drive briefly ablaze and crushed the vestibule of St. Paul's Church. pg.2

"Right now this ... event is not consonant with a nuclear attack, sir," the specialist said, firmly. "There is no evidence of EMP or radiation. Nor ..." He paused and then squared his shoulders. "Nor does it appear to be an asteroid strike." pg. 10

The base of the cloud was dark, obscuring the light from the sun that still hadn't reached zenith. But near the ground there was a deeper darkness. There was a crater as well, one that looked very much like an enormous bomb hole. The darkness, though, wasn't at the bottom of the crater. Then an errant gust of wind pushed some more of the dust aside and the darkness was revealed. It was a globe of inky blackness, darker than the spaces between stars on a cloudless night. It seemed to absorb the light around it. And it was hovering above the base of the crater, right about where ground level had previously been. pg. 16

It was a giant insect.
It was... It had black and red markings, mottled, not like a ladybug but some of the same color. It was... his sense of perspective zoomed in and out oddly. It couldn't be as large as it looked, but if it wasn't, then the
pilot in the front seat was a child and his head the size of baseball. Crichton shook his head as the thing, using too many legs, wriggled and got to its feet. It was the shape of a roach, colored red and black and it had... more, way more, than six legs. It looked... wrong. Everything about it was wrong. It scared him more than any spider, however large and they got pretty damned large in Florida, he'd ever seen in his life.
It wasn't from this world. Not in this time. Or from any time in the past. And, hopefully, not any time in the future. It was from... somewhere else.
It was alien. pg. 17-18

What we have now is some sort of gate. pg.26

That big black ball could be a boson, but it does not meet the theory of a Higgs boson particle or its effects. Yes, something came through, that might have been from a Higgs boson universe but, again, it doesn't fit the theory. Shouldn't be able to get in or out of the universe. Also, its physics should be different, so different that it would have either died right away or, more likely, exploded. pg.27

"Where are the bugs?" the SEAL said, ignoring the comment.
"The sergeant and I trussed them up with duct tape and then dumped them in the back of a Humvee with all the windows rolled up and big signs on it not to open it. But they're both dead, sir. They just stopped twitching after a while."
"I guess something on this side is poisonous to them," Glasser said. "Which is the first good news I've had today. And bad, for that matter, it doesn't mean the other side isn't poisonous. Any idea what?"
"No, sir," Crichton responded. "They were moving fine and strong as bejeezus. Sergeant Grant helped me because he usually works in an alligator farm wrestling gators. And it took both of us on them to get the tape on them. They didn't attack us or anything but it was like riding an elephant if you know what I mean; they just didn't seem to feel the weight, even the smaller one. If I'd make a guess, sir, I'd say that it's a higher gravity world on the far side and that something in our air, carbon dioxide or oxygen, is probably what killed them. Too high or low of oxygen or too high carbon dioxide. pg.32

A year, about what it would take despite the "recommended" three years, in the People's Republic of Massachusetts was more than he could stand. pg.36

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

River of the Brokenhearted

River of the Brokenhearted by David Adams Richards
Arcade Publishing, copyright 2003
Hardcover, 381 pages
ISBN-13: 9781559707121
Very Highly Recommended

Spanning generations, River of the Brokenhearted tells the life and legacy of Janie McLeary, a strong-willed Irish Catholic girl who dares to marry a man from the Church of England. Their union is quickly deemed scandalous, and when her husband dies young, just before the Great Depression, Janie is left alone to raise a family and run a business - the first movie theater in town. Through the strength of her character, she succeeds in a world of men. For that she is ostracized and becomes a victim of double-dealing and overt violence. Based on the author's own grandmother, Janie is a pioneer before the age of feminism, but her salty individualism burdens the lives of her children and grandchildren." Her son Miles, impish and genteel, tragically misunderstood and quietly courageous, is bullied and bruised by those his age, and unable to escape his mother's shadow. When sorrow befalls the family he retreats into eccentricity and alcoholism. The specter of Janie is raised again in her granddaughter Ginger - brilliant, funny, tempestuous, as fiery in spirit as Janie ever was. But moving without her grandmother's sure-footedness through an equally treacherous world. Ginger forms an alliance with the one person most likely to destroy her.
My Thoughts:

David Adams Richards uses the life of his grandmother as inspiration for the character Hanna Jane (Janie) McLeary King in River of the Brokenhearted, a multigenerational family saga set in a small New Brunswick village. The novel is narrated by her grandson, Wendell King, and covers four generations of the McLeary/King family. Joey Elias is the family's nemesis, as well as the Druken family. Where Janie's tenacity helps her overcome great persecution and brings her financial success, her family crumbles due to her lack of emotional support. They are overwhelmed with the petty cruelty of their lives and become alcoholics.

Richards is a brilliant writer. He always covers conflicting themes of love and hate, good and evil. His character development is exquisite. And while all of his characters are flawed and struggle with memories, faith, and integrity, often their reflections strike the core of a vital truth for all of humanity. Even as Janie's descendants fail to learn from their mistakes, there is the underlying sense that redemption is possible for even the most flawed characters and that in the end justice will prevail.

The sense of time and place remain consistently strong in River of the Brokenhearted. Richards has a gift for setting the scene and placing his characters squarely in that world. Even their speech patterns are distinct for each character. He can also clearly record the irrational thinking processes of those overwhelmed by greed or drink and the explanations they give themselves for their actions.

I am starting a personal David Adams Richards Fan Club. After reading Mercy Among the Children and The Bay of Love and Sorrows I can safely say that Richards is an incredible, amazing writer who deserves a wider audience - and a fan club.
Very Highly Recommended

The graves of the Drukens and the McLearys are spread across the Miramichi River valley. If you go there you might find them -- “run across them” is not the exact phrase one might want to use for graves -- in certain villages and towns. I don't think we have hamlets here, but if we do, then in certain hamlets as well.
What is revealing about these graves is their scarcity. opening

My father Miles King once told me that some are damned by blood, by treason, by chance or circumstance, some even by the stars themselves, or as Shakespeare, denying that, said, by ourselves. This in a way is a journey back in time to see how I was damned.
My name is Wendell King, and I have looked for these forgotten places, and found them in their quietude and hope, and have gone to the archives, reading old tracts, deeds, family history, searching out what I can, to try to dislodge the secrets that have plagued my father's life. pg. 4

The McLeary family arrived in 1847. They left Ireland crammed into a ship's steerage with those like themselves, unseafaring and sick. pg. 7

Both families, never forgetting their children on the gallows, carried this holy war against each other, a war of attrition, war of words and staffs and peevies, all the way from Ireland into each other's little houses and sheds in Newcastle, New Brunswick, a full century later. pg. 9

I am the happier. For this Hanna Jane McLeary, this darling rebel girl, this sweet lost light of Bobby Doyle's eye, became my grandmother, became in all her dancing, tragic scope one of our great Maritime women, although she never wanted greatness - no, thrust upon her. pg. 11

That he was dying was a shame. However, the other life, the one that tells people someone else's death is not a shame if it opens a door for themselves, was now opened. pg. 18-19

It was the first time he felt her temperament - her will. And it was not like her old drunken father, whom he bullied and laughed at. He had not felt it before, not directed precisely at him. pg. 27

He himself had not seen it, which was a little thing - but Harris was a little thinker. If he had been the sort of thinker he pretended himself to be, the smallness and pedestrian quality of his life would have appalled him. pg. 40

In fact, all men should blush at the moment of death - just because of the great foolishness of their dreams. pg. 159

It was as if her womb, so silent for so long in such a bitter life, started to bleed again. pg. 226

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Salvation City

Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez
Publisher: Penguin Group, 2010
Hardcover, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781594487668
Highly Recommended

After a flu pandemic has killed large numbers of people worldwide, the United States has grown increasingly anarchic. Large numbers of children are stranded in orphanages, and systems we take for granted are fraying at the seams. When orphaned Cole Vining finds refuge with an evangelical pastor and his young wife in a small Indiana town, he knows he is one of the lucky ones. Sheltered Salvation City has been spared much of the devastation of the outside world.
But it's a starkly different community from the one Cole has known, and he struggles with what this changed world means for him. As those around him become increasingly fixated on their vision of utopia - so different from his own parents' dreams - Cole begins to imagine a new and different future for himself.
Written in Sigrid Nunez's deceptively simple style, Salvation City is a story of love, betrayal, and forgiveness, weaving the deeply affecting story of a young boy's transformation with a profound meditation on the true meaning of salvation.
My Thoughts:

Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez is a coming of age novel set in a changing world. Young teen Cole Vining is the narrator. He has lost his parents, Miles and Serena, in a global flu pandemic and, after a brief stay in an orphanage, is currently living with Pastor Wyatt (PW) and his wife Tracy, who hope to adopt him.

As Cole remembers his past with his parents, both academics and atheists, he clearly recalls the tension and their arguments. He knew their marriage was on the verge of divorce. This past contrasts sharply with life in the Christian community of Salvation City with PW and Tracy, where home life is calm and secure, based on their Christian faith. Nunez handles equally deftly the characterizations of both Cole's atheist parents and the Christian Wyatt's.

This is not a dystopian novel intent on showing the collapse of civilization. Because the story is told through Cole's perspective and his memory is imperfect, we don't have a clear global view of what the pandemic has wrought. Instead, we have glimpses of the horrors, as recalled by Cole. While the flu pandemic does influence all aspects of the story, it is truly more of a coming of age story set during hard times and a character study.

Nunez does an excellent job in developing her characters using a deceptively simple style of writing. I really felt that the story was being told by a young adolescent boy, with all of his insecurities and conflicted emotions. He struggles with change just as we all would. (In fact, she actually did such a good job that some reviewers incorrectly labeled Salvation City as a YA novel. It isn't.) She never falters from telling the story through Cole's perspective and in the end we are hopeful he will find the right direction for him in his changed world.

Even though I was expecting Salvation City to be more of a dystopian thriller, I actually quite enjoyed this thoughtful novel based on Nunez's writing alone.
Highly Recommended

The best way to remember people after they've passed is to remember the good about them.
The first time Cole hears Pastor Wyatt say this he remembers how his mother hated when people said passed, or passed away. opening

He was not yet comfortable looking Pastor Wyatt in the face. Cole was keeping so much in - he had so many secrets - he did not like to look anyone in the face if he could help it. He knew this gave the impression he'd done something wrong, and that is just how he felt; as if he'd done something wrong and was trying to hide it. pg. 4

Pastor Wyatt still shakes hands with people. He pays no attention to the warning to switch to the elbow bump. pg. 5

But he is not sure anymore if in fact it was his mother he heard that day. Maybe it was his father. This has become a familiar problem. Cole gets mixed up. He is never completely sure of anything he remembers anymore. He was told that after his fever broke he did not even remember his own name. It wasn't exactly amnesia, but the illness had damaged his brain. He was not the only one to whom this had happened. pg. 8

And if they had never moved, if they had stayed in Chicago, would his parents still be alive? Cole thinks the answer is yes, even though he knows that many people got sick and died in Chicago, too. In the big cities, so many people died so fast that bodies kept piling up and there were corpses everywhere, even outdoors. It is another one of Cole's guilty secrets that he wishes he could have seen this with his eyes. That, and the riots. pg. 12-13

Cole hopes to go around the world one day. One of his favorite words is explorer. pg. 20

Back in the fall, at the beginning of the first wave - the milder and less infectious flu that would kill mostly old people or babies or people already weak from other diseases - back when Cole was still living in Chicago, the assistant principal (the principal was out sick) stood on the stage of the school auditorium and introduced a man from the public health department. pg. 25-26

When the second wave hit, everyone hoped it, too, would be mild. A hope that died by the end of the first week. pg. 35

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Slynx

The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya
Jamey Gambrell, translator
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003
Hardcover, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780618124978
Highly Recommended

Two hundred years after civilization ended in an event known as the Blast, Benedikt isn’t one to complain. He’s got a job—transcribing old books and presenting them as the words of the great new leader, Fyodor Kuzmich, Glorybe—and though he doesn’t enjoy the privileged status of a Murza, at least he’s not a serf or a half-human four-legged Degenerator harnessed to a troika. He has a house, too, with enough mice to cook up a tasty meal, and he’s happily free of mutations: no extra fingers, no gills, no cockscombs sprouting from his eyelids. And he’s managed—at least so far—to steer clear of the ever-vigilant Saniturions, who track down anyone who manifests the slightest sign of Freethinking, and the legendary screeching Slynx that waits in the wilderness beyond.
Tatyana Tolstaya’s The Slynx reimagines dystopian fantasy as a wild, horripilating amusement park ride. Poised between Nabokov’s Pale Fire and Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, The Slynx is a brilliantly inventive and shimmeringly ambiguous work of art: an account of a degraded world that is full of echoes of the sublime literature of Russia’s past; a grinning portrait of human inhumanity; a tribute to art in both its sovereignty and its helplessness; a vision of the past as the future in which the future is now.

My Thoughts:

The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya is a Russian dystopian novel. Set two hundred years after some kind of nuclear accident or blast, a government scribe named Benedikt lives in what was Moscow. Moscow is now called Fyodor-Kuzmichsk, after its dictator Fyodor. Kuzmich uses scribes to copy "his" writing, which is actually that of past literary works.

In this society, mice are dietary staples and a source of trading currency. Citizens born after the Blast often have mutations, that are called "consequences" while "Degenerators" are used as beasts of burden, but actually are humans. "Golubchiks" are the citizens/workers. "Oldeners," citizens born before the blast, haven't aged at all, and more importantly keep secret libraries of forbidden books.

While seemingly a short dystopian novel, The Slynx is actually a dense novel that features references to Russia's past political eras and literature, so some knowledge of Russian literature and history would be very helpful while reading it. Equally both funny and frightening, there are so many details imparted that it doesn't seem to matter that the actual plot starts out slowly. It is part political and social commentary, while also addressing lovers of literature. In the end the slynx seems to symbolize the beast in man.

Jamey Gambrell translated The Slynx from the Russian and I can't imagine how difficult this task must have been since this is a very Russian novel. Even the translation feels Russian. This is Tolstaya's first novel and, as Leo Tolstoy's great-grandniece, she has a literary heritage. I have a feeling there is a lot of symbolism that went right over my head because of my knowledge of Russian history and literature lacks the depth needed to fully appreciate The Slynx.
Highly Recommended - if you are up to the challenge


Benedikt pulled on his felt boots, stomped his feet to get the fit right, checked the damper on the stove, brushed the bread crumbs onto the floor—for the mice—wedged a rag in the window to keep out the cold, stepped out the door, and breathed the pure, frosty air in through his nostrils. Ah, what a day! The night’s storm had passed, the snow gleamed all white and fancy, the sky was turning blue, and the high elfir trees stood still. Black rabbits flitted from treetop to treetop. Benedikt stood squinting, his reddish beard tilted upward, watching the rabbits. If only he could down a couple—for a new cap. But he didn’t have a stone.
It would be nice to have the meat, too. Mice, mice, and more mice—he was fed up with them.
Give black rabbit meat a good soaking, bring it to boil seven times, set it in the sun for a week or two, then steam it in the oven—and it won’t kill you.
That is, if you catch a female. Because the male, boiled or not, it doesn’t matter. People didn’t used to know this, they were hungry and ate the males too. But now they know: if you eat the males you’ll be stuck with a wheezing and a gurgling in your chest the rest of your life. Your legs will wither. Thick black hairs will grow like crazy out of your ears and you’ll stink to high heaven. opening

To hell with them, those Degenerators, better to keep your distance. They’re strange ones, and you can’t figure out if they’re people or not. Their faces look human, but their bodies are all furry and they run on all fours. With a felt boot on each leg. It’s said they lived before the Blast, Degenerators. pg. 2

Old people say the Slynx lives in those forests. The Slynx sits on dark branches and howls a wild, sad howl—eeeeennxx, eeeeennxx, eeenx- aleeeeeennnxx—but no one ever sees it. If you wander into the forest it jumps on your neck from behind: hop! It grabs your spine in its teeth—crunch—and picks out the big vein with its claw and breaks it. All the reason runs right out of you. If you come back, you’re never the same again, your eyes are different, and you don’t ever know where you’re headed, like when people walk in their sleep under the moon, their arms outstretched, their fingers fluttering: they’re asleep, but they’re standing on their own two feet. pg. 3

Well, and what do they give out at the Warehouse? Mousemeat sausage, mouse lard, wheatweed flour, those feathers, then there’s felt boots, of course, and tongs, burlap, stone pots: different things. One time they put some slimy firelings in the basket—they’d gone bad somewhere, so they handed them out. If you want good firelings you have to get them yourself. pg. 9-10

Two hundred and thirty-three years Mother lived on this earth. And she didn’t grow old. They laid her in the grave just as black-haired and pink- cheeked as ever. That’s the way it is: whoever didn’t croak when the Blast happened, doesn’t grow old after that. That’s the Consequence they have. Like something in them got stuck. But you can count them on the fingers of one hand. They’re all in the wet ground: some ruined by the Slynx, some poisoned by rabbits, Mother here, by firelings . . .
Whoever was born after the Blast, they have other Consequences—all kinds. Some have got hands that look like they broke out in green flour, like they’d been rolling in greencorn, some have gills, another might have a cockscomb or something else. And sometimes there aren’t any Consequences, except when they get old a pimple will sprout from the eye, or their private parts will grow a beard down to the shins. Or nostrils will open up on their knees. pg 10

Our town, our home sweet homeland, is called Fyodor- Kuzmichsk, and before that, Mother says, it was called Ivan-Porfirichsk, and before that Sergei-Sergeichsk, and still before that Southern Warehouses, and way back when—Moscow. pg. 12

And where there's mystery - there's government service. pg. 19

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly
Grand Central Publishing, copyright 2005
Trade Paperback, 432 pages
Mickey Haller Series , #1
ISBN-13: 9781455500246
Highly Recommended

Synopsis from cover:
For defense attorney Mickey Haller, the clock is always running. With two ex-wives, four Lincoln Town Cars that he uses as offices, and dozens of guilty clients, he can't afford to miss a trick. when he gets picked by a Beverly Hills rich boy arrested for assault, Mickey sees a franchise case: a nice, long, expensive trial with maximum billable hours - until it hurtles him into the last place he wants to be. Suddenly hustling, cynical
Mickey Haller is confronted with pure evil and someone who may be truly innocent. Now, for a lawyer who has always gone for the easy score, getting justice means taking the deadliest risk of all.
My Thoughts:

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly is his first legal thriller - and the first book in a new series featuring Mickey Haller. Mickey is a criminal defense lawyer whose office is the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car. He is cynical, shrewd, hard-working, and ethically challenged, but he also has a hidden shred of integrity left.

Mickey is generally scrambling to make a buck any way he can. When he is called to defend Louis Ross Roulet, a Beverly Hills real estate agent, Mickey sees a potentially easy, but big-money making "franchise" case. What he doesn't immediately see is the evil behind Roulet's facade.

Connelly is a master at story telling and moving the plot along. There are several twists and turns that kept me very interested. Additionally, Connelly does a great job developing his characters. Mickey comes across as a very flawed but sympathetic character. This is a great introduction to a new series.

No spoilers, but I was questioning Mickey's actions during a rather important point in the plot. It seemed that he could have done something different - there are avenues of action in place for lawyers with that dilemma.

The Brass Verdict, the second book in series, pairs Haller with his half brother, Harry Bosch, a long-time Connelly character. The Reversal is the third book, and the fourth book, The Fifth Witness, is scheduled to be released at the beginning of April 2011.
The movie version of The Lincoln Lawyer stars Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Haller and is due to be released on March 18, 2011.
Highly Recommended

Disclosure: This book and a movie poster was sent to me by the publisher after I won a give-away for it at Beth Fish Reads.


The morning air off the Mojave in late winter is as clean and crisp as you'll ever breathe in Los Angeles County. It carries the taste of promise on it. opening

You could say his name is also permanently scratched onto my Christmas list. At the end of the year I give a can of salted nuts to everybody on it. Planters holiday mix. Each can has a ribbon and bow on it. But no nuts inside. Just cash. I have a lot of bail bondsmen on my Christmas list. I eat holiday mix out of Tupperware well into spring. Since my last divorce, it is sometimes all I get for dinner. pg. 3-4

While being held in the Lancaster jail he had cut his hair and shaved, as I had requested, and he looked reasonably presentable except for the tattoos that wrapped both arms and poked up above his collar. But there is only so much you can do. I don't know much about the effect of tattoos on a jury but I suspect it's not overly positive, especially when grinning skulls are involved. I do know that jurors in general don't care for ponytails — on either defendants or the lawyers who represent them. pg. 9

Boyleston was going to go away for a long time and there was almost nothing I could do but negotiate a deal trading Boyleston's cooperation for a lower sentence. That didn't matter, though. What mattered to me were the tapes. I had taken the case because of the tapes. The federal government would pay me to listen to the tapes in preparation for defending my client. That meant I would get a minimum of 50 billable hours out of Boyleston and the government before it was all settled. So I made sure the tapes were in heavy rotation whenever I was riding in the Lincoln. I wanted to make sure that if I ever had to put my hand on the book and swear to tell the truth, I could say in good conscience that I played every one of those tapes I billed Uncle Sugar for. pg. 17

Lorna is the first buffer. To get to me you start with her. My cell number is given out to only a few and Lorna is the gatekeeper. She is tough, smart, professional and beautiful. Lately, though, I only get to verify this last attribute once a month or so when I take her to lunch and sign checks — she's my bookkeeper, too. pg. 18

There was nothing about the law that I cherished anymore. The law school notions about the virtue of the adversarial system, of the system's checks and balances, of the search for truth had long since eroded like the faces of statues from other civilizations. The law was not about truth. It was about negotiation, amelioration, manipulation. I didn't deal in guilt and innocence because everybody was guilty. Of something. But it didn't matter because every case I took on was a house built on a foundation poured by overworked and underpaid laborers. They cut corners. They made mistakes. And then they painted over the mistakes with lies. My job was to peel away the paint and find the cracks. To work my fingers and tools into those cracks and widen them. To make them so big that either the house fell down or, failing that, my client slipped through.
Much of society thought of me as the devil but they were wrong. I was a greasy angel. I was the true road saint. I was needed and wanted. By both sides. I was the oil in the machine. I allowed the gears to crank and turn. I helped keep the engine of the system running.
But all of that would change with the Roulet case. For me. For him. And certainly for Jesus Menendez. pg. 25

It didn't matter in terms of the strategy of the case whether the defendant 'did it' or not. What mattered was the evidence against him - the proof - and if and how it could be neutralized. My job was to bury the proof, to color the proof a shade of gray. Gray was the color of reasonable doubt. pg. 47

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Inside a Cutter's Mind

Inside a Cutter's Mind: Understanding and Helping Those Who Self-Injure
by Jerusha Clark, with Dr. Earl R Henslin (contributor)
NavPress Publishing Group, 2007
Trade Paperback, 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781600060540
Very Highly Recommended

Considering recent statistics, chances are you know someone who deliberately harms himself. In fact, you might know several, though their behavior may remain hidden from or a mystery to you. Experts estimate that millions of people engage in some form of self-injury, a shocking physical expression of emotional and spiritual pain. Because "cutting" is so misunderstood, some people believe it's just a bid for attention or an adolescent phase. Others assume self-harm is a girls' problem only and doesn't happen to "good" people, let alone Christians. Yet this practice has quietly spread into mainstream America, crossing all age and gender lines and even into the church. When confronted with this silent epidemic, how can we respond and help those in desperate need? Drawing from a rich blend of research and interviews, best-selling author Jerusha Clark, with Dr. Earl Henslin, explores this complex problem that has no easy solution. With an empathetic heart and a compassionate voice, she brings light to a dark condition and delivers hope to victims and their loved ones.

My Thoughts:

Inside a Cutter's Mind: Understanding and Helping Those Who Self-Injure by Jerusha Clark, Earl R Henslin presents a balanced perspective on self-injury. Clark writes: "I want you to know from the outset: Self-inflicted violence is all at once a psychological, physical, and spiritual battle. Consequently, this book will examine all three aspects. But we will do so with balance and patience, recognizing that discussing biochemistry, psychoemotional issues, and spirituality can be intimidating." (pg. 16)

This book is mainly written for the family and friends of cutters to help them understand and empathize with what self-harmers feel while dealing with their own conflicting emotions. The authors do a great job covering all aspects of self-injury while presenting it in such a way that the information is very accessible. "I decided to write Inside a Cutter’s Mind because I believe that a vigorous and tangible hope can be found. I have witnessed the freedom of people brought back from the brink of self-destruction. In their lives, the power of redemption overcame the pull of devastation. But I have not merely observed redemption at work. I have personally experienced the wholesale rescue of my mind, body, and soul from the ravages of self-annihilating compulsion." (pg. 17)

Clark is very empathetic and sensitive while explaining the behavior and the many ways of treating/helping people who struggle with self-injury. She clearly understands that in order to assist self-injurers, a variety of treatment methods are necessary because every person is a unique individual. Dr. Henslin does an excellent job explaining the physiological and clinical sides of treatment. The information on SPECT brain scans shows that self-injury also can have a physical component.

While it is written from a Christian point of view, it is very non-judgmental while covering all aspects of self-injury. Clark, in fact, points out that "...overscripturalizing or spiritualizing people's struggles or their paths toward recovery usually arrests rather than encourages recovery." (pg. 145) So, although specific information for Christians is definitely included, it is presented as just another aspect to helping in the recovery process and not as condemnation for the cutting.

It is interesting to note that: "A diet high in protein (including soy products and fish), whole grains, and vegetables gives the nervous system the nutritional support necessary to combat self-wounding impulses." (pg. 112) and "Taking brain-boosting vitamins and supplements (especially omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E) may help self-injurer's mind and body be better prepared to deal with urges to self-harm. Sometime vitamins and supplements can actually decrease these cravings." (pg 113.) Clark also mentions other specific ways to help self-harmers or assist them in their recovery, including simply being available to be with them during difficult time periods or encouraging them to lengthen the time between episodes of self-injury.

I can't recommend this book highly enough for friends and family members of someone who self-injures or any one, like a pastor or youth minister, who might be asked to counsel someone. The myth that they are doing it just to get attention is exposed and the information included that can really lead to recovery is priceless.
Very Highly Recommended


If someone you love intentionally hurts himself or herself, you may have run the gamut of these emotions — frustration, anxiety, despair, helplessness, confusion, desperation, and even repulsion. Maybe you’ve felt all of them at once. Maybe, more than anything else, you have wanted to run away, to withdraw from the unnerving, painful reality. Still, the idea that your loved one might take a blade or a cigarette lighter to his or her own skin haunts you like a waking nightmare. Saying the wrong thing terrifies you. But you have to, you want to, do something. pg. 15

The act of intentionally wounding oneself goes by many names. Self-injury, self-harm, self-inflicted violence, and self-mutilation are the most commonly employed terms. Vernacular descriptions such as cutting, burning, slashing, or scorching reveal specific methods people use to wound themselves. Medical professionals use other descriptors, including Deliberate Self-Harm, Syndrome 5, and Self-Injurious Behavior Syndrome (SIBS ). pg.21

The majority of sufferers, like....Princess Diana, cut or burn because they seek relief from seemingly uncontrollable pain or deadening numbness. pg. 21

Likewise, as you care for and work with people who self-injure, I urge you to choose your words carefully. When in doubt, listen to the language the person who self-harms uses and mirror his or her vocabulary. This both honors individuals and their unique experiences and shows a desire to meet them on their turf. pg. 22

Over ands over, self-harmers chronicle feeling anger, anxiety, or sorrow so deep that it seems the world was unraveling around them. In the midst of this chaos, a thought "popped" into their minds: You can cut [or burn or break] this out of you. pg. 35
On a positive note, the sometimes ritualistic nature of self-injury can actually benefit those who want to help....simply being with a self-injurer during a particular difficult time of day or through a painful situation can significantly decrease the likelihood of self-inflicted violence. pg. 38-39

Self-injury is most often used as a survival technique rather than an exit strategy. pg. 42

Self-harmers substitute thoughts about hurting themselves - and then add the act of self-inflicted violence itself - to deflect negative thought patterns. Pushing aside obsessive thoughts with focused, if self-inflicted wounding, ones does work. Sadly, people often find it more effective, and definitely more immediate, than healthier methods of processing distressed thoughts and feelings. pg. 56

Recovery does not correlate so much with the severity or frequency of self-injurious acts as it does with the presence of ongoing support, vigorous and committed pursuits of care....and a willingness to look at one's self, family, and coping mechanisms openly and honestly. pg. 60

Self-injury does not often "travel" alone.... [M]any self-injurers battle one or several accompanying problems while fighting self-injurious impulses. pg. 63

Self-harmers may also experience symptoms associated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). pg. 68

In order to begin healing, many self-wounders need help expanding their time horizons, lengthening the moments between urge and action by analyzing their situation and emotions.....
Fortunately, people can learn to expand their time horizons in the same way we all learn that a sensation of hunger does not mean we have to eat immediately. We may feel that we need to, but if we want to or must wait, the intense feeling will fade or pass with time. pg. 71

...self-injurers can heal best as they learn their own spiritual value. They can also benefit from developing communication skills that allow them to express their woundedness... pg. 135

...self-injurers are doing the best they can presently can to deal with emotional pain. We can trust that with time and help, as they are enabled, they can learn to cope in healthier ways. Shame and guilt will not help them get there. pg. 146

If you take the time to uncover why self-harm seems to make sense for the person you love, you will be better equipped to help over the long haul. pg. 147

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Comes the Darkness, Comes the Light

Comes the Darkness, Comes the Light: A Memoir of Cutting, Healing, and Hope by Vanessa Vega
AMACOM, 2007
Hardcover, 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9780814474235
very highly recommended

When Vanessa Vega would feel the darkness begin to come over her, she would do anything, hoping to escape it. Take a hot bath. Read a book. Watch TV. Talk to a friend. But then, finally, unable to fight it any longer, she would give in, head into the bathroom...and cut.
Comes the Darkness, Comes the Light is a disturbing yet ultimately redemptive and inspiring memoir of a young woman compelled to injure herself in an attempt to cope with her overwhelming feelings of anxiety in the only way she knew how. Though still unknown to many, this disorder affects an estimated one percent of the population...and is on the rise, especially among teens.
This affecting, heart-wrenching book follows author Vanessa Vega's progress as she climbs her way back to emotional health and rebuilds her life. Readers will go inside the mind of a "cutter," taking the journey with her as she struggles against her exhausting and shameful secret ritual.
As Vega faces the anger and insecurity that lead to each encounter—while working with a therapist to understand the real motivating factors behind her behavior—Comes the Darkness, Comes the Light reveals what brings many to this disorder...and what can lead them out. With stunning insight, Vega has written a moving first-person account of self-injury, struggle, and redemption.

My Thoughts:

In her memoir Comes the Darkness, Comes the Light: A Memoir of Cutting, Healing, and Hope, author Vanessa Vega shares a very personal account of her lifetime of struggle with self injury, mainly cutting, and an eating disorder. Vega opens with a personal letter where she tells the reader: "In the end, this is a story of forgiveness; redemption; and, ultimately, survival."( pg. xi) Most of the book recounts the painful realities Vega had to face in the group therapy sessions and the hard work this involved in order for her to recover. The memoir is extremely emotional to read, but hopeful.

Vega makes it clear that recovery is not easy, but she also wants everyone to know that there is hope. That you can forgive yourself, forgive others, and move on with your life without cutting. Even though Vega shares much of her personal story and struggles, there are also many things left unsaid. All in all, this is a raw, very personal account of one woman's experience with therapy and how it helped her heal. Reading Comes the Darkness, Comes the Light would be of great benefit to anyone, especially therapists, who is dealing with someone who self injures.
Very Highly Recommended


I want to wake up each morning excited to be alive instead of feeling this suffocating wave of anxiety wash over me. I want to feel like I'm a good person, and not a disappointment. I want to look at myself naked and accept my body for what it is instead of hating it for what it is not....For once in my life, I want to be able to communicate what I'm feeling instead of allowing the scars I create on my body to say it for me. pg. 9-10

...the connection between physical pain and the diminishment of emotional pain was made. pg. 15

Cutting isn't random. It's a last attempt, by you, to exhibit some control over events or situations that you find totally out of control. pg. 18

I want to scream at the top of my lungs. I want to have some control, any control, over the sh*t that is happening in my life and so I take some. I take control in one of the few ways I know how. I hurt myself. pg. 29

When I look at the scars on my body, I see a variety of emotions: anger, fear, frustration, and guilt....In one word, I feel bad. Bad that I can't be the person I think other's think I am and want me to be. I feel bad because most of the time I chose to make other people happy over myself. I feel bad because I am not who I know I can be and that frustrates me. pg. 83

And, I guess, in the whole scheme of things, I am living proof of a God thing. I should be dead by now. Goodness knows I haven't taken care of the body I was given....in many ways I have lived a life of selfishness....
"So if God can make good things happen for you, why do you think he allowed you to go through some of the negative things?"
I guess to make me stronger... pg. 93-94

Tonight we are going to talk about forgiving yourself. Before you can forgive another person, you must forgive yourself. Everyone makes mistakes and feels regret at some point in his or her life. pg. 120

For the first time in my life, I cried for my scars. I realized at that very moment how much it must hurt other people when I cut myself. pg. 141