Thursday, March 22, 2012

Requiem for an Angel

Requiem for an Angel: The Secret History of a Murderer by Andrew Taylor
The Roth Trilogy
HarperCollins, 2002
Paperback,  914 pages
The Roth Trilogy includes:The Four Last Things (Roth Trilogy #1, 1997)
The Judgment of Strangers (Roth Trilogy #2, 1998)
The Office of the Dead (Roth Trilogy #3, 1999)

Requiem for an Angel uncovers the secret history of a murderer, tracing the full damage and horror of an unforgiving killer over forty years. For the first time the three volumes of the Roth Trilogy can be read together as they were designed. A chilling account of one family's self-destruction, the story strips away the layers of the past like an archaeological dig into the very nature of evil.
My Thoughts:
Requiem for an Angel: The Secret History of a Murderer by Andrew Taylor is a collection of the three books that comprise the Roth Trilogy: The Four Last Things, The Judgment of Strangers, The Office of the Dead. The collection is also published under the title Fallen Angel. Although the three novels can be read separately, together they make for a very powerful novel. Each of the novels is written in a different style while it also alters the reader's perception of each story as the complete history of the serial killer is revealed. 
Taylor takes a unique reverse chronology approach with this crime fiction trilogy, starting with recent events in the 1990s and going back into the past, the 1970s and 1958. Since the reader is privy to much more information than the characters, the suspense and sense of foreboding build in the narrative until almost overwhelming. While you know who the psychopath is, you will also be asking where does the responsibility for the murderer lie - nature or nurture? And does the truth lie even further buried in the past?
"The Four Last Things features the Appleyards, present-day inner-city dwellers, potentially happy, despite the vicissitudes of their opposing careers as a woman cleric and a male police officer, until their beloved child is abducted. The reader knows by whom, and into what appalling danger: the victims do not, and God is silent on the subject. In The Judgment of Strangers, when a sternly handsome and passionate priest faces the torture of a sexless and sterile marriage against the cacophonous background of the licentious 1970s, God is equally reticent. Again, there is a child, omnipresent, but often silent. In The Office of the Dead, set in 1958, an element of godlessness prevails in the character of Wendy, the narrator, guest of the Reverend Byfield and his wife and an uncomfortable adornment to the Cathedral Close. She is the sinner, taking refuge from her adulterous husband and frivolous life, inseparable from her bottle of gin and as fine an example of the decent scarlet woman as literature can provide." Frances Fyfield, foreword, pg. x
"...[O]n one level, this trilogy is a history of social habits and attitudes from 1958 to the present day, giving Taylor the opportunity to evoke three successive eras with uncanny, atmospheric accuracy.... On another level, the narratives reflect the changing state of the Church of England and the altered status of its sometimes hapless clerics." Frances Fyfield, foreword, pg ix
I really think that reading the three novels together makes the story more complete, as well as more horrifying and shocking. As you go back in time you see the secrets kept in the past, the mistakes made, clues that, if they had been taken seriously, could have changed recent events. Not only is each novel set in a different time period, they are also narrated by a different person. While the connection between families is explored, there is also a connection to a mad poet-priest who died fifty years before the serial killer, Angel, was born.
Requiem for an Angel,  The Roth Trilogy, is Very Highly Recommended - one of the best
"On that note, it could be said of Taylor's characters, that by their decency, so shall you know them." Frances Fyfield, foreword, pg. x
The Four Last Things (Roth Trilogy #1)

Eddie took a long, deep breath. Suddenly it was hard to breathe. There always came a point when one crossed the boundary between the permissible and the forbidden. He knew that Angel would be furious. Angel believed in careful preparation, in following a plan; that way, she said, no one got hurt. She hated anything which smacked of improvisation. His heart almost failed him at the thought of her reaction
Yet how could he turn away from this chance? Lucy was offering herself to him, his Christmas present. Had anyone ever had such a lovely present? But what if someone saw them? He was afraid, and the fear was wrapped up with desire. pg. 8
Sally took a deep breath. As she exhaled, a picture filled her mind: an angel, stern and heavily feathered, the detail hard and glittering, the wings flexible and rippling. She pushed the picture away.
"God does not change," she said again, her voice grim. "But we do." pg. 13
Sally Appleyard could not say when she first suspected that she was being watched. The fear came first, crawling slowly into her life when she was not looking, masquerading as a sense of unease. pg. 27
The Judgment of Strangers (Roth Trilogy #2)

We found the mutilated corpse of Lord Peter in the early evening of Thursday the 13th August, 1970. He was the first victim of a train of events which began towards the end of the previous summer when I met Vanessa Forde - or even before that, with Audrey Oliphant and The History of Roth. pg. 285
If Audrey had not decided to write her history of Roth, none of what followed might have happened. It is tempting to blame her - to blame anyone but myself. But fate has a way of finding its agents: if Audrey had not volunteered to be the handmaid of Providence, then someone else would have come forward. pg. 287
As a consequence of my accepting their invitation, two people died, a third went to prison, and a fourth was admitted to a hospital for the insane. pg. 289
The Office of the Dead (Roth Trilogy #3)
"I'm nobody," Rosie said.
It was the first thing she said to me. pg. 587
"Wendy, you can't hide away from the past," he said. "You can't pretend it isn't there, that it doesn't matter."
"Why not?" I was a little drunk at the time and I spoke more loudly that I'd planned. "If you ask me, there's something pathetic about people who live in the past. It's over and done with."
"It's never that. Not until you are. It is you."
"Don't lecture me, David." I smiled sweetly at him and blew cigarette smoke into his face. "I'm not one of your bloody students."
But of course he was right. That was on thing that really irritated me about David, that so often he was right. He was such an arrogant bastard that you wanted him to be wrong. And in the end, when he was so terribly wrong, I couldn't even gloat. I just felt sorry for him. I suppose he wasn't very good at being right about himself. pg. 588
Looking after children was something you left to women. That was what they were for, along with the other marital duties which he probably assumed had been ordained by God and man since time immemorial. I wonder now if David was a little scared of young children. Some adults are. pg. 664

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Julie and Julia

Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
Little, Brown & Company; Copyright 2005
Trade Paperback, 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316044271

Julie Powell recounts how she conquered every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and saved her soul. Julie Powell is 30 years old, living in a tiny apartment in Queens and working at a soul-sucking secretarial job that's going nowhere. She needs something to break the monotony of her life, and she invents a deranged assignment. She will take her mother's worn, dog-eared copy of Julia Child's 1961 classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and she will cook all 524 recipes - in the span of one year. At first she thinks it will be easy. But as she moves from the simple Potage Parmentier (potato soup) into the more complicated realm of aspics and crepes, she realizes there's more to Mastering the Art of French Cooking than meets the eye. And somewhere along the line she realizes she has turned her outer-borough kitchen into a miracle of creation and cuisine. She has eclipsed her life's ordinariness through spectacular humor, hysteria, and perseverance.

My Thoughts:

Certainly most readers have heard of the book and the movie based on Julie Powell's book Julie and Julia. There was a huge buzz over both movie and book. The basic premise is that Julie Powell decided to take a year to make every recipe found in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and blog about her experiences.

While the book wasn't particularly bad, it certainly wasn't as wonderful as I expected. Part of my problem with the book was a problem with Julie Powell. Her misadventures, triumphs, mishaps, and successes in her culinary quest were interesting. Reading her constant whining about her every day experiences, like moving again or her job or her not cleaning, wasn't very interesting or compelling - even while she attempted to make it humorous. I enjoyed the parts in the kitchen when she was actually trying to make all the recipes. The little asides, constant complaints, and extra stories took away from the book for me. Also, based on the movie, I thought there would be more of a parallel story with Julia Child but apparently that material was added from another book in order to make the movie.

In the end I'd recommend the book for sheer entertainment, but pick up a used copy (in the clearance section of the local used book store like I did) or look for it at the library. Someday I'll watch the movie because I think this is one of those strange cases when the movie might actually be better than the book... 


The next morning I lingered at my parents' kitchen table long after they'd both left for work, wrapped up in a well-worn gray flannel robe I'd forgotten I had, sipping coffee. I'd finished the Times crossword and all the sections except for Business and Circuits, but didn't yet have enough caffeine in my system to contemplate getting dressed. (I'd overindulged in margaritas the night before, not at all an unusual occurrence when visiting the folks in Austin.) The pantry door stood ajar, and my aimless gaze rested on the bookshelves inside, the familiar ranks of spines lined up there. When I got up to fill my cup one last time, I made a detour and took one of the books - Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol 1. , my mom's old 1967 edition, a book that had known my family's kitchen longer than I had. I sat back down at the table at which I'd eaten a thousand childhood afternoon snacks and began flipping through, just for the hell of it.
When I was a kid, I used to look at MtAoFC quite a lot. Partly it was just my obsession with anything between two covers, but there was something else, too. Because this book has the power to shock. MtAoFC is still capable of striking deep if obscure zones of discomfort. Find the most pale, pierced and kohl-eyed, proudly pervy hipster you can and ask her to cook Pâté de Canard en Crote, aided only by the helpful illustrations on pages 571 through 575. pg. 13

"If I wanted to learn to cook, I'd just cook my way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking."
It was an odd sort of statement to make drip with sarcasm, but I managed it anyway. Eric just sat there.
"Not that it would do me any good, of course. Can't get a job out of that."
"At least we'd eat good for a while." pg. 20-21

"Okay," I said, taking another sip as Eric sat down beside me. "Tell me again about this blog thing?"
And so, late that evening, a tiny line dropped into the endless sea of cyberspace, the slenderest of lures in the blackest of waters.
The Book
Mastering the Art of French Cooking. First edition, 1961. Louisette Bertholle. Simone Beck. And, of course, Julia Child, the woman who taught America to cook, and to eat....
The Contender
Government drone by day, renegade foodie by night. Too old for theater, too young for children, and too bitter for anything else, Julie Powell was looking for a challenge. And in the Julie/Julia Project she found it. Risking her marriage, her job, and her cats' well-being, she has signed on for a deranged assignment. 365 days. 524 recipes. One girl and a crappy outerborough kitchen.  pg. 22-23

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Song I Knew by Heart

A Song I Knew by Heart by Bret Lott
Random House, Copyright 2004
Trade Paperback, 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345437754

During a cold Massachusetts winter, a tragic car accident leaves a mother childless and her daughter-in-law a widow. Naomi and Ruth are now each other’s only comfort. Naomi lost her own husband eight years ago, and now she has lost her son. Carrying a deep secret in her soul, Naomi decides to return to her childhood home in coastal South Carolina. When she tells Ruth her plan, she receives an unexpected reply: “Where you go, I will go.” So the two women plan the journey together, arriving at a place that is flooded with a love they are nearly too fragile to accept. Surrounded by the warmth of their newfound family, Naomi and Ruth begin to find themselves reawakened–and open to the possibility of redemption.

My Thoughts:
“And Ruth said,‘ Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.’” Ruth 1:16
A Song I Knew by Heart by Bret Lott is a novel based on the Biblical story of Naomi and Ruth. Since her husband Eli passed away, Naomi has been living with her son Mahlon and daughter-in-law Ruth. When Mahlon is killed in a car accident, Naomi and Ruth face his tragic death together. Naomi, looking for some peace and redemption, decides to move back home, to South Carolina. Ruth is determined to join her, saying "Where you go, I will go. Where you live, that's where I'll live too (pg 97)."
Since the novel is based on the Biblical book of Ruth, the bones of the story are well known.
It's an interesting idea for a novel and basically a well written story, but it does have a few problems. It ends up feeling overly sentimental and is too slow paced. This is probably because it is not plot driven. Lott depends upon his observations and reflections to give the story interest. He tries to flesh out Naomi's character by giving her an added 50 year old secret sin. Ruth, however, is left a one dimensional character - beautiful and devoted.
Ruth's story in the Bible is very compelling so I can see why Lott thought about an adaptation. In comparison I'd give the Biblical Book of Ruth a "very highly recommended" and Lott's A Song I Knew by Heart a recommended rating.


I stood outside my son Mahlon and his wife Ruth’s bedroom door, in my hands two coffee cups, the pain sharp shards in my old fingers looped through the handles. I had on my pale blue bathrobe and slippers, my hair still in a net. I’d had it done just yesterday morning, before the funeral, and though I wore a net every night, funeral or no, there came to me last night as I slipped it on and settled into bed that somehow this was wrong. That worrying over my hair enough to put it in a net might somehow be a sin, this vanity.
But I put the net on, like every night, because it was what I’d done every night. It was my life, the way I lived it. Who I was.
A widow who lived with her son and daughter-in-law. opening

I knew what she was just then being given, knew the pain of that move, of a hand to the flat quilt, to the pillow gone untouched, to cold sheets. It was a move wouldn’t go away, this touching to see if any of what’d happened weren’t a dream.
It was what I’d done every night these last eight years: come awake sometime from inside the forgiveness of sleep, and reach for my Eli.
Ruth’s hand stopped when she found the empty pillow beside her, on her face the puzzlement that showed she knew it wasn’t a dream.
“Bless your heart,” I said, and moved toward the bed. Ruth blinked again, her eyes now on me and still with the startled look. Like I was no one she’d ever known.
Then her mouth finally closed, her chin set to trembling, and I knew her now better than I ever would’ve hoped.
It was grief she’d been given, the black and empty gift God gives you like it was something you were owed. It was grief she’d been given, and grief we shared. pg. 5-6

"It's God gotten me through this long. His tender mercies that's gotten me through these eight years. He'll be there for you, too." I put a hand to her face, felt how soft her cheek was, how young and sweet and beautiful just that touch was. "Hollow words, I know," I whispered. "But two weeks won't begin to touch it. Two weeks will seem like a year and seem like a day. You got to trust God to see you home." pg. 53

When we are young, it means, I have made a mistake. When we are old, it means, I have separated myself from love. pg. 77

She whispered, "Where you go, I will go. Where you live, that's where I'll live too." She paused a moment, took in a slow breath, let it out just as slow. Still my hand was at her cheek, her hand holding on to mine. "This is a pact between us. Here. Now." pg. 97

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Real Science Behind the X-Files

The Real Science Behind the X-Files: Microbes, Meteorites, and Mutants  by Anne Simon, Ph.D.
Simon & Schuster, 1999
Hardcover, 318 pages
ISBN-13: 9780684856179 
Could an alien organism really survive a centuries-long trip on a meteor and remain virulent enough to attack a human being? How would a scientist know she was peering at a microbe from another planet? What's the possibility of a genetically mutated monster actually developing?
In a gripping exploration of the facts behind the science fiction that has enthralled millions of X-philes, Anne Simon — the respected virologist who comes up with the science for many intriguing episodes — discusses telomeres, cloning, the Hayflick limit, nanotechnology, endosymbionts, lentiviruses, and other strange phenomena that have challenged the intellect and threatened the lives and sanity of America's favorite FBI agents. With Simon's extraordinary gift for explaining complicated, cutting-edge science in a light, accessible style, and her behind-the-scenes commentary on the development of various plot lines, The Real Science Behind the X-Files will appeal to science buffs and X-Files aficionados alike.

My Thoughts:

Chris Carter, creator of the X-Files, hired Dr. Anne Simon as the show's science advisor. The Real Science Behind the X-Files: Microbes, Meteorites, and Mutants is a result of Anne Simon's work on the show. As she writes, "The goal of this book is to explain to nonscientists the real science behind The X-Files. To use the show as a springboard to examine the many science issues that are blended into plots - hot topics like cloning, aging, genetic engineering, and life on other planets (pg. 22)."

This well written informative book explains the scientific foundation for The X-Files and includes an index. Part of the appeal of this book is that it entertains while explaining the very real scientific explanations behind many of the shows episodes. Although some episodes can't be explained through science, many can. Additionally, as Simon points out, many scientists watched The X-Files and looked for mistakes so part of her job was to keep it as close to real science as possible. 

Certainly fans of The X-Files will appreciate this book and know the various episodes that Simon references or quotes dialogue from. I found this in the bargain books at the local used book store and it was worth every cent spent. It will be stored with our set of the complete X-Files series. Need I say it is very highly recommended for fans of the series. 


Actually, the truth is, more often than not, the ideas which become the X-Files stories are rooted in hard science, and even when they are not generated as such, they're built on a foundation of scientific convention. The point of view of the series is essentially Agent Scully's, the scientific counterpoint to Agent Mulder's belief in the supernatural. pg. 12

Scully provides realistic scientific interpretations behind the decidedly odd events. Scully is the quintessential scientist. She also keeps partner Fox Mulder from rushing to unsupported conclusions. pg. 20

While many bizarre and completely fictional creatures populate X-Files episodes, the scientific investigations of these creatures are based in reality. The proper experiments are conducted; the correct microscopes are used; evidence is gathered and conclusions are based on that evidence. To achieve such accuracy on the show requires an attention to detail and extra effort from the writers that fans can see and appreciate - and many of these fans are scientists. pg. 21

On The X-Files, differentiation between what is alien and what is merely strange falls within the auspices of Scully and the numerous scientific experts with whom she consults. These researchers use the latest techniques to ferret out the truth of the organisms entrusted to them. It's a dangerous business. Scientists who analyze alien life-forms on The X-Files have much in common with red-shirted security men from the original Star Trek series -- they rarely survive the episode. You would think that after six seasons and so many deaths, scientists would run screaming from the room at first sight of either Mulder or Scully. Yet without these brave and dedicated individuals, the truth would remain hidden. pg. 75

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Tritium Gambit

Tritium Gambit by Erik Hyrkas
CreateSpace, 2012
trade Paperback, 230 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1469957715


The best agents examine their briefs before a harrowing mission. Max waits until his briefs need to be washed.
He wakes up this morning hungry for bacon and eggs. Instead, he’s served an aromatic pile of opportunity. The prestigious record he set this year might be the culprit: he's lost the most partners to intergalactic predators. His new partner, Miranda, is considering a career change, which may help her live longer.
Sometimes your greatest enemy isn't the forty foot alien chewing your arm, but you have to start somewhere.

My Thoughts:

Tritium Gambit by Erik Hyrkas is a science fiction tale featuring Intergalactic secret service agents Max and Miranda. The Intergalactic Secret Service is here to protect the unknowing and unaware humans from aliens. Each having lost or incapacitated their previous partners, Max and Miranda are thrown together and ordered up to Minnesota to investigate a ping - a potential problem with aliens. The chapters alternate between each character's point of view. 

Tritium Gambit could be described as: part irreverent sci-fi spoof; part tribute to sci fi novels, TV shows, and movies; part Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Max carries his towel); and part innuendo and bad puns. It really was all non-stop fun and action. Even as I chuckled and groaned over their dialogue and continuous escapes from danger during their adventures, I was compulsively reading to see what happened next. It was sort of like being the insider to a great spoof or perhaps watching a bad movie with a funny friend, you know, the one who can quote dialogue from other movies as the action rolls along. 

This isn't doing the book justice because it really became funnier as it went along, especially if you caught the many hints and references to other pop culture or sci fi materials. I about died laughing from one scene toward the end of the book featuring Max wearing a too-small T-shirt with a pop-culture "team" saying on it.

The best recommendation could be this: I picked up the book last night and am reviewing it the next day. It was pure enjoyable escapism and a light and entertaining read. Hopefully this is the first book in a Max and Miranda series. I can definitely see the series continuing and Hyrkas getting better with each book. Highly recommended


We have been forced to turn on our own children for sustenance. I wish it had not come to this, but I cannot contest the will of my people. Still, I have a son that I have been secretly harboring against their hunger, but my ability to protect him wanes with each day as he grows too large to hide. I have seen the suns rise on my planet two hundred thousand times, and I'm the oldest of my kind. opening

"I'd like to strip you of your credentials and send you off to that piss-water planet you came from, but we have an agent in sudden need of a partner. Unfortunately, I can't find anybody better than you." He smirked, obviously privy to some information he had yet to reveal about my new partner. "Maybe you'll get each other killed and save me the paperwork of transferring the two of you." pg. 7

As I turned and began walking to the door, I heard him mumble too low for most people to hear, but my hearing wasn't human. "Seriously, feel free to get each other killed." pg. 7

"Listen, Agent Maximus. We exist to squash problems before they squash the pitiful little humans going about their ordinary lives unaware of the aliens on their planet. If humans knew how precarious their situation is from day to day, how near doom they are each and every day, they sure as hell wouldn't worry about whether their neighbor had a nicer Audi or whether their next TV should be plasma or LCD...." pg. 11-12
"There's been a ping in northern Minnesota near the town of Ely. There is an old iron mine there, and we think the source of the ping might be near the mine or perhaps from inside it." pg. 14
"...Each assignment offered a new way to get killed, a way that had never occurred to me even in my nightmares, but I only saw these dangers as a way to display my skills. Nobody's watching, though. After awhile you realize that you're just doing it for yourself, and then you realize that eventually you're going to die doing this nonsense, serving as you call it." pg. 21

 Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author for review purposes.