Sunday, April 29, 2012

America Pacifica

America Pacifica by Anna North
Little, Brown & Company, 2011
Hardcover, 297 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316105125

Eighteen-year-old Darcy lives on the island of America Pacifica—one of the last places on earth that is still habitable, after North America has succumbed to a second ice age. Education, food, and basic means of survival are the province of a chosen few, while the majority of the island residents must struggle to stay alive. The rich live in "Manhattanville" mansions made from the last pieces of wood and stone, while the poor cower in the shantytown slums of "Hell City" and "Little Los Angeles," places built out of heaped up trash that is slowly crumbling into the sea. The island is ruled by a mysterious dictator named Tyson, whose regime is plagued by charges of corruption and conspiracy.
But to Darcy, America Pacifica is simply home—the only one she's ever known. In spite of their poverty she lives contentedly with her mother, who works as a pearl diver. It's only when her mother doesn't come home one night that Darcy begins to learn about her past as a former "Mainlander," and her mother's role in the flight from frozen California to America Pacifica. Darcy embarks on a quest to find her mother, navigating the dark underbelly of the island, learning along the way the disturbing truth of Pacifica's early history, the far-reaching influence of its egomaniacal leader, and the possible plot to murder some of the island's first inhabitants—including her mother.

My Thoughts:
America Pacifica by Anna North is set in a post-apocalyptic future. America Pacifica, an unidentified island, was settled by refugees from the USA after a new ice age has overtaken the continent. It is now 2043 and America Pacifica is run by a dictator called Tyson. It is a society based on a strict social hierarchy, or caste-system, in which the privileged few try to recreate the life they (or their parents) had in North America, while the majority struggle simply to survive.
In the novel survival is a struggle for 18 year old Darcy and her mother. Darcy works in the kitchen at an residential enclave for senior citizens. Her mother works as a pearl diver. When Darcy's mother disappears, she sets out on a quest to try and find her mother, and the reason for her disappearance. The descriptions reinforce a dirty, gritty feeling as you follow Darcy's journey through the various neighborhoods and polluted piles of trash while searching for clues about her mother's disappearance. Darcy's inquiries lead her to Ansel, a dissident, and some startling information about the founding of their island home.
North did some note-worthy world building in America Pacifica. It also serves as a political allegory, and focuses on class systems, poverty, revolution, and ecology in the changed world. Most of the action takes place in and describes the poor areas of America Pacifica. The poor classes eat food products manufactured from jellyfish and seaweed. Seaweed is a basis for building materials and clothing for the poor, which causes problems when it rains. Some residents are addicted to huffing solvent. It's said to be a young adult novel, but be forewarned that it contains a few graphic scenes.
I felt like America Pacifica was well written, however there was a point toward the end of the novel where it felt like something was left out and there were just a few stumbles. The ending seems to indicate that there will be a sequel so the climax was a bit of a let down for me. If you like post-apocalyptic fiction and can accept an ending that isn't then you'll likely enjoy America Pacifica. I will be looking for the sequel.  
Highly Recommended, almost very

The trouble started when the woman with the shaking hands came to the apartment. Her face was small but fleshy, with a little puffy mouth. She was dressed in shabby, slightly strange clothes—a magenta skirt a little too short for her age, a T-shirt with home-stenciled snowflakes—and her skin was a weird sallow color like she had just fainted or was just about to faint. She said she was a friend of Darcy’s mother, but Darcy’s mother didn’t have friends. opening

“Darcy,” her mother said, in a voice that sounded like it came from a time before all the tenderness and bitterness and songs and rhymes and whispers and private names that had grown between them in the eighteen years of Darcy’s life. “Can you give us a minute?”
Darcy didn’t like it. The woman’s eyes were moving all over the hallway like they were expecting something to come charging through the wall.
“What’s this about?” Darcy asked.
The woman looked at Darcy’s mother and Darcy’s mother looked at Darcy with an expression she had seen on the other mothers but almost never on her own, an expression that said, Please do this and don’t ask me why.Darcy obeyed. She left the apartment and the woman walked in. They shut the door and Darcy was alone in the hallway. pg. 4

“How do you know her?”
Sarah turned her back to Darcy and began scraping again. When she answered, she spoke quickly, giving each word as little weight as possible.
“I used to hang around with her when I was younger.”
Darcy knew this was a bad sign. Her mother never talked about the mainland, or about coming to Pacifica, or about what it was like to live on the island before it was overcrowded and overbuilt and falling apart at the edges, when it was still an exciting new escape from the frozen, used-up hulk of North America. Darcy knew Sarah had lived in a co-op in Seattle, that she’d come to the island on the first boat when she was just ten years old, that she’d done odd jobs until she got pregnant, when she became a pearl diver, that Darcy’s father’s name was Alejandro, and that he was dead. Everything else that happened to Sarah before Darcy’s birth was off-limits, and Sarah didn’t even get satisfyingly angry when Darcy asked about it. She just put on her faraway face, her face that said, Even though I know everything there is to know about you, there are things about me that you will never know, and gave Darcy the only piece of advice she ever gave: “Don’t get stuck in the past.”  pg. 7

The printing was cheap, doubled like drunk vision, but today’s headline was a screamer: SEAGUARDS THWART HAWAIIAN ATTACK. Below it was a line drawing—the few working cameras on the island had rotted into hunks of scrap long ago—of a ship with enormous guns jutting from its sides. Twice before in Darcy’s memory they had shot down invader ships, destroyers coming west from Hawaii. The last time had been ten years ago—Darcy was eight, and for weeks all the kids talked about nothing but boats and torpedoes and wars. Then the threat dimmed, and the western settlements became what they’d always been—far-off enemies, featureless and vaguely fearsome, a role to force the uncool kids to play in games of make-believe. Some of the kids in Darcy’s high school even claimed that all the westerners had died, that a hot ocean current had fried them just like the cold had frozen America. You got in trouble if your teacher heard you say so, but more and more in recent years Darcy had seen underground flyers posted around Little Los Angeles, their blurry type proclaiming, HAWAIIANS DEAD! FIRE THE SEAGUARDS! They were never up for more than a day. pg. 10-11

She wasn’t dumb enough to think that everyone on America Pacifica would ever have their own house, but if she could live like the people in Sonoma one day, she wouldn’t worry about anyone else. pg. 13

To the animal brain this disappearance was the culmination of an old dread, older even than the night ten years ago when Sarah was so late, as old as the first question that Sarah had refused to answer. The animal brain whispered that Sarah had always had a secret place she was half-inside, and now she had gone all the way. Darcy chewed her fingernails as the bus plowed past the Hollywood sign and the Paramount Flyers building, past the Seaboard Sears Tower with the long fingers of parrot shit down its front, down the Strip, past the climate-controlled baseball stadium that cost a month of Darcy’s wages just to get into, and then out onto the narrow road that ran along the eastern shore.
This was the restricted side—on the western beaches you could sunbathe and buy shaved ice and cut school to lie in the sand and huff solvent if you were lucky enough to still have school to cut. But on the east coast, for some reason that Darcy had never fully understood, the only civilians allowed were pearl divers and refinery workers. A retaining wall ran gray and solid along the edge of the road, crowned with barbed wire.  pg. 31

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Chimera Seed

The Chimera Seed by Matthew Tully
Comfort Publishing; Copyright ©2009
ISBN: 978-0-9839251-0-1 (ebook)
Paperback edition, 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9781935361329
Richard Tiernan created a bridge to immortality. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he had a chance to drink the elixir that would have prevented his demise. Now his son Matthew, who was unaware of the discovery until his father's death, must decide its fate. When large pharmaceutical companies learn of its existence, a struggle develops to determine who will acquire the chemistry that would make them billions of dollars. But Richard Tiernan had a partner and co-developer of the immortality elixir. Upon realizing that a disastrous world situation could develop, he reverses his opinion about releasing the elixir to the public and conspires to destroy it. Matthew Tiernan becomes caught between the desire to mass produce the elixir for profit, or preserving it for a select few. The Chimera Seed is a story of greed, power and pharmaceutical espionage that attempts to shape the quality of life for those who can afford it.

My Thoughts:
The Chimera Seed by Matthew Tully is an exciting action/adventure science fiction thriller that is set in the present day. In The Chimera Seed, Michael Tiernan is the current CEO of  Oisín Pharmaceuticals, a company founded by his father, Richard. Michael discovers after his father's death that Richard, along with his research partner Ivan Falters, were collaborating on a secret project in Sardinia involving the Niamh grapes. The grapes are unpalatable, but one small dose of the purple wine-like liquid produced from them is called Dionysinol, and it apparently not only stops aging, it reverses it.
Michael wants to sell the Dionysinol and the vineyard and make a fortune, while Falters wants to destroy it. Michael's father also did not feel there was enough research to safely release the drug. There is a whole lot of other intrigue, espionage, deceit, greed, and scheming whirling around, and everyone has their own agenda. It soon becomes apparent that there is more to the Dionysinol than meets the eye.
The Chimera Seed  really does have elements of science fiction, a medical thriller, and an action/adventure novel all wrapped up together. Tully nicely blends several ethical questions into the plot without getting too heavy handed or preachy. The whole cast of characters he has created are memorable and very well developed. Tully's plot really keeps moving along at a break-neck speed right to the end and will hold the attention of just about any reader. There will be a sequel: The Chimera Spawn.    
I very highly recommend The Chimera Seed.
(Sorry but I have to use location numbers from my Kindle for this review since page numbers were not an option on this book.)

"Is that checkmate?" asked Richard Tiernan as he carefully examined the marble chess pieces. "I believe it is. You're really getting good at this."
"You let me win, Dad," said his son, Michael. "You could've taken my queen. Didn't you see it?" opening, Location 89-91 

"What's it about?" said the young Tiernan with the impatience of a typical seven-year-old.
"It's a legend that your ancestors used to tell, an ancient legend," said Richard as he opened to the first page. Location 104-105 

Occasionally, when the moon is full and the sea is restless, fishermen and lighthouse keepers claim to see a shimmering white horse dancing in the waves along the shores. Some say it is the red-haired maiden who rides the horse, still searching for Oisín, hoping that some miracle will reunite her with her lost love.
"Did she find him yet?" asked Michael.
"No," said Richard, "the princess is still searching to this very day. She will never give up hope." "Not even in a million years?" Location 143-148
He didn't know what to expect and, despite the grim circumstances, was excited to see what his father had left him. He lifted the lid slowly. A sealed manila envelope sat squarely in the center; seven sealed vials of purple liquid lined the sides. He picked one up and held it against the light, tilting it slowly back and forth, examining the viscosity. A rubber stopper sealed with wax kept the liquid airtight. Putting the vial gently back into the box, he reached for the manila
envelope and tore it open. A thick, ornate, leather portfolio slid into his hands. He untied the strings, opened to the first page and immediately recognized his father's handwriting. I hope that you will never have to read this, and hope is a powerful force. My life's work is now yours. I love you, Dad. Location 180-187 

Dr. Lewis' discovery of the link between human stem cells and the regenerative properties of the simple salamander had turned the tide for Oisín's latest endeavor - Regenerol, a drug originally intended as a revolutionary fertility treatment designed to treat defective ovaries by regrowing new ones. The research and development of the new drug was under Michael Tiernan's direct supervision and was the first major project that Richard Tiernan had left completely in his son's hands. Michael knew that the company would rise or fall with Regenerol - it needed to succeed. Location 285-289 

However, with the successful creation of the generic stem cell - the Mimic cell - Regenerol was no longer limited to the ovary, making the drug much more valuable. Now that Tiernan would not have to contend with the politics surrounding the use of embryonic stem cells, it just might be financially feasible to manufacture Regenerol at Oisín, but it was a huge risk. Location 294-296 

The magnitude of the vineyards was astonishing and excitement began to swell within him as he guessed at the property's value. "My father owned all  this?"
"Yes, and now it's yours. Welcome to Tír na nÓg Vineyards." Location 365-367 

The human trials will work this time, Graham repeated to himself. They did not die in vain. Location 431 

The Chimera Seed had revealed itself to the late Richard Tiernan while he was recovering from a bacterial infection. A terrible fever had laid him up for weeks and he had spent most of that time in the intermediary place where dreams and reality are indistinguishable. Location 505-507 

Mary had learned that her brains and strong personality were always going to be a liability in a world where men dominated the workforce and, to a disappointing degree, reserved key positions for fellow members of the immortal boys' club. At a critical juncture in her career, a superior had told her that men did not like women who could outsmart them and advised her to dumb it down a little. That day, she achieved enlightenment and implemented a drastic career change. In her new profession, she would justify the lies and deceptions that would ruin many lives and careers by a simple yet flawless logic: only the fittest were meant to survive. Location 581-585

Einstein was erroneously credited as saying that the disappearance of the bees would precede the end of the human race by, at most, four years. And the bees were disappearing. The fact that Einstein did not utter the prophetic statement did not alter its validity. Something was killing them, and their murder was kept from the public with all the efficiency that only money could buy. The public was lulled back into its apathetic slumber with lowered commodity costs and feel-good advertisements. Location 635-638
"No. Actually, if I were pressed to sum it up, I would say that your father found the cure for aging."
Tiernan assumed he must have misunderstood. "What did you say?" Location 764-766 

Vincent Tighte would never face the justice system for his crimes. According to Lori, the justice system was too civilized. Tighte's crimes merited a much more severe punishment, and his time was almost up. Location 926-927 

She mourned not a physical death, but something much more savage: a death of opportunity. Location 2561-2562

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tastes Like Human: The Shark Guys' Book of Bitingly Funny Lists

Tastes Like Human: The Shark Guys' Book of Bitingly Funny Lists  
by Noel Boivin and Christopher Lombardo
E-Formatting: Carrick Publishing 
Copyright © 2012
Smashwords Edition
ISBN: 978-1-927114-20-9
Humor writers Noel Boivin and Chris Lombardo follow up their acclaimed compendium of drunken feats, The Man Who Scared a Shark to Death (Penguin, 2007), with Tastes Like Human: The Shark Guys' Book of Bitingly Funny Lists. Here the authors, who one reviewer in reference to their first book called "fast and funny with the facts, without the morality", present a completely new and unapologetically irreverent take on the list book genre.

My Thoughts:
Tastes Like Human: The Shark Guys' Book of Bitingly Funny Lists  is the second collaborative book of lists by Noel Boivin and Christopher Lombardo. Boivin and Lombardo are known as The Shark Guys from their 2007 book, The Man Who Scared a Shark to Death and Other True Tales of Drunken Debauchery. Tastes Like Human features a wide variety of hilarious lists (see the table of contents below).
As Boivin and Lombardo write in the introduction: "The lists here reflect some of our main interests: sloth (Chapter I – Idolizing the Idle); weird animal stories (Chapter II – Man, Goat, Love: Gone Wild Kingdom); the zany happenings in the realms of religion and the occult – with a dash of death thrown in (Chapter III – The Super Unnatural); giving society's seamy underbelly a good rub (Chapter IV – There Oughtta Be a Law Against This Kind of Chapter), and, finally, telling others what to do (Chapter V – The Shark Guys' Guide to Living). There are lists here on topics such as the world's horniest cult leaders; great feats accomplished while sitting; violent acts tied directly to karaoke; marriages between animals and humans; a study of how mass murderers measure up against the attributes most commonly associated with their astrological signs ... and at least one exploding whale. The Shark Guys take a bite at all of these and more in Tastes Like Human."
Obviously in books like this everyone will like some of the lists more than others. I have a few personal favorites and a couple that had me laughing out loud, or snorting, at almost every entry. These lists are not like a grocery list or a top ten list. The lists are written in a conversational style, so, while the lists are funny, it's the authors commentary that makes the book.
Tastes Like Human is a very quick read full of laughs and information - with plenty of added sarcasm and some adult humor. Be sure to check out The Shark Guys website. They are also fans of social media, so if you feel the need to tweet or follow, check them out. If only because of the lists I enjoyed (too much), Tastes Like Human is highly recommended. I'll leave you guessing which lists were personal favorites.
Noel Boivin lives in Thailand where he writes for and is the chief sub-editor of the Sunday Bangkok Post and two weekend magazines. Boivin worked previously as an editor for the South China Morning Post and has written for several publications, including the National Post, CNN GO and the Calgary Herald.

Toronto resident Chris Lombardo (left) has written for the Globe & Mail, National Post and the Toronto Star. He has made appearances on Global National TV, CBC Newsworld TV, CBC Radio and discussed social media on Newstalk 1010.

Lists from their website,, have been featured on many sites including FARK, Cracked, IMDb, Gorilla Mask, Sports Illustrated, Huffington Post, Mental Floss, and L Magazine.
Disclosure: I was provided a Smashwords e-copy of Tastes Like Human for review purposes.
Top 8 Great Achievements in Sitting
10 Reasons to Keep Found Items
Top 5 Unlucky Lottery Losers
7 People Who Should Not Win the Lottery
Top 10 Easiest College Majors
Top 10 Useless Professions  
Top 5 People who Married Animals
Top 10 Exploding Animals
7 Campaign Ideas for PETA
Top 15 Reasons Why Sharks Are Better Than Cats  
Top 10 Horniest Cult Leaders of All Time
12 Murderers and Star Signs
Top 10 Jesus Spottings
Top 4 Virgin Mary Sightings
10 Famous Last Words That Could Use a Do-Over
5 Ways to Spruce up your Final Resting Place  
Top 6 Karaoke-Inspired Acts of Violence
Top 8 Criminal Prank Calls
6 Halloween Pranks Gone Wrong
Top 5 Out of Control College Parties
6 Creative Drug Smuggling Operations  
Top 20 First Date Suggestions
Top 13 Fighting Tips
10 Etiquette Tips for Meeting the Queen
5 ATM Etiquette Guidelines
11 Elevator Etiquette Guidelines
15 Public Transit Etiquette Guidelines  

"Lists bring order to chaos, keeping the hoi polloi from lowering the tone at exclusive nightclubs and ensuring that hit men with memory problems don't accidentally snip the wrong brake lines." opening, introduction

"By leaving belongings behind they are unintentionally entering themselves into a "pay it forward"-like system. You are the beneficiary and you will invariably lose something soon enough, thus the cycle continues. The world may not end up being a kinder place, but at least you finally get to know what it's like to own a product produced by Apple." (In 10 Reasons to Keep found Items)

"You are statistically likelier to be touched inappropriately by a person dressed as your favorite cartoon character than to win a lottery jackpot during your lifetime." (In Top 5 Unlucky Lottery Losers)
"Here we have compiled 10 tales of animals who met their splattered fate following the warped dictates of Mother Nature and others who did so in ways that could in no respect be considered natural." (In Top 10 Exploding Animals)

"Cats are carnivores and, like some impoverished elderly people, Fancy Feast is the only thing keeping them from murder."  (in 7 Campaign Ideas for PETA)
"If you have 100 sharks, you can charge people admission. If you have 100 cats, people call the cops." (In Top 15 Reasons Why Sharks Are Better Than Cats)

"Canadians do, however, turn out in droves to meet the Queen when she makes her royal tours, either out of a genuine fondness for the old girl or a love of anachronisms. And they do so despite the fact that many of them belong to families where the only things golden getting passed down is the foil on bottles rolled off the front porch." (In 10 Etiquette Tips for Meeting the Queen)

"Avoid contentious topics such as asking Her Majesty if she’s hung around this long due to her own good health or just a fervent desire to keep her homeopathy-promoting son from the throne."  (In 10 Etiquette Tips for Meeting the Queen)

"No Multitasking Do not use an ATM for any purpose other than withdrawing money unless the machine is physically attached to a bank. If you need to check your balances, bump up your cell phone credit or declare bankruptcy, do not try these exotic perambulations on a 7-Eleven ATM. Some of us have burritos and sleazy celebrity tabloids to pay for." (In 5 ATM Etiquette Guidelines)

"Do not be overly concerned about contracting some infectious disease because you’re in a confined space with people who look like they just came out of a lab. You are far likelier to be the victim of someone’s feigned nonchalance regarding flatulence." (In 11 Elevator Etiquette Guidelines)


Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker
Grand Central Publishing, copyright 2009
Trade Paperback, 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780446194228
Meet Truly Plaice-part behemoth, part witch, part Cinderella. Born larger than life into a small-minded town, Truly breaks her family into smithereens. Her mother dies during Truly’s birth, and when her father follows shortly afterward, Truly and her dainty sister, Serena Jane, are destined for very different fates. As Truly grows larger and larger on a rundown farm, she watches lovely Serena Jane become the town’s adored May Queen and the obsession of a local boy, Bob Bob Morgan–the youngest in a line of Aberdeen’s doctors, who for generations wove their influence among the town’s citizens. Yet no matter how far apart life propels them, Truly and her sister are forever linked. And Truly will find her future shaped by Serena Jane’s relationships, the centuries-old antique of Doctor Morgan’s, and the reality that love cannot be ordered to size.

My Thoughts:
In The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, Tiffany Baker's debut novel, we meet Truly Plaice, a woman who has been super-sized since her birth. Truly knows she is different and the polar opposite of her older sister, Serena Jane, who epitomizes a delicate, lovely female. Their mother dies after Truly's birth and their father tries to care for them as long as he can, but ends up having to have the girls cared for by others. By the time their father also dies, Truly and Serena Jane are separated and being cared for by different families.
Truly knows she's different, but on her first day of school she hears the label "giant" for the first time from the teacher, Priscilla Sparrow. Miss Sparrow sends a note home, wanting Truly to go to the doctor, but Truly's father blames Dr. Morgan for his wife's death and doesn't want his daughter turned into a "circus freak". He doesn't understand that she may have an underlying medical condition.
After their father dies, Truly and Serena Jane lead completely opposite lives with different families. Serena Jane leads a pampered life in town, destined to be a future Aberdeen May Queen, while Truly is sent out to live in the country with a poor family. Serena Jane's beauty makes her the target of classmate Bob Bob Morgan's obsession, a desire that is even more malignant than his need to torment Truly. Bob Bob is the youngest in a line of Robert Morgans who have been doctors in Aberdeen for generations but also related to the wife of the first Dr. Morgan, Tabitha Dyerson, who was rumored to be the town witch. The location of her shadow book, a book containing her secrets for healing and perhaps darker powers, has been searched for and talked about for years.
Circumstances bring the diverse cast of characters in Baker's novel together... and with that I'll stop. There was quite a buzz about The Little Giant of Aberdeen County when it first came out so, although many of you have likely read or heard about it, I don't want to spoil the story for those who haven't.
Baker's writing is skillful and creative writer. The narrative is compelling and Baker's use of language is unique. There were really some wonderfully written passages and descriptions. In a twist, she gives Truly a first-person omniscient narrative voice in The Little Giant of Aberdeen County. I was totally immersed in this novel and anxious to finish it.
I did have a couple qualms about The Little Giant of Aberdeen County. First, Serena Jane is raped by Bob Bob and the rather casual way it was treated bothered me. The second thing that bothered me was the third and final part of the book was not quite up to the expectations I had developed after reading the first two parts. It just wasn't quite as good - however I'll still very highly recommend it


The day I laid Robert Morgan to rest was remarkable for two reasons. First, even though it was August, the sky overhead was as rough and cold as a January lake; and second, it was the day I started to shrink.
I remember standing by the open grave, the muddy earth clotted like wet dung, waiting for Robert Morgan’s body to be lowered into the hole. The other, scattered mourners had begun to take chill and leave, but I wasn’t cold. There were layers and layers of me folded together like an accordion. So many that I would be warm in a blizzard. I could stand naked at the North Pole and be just fine. opening

I threw a fistful of earth onto the coffin and held my breath for the accompanying thud. I thought of all the patients Robert Morgan had buried and wondered if any of them were down there, waiting to meet him. If so, were they a polite ensemble with decorously folded hands or a nasty throng, eager to anoint him with the press of rotten flesh? I thought of all the other Dr. Robert Morgans scattered around the cemetery—four of them in total—and imagined one subsuming the other like those cannibalistic Russian nesting dolls, the parts of them mixed together into a Frankenstein monster of local history. pg.4

As it happens, however, my feet are bigger than most men’s, along with my hands, my hips, my neck, and the vast expanse of my shoulders and back. And the only parade I’ve ever attended is the defunct May Day festival, where the mayor used to drive a gaggle of the town’s prettiest girls down Main Street in his convertible. Every year, it was the same. Dick Crane, senile in the end but still able to perform this one civic task, beeped the horn of his classic Caddy, and the girls all screamed and waved, hysterical with their own beauty.
Even before I gained all the weight, my body pressing outward like a balloon getting ready to take flight, I was always huge. Solid as granite, my father used to say, and twice as thick. Not like your sister, that’s for sure. Serena Jane takes after your mama. A real living doll. Which was, after all, the whole reason Robert Morgan wanted my sister in the first place, even if he had to stalk her and steal her away like the wolf in a fairy tale. pg. 7

And at that moment, the hard stone I’d been carrying around in my chest—the one that weighed as much as all of Aberdeen’s tombstones piled together, the one that kept me pinned inside Robert Morgan’s house, even on days when the town roses made the air into a honeyed liqueur—that stone began to melt, sending oily tears slicking down my cheeks. I wiped them away, ashamed to be blubbering over something as silly as a crow bobbing in a great big sky, but relieved, nonetheless, to be standing under something huge enough to contain me. You see, for the first time in longer than I could remember, I’d found something larger than me. pg. 9

Technically speaking, I guess you could say I killed Robert Morgan, but I did it only because he insisted on it, and because death had clearly already gotten its mealy hands on him, and because I knew the very act of asking must have made him madder than hell.
“Look at me,” he’d cackle from the foul nest of covers on his bed, “and then take a look at you. It just doesn’t seem right.” I knew what he meant.  pg. 11

 “Do you want to know the difference between a good story and the truth?” When he didn’t respond, I went ahead and gave him the answer. “The little bits, Robert Morgan. That’s all. If you get those right, you can get away with murder.” I smiled and patted his arm. Then I finished off the tapioca. pg. 12
She was one of those women who needed to hold dominion over something smaller than her, and that was always the whole problem between us. I was never minute enough to squeeze through the cracks of her world. pg. 34
If the purpose of education is to reshape the self, carving and digging like a whittler's blade, then my education surely began on a glimmering autumn morning in 1958 when I heard myself called "giant" for the first time. pg. 45

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Song Remains the Same

The Song Remains the Same by Allison Winn Scotch
Penguin Group, 4/12/2012
Advanced Reading Copy, 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780399157585

One of only two survivors of a plane crash, Nell Slattery wakes in the hospital with no memory of the horrific experience-or who she is, or was. Now she must piece together both body and mind, with the help of family and friends, who have their own agendas. She filters through photos, art, music, and stories, hoping something will jog her memory, and soon, in tiny bits and pieces, Nell starts remembering. . . .
It isn't long before she learns to question the stories presented by her mother, her sister and business partner, and her husband. In the end, she will discover that forgiving betrayals small and large will be the only true path to healing herself-and to finding happiness.
My Thoughts:
In The Song Remains the Same by Allison Winn Scotch, Nell Slattery is one of only two survivors of a plane crash. She awakens in the hospital totally vulnerable because she can not remember a thing about her life. Nell must rely on others - her mother, sister, husband, and friend - to help her piece together the facts of her life. The question is how much of what they are telling her is the truth and how much is how they want things to be? How much information are people withholding from her? How much should she trust her inner voice, her own instincts, when she has nothing to based those feelings on?
As Nell recovers she discovers not only that people may not be telling her the whole truth, but that she doesn't really want to be the person she was. She wants to look at her survival of the tragic crash as a way to further her understanding of who she is and what she wants out of life.  Nell wants to start over and explore and develop a whole new fabulous self. She wants to enjoy her new life... but is it really possible to change?
Music plays a vital role in the novel. When giving her photos and favorite DVDs, Nell's sister does something else that is essential to the story: she puts a mixture of songs Nell enjoyed on an iPod. It becomes "the Best of Nell Slattery." Each chapter is a song title from her play list. Nell's life and her memories are intricately linked to the songs she listened to. As Nell tries to untangle the truth, the songs help unlock memories.
In many ways The Song Remains the Same follows the same formula as a mystery. Nell must follow the clues she is given to try to figure out what is true. At the same time it is a character study as the character tries to pry loose the clues about her past. While the novel flagged a little, especially when Nell's focus turned to finding her long absent father or clues to why he left, Winn-Scotch did a nice job pulling it all together in the end.
Allison Winn Scotch's website includes an excerpt and a reader's guide.
The Song Remains the Same is highly recommended.

Since I have an advanced reading copy of The Song Remains the Same, in lieu of quotes an excerpt from the finished book can be found at:

Allison Winn Scotch is the bestselling author of Time of My Life. A former freelance magazine writer, she has written for Glamour, Parents, and Men’s Health. She lives in New York City with her husband and their two children. 

Disclosure: For the TLC Book Tour and review purposes I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher. 

Allison Winn Scotch’s TLC Book Tour Stops:
Tuesday, March 27th:  Well Read Wife
Wednesday, March 28th:  DBC Reads
Thursday, March 29th:  Colloquium
Friday, March 30th:  Chick Lit Reviews and News
Monday, April 2nd:  Raging Bibliomania
Tuesday, April 3rd:  Amused by Books
Wednesday, April 4th:  Chick Lit is Not Dead – Guest Post “5 Things I’d Tell the Teen Me”
Thursday, April 5th:  Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, April 9th:  Library of Clean Reads
Tuesday, April 10th:  Reading with Martinis
Wednesday, April 11th:  A Musing Reviews
Thursday, April 12th:  Reviews from the Heart
Monday, April 16th:  Books Distilled
Tuesday, April 17th:  She Treads Softly
Wednesday, April 18th:  Suko’s Notebook
Monday, April 23rd:  I Am A Reader, Not A Writer – Author Q&A
Tuesday, April 24th:  Books Distilled
Wednesday, April 25th:  All Grown Up?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Don't Breathe a Word

Don't Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon
ISBN: 0061689378
EPub Edition ISBN: 9780062079459
File Size: 651 KB; 464 pages
Kindle - ASIN: B004JN1D4G

On a soft summer night in Vermont, twelve-year-old Lisa went into the woods behind her house and never came out again. Before she disappeared, she told her little brother, Sam, about a door that led to a magical place where she would meet the King of the Fairies and become his queen.
Fifteen years later, Phoebe is in love with Sam, a practical, sensible man who doesn't fear the dark and doesn't have bad dreams—who, in fact, helps Phoebe ignore her own. But suddenly the couple is faced with a series of eerie, unexplained occurrences that challenge Sam's hardheaded, realistic view of the world. As they question their reality, a terrible promise Sam made years ago is revealed—a promise that could destroy them all.

My Thoughts:
Don't Breathe a Word by Jennifer McMahon is a creepy-good mystery/psychological thriller about a girl who disappears - and fairies. Fifteen years ago 12 year old Lisa disappeared in Harmony, Vermont, after she went into the woods to meet Teilo, the King of the Fairies. At the time of the disappearance, 20 year old Phoebe went to see the town and ended up staying. Fifteen years later Phoebe is in a relationship with a younger man, Sam, who just happens to be the brother of the missing Lisa. 
All the local kids believed fairies took Lisa into their secret world, but Sam thinks she was abducted by some pervert hiding in the woods. When Phoebe receives a phone call that leads them to the mysterious Book of Fairies that was supposedly given to Lisa by the fairies, Sam and Phoebe must follow clues that could reveal what really happened to Lisa.
The chapters in the book alternate between the present day story and fifteen years ago when Lisa disappeared. The chapters are told in third person from the point of one character, so we are only following what that character knows.  As we learn about what happened fifteen years ago, we are also following current events that require more investigation.  Their search and the story about what actually happened fifteen years ago is muddle by complicate family situations.
Don't Breathe a Word  features a fast-paced plot that was not overly complicated by unnecessary information. Things aren't necessarily as they seem and the plot takes some interesting twists. Writing the chapters from the third person really works here. We don't know everything every character knows and are left to try and decipher who is hiding something and what the real truth is. Additionally, there are reasons to doubt everything and everyone to some degree. You really don't know if there were fairies or not until the very end. The ending was very good.
Very highly recommended
This is my first book review from a Kindle book. I'll have more thoughts on using the Kindle in the future.

If you are holding this book in your hands, you are one of the chosen. You must understand that with this privilege comes great responsibility. The knowledge contained in these pages will change your life forever. But you must be very wary of who you share this knowledge with. The fate of our race depends on it. opening
The TV flickers and glows with the dull blue fire of the evening news. There’s a story on about the girl who’s disappeared in Harmony. Three nights ago, she went into the woods behind her house and never came out again. She said there was a door in those woods, somewhere in the ruins of an old town long abandoned. She’d told her little brother she’d met the King of the Fairies and he was going to take her home to be his queen.  

The newscaster says all that remains of the village in the woods is chimneys and cellar holes. Some lilac bushes and apple trees in old dooryards. The little settlement was called Reliance, of all things, and was never shown on any maps. It disappeared without explanation. Perhaps everyone died off in the flu of 1918. Or maybe, went local legend, the fifty-odd residents were spirited away. The newscaster gets a little gleam in his eye here because everyone loves a good ghost story, don’t they?
“Some of the townspeople I talked to claim to have heard strange noises coming from the woods over the years—a ghostly moaning, crying. Some even say if you pass by on the right night of the year, you’ll hear the devil whisper your name. Others report seeing a green mist that sometimes takes the shape of a person.”  pg. 3
But what she is afraid. Because when she was a little girl, she saw the trapdoor under her bed that only appeared in the darkest hours of the night. Heard the scrabbling, the squeaking of hinges as it was opened. And she saw what came out. And she knows (doesn’t she?) that sometimes he’s there still, not just under the bed but in the shadows at the bus stop, lurking with the alley cats behind the Dumpster at her apartment building. He’s everywhere and nowhere. A blur caught out of the corner of her eye. A mocking smile she tells herself she’s imagined. pg 5
“People see what they want to see,” Sammy had told her earlier, when she was trying to convince Evie and him that the lights in the cellar hole had been fairies.
Maybe Sammy was right – maybe Lisa thought it was fairies because that’s just what she wanted it to be, what she’d been waiting her whole life for.
But what if it worked the other way around?
What if things happened to you – special, magic things – because you’d been preparing for them? What if by believing, you opened a door? pg. 49

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Day The World Ends- and a Giveaway!

The Day The World Ends by Ethan Coen
Crown Publishing Group; April 3, 2012
Trade Paperback, 128 pages
ISBN 978-0-307-95630-9
Also available in as an ebook


From one of the most inventive and celebrated filmmakers of the twentieth century, and co-creator of such classics as Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and True Grit, a collection of poems that offers humor and insight into an artist who has always pushed the boundaries of his craft.

Ethan Coen's screenplays have surprised and delighted international audiences with their hilarious vision and bizarrely profound understanding of human nature. This eccentric genius is revealed again in The Day the World Ends, a remarkable range of poems that are as funny, ribald, provocative, raw, and often touching as the brilliant films that have made the Coen brothers cult legends.

My Thoughts:

In recognition of National Poetry Month this April, I read a new book of poetry from one of Hollywood's most acclaimed filmmakers: The Day The World Ends by Ethan Coen. (Yes, that Ethan Coen.) Although I'm not primarily known for reading poetry, astute followers know that the whole name of my blog is based on a poem. This is Coen's third book of poetry. He is also the author of the short story collection Gates of Eden," and co-author of two Oscar-winning screenplays. I sincerely doubt that a collection of poems from Ethan Coen titled The Day The World Ends being published in 2012, the year a Mayan calendar says the world will end is a coincidence.

If you know his movies (Raising Arizona, The Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Intolerable Cruelty, No Country for Old Men, and True Grit - to name a few),  then you may have a good idea of how Ethan Coen's mind works and therefore the myriad directions his poetry could take. They were at time melancholy, hilarious, profound, profane, raw, and polished. Some of the poems were serious and reflective while others were silly and funny. Subjects of Coen's poems range from following the crowd, regrets, a whole collection of limericks, creativity, aging, the passing of time, big-boned girls, an elegy for a waterbug, a bad poem, bad relationships, Venice, the English language, and a profound discourse involving glue traps.

In "Night, Then Day" readers will know this feeling:
"It all takes on a
Yellow cast
When sleep won't come. I read until
My eyes at least want rest, and kill
The light at last."....

"I watch the night thus
Stretch and touch
The day. The meaning of the show
Is hard to read. There is one, though -
I know this much." pg. 22

Self-Assessment is short but true:
In his heart a young fighter expects no defeats,
Every ham can play Hamlet, all poets are Keats
And all women are Garbo and men Cary Grant,
Being each of us his own best sycophant." pg. 43

In "To the English Language":
Thank you
For being there
During certain parts of my life:
When friends failed me,
When women dumped me,
When my weight ballooned and I was treated in the
hurtful dismissive way familiar to those
Who are fat.
Because of you, I could respond,
Declare my humanity
And, in verbalizing, prove it."...

Ending with
"So, on balance,
You are good, very good.
You mean so very much to me, O English language,
And I love you.
I love you.
I really do." pg. 69

I laughed several times while reading "On Turning Fifty" when Coen promotes skipping your forties completely:
"I'm telling you: the forties are nothing
The forties are less than nothing.
The forties are the ugly stretch of the Interstate.
The forties are taupe." 76

In  “On Seeing Venice for the First Time”
 "Seeing Venice for the first time really makes a guy sit down and think.
Boy, you think.
Boy, this is Venice.
All this.
This Venice.
Wow." 88

In "A New Poem" his new poem, obviously not successful is described as:
"The bald chicken,
Glistening, feather-plucked, beak the color of old toenail." pg. 103

"Nimble" begins:
 "You have set out all your glue traps
I have skipped across the floor
I have not stepped in your glue traps
I have made it out the door." 106


In honor of  National Poetry Month this April,  I'm offering one of my lucky readers a chance to win a copy of Ethan Coen's The Day the World Ends from the publisher! (Be forewarned that some of the poems in this collection include profanity and adult situations.)

This giveaway ends at noon on April 30th and a winner will be announced that evening. 

The giveaway has ended and he lucky winner, Belinda, has been sent an email! 
Thanks to everyone who entered!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Partial History of Lost Causes

A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois
Random House Publishing Group, March 2012
ARC, 369 pages
ISBN-13: 9781400069774

In St. Petersburg, Russia, world chess champion Aleksandr Bezetov begins a quixotic quest: launching a dissident presidential campaign against Vladimir Putin. He knows he will not win, but a deeper conviction propels him forward. And in the same way that he cannot abandon his aims, he cannot erase the memory of a mysterious woman he loved in his youth.
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, thirty-year-old English lecturer Irina Ellison is on an improbable quest of her own. Certain she has inherited Huntington’s disease—the same cruel illness that ended her father’s life—she struggles with a sense of purpose. Then Irina finds an old, photocopied letter her father had written to the young Aleksandr Bezetov, in which he asked the Soviet chess prodigy a profound question: How does one proceed in a lost cause?  Since he had never received an adequate reply, Irina travels to Russia to find Bezetov and get an answer for her father, and for herself.
 With uncommon perception and wit, Jennifer duBois explores the power of memory, the depths of human courage, and the endurance of love.

My Thoughts:
The story in A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois is told in chapters that alternate between two narrators: Aleksandr Bezetov and Irina Ellison. The novel opens in 1979 when Aleksandr Bezetov was in training in Leningrad/St. Petersburg and on his way to becoming a world chess champion. Chapters follow Aleksandr into the 1980's and then quickly become current. Irina's chapters begin in 2006 when we learn of her father's long protracted bout with Huntington's disease and her diagnosis to suffer the same fate. Irina finds a copy of a letter her father had written to Aleksandr years ago, asking him what is the proper way to proceed when you know you’re losing? Aleksandr had never replied to her father's question so Irina feels compelled to travel to Russia to ask him for his answer to the question her father posed to him years before. When Irina arrives in Russia, Aleksandr is running for president against Vladimir Putin.
Since Aleksandr is a chess champion,  the game and symbolism from chess play a major role in the novel - if only in it's constant presence. Having the chapters alternate between characters from different parts of the world imitates the two distinct players in a chess match. Even the surprising actions of the characters could mimic strategic chess moves. All the characters are faced with carrying on with their lives while facing lost causes, just as a chess match continues and players follow the rules even while knowing that, in the end,  someone will lose. In this case both players (characters) seem fearful of life as they both face the ultimate formidable opponent: death.
DuBois is clearly a very good writer and she displays a wonderful way with her prose. To her credit it's actually hard to believe at times that A Partial History of Lost Causes is her first novel. There were several sections I'd love to quote just so others can experience the beauty of her writing but in this case, since I was reading an advanced reading copy, you will have to follow the link below for an example of her writing. She does an admirable job setting the tone and place with her descriptions.  I thought  DuBois was equally proficient in capturing Irina's current life in Massachusetts as she was in describing Aleksandr's life and struggles in the Soviet Union in the early 1980's.
On the other hand, while I enjoyed the novel, there were some drawbacks for me. The set up leading to Irina's sudden departure to Russia, leaving everyone behind and events leading to her prolonged stay in Russia seemed  almost too sudden.  Eventually, I did end up feeling somewhat detached from the characters. This isn't always the case when I am presented with novels where the main characters are dis-likeable or self-absorbed, but, as A Partial History of Lost Causes progressed, my interest in what would happen to both Aleksandr and Irina  lessened.
A Partial History of Lost Causes is a dark, somber tale - part psychological character study and political/historical thriller, it is highly recommended.

Jennifer DuBois is a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently completing a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University. Originally from western Massachusetts, she lives in Northern California.

Since I have an advanced reading copy of A Partial History of Lost Causes, in lieu of quotes an excerpt of the finished book can be found here:
Scribd: Random House Publishing Group
Disclosure: For the TLC Book Tour and review purposes I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher.  
Jennifer DuBois’s TLC Book Tour Stops:
Monday, March 12th:  Book Snob
Wednesday, March 14th:  Bibliosue
Monday, March 19th:  Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, March 20th:  Broken Teepee
Wednesday, March 21st:  The Literate Housewife Review
Monday, March 26th:  Luxury Reading
Wednesday, March 28th:  Book Club Classics
Thursday, March 29th:  BookNAround
Wednesday, April 4th:  Wordsmithonia
Thursday, April 5th:  She Treads Softly
Monday, April 9th: Coffee and a Book Chick
Wednesday, April 11th:  Jenny Loves to Read

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Scar

The Scar by China Miéville
Random House, copyright 2002
Trade Paperback, 656 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345444387
New Crobuzon Series, #2

A mythmaker of the highest order, China Miéville has emblazoned the fantasy novel with fresh language, startling images, and stunning originality. Set in the same sprawling world of Miéville’s Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning novel, Perdido Street Station, this latest epic introduces a whole new cast of intriguing characters and dazzling creations.
Aboard a vast seafaring vessel, a band of prisoners and slaves, their bodies remade into grotesque biological oddities, is being transported to a fledgling colony of New Crobuzon. But the journey is not theirs alone. They are joined by a handful of travelers, each with a reason for fleeing the city. Among them is Bellis Coldwine, a renowned linguist whose services as an interpreter grant her passage—and escape from horrific punishment. For she is linked to Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, the brilliant renegade scientist who has unwittingly unleashed a nightmare upon New Crobuzon.
For Bellis, the plan is clear: live among the new frontiersmen of the colony until it is safe to return home. But when the ship is besieged by pirates on the Swollen Ocean, the senior officers are summarily executed. The surviving passengers are brought to Armada, a city constructed from the hulls of pirated ships, a floating, landless mass ruled by the bizarre duality called the Lovers. On Armada, everyone is given work, and even Remades live as equals to humans, Cactae, and Cray. Yet no one may ever leave.
Lonely and embittered in her captivity, Bellis knows that to show dissent is a death sentence. Instead, she must furtively seek information about Armada’s agenda. The answer lies in the dark, amorphous shapes that float undetected miles below the waters—terrifying entities with a singular, chilling mission....

My Thoughts:

The Scar by China Miéville is set in the alternate world of Bas-Lag and is the second book in the New Crobuzon Series following Perdido Street Station.  In The Scar linguist Bellis Coldwine is fleeing the city of New Crobuzon by signing up to serve on a ship heading for the colony of Nova Esperium. On her journey pirates capture the ship and everyone onboard is taken to the Armada, a floating city composed of captured ships that is ruled by the Lovers, a twisted sadomasochistic couple. 

The Lovers have a mysterious plan they want to set into motion while at the same time others have secret agendas, plans, and schemes of their own. Exactly who can be trusted and is anyone telling the truth?  As The Scar progresses, numerous revelations and surprises unfold. The plot is riveting. I could hardly wait to read what would happen next, especially since I knew the outcomes would generally not be predictable. 

As expected, Miéville's writing is incredibly creative. His use of words and descriptions is astonishing. The setting, while in Bas-Lag, expands on the world and the mythology originally set forth in Perdido Street Station. It is inclusive and inventive, even while Miéville has tighter control of this story. The Scar follows a more linear pace than Perdido Street Station, which is great because of all the surprises and plot twists in The Scar. With the creation of a totally new world inhabited with unique characters, and unpredictable plot-lines China Miéville has proved without a doubt that's he is one great writer.

Admittedly, Bellis is not a sympathetic character, but she's not supposed to be emotionally accessible. She is living a solitary life and keeps tight control of her emotions. As a newly captured member of the Armada, she knows very little about the city and it's inhabitants. Miéville wisely keeps her true to her character and the personality he created  all the way through the novel. Bellis is literally swept along by events that are totally out of her control and beyond her immediate understanding. And I like this very much because it seemed so true to life. All the other supporting characters are equally well developed and interesting. 

As for the Scar, the Scar itself is not only a real place, but it also manifests itself in numerous other ways, as a mark left after cutting, as damage done, emotionally or physically. Even when wounds heal, they always leave some mark. Nothing can be as it once was - there is always a change. Scars are the price of change.
Very Highly Recommended


There is heroism and brute warfare on the ocean floor, unnoticed by land-dwellers. There are gods and catastrophes. pg. 2

Much later, when she was miles from everything she knew, Bellis would wake, astonished that it was not the city itself, her home for more than forty years, that she dreamed of. It was that little stretch of river, that weatherbeaten corridor of country that had surrounded her for less than half a day. pg. 8

The economy of Tarmuth is more than prostitution and piracy. The town is full of industrial yards and sidings. It lives as it has for centuries, on the building of ships. The shoreline is punctuated with scores of shipyards, building slipways like weird forests of vertical girders. In some loom ghostly half-completed vessels. The work is ceaseless, loud, and filthy.

The streets are crisscrossed with little private railways that take timber or fuel or whatever from one side of Tarmuth to the other. Each different company has built its own line to link its various concerns, and each is jealously guarded. The town is an idiotic tangle of railways, all replicating each other’s journeys. pg. 10

"You can learn from this, Miss Coldwine," he added. "At sea you can't waste time. Remember that: don't wait." pg. 15

The invaders were mostly men and cactus-people, a few tough looking women, and Remade. They were dressed in ostentatious and outlandish gear: long colorful coats and pantaloons, high boots, and studded belts. What distinguished them from the pirates of pantomime or cheap prints was the grime and age of their clothes, the fixed determination in their faces and the organized efficiency of their attacks. pg. 60

The man in grey, the pirates leader, turned slowly to face his captives. It was the first time Bellis had seen his face.
He was in his late thirties, she guessed, with cropped graying hair. Strong featured. His deep-set eyes were melancholy, his mouth set taut and sad. pg. 64

"You must come with me," the man said, just loud enough for everyone to hear. "To a new city." pg. 66