Friday, June 29, 2012

The Tortilla Curtain

The Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle
Penguin Group, copyright 1995
Trade Paperback, 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780140238280

Topanga Canyon is home to two couples on a collision course. Los Angeles liberals Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher lead an ordered sushi-and-recycling existence in a newly gated hilltop community: he a sensitive nature writer, she an obsessive realtor. Mexican illegals Cándido and América Rincón desperately cling to their vision of the American Dream as they fight off starvation in a makeshift camp deep in the ravine. And from the moment a freak accident brings Cándido and Delaney into intimate contact, these four and their opposing worlds gradually intersect in what becomes a tragicomedy of error and misunderstanding.

My Thoughts:
In The Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle the lives of Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher are juxtaposed with those of Cándido and América Rincón. Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher, a nature writer and real estate agent, are living the American dream ensconced in a hilltop community above Topanga Canyon. Cándido and América Rincón are illegal immigrants from Mexico who are barely scraping out an existence while living/camping in the canyon. At the beginning of the novel Cándido is accidentally hit and injured when he crosses the busy canyon road in front of Delaney's car. After this point the story switches back and forth between the two couples, following their starkly contrasting lives as they all search for their version of the American dream. 
The theme of sovereignty is explored and  by the prevalence of the various walls, gates, fences.  The Tortilla Curtain does not take a "side." It firmly encourages understanding both sides of an issue by looking at the circumstances, dreams, fears, and thoughts of all the characters. Boyle tackles our social consciousness in relationship to illegal immigrants, but along the way he also highlights other issues, including environmental causes, urban sprawl, introduced species, materialism, crime, and unemployment, to name a few. The Tortilla Curtain could actually be considered a very tragic novel, but for the added elements of comedy and satire.

From what I've read, Boyle never intended  The Tortilla Curtain to be a treatise on illegal immigration. Above all, even though it handles some very weighty, heated issues that continue to be relevant even years after its publication, this is a fictional novel. I appreciated Boyle's masterful writing and his carefully crafted characters.
Very Highly Recommended - but it can also be considered controversial.


Afterward, he tried to reduce it to abstract terms, an accident in a world of accidents, the collision of opposing forces--the bumper of his car and the frail scrambling hunched-over form of a dark little man with a wild look in his eye--but he wasn't very successful.  This wasn't a statistic in an actuarial table tucked away in a drawer somewhere, this wasn't random and impersonal.  It had happened to him, Delaney Mossbacher, of 32 Piñon Drive, Arroyo Blanco Estates, a liberal humanist with an unblemished driving record and a freshly waxed Japanese car with personalized plates, and it shook him to the core.  Everywhere he turned he saw those red-flecked eyes, the rictus of the mouth, the rotten teeth and incongruous shock of gray in the heavy black brush of the mustache--they infested his dreams, cut through his waking hours like a window on another reality.  He saw his victim in a book of stamps at the post office, reflected in the blameless glass panels of the gently closing twin doors at Jordan's elementary school, staring up at him from his omelette aux fine herbes at Emilio's in the shank of the evening.

        The whole thing had happened so quickly.  One minute he was winding his way up the canyon with a backseat full of newspapers, mayonnaise jars and Diet Coke cans for the recycler, thinking nothing, absolutely nothing, and the next thing he knew the car was skewed across the shoulder in a dissipating fan of dust.  The man must have been crouching in the bushes like some feral thing, like a stray dog or bird-mauling cat, and at the last possible moment he'd flung himself across the road in a mad suicidal scramble.  There was the astonished look, a flash of mustache, the collapsing mouth flung open in a mute cry, and then the brake, the impact, the marimba rattle of the stones beneath the car, and finally, the dust.  The car had stalled, the air conditioner blowing full, the voice on the radio nattering on about import quotas and American jobs.  The man was gone.  Delaney opened his eyes and unclenched his teeth.  The accident was over, already a moment in history.

        To his shame, Delaney's first thought was for the car (was it marred, scratched, dented?), and then for his insurance rates (what was this going to do to his good-driver discount?), and finally, belatedly, for the victim.  Who was he?  Where had he gone?  Was he all right?  Was he hurt?  Bleeding?  Dying?  Delaney's hands trembled on the wheel.  He reached mechanically for the key and choked off the radio.  It was then, still strapped in and rushing with adrenaline, that the reality of it began to hit him: he'd injured, possibly killed, another human being.  It wasn't his fault, god knew--the man was obviously insane, demented, suicidal, no jury would convict him--but there it was, all the same.  Heart pounding, he slipped out from under the seat belt, eased open the door and stepped tentatively out onto the parched strip of naked stone and litter that constituted the shoulder of the road.  opening

He might have gone on speculating for the rest of the afternoon, the vanishing victim a case for Unsolved Mysteries or the Home Video Network, if he hadn't become aware of the faintest murmur from the clump of vegetation to his immediate right.  But it was more than a murmur--it was a deep aching guttural moan that made something catch in his throat, an expression of the most primitive and elemental experience we know: pain.  pg. 7

He gave it one more try: "You know--help.  Can I help you?"
        And then the man grinned, or tried to.  A film of blood clung to the jagged teeth and he licked it away with a flick of his tongue.  "Monee?" he whispered, and he rubbed the fingers of his free hand together.
        "Money," Delaney repeated, "okay, yes, money," and he reached for his wallet as the sun drilled the canyon and the cars sifted by and a vulture, high overhead, rode the hot air rising from below. pg. 9

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Shout Her Lovely Name (and a Giveaway!)

Shout Her Lovely Name by Natalie Serber
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 6/26/2012
Advanced Reading Copy, 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9780547634524
Mothers and daughters ride the familial tide of joy, regret, loathing, and love in these stories of resilient and flawed women. In a battle between a teenage daughter and her mother, wheat bread and plain yogurt become weapons. An aimless college student, married to her much older professor, sneaks cigarettes while caring for their newborn son. On the eve of her husband’s fiftieth birthday, a pilfered fifth of rum, an unexpected tattoo, and rogue teenagers leave a woman questioning her place. And in a suite of stories, we follow capricious, ambitious single mother Ruby and her cautious, steadfast daughter Nora through their tumultuous life—stray men, stray cats, and psychedelic drugs—in 1970s California.
Gimlet-eyed and emotionally generous, achingly real and beautifully written, these unforgettable stories lay bare the connection and conflict in families. Shout Her Lovely Name heralds the arrival of a powerful new writer.

My Thoughts:

Shout Her Lovely Name by Natalie Serber is an exquisite collection of eleven short stories featuring mothers and daughters. All of the stories in this collection are poignant and impressive in the complexity and depth of emotion captured. With the exception of three stories, nine of them follow the same woman. The stories included are: "Shout Her Lovely Name," "Ruby Jewel," "Alone as She Felt All Day," "Free to a Good Home," "This Is So Not Me," "Manx," "Take Your Daughter to Work," "A Whole Weekend of My Life," "Plum Tree," "Rate My Life," and "Developmental Blah Blah."

The first short story, Shout Her Lovely Name (see the link to it below), was so powerful and eloquent it literally took my breath away at times. A mother recounts in a second person narrative the struggles and frustration she experiences trying to get her daughter help in overcoming an eating disorder. I think this story can be appreciated by anyone, but for those mothers who have had a similar struggle with a daughter's mental health, it will be more heart-wrenching because you will understand what this mother is thinking.

Most of the following stories in the collection feature Ruby and, later, her daughter, Nora. The transition from the first story, "Shout Her Lovely Name," to the second, "Ruby Jewel," may feel abrupt at first, if reading the short stories back to back, but give Ruby some time. While the first story wrung my heart dry, I was captivated by and engaged in all of the Ruby stories. The connection between Ruby and Nora is fluid and complicated, as all mother-daughter relationships can be, but following it is worth the effort. Ruby and Nora are not as privileged as the mothers and daughters in the first and last story. Their complicated relationship is punctuated by a greater struggle in their day to day life. Serber deftly exposes their sacrifices as well as their faults as they grow up together. When they were done, I was left wanting more of the story of Ruby and Nora.

"This Is So Not Me" and "Developmental Blah-Blah," were the least successful stories for me, but Serber is a skillful, ingenious writer so even though they were less successful for me, they were still both excellent short stories. (I should also mention that I love the cover of her collection and found it very visually appealing.)

In Shout Her Lovely Name Natalie Serber has presented readers with an excellent, eloquent, perspicacious collection of short stories that left me longing for more. 
Bravo Ms. Serber! I will be anxiously awaiting another collection of your short stories!
Very Highly Recommended

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

In the beginning, don’t talk to your daughter, because anything you say she will refute. Notice that she no longer eats cheese. Yes, cheese: an entire food category goes missing from her diet. She claims cheese is disgusting and that, hello? she has always hated it. Think to yourself . . . Okay, no feta, no Gouda — that’s a unique and painless path to individuation; she’s not piercing, tattooing, or huffing. Cheese isn’t crucial. The less said about cheese the better, though honestly you do remember watching her enjoy Brie on a baguette Friday evenings when the neighbors came over and there was laughter in the house.
Then baguettes go too.
“White flour isn’t healthy,” she says.
She claims to be so much happier now that she’s healthier, now that she doesn’t eat cheese, pasta, cookies, meat, peanut butter, avocados, and milk. She tells you all this without smiling. Standing before the open refrigerator like an anthropologist studying the customs of a quaint and backward civilization, she doesn’t appear happier.
When she steps away with only a wedge of yellow bell pepper, say, “Are you sure that’s all you want? What about your bones?  opening

After the doctor’s appointment, drive to your daughter’s favorite Thai restaurant while she weeps beside you and tells you she never imagined she’d be a person with an eating disorder. “If this could happen to me, anything can happen to anyone.”
Tell her, “Your light will shine. Live strong. We will come through this.” Vague affirmations are suddenly your specialty.
“I’m scared,” she tells you.
For the first time in months, you are not scared. You are calm. Your daughter seems pliable, reachable. pg. 8

Your starving daughter pushes away her plate, her face pinched, disappointed, angry. You can see her mantra scroll across her eyes like the CNN news crawl: loser... failure... pathetic... chubby...  pg. 16

Excerpt from book, "Shout Her Lovely Name" at Hunger Mountain
Excerpt from book, "Plum Tree," found at Gulf Coast

Natalie Serber received an MFA from Warren Wilson College. Her work has appeared in The Bellingham Review and Gulf Coast , among others, and her awards include the Tobias Wolff Award. She teaches writing at various universities and lives with her family in Portland, Oregon. Natalie Serber

I'm offering one of my lucky readers a chance to win a copy of Shout Her Lovely Name by Natalie Serber from the publisher.  Additionally you can also enter to win a Shout Her Lovely Name  tote bag. This giveaway ends at noon on July 21st and a winner will be announced that evening. (US/Canada only, no PO Boxes)

(giveaway is closed and winners have been notified) 

Natalie’s TLC Tour Stops
Tuesday, June 26th: Bibliophiliac
Wednesday, June 27th: she treads softly
Thursday, June 28th: Book Him Danno!
Monday, July 2nd: A Bookish Way of Life
Tuesday, July 3rd: The Betty and Boo Chronicles
Thursday, July 5th: lit*chick
Friday, July 6th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Monday, July 9th: Book Reviews, Fiction Reflections, ‘n More!
Tuesday, July 10th: Kritters Ramblings
Wednesday, July 11th: a novel toybox
Thursday, July 12th: Bookstack
Friday, July 13th: West Metro Mommy
Monday, July 16th: A Worn Path

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
Penguin Group, copyright 2006
Trade Paperback, 528 pages
ISBN-13: 9780739477137

Marisha Pessl's mesmerizing debut has critics raving and heralds the arrival of a vibrant new voice in American fiction. At the center of this 'cracking good read' is clever, deadpan Blue van Meer, who has a head full of literary, philosophical, scientific, and cinematic knowledge. But she could use some friends. Upon entering the elite St. Gallway school, she finds a clique of eccentrics known as the Bluebloods. One drowning and one hanging later, Blue finds herself puzzling out a byzantine murder mystery. Nabokov meets Donna Tartt (then invites the rest of the Western Canon to the party) in this novel with visual aids drawn by the author that has won over readers of all ages.
My Thoughts:

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl is narrated by Blue Van Meer, daughter of  a highly intelligent but itinerant history professor Gareth. Blue's mother died in a tragic car accident when she was 5, and since then she has traveled across the country, from one university or college to another with her father. Blue is telling us her life story, but more specifically, the story of her senior year of high school when she was attending the elite St. Gallway school. There she became part of an elite group of students who were protégé's of part time film instructor Hannah Schneider. We know right at the beginning that Hannah Schneider dies but need to hear Blue's story told in her own unique way to learn what happens.
In Special Topics in Calamity Physics, each chapter is the title of a novel from a core curriculum. Novels (chapters)  included: Othello, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Wuthering Heights, The House of Seven Gables, The Woman in White, Brave New World, Pygmalion, A Moveable Feast, Sweet Bird of Youth, Deliverance, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Bleak House, Justine, Things Fall Apart, The Trial, Paradise Lost, and Metamorphoses, to name a few.
There is a mystery that needs to be solved but it's not until the very end that you piece all the facts together, even though you may have some questions long before then. Blue is an extremely intelligent young narrator who frequently quotes various other books or scholarly works in her narrative. Pessl also has Blue cleverly include drawings of pictures in the text as numbered visual aids. (Others can be seen on the author's website.)
While this is a very clever novel, I can see where the incessant references to other sources could become exasperating due to the sheer volume of them for some readers. Although, in the end, they perhaps help to prove that Blue's intellectual capacity surpasses that of her father' (It's not until page 468 we find out the reason for the book's title.)
I would highly recommend Special Topics in Calamity Physics.

Dad always said a person must have a magnificent reason for writing out his or her Life Story and expecting anyone to read it.
"Unless your name is something along the lines of Mozart, Matisse, Churchill, Che Guevara or Bond - James Bond - you best spend your free time finger painting of playing shuffleboard, for no one, with the exception of your flabby-armed mother with stiff hair and a mashed-potato way of looking at you, will want to hear the particulars of your pitiful existence, which doubtlessly will end as it began - with a wheeze." opening

I took a deep breath. At the top of the page, I wrote in my neatest handwriting, "Curriculum," and then, "Required Reading."
That was always how Dad began. pg. 12

Before I tell you about Hannah Schneider's death, I'll tell you about my mother's. pg. 15

Dad's favorite photograph of Natasha is the one in black and white, taken even before she ever met him, when she was twenty-one and dressed for a Victorian costume party (Visual Aid 1.0). pg. 19

When questioned by colleagues as to why he no longer wished to educate the Ivy League, Dad adored waxing poetic on the Common Man. and yet, sometimes in private, particularly while grading a frighteningly flawed final exam or widely-off-the-mark research paper, even the illustrious unspoiled Common Man could become, in Dad's eyes, a "half-wit," a "nimrod," a "monstrous misuse of matter." pg. 23

Naturally, for me, the idea of a Permanent Home (the definition of which I took to be any shelter Dad and I inhabited in excess of ninety days - the time an American cockroach could go without food) was nothing more than a Pipe Dream, Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, the hope to purchase a brand new Cadillac Coupe DeVille with baby blue leather interior for any Soviet during the drab winter of 1985. pg. 45

It was evident, and had been for some time, that Dad was determined to make une grande affaire out of this year, my senior year (hence, the Bactrian Camel and other perplexing Auntie Mame-like lavishes I shall soon detail). Yet he was dreading it too (hence the gloomy gaze into LINENS). pg. 48

It was painfully obvious Dad was hoping his posthumous biography would be reminiscent not of Kissinger: The Man (Jones, 1982) or even Dr. Rhythm: Living with Bing (Grant, 1981) but something along the lines of the New Testament or the Qur'an. pg. 48

He certainly wasn't the first headmaster to suffer from the Ol'-Blue-Eyes-at-The-Sands Effect. Countless headmasters, particularly male, confused the slick floors of a dimly lit cafeteria or the muddled acoustics of a high school auditorium for the ruby-walled Copa Room, mistook students for a doting public who'd made their reservations months in advance and shelled out $100 a pop. pg. 66

...."And keep drawing, Blue," he added, a statement that seemed to comfort him more than me. He sighed and touched the collar of his textured magenta shirt. "And I don't say that to just anyone, you know. Many people should stay far, far away from the blank page. But you - you see, the drawing, the carefully considered sketch of a human being, animal, an inanimate object, is not simply a picture but a blueprint of a soul. Photography? A lazy man's art. Drawing? The thinker, the dreamer's medium." pg. 497

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Every Last One

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
Random House Publishing, 2010
Hardcover, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781400065745


Mary Beth Latham is first and foremost a mother, whose three teenaged children come first, before her career as a landscape gardener, or even her life as the wife of a doctor. Caring for her family and preserving their everyday life is paramount. And so, when one of her sons, Max, becomes depressed, Mary Beth becomes focused on him, and is blindsided by a shocking act of violence.

My Thoughts:
The first half of Every Last One by Anna Quindlen follows an ordinary suburban family in the mundane routine of their everyday life. Mary Beth Latham is the narrator. She runs a landscaping business and is the wife of Glen, an ophthalmologist. Most importantly, however, she is the doting mother of seventeen year old Ruby, and fourteen year old twins, Max and Alex. When Ruby breaks up with her long-time boyfriend, Kirenan, Mary Beth is concerned, but she is much more focused on the depression of her son Max, who is feeling overshadowed by Alex's athletic abilities and accomplishments. Over half way through the novel an act of violence occurs that irrevocably changes Mary Beth's life.

While Quindlen is a very good writer, I just have to say that the first half of this novel bored me to tears and the characters annoyed me. There - I've said it. I knew from the descriptions of this novel that there would be a huge twist, but man did Mary Beth and her friends annoy me. I guess I might as well admit that I would not seek a friendship with any of these women - before or after the tragedy - and that does color my feeling about Every Last One. Also it seems that someone would notice Kirenan's odd behavior.

So, I kept reading the novel long past when I normally would have set it aside knowing that there was a big plot twist coming. Was it worth it? Um... yeah, I guess. The writing is quite good. Even if Mary Beth and the other characters annoyed me, the quality of the writing kept me reading. The second half of the novel actually redeemed the first part.
Highly recommended - if you can make it through the first half


This is my life: The alarm goes off at five-thirty with the murmuring of a public-radio announcer, telling me that there has been a coup in Chad, a tornado in Texas. My husband stirs briefly next to me, turns over, blinks, and falls back to sleep for another hour. My robe lies at the foot of the bed, printed cotton in the summer, tufted chenille for the cold. The coffeemaker comes on in the kitchen below as I leave the bathroom, go downstairs in bare feet, pause to put away a pair of boots left splayed in the downstairs back hallway and to lift the newspaper from the back step. The umber quarry tiles in the kitchen were a bad choice; they are always cold. I let the dog out of her kennel and put a cup of kibble in her bowl. I hate the early mornings, the suspended animation of the world outside, the veil of black and then the oppressive gray of the horizon along the hills outside the French doors. But it is the only time I can rest without sleeping, think without deciding, speak and hear my own voice. It is the only time I can be alone. Slightly less than an hour each weekday when no one makes demands.  opening

“Okay, okay,” Alex says irritably. Max says nothing, just lurches from bed and begins to pull off an oversized T-shirt as he stumbles into the bathroom.
There is a line painted down the center of their room. Two years ago they came to me, at a loose end on a June afternoon, and demanded the right to choose their own colors. I was distracted, and I agreed. They did a neat job, measured carefully, put a tarp on the floor. Alex painted his side light blue, Max lime green.  pg. 4-5

I open Ruby’s door, and although it doesn’t make a sound—she has oiled the hinges, I think, probably with baby oil or bath oil or something else nonsensically inappropriate, so we will not hear it creak in the nighttime—she says, “I’m up.” I stand there waiting, because if I take her word for it she will wrap herself in warmth again and fall into the long tunnel of sleep that only teenagers inhabit, halfway to coma or unconsciousness. “Mom, I’m up,” she shouts, and throws the bedclothes aside and begins to bundle her long wavy hair atop her head. “Can I get dressed in peace, please? For a change?” She makes it sound as though I constantly let a bleacher full of spectators gawk as she prepares to meet the day. pg. 5

Every day, with few variations - snow, minor illness, the failure of the paper to arrive, a lost backpack, a sleepover that's left us one, or two, or sometimes even three kids shy of the usual full set - every day is like this. Average. Ordinary. More of less. pg. 11

They are the kind of boys who may well grow up to invent something astonishing, to teach in a prestigious college, to cure cancer. Right now, they have hard lives. pg. 21

Even when we're honest with one another, we tread carefully; the quickest way to lose a friend is to suggest that she is a bad mother, or to suggest that her children have problems, which amounts to the same thing. pg. 33

Two years ago, I was worried all the time about Ruby. Now it's Max. I don't think it will ever be Alex. pg. 57

Monday, June 18, 2012


Oyster by Janette Turner Hospital
W. W. Norton & Company, 1998
Hardcover, 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9780393046182 

Stories do insist on being told. Even the stories of hidden lives and towns and opal reefs.
By cunning intention, and sometimes by discreet bribery (or other dispatch) of government surveyors, the opal-mining town Outer Maroo has kept itself off maps. And yet people do stumble into town, because the seduction of nowhere is hard to resist. Two strangers reach Outer Maroo, searching for a stepdaughter and son who have mysteriously disappeared. There is a heavy, guilty feeling to the hot, parched-dry town.
Mercy Given and Old Jess (everyone calls her Old Silence) watch from Ma and Bill Beresford's store. On the verandah of Bernie's Last Chance, the drinkers wait to take stock of the foreigners, before they return to their cattle properties or their sheep stations or to their stake-outs in the opal fields. Dukke Prophet crosses the street from The Living Word Gospel Hall. Young Alice Godwin whimpers.
Outer Maroo. Population 87. Here two opposing cultures - the rough-diamond, boozing, fiercely individualistic bush folk and the teetotaller, church-going fundamentalists - used to coexist peaceably.
Until the arrival of the cult messiah Oyster.

My Thoughts:
Oyster by Janette Turner Hospital is brilliant. Set in the isolated Australian Outback town of Outer Maroo, the towns inhabitants are struggling to survive a heat wave, drought, and an awful smell that seems to hang over the town. You know something ominous and dreadful has happened but you have to wait while the suspense builds and events are slowly revealed. Many of the residents of the town are just as secretive and, perhaps, delusional as the many young followers of the cult leader who calls himself Oyster. There is a cult, an illegal opal trade, some dark secrets and the terrible knowledge that foreigners are not welcome and mysteriously disappear in Outer Maroo.
Hospital carefully and skillfully develops her characters through some incredible prose. The writing is really incredible as you have to carefully piece clues together, sometimes from very dream-like inner thoughts of characters, to start to make sense of what has happened and is happening here. The terror felt by the characters is palatable. Much of the apocalyptic story is told through the thoughts of young teen Mercy Givens, but it isn't told in a linear narrative. The thoughts of other characters add to the chorus trying to tell the complete story.
The plot of Oyster, originally published in 1996, shows influence from a couple cults - Jim Jones and Jonestown in 1978 and especially David Koresh and the Branch Davidians in 1993. Knowledge is powerful and dangerous. The natural and enforced seclusion of the inhabitants of Outer Maroo combined with a suspicion of strangers, and a predisposition to believing in charismatic leaders all combine to make for an explosive story with a moral.
The quality of Janette Turner Hospital's writing is what carries this novel, as much as her brilliant plot.    Very Highly Recommended


If rain had come, things might have turned out differently, that is what I think now; but there were children in Outer Maroo who had never seen rain. opening

So there was opal and there was Oyster. pg. 11

There were far too many foreigners around.

And then one day, abruptly, there were none...

The stench, on certain days, was worse after that. pg 14

Dorothy Godwin knows, and does not know, this. She has the gift of forgetting.
There is much to forget in Outer Maroo. In Outer Maroo, forgetting and honour are as crucial to survival as a good artesian bore.
Dorothy Godwin pushes the cardboard core of the unravelled bolt of cloth across the counter. 'Mercy, the blue.'
The blue streams silkily through Mercy's fingers.
The eyes of Mrs Dorothy Godwin move from face to face. Everyone watches everyone else, warily, eye to eye. Everyone understands that such mutual vigilance is necessary. Mercy thinks of a story in the school reader: the one of the little boy who kept his fist in the dyke all night. If anyone slacks in the hard communal duty of forgetting, she thinks, who knows what sort of inundation will drown the town?
Alice folds herself over her stomach and whimpers.
'Well,' her mother sighs. 'It can't be helped.'
No, people murmur.
What's done is done, they sigh; and any stranger would instantly conclude: here is a group of people bound by guilt; they dread, and constantly expect, retribution. Or, conversely: here is a group of innocent people dazed by awful circumstance; they know that the weight of evidence is overwhelmingly and unjustly against them; they wait haplessly for a harsh and wrongful judgment to be handed down.
'What's done is done,' Dorothy Godwin says.
As though a secret signal has been passed, there is an exodus, carefully unhurried, of Godwins and of several others who have recalled pressing business at far reach. Beyond the verandah, red dust and exhaust fumes plume around their idling cars. As soon as they have seen the new arrivals, they will leave, but they need to know who is coming. They need to take stock. After that, they will go.
But why is it, Mercy wonders, that they will all drive back to their cattle properties or their sheep stations or to their stake-outs in the opal fields, and not one of them will simply drive away? And why is it that from time to time, not often, certainly, but there has after all been a slow trickle of visitors since ...
since ...
... there has been a steady trickle of visitors in these past twelve months since Oyster's Reef disappeared ... since people began to come looking for the missing ...
So why is it that Jake Digby occasionally arrives with passengers, but no passengers ever leave with him again?
That thought catches Mercy off guard, and she breathes quickly and hugs herself in the manner of Alice Godwin. Jess puts her hand on Mercy's shoulder. 'Hush,' she murmurs, or seems to murmur. 'It will be all right.' pg. 22-23

There may be more survivors, we hope there are more survivors, there will certainly be survivors out on some of the properties....
We could never outstrip it, not even with both petrol tanks full and Major Miner's foot to the floor. It is the Beast of the Apocalypse run amok.
This is the Day of Wrath pg. 41

It happened about two years ago. Oyster and Oyster's Reef were still with us. Brian (Mercy's brother) was still with us. Susannah herself was still with us.
It was the day she was so suddenly "transferred'. pg. 46

"It's curious how close hate and love are, there's just a membrane between them. Did you know that?" pg. 94

Saturday, June 16, 2012

This World We Live In

This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010
Hardcover, 239 pages
ISBN-13: 9780547248042 
Life As We Knew It Series #3
It's been a year since a meteor collided with the moon, catastrophically altering the earth’s climate. For Miranda Evans life as she knew it no longer exists. Her friends and neighbors are dead, the landscape is frozen, and food is increasingly scarce.
The struggle to survive intensifies when Miranda’s father and stepmother arrive with a baby and three strangers in tow. One of the newcomers is Alex Morales, and as Miranda’s complicated feelings for him turn to love, his plans for his future thwart their relationship.

My Thoughts:

This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer is the third book in the young adult trilogy that began with Life as We Knew It and was followed by The Dead and the Gone. This World We Live In continues the story of the characters from the first two books, Miranda and Alex.  In this third book protagonists Miranda and Alex meet when Alex and his sister are traveling companions who are accompanying her returning father and stepmother. 
In This World We Live In, Pfeffer returns to the narrative being told through Miranda's journal entries so all the action is filtered through her eyes.
This final installment of the YA series just didn't grab my attention as much as the first two did. Miranda seemed more like a whiny thirteen year old rather than a seventeen year old who has struggled to lived through a world wide disaster. In the end I didn't actually care for any of the characters and finished the book simple for closure to the series. And the romance with Alex was absurd. It didn't even make sense.
If you've read the first two books you will probably want to read This World We Live In. In that regard it is recommended.
(Reading this YA novel after China Miéville's Railsea didn't do it any favors. Railsea is a much better novel.

April 25
I’m shivering, and I can’t tell if it’s because something strange is going on or because of the dream I had or just because I’m in the kitchen, away from the warmth of the woodstove. It’s 1:15 a.m., the electricity is on, and I’m writing in my diary for the first time in weeks.
I dreamed about Baby Rachel. I dream about her a lot, the half sister I’ve never met. Not that I know if Lisa had a girl or a boy. We haven’t heard from Dad and Lisa since they stopped here on their way west, except for a couple of letters. Which is more than I got from anyone else who’s left. opening

I told her everything. I explained how in May an asteroid hit the moon and knocked it a little closer to Earth, and how the moon’s gravitational pull got stronger, and everything changed as a result. There were tidal waves that washed away whole cities, and earthquakes that destroyed the highways, and volcanic eruptions that threw ash into the sky, blocking out sunlight, causing famine and epidemics. All because the moon’s gravitational pull was a little bit stronger than before.
"What’s sunlight?" she asked.
That was when the dream turned into a nightmare. pg. 2

I know I should be grateful that we have a warm place to live. I have a lot to be grateful for. We’ve been getting weekly food deliveries for a month now, and Mom’s been letting us eat two meals a day. I’m still hungry, but nothing like I used to be. Matt’s regained the strength he lost from the flu, and I think Jon’s grown a little bit. Mom’s gotten back to being Mom. She insists we clean the house as best we can every day and pretend to do some schoolwork. She listens to the radio every evening so we have some sense of what’s happening in other places. Places I’ll never get to see.
I haven’t written in my diary in a month. I used to write all the time. I stopped because I felt like things were as good as they were ever going to get, that nothing was going to change again.
Only now it’s raining.
Something’s changed.
And I’m writing again. pg. 4

At some point the two meals a day will become one, the electricity will vanish, and we'll have to leave here just to survive.
When that happens, I know I'll never see Dad again, or Lisa, or Baby Rachel, who may not even exist. Because once we leave here, Dad will never be able to find us, just like we can't find him, or any of my friends who left here hoping things would be better someplace else.
We stayed behind. I tell myself we've made it through the worst and we can face whatever will happen next. I tell myself what Mom always says, that as long as we're alive, hope is alive. pg. 5

There was no food delivery.
We spent the whole day waiting for it. pg. 13

"We wee instructed not to tell," he said. "Just stop the deliveries and whoever shows up gets food."
"What about the people who can't come in?" I asked. "What if they're too weak to or it's too far away?"
"It wasn't my decision," Mr. Danworth replied. pg. 17

It's hard to say what my favorite part of breaking and entering is. I love the adrenaline rush. Will there be someone in the house? Will I get caught? I never used to shoplift, but now I understand why some kids did it. When everything else is boring, there's something to be said for risk. pg. 24

May 18
Today's the first anniversary of the asteroid hitting the moon.
A year ago I was sixteen years old, a sophomore in high school. pg. 61

Friday, June 15, 2012


Railsea by China Miéville
Random House, May 2012
Hardcover, 448 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345524522
YA fiction
On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt: the giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death and the other’s glory. But no matter how spectacular it is, Sham can't shake the sense that there is more to life than traveling the endless rails of the railsea–even if his captain can think only of the hunt for the ivory-coloured mole she’s been chasing since it took her arm all those years ago. When they come across a wrecked train, at first it's a welcome distraction. But what Sham finds in the derelict—a series of pictures hinting at something, somewhere, that should be impossible—leads to considerably more than he'd bargained for. Soon he's hunted on all sides, by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters and salvage-scrabblers. And it might not be just Sham's life that's about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea.
From China Miéville comes a novel for readers of all ages, a gripping and brilliantly imagined take on Herman Melville's Moby-Dick that confirms his status as "the most original and talented voice to appear in several years."
My Thoughts:

Railsea is China Miéville's latest novel. Although officially classified as a young adult novel, it will undoubtedly be appreciated by adults too. It tells the story of Sham Yes ap Soorap, a young doctors apprentice riding on the moletrain Medes.  The Medes Captain Naphi has a philosophy, a life goal: hunting the great ivory colored moldywarpe, known as Mocker Jack, that took her arm. Sham, however, feels that, at least for him, there must be more to life than riding the endless rails of the railsea hunting prey.  When the Medes finds an old, wrecked train, Sham finds something that eventually ends up sending him on a quest & changing his life. I don't want to say much more than that.
This is a clever, imaginative science fiction/fantasy novel set in a well-realized world where an intricate tangle of railway tracks cover the earth. Most people have a real aversion to setting foot on the earth below the railsea where giant carnivorous predators of all kinds lurk, including the huge moldywarpes (giant moles), mole rats, antlions, burrowing owls, earwigs, blood rabbits, & others.
Obviously, in Railsea Miéville was influenced by Herman Melville's Moby Dick, but in the acknowledgments Miéville credits many writers & artists that inspired him, including: Joan Aiken, John Antrobus, the Awdrys, Catherine Besterman, Lucy Lane Clifford, Daniel Defoe, F. Tennyson Jesse, Ursula Le Guin, Penelope Lively, Spike Milligan, Charles Platt, Robert Louis Stevenson, & the Strugatsky Brothers. (I can see other influences too, like Herbert's Dune, the movie Tremors.)
China Miéville is a remarkably creative & talented writer. Even though Railsea is a YA novel, Miéville's use of language & prose will greatly appeal to adult readers. Some younger readers actually might find the prose challenging, however, the story is so inventive & entertaining that most will stay with it even if it requires more mental thought than lesser novels. There are a wide variety of characters in the novel, including trainfolks, pirates, salvagers, rumourmongers,  explorers, & more.

You might have notice my use of the ampersand symbol "&" instead of the word "and" it this review. There is a reason for this as Miéville cleverly uses the ampersand rather than the word "and" in Railsea. (See the quotes below.)  
Railsea is very highly recommended
China Miéville is the author of several books, including Un Lun Dun, Perdido Street Station, The City & The City, Kraken, & Embassytown. His works have won the Hugo, the British Science Fiction Award (twice), the Arthur C. Clarke Award (three times) & the World Fantasy Award. He lives & works in London.


When at last there came a sound from the speakers above, it made him start. It was the alarm for which he & the rest of the crew of the Medes had been waiting. A crackling blare. Then from the intercom came the exclamation: “There she blows!” pg. 5

Soaring from its burrow in a clod-cloud & explosion it came. A monster. It roared, it soared, into the air. It hung a crazy moment at the apex of its leap. As if surveying. As if to draw attention to its very size. Crashed at last back down through the topsoil & disappeared into the below.
The moldywarpe had breached.
Of all the gapers on the Medes none gaped harder than Sham. Shamus Yes ap Soorap. Big lumpy young man. Thickset, not always unclumsy, his brown hair kept short & out of trouble.  pg. 6

He had been made to memorise a poemlike list of the moldywarpe’s other names—underminer, talpa, muldvarp, mole. Had seen ill-exposed flatographs & etchings of the grandest animals. Stick-figure humans were drawn to scale cowering by the killer, the star-nosed, the ridged moldywarpe. & on one last much-fingered page, a page that concertinaed out to make its point about size, had been a leviathan, dwarfing the specklike person-scribble by it. The great southern moldywarpe, Talpa ferox rex. That was the ploughing animal ahead. Sham shivered.
The ground & rails were grey as the sky. Near the horizon, a nose bigger than him broke earth again. It made its molehill by what for a moment Sham thought a dead tree, then realised was some rust-furred metal strut toppled in long-gone ages, up-poking like the leg of a dead beetle god. Even so deep in the chill & wastes, there was salvage.
Trainspeople hung from the Medes’s caboose, swayed between carriages & from viewing platforms, tamping out footstep urgency over Sham’s head. “Yes yes yes, Captain . . .”: the voice of Sunder Nabby, lookout, blurted from the speakers. Captain must have walkie-talkied a question & Nabby must have forgotten to switch to private. He broadcast his answer to the train, through chattering teeth & a thick Pittman accent. “Big boar, Captain. Lots of meat, fat, fur. Look at the speed on him . . .” pg. 7

Atangle across the whole vista, to & past the horizon in all directions, were endless, countless rails.
The railsea.
Long straights, tight curves; metal runs on wooden ties; overlapping, spiralling, crossing at metalwork junctions; splitting off temporary sidings that abutted & rejoined main lines. Here the train tracks spread out to leave yards of unbroken earth between them; there they came close enough together that Sham could have jumped from one to the next, though that idea shivered him worse than the cold. Where they cleaved, at twenty thousand angles of track-meets-track, were mechanisms, points of every kind: wye switches; interlaced turnouts; stubs; crossovers; single & double slips. & on the approaches to them all were signals, switches, receivers, or ground frames. pg. 10
A meat Island! The carcass loomed.
Molecarters snared the ropes in its skin & traintop winches hauled tons of moleflesh & a precious pelt across the ground on which no one would step. pg. 15
There are two layers to the sky, & four Layers to the world. No secrets there. Sham knew that, this books knows that, & you know that, too. pg. 30
The very idea, though, that thought of one foot after the other, careful on the dusty ties, avoiding the terrible earth, all the way back to the train, made him swallow. pg. 38
As long as humanity has rolled on the railsea, the rigours & vigours & bloody triggers of the underground have been legendary. There are predators on the islands, too, of course, above groundnorm....
Subterrestriality, by contrast, & life on the flatearth that is its top, is more straightforward & exacting. Almost everything wants to eat almost everything else. pg. 45
There was a time when we did not form all the words as now we do, in writing on a page. There was a time when the word "&" was written with several distinct & separate letters. It seems madness now. But there it is, & there is nothing we can do about it. pg. 163

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Moby-Duck by Donovan Hohn
Penguin Group, 2011
Hardcover, 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9780670022199
A revelatory tale of science, adventure, and modern myth.
When the writer Donovan Hohn heard of the mysterious loss of thousands of bath toys at sea, he figured he would interview a few oceanographers, talk to a few beachcombers, and read up on Arctic science and geography. But questions can be like ocean currents: wade in too far, and they carry you away. Hohn's accidental odyssey pulls him into the secretive world of shipping conglomerates, the daring work of Arctic researchers, the lunatic risks of maverick sailors, and the shadowy world of Chinese toy factories.
Moby-Duck is a journey into the heart of the sea and an adventure through science, myth, the global economy, and some of the worst weather imaginable. With each new discovery, Hohn learns of another loose thread, and with each successive chase, he comes closer to understanding where his castaway quarry comes from and where it goes. In the grand tradition of Tony Horwitz and David Quammen, Moby-Duck is a compulsively readable narrative of whimsy and curiosity.

My Thoughts:
The full title of Moby-Duck by Donovan Hohn is Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them, which really rather nicely encapsulates what this nonfiction book is about. An accident happens at sea and a container ship accidentally dumps 28,800 plastic bath toys (7,200 red beavers, 7,200 green frogs, 7,200 blue turtles, and 7,200 yellow ducks) into the Pacific ocean. 
Hohn writes: "We know where the spill occurred: 44.7 degrees North, 178.1 degrees East, south of the Aleutians, near the international date line, in the stormy latitudes renowned in the age of sail as the Graveyard of the Pacific, just north of what oceanographers, who are, on the whole, less poetic than mariners of the age of sail, call he subarctic front. We know the date - January 10, 1992 - but not the hour. (pg. 9)" After the spill beachcombers began to find the bath toys and a legend grew out of the initial news story that placed duck sightings from the spill even in the Atlantic.
Donovan Hohn goes in search of the bath toys trying to discover where they beached. This lead him to investigate plastics and what they are doing to the oceans and shorelines. His research also leads him to investigates ocean currents, gyres, shipping, Chinese toy manufacturing, and the arctic, among others. So, while Moby-Duck is ostensibly about the plastic bath toys lost at sea, they really become a rather small portion of his eventual investigation and travels.
While there is a wealth of information here, I did end up wishing that Hohn had concentrated on the bath toys lost at sea. What originally intrigued him enough to inspire the book also captured my imagination and made me want to read it. While I did enjoy it, it became a rather slow read full of more information than I was originally anticipating. It helps that he is a good writer and has a nice way with descriptions and imparting information. Hohn includes a selected bibliography and notes, which I always appreciate in nonfiction.  
Highly Recommended - but know it's about much, much more than the missing bath toys.

At the outset, I felt no need to acquaint myself with the six degrees of freedom. I'd never heard of the Great North Pacific Garbage Patch. I liked my job and loved my wife and was inclined to agree with Emerson that travel is a fool's paradise. I just wanted to learn what had really hap­pened, where the toys had drifted and why. I loved the part about con­tainers falling off a ship, the part about the oceanographers tracking the castaways with the help of far-flung beachcombers. I especially loved the part about the rubber duckies crossing the Arctic, going cheerfully where explorers had gone boldly and disastrously before. opening, Prologue

But questions, I've learned since, can be like ocean currents. Wade in a little too far and they can carry you away. Follow one line of inquiry and it will lead you to another, and another. Spot a yellow duck dropped atop the seaweed at the tide line, ask yourself where it came from, and the next thing you know you're way out at sea, no land in sight, dog-paddling around in mysteries four miles deep. You're wondering when and why yellow ducks became icons of childhood. You want to know what it's like inside the toy factories of Guangdong. You're marveling at the scale of humanity's impact on this terraqueous globe and at the oce­anic magnitude of your own ignorance. You're giving the plight of the Laysan albatross many moments of thought.
The next thing you know, it's the middle of the night and you're on the outer decks of a post-Panamax freighter due south of the Aleutian island where, in 1741, shipwrecked, Vitus Bering perished from scurvy and hunger. The winds are gale force. The water is deep and black, and so is the sky. It's snowing. The decks are slick. Your ears ache, your fin­gers are numb. pg. 4-5
We know where the spill occurred: 44.7 degrees North, 178.1 degrees East, south of the Aleutians, near the international date line, in the stormy latitudes renowned in the age of sail as the Graveyard of the Pacific, just north of what oceanographers, who are, on the whole, less poetic than mariners of the age of sail, call he subarctic front. We know the date - January 10, 1992 - but not the hour. pg. 9
There, in seas almost four miles deep, more than five hundred miles south of Attu Island at the western tip of the Aleutian tail, more than a thousand miles east of Hokkaido, the northern extreme of Japan, and more than two thousand miles west of the insular Alaskan city of Sitka, 28,800 plastic animals produced in Chinese factories for the  bathtubs of America - 7,200 red beavers, 7,200 green frogs, 7,200 blue turtles, and 7,200 yellow ducks - hatched from their plastic shells and drifted free. pg. 10
"When a man has taken upon himself to beget children," Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote to Sophia Peabody, his fiancée, in 1841, "he has no longer any right to a life of his own." pg. 26
What if I followed the trail of the toys wherever it led, from that factory in China, across the Pacific, into the Arctic? I wouldn't be able to do it in a single summer. It would require many months, maybe an entire year. I might have to take a leave of absence, or quit teaching altogether. I wasn't sure how or if I'd manage to get to all the places on my map, but perhaps that would be the point. The toys had gone adrift. I'd go adrift, too. The winds and currents would chart my course. pg. 27
...thousands of containers spill from cargo ships every year, exactly how many no one knows, perhaps 2,000, perhaps as many as 10,000. pg. 34
"But 60 percent of the plastic will float, and the 60 percent that does float will never sink because it doesn't absorb water; it fractures into ever smaller pieces. That's the difference. There are things afloat now that will never sink." pg. 42
What Moore did discover were greater quantities of pelagic plastic than anyone suspected were out there.... The total dry weight of plastic Moore's samples contained - 424 grams - was six times greater than the dry weight of plankton and half again as much as any similar study had previously found. pg. 45
I explained the plastic-poisoning hypothesis.
"The fuel they burned in their boats going out there, back and forth, is probably worse for the environment than that stuff breaking down," he said -  a notion, I had to concede, that had occurred to me too. pg. 135

Monday, June 11, 2012

Movers, Dreamers, and Risk-Takers

Movers, Dreamers, and Risk-Takers: Unlocking the Power of ADHD by Kevin Roberts
Hazelden Publishing; June 2012
Advanced Reading Copy, 250 pages
ISBN-13: 9781616492045


Learn to tap the skills and talents unique to those with ADHD and enhance your ability to succeed socially, academically, and in your career.
An inability to focus, impulsiveness, misbehavior, frequent daydreaming, and a predisposal to addiction are frequently referenced traits of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). But what about the gifts of ADHD? In Movers, Dreamers, and Risk Takers, Kevin Roberts, author of Cyber Junkie, takes a fresh approach to this much-written-about topic to help those with ADHD - their parents, teachers, and friends - to tap the hidden strengths and actual advantages inherent in the ADHD personality.
Those with ADHD have a predisposition to confronting the challenges of life and a deep preference for perceiving the world creatively. Roberts helps readers appreciate how the perceptual, interpersonal, and cognitive differences of "ADHDers" like these can be translated into unique skills and talents that can enhance their ability to be successful socially, academically, and in their careers.
Roberts combines the latest research with personal stories, as well as insights born from his work with those with ADHD. He shows readers how to get past the stigma of this condition to eventually turn what have been seen as "symptoms" into character strengths and creative ways to make life richer and more interesting for themselves and the people around them.

My Thoughts:

In Movers, Dreamers, and Risk-Takers: Unlocking the Power of ADHD author Kevin Roberts challenges us to look at new ways to assist those with ADHD, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Even the acronym ADHD conjures up negative descriptions of the disorder (impulsive behavior, difficulty paying attention, procrastination, anxiety, boredom, etc.) And, as is often the case, he writes "...with ADHD, everyone is an expert." (pg 37) This can result in people offering advice without any true understanding behind their suggestions. 

Roberts, who has ADHD himself, encourages readers with ways to put those same traits inherent in ADHDers to good use. In his book, as an educator, writer, and comedian, Roberts combines his personal experiences, education, and life coaching in an entertaining style. He explains ways to help individuals with ADHD (or their families and teachers) turn their lives around by using their inherent personality traits in a positive manner that will ultimately lead to success.

A lot of practical advice and strategies are discussed that can help ADHDers succeed and learn. Roberts backs up his advice and suggestions with many real life stories and examples of how his strategies worked or were adapted to work for various individuals. It was interesting to me that many ADHDers thrive on negativity and are motivated by a crisis. Also, since they tend to be creative and enjoy games, making practical tasks that must get done a game could be helpful.  Roberts is passionate about the importance of play and humor in dealing with ADHDers.

The secret that I discovered while reading Movers, Dreamers, and Risk-Takers is that in many ways Roberts insight, advice, and suggestions could also benefit many people  - even those who are not diagnosed with ADHD or ADD. For example, as he pointed out on page 85, "You need to ask yourself if you have done enough of your own personal growth work to make sure you are not repeating the same worn-out patterns?" Now, wouldn't that advice be helpful for many situations? Or this valuable suggestion: "I recommend a gratitude journal to everyone, especially those struggling to overcome negativity."  (pg. 100-101)

Kevin Roberts wish is that "If you take anything away from this book, understand that what you see as weakness could very well be strength. Arm yourself with awareness, an arsenal of creative tools, and a belief in the power of the ADHD mind. Assume that the ADHDer in your life was put on this earth to help people. Take a step into the odyssey of helping him or her discover purpose, power, and potential in ADHD." (pg. 187) And really, that says it all.

Movers, Dreamers, and Risk-Takers is dedicated to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Roberts had a touching, passage about how the Boys and Girls Club saved his life with their mentoring, guidance, diverse programs, and leadership training. As is my wont for all nonfiction books, I appreciated the notes for each chapter at the end of the book and the informative Appendix "The Mystery of the ADHD Brain."

Movers, Dreamers, and Risk-Takers is Very Highly Recommended, especially for anyone who knows someone with ADHD.

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

Kevin Roberts was born in Detroit, Michigan, attended 12 years of Catholic school, and graduated from the University of Michigan. He taught high school and middle school social studies and foreign languages for four years. For the last 13 years, he has been an ADHD Coach, helping ADHD individuals succeed in school and life. He conducts support groups for teens and adults who struggle with cyber addiction and is the author of Cyber Junkie: Escape the Gaming and Internet Trap. Roberts is a nationally-recognized expert in cyber addictions and also lectures widely on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He speaks French, Spanish, and German in addition to some conversational capacity in Greek, Italian, Arabic, Quechua and Chinese.
Learn more about Kevin and his work on his website,


(The following quotes, as well as those in the review, are from an advanced reading copy of Movers, Dreamers, and Risk-Takers so the actual page numbers and quotes might not be exactly as found in the published version - but they are too good or insightful not to at least mention them.)

Ned Hallowell calls piles the "kudzu of ADD." I get irritated if someone tries to move something or combine my "kudzu" without proper authorization. pg. 32

So, if you are in crisis right now, it is important to keep in mind that you also have a precious opportunity for change, perhaps even transformation. pg. 76

Before anything else, father and son needed to repair their relationship. Constant criticism exacts a heavy toll. Silence is like a "no fly zone" or a "no-man's-lane." It halts "hostilities" and thus gives the relationship space so that healing can slowly begin. After about a week of relative silence, Mike's son asked, "Dad, why are you not saying anything about school?" Mike responded, "Because what I was saying made things worse. I care more about our relationship than I do about your schoolwork." pg. 93

The essence of mediation for me is to cultivate the ability to watch my reactions without getting trapped in them. When I explode with anger, I have been ensnared. ADHDers are master trappers. Meditation is an extrasensory perception that allows me to see the trap on the trail and then chose to walk around it.
Another technique I employ is visualization. pg. 98

We have already covered lists in terms of goal setting, but listing can be useful in a variety of ways. We ADHDers miss details. The only way I have a prayer of keeping commitments and responsibilities is to regularly assume that I have forgotten something. I brainstorm and write down what comes to mind. pg. 128

 I'm offering one of my lucky readers a chance to win a copy of Movers, Dreamers, and Risk-Takers: Unlocking the Power of ADHD by Kevin Roberts. This giveaway ends at noon on June 30th and a winner will be announced that evening. (US/Canada only, no PO Boxes)

Contest is closed -  Congratulations Kathryn!

Kevin Roberts’ TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:
Monday, June 11th:  She Treads Softly
Thursday, June 14th:  Life is Short. Read Fast.
Monday, June 18th:  Overstuffed
Wednesday, June 20th:  Attention Deficit Whatever
Thursday, June 21st:  My Bookshelf
Monday, June 25th:  Book Snob
Wednesday, June 27th:  The Girl from the Ghetto
Friday, June 29th:  Reviews by Molly
Monday, July 2nd:  Life Unfocused
Thursday, July 5th:  ADD Student
Monday, July 9th:  Seaside Book Nook
Monday, July 23rd:  A Mom’s View of ADHD

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Odds

The Odds by Stewart O'Nan
Penguin Group, 2012
Hardcover, 192 pages
ISBN-13: 9780670023165

Stewart O'Nan's thirteenth novel is another wildly original, bittersweet gem like his celebrated Last Night at the Lobster. Valentine's weekend, Art and Marion Fowler flee their Cleveland suburb for Niagara Falls, desperate to recoup their losses. Jobless, with their home approaching foreclosure and their marriage on the brink of collapse, Art and Marion liquidate their savings account and book a bridal suite at the Falls' ritziest casino for a second honeymoon. While they sightsee like tourists during the day, at night they risk it all at the roulette wheel to fix their finances-and save their marriage. A tender yet honest exploration of faith, forgiveness and last chances, The Odds is a reminder that love, like life, is always a gamble.

My Thoughts:

Unabashedly, I'm declaring my personal Stewart O'Nan fan club is back in session.

In The Odds Stewart O'Nan explores a marriage in crisis. Art and Marion Fowler have lost their jobs, are heading for bankruptcy, about to lose their home, and are on the brink of divorce. In a last ditch effort to salvage something, Art and Marion withdrawal all their remaining savings and book a bridal suite at a Niagara Falls casino. They are telling others it is a second honeymoon. They actually plan to gamble their money into enough cash to save them.
This is a bittersweet novel. Art and Marion are also taking all sorts of emotional baggage with them from their almost thirty years of marriage. It soon becomes clear that Art is a hopeful optimist, sure that their marriage and life can be salvaged. Marion is more pessimistic, and trying to simply humor Art for one more weekend before she begins her single life. The desperation of their plan, combined with a thread of optimism, underpins their weekend.
Setting The Odds in Niagara Falls was really a brilliant move. The tourist trap feeling combined with the romance and grandeur of the falls plays off Art and Marion's personal emotional drama. Will this gamble save their marriage, their lives? What are their odds?
The title of the book, The Odds, is emphasized with each new chapter of the book giving the odds that pertains to some event in the chapter. For example, the opening is: "Odds of a U.S. tourist visiting Niagara Falls: 1 in 95." Others include: "Odds of a married couple reaching their 25th anniversary: 1 in 6"; "Odds of seeing a shooting star: 1 in 5,800"; "Odds of a 53-year-old woman being a grandmother: 1 in 3."
While the novel is short and the setting and action are deceptively simple, The Odds is a complex character study. The novel works based on the strength of O'Nan's writing. This is an honest, intimate, emotional novel. These are real people with all the anxieties, desires, faults, and pressures that many people face. They have both made mistakes. Through O'Nan we are privy to all of Art and Marion's thoughts and emotions. O'Nan is a master at character studies. 
Very Highly Recommended - one of the best
The final week of their marriage, hounded by insolvency, indecision, and, stupidly, half secretly, in the never-distant past ruled by memory, infidelity, Art and Marion Fowler fled the country. North, to Canada. "Like the slaves," Marion told her sister Celia. They would spend their last days and nights as man and wife as they'd spent the first, nearly thirty years ago, in Niagara Falls, as if, across the border, by that fabled and overwrought cauldron of new beginnings, away from any domestic, everyday claims, they might find each other again. Or at least Art hoped so. Marion was just hoping to endure it with some grace and get back home so she could start dealing with the paperwork required to become, for the first time in her life, a single-filing taxpayer. opening
From the beginning Art had conceived of the trip as a secret mission, a fantastic last-ditch escape from the snares of their real life, and while Marion refused to believe in the possibility, as at first she refused to believe the severity of their situation, she also knew they'd run out of options. pg. 3
While Art saw the divorce as a legal formality, a convenient shelter for whatever assets they might have left, from the beginning she'd taken the idea seriously, weighing her options and responsibilities - plumbing, finally, her heart - trying, unsuccessfully, to keep the ghost of Wendy Daigle out of the equation. pg. 7
Sitting there with the bag as she flipped the pages, he allowed himself to think of all the problems it would have solved if the bus had rolled and he alone had been killed. How clean it would be. pg. 10
Her entire life had not been a ruin. There were seasons she'd keep, years with the children, days and hours with
Art and, yes, despite the miserable end, with Karen. pg. 13
Did he understand how hard it was to believe a word he said when he lied so easily? pg. 14
Equally insane was the notion that any young woman would be interested in a broke fifty-two-year-old with thinning hair, but that was never addressed.  No, the real answer, the real reason the question tortured him, was that without Marion he wouldn't know what to do or even who he was. He could send his laundry out, but he would belong to that legion of aging, unloved men buying frozen dinners and six-packs at the grocery store, or worse, working there, bagging their sad purchases and wishing them a good evening.  pg. 23
"Are you still going to have bad thoughts when we're divorced?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
"I thought it might work like bankruptcy, everything forgiven."
"Sorry, some debts you have to pay."
"It was worth a try," he said.
"Not really." pg. 29
That terrible summer she'd wished on a falling star for him to come back to her, and he had, though it hadn't made either of them happy.Maybe this wasn't any different, and yet she was ready, if he would come to her, unbidden, to try again. pg. 46