Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Water, water, everywhere

Title: Flood Stage and Rising
Author: Jane Varley

First, I must confess that I might be a bit biased about this book. The author is a creative writing professor at the college where I work. She was also my creative writing professor back in undergrad, since I now work at the institution where I went to college.

That said, this book is a really good read. Varley tells about the huge flood in Grand Forks, North Dakota in 1997. Interwoven throughout in alternating chapters she describes various other personal water-related experiences: stories relating to rain, lakes, rivers, the ocean, and floods. As you may be able to guess, water has played a key role in her life.

There are several great things about reading a book written by a person that I know. First of all, I can hear her voice relating parts of the story. Even better is that the story is true, recreated to the best of her memory. As a creative writing professor, Varley's skills with imagery are amazing. I can see the river threatening to overflow the dike in the middle of the night, as its "surface roiled with the blackness of ink" (p. 38). I can feel the cool waters of the mountain-fed stream that Varley swims in. I pedal beside a young Varley as she views a flooded river.

Non-natives of Grand Forks, Varley and her husband feel compelled to help the locals fight the rising waters of the river. They struggle to stack sandbags on top of the dike as the water level grows higher and higher. Working day and night making sandbags and stacking sandbags, they enjoy the mindless repetitive motions as well as the feeling that they are helping out. However, as the floodwaters rise, Varley's husband Gary becomes concerned and suggests that they leave town. They do, and the very next day Varley awakes to the sound of a ringing phone. The river has flooded.

Are all their belongings destroyed? Will they have to start over? To find out, you'll have to read the book.

posted by Kate at 8:05 PM


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Oscar Wilde

Book: The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband
Author: Oscar Wilde

[Clearly, I’m a little bored at nights and am compensating by catching up on weeks of belated book reviews. Sorry for the inundation, I think this is the last. And I’m working on making these shorter, I swear!]

Oscar Wilde is like raspberries, or olives, or shrimp. Sometimes you just get a craving for him. And when you do, nothing else satisfies.

The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband were both re-reads for me, but well worth the time. Seven years had passed since I last read Wilde, and a re-visitation was more than overdue. Isn’t that one of the coolest things about books? As you change, so do they.

Actually, Earnest was just as I remembered it – delightfully trivial nonsense. Thankfully, there’s not a drop of serious thinking in this play. The basic plot is that there are two girls who have resolved to marry men named Earnest, and two men not named Earnest who have allowed the impression that they are Earnest to develop in the minds of said fair strumpets. Following? And as a result, “hijinks ensue.” (Thanks, ket!)

This is Wilde at his most pure – nothing but wit and snarkiness and playing with language. It’s a nice vacation for those who like words.

An Ideal Husband was both more interesting and more annoying for me the second time around. The plot involves Sir Robert Chiltern (a brilliant up-and-coming politician), his virtuous wife Lady Chiltern, and Mrs. Cheveley, a woman of questionable virtue who wants to blackmail Sir Robert with a scrap of dirty laundry from his past. Luckily, Lord Goring, Wilde’s ever-present dandy fop, is around to save the day with a sound philosophy hidden behind wit and folly. And he even manages to find his own true love while doing it!

I enjoyed the blackmail plot much more this time around. And the political scandals currently erupting nearly every day gave me a better appreciation of Sir Robert’s dilemma. Excellent. But the play also asks several questions about the relationship between Sir Robert and his wife – and provides obnoxious answers. When she finally learns of the dark secret in her husband’s past, Lady Chiltern is scornful and horrified, shocked that the husband she worshiped is made of clay just like other men. Wilde is quite critical of this attitude, and clearly believes that wives should never place their husbands on pedestals.

All to the good, of course – we’re all human and you won’t find me arguing with that. But Wilde then swings too far the other way and seems argue that a wife should fully support her husband not matter what he does. There were one or two passages near the end that reeked so badly that I had to hold my nose to get through them. The following lines in particular made me howl: “A man’s life is of more value than a woman’s. It has larger issues, wider scope, greater ambitions. Our lives [women’s lives] revolve in curves of emotions. It is upon lines of intellect that a man’s life progresses.”


As an overly-analytical, cold-hearted female who gets truly irked by tears and sighs when they are not also accompanied by reason (*cough* high school *cough*), I found that pretty hard to swallow. But it was only one bitter pill that had to be forced down along with all the other delicious stuff Wilde serves up, so I think I’ll survive.

Although reading that may make it difficult for me to resist compensating by playing the role of a rampaging bitch in the upcoming weeks. Bring it!

posted by Elizabeth at 5:37 AM


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Man and His Monocle

Book: Clouds of Witness
Author: Dorothy L. Sayers

Lord Peter Wimsey is one of the great creations in the British detective novel. Witty and foppish, he is a recurrent sufferer of logorrhea and a master of arcane literary references, any English major’s delight. With his ever-present monocle and cane, he is also something of a ridiculous caricature of British nobility. But all that surface gloss merely conceals the determined and tortured character of a truly great detective. Because it is simply indecent for one to be a good detective without also being tortured.

Clouds of Witness is Dorothy Sayers’ second novel starring Lord Peter. Like all her books, it’s wonderfully intelligent and literate, although not the best she ever wrote. The Wimsey series comes into its true brilliance only with the introduction of Harriet Vane in Strong Poison as a mystery novelist accused of murder whom Lord Peter proves innocent – and then proceeds to fall in love with. Harriet refuses his initial offer of marriage for reasons I won’t spoil, and their story continue through Have His Carcase and into Gaudy Night, which is one of all-time favorite books. Kat and ket may remember a Christmas party two years ago when my love for Gaudy Night was the only thing I could talk about. But together with The Nine Tailors and Murder Must Advertise, these are three of Sayers’ novels that are not to be missed.

But I was supposed to be writing about Clouds of Witness, which I only read recently. In it, Lord Peter’s brother, the Duke of Denver, is charged with the murder of his sister’s fiance, who was a rather shady character. Misunderstandings, foiled plots, torrid affairs, and family tensions ensue, all played out against the backdrop of the British legal system, which has – or at least had – a separate procedure for trying peers of the realm. It’s great stuff, and there’s truly wonderful scene out on the moor involving Bunter, Lord Peter’s faithful butler, which is sure to thrill any Sayers fan.

Although a contemporary of Agatha Christie’s and well-regarded in Britain, Sayers is not as well known in the States. I can’t imagine why. I much prefer her to Christie, whose novels all seem rather dry to me in comparison. Sayers is a much warmer writer. Her dialogue is excellent and her characterization – particularly of Lord Peter and Harriet – is phenomenal. Even Clouds of Witness, which I already mentioned is not her best book, gave me shivers on several occasions.

Bottom line, I adore Dorothy Sayers. When tipsy, I’ve been known to drag friends over to my bookshelves, pull out Gaudy Night, and expound for quite some time on why it’s one of my favorite books of all time. I’ll spare you that rant. Just be forewarned that it’s a weakness that may be revealed in the future!

(Oh, and did I mention that I find Lord Peter incredibly sexy as a literary character? Er…hem…yes, it may be prudent to mention that.)

posted by Elizabeth at 10:02 PM


Children, listen to me...

Book: Der Struwwelpeter
Author: Dr. Heinrich Hoffman

title or description

Dr. Heinrich Hoffman’s Der Struwwelpeter was one of those deliciously ghastly German children books my father read to me as a child. ‘Twas not pleasant reading then, I much preferred Sleeping Beauty The Princess and the Pea. But I find it morbidly fascinating nowadays. Though it’s overflowing with blood compared to modern children’s lit, it’s not that unique for what used to be written. (Read the original version of Cinderella in Grimms’ Fairly Tales - it’s just as horrifying.) Overall, “gothic” may be an apt word to describe the mood of these stories, even though they’re illustrated in vivid colors. Being home, I pulled the dusty book down from the shelf last night and opened it once again.

Der Struwwelpeter translates into “Shock-Headed Peter” – smelly and nasty Peter, if you will. And he’s only one of the characters who appear in these cautionary tale. The Forward shows the awards that come to good children – those who play nicely, eat their bread, and walk nicely with Mommy get pretty picture books (like the one the author has written). But the following stories all illustrate the tragedy and horror that befall children who do not listen to their elders – children who are naughty, stubborn, and cruel to others.

There are biting dogs, girls burned alive, St. Nicholas dunking boys into inkstands, a hunter hounded by a hare with a shotgun (clearly, an ancestor of Bugs), and a boy who starves to death because he refuses to eat his soup. Wholesome, edifying stuff, to be sure.

But the story I’ve always remembered most was that about a boy who wouldn’t stop sucking his thumbs. Others must’ve found it just as haunting, because I came across a creepy animation of the tale that’s excellent in the most evil of ways. I think the creator is a little unfair to Hoffman, making the tale darker than it truly is and being completely wrong in linking it to the Third Reich, but it’s still pretty amazing. This can give you nightmares and is a good way to get into the Halloween spirit.

If interested, here’s the link to an English translation by Mark Twain, along with the original images. The first page is missing from his translation for some reason, but I’ve linked to it here. I don’t know why Twain left it out. Maybe he thought it was too “goody-goody” compared to the darkness that followed.

posted by Elizabeth at 8:52 PM


Sunday, October 22, 2006

More Zombies!

Title: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
Author: Max Brooks

Max Brooks' new novel, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, has already been reviewed on this website by ~e. As such, I figured my own review would be something a little...well, unconventional. Sadly, it's far to long to post here. Instead, I posted it on LJ and am merely providing the link here. Enjoy!


posted by Elizabeth at 11:17 PM



Title: Break No Bones
Author: Kathy Reichs

Have any of you ever seen the TV show "Bones"? The main character is a combination of the main character of this series and the author.

Temperance Brennan is a forensic anthropologist (how awesome is that? I'm totally in the wrong line of work...). She has appointments at a university or two, as well as consulting-type positions in various locations like South Carolina and Quebec.

When this book opens (there's a few more preceding it in the series - I'll try to catch y'all up), she's overseeing an excavation conducted by some university students because everyone else the university could potentially drag in left the continent. She's less than thrilled, until a recent skeleton is uncovered.

Fortunately, Tempe's friends with the local coroner, Emma. The two of them start working together to find out what happened to this body. Tempe's staying at her (other) friend's beach house while there, and her friend also tells Tempe's ex-husband, Pete, that he can stay there while he works on an investigation into a missing girl (he's a lawyer).

Then factor in Tempe's current romantic interest, Andrew Ryan, a detective in Quebec, who randomly shows up in town to visit her. There's a rather interesting, competitive dynamic between Pete and Ryan...

And a few more bodies.

And then ties linking Pete's investigation to Tempe's dead bodies.

And then Emma's latent chronic illness really knocks her down. Tempe becomes the de facto coroner for some South Carolinian county. Plus, being nosy, she's investigating the dead bodies and Pete's missing girl, occasionally butting heads with the sheriff.

Then Pete gets shot. Was it really meant for Tempe? Will Pete survive? Why is she so distraught at his injury, since they're no longer together? Why are all these people dying (and how)?

It all gets wrapped up in the end.

If you've ever read a Patricia Cornwell novel, you'll probably like these books. Very detailed and interesting forensic discussions. Honestly, I don't like Cornwell, but for whatever reason these work for me.

While we're at it, I should also mention that Kathy Reich's real life is a lot like Tempe's - she's a working forensic anthropologist, who writes novels in her spare time.

And I'll also recommend books by Gwen Hunter - she wrote a few about an ER doctor that these feel very similar to. More books that make me (briefly) regret my career path because they're fascinating and interesting...


posted by ket at 10:26 PM


SEALs, SEALs, and more SEALs

Title: Into the Storm
Author: Suzanne Brockman

Back to the "real" SEAL series.

Mark, a current SEAL and former pudgy nerd, gets his high school crush, Tracy, a job working as a secretary for Troubleshooters, Inc., the non-governmental agency that a lot of folks in this series work for once they leave the government. Also working for TI is Lindsey, a former cop who used to work vice and stuff. She's very petite, but tough.

Tracy's semi-engaged, Mark's a bit distraught over that, and Lindsey has a bit of a crush on Mark. Once night, after a joint training op between the SEALs and TI, Lindsey goes home with Mark, they have some fun, and then Tracy calls him and he drops everything to go running off to her, which effectively kills his "relationship" with Lindsey.

Fast forward a month or so.

During another joint training op, Tracy gets kidnapped for real, so everyone has to work to save her, and Lindsey and Mark must put their differences aside, etc.

Also involved in this story are Sophia and Decker. You may remember them from Flashpoint, when they were both in K-stan. She's the one who gave Decker a bj to escape when he thought she was a potential terrorist. That's all cleared up now, and they both work for TI, but they don't acknowledge their attraction and walk on eggshells around each other, which drives everyone else nuts. They have to work together to find Tracy too.

Lindsey's inner demons come from her dad, because his father (her grandfather) was a Japanese war criminal during WWII, responsible for the deaths of thousands. Lindsey's dad regrets having children (aka her) because of the family legacy (which he hadn't initially known about because evil dad raped his mom; good, kind dad raised him) - she overheard the conversation and he doesn't know she knows he feels/felt that way.


Tracy was captured by a sicko who makes his kidnapped women fight each other to the death while he watches. The current champion is "Number 5" - Tracy is "Number 21", so 5's pretty kick-ass. They're all tracking her down when a major blizard hits, and Lindsey's the first to actually reach the house where Tracy and #5 are being held. She has to kill the wacko to save Tracy and #5.

Mark arrives, after running 7 miles in the blizzard because running was faster than driving. They realize they're meant to be. Awww.

Sophia and Decker agree to go on a date, much to everyone's relief (except for Dave, a former CIA agent and Sophia's former handler who is madly in love with her but only wants her to be happy, so he knows that she wants Decker, but wants to kill him because he treats her like crap, etc.).

The end. Or not - there's bound to be other books in the series, so these relationships will get dragged on forever. :-)

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posted by ket at 10:10 PM


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

High, Cold, and Dead

Title: Into Thin Air
Author: Jon Krakauer

Jan Krakauer’s Into Thin Air may be the only non-fiction book that I’ve read more than once. I first read it as a college sophomore and was so engrossed that I stayed up until 3 a.m. to finish it in one day. Bad choice. I was so horrified and freaked that I don’t think I really slept that night at all.

I didn’t sleep after finishing it this time either. I just kind of lay wrapped up in my blankets and shivering – even though the heat was on and my room was a toasty 75 degrees.

Into Thin Air is Krakauer’s personal account of the 1996 disaster upon Mount Everest, a season when a record breaking 15 climbers died on those fabled slopes. A correspondent for Outside magazine, Krakauer was sent as a client on Rob Hall’s expedition to cover the commercialization of Everest. (In addition to the numerous frozen corpses, there are also piles of human feces and discarded oxygen canisters up there.) The fact that a writer of Krakauer’s caliber happened to be there when the disaster unfolded – and lived through it to tell the tale – is remarkable. I’d say that we were lucky to have his story, except that what happened was all so horrible.

Reading this book is the equivalent of running a marathon in a blizzard – exhausting, scary, and numbing. Krakauer’s writing is simple and straightforward, very strong and direct. The reader is transported to the Southern Col, huddling in a wind-whipped nylon tent while suffering from any number of physical ailments brought on by the freezing temperatures and high altitude. (An interesting fact included in the book is that a human taken from sea level and transferred directly to the summit of Everest without being acclimated will die within minutes from lack of oxygen and the thin atmosphere.) One of the more interesting things about Krakauer’s account is its ambiguity – since pretty much everyone there was suffering from hypoxia, there were delusions and mistaken identities and contrasting accounts of what happened. There’s controversy over how accurate his version is, but I think that just adds to the fascination of the tale.

I don’t know anything about mountain climbing except that it scares the hell out of me. It’s not a height thing, because I can climb trees like none other. I think it’s the loss of control, the fact that the only thing keeping you from plunging into your next existence as the morning special at IHOP is a harness and a rope that may or may not have been manufactured by a disgruntled worker in a Third World sweatshop. Unreasonably paranoid, I know, but I can’t help it. I guess I just don’t trust like that.

So for me, Into Thin Air is the ultimate real world horror story about not being in control of your environment. Forget the lethally cold weather, forget the possibility of plunging into crevasses, and forget the possibility of having a block of ice crush your chest in – simply being that high up can kill you. It’s the altitude that does it, the thin atmosphere, and you won’t know whether you’re susceptible or not until you get there.

Bottom line, there’s only so much you can prepare for up there. In fact, several of the people who died that year were experienced guides and climbers who had previously summated on multiple occasions. Sure they made some pretty dumb mistakes, but they also ran into a lot of simple bad luck.

So Into Thin Air comes highly recommended. I found the re-reading experience just as engrossing and terrifying as the initial journey. And Krakauer’s account isn’t all sheer adventure writing, he also gives you numerous interesting tidbits of mountaineering lore and history.

Ultimately, however, the main question is whether amateur climbers should even be allowed on Everest, and whether it’s moral/right/safe for those with the immense time and resources to blow to pay someone to haul their ass up to the world’s summit. I’m rather conflicted on the issue, but there’s one thing I do know for sure – my own frozen ass is one thing you’ll never find up there.

posted by Elizabeth at 8:25 PM


Friday, October 13, 2006

What a Kroc!!

Fast Food Nation
Eric Schlosser

I love when restaurants, or to use a more appropriate term, eateries, name themselves after their menu. Places like Cold Beer and Cheeseburgers, or BW3 back before they, like my alma mater, caved and just started calling the place what everyone else called it, and it was still Buffalo Wild Wings. It's great because you never have to wonder what they have, or what their signature menu item is. I was certain that I had heard the person wrong the first time I heard Fuddruckers, and it was months later before I found out they had burgers. (Years after that, I actually went to one and discovered they were also extremely pricey burgers) However, no matter how entertaining it may be, it's not always a good idea. Two days ago I noticed a Fatburger on my way back from work. It did not entice me to place an order.

Neither will this book.

I was actually encouraged to read it with the warning, "You'll never eat fast food again," but because I usually don't eat it anyway (Chipotle totally doesn't count), I didn't consider this much of a threat.

They were wrong. It made me seriously reconsider eating at all.

Schlosser starts by describing the history and rise of fast food as an industry. He describes how the businesses operate at both a corporate and franchise level, and the interaction between the two. Intimate details of the meatpacking industry are revealed in what may be my favorite chapter, What's in the meat (Direct quote: "There is shit in the meat." That's not Schlosser. That's one of his interviews.), and the secrets behind artificial and "natural" flavors are unearthed. In true liberal avenger form, he even shows us the deplorable working conditions for the fast food and meatpacking workers. This is where I point out that although I agree that the workers need better conditions, I in no way support his view that everybody should union up, but that's just my view.

McDonalds is an obvious target throughout, if only because they still abide by Ray Kroc's corporate philosophy. This is a man who once said of his business rivals, "If they were drowning to death, I would put a hose in their mouth." Schlosser attacks from all sides, and I can't say I blame him. I stopped eating there when I discovered that not only was the toy the best part, but it usually wasn't any good.

I had two other favorite quotes I'd like to share, and I won't even mention the CWRU professor who's cited in the afterword. First, from What's in the meat:

"A series of tests conducted by Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, discovered far more fecal bacteria in the average American kitchen sink than on the average American toilet seat. According to Gerba, 'You'd be better off eating a carrot stick that fell in your toilet than one that fell in your sink.'"

I have a small issue with this, because if you're getting fecal matter on the seat, then you were clearly not properly instructed in how to operate a toilet. But it still says a lot about how dirty the meat is when it gets to your home.

Finally, the line I almost used to open this post:

"Plauen has become a battlefield for these competing ideologies, with their proudly displayed and archetypal symbols: the swastika, the hammer and sickle, the golden arches."

That line summarizes the entire book, from the global reach of the industry--making us not a fast food nation, but a fast food planet--to Schlosser's obvious view that McDonald's is just another evil empire.

I agree with this assertion, but I have for a long time. That's the problem. The only people who are going to read this book unless it is forced upon them are the ones who don't need convincing.

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posted by reyn at 6:46 AM


Thursday, October 12, 2006

All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot

Title: All Creatures Great and Small
Author: James Herriot

It’s been a long and stressful day. Much of it I spent staring rather wild-eyed at my glowing computer screen. I’m currently feeling perfectly misanthropic and combative. So to fight back all these bad demons, I rifled through my “To Review” stack of books tonight. I needed something soothing and comforting to review. I needed something nice.

There wasn’t much competition – James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small is probably the most genuinely heart-warming book I’ve read in years.

Herriot’s classic semi-autobiographical tale simply defies cynicism and sarcasm. He spent about fifty years practicing veterinarian medicine in the Yorkshire Dales, and this book tells the story of his adventures those first few years. Each chapter is essentially a small short story relating a particular humorous or touching incident. The writing is good, solid English, very easy to sink down into and forget yourself for a few hours.

All Creatures opens with a rather surprising image – Herriot is shirtless and laying in a puddle of dirt and blood and various nauseating fluids. For hours he’s been in that position…with his arm shoved in a cow’s birthing canal up to his shoulder, trying to turn around a baby calf so it can be born.

They didn’t say anything about this in the books, he thinks in disbelief.

It sounds disgusting. And no doubt there are some sections in this book that will make delicate stomachs squirm. But it’s all honestly charming. Herriot is good-natured, kind, and funny, and it shows in his writing. And even though the novel is set in 1930s Yorkshire, I related to the young vet’s struggles with his new profession. Like all of us, he wrestles with the sudden onset of real responsibility, the vagaries and inconsistencies of his new boss, and trying to figure what it’s all about really.

Along the way, the reader meets the unique Yorkshire people and traipses with Herriot through the beautiful English moors. He has a true affection for the farmers he serves, and they’re all wonderful characters in their own right. And then there are the animals – cows, horses, pigs, sheep, dogs, cats. They’re fun to get to know, too.

If you haven’t read this book yet, I’d suggest saving it for a snowy day when you have absolutely nothing to do. Snuggle down in some old flannel pajamas and make sure there’s a pair of warm slippers on your feet. Build a fire, and have a cup of steaming tea nearby so you can hold it in your hands and blink while you stare philosophically into the flames. Wrap a quilt around your shoulders and let Herriot take you back to the 1930s English countryside and its good-natured inhabitants – both human and animal. It may not really have been a simpler, better time to live, but the illusion is beautiful, and it’s not one that I’m particularly eager to break.

I’ll finish with a quote from the book, which when I read it definitely made my heart ache…if only a wee bit.

Throwing wide my arms I wriggled my shoulders and my sweat-soaked shirt into the tough grass and let the sweet breeze play over me. With the sun on my face I looked through half-closed eyes at the hazy-blue sky.

My ribs ached and I could feel the bruises of a dozen kicks on my legs. I knew I didn’t smell so good either. I closed my eyes and grinned at the ridiculous thought that I had been conducting a diagnostic investigation for tuberculosis back there. A strange way to carry out a scientific procedure; a strange way, in fact, to earn a living.

But then I might have been in an office with the windows tight shut against the petrol fumes and the traffic noise, the desk light shining on the column of figures, my bowler hat hanging on the wall.

Lazily I opened my eyes again and watched a cloud shadow riding over the face of the green hill across the valley. No, no…I wasn’t complaining.

I loved that.

posted by Elizabeth at 8:44 PM


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

this blog was supposed to shame me into reading better books

Obviously, it didn't work.

Title: Code Name: Blondie
Author: Christina Skye

Again, this is part of a series involving Navy SEALS. But this is a different series. This one is even more unrealistic. The SEALS are practically androids - implanted with special chips and stuff that give them crazy powers. And they can communicate telepathically, thanks to lots of training. Plus, they work with incredibly intelligent dogs that can parachute out of planes and control the weather.

So, one of these SEALS went rogue a few books ago, and they're still trying to recapture or kill him. He's been linked to a tropical island, so Max is sent, with Truman the dog, to a neighboring island to conduct some surveillance and retrieve some giant bomb-type-weapon.

And then we meet Miki. She's a photographer whose plane goes down during a storm, conveniently close to Max's island. Being the good guy, he saves her and the severely injured pilot, and takes them to his secret underground lair (no, seriously, they're staying in a network of caves, because the bad guy can sense their energy if they're above ground). But Max is suspicious of this tall, attractive blonde, because it's a little too convenient that her plane went down there then.

Hijinks ensue.

She earns his trust, after running away a few times. She even uses some of the surgical tools that she had to use to stich a gaping wound in his back after a bad guy slashed him with a knife to carve knitting needles so she can knit gloves for him.

Speaking of gloves, Max has to wear gloves all the time, because his sense of touch is, well, enhanced? One of his chips somehow allows him to recognize chemical structures and other things (like body temp, to the degree) just by touch. Oh, but When he takes them off as a sign of trust, Miki sleeps with him.

And speaking of cosmic coincidences, Miki's best friend, Kit, trains dogs. In fact, she trains dogs that are part of this super-secret program. And she was also the heroine of the book before this one in the series. Kit's fiance, Wolfe, is on Max's team, as is her brother, Trace (maybe? something that starts with a T...). Therefore, when it's time for things to go down on the bad guy's island, the team realizes they can use her to help go after Max, who's been temporarily captured, because she did something (I don't remember what) in the last book. Whatever.

Max lives. The bad guy dies (probably - his helicopter was blown up, and it looked like he was in it, but he might have just been projecting his image into it to confuse them...). Miki gets injured during the epic battle scene, but lives. And she and Max live happily ever after.

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posted by ket at 11:07 PM


Sex in the City this is NOT

Title: Single in Suburbia
Author: Wendy Wax

I don't know why I had high hopes for this one, other than the relatively attractive cover.

Amanda, a housewife with two teenaged kids (a boy and a girl) is suddenly a single parent when her husband runs off with his artifically enhanced trophy girlfriend. When she files for divorce, she learns that they're broke because he's been gambling or something.

To make ends meet, Amanda begins cleaning houses, since her superficial friends keep complaining about how their foreign housekeepers just don't get the job done right. These women are fellow parents of kids on her son's baseball team. Once she's dumped, they shun her, and her only friends are the other misfit moms - Candace, the coach's girlfriend, and Brooke, a trophy wife, but she's a nice and well-meaning trophy wife.

Oh, back to the housecleaning. She's embarassed, but, conveniently, Amanda did lots of community theater, and she's an expert makeup artist. Therefore, she manages to transform her appearance so that nobody recognizes her!

Then the local hot, single dad hires her alter ego to clean, but it seems like he's suspicious. Hmmm... maybe her future soulmate can see through the pancake makeup and wig to the woman underneath? (gag)

Anyway, there's also some drama with Candace (overbearing mother) and Brooke (she's hiding her trailer-trash past from her husband).

It all gets resolved in the end (really? I never would have guessed!). Amanda and Hunter get together in the end. The kids accept their future new dad. All is good with the world. Hooray!


posted by ket at 10:13 PM


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Bleak...quite bleak

Title: The Road
Author: Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy’s new novel The Road is being passed around my office like the flu. When one person finishes it, he or she transmits it on to the next host, who spends the subsequent 24-48 hours in a daze-like trance before communicating the book to its next victim. The specimen entered my hands at 2 p.m. one afternoon and left it at 10 a.m. the next morning – I’d spent the first hour at work reading it under my desk.

The Road tells the story of a nameless father and son who are struggling to survive a nuclear winter in a post-apocalyptic world. McCarthy doesn’t tell you what happened to the world, where the father or son are, or even where they’re going – the only thing the reader knows is that they’re pushing a grocery cart along the road to the sea. Ash drifts everywhere, almost all life is dead, and roving bands of cannibals are a constant threat. Trust me, it’s a real upper.

(But wow, do I love that phrase – roving bands of cannibals! Cool.)

The novel is hypnotic – dreamy, depressing, and grey. Everyone who’s read it so far has been completely mesmerized. As for me, I loved it…and hated it.

What did I love? Well, as I already mentioned, the novel is short and easily read in one sitting. And it’s definitely engrossing enough that you won’t want to put it down. Although I recommend that you don’t start it at night like I did. Your dreams will be of the more unpleasant variety.

What did I hate? Well, several things. Although McCarthy doesn’t overtly state it, The Road is a Christian book. The remaining denizens of Earth are divided into camps of Good People and Bad People, with the father constantly assuring the son that they fall into the former category. To me, it seems that the central conflict of the book is how to stay a good person when the only way to survive may be to do something truly horrible. The son often questions the father when he does something cold and cruel in the name of their survival, like leaving a young boy behind them without giving him food. “You don’t have to worry about everything, like I do,” the father once complains bitterly. “Yes, I do,” the boy replies simply. To me, the implication was that the boy was worrying about their souls – the only thing that really matters.

So the division of people into Good Persons and Bad Persons bothered me, with the underlying assumption that Good People believe in God, while the Bad People don’t – you know, because once you don’t believe in God, it’s just a slippery slope until you start to eat babies.

The other complaints are just general criticisms of McCarthy’s writing that I could apply to any of his books (clearly, I’m not one of those people who think he’s the only “real writer” we have today). I love good characterization and dialogue, and both are completely nonexistent in The Road. McCarthy is also deadly serious about everything – the man has no concept of a joke. I once read somewhere that he has a disdain for writers who don’t focus on death as their theme, since that is the only thing that counts. Personally, I like a little more wit and sunshine, even in my tragedies. How can a book show you true sadness until it’s shown you true joy as well?

And finally, the machismo is grating as always. McCarthy couldn’t write a decent female character even if you pumped him with estrogen, dressed him as a drag queen, and made him the triangle girl in a glam-rock band. He’s been married on several occasions, otherwise I’d speculate that he’s the classic case of someone overcompensating for their repressed homosexuality. Although I guess being married doesn’t necessarily make that impossible…hmm…

Still, I liked The Road much better than any of his other novels I’ve read (All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and part of Blood Meridian). Unlike his previous efforts, which I forgot fairly quickly, The Road is going to stick with me for awhile. Although I guess it’s hard to forget a book when most of the dialogue goes something like this:

I’m scared, the boy said.

I know, he replied. Trust me. Nothing will happen.

This is really scary.

Don’t worry. Everything will be okay.

You sure?

Yes, I’m sure. Okay?


Okay. So, The Road isn’t as graphic in its depiction of the struggle to survive as In the Heart of the Sea (which has horrible research, but great cannibalism!), nor is it as deeply heartbreaking as Hotaru no haka (beautiful beautiful beautiful film). The Road is only a wee bit gross, and you won’t sniffle more than once or twice. But it’s still nightmarishly memorable, and since all the critics I’ve read seem to think it’s the book of the year, it’s definitely something to move to the top of your “To Read” list.

posted by Elizabeth at 9:31 PM


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

.- - -.- - - - - - -.. .-...- -..

by Eric Larson
available in HC on 10/24/06

Eric Larson (previously known for Devil in the White City) does this nifty thing where he takes a relatively obscure item in history, link it up to a real life murder mystery, and ends up creating a nifty picture of life in the world during a particular span of time.

Thunderstruck's history moment is is invention of the "wireless telegraph" mostly by Marconi, but kinda also by a few other people who would like to dispute Marconi's claim that he is the inventor. Meanwhile, Larson also follows a 'sensational' murder mystery that rocked London in the early 20th century, but that I'm sure most people haven't actually heard of. Or, at least, I hadn't.

Chapters alternate between the two stories, following Marconi from his first experiments in his teens and the very beginning of Dr. Crippin's relationship with his wife, who he kills off eventually (he was convicted of it, anyway. he did it, but the real question is whether or not he had help).

The fact that he kills his wife is not a spoiler, you can find that out from the book jacket. Larson's delivery is what makes the book. Although he's focusing on these two story lines and how end up intertwining, you end up with a good idea of how the world was working at the time (in this case, about 1890-1910). He also brings in lots of other "hey, I didn't know that" moments in just about every chapter. There are actually even more such moments than the ones I picked up on, but I'm not well-versed enough in trivia to recognize all of the names he mentioned.

I recommend this to any history or mystery fans. I also recommend his previous similar book 'Devil in the White City' which follows the Chicago World fair and a mass murderer. I plan to read that one again, since the first time I read it it was only in little snippets and I don't think I really obsorbed it correctly. The part about the World's Fair especially brings together a ton of different names you've actually heard of. It's interesting to think of these people as actually being contemporaries who probably knew or knew of each other. I always seem to think of historical figures in their own little boxes, like they were the only important people roaming around that year. Tons of people use 'Devil' in book groups and as gifts, I will say, also.

Thunderstruck would be a good Dad gift, 'cause it also involves big boats 'n stuff, like the first stirings of WWI, tangentially.

posted by ~e at 11:52 AM


Romance Novels: A Conclusion

Title: Key of Knowledge
Author: Nora Roberts

A conclusion both to the trilogy and to my reading of mass-produced paperback romance novels. I have had enough for now. They are just too cheesy and not well-written enough for me. They do make excellent light reading though, so if the goal is to avoid intellectual stimulation and relax after a hard day at work, they are a great choice.

In this book, Zoe, the hair salon part of Indulgence, is on the hunt for the remaining key. As in the last three books, a very important aspect to finding the key seems to be to fall in love with a man, in this case, Bradley Vane. Of course, there is the terrible dilemma: is it the quest for the key creating the illusion of love between them or is their love really the true love that will last a lifetime? *swoon*

And, to complicate matters, Zoe has a 9 year old son, Simon. She worries about him getting hurt by Bradley. However, Bradley and Simon have practically fallen in love, which everyone but Zoe can see.

This book also saw some good character development of the dog, Moe, who while continuing to be his normal boisterous and obnoxious self, also gained a new friend, Homer. I nearly cried tears of joy.

And then there are more booty dances at the opening of the new business.

I was a bit disappointed in the evil god, Kane, however. For being such a clever evil god, he’s rather easily outsmarted by the old “give the real key to someone else and keep your hand clenched in a fist behind your back like you have the key” trick.

But happy endings abound for all three ladies, including a planned group wedding on Valentine’s Day (someone please save me from the cheesiness of it all), etc etc.

posted by Kate at 8:41 AM


Book Covers Lie

Title: Key of Knowledge
Author: Nora Roberts

I am beginning to think they lie on the front covers of books. This one says “Second in the Thrilling New Key Trilogy”. That whole thrilling thing is maybe not so truthful. I think I’d downgrade it to “more or less entertaining.”

This book details Dana’s part of the quest. In true librarian style, she reads a bunch of books and does a bunch of research in the hopes of finding her key.

Dana, Malory, and Zoe also buy a house for the new business they are planning to open. All three conveniently lost their jobs right around the time they were presented with the quest to find the keys to free the souls of the three demi-goddesses. It’s actually a pretty clever idea: Indulgence, a combination bookstore, hair salon, and art gallery. “For the mind, body, and soul.”

What was not so clever, however, was the “booty shake” they did on the front porch of the house on the day they bought it. I don’t know about you but I don’t celebrate things with a “booty shake.” Perhaps I’m abnormal in that sense, but I think a group hug, or a high five, or some champagne would do the trick (of course, they do have champagne once they go inside the house). Or even if Nora referred to it as a happy dance or something. I would be willing to let that one go. But a “booty shake”?

As one would expect, this book has a happy ending. Dana gets the guy (Jordan, a famous writer, how appropriate), which is clearly the most important part of the book, and the key. I’d almost feel bad ruining it for you, but since all romance novels seem to have a happy ending, I don’t think it matters.

posted by Kate at 8:27 AM