Wednesday, January 30, 2008

family ties

title: The Monsters of Templeton
author: Lauren Groff
releasing: right about now?

Monsters is a first time novel by a very sweet and gracious author...they aren't all like that!

the novel is set in a fictional Cooperstown, complete with a fiction James F. Cooper, author of novels. Characters from the last of the Mohicans even make it in here...and though it adds to the interest, you really wouldn't need to know who they were to follow the story.

there are a few different things going on american loch ness monster. a lovely little ghost living in the house of the last remains of the Temple family. a search (a terrific journey, really) through a crazy ancestry where we eventually find that three branches of the same family entered into making the last member in the Temple line.

although the monster and the ghost add something to the story (and will help intrigue Stephen King fans - he loves the book!), i was totally into the family story. when the book begins, the main character, Willie Upton, has a very limited understanding of her family tree. she knows she's decended from the Temples (including the JFC stand-in, Jacob Franklin Temple) through both of her maternal grandparents, and being a bastard, that's all the family that counts. She's spurred about 1/3 of the way through to book to being researching the family further to find yet a third line decended from the original Temple, information her mother refuses to disclose. As she hunts around, the family tree that is shown throughout the book is updated to show Willie's new findings. Ancestor's she discovers are treated to having whole chapters told in their voice, sharing information contemporary to their place in time. there are nifty old pictures the author collected to represent all these characters.

although i wasn't as hooked by the monster and the ghost as i was by the family story, what i did notice was how casually they were slipped in there, and how accepting all the towns residence are of the existence (or proof of existence) of the big monster in the lake. just as if monsters and ghosts are totally normal, and i guess in Templeton they are.

Willie herself has an intersting personal story, which is the real movement in the plot. still, the family background stuff wins again. that's my favorite part, can ya tell?

it's definately a fiction novel, despite odd creatures, and probably more of a likely read for ladies than gentlemen...i would recommend ladies and gentlemen it a shot; i just didn't want to mis-represent or make it sound as grounded in the supernatural as the average King novel.

The author also has a blog, for those who need an extra layer of book immersion:

[every woman's] Voice is a cool imprint, focusing on woman writers. just in case that wasn't clear :-)

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posted by ~e at 11:07 PM


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Since we have an Austen tag...

Did anyone watch Mansfield Park on PBS Sunday night?

I don't think I've ever read the book, but I did check out the summary on wikipedia. Aside from the major chunks of plot that were omitted, I had some serious issues with the interpersonal relationships.

Fanny freaking let Edmund into her room while she was washing her hair! Excuse me?! I know they were raised almost as siblings, but they're adults now, and I thought that was totally inappropriate for an unmarried man and woman. Not to mention the major make-out scene in the backyard once he realized he loved her...

Plus her hair seemed totally wrong for the period; the dresses, however, according to the trivia on imdb, must have been accurate because it seems like all of them were borrowed from other Austen movies.

The one thing I enjoyed? Edmund was played by Cedric Diggory! (which is even more amusing since Filch's cat Mrs. Norris is supposedly named for Fannie's busybody aunt Mrs. Norris)

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posted by ket at 4:26 PM


We're all gonna die.

Title: Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World
Author: Jessica Snyder Sachs

This book was both fantastic and terrifying. It's kindof like an intro course on bacteria, slightly helped by my prior scientific knowledge, but it definitely wasn't required.

The various sections in the book include one discussing the normal bacteria that live in and on the human body, most of which are helpful, and how when we take antibiotics that are (1) too broad, or (2) not even needed (I'm sure you know someone who insisits on telling the doctor what's wrong with them, and insisting on what they need - say, antibiotics when they have a cold, which is caused by a virus) even worse things can happen. I've seen it - there's one known as C. diff. that causes severe diarrhea and usually is picked up during a hospital visit, because if all the good bacteria in your body are wiped out, the bad ones can take up residence. You want to talk scary, there's all kinds of infections running rampant in nursing homes. Apparently someone died of GANGRENE FROM A BEDSORE in the one where my grandmother lives last week.

There's so many problems in our world involving bacteria and antibiotics. For example, farmers discovered a few decades ago that several antibiotics promote growth of animals. So they feed their livestock high doses of these antibiotics solely for growth purposes (!!!), in addition to the numerous antibiotics they're fed for "prevention" of infections (which of course means that any infections that set in will be resistant to all the drugs the farmers are already providing).

Bacteria are incredibly versatile. If one has a slight evolutionary advantage allowing it to survive a course of antibiotics, it'll populate and, before long, render that particular antibiotic obsolete. Entire classes of antibiotics have become useless since the 1950's. The practice of giving animals antibiotics that could also be used for human treatments means that by the time we try to use them on humans they're useless (this happened in Europe in the 1990's).

Big drug companies aren't too enthusiastic about researching new antibiotics, since as soon as they're put into use, they're on a course for obsolesence, meaning no more profits. And then there's the big scare stories in the news about MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphlococcus aureus), which isn't actually resistant to everything, but definitely resistant to the most common treatments for infection, and by the time they figure out what's going on, you're dead.

I kept flagging pages as interesting while reading this. A few examples:

Recent research suggests that in an environment where deadly infections remain rare, natural seelction favors a mild, or tolerant, immuine response - because it decrease a woman's risk of miscarriage up to sisteenfold. A budding embryo, after all, is the ultimate "foreign" invader and demans enormous tolerance from the immune system if a pregnancy is to succeed. By contrast, life in communities that are plagued by infection strongly favors the survival of babies who are genetically equipped for a brutally strong inflammatory response. the increased risk of miscarriage becomes a small price to pay for higher odds that a child will at least survive to reach reproductive age. (p. 153)

For oral antibiotics, which get absorbed through the intestinal tract, the challenge is the opposite: to keep the drugs inactive until after they get absorbed. Drugs that can pull off this trick are known as "prodrugs," and familiar nonantibiotic examples include Levodopa, a Parkinson's drug that begins working only after it crosses into the brain, and cancer chemotherapies that become toxic only after entering tumors. Some of the first prodrug antibiotics came about itn the early 1990s, whieh biochemists began tinkering with the powerful new cephalosporin drugs to improve their absorption so they could be taken in pill form instead of injected. The chemists found they could greatly improve absorption by attaching a small compound (an ester) to a piece of the latger cephalosporin molecule. Further tinkering produced esters that conveniently fell away again as soon as the drug passed into the intestinal tissue, so as not to interfere with its action.
The fortuitous side effect was a group of drugs that did not produce intestinal "upset" - that is, the kind of diarrhea that antibiotics provoke when they raze our digestive bacteria. Some prodrug antibiotics turned out to have the additional advantage of being excreted primarily in urine rather than in intestinal bile, so they bypassed the intestinal tract on the way out as well as the way in. ... But prodrug antibiotics have yet to be introduced in the United States, where few physicians have heard of them. (pp. 164-165)

All those commericals for cheese and yogurts that help your digestion? They're probiotics, intended to increase the populations of the good bacterial in your intestines. Even though people aren't being properly educated as to how they work, it's nice to see the increase in their use. For quite a while now other probiotics have been available OTC in health food/supplement stores (The C. diff. I mentioned earlier? The grandma in a nursing home has gotten it pretty much each time she's been hospitalized; my mom did some research, found out about probiotics, and very effectively supplemented the prescribed treatments with probiotics.)

In case you didn't figure it out, I really enjoyed this book, even though I'm now afraid to eat pretty much any processed foods. And I plan to track down the author's earlier book, which appears to be about forensics and corpses (yay!).

And now to take things back to a more familiar (ket-type) level:

A while ago (before this blog got started) I started reading a book. Yes, it was a trashy novel. But the tie-in here is that the heroine's late husband, the father of her twin boys, had died of a random staph infection he picked up at his rock climbing gym. See, they had met through climbing, but once their sons were born, she thought it was too dangerous to go to the gym and climb, and he wanted to go one last time, and she was right! (That was my first problem with the book. Any book that suggests that rock climbing will kill you is not appealing to me, especially when the author obviously knows nothing more than how to insert climbing terms into a sentence). And then somehow seven years later this powerful-corporate-type woman is running a B&B in the middle of nowhere so she can be with the kids all the time, and somehow there's a hitman staying there, and other people trying to kill him, and somehow the local handyman comes to the rescue, and that's about when I gave up. Not on the contrived plot, though that wasn't helping things, but because there was all this talk about how he didn't need a secondary education, that being blue-colar was so admirable, and she needs to realize that, and so on. The sentiment is fine, but the way the author was so heavy-handed about it really killed the book. That, and killing off a perfectly nice-sounding climber. And no, there's no good reason for me to still remember even this much about the story.

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posted by ket at 3:39 PM


Monday, January 28, 2008

Jump to the conclusion

Title: Reflex
Author: Steven Gould
Bookmark: the "you checked out this book" receipt from the library

I forgot to mention in the last post that Gould is obviously pandering to nerds with these books. Evidence is as follows:
  1. In both previous books, the wayward lonely geek somehow manages to have sex with the first girl with whom he really connects. Oh, and in both cases, she's crazy hot.
  2. In Jumper, the first couple times Davy instinctively jumps to safety, he ends up in the fiction section of the Stanville Public Library, surrounded by his friends (...the books of the Stanville Public Library).
  3. Davy goes on (throughout the first book and the time leading up to the second book) collecting books. When he has to flee those hunting him down and suddenly switch apartments in Jumper, he moves all his books, then remembers to go back and grab his cash (over a million bucks). In Reflex, there is mention of him having to give books away to libraries and charities... to make room for other books.
  4. There are also a few literary references so obscure I had to jot them down so I could look them up later.
  5. Think about it: the whole concept is of a social outcast who can flinch away from trouble at any time, but eventually uses that ability to help people and be a superhero, albeit a closeted hero. We nerds may dream of saving the day and emulating our comic books, but we don't always handle attention very well.

In the first chapter of Reflex, our hero Davy is drugged, kidnapped, chained, and drugged some more. During the "more drugging" phase, a vagus nerve stimulator is implanted in his chest. Meanwhile his wife (chick from Jumper) is isolated in their inaccessible-except-by-jumping-or-extreme-technical-climbing cliff house, tries to rappel out, fails miserably due to a contrived equipment failure, and then discovers she can also jump. Apparently she developed this ability as a side effect of jumping so many times with Davy in the ten years between Jumper and Reflex. Yes, teleportation is contagious. Who knew? This does give me hope, though--I don't have to be born with this ability, just meet someone who can do it and then make friends.

Davy's captors keep him chained because they've discovered (after chaining him) that he can't jump beyond the limits of the chain. The device in his chest receives a radio signal only they can transmit, and they can decide how wide an area receives the signal. If he goes outside the safe zone, full-body cramps, explosive diarrhea, and uncontrollable vomiting result. Oh, and it hurts like hell, too. They use this to condition him so that they can use him as they see fit.

His wife works with the NSA (who don't know who took Davy, but have some guesses. They also don't know she can jump) to try to find her husband, who is also their "asset." He's been working with them since the last book, making truckloads of money doing it, and choosing which missions he'll take (he also does some side work on his own, like extracting Amnesty International workers imprisoned in scary regions). His control agent is the same guy who eventually sided with him in Jumper, and is killed in the abduction scene.

When Millie (the wife) discovers there's a leak in the NSA, she goes rogue, and refuses to work with anyone except the one agent she trusts (and one FBI agent). Davy is continually conditioned, studied by a physicist, and tormented by the woman who killed his control, abducted him, runs his missions, and tries to seduce him at every opportunity. (Another dead sexy woman, except for the Embodiment of Evil thing)

The first half of the book was fairly uncomfortable to read. The things they did to Davy were... beyond awful. I quickly got to the point where I only wanted someone (Davy, Millie, Jack Bauer, anybody) to sweep in, save the day, extract Davy, and kill everyone involved in his abduction and imprisonment. The evil chick, her boss, the physicist, hell kill the goddamn butler. He turned out to be a ninja anyway. The turnaround came for me when Davy realized the limits of his conditioning--they couldn't use the implant to punish him when he was in his Safe Zone, because that would contradict the conditioning. (However, they could, and did, beat the shit out of him) More importantly, his time with the physicist leads him to discover an extension of his jumping ability, and he manages to do so without anyone finding out. This Even More Secret Power becomes vital soon after, at about the same time Millie comes to save the day using a technique similar to Davy's back in his counter-terrorism days in Jumper.

As hard as the first half was to read, it was still fantastic. This is easily the best of the three books.

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posted by reyn at 8:19 AM


Saturday, January 26, 2008

no more bananas?

title: animal vegetable miracle
author: barbara kingsolver
audio ed., may 1, 2007
bookmark - pause button?

just in case i haven't mentioned it already, i'm a fan of it's a really cheap way to get audio books. audiobooks are a really good way to undiagnosed add sufferers such as myself to finish 'reading' books.

i also am a fan of authors who read their own audio books. i'm sure not every author is cut out for this, and so far come to think of it i've mostly seen this with books that are at least vaguely memiors, so that makes some sense.

barbara kingsolver (minor kentucky folk hero), whose fiction i have not read (even though its recommended by both oprah and my mother) packs up her family from the west and plants them on a farm in virginia where they conduct a local food experiment for one year. they will grow or buy locally produced everything. (well, almost everything - they allowed a few expections, i'm thinking sugar was in there, and i believe that each family member could pick a couple spices or something). know what doesn't grow in virginia? most of that great stuff that grows in florida, california and such sunny spots. kingsolver mentions being somewhat convinced that they would starve. she is quite wrong.

kingsolver, her husband and her oldest daughter share authorship and reading of the book. kingsolver takes on most of the narrative of how the year progresses, what they grew, what they slaughtered and cleaned by hand, etc. her husband covers things like studies, resources, broader background to the local food idea, and her daughter gives sample menus for the seasons and mentions more resources.

did you know that it's apparently pretty easy to make your own soft cheeses?

i liked this book quite a bit, and i liked the authors' presentation of it in audio. i'm not sure that she brought up any particularly original points about local food (good for the economy, the earth, the body, the mental health of children, the pocketbook), but i certainly came away with the inclination to find a local farmers market [which i have researched, and they really aren't as prevalent in this are as i would have thought]. All the resources and actions they list in the book make the idea of at least finding a lot of your food from local sources seem very doable, and oddly zen.

local food is going to continue to grow as a topic, both in publishing and elsewhere. michael pollen is certainly helping out with that also. i think that kingsolver's book will serve for a long time to come for readers who want to dig into this topic but who can't hack a traditional non-fiction how-to or commentary. kingsolver's language is very natural, and her childhood connection to the out of doors in rural kentucky probably helps out with this: growing an impressive pile of food and canning it, though clearly a lot of work, comes across as a accepted part of life in her narrative. so should it be. i don't know about being up to my elbow in freshly killed turkey guts though. i think i shall have to leave that to sturdy characters like barbara.

(also, kingsolver was included in a book about people who are ruining america or the world or whatever...the book reflects a republican world view, if i'm not mistaken...her mention in 'animal vegetable miracle' of her learning of this new notariety and her reaction to it also made me fan of hers).

posted by ~e at 11:58 PM


random drive-by blogging

i was at a trade [educational] convention this weekend, and i'm in a book-y mood.

[side note: independent booksellers can drink like CHAMPS. i might be in the wrong business.]

here's what i have to say about 'meat: a love story', author - susan bourette: not much. I can't add a picture of the cover since the book doesn't pub 'til may and amazon doesn't have a photo. probably the cover art isn't final.

i'm kinda on a food book kick. local food and related topics are hott [sic]. i believed the info on the back of the ARC of this title that the book would give me insight into how to be a kinder carnivore [i am concerned about the animals, and i'm also realistic about my eating habits], all the while giving us a glimpse into the author's journey from omnivore to herbivore to omnivore to herbivore to omnivore.

i gave up before i got to the part about how to be a kinder carnivore because i couldn't slog through the memior of the author's food crises and their causes. i'm sure i agree that slaughter houses are nasty and would make many people cut the meat out of their diet, at least for a little while, but i already read 'fast food nation.' i've covered that part. i guess i'll just have to go back to the resources listed in 'Animal Vegetable Miracle' or find one of the other 5 hot local food books to tell me what to do.

they can't all be good many of them aren't.

have i blogged 'fast food nation' or 'animal vegetable miracle?' is this thing searchable? [si, una perdedora...]

posted by ~e at 11:38 PM


Thursday, January 24, 2008


Title: Beginner's Greek
Author: James Collins

For a former editor at Time, a contributor to The New Yorker, and a male, this book is absolutely absurd.

The Prologue commences with the story of Peter Russell, the main character, on an airplane flight from NY to LA pondering the possibility that the seat next to him may soon be occupied with the woman he will fall madly, desperately, completely in love with.

Already a bit of a stretch. A man might perhaps contemplate the mile high club, but love? I’ve been informed by a very reliable male source that this is just utter nonsense.

Then, the seat is taken by a young female, and "without even speaking to her, Peter was convinced, he knew for a certainty, he had not the slightest doubt, that he could spend the rest of his life with the young woman who had happened to sit next to him, and it would be blissful."

Now really.

But then they get to talking, and they have fun, and they make a connection, and Holly gives him her phone number.

And he accidentally loses it.

Four or so years later she ends up married to Peter's best friend, Jonathan, a womanizing schmuck. Peter laments his loss for 3 years then decides to move on and marry Charlotte. She's okay, and he likes her most of the time, and they could be happy, so that's good enough for him (and her).

Then, on their wedding night, Jonathan, outside on the golf course shortly after enjoying himself with Charlotte's stepmother, is struck dead by lightning (clearly, getting what he deserved, that womanizing bast- ,er…). Only hours too late for Peter to drop Charlotte and begin his pursuit of Holly. The horror!

Add to this the delicious sub-story of Peter’s job, at which he is extraordinarily successful and thought of very highly. That is, until the day his current boss goes from being buddy buddy and friendlier than any boss on the planet to making an utter fool out Peter - after which said boss gloats and crunches two walnuts gleefully in his bare hands while saying to Peter: “These are your nuts, Russell.”

So does the poor lovesick sap get the girl and keep his job in the end? You’ll have to read to find out (or take a wild guess).

And, despite my mocking of the book, it really was a very entertaining and enjoyable read, just not what I would expect from the author.

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posted by Kate at 5:00 PM


Monday, January 21, 2008

at least he's not jumping the shark.

Title: Jumper
Author: Steven Gould

Bookmark: ticket stub from a western starring an Aussie and a Welshman

Gould seems to adhere to a "shock and awe" premise for opening chapters. In the last book I read by him, the kid's parents get killed and he ends up out in the world on his own at age nine. Various other bad things continue to happen to him. In this book, young Davy is about to get the shit beat out of him with the buckle end of his abusive alcoholic father's belt when he "jumps" for the first time. He doesn't even believe the instantaneous teleportation is real, believing instead that he blacked out, or somehow blocked the memory of his dad beating him senseless. He spends two weeks hitching rides and running away, until a trucker offers him a ride, then attempts to gang-rape young Davy with his buddies. Davy jumps again. That was page 8.

Davy, age 17 when he starts his tale, maintains his youthful innocence much longer than Griffin (see above link). Except for the bank-robbing part. It still takes him a while to really get the hang of his talent, and he gets mugged once or twice, threatened many other times, but starts developing very unique and creative ways of dealing with his various adversities. He really comes into his own when, at the tender age of 18, he becomes a superhero (this word is never actually used, but what else do you call someone who uses the ability to instantaneously teleport to foil hijackers?). Good stuff.

Now for the psychological profiling.

Do all of Gould's characters become involved with older women, or just the jumpers? A much bigger deal is made of that in this book, although Griffin is actually (to varying degrees) involved with two different older women at different times in the book. Is it Jumpers? Is it Gould? I checked; his wife is younger than he is. I like to think this wouldn't hold quite the fascination for me if it weren't so consistent. Both Jumpers lost their mom at an early age (Davy's mom ran away two years before he did)--are they looking for surrogates? A lot of comparisons and connections are drawn between Millie (Davy's love) and his mom--enough to seem a little weird. Does that mean the NSA agent who tracks Davy (and ends up working with him between this book and the next) is the replacement father figure? Griffin has a pretty obvious replacement dad, though I didn't mention him in that review.

Finally, I'm getting pretty irritated by Tor. I'm halfway through Reflex (the second book in this series, but the third I've read) right now, and the publisher has proved consistent across all three of these books: I don't think anyone is proofreading them. There are a LOT of typos and misspellings. It's worse in Griffin's Story, because he's a polyglot, providing them with a chance to spell things poorly in three different languages. If I can tell your Spanish and French is wrong, then you've really screwed up. Reflex bugs me because they keep misspelling the name of the main character. FOCUS, PEOPLE!!

(one last random connection--during my freshman year at college, I had a friend with a fixation on Third Eye Blind's "Jumper," leaving me with an inability to see the cover of this book without thinking "wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend.")

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posted by reyn at 7:21 AM


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Maybe she can predict what the customers want?

Title: Bloodstone

Author: Gwen Hunter

Hunter wrote a series featuring an ER doctor that I really enjoyed a few years ago (four books, this one might be the first). This book is totally unrelated.

Tyler is a psychic jewelry designer; someone kidnaps her brother David. Evan, a distant cousin is former military/police/PI/etc., and is skeptical of psychics, but they work together with Tyler's friends Isaac and Jubal (fantastic stereotypical gay couple), crazy Aunt Mathilda, and David's daughter Jane to save David from corrupt developers, evil half-sisters, and a bad cop (no, seriously, those were the villains) who want his land because there's gold on it, and he wants to preserve it as a protected enviromental area. I think this would have been more enjoyable if there'd been a trip to Rhea's ER... Actually, it was pretty good, I just have some issues identifying with psychic characters.

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posted by ket at 4:53 PM


give it up! create new characters!

Title: Double Take
Author: Catherine Coulter

Julia's been convicted by the press of murdering her husband August, who was much older than her and very rich, but there's no evidence. A "random" attempt on her life was interrupted by Cheney, an FBI agent in the right place at the right time. The attempts continue, which start to convince local cops that maybe they're looking in the worng place; Cheney and Julia go talk to her husband's psychic colleagues to find the killer. Sherlock and Savich are called in to help, plus to track down why a woman who looks just like the dead wife of their friend Sheriff Dixon Noble is wandering around San Francisco. I forget who killed August, but vaguely remember the look-alike being some sort of con-woman.

The books featuring Sherlock and Savich started with The Maze, which I really enjoyed. Apparently so did Coulter and a bunch of fans, since she turned them into recurring characters and this is something like the 10th book that uses a contrived plot to bring them in to interact with random FBI agents that they're somehow close friends with despite the fact that they're new characters created to be the love interests in the present book. The first few worked, but each one gets harder to enjoy...

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posted by ket at 4:44 PM


Women's Lib didn't come soon enough

Title: Die Laughing
Author: Carola Dunn

Daisy is now married to Alec and step-mother to his daughter Belinda; his mom is a typical evil mother-in-law. She goes to the dentist and he's dead in the chair, supposedly from laughing gas. He was killed by his wife's lover or something; I didn't really enjoy the book overall because Alec is too controlling and dismissive all the time - even if it's the 1920's and theoretically accurate, I don't like the treatment of women here (who apparently aren't allowed to be police or have opinions).

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posted by ket at 4:35 PM


I think we've run out of names for characters - Archer?

Title: White Lies
Author: Jayne Ann Krenz

Apparently there's a whole society of people with special powers, and they're all classified by type of powers and their strength...

Human lie detector Claire goes to spend time with her estranged family, who are like local royalty in their town, and finds the body of Brad, her half-sister Elizabeth's asshole husband. She goes back a year later and falls for Jake, who's also got special powers, except he's a hunter. They solve a mystery involving Brad hiding the magnitude of his powers from everyone and being a gigantic con man. Elizabeth and her parents, Archer and Myra, all thought the other killed him because Brad was a jerk, but were afraid to ask each other. Myra initially hates Claire because she's the product of Archer's affair. Somehow Claire and Jake find the killer and fall in love and everyone lives happily ever after. The End.

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posted by ket at 4:29 PM


where does one find a dog with such personality?

Title: Anyone But You
Author: Jennifer Cruise

Nina got divorced, and went to the pound to adopt a cute puppy to keep her company, but instead gets slobbering Fred because she feels sorry for him. First Fred and then Nina make friends with Alex, the gorgeous younger doctor who lives in the apartment below her; eventually they fall for each other but both have mental issues - she thinks she's too old, he thinks he needs to have a more stable life than as an ER doc to give her what she's used to from her asshole rich ex-husband. They eventually work things out; and it's also apparently good that he doesn't ever want kids because she's 40 (and therefore ancient) and doesn't want them now

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posted by ket at 4:05 PM


Talk about dysfunctional families!

Title: All Night Long
Author: Jayne Ann Krenz

Irene goes to her hometown for first time in 17 years since her dad supposedly shot mom and himself in the kitchen after former friend called her promising info, but was found dead the next day before she could tell. Irene stays at a lodge owned by Luke, an ex-marine; he helps figure out what really happened, and in return she helps convince his family he's not PTSD or ED (was engaged to daughter of family friend, couldn't go all the way with her, now the family stages interventions, etc.) - a subplot is that the former fiance should marry his brother because they're in love and don't realize it. A local cop responsible is responsible for the deaths of Irene's parents and friend, on orders of local big-shot senator that her dad was going to expose as a criminal or something.

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posted by ket at 3:55 PM


in the days long before James Bond...

Title: Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring
Author: Alexander Rose

Apparently this was a December of random book choices (yes, it's January now, but I read it then).

The book presents a very detailed history of the spying done by the American side during the Revolutionary war, including information about the men's (there was a possibility of involvement of one woman, but otherwise all men) lives, excerpts from their letters, and some examples of codes used, as well as stories of near-misses and actual captures (usually resulting in death). If you're into the Revolutionary War, this would probably be fascinating. I don't remember why I got this out from the library, since that's not exactly one of my interests. A few things struck me while reading. First, it reinforced the amazing advances in technology that have taken place in a very short (relatively speaking) time. It was considered good for a letter to leave a spy's hands and travel by courier(s) to a commanding officer in the space of about a week. A week! More importantly, I have forgotten anything I may have learned in AP US History (that was the class, right?). I had a hell of a time keeping track of who was on which side, because there were so many labels involved - Tories, Redcoats, Loyalists, Whigs, and several others that I now forget. And anytime there was talk of someone being at a fort, or going to a fort, or spying on a fort, that was even worse, because all the forts on both sides are named "Fort [British name]". There's no good excuse for confusing Tories and Whigs, but I seriously needed a chart of the lesser-known officers and their forts. There was a very happy moment for me after getting about 2/3 through the book - it abruptly ended and we hit the footnotes section!

Not really recommended for the casual reader. Find a trashy novel instead.

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posted by ket at 3:38 PM


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sticky sticky sticky

Title: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
Authors: Chip Heath & Dan Health

"Any of us, with the right insight and the right message, can make an idea stick." (p.252)

This is a great marketing book all about how to create ideas that people will remember. The authors outline the six key ingredients of a sticky idea, explaining each with a few stories that help it stick in the minds of their readers. To be extremely sticky, an idea needs to be:

1. Simple - Find the core of the idea, the single most important point you are trying to communicate. Your audience can only remember so many things.

2. Unexpected - Surprise them to get their attention, then keep their attention by creating interest. Create a mystery. An example from Made to Stick tells of a book that started off with this story: For years, scientists at well-known institutions debated about what Saturn's rings were made of - dust (MIT), gas (Cambridge), or ice crystals (Cal Tech). Then, the story unfolded, until, much later in the book, the answer was given: ice-covered dust. Needless to say, the reader was enthralled as to how such renowned universities could have scientists who couldn't solve this problem. It's unexpected.

3. Concrete - It's far easier to remember concrete images and specifics than it is to remember an abstraction.

4. Credible - Be or use a credible source - e.g., people with personal experience. (Jared lost all that weight from eating Subway. He's credible - he personally experienced the weight loss). I can see this working in libraries: Provide a concrete example/quote/etc from a student whose research was made much easier by using a library database or by consulting a librarian.

5. Emotion - Make people care about the idea. Invoke self-interest. How will it affect them? What will it do for them?

6. Exemplified through stories - Stories are entertaining. Include them when you can. They make the idea more life-like. They can also provide inspiration which drives action.

You also have to be careful to avoid the Curse of Knowledge. Ideas that may seem simple to me, aren't to others. For example, to me, it's completely obvious that you should use a library database to search for articles. However, others are going, "What's a database? What if I want books?"

All in all, a great read for those interested in marketing.

[Note: This is also posted on Kat's personal blog because it is relevant to librarianship.]

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posted by Kate at 11:29 AM


Monday, January 07, 2008

I'll be there in a flash

Title: Jumper: Griffin's Story
Author: Steven Gould
Bookmark: I read it in one 5 or 6 hour sitting. By the time I had to take a break to make dinner, I could just lay it open on the chair.

I'm reading these a little out of order, as necessitated by the library's supply.

Jumpers are people with the ability to instantaneously teleport anywhere on Earth. Or maybe anywhere they've ever been before, and can clearly remember. Since most people have only been on Earth, they work out to the same thing. Griffin discovers this ability when he is 5 years old, and his parents have been running with him ever since. He's home-schooled to minimize his secret's exposure, but he takes karate at an after-school program to fulfill the phys ed requirement. His dad takes him on regular trips to desolate, barren areas devoid of other people to practice his skill while Dad shoots paintballs at him so Griff can prepare himself for Them. Somebody tried to run him down in the street just after his first jump. That's why they've been running.

One day after karate a bully in the same class comes after Griff, and in a moment of reflex, he jumps (his kind, not ours). The bully sees Griff disappear, and for some reason tells an authority figure about it instead of keeping it to himself. Non-bully behavior, but it's the real kickoff of the story. Griff has four rules to follow on jumping, set down by his parents, and he breaks at least two of them in that incident.

That night, They come for him and his parents are killed. Griff, injured in three places and leaking blood, goes on the run. He is nine years old.

He spends the rest of the book trying to live his life and not let Them end it. He transforms from a sweet, innocent kid who continues his own home-schooling and re-enrolls in a new karate dojo to a young man capable of some pretty creative imprisonment and interrogation techniques. I had some trouble deciding whether it was an adult book (as it was shelved), or a teens' book (he's only 16 at the end of the story, and it's pretty light reading, despite the occasional heavy matter of people who hunt down little kids or kill one person to get to another). I've decided it's a book aimed at a sequel to the movie, which is the real reason I started reading these. The disclaimer at the start of the book even points out that stories often evolve and transform a bit in translation from book to movie, and this book fits more with the movie's world than with the world of the other two books (it was written third, but fits in the timeline pretty close to the first. The character of Griffin was, I believe, created just for the movie)

Life-changing? No, but I'd really like to have this kid's ability. It would solve an awful lot of problems for me right now, and you can go anywhere. The downside, of course, is being hunted by Them, but I said I wanted his ability--not his life.

The next two are on my reserve list at the library. Hopefully I'll get them in order.

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posted by reyn at 7:32 AM


Thursday, January 03, 2008

Money is Power

Title: The Count of Monte Cristo

Author: Alexandre Dumas
Abidged and translated by: Lowell Bair
Bookmark: a six-month-old movie ticket stub from a Michael Bay Splash-and-Dazzle

Plot: pretty much the same as the movie starring Jesus. (as a side note, the Plot Keywords on that page are VERY suggestive and misleading) Except without any swordfighting whatsoever. In the one scene where they were supposed to have a duel, it was pistols, and they didn't even get to shoot them! In case you didn't see the movie, Edmond Dantes (Jesus) gets set up by some jealous jerks and is imprisoned in the Chateau d'If, off the coast of France. There he meets the Abbe Faria (Dumbledore). This is all in the first thirty pages. The Abbe teaches Dantes six languages, and awards him four different humanities Masters degrees. In the movie he also teaches him swordfighting; in the abridged version of the book it's not clear where he picks this up. Then the Abbe dies, and Dantes uses his body to escape the prison.

Oh, and somewhere along the way he goes batshit crazy and swears revenge on the guys who sent him away so they could take his job, his life, his money, and his woman.

The Moral: Money buys happiness, power, and love. I think there was something about revenge and justice, too, and ethical quandaries surrounding divine retribution.

The Warning: Don't do what I did and read this at the same time as three or four other books. Get through it as quickly as possible and keep a chart handy, because each character is referred to by four or five different names and titles (excluding aliases, and there are plenty of those, too), and I could never remember who everyone was or all the connections between them. Seriously, there are more random connections and cross-mating in this book than in the entire run of Friends.

Wry Comment: In the book, the Count of Monte Cristo (who only uses a title, and never uses a name), has an entire staff of servants, each with a special ringtone on his gong a la the Sound of Music whistles. In the movie, he only gets Luis Guzman. That's right: even Hollywood doesn't have as much money as Monte Cristo.

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posted by reyn at 8:40 AM