Monday, August 15, 2011


Unspeakable is one of Sandra Brown's more recent novels (post romance era).  While the plot is not her best, it definitely relies more on suspense and story than her earlier works. 

What fascinates me is that when Brown focuses on something other than the romance plot, the romance ends up being so much more believable.  We get so drawn into this deaf woman's world that the relationship that develops between the two main characters makes perfect sense.  It really couldn't end any other way. 

One stumbling point.  The tornado.  Yes, a natural disaster is great to move a plot along.  But I don't see a 70+ year old retired sheriff setting off on his own to try to save his town from a looming tornado.  Anyone in their right mind would duck and cover.  Going out to help pick up the pieces, sure, but let's not pretend he can stop a tornado.   

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Deja dead

Kathy Reichs and I got off to a rough start.  I picked up Deja Dead expecting to solve a case with the Temperance Brennan I know from the TV show Bones.  That Dr. Brennan is not in this book.  Reichs writes about a forensic anthropologist named Temperance Brennan, but that is where the similarities end.  It took me a little while to adjust to this difference in character.

My patience paid off.  While this Dr. Brennan is not nearly as socially awkward and quirky as the TV version, she is still a strong, determined women.  Just battling a different set of demons.  And if you are looking for the Bones-Booth love story, it's not here either.  (Although I suspect a romance subplot with a detective to appear in  a later novel).  This debut novel is all about Tempe recognizing and feeding the urge to go out and get the bad guy.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The second summer of the sisterhood

The Second Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares is like slipping into a pair of well-worn jeans and sharing a pint of cookie dough ice cream with your best friends.  I was hesitant to revisit the sisterhood, fearing that like many sequels, this book could not possibly live up to the original.

I was wrong.

Brashares writes such amazing characters that you are immediately pulled into the plots that circle this group of young women.  Each of these characters is flawed.  But not over the top flaws.  They suffer the same flaws we all do- selfishness, insecurity, jealousy, anger, denial.  All those things we wrestle with in the course of discovering who we are and then living with that reality day to day. 

I love these girls. 

I miss my girls.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The river knows

Another Amanda Quick bodice ripper.  OK, no bodices were actually ripped in The River Knows, but it could have happened.

Again with the corsets, petticoats, bustles, fans, and ridiculous undergarments.  But in this novel, our heroine agrees that it is all ridiculous and refuses to wear half of it.  The sheer bulk of fabric worn by most women in polite society also turns out to be a contributing factor in the death of one lady.

Quick once again gives us a heroine pretending to be someone she's not in order to have the freedoms she cherishes.  Who doesn't rely on the man to get her out of the trouble she has gotten herself into.  (Though he might turn out to be helpful in the end). 

Another fun page-turner in old-school London!

Friday, July 29, 2011

The long walk

Stephen King had an alter ego for awhile.  His name was Richard Bachman.  His view of the world was a little darker than King's.  The Long Walk is one of his novels.

Just like King, Bachman realizes that a scary story does not have to be big.  It does not have to deal with the supernatural.  It only has to include the most terrifying species on the planet: humans.  Nothing is scarier than the things we do to ourselves and each other.

This book is a simple story.  100 boys set out to see who can walk the furthest without stopping. 

Here's the catch.  We're in a slightly altered world where the US is run by the Major.  For a reason not explained in this novel (it reminds me of the blood tribute in Crete), he has started the tradition of a long walk every year.  100 boys walk until they can't anymore.  After three warnings for dropping below a designated walking speed, they get their ticket.  The last boy walking gets the prize.  Whatever he wants for the rest of his life. 

The prize is what gets the boys to start walking in the first place.  The fascinating part of this novel is what keeps them walking. 

Of course, there is no guarantee that the winner will be in any shape to enjoy his prize....

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Pet

Ah, a boy and his dog.  I mean, horse. 

The Pet by Charles L Grant is a lovely story about a boy who wants to be a vet.  He has posters of animals on his walls, stuffed animals and other fake creatures in his room.  His parents don't approve. 

In the midst of his teenage angst (girls, school, bullies, and parents suck) he needs someone to talk to.  So he begins talking to a poster of a black stallion on his wall.  One day he notices that the stallion is fading from the picture and eventually disappears completely.  Later he realizes that his friendship has freed the horse. 

The horse has a mission.  Take care of all those people who are bothering his friend.  A serial killer, a football player, a science teacher, and almost girlfriend and parents are taken out.  Will he send the stallion back to the poster in time? 

At its heart, this is a "be careful what you wish for" tale.  More importantly, what do you do when you get what you want and you don't want it after all?  If you accidentally make a wish and want to immediately take it back? 

All in all, a good read.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The zombie curse

The Zombie Curse: A Doctor's 25-year Journey Into the Heart of the AIDS Epidemic in Haiti may be a slightly misnamed book, but that does not take away from the power of the story.  Arthur Fournier first stumbled across AIDS in Miami when it was still believed to be a disease of gay men.  Here's the trouble.  Fournier saw the disease striking men, women, and children.  The common denominator he saw in the group he worked with was that they were immigrants from Haiti. 
Eventually Fournier realized that the risk factor for AIDS in his patients was a lack of resources, not the fact that they were Haitian.  Thus began his crusade to bring healthcare to Haiti.  That's really what this book is about. 
For me, the most heart-wrenching part of the book was the sense of hope and accomplishment expressed by Fournier at the end.  He finishes this story with a sense that huge improvements have been made, that people's lives are better.  That was before the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010.  I can only imagine the impact of that earthquake on the fragile healthcare system set up by Fournier and his colleagues.     

Friday, July 22, 2011

When Michael calls

When Michael Calls by John Farris reads like a 70s made for TV movie.  Oh, wait, that's exactly what it is.  The premise of the novel centers around a woman who starts getting phone calls from her nephew (who's been dead for 15 years).  Then people start dying.  A "twist" near the end of the novel (I saw it coming somewhere around page 15) turns the story from a paranormal thriller to a psychological study. 

The biggest issue I had with this novel is that it felt dated.  Yes, we're in the 70s.  That's okay.  Just give me something that is going to transcend time.  Do not give me a woman thanking a man for choosing her.  I think I just threw up a little. 

Oddly, Farris is also a screenwriter.  This explains the story reading more like a screenplay than a novel.  What is interesting is that when the story was made into a TV movie, Farris did not write the actual screenplay.  Someone else (James Bridges) did. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Jayne Ann Krentz writes under her own name, as well as two pseudonyms.  Amanda Quick is the name she uses for her novels about women slightly out of place in "polite society."  These novels are typically filled with scandal, duels, mistaken identities, compromised honor, and a large number of petticoats.  Mischief is no different.

In this story we have a woman whose reputation has been compromised by the man she believes killed the woman who she believed was her best friend.  Yes, there are a lot of misunderstandings in this story.  She teams up with a man who she believes suffers from weak nerves to set up the supposed murderer.  In the end the truth is revealed, the hero and heroine living happily ever after. 

Overall, a fun trip through the fringes of a world that no longer exists.  I find myself thinking that maybe the tradition of duels was not a bad idea.  Definitely a step up from the drunken bar fights that currently take place over women's "honor."

Monday, July 18, 2011

No one to trust

Iris Johansen is someone I can always count on for a good time.  No One to Trust was no exception.  This is the story of a woman who is trying to escape her past.  Both physically and mentally.  Enter her hero, who is smart enough to realize she has to save herself for it to count. 

Lots of action, a dash of romance (but not at all goopy, drippy).  It hit me about halfway through this novel that Johansen writes like a guy movie.  Ponder that for awhile.  I think you'll figure out what I mean. 

I also realized about halfway through this novel that I apparently have a new pet peeve.  Skipped scenes.  Johansen skips over lots of scenes.  Scenes that aren't vital to moving the story forward.  Scenes that any good critic of your writing would tell you your novel can do without.  For some reason, I am missing those scenes lately.  I want to see them.

Of course, if they were there, I'd probably say they should be cut.  I'll get over it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Howards end

I know, I know, it's been awhile since my last post.  I've been reading, I swear.  Just veeerrry slooooowly.

I had to force myself to crawl through E M Forster's Howards End.  I had a really hard time getting into this novel.  Part of the problem was that it was written in 1910 and set in England.  I really have no point of reference.  The story centered around a woman with enough money that she had the time to worry about other people and their money.  Again, no point of reference.

The story also moved very slowly.  A lot of conversations about things that may or may not happen.  Not a lot of action (despite two deaths in the course of the book).  Then again, this book is more about the issue (should the rich help the poor?) than a story.

This book was made into a movie (which I haven't seen).  I find myself very curious how they found enough story here to support a feature-length film.  I may have to check it out.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Two alone

I was on vacation for the last week and didn't read much (too busy blowing stuff up!).  But I did manage to get through the light reading I had taken with me.  Two Alone by Sandra Brown is one of her early novels, written under a pseudonym and re-released under her real name.  Again, I am absolutely amazed by how much her writing has changed.  Really, it's like reading two totally different authors.  Perhaps the only consistency is Brown's obsession with facial hair.  I refuse to say anything more about that.

This novel explores what would happen to two survivors (conveniently male and female) of a small plane crash in the middle of nowhere (Canada).  Here are my issues with the plot:  it's a plane crash.  I except it to be gross and graphic.  The crash described by Brown has to be the most sterile crash in history.  I was willing to overlook this issue, after all, it is a romance novel.  But then the end of the novel appeared.  In the next to last chapter, the hero walks out the door.  Distraught, the heroine realizes she must make a decision, and she does.  (We don't get to know what the decision is).  Turn the page to the next chapter.  It is some months later, they are married, and she is pregnant. 

This may be the only novel I have read in which the climax of the story is skipped.  What happened?  Did I get a faulty copy of the novel?  Was I missing a chapter?  Did Brown have such a hard time writing the climax scene that she decided to leave it out entirely?  Very odd.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The bridge of San Luis Rey

Thornton Wilder was both a playwright and a novelist.  The Bridge of San Luis Rey is a slim little novel with a pretty fascinating premise.  A bridge suddenly collapses, killing five people.  Why those five?  Why not a different set of people?

Great question.  I can think of a million different ways to take that story.  Wilder did none of them.  Instead he wrote chapters that talked about the lives of three of the individuals.  These three chapters were framed with chapters about a man who hypothesized that those five were taken because they had lived a complete life.

Here's the problem.  Wilder wrote chapters about three of the individuals.  The other two people killed were tag-alongs to these three.  And the three chapters didn't succeed in giving me a sense of whether their lives were complete or not.  The chapters read to me like character sketches for the story Wilder didn't write.  Maybe he intended for us to write the story ourselves, draw our conclusions about the characters.  But then why the bookend chapters?

This novel really left me scratching my head.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The sisterhood of the traveling pants

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares is a young adult novel that lives up to the hype that surrounds it.  It is the story of four girls who have been thrust together since birth and who believe that their strength comes from each other.  They are both right and wrong in that belief.

The summer of the novel they are separated.  Forced to develop relationships with people outside of their sisterhood.  They come to realize that the sisterhood just enhances what each of them holds inside.

The magical pants are secondary.

I am most fascinated by the four characters drawn by Brashares.  She started with nuggets of what could be considered stereotypes.  But she wrote them so deeply that they become real.  These four characters breathe.

Really a magical book.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The science of Sherlock Holmes

The Science of Sherlock Holmes by E. J. Wagner was not quite what I expected.  I expected the book to be tightly focused on the Sherlock Holmes stories and simply explain the forensics behind solving the crimes.  What this book is is much more.

This book really is a history of the early days of criminal investigation, using Sherlock Holmes as a springboard and touchstone.  Cases such as Lizzie Borden and Jack the Ripper are tied to the stories and the methods used to solve (or not solve) the cases.

Overall, a really interesting look back into history and how horribly naive and delusional we were.  What it really did is make me want to read some of the Sherlock Holmes stories.  Somehow, I never have.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The keep

Imagine that you are a Jew, affected by scleroderma, confined to a wheelchair, hoping that today won't be the day you die.  You are taken from your home to The Keep (F Paul Wilson) which is currently occupied by Nazi militia.  They are having a problem with something that goes bump in the night (and kills their soldiers) and want you to make it go away.  You discover that the culprit is a vampire. 

Which is worse: Nazis or a vampire?

What if you can manipulate the vampire to take out this Nazi group and then go after Hitler? 

What if the vampire also has the power to heal you, make you whole again?

Which devil do you make a deal with?

Thursday, June 16, 2011


You drove a stake through the vampire's heart and it died.  Again.  Unfortunately, the body did not turn to dust.  So much for easy clean-up.  Now you have a body that you need to dispose of.  That is the premise of Richard Laymon's novel Bite.

Like any body disposal, things do not go smoothly.  A blown out tire leads to a man named Snow White.  Snow White becomes a serious hitch in the body disposal process.  He also brings in two new "hostages" who turn out to be a different form of vampire.

At it's heart, this novel is about belief.  Do you believe that vampires exist?  Do you believe in the person sitting next to you?  Do you believe in yourself?  All in all, a fun ride through Vampireland.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Night shift

Yes, Stephen King writes very long novels.  But he is also a master of the short story.  Night Shift is the first collection of shorts published by King.  Most of these stories were written before I was born.  They still work.

This collection contains the short story that has kept me up more nights than any other story I've read.  I first read The Boogeyman when my oldest kiddo was still in the toddler/ poor communicator stage of life.  Perhaps that's why the story haunted me.  At that point in my life, it read like a series of events that could actually happen.  I almost skipped over the story when I reread the collection this time, out of fear that it would haunt me again.  I wish I had skipped it.  Not because it gave me nightmares, but because the story was not the same as I remembered it.  I found it much less scary and resonant this time through.  Because my kids are well past that stage of life?  Whatever the reason, I now miss the hold that story had over me. 

These stories are some of the earliest King wrote.  Reading the collection, it is obvious that many of the stories clung to King, bouncing around in his brain for years afterward.  Many of these short stories grew up to become full length novels.  Most interesting is the short Jerusalem's Lot which by the title you would assume was the baby version of the novel 'Salem's Lot.  Really the short story One for the Road contains the kernel that eventually became the novel.  Also in this collection is the precursor for The Stand.  And the stories that became the movies Lawnmower Man and Maximum Overdrive.  Overall, a pretty good collection of bits for a "fledgling" writer!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Weetzie bat

I was attempting to read most of what Francesca Lia Block wrote.  I am stopping with Weetzie Bat.

My purpose in reading Block was to get an idea of what made a successful YA writer.  I think I get what makes her writing popular with certain readers.  I definitely get that it would never work for me.

Block's style and themes are far from anything that I would write.  Her works have a large fantasy (think fairies) element.  Her characters are of indeterminate age, though if I were forced to, I'd put them in their late teens.  Adults in her stories are borderline evil.  At best, they are absent and neglectful.

I know there are many who love Block's stories, but they are not what I want to read.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tough customer

Tough Customer is one of Sandra Brown's recent novels.  It's a suspense novel (although this time I clearly saw the ending coming) with a hefty dose of romance thrown in.

While I was slightly disappointed in the plot, Brown did something really interesting with the romance subplot.  Brown took the standard romance sequence of events and split them over two couples.  It was interesting seeing different aspects of the love story play out in two different story lines.  I was also fascinated by her ability to get two characters to believably fall in love while never being alone together.  Constantly in the presence of, and watched by, others, their story is still believable.

The flaw for me in this novel is the bad guy.  His character seemed very flat.  Instead of showing us his motivations, Brown told us about them.  He then commits what should be a deeply personal crime through a puppet.  It just didn't ring true for me.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

All the king's men

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren is a political novel (though it's more about human relationships) set in the early 1900s.  It tells the story of one man's rise to political success and his ultimate demise.  But at it's heart, it's not about the politician at all.

This story is told through the eyes of an assistant to the eventual governor.  His perspective on the events is the real story.  A self-proclaimed student of history, we watch him lose sight of his own story as he participates in the story of the governor.  As things tend to do, story lines collide, and the narrator is forced to come to terms with his own history. 

On a political note, many would read this and watch the governor manipulate and blackmail his way to power and declare that this could never happen today.  I disagree.  Today he would make it all the way to the white house.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What we believe but cannot prove

John Brockman (virtually) gathered a group of "great thinkers" and asked them a simple question: What do you believe that you cannot prove to be true?  The results are compiled in the book What We Believe But Cannot Prove

It's a great question, even if it is scientifically wrong.  Science believes we can't prove anything, we can only disprove hypotheses.  The more times we fail to prove a hypothesis wrong, the more likely it is that we have stumbled upon the "truth."  Of course, we reserve the right to prove ourselves wrong at a later date.

Given that most of the responders were scientists there were a fair number of there is no God/ no meaning to life type answers.  Showing the inherent bias of the group sampled, only one brave soul stated a belief in God.  Most of the responses, however, grouped around the existence of life other than on Earth (both for and against) and a wide variety of physics topics that frankly, I barely skimmed through.

My favorite entry was written by Kai Krause.  He doesn't believe in Zen, living in the moment.  He instead believes that the best moments in life are those spent remembering "back then" and anticipating what's coming next.  He makes a really good point.  Yeah, it's good to be present in the moment, but isn't the anticipation of the first kiss always better than the kiss itself?

Monday, May 30, 2011


Belinda  is another Anne Rice novel written under the name Anne Rampling.  Again, this is not a vampire novel, which might be why the assumed name.  This novel also deals with some potentially controversial subject matter.  The main character, Jeremy, is a forty-something year-old man who falls in love with a sixteen year old girl.

I had a really hard time getting into this novel.  I really couldn't identify at all with the main character.  To me, he came across as dirty old man despite Rice's efforts to make him not appear that way.  It really didn't help that he falls in love with Belinda the first time he sees her.  She is dressed in a Catholic school girl uniform.  Ew.

In the end, they get married.  It's supposed to be beautiful.  True love and all that.  To me, it's still just a little bit wrong.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blood lines

Blood Lines by Tanya Huff is the third book in a series.  I haven't read the first two.  I think I should have.

Sometimes you can pick up a sequel and know that there were things that came before but not feel like you missed them.  In this case I did.  This story centers around a woman who is in "intimate" relationships with two men.  One of the men is a cop.  The other is a vampire.  The three are attempting to work together to deal with a mummy that is causing chaos.

The situation is awkward.  But I didn't get to fully appreciate why.  Vicki's relationships with each of the men are established before this book begins (I would assume one in each of the previous novels).   This story builds on and deals with those relationships.  Since I didn't see them in their early days, I felt like I was missing part of the story.

This novel also takes it a step further and inserts the question "Which will she choose?"  That question isn't answered in this novel.  I am left feeling like I watched the middle segment of a 30 minute sit-com.  I missed both the intro and the conclusion of the primary issue.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Summer of night

Summer of Night by Dan Simmons is a long book.  But so worth turning every one of those pages.

The story begins in 1960 with an elementary school eating one of the students.  Things rapidly go downhill from there.  By the end of the novel, several (I lost count) people are dead, including main characters.

At the heart of this story is the fundamental difference between children and adults.  Children believe.  In the boogeyman, the monster under the bed, and things that go bump in the night.  So really it makes perfect sense that they would be the first to detect if something was truly wrong in the world.  Since they would be unable to convince grown-ups that the scary things are real, they would have to defeat them without help from adults.  And they do.

That doesn't mean that the adults in this story are any less important or significant.  They're just different.  Simmons does an amazing job of giving a richness to both the kids and the adults he wrote into this story.  My favorite adult- the alcoholic inventor who invented the answering machine (among other things) but then never followed through to cash in on his inventions.

Read this.  Then check under your bed and in your closet before you go to sleep...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tidings of great joy

Tidings of Great Joy by Sandra Brown was not so great.  This is another of her early romance novels.  And perhaps, my least favorite.   Boy, can you tell it's early in her career. 

Characters are flat.  Plot is ridiculous.  I struggle to find a redeeming feature.  I'll sum it up with this:  you can't replace a baby as easily as you can replace a cat.  (Some of you may be tempted to read the novel to find out what that means.  Trust me, you don't want to know.)

I am still totally fascinated by Brown, however.  Her recent work is so completely different from the early stuff that it amazes me.  I'd love to talk to her about what factors contributed to her writing "growing up." 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The shining

I've decided that people who classify Stephen King as some sort of pop culture sell-out just haven't read his books.

I thought I had read The Shining before.  Soon after I started reading it this time, I realized I was wrong.  I was remembering the movie.  Not a bad movie.  But not the same as the book.

Yes, the movie is scary.  But it doesn't hold a candle to the novel.  The movie characters lack something.  We can't see inside their minds, see what is haunting them before they ever set foot in The Overlook.  That is what the book gives us.  A family of three who carry a variety of skeletons and baggage on their journey to the mountains.  And then are locked up with those issues for the hotel to feed on.

You have to wonder if the same disaster would have plagued a different family.  The Partridge family, for instance.  Maybe they would have been just fine.

One last word of advice: don't cut your shrubbery into animal shapes.  Please.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I was a teenage fairy

Francesca Lia Block's novel I Was a Teenage Fairy is a story about a girl (Barbie) and her fairy (Mab) growing up.  Barbie is forced to be a model by her wanna-be mom (Yes, she named her daughter after the doll) at the age of eleven.  Big surprise, she and several other children are molested.  The parents involved all turn a blind eye and the children are too scared to talk.  Barbie finally comes into her own, speaks up, saves other kids from the same fate and reinvents herself as Selena Moon.

This novel carries a pretty good message for a young adult book.  But it has the same issue I've come across in other YA fiction.  There is not a single decent adult in the story.  Self-sufficiency is good, to a point.  But I'm already seeing a generation of kids who think that adults are oblivious at best, and downright evil at worst.

I desperately hope that we're not all that bad.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Nope, it's not just an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  Psycho, by Robert Block, was just as creepy and weird before Hitchcock got ahold of it.  Actually, the movie follows the book very tightly.  Block gives us more insight into Norman's head than the movie does (though some of the info in the novel appears in the movie sequels) and even goes so far as to diagnose his mental disorder.

The biggest difference in the story is the physical characterization of Norman Bates.  In the movie, he is a slim, neat, and physically well put-together.  Only his mind is a bit of a mess.  In the novel, however, Bates is physically slightly off.  He's overweight, and a little unkempt.  There's more of a match between the outside appearance and the mental state. 

I find it scarier when there's a mismatch between what you see and what you get. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

Wave-swept shore

Wave-Swept Shore by Mimi Koehl is one of those books that people flip through, looking at pictures and maybe reading a few captions.  You should sit down and read the whole thing. 

This book takes a very up-close look at an environment that most people may not know even exists.  Of those that do know it exists, most probably don't realize the complexity of the micro-habitats and the creatures that inhabit them.  Koehl discusses the forces of nature that these organisms must deal with on a daily basis and the adaptations they have that make life on the edge possible. 

The text is supported by some pretty amazing pictures by Anne Wertheim Rosenfeld.  How they got some of these shots despite the waves pounding around them, I don't know.  My four-year old had a fun time playing where's the starfish (a common creature in these pictures). 

The only problem with this book is that it really made me miss the beach.  I think it's time for a visit!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

As I lay dying

Burying a loved one is never easy.  William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying is a study on that statement.

Addie's burial begins before she is even dead, with her approving each plank that is used to make her coffin.  She also demands to be buried in the town she came from, several days journey away.  When she finally passes, flash floods, dead mules, broken legs, arson, and failed abortions all conspire to make the journey take even longer.

But in the end she is laid to rest in her homeland.  Her husband wastes no time getting his new teeth and his new wife.  Her children are left to muddle through their various issues.  You are left wondering if they make it through at all.

An interesting look at what happens when the glue is removed.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A choir of ill children

All is not well in Kingdom Come.  Tom Piccirilli's A Choir of Ill Children is just as strange as November Mourns.  But I'm starting to figure out the lay of the land.  

There are several similar features in these two novels: voodoo, cults or other interpretations of religion, offspring who fall outside the normal range, and a man haunted by a elusive woman.  The key thing is that you are never allowed to settle in, get comfortable, and take your shoes off.  You wouldn't dare.  You remain slightly on edge, not sure what you are going to witness next.  It's starting to grow on me.

The big difference for me comes in the ending of the story.  Again, there are lots of questions left hanging.  Thomas (main character) even lists off some of them in the final pages.  He has accepted that he won't get those answers, at least for now.  And so can I.  The story reaches a semi-conclusion, but leaves you with a sense that you'd like to go back and visit in ten years and see what happened while you were away. 

I dreamt about the triplets last night.

Monday, May 2, 2011

My sister's keeper

I finished reading My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult over 24 hours ago.  I had to sit and stew on this one for a while, because I couldn't say what I wanted to say.

What I really want to talk about is the ending.  But, I can't talk about the ending, because I want people to read this book without knowing how it's going to end.  So I will have to leave the ending alone, at least for now.

So what I'm going to talk about is characterization.  Picoult tells this story using six different points of view.  Six characters surrounding the girl who is dying of leukemia give their perspective on the court case that will decide if she gets her sisters kidney.  It's hard enough to get inside one person's head, let alone six.  Picoult makes it look easy.  This story reads as if you are a confessor for the six characters, with them visiting you periodically and telling you what has happened and what they are thinking.  But here's the thing, you can't fully trust any of them.  All six of these people have secrets that they aren't willing to share with anyone.  Some secrets they even manage to keep from themselves.  And you are fully aware that they aren't quite giving you the full truth.  You are left to come to the best conclusions you can with the limited information you have.

And it works perfectly for this story that lives in the world of gray.  If you want black and white answers, leave this book alone.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Exit to eden

Anne Rice wrote Exit to Eden under the name Anne Rampling.  My guess is that she used the pseudonym to differentiate this work from her other novels.  There are no supernatural beings in Eden.

But the themes are still the same.  An individual living on the edges of society.  Having a clear grasp of the fact that they are different than everyone else.  The flip comes in the main characters response to begin on the fringe.  Rice's vampires often long to be part of the society they were forced to leave.  Lisa, our main human in Eden, refuses to see the "normal" in herself or anyone around her.  Even to the point of denying love.

In the end, she changes.  She recognizes love for what it is and decides to embrace it.  And here is the flaw of the novel- the flip is too large to be believed.  While explanations were given to justify the flip, I still found myself doubting that this woman would make this choice.  Maybe a few years down the road, but not on the last day of this story.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Terminal by Brian Keene asks a simple question:  What do you do when you have nothing left to lose?

Tommy has been diagnosed with cancer and given at most a month to live.  Worried about what his family will do when he's gone (they aren't quite making ends meet to begin with) he decides to the risk of robbing a bank is worth the chance to leave them some money.  After all, what's the worst that can happen?  The rest of his life in jail?

So he partners up with a couple friends and plans what is supposed to be a fool-proof bank heist.  Of course things go really, really wrong.  In the midst of things going horribly awry, he realizes he does indeed have things left to lose.

To complicate matters further, he runs into a healer.  And the cancer goes away.  Now he has everything to lose.  And he loses it all.  With a nasty twist at the end.

Be thorough with your risk assessment, my friends.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Texas! Sage

Texas! Sage  is the final book in the Texas trilogy by Sandra Brown.  Even before I started reading the book, I expected it to be more mature than its predecessors.  What did I base that on?  The size of the book.

Still definitely a romance story, this installment is just a little more fleshed out than the two books that came before it.  Brown took a little more time to develop both the story and characters.  It's a little less Texas-cliche.

While I was happy to see a little more of Brown's maturity as a writer, there was one aspect that struck me as odd.  The secondary characters seemed more substantial than the hero and heroine.  Maybe it's because Brown already wrote stories that focused on those characters.  Maybe those characters just grew up.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Ruby by Francesca Lia Block and Carmen Staton is a book about magic.  A girl who just knows things and has a way with spells falls in love with a boy of the wilds.  And she sets out to get him.  The trouble is, her past keeps getting in the way.

So she uses magic and spells to get the boy and move out from under the shadow of her memories.

In the end, she realizes that the magic didn't make it happen.  She did.  The magic lies in choosing not to let your past rule your future.  Knowing that who you are is not dictated by what happened to you.

Carpe diem, everyone.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Infection: the uninvited universe

Infection: The Uninvited Universe by Gerald N. Callahan is about the human ecosystem.  I don't mean the ecosystem humans inhabit.  I mean the ecosystem that is the human body. 

The human body contains more microbial cells than it does human cells.  A wide variety of bacteria call us home.  The usual inhabitants of the human ecosystem are benign or even helpful.  Callahan describes the important role they play in our everyday lives, and their necessity to the immune system and other bodily functions.

I find myself thinking about a question I've been pondering for some time.  Since the human body is an ecosystem, what is the impact of removing one species?  As we vaccinate for more and more diseases, are we potentially opening the door for bigger issues?

Chicken pox comes to mind.  This is a disease that has co-evolved with humans.  At this point in human history, it is mostly benign.  Very few people suffer any long-lasting or serious effects from the disease.  For most humans, it is merely a rite of passage.  But now it is a mandatory vaccination for school-age children. 

If we eradicate chicken pox from the human ecosystem are we opening that niche for a new species to move into?  Is it possible that removing chicken pox is going to free up room for a new disease-causing microbe to move in?  If so, the risk of a new microbe being deadly instead of benign is great.  Our first encounters with microbes tend to go in the microbes favor.  It takes time for us to get used to each other and learn to co-exist. 

Perhaps we should choose our battles wisely.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

'Salem's Lot

The reading of Stephen King continues.  This time we visit a small northeastern town that becomes infested with vampires.

The premise of the book is simple.  What would happen if a single vampire moved into a small town?  Who be the first infected?  How would the infection spread?  Who would recognize what was happening and choose to stand against it?

What is less simple about this novel is King's portrayal of the characters.  King does not shy away from showing us the touches of evil that lurk inside of all of us.  (Case in point- the mom who hits her baby, feels bad about it, but continues anyway.  They become a happy vampire family later.) 

Even the heroes of the story display their flaws and weaknesses in all their glory.  One even abandons ship and leaves town. 

I continue to be impressed by the "real people" that inhabit King's stories.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

November mourns

November Mourns by Tom Piccirilli is one of the stranger books I've ever read.  It will probably percolate in my dreams for many nights to come.

Shad has just been released from prison (incarcerated for defending his sister's honor) to find that his sister has died under mysterious circumstances.  Shad believes she was murdered and wants to avenge her death.  But the residents of "the hollow" and "the hills" that surround them aren't really interested in helping him out. 

He encounters a dwarf witchy woman who seems to know everything he is thinking but answers all of his questions in a sideways manner.  He encounters a group of snake charmers that then set out to kill him.  (And almost succeed)  He sees the ghosts of his sister and mother.  He sees Jesus.  He sees what may or may not be the devil. 

In the end, he gives himself to the hills.  And we are left with no answers at all.  I'm not sure if Piccirilli chose to leave us with all these questions or if the story simply got to a point where he couldn't figure out how to wrap it up.  I won't lie.  I felt like the story just stopped.  Like I was missing a chapter at the end. 

Like one of the characters in the book, I wonder where the story went.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

China syndrome

China Syndrome by Karl Taro Greenfeld is one of the scariest books I've ever read.  It's a nonfiction chronicle of SARS in China. 

The disease is scary enough.  Out of nowhere, people become dangerously ill and around 10% of those infected die.  But that's not the scary part.  The scary part is the government's response to the disease.  Not only did the government deny to the media that there was a disease outbreak, they actively sought to cover up the disease and hide it from the World Health Organization.

As the disease moved out of China (striking as far away as Toronto), the WHO became aware that there was a problem and offered their assistance.  As they visited hospitals in China, the government ordered patients moved out of those hospitals to hide that there was any disease occurring. 

The world was lucky.  SARS mostly burned itself out, despite the poor choices made in dealing with the disease. 

Next time may be different....

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A handful of dust

I'm not really sure what to say about A Handful of Dust  by Evelyn Waugh.  This was a very odd novel. 

Set in England in the very early 20th century, it seemed a commentary on a society that I didn't fully understand.  The story centers on a couple, Tony and Brenda.  Brenda sets off on an affair with a very odd little man, and her husband is totally oblivious.  To keep it that way, Brenda attempts to set up her husband with another woman.  That fails, so Brenda decides she must have a divorce.

At this time in England, the courts have to order a divorce, and there has to be good cause.  Adultery is considered good cause.  Being the wonderful man that he is, Tony agrees that he should fake an affair and hires detectives to follow him on his set up weekend away.  Later Tony changes his mind, refusing to allow the "evidence" to be used against him, denying Brenda her divorce.  I'm still not sure why Brenda's affair wasn't used as the necessary evidence.

At the end of the story, Tony has set off for the wilds of Brazil where he loses his tour guide and becomes the captive of a man who can't read, but is in love with the works of Dickens.  The Brazilian fakes Tony's death so that he can hold him forever and force him to read the stories aloud.

Brenda is left with nothing, including her odd little man.  He took off for America. 

Sad day.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Between XX and XY

Between XX and XY by Gerald N. Callahan is a non-fiction book about sex.  It made me realize that I have been unintentionally perpetuating a myth. 

Most people know a little about the X and Y chromosomes.  If you have two X chromosomes, you are a female.  If you have one X and one Y, you are a male.  In a perfect world.  The reality is that the chromosomes alone don't determine your sex.  The chromosomes interact with and are influenced by hormones and other proteins in ways that are not fully understood.  And in ways that can go astray, deviating from what we consider "normal."  The result: a person with a sex somewhere in between the ideal male and ideal female on the spectrum.

I teach Biology.  For simplicity, we go with the ideal situation.  XX = female, XY = male. 

After reading this book, I will be much more aware of pointing out the shades of gray!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Thursday's child

I knew there would be trouble from the start.  Allison, the "heroine" of Sandra Brown's Thursday's Child is a geneticist.  How did I know that would lead to trouble?  This book was written in 1985, it's a romance, and Brown does not have a strong background in the sciences.

My hypothesis was correct.

Allison gets away with coming and going from the lab as her hormones dictate, eating and drinking in the lab, even having a not-so-brief make-out session in the lab.  In my experience, none of those things happen in the majority of labs. 

Just to keep things balanced, Brown gives us a "hero" (Spencer) who makes his rather large income by trading stamps.  We're talking yacht, sailing around the world, kind of income.  Okay....

And don't even get me started on the identical twin........   

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Northanger abbey

It's been a long time since I've read Jane Austen.  I had forgotten about her wicked sarcastic streak.  It is very evident in the first half of Northanger Abbey.  Throughout the first half of this book, Austen's voice is very present.  She steps out of the story and comments on events and characters as the author.  Honestly, it doesn't seem that Austen holds much regard for the heroine she has created.

Then the second half happens.  Austen's voice is suppressed and the characters are left on their own.  Our heroine takes no for an answer.  (She is twice told not to see what lurks down a forbidden corridor.  She obeys.  I still want to know what's down that hallway!)  Our heroine falls madly in love with the hero of the story.  Or so she tells us.  We don't get to see it happen for ourselves.

Then Austen comes back at the end to say "Look how neatly I wrapped everything up.  Good day to you."  After falling in love with her voice in the first half, I was a little disappointed.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I can see you

I had another visit with some old friends.  I Can See You by Karen Rose is another novel that picks up the story of a character who appeared in a previous novel.

This story follows Eve, a victim of the serial killer from an earlier story.  (Victim in the sense she was attacked, left for dead, but managed to survive.)  In this novel she deals with her scars, both internal and external, and finally comes out of the dark and into her life.

I continue to be amazed at Rose's ability to create characters with enough depth to truly suck you into their story.  Even her "bad guys" are well written.  Although this time I figured out who-dun-it about 2/3 of the way through the novel.  I didn't mind figuring it out early, the story was still a heck of a ride!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

River odyssey

I feel a bit like a voyeur.  River Odyssey: A story of the Colorado Plateau by Gerald N Callahan almost made me feel like I was learning things I didn't have the right to know. 

The basis of the problem is that I know the author.  And the book is creative nonfiction.  Callahan is writing about his real experiences, thoughts, and feelings.  The poems and essays are all wonderful insights into one man's relationship with the water of the Colorado river.  And deeply personal. 

Even though the book is published, and clearly Callahan knows that anyone can pick it up and read what he has laid out on the page, I felt a little like I should ask permission to read it.  It was almost like sneaking a peek into someone's diary.

And the book made me sad.  Callahan's descriptions of the wilds of Utah made me miss it.  I spent three months in a tent just outside Green River, Utah in my younger days.  This is where Callahan's story opens.  In a bar I've been in.  With a conversation with a woman I'm pretty sure I've met.  But what I miss are the rocks.  The formations in Utah are amazing.  Callahan plopped me right in the middle of them, and I want to go back!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The monk

I just finished another "classic."  The Monk by Matthew Lewis was first published in 1796.  I started this book expecting it to be slow and rather dull.  I was pleasantly surprised.

This story centers around an ideal monk who is overly deliberate in his monk-ness for the sake of the fame it brings him.  Lucifer recognizes the falseness of his saintliness and decides to destroy him.  Tempted by a woman, the monk rapidly falls into a web of lies, rape, and murder. 

I find myself a little surprised that this story has not been made into a modern day movie.  Many scenes in this novel would be amazing on screen, particularly the scenes in the cemetery catacombs. 

Overall, a good read.  One I would recommend. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I love Stephen King.  He is a god among us mere mortals.  Someday I dream of having the clout to invite people to dinner, knowing that they will attend.  King will be on the guest list for sure.  I want to open up his brain and see what's running around inside. 

I have decided to read his rather large library of writings from start to finish.  Most of his books I have already read, at least once, but I'm totally willing to do it all again.

First up: Carrie.   Short by King's standards, this novel is less than 200 pages in length.  But powerful pages they are (says Yoda).  You would be hard pressed to cut a single word out of this story without harming it in some way.  Every word in this book is moving the story forward, revealing new facets of characters, and forcing you to turn the page.

The edition that I read was a reprint, and contained a forward written by King long after the original publication of Carrie (1974).  He stated that he sees the story as being dated.  I disagree.  With very minor updates, this story could take place today.  People are still horrible to each other.  "Misfits" still lash out. 

The only thing that really needs an overhaul is the discussion of genetics.  I won't lie, I cringed while characters discussed dominant recessive genes and how they pass from one generation to the next.  Call me Stephen, we'll talk.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The rock from mars

A couple of weeks ago a friend sent me a link: Evidence of Alien Life.  I read the article and was left highly sceptical that this was reliable evidence for ET.  Then, by total chance, The Rock From Mars by Kathy Sawyer came up in my library pile. 

By the time I started reading the book, I had forgotten the name of the scientist quoted in the article.  But it crossed my mind that this book was covering the same "amazing find."  So I approached the book with great reservation.

At the end of the book, I was not totally convinced that scientists had discovered proof of life in this Martian rock.  But I couldn't rule it out, either.  I find myself open to the possibility. 

So I reread the article.  Not the same scientist.  (Although both "discoveries" were made by NASA researchers.)  The big kicker: the Martian rock evidence was published in Science- a peer-reviewed and reputable journal.  The new evidence was published in Cosmology- of doubtful scientific reliability. 

The bottom line is that I still don't know if Martians exist.  I will wait for a visit from the little green men.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The golden bowl

In my quest to become a better human being, I often force myself to read "literature."  The Golden Bowl by Henry James is one such piece of literature.

Written at the turn of the century (two turns ago) it is very much a product of its times.  Its long, 567 pages, and slow.  Much of the book takes place inside the heads of the main characters.  The title character (in this case, a bowl, doesn't appear until around page 80, and only appears a handful of times in the whole book.

I would love to see this story tackled by a modern writer.  For sure, the first 80 or so pages would be gone.  Personally, I would throw away the entire first half (focuses on the Prince's POV) and only included the second half (focuses on the Princess's POV).  Even better, I would have started the story with the moment the bowl breaks (around page 400 in James' version) and moved on from there. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

The thrill of victory

Okay, I'm not sure if it's the genre (romance), the setting (Texas), or the era (late 1980's).  Maybe it's some strange chemical reaction that occurs when you combine all three.  Whatever the cause, The Thrill of Victory by Sandra Brown suffers from a fascinating phenomenon.  I've observed the same phenomenon is some of her other books from the same era. 

The main female character complains that the main male character is a chauvinist.  He recognizes the "flaws" in his behavior and vows to correct them.  Oh, isn't it lovely when women's lib is successful!

Then the two characters proceed to fall into a slightly modified version of their previous relationship.  Big strong man taking care of small weak woman.  Didn't they just agree not to act that way? 

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Violin by Anne Rice is not a vampire story.  Instead, it's a ghost story.  The main character is haunted by a ghost and his ghost violin.  The ghost is trying to drive her crazy.  The violin just wants to be played.

So she steals the violin from the ghost and plays it.  Amazing considering she doesn't know how to play the violin.  In the end, she gives the violin back, the ghost goes into the light and she moves on.  Playing a different violin.

This story moved faster than Rice's vampire novels.  (But not as fast as the mummy)  So it was definitely an enjoyable read.  But as I approached the end, something about the book began to bother me.  The main character began to focus so much on the violin, that the ghost became lost.  A problem for me, because I found the ghost much more fascinating than the main character. 

I kept wondering why he set out to drive her crazy.  Rice danced around this issue, almost answering it.  I never felt satisfied that it had truly been answered.  I don't need an author to come out and draw the answer, but I felt like I was missing a dot or two here.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The castle of Otranto

Ah, 18th century horror.  The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole is a slim little novel of horror.  There is a giant warrior in the castle, set on expelling the current man of the house.  You would expect that to be the focus.  Instead, the characters in the novel seem remarkably unconcerned by the giant's presence.  They are far more worried about who's in love with who, who's sleeping with who, and which two people were alone together after dark. 

Apparently the real terror lies in romantic uncertainty.  It causes a lot of fainting.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The perfect murder

The Perfect Murder by Brenda Novak was slightly less than perfect.  Overall, the characters felt a little flat.  My main issue was the main character, Jane.  Somehow in the moment we met her, my mental picture was off.  Novak presented Jane to us in a moment when Jane was pondering her faults.  Those faults made up my first impression of her.  And then I couldn't shake it. 

I was stuck with Jane's negative self-image as my mental picture of her.  It was very hard for me to acknowledge the changes she made, the person she had become. 

This is definitely something I will be aware of as I create characters.  Yes, deeply written characters are full of weaknesses and contradictions.  However, they should not be the first things presented to the readers.  You need to give your readers a chance to fall in love with all the good stuff first.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

One with the darkness

One With the Darkness by Susan Squires is about a time-traveling vampire who moves between the Italian Renaissance and the Roman Empire.  Seriously.

Excess piled on extravagance piled on improbability.  I just don't even know what to say.  Except that in some odd way, it worked.  If you can let yourself go, and forget that the combination is ridiculous, it's a fun read.

Did I mention that Da Vinci built the time machine?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Have you seen her?

I received another unexpected visit from old friends.  Have You Seen Her? by Karen Rose follows a character introduced in one of her earlier novels.  I really like that she goes back and tells the stories of characters that were accessories in other stories.  The books aren't truly sequels or part of a series, but there is a sense of familiarity that is comforting.

She is also freakishly good at writing serial killers.  Her killers are always there, in the story, staring you right in the face.  The challenge is to recognize them.  I never feel like Rose is deliberately misdirecting me, forcing me to see an innocent bystander as the killer.  But I never get it right, either. 

I guess that's what makes her novels so good.  That's how it usually works in real life.  The quirky but quiet person next door can't possibly be harmful.  Right?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Texas! Chase

Okay, more fluffiness.  (Is that even a word?!)  I finished Texas! Chase by Sandra Brown over the weekend.  This is book two in the Texas trilogy, written early in Brown's "mainstream" career.

This novel features a woman (Her name escapes me) that has been in love with a man (Chase) since high school.  He married someone else.  Sadly, Chase's wife dies at the end of the first novel in the trilogy while in the car with our female lead of novel number two.  (Female lead is a real estate agent and was driving wife to show her a house).  In despair, Chase buys the house after his wife dies (he's never seen it and never moves in).  Later he sells it, unknowingly to the real estate agent who is secretly in love with him.

On to novel two.  Real estate lady convinces Chase to marry her so that she can invest in his failing business without him "selling out."  They move into the house real estate lady bought for him. 

To me, all of this screams stalker.  But it's okay, because it's true love.  And it's Texas.  'Nuff said.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Animal Farm

I know, I know.  Most people are forced to read this book in school.  Somehow I never had to.  So I read it now.  Animal Farm by George Orwell was written (I assume) as political commentary.  And yes, I got that.  In the end, there was no distinguishable difference between pigs and humans. 

What caught my eye, however, was the cat.  He puts in only periodic appearances throughout the story.  He never puts in his share of the work to get things done.  But because he purrs and is snuggly, he gets away with it.  Sounds pretty much like all cats I've ever met.

Like most cats, his loyalty and love go to whomever is serving as a food source.  Fickle beasts!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Memory Game

The Memory Game by Nicci French took me a little while to settle into.  It's set in England, and has a very English feel, so it felt very foreign to me at first.  Once I was acclimated, however, the story took over.  The story centers around a middle-aged woman discovering the long buried body of her childhood friend.  The bulk of the book is her quest to find the truth hidden in her memories. 

The bottom line is that the human memory is very unreliable.  I've had some personal experience with that.  A few years ago, I was involved in a hit and run car accident.  As the other driver took off, I tried to memorize his license plate.  When the police arrived, the numbers were gone from my memory.  So I closed my eyes and tried to visualize what the plate looked like.  A very clear image popped into my head, and I gave the number to the police.  When I finally made it home, I saw my husband's car in the driveway.  With the license plate number I had just given the police.  My mind really wanted to remember that plate number, so when it couldn't find it, something else was dredged up and put in its place!

For most of my life, I had two very clear memories of my dad (who died when I was four).  The first involved a conversation with him about cutting my hair.  In the memory, my hair is very long, almost to my butt, and curly.  Here's the problem with this memory- my hair is straight.  Oh, and I never had long hair as a child.  There is not a single picture of me with hair any longer than shoulder-length.  I asked my mom about this, and she confirmed that I never had the hair I so clearly remembered. 

The second memory was of the day my dad died.  I remember getting ready in the morning and as I was leaving with my mom running back into the house to give my dad one more hug.  My mom shot this one down too.  My dad always left the house before we did, including the day of his death. 

So here I am with two wonderful memories of my dad.  And neither one is correct.  Are they at all based on reality?  I have no way of knowing.  Even though I know they are inaccurate (at best) they still appear to me as absolutely concrete remembrances.  Something in my brain saw a gap that needed to be filled and created some plausible events to fill the hole.  But knowing that I have these false memories makes me wonder about everything else I "remember." 

What do you remember?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Oracle

I just finished The Oracle: The lost secrets and hidden message of ancient Delphi by William J Broad.  This is a nonfiction work that is less about what the oracle did and said and more about how modern times have viewed the oracle. 

I don't have much interest in geology, slightly more in archaeology.  Yet this book was a really interesting read.  It tells the story of a group of men and their quest to prove (by geology) that the oracle was not a total fraud.  It all comes down to hydrocarbon vapors rising out of faults in the earth.

Through it all, Broad emphasizes that at any given time, science does NOT know everything.  What seems certain now can be proven totally wrong later. 

After all, the sun does not revolve around a flat earth. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


I read another Sandra Brown novel.  This time it was the first in a trilogy:  Texas! Lucky

This is one of the early novels that Brown published under her own name.  It's really a cross-over novel between her really early work (pure romance) and her newest work (suspense).  In this novel, the focus is still definitely on the romance, but the characters are more fully developed than those in her romance novels.  Brown also has added an actual plot that has little to do with the romance between the two main characters. 

I like reading Brown because I can see the changes in her writing over her career.  It's refreshing to see an author who is constantly working to become better at their craft.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Servant of the Bones

I read Servant of the Bones by Anne Rice over the weekend.  Much like Interview with the Vampire, this story is set up with the main character telling his story to another person who is recording/ writing it down.  I really don't like this set-up. 

In theory, having an observer who hears the story and then relays it should give you more information about the main character.  Perhaps the observer is changed by hearing the story or interacting with the main character.  Perhaps they have some insight into the main character that makes the story richer.  Or maybe the observer just makes the story move super slowly.  That was my experience in this case.  The first 150 or so pages are there just to get our observer together with the main character. 

The big question of this novel is whether Azriel (main character) is good or evil.  It seemed that Rice didn't trust her readers to answer this question based on his actions through the novel.  So, she introduced the observer to make the decision for us.  He does, in the last few pages.  He tells us that Azriel is good.  Two problems:  A) I had already figured that out on my own, thank you very much.  B) If the observer told me he was good but I disagreed, I wouldn't change my mind just because the observer told me to.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Skin Gods


I finished the follow-up to The Rosary Girls:  The Skin Gods by Richard Montanari.  I read this novel because I was mad at the previous novel for inserting a totally ridiculous twist at the end of the novel.  I wanted to see if Montanari redeemed himself by making that the focus of the follow-up.  He did not redeem himself.

Byrne, our bad cop, still has visions.  But, they are randomly placed throughout the novel, and not very helpful to the overall plot.  The plot of this novel had the potential to be amazing.  However, Montanari violates the trust of his readers and that makes the plot tank.

Early in this novel we meet an FBI agent who is assisting with the case.  He appears periodically, says cryptic things, and then wanders off.  He seems to never be around when he would be useful to the case.  He manages to get himself shot (a graze to the shoulder) with no witnesses, supposedly by the perp.  There's nothing obviously wrong with him, but just enough hints to make you think that he is involved in the crimes.  He didn't do it.

Who did?  Another cop introduced somewhere around page 20 (in the story for all of 2 paragraphs) who is never referred to again in the novel.  Until the last few pages when it is explained that he is the killer. 

Part of the appeal of suspense novels is trying to figure out who dun it.  I don't feel like I ever had a chance of figuring it out in this novel.  Montanari dropped lots of clues, but not a single one of them pointed to the killer.  Some clues he discussed at great length, making them seem super important in solving the case.  Many of these clues were never resolved, he never let us in on how they connected to anything else.  I was disappointed. 

Monday, February 7, 2011


I read Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson over the weekend.  The first thing I noticed was the difference in the characters she focused on in this story.  Normally, Anderson's main characters are your average, everyday, middle-class teenagers.  In this story, she focuses on a high school in South Philly. 

Here, teenagers have all the usual teenage troubles.  Friendship, love, parent problems.  But it's all overlaid with a different dynamic.  Here, there is a struggle for survival.  How do you move beyond working for Chuck E Cheese?  How do you get out??

In this story, the characters are lucky.  They attend a high school that has "woken-up."  Adults there realize that success is not a given for their students.  They have a mantra: "the tassel is worth the hassle."  Amazing what simply acknowledging the struggles of your students can do to help them move through them.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Don't Tell

I'm reading another Karen Rose novel,  Don't Tell.  This is one of her earlier novels, and I can tell.  The characters aren't quite as rich, the plot not quite as neat, as her recent books. 

This story has me thinking about identity.  Is it something you are born with, dictated by your genes and upbringing?  Is it something you determine, modifying every day as life happens?  Do we all have the ability to be like Madonna and recreate ourselves when we feel the urge?

I know that I have different personas depending on who I am interacting with.  Which of these is really me?  Is one of those personas the true me, the rest merely facades?  Or am I a blend of bits of each?

Way too deep for a Friday morning!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Good Soldier

You know the saying: "Can't always get what you want."  That should have been the title of The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford.  Originally, Ford had titled this book "The Saddest Story," but he was told to change the title.  Personally, I think the original title was much more fitting.

An excerpt: "Well, it is all over.  Not one of us has got what he really wanted.  Leonora wanted Edward, and she has got Rodney Bayham, a pleasant enough sort of sheep.  Florence wanted Bramshaw, and it is I who have bought it from Leonora.  I didn't really want it; what I wanted mostly was to cease being a nurse-attendant.  Well, I am a nurse-attendant.  Edward wanted Nancy Rufford, and I have got her.  Only she is mad.  It is a queer and fantastic world.  Why can't people have want they want?  The things were all there to content everybody; yet everybody has the wrong thing.  Perhaps you can make heads or tail of it; it is beyond me."

John, the point of view character, is the only one who realizes that everyone is equally miserable.  What he misses, along with everyone else, is that each of them is responsible for their own misery.  Each character had the ability to get what he or she really wanted, yet they acted in ways that guaranteed that they wouldn't get it. 

I suppose it is human nature to dodge potential happiness whenever possible.  We really are gluttons for punishment!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Silence the Whispers

I have a hard time writing dialogue, and often feel like my characters are a little flat.  But, I'm starting to feel better about that.  I keep reading novels that have bigger issues than mine that managed to get published anyway!  I finished another book, Silence the Whispers by Cait London.  Again, the plot was really good.   Lots of suspense, and a mystery to be solved.  Granted, I solved it before the characters, but I'm okay with that.

What bothered me was the characters.  The two main characters were so-so.  There were moments when they seemed contrived, but overall, they were okay.  The rest of the characters were horrible.  Cameron, the main female, came with a trio of female friends.  I don't remember any of their names, nor could I tell them apart during the novel.  They all read like shadows of Cameron.  Really sad, considering one of them was vital to the plot.

All I'm looking for is a few good characters!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tempest in Eden

Oh, the '80s!  I read Tempest in Eden by Sandra Brown.  This is another of her early romance novels, written under the name Rachel Ryan. 

In this novel, we don't have Tarzan and Jane.  This time Brown paired a minister with a nude model.  Of course they met when their parents (both widowed) got married.  Let's take improbability and pile more on top, shall we? 

Honestly, I had a hard time with this one.  I just couldn't get past how dated and unlikely this story was.  I definitely prefer her recent novels to her early work.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Deus ex Machina

SPOILER ALERT!!!  If you have any intention of reading The Rosary Girls, you shouldn't read this post! 

I finished the novel and was forced to shake my head in disgust.  All along, this was a very "realistic" novel- this could have been a real series of crimes, investigated by real people.  Suddenly, near the end of the story, the male detective has a vision of his partner in trouble, the serial killer parked outside her house.  So, he sweeps in and saves her at what would have been the moment of her death.  Right. 

In the process of saving her, he takes a bullet to the head.  And survives.  Perhaps this was intended to convince me that he was a good guy after all.  I still don't particularly like him.

Even though I feel no real attachment to these characters and a fair amount of disgust for the implausible ending, I feel obliged to read The Skin Gods.  This is another novel about the same detectives after another serial killer.  I wonder if Montanari will try to justify his deus ex machina by using it in another novel.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Rosary Girls

I'm currently about 300 pages into The Rosary Girls by Richard Montanari.  The story so far is good.  Catholic school girls murdered and posed in the act of prayer.  But I am having a character issue.

The main characters are the two homicide detective looking for the killer.  Byrne, the male of the duo, is just not a good guy.  So far, he has killed one man, tampered with a crime scene, and beat up a suspect.  I think I'm supposed to believe he's a bad cop for all the right reasons.  But I don't believe that.  I just don't like him.

The female of the duo, Balzano, is a good cop.  At least so far.  But I don't really like her either.  And in her case, I'm not sure why.  I don't know if it's just an issue of the author being male and writing a female character.  There is just something about her that doesn't ring true for me.  I find myself not caring all that much about her issues.

I hope I like them by the time they catch the killer.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kill For Me

Ah, the love affair continues...  I just finished  Kill For Me by Karen Rose.  This was book three of a trilogy.  I am still impressed by her ability to weave a story across three novels and not have anything feel forced or out of place. 

My only complaint is that it is over.  The story is complete.  There are no loose threads, no hanging plot lines, no misplaced characters.  All of the bad guys are dead or otherwise accounted for.  There won't be another novel about these people.  So sad.

One of the main themes of the series was that family has nothing to do with blood, and everything to do with heart.  Rose painted these characters so well that I feel like they have become part of my family.  I will miss them. 

Monday, January 24, 2011


Finished another book by Laurie Halse Anderson.  This time it was Catalyst

What do you do when you put all of your eggs in one basket and the basket blows up?  Kate is an MIT legacy and knows that is the college she is meant to go to.  So it's the only college she applies to.  Guess how that ends? 

Beyond the basket blowing up, this is a great story about the chemical reactions that occur between people.  Some reactions are peaceful, harmonious.  Some are explosive.  Regardless of the nature of the reaction, we are all changed by our interactions with other people.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Marilyn Tapes

Read The Marilyn Tapes by E. J. Gorman.  I don't know much about this author.  His biography simply states "lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa." 

I do know that this book is likely to reawaken an old obsession of mine.  This book did such a fantastic job of hiding the line that separates fact from fiction that I'm feeling the urge to do some research.  See if I can discover where the line lies. 

The major players definitely existed.  Marilyn, JFK, Bobby, Hoover.  What is less clear (at least to the general public) is the relationships between them.  Did Marilyn sleep with both Kennedys?  Did Hoover really seek to control the brothers?  What secrets were hidden in Marilyn's past? 

The murders at the heart of this novel were fiction (at least I think so).  But, every element of this story COULD have happened.  I love fiction that manages to convince me that it's a true story!

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Almost done with The Mummy.  This book is very different from most of Rice's stuff.  First of all, we have mummies instead of vampires.  More importantly, this book moves.  Usually reading Rice is like taking a very leisurely stroll through a story.  Oftentimes, I find myself wanting her to just get on with it, already.  By the end, I feel like not much happened.  Not the case with The Mummy

While this book is not what the movie The Mummy is based on, this book moves like a movie does.  There is constantly something happening.  (Resurrections of long-dead carcass hands, for instance).  Multiple people have been murdered, two have been brought back from the dead, and one is desperate to gain immortality.  The living, the dead, and the un-dead all WANT, and they are not afraid to go after what they want. 

My favorite Rice book.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Mummy

I'm halfway through The Mummy by Anne Rice.  I predict I will have nightmares tonight.

Ramses just tested the powers of his immortality potion on a severed mummy hand.  Imagine, if you will, a shriveled, dry, blackened claw transforming to a fleshy, pink, human hand.  Then it begins scratching at the table.  Oh, and it's immortal, so you can't kill it.  So you chop it up with a knife and the pieces begin to bleed, but they are still moving.  If the pieces get close enough together, will they reform a functional hand and come after you?

Sweet dreams!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Me Tarzan, You Jane

I blazed through Temperature Rising by Sandra Brown last night in under 3 hours.  This is another author who started off writing romance novels under a pseudonym to claim the bills.  Later she switched to writing mainstream fiction, mostly suspense-ish, under her real name.  She has since reclaimed her early work, republishing it under her real name.

This book was in the Me Tarzan, You Jane, genre.  Then I looked at the copyright.  1989.  That explains so much.  Reading the book, the male "hero" reminded me very much of Romancing the Stone.  However the female lead was nothing like Kathleen Turner's brilliant, goofy, slightly spacey heroine.

Overall, it was a fun, if dated, read. 

Also yesterday I finished Scream for Me.  I got to the end and was certain there would be a third book in the series.  (A quick online check confirmed I was right.)  Rose didn't do such a good job of hiding her outs this time.  Stay tuned for Kill for Me...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

High school friends

I'm not afraid to say it.  I'm in love with Karen Rose.  I am almost done with Scream for Me and I continue to be amazed by this woman's ability to weave a plot.  As I am reading, I keep remembering details from Die for Me that connect to the plot in this book.  And yet I finished the first book and had no idea that there was more to come.  I really thought the story was complete.  I would love to talk with her and find out if this was planned as two novels, or if she was just able to make insignificant details seem important later.

I do want to yell at her detective though.  Sometimes he doesn't ask the obvious questions.  Interviewing one victim about an incident that occurred in high school (her being attacked by a group), he gets the name of one of the attackers.  Why not follow up and at least ask who that person hung out with in high school?  Plot wise, it would jump the story forward too quickly, but in reality it's an obvious question and really stood out as missing.  I'm sure Rose is good enough that she could have found a way to make it work.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Scream for me

Hello fiction, my old friend. 

After my bad experience with the last book I tried to read, the last 24 hours have been a literary delight. I am reading Scream for Me by Karen Rose.  It has reminded me that all is right with the world.  Good fiction is still good fiction.

This particular novel is a thriller/ suspense.  One of my favorite genres, as I try to solve the puzzles before the characters do.  Good suspense lets me figure out small pieces of the mystery (so I can feel smart) but then surprises me in the end with something I didn't figure out but really should have seen coming.

This book has an added bonus.  It's a part two.  I know, I complained before about a book that was a part one.  But this book is done right.  Part one, Die for Me, was a complete story.  I didn't get to the end and feel like anything was missing.  I started reading part two not knowing that it was a part two.  Then I met a character that felt familiar, but I couldn't quite place.  Turns out he appeared in the previous book.  Now I get to find out what happened to him.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Other people's words

This almost never happens.  I couldn't make myself finish a book that I had started.

I heard that gasp of shock and despair. 

Breaking the Spell may have had a point.  Honestly, I'm not sure.  I found myself 150+ pages into the book with no clue what I supposed to be getting out of it.  I then found myself flipping through the book, reading only the quotes that opened each section.  Some of them were wonderful, fabulous nuggets of wisdom.  Others were quotes from The Simpsons. 

They were the best part of the book.  Moving on.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


The book I'm in the middle of, Breaking the Spell (see yesterday's post), was written by a philosopher.  Today, I am the philosopher.  My task is to write a one-page statement of my teaching philosophy.

It sounds like a remarkably simple task.  My goal after all is simple, for my students to learn stuff. 

In reality, putting what I do into words is proving incredibly complex.  From day to day, sometimes even moment to moment, my strategies and techniques with students shift.  How do I describe a chameleon?

Dennett says in Breaking the Spell that the job of a philosopher is to ask questions that can't be answered (paraphrase).  I am left wondering how then, one can write a philosophical statement....

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Home is where the heart(h) is

I finished The Last Olympian.  Hope, the only item left in Pandora's box (not a box), was the key to the novel.  The temptation to release hope led Percy to leave it with Hestia (goddess of the hearth) to keep hope safe at home.  Then Percy had to get the gods to realize what made home home and defend it.  (You're gonna have to read the book to understand)

Then I started a new book.  Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel C. Dennett.   What is the name of the first section of the book?  Opening Pandora's Box.  I love when life serves me up a big pile of coincidence!  Dennett's book questions the reluctance to give religion a good, thorough examination.  He believes that we need to understand the fundamentals of belief so that we can all just get along. 

Favorite quote from the book so far:
Science is like a blabbermouth who ruins a movie by telling you how it ends.  -- Ned Flanders

Monday, January 10, 2011


Two-thirds of the way through The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan.   This is the final book in the Percy Jackson series.  I find myself reading the book with great sadness and a good dose of disgust.  I blame it on the movies The Lightning Thief.

That movie screwed up really bad.  Percy was five years too old.  Two key characters were merged into one.  Several other key characters were entirely left out.  Oh, and the antagonist of the series was killed off.  Basically, they made it impossible to make the rest of the series into movies.  That makes me sad, because this last book would have made a terrific movie.

I suppose now kids will have to read about Greek mythology instead of watching it on the big screen.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Fluffin' curses!

3/4's of the way through Affair by Amanda Quick.  Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like.  A romance novel.  Set in Regency England, to be precise.  Sometimes I read things because they are "good for me."  Sometimes I read things purely for entertainment.  I am not a literary snob, fluff has its purpose!

A lot of people scoff at popular novels because they are popular.  But, they are popular because people read them.  So clearly, they serve a purpose for a lot of people.  Sometimes a reader just wants to wander in a different world for awhile.

Interesting factoid, Amanda Quick is a pseudonym for Jayne Ann Krentz.  Krentz is one of many novelists to write in the romance genre under an assumed name.  More interesting, Krentz has joined the growing trend of claiming your pseudonym.  I am all for owning what you have written, even the popular fluff!

Biggest complaint with this novel:  Bloody hell!  This particular curse is sprinkled liberally through the text, sometimes twice on a single page.  Yes, it is time and place appropriate, but surely you could introduce a little variety?  How about bollocks!, for example?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


I finished Chains last night.  Much to my dismay, the story did not come to any sort of resolution.  The last page of the book was a notice that the story would be continued in another novel.  Pet peeve alert:  please indicate somewhere on the cover that this is part one of a series. 

So I am left with three characters in potentially dire peril.  A five-year old epileptic separated from her family and under the "care" of a brutal owner.  Her older sister a fugitive (escaped from slavery) trying to take care of a teenage boy with ?smallpox?.  And the story just stops. 

I honestly feel a little abandoned.

Maybe that's the point.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mouse Fur

In Chains, our heroine (Isabel) is watching her owner get ready for a formal dinner party.  Mrs. Lockton uses glue to attach strips of mouse fur to her brows to get the full, bushy look.  Seriously?!

Now, I know Anderson often sets her novels in historical periods.  And I have the utmost confidence in her research, so I am sure that this detail is historically accurate.  Just to be sure, I did some browsing this morning.  Modes in Makeup describes lots of odd things people did to enhance their beauty.  Both mouse and oxen fur have been used to give fullness to brows.  Ew.  Really glad that times have changed.

Another note on changing times.  I am having a really difficult time placing the age of Isabel.  My current estimation is that she is 10 years old.  The issue I am having is that the cues we use to estimate age when reading a novel are not consistent from one era to another.  The normal activities of a 10 year old in America today are vastly different from those of a 10 year old slave in 1776.  Isabel walks, alone, through the streets of NYC at all hours of the day and night.  Now, even an adult would use caution with those same activities.  Today, 10 year olds might be out from under the watchful eye of an adult only when they are in the bathroom!! 

Monday, January 3, 2011


I finally finished Cry to Heaven.   Still not sure if I liked it or not. 

I'm about halfway through Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson.   This is a YA novel set in 1776 in New York.  A young slave is trying to thwart a planned assassination of Washington.  What's interesting is that her motivation is totally non-political, she is merely working for the freedom of her sister and herself.  Without ruining the story, the true chains that bind her are not the chains of slavery, but the chains of dedication to her family. 

I suppose looking back that Cry to Heaven was really about the same thing.  Chains.  In this story, the chains were to vengeance.  Tonio's dedication to vengeance got in the way of his dreams and potential happiness.

Investigating my personal chains....

Saturday, January 1, 2011


So in the last 24 hours, the only things I have read are instructions. 

On the fun side, Harry Potter Scene It!  It's been so long since we've played this particular game that I couldn't remember how.  So long that the kid who was too young to even read the questions for the game now knows all the answers!

On the not so fun side, instructions to install a dishwasher.  Happy New Years to me, our dishwasher chose to start spewing water all over our kitchen floor.  What I initially thought would be a simple replacement has turned into a three day ordeal, with uncountable trips to the hardware store for miscellaneous parts.  I'm not sure this process could be any more complicated. 

Here's a thought, on the first page of the instructions, list ALL of the parts that will be required for installation!