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?