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.