Saturday, January 31, 2009

The First Horseman

The First Horseman by John Case was originally published in 1998. My hardcover copy has 325 pages. "John Case" is a pseudonym for the husband and wife writing team of Jim Hougan and Carolyn Hougan. The First Horseman is a fast paced novel of suspense, but it's also a medical thriller tied into investigative reporting. The one chilling detail that makes this novel so good is that using the flu as a weapon in bioterrorism is a clear and realistic threat. The plot is a little predictable and not all the characters are finely developed, but this was an enjoyable book and I highly recommend it. Rating: 4.

Synopsis from the Publisher:
In the Book of Revelations, the Four Horsemen herald the arrival of the Apocalypse. When the First Horseman thunders forth, pestilence will spread throughout the land. For the First Horseman is Plague...

The Spanish Flu killed thirty million people worldwide in 1918. Now with history threatening to repeat itself, a scientific expedition speeds toward a remote island in the Arctic Sea to recover strains of the lethal virus preserved under layers of ice. For Washington Post reporter Frank Daly, it is the story of a lifetime. But his plan to join the expedition is ruined by a ferocious storm that delays him. And when he meets up with the ship upon its return to port in Norway, it is clear something has gone wrong.

Fear haunts the faces of the crew. No one will talk. And someone wants Daly to stop asking questions.


"Tommy was nervous. Susannah could tell, because she knew he liked to talk, and yet, he hadn't said a word for fifty miles." opening sentences

"Killing someone was dead wrong -
Unless you were a soldier. And that's exactly what they were..." pg. 5

"Daunting from the outside, the building's interior was terrifying - a makeshift morgue paved with the cadavers of men, women, and children whose blistered limbs had turned a startling blue in the days before their deaths." pg. 14

"And though he knew what the pictures represented - a massacre - he also knew that because he was the first to notice it, he'd get a lot of credit." pg. 26

"But the plague took twenty years to do what it did. The Spanish flu killed twenty or thirty million people in twelve months." pg. 37

"Now, almost sixty years later, Annie and Doctor K were after a different kind of buried treasure: a virus so virulent and contagious that it might serve as a standard against which all others should be measured." pg. 57

"Listening was an art, and Frank was a genius at it. People told him things because he was totally simpatico - whatever they had to say, he understood. He got the text, and the subtext." pg. 92

"And the palm trees - what good were they, anyway? They were skinny and straight and they didn't really give you any shade. They just stood there, next to the street, like a row of disappointments." pg. 110

Friday, January 30, 2009

Pretty Greasy

Pretty in Pink happened to be on last night and I sort of half watched it again while reading. What I want to know is why on earth did Andie (Molly Ringwald) think that Blaine (Andrew McCarthy) was a better choice, over her friend, Duckie (Jon Cryer)? Even when the movie was released I was too old for it's demographics, however, I don't remember questioning why Andie chose Blaine over Duckie. But now... What was up with that? The lame line of Blaine's that was something like, "I always believed in you, I just didn't believe in myself" was totally a come-on line and any street savvy girl would have known that. And, please, Blaine declaring he loves her and will always love her... based on what? I didn't see any depth in their brief relationship that would merit that declaration. I would have told her to stick with Duckie. Actually, I would have told her that pinning all her hopes, dreams, and wishes on something as inconsequential as a prom is stupid and senseless. I also would have advised her to not wear that dress she fashioned out of the two dresses. She could have put something better together from the two dresses.

I do have a soft spot in my heart for Molly Ringwald, though. My sister, the high powered executive, who once wrote this diary entry, actually looked like Molly Ringwald with brown hair when this movie came out. Really. She looked more related to Molly than me. She could have been her older sister. When I watch Molly Ringwald in her movies, I see my sister.

As long as I'm at it, let's talk Grease. Again, I was already out of high school when Grease was released (just barely) but I clearly remember wondering at the time, when watching it, why on earth Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) had to change in order to get Danny (John Travolta) who, really, wasn't that great of a catch. I mean I get that it's just a movie and a rockin' musical, etc., but the actual message of Sandy changing herself in order to get Danny is... stupid and silly and sends a bad message to girls.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Last King of Scotland

The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden was originally published in 1998. My trade paperback copy is 335 pages. Foden's historical fiction novel is written as if a memoir from Nicholas Garrigan, a physician and the only son of a Presbyterian minister. Garrigan finds himself far away from Scotland when he accepts a post with the Ministry of Health in Uganda in the 1970s and eventually becomes Idi Amin's personal physician. This is a chilling extrapolation of what could happen when an average person is taken into the confidence of a charismatic sociopath. While fearing Amin almost from the start, Garrigan, representing an average man, actually became annoying to me as he continued to display moral ambivalence and inertia even while learning more about Amin's brutalities. I have not watched the movie of the same name. Rating: 4

Synopsis from cover:
Shortly after his arrival in Uganda, Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan is called to the scene of a bizarre accident: Idi Amin, careening down a dirt road in his red Maserati, has run over a cow. When Garrigan tends to Amin, the dictator, in his obsession for all things Scottish, appoints him as his personal physician. As flattered as he is surprised, Garrigan accepts - and so begins a fateful dalliance with the central African leader whose Emperor Jones-style autocracy would evolve into a reign of terror.

The Last King of Scotland blazes a new trail in the heart of darkness. Foden's Amin is as ridiculous as he is abhorrent: a grown man who must be burped like an infant, a self-proclaimed cannibalist who, at the end of his 8 years in power, would be responsible for 300,000 deaths. And as Garrigan awakens to his patient's baroque barbarism - and his own complicity in it - we enter a venturesome meditation on conscience, charisma, and the slow corruption of the human heart.


"I did almost nothing on my first day as Idi Amin's doctor" first sentence

"That was Idi's way, you see, punish of reward. You couldn't say no. Or I didn't think back then, that you could. Or I didn't really think about it at all." pg. 3

"There was none, in our household, of that 'express yourself' mentality that is today's common wisdom. So if I was ever wild as a young boy, I was wild in my head, which was full of wandering yearnings: I was mad for maps and stamps and adventure stories." pg. 19

"As for the narrative I am presenting in these pages, it is nothing but the working-up of a journal I made at the time." pg. 20

"The Uganda Armed Forces have this day decided to take over power from Obote and hand it to our fellow soldier Major-General Idi Amin Dada..." pg. 32

"There is a hill there called kobuko, which the story says was blown by a mystery power from Maya, in Sudan. This strange force pushed it in space to Uganda and where it landed it killed all the people who were before there. For kobuko means in Kakwa the thing which smothers of covers you, stopping your breath." pg. 83

"...what surprised me was how the badger escapes bee stings: apparently, he first claws a small hole in the hive, then turns around, holds on tight, and stuns them with a blast of noxious gas from his behind." pg. 100

"Once I had pieced it all together, I felt foolish, deficient in an almost physical way - it had all been there before my very eyes." pg. 113

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stop the Cheez Waffies madness.

With all of the books I've reviewed since this blog began you would think the main reason people stumble upon She Treads Softly would be through the name of a book. Although that's true, I'm embarrassed to note that "Cheez Waffies" still remains one of the top searches that bring people here. It's time to stop the madness.
I have blogged about Cheez Waffies several times. The first time I was simply talking about the search for them.... for a family member after we moved back to the Midwest. Then we had a relative from the east coast visit and bring us some Cheez Waffies here and here.
My last post about them was an open letter to Wise Foods. It was not a serious letter. It was supposed to be a joke. I still have people commenting or emailing me to tell me where to get Cheez Waffies, or letting me know that they are going to be selling them online.

You know what? This is going to be hard for you Cheez Waffies addicts to hear, but I don't care. I don't crave Cheez Waffies. I never loved them. I'm not scouring the internet looking for places to buy them. Please, no more hints or tips about where I can buy Cheez Waffies... unless you represent Wise Foods and are informing people about expanding the Cheez Waffies sales territory back into the Kansas City area. Thank you for your cooperation.

Monday, January 26, 2009


EarthCore was originally one of Scott Sigler's podcast novels. My trade paperback size copy was printed in 2005 and has 319 pages. After reading Sigler's Infected, I wanted to read some of the print versions of his earlier podcast novels, but after looking around, I didn't think this was going to happen. Imagine the shock and awe I felt when I found this copy at a local used book store in the clearance section .... for $1. (And now check out the used prices at Amazon or Barnes&Noble. The used bookstore didn't know what they had their hands on.) EarthCore is a science fiction/action adventure thriller. No, it probably isn't fine literature ( and it has a few typos in the text), but its a very satisfying read. I enjoyed it immensely and highly recommend it with a rating of 4.5.

Deep below a desolate Utah mountain lies the largest platinum deposit ever discovered. A billion-dollar find, it waits for any company that can drill a world's record, three-mile-deep mine shaft.

EarthCore is the company with the technology, the resources and the guts to go after the mother lode. Young executive Connell Kirkland is the company's driving force, pushing himself and those around him to uncover the massive treasure.

But at three miles below the surface, where the rocks are so hot they burn bare skin, something has been waiting for centuries. Waiting ... and guarding. Kirkland and EarthCore are about to find out firsthand why this treasure has never been unearthed.

"Fueled by sheer terror, he scrambled up the narrow tunnel, attacking the incline like an animal dashing away from a predator. If he could just make it back to the opening, back to the camp, out of the narrow tunnel and into the sunlight, maybe he could escape. Maybe this thing couldn't leave the cave." pg. 13

"Today police declared three Brigham Young graduate students missing. The three geology students were doing fieldwork in the Wah Wah Mountains in western Utah." pg. 13

"No one goes out there. No reason to go there in the first place. Nothing there but dirt and rock. I went out there to see for myself, to test the legends, you might say, but I only went once. The devil lives on that mountain. You can feel him, man." pg. 15

"Nowadays you made much more money finding the stuff and then selling the location to big companies. Let some mining corporation suck the minerals from the ground." pg. 20

"She knew from experience that Connell's business instincts bordered on the uncanny; if he smelled a profit, that was good enough for her." pg. 27

"With the deal, he'd placed himself in a situation he'd sought to avoid. He had to return to that mountain, the dead mountain where animals had the good sense not to tread." pg. 43

"Dust billowed up as if the Land Rover were a bi-wing crop duster, swooping in low over the ground to drop clouds of noxious pesticide. The view out the front wasn't much better - an endless vista of brown and yellow, dotted every now and then with scrub and other vegetation so tough it looked as if it would flourish on the surface of the moon." pg. 73

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Raw Shark Texts

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall was originally published in 2007. My hardcover copy is 428 pages. It seems reviews are passionately hot or cold for The Raw Shark Texts, Hall's first novel. I am going to say right from the start that I liked it... a lot. I didn't mind the references to other writers and pop culture and I'm good with the "it's like Jaws meets The Matrix" comparison. Where I am giving Hall credit is in the integration of the idea of conceptual rivers and predatory conceptual sharks into a novel. Perhaps the point that needs to be made is that I also like science fiction and that is really where The Raw Shark Texts belongs. Now, that said, there were a few little issues I had with the book. The story could have been tightened up in a few places, especially near the end, where, and I'm wording this carefully, it also would have benefited from being kept more conceptual, less real. (I think this is sufficiently vague enough to not be a spoiler.) Rating: 4.5

Synopsis from cover:
Eric Sanderson wakes up in a house one day with no idea who or where he is. A note instructs him to see a Dr. Randle immediately, who informs him that he is undergoing yet another episode of acute memory loss that is a symptom of his severe dissociative disorder. Eric's been in Dr. Randle's care for two years - since the tragic death of his great love, Clio, while the two vacationed in the Greek islands.

But there may be more to the story, or it may be a different story altogether. As Eric begins to examine letters and papers left in the house by "the first Eric Sanderson," a staggeringly different explanation for what is happening to Eric emerges, and he and the reader embark on a quest to recover the truth and escape the remorseless predatory forces that threatens to devour him.

The Raw Shark Texts is a kaleidoscopic novel about the magnitude of love and the devastating effect of losing that love. It will dazzle you, it will move you, and will leave an indelible imprint like nothing you have read in a long time.

"I was unconscious. I'd stopped breathing." opening sentences

"I felt that prickling horror, the one that comes when you realise the extent of something bad - if you're dangerously lost or you've made some terrible mistake - the reality of the situation creeping in through the back of your head like a pantomime Dracula.
I did not know who I was. I did not know where I was.
That simple
That frightening." pg. 4-5

"What I believe you've been experiencing is memory loss caused by what we call dissociative condition." pg. 7

"How many times have we done this, Doctor?"
She didn't even stop to think about it.
"This will be your eleventh recurrence," she said. pg. 12

"With each recurrence, you remember less." pg. 14

"This is the first of a series of letters I have created to help you survive your new life. You will get these letters at regular intervals....
With regret and also hope,
The First Eric Sanderson." pg. 22-23

"I thought about how a moment in history could be pressed flat and preserved like a flower is pressed flat and preserved between the pages of an encyclopaedia. Memory pressed flat into text. The Light Bulb Fragment was some sort of journal or transcript, a written window into my missing past." pg. 36

"We realised our own conversations had evolved into a kind of shorthand, a tidy, neat little minimalism. Covering the whole canvas in broad obvious brushstrokes for outsiders felt like a waste of sounds, time and effort. Speaking with footnotes, Clio would call it later..." pg. 41

"I'm so forgetful. The creature will find something I've missed because it never stops looking and its senses are very sharp.....The Ludovician is a predator, a shark. It feeds on human memories and the intrinsic sense of self." pg. 64

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Lemonade Award

I've been given a Lemonade Award!
Thanks so much Jane!

At first blush I thought it was like a sour grapes award, sort of a "your attitude leaves a bad taste in my mouth and makes me look good" award. But in reality "the Lemonade Award is given by a previous winner to 10 people who have shown a great attitude or gratitude this week. It's a great way to show these people that you appreciate them."

Although I can't imagine that MY attitude or gratitude has been all that exemplary this week (or ever), I am flattered to receive this award.
I'm going to pass it on to some blogs I have enjoyed reading for longer than just this week, thus changing the initial purpose of the award. I'm passing it on to people calling it an "Enjoy a cold beverage, like lemonade, while reading these blogs" award, although in all honesty I'm usually drinking coffee when reading them. (When reading Just me, you may want something stronger.)

Jane (right back at ya!)
Just Me

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers was originally published in 2000. I'm just going to call the number of pages read 500 pages. This is estimated because there is over 38 pages of preface, acknowledgements and notes, the book, and another 48 pages on "mistakes we knew we were making." While A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is partly Dave Eggers' memoir of bringing up his younger brother after his parent's death from cancer, it also has parts that are Gen-X stream-of-consciousness writing. Eggers' account does have touching moments of great clarity, but these are interspersed with rather uncontrolled bouts of self reflection. Before you can fault Eggers for his solipsism you may recall that he has already told us in the preface that the book was uneven in places, maybe not all that interesting throughout, and self-obsessed. I'm rating this a 3.5 for me, fulling understanding that others are going to rate it a 5 or a 1, that I would have rated it a five with some editing, and that I am not and never was Eggers' target audience.

Dave Eggers is a terrifically talented writer; don't hold his cleverness against him. What to make of a book called A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius: Based on a True Story? For starters, there's a good bit of staggering genius before you even get to the true story, including a preface, a list of "Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of This Book," and a 20-page acknowledgements section complete with special mail-in offer, flow chart of the book's themes, and a lovely pen-and-ink drawing of a stapler (helpfully labeled "Here is a drawing of a stapler:").

But on to the true story. At the age of 22, Eggers became both an orphan and a "single mother" when his parents died within five months of one another of unrelated cancers. In the ensuing sibling division of labor, Dave is appointed unofficial guardian of his 8-year-old brother, Christopher. The two live together in semi-squalor, decaying food and sports equipment scattered about, while Eggers worries obsessively about child-welfare authorities, molesting babysitters, and his own health. His child-rearing strategy swings between making his brother's upbringing manically fun and performing bizarre developmental experiments on him. (Case in point: his idea of suitable bedtime reading is John Hersey's Hiroshima.)

The book is also, perhaps less successfully, about being young and hip and out to conquer the world (in an ironic, media-savvy, Gen-X way, naturally). In the early '90s, Eggers was one of the founders of the very funny Might Magazine, and he spends a fair amount of time here on Might, the hipster culture of San Francisco's South Park, and his own efforts to get on to MTV's Real World. This sort of thing doesn't age very well--but then, Eggers knows that. There's no criticism you can come up with that he hasn't put into A.H.W.O.S.G. already. "The book thereafter is kind of uneven," he tells us regarding the contents after page 109, and while that's true, it's still uneven in a way that is funny and heartfelt and interesting.

All this self-consciousness could have become unbearably arch. It's a testament to Eggers's skill as a writer--and to the heartbreaking particulars of his story--that it doesn't. Currently the editor of the footnote-and-marginalia-intensive journal McSweeney's (the last issue featured an entire story by David Foster Wallace printed tinily on its spine), Eggers comes from the most media-saturated generation in history--so much so that he can't feel an emotion without the sense that it's already been felt for him. What may seem like postmodern noodling is really just Eggers writing about pain in the only honest way available to him. Oddly enough, the effect is one of complete sincerity, and--especially in its concluding pages--this memoir as metafiction is affecting beyond all rational explanation. --Mary Park

"For all the author's bluster elsewhere, this is not, actually, a work of pure nonfiction. Many parts have been fictionalized in varying degrees, for various purposes." preface opening

"Further, this edition reflects the omission of a number of sentences, paragraphs, and passages.
Among them:...[to page xvii] pg. xi

"My mother is on the couch. At this point she does not move from the couch." pg. 2

"But the family room, the only room where any of us has ever spent any time, has always been, for better or worse, the ultimate reflection of our true inclinations. It's always been jumbled, the furniture competing, with clenched teeth and sharp elbows, for the honor of the Most Wrong-looking Object." pg. 6

"I did not know that the last time I saw my father would be the last time I would see my father. He was in intensive care. I had come up from college to visit, but because it had been so soon after his diagnosis, I didn't make much of it." pg. 35

"The enemies list is growing quickly, unabated. All these people impeding us, trifling with us, not knowing or caring who we are, what has happened." pg. 71

"We scrape through every day blindly. always getting stumped on something we should know - how to plunge a toilet, how to boil corn, his Social Security number, the date of our father's birthday - such that every day that he gets to school, that I get to work and back in time for dinner, each day that we cook and eat before nine and he goes to bed before eleven and doesn't have blue malnourished-looking rings around his eyes like he did for all those months last year - we never figured out why - feels like we've pulled off some fantastic trick - and escape from a burning station wagon, the hiding of the Statue of Liberty." pg. 82

"I am emboldened by youth, unfettered and hopeful, though inextricably tied to the past and future by my beautiful brother, who is part of both. Can you not see that we are extraordinary?That we were meant for something else, something more? All of this did not happened to us for naught, I can assure you - there is no logic to that, there is logic only in assuming that we suffered for a reason. Just give us our due." pg. 236

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I'm a prolific dreamer. Every night I have vivid, interesting dreams. The problem is that I spend entirely too much time dreaming about going to the bathroom, at least in the dreams I'm having before I wake up, the ones I tend to remember.
It seems that if I need to go pee my subconscious informs me about this by having the action in my dream include me trying to pee... somewhere. I find this weird break in the action annoying. Couldn't my subconscious just tell me my bladder's full by having me think about it rather than always changing the plot of the dream to "now try to pee"? It's really interrupting the flow of my dreams. Stories are being left unfinished, plots changed, and action stalls as suddenly I need to pee... somewhere.

This was really annoying this morning. It was a good dream until suddenly the dream-script changed and I was trying to pee in a closet.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini was originally published in 2003. My paperback edition has 371 pages. Why did I wait so long to read The Kite Runner? I picked up the paperback edition before we moved from Reno planning to read it sometime during our half-way-across the country move (what was I thinking?) Then it just kept getting shuffled to the bottom of the stack, set aside, over looked. I must say I enjoyed The Kite Runner very much and highly recommend it, in spite of it's flaws. The joy? It's a smooth, easy read, many of the (early) descriptions are well written and he creates real empathy for Amir. The flaws? Simplistic plot and writing, and, with the jumps in time, it frays a bit in the middle. But I did stay up way too late last night finishing The Kite Runner, which counts for something. Rating: 4.5

In his debut novel, The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini accomplishes what very few contemporary novelists are able to do. He manages to provide an educational and eye-opening account of a country's political turmoil--in this case, Afghanistan--while also developing characters whose heartbreaking struggles and emotional triumphs resonate with readers long after the last page has been turned over. And he does this on his first try.

The Kite Runner follows the story of Amir, the privileged son of a wealthy businessman in Kabul, and Hassan, the son of Amir's father's servant. As children in the relatively stable Afghanistan of the early 1970s, the boys are inseparable. They spend idyllic days running kites and telling stories of mystical places and powerful warriors until an unspeakable event changes the nature of their relationship forever, and eventually cements their bond in ways neither boy could have ever predicted. Even after Amir and his father flee to America, Amir remains haunted by his cowardly actions and disloyalty. In part, it is these demons and the sometimes impossible quest for forgiveness that bring him back to his war-torn native land after it comes under Taliban rule. ("...I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded, not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.")

Some of the plot's turns and twists may be somewhat implausible, but Hosseini has created characters that seem so real that one almost forgets that The Kite Runner is a novel and not a memoir. At a time when Afghanistan has been thrust into the forefront of America's collective consciousness ("people sipping lattes at Starbucks were talking about the battle for Kunduz"), Hosseini offers an honest, sometimes tragic, sometimes funny, but always heartfelt view of a fascinating land. Perhaps the only true flaw in this extraordinary novel is that it ends all too soon. --Gisele Toueg

"I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975." opening sentence

"We took our first steps on the same lawn in the same yard. And, under the same roof, we spoke our first words.
Mine was Baba.
His was Amir. My name.
Looking back on it now, I think the foundation for what happened in the winter of 1975 - and all that followed - was already laid in those first words." pg. 11

"My father was a force of nature, a towering Pashtun specimen with a thick beard, a wayward crop of curly brown hair as unruly as the man himself, hands that looked capable of uprooting a willow tree, and a black glare that would 'drop the devil to his knees begging for mercy'..." pg. 12

"With me as the glaring exception, my father molded the world around him to his liking." pg. 15

"Because history isn't easy to overcome. Neither is religion. In the end, I was a Pashtun and he was a Hazara, I was Sunni and he was Shi'a, and nothing was ever going to change that. Nothing." pg. 25

"The shootings and explosions had lasted less than an hour, but they had frightened us badly, because none of us had ever heard gunshots in the streets. They were foreign sounds to us then. The generation of Afghan children whose nears would know nothing but the sounds of bombs and gunfire was not yet born." pg. 36

"Afghans cherish custom but abhor rules. And so it was with kite fighting. The rules were simple: No rules. Fly your kite. Cut the opponents. Good luck." pg. 52

"Baba loved the idea of America.
It was living in America that gave him an ulcer." pg. 125

Sunday, January 18, 2009

This weekend's movies include:

Romance on the High Seas, with Doris Day
I love Doris Day and smiled through the whole movie

Tremors 4: The Legend Begins
We've finished our Tremors four movie attack pack

Movie Dude, my nephew, wanted to see this silent classic

Sam Katzman's The Werewolf

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
We decided to watch it again this weekend with Movie Dude

and of course, more X-Files
We're on season 2, but may finish it Sunday night. As Just Me so aptly noted, the X-Files are really so much more enjoyable without commercials for the hover-round, rascal scooter, and the AARP.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Monster of Florence

The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi was originally published in 2008. My hardcover copy has 322 pages. This is the nonfiction account of a serial killer, the Monster of Florence, and the investigation into his identity. Part One, "the Story of Mario Spezi," covers the details of the murders and investigation up to 2000. Part Two, "The Story of Douglas Preston," covers events after Douglas Preston and his family moved to Florence. While the murders are chilling, what becomes quite evident, and even more chilling in many ways, is the corruption, incompetence, of the officials involved with the case and the complete lack of rights that we as Americans take for granted.

A particularly disturbing person who inserted herself into the investigation was Gabriella Carlizzi, a completely delusional whack job who published her theories, accusations, and speculations online, maliciously slandering people left and right. And what is even more disturbing is that she had the prosecutors and police listening to her. I've actually met a woman like this and it's always amazing to see the people who can get sucked into their alternate universe because they don't have the backbone to fight her influence.

While this is a true crime novel, it isn't one in the sense of simply retelling the crimes, the trial, and the conclusion. If you want a true crime story, you will likely be disappointed in The Monster of Florence. While the crimes are covered, there is no resolution and the identity of the Monster of Florence has not been settled. This account goes well beyond being a simple true crime story. It is also most assuredly a chilling indictment of the Italian legal system and the officials who abused their power. It clearly shows how the lack of freedoms that we take for granted, like freedom of the press, and basic personal rights (to a fair trial, to know your accusers, etc.) protect us. It is also the story of two journalists who were going to write a book about the Monster of Florence, but ended up standing accused of crimes and became part of the story. Very highly recommended. Rating:5

Synopsis from cover:
Douglas Preston fulfilled a long-held dream when he moved with his family to a villa in Florence, Italy. Upon meeting celebrated journalist Mario Spezi, Preston was stunned to learn that the olive grove next to his home had been the scene of a horrific double-murder committed one of the most infamous figures in Italian History. A serial killer who ritually murdered fourteen young lovers, he has never been caught. He is known as the Monster of Florence.
Fascinated by the tale, Preston began to work with Spezi on the case. Here is the true story of their search to uncover and confront the man they believe is the Monster. In an ironic twist of fate that echoes the dark traditions of the city's bloody history, Preston and Spezi themselves become targets of a bizarre police investigation.
"In 1969, the year men landed on the moon, I spent an unforgettable summer in Italy." first sentence

"We moved to Italy. We arrived on August 1, 2000, Christine and I, with out two children, Isaac and Aletheia, aged five and six." pg. 2

"Spezi was a journalist of the old school, dry, witty, and cynical, with a highly developed sense of the absurd. There was absolutely nothing a human being could do, no matter how depraved, that would surprise him." pg. 2

" 'There's nothing outside our door but an olive grove.'
'Precisely. And in that grove one of the most horrific murders in Italian history took place. A double homicide committed by our very own Jack the Ripper.' " pg. 4

"It seems... an almost American story. And your own FBI was involved - that group Thomas Harris made so famous, the Behavioral Science Unit. I saw Thomas Harris at one of the trials, taking notes on a yellow legal pad. They say he based Hannibal Lecter on the Monster of Florence." pg. 4

"Between 1974 and 1985, seven couples - fourteen people in all - were murder while making love in parked cars in the beautiful hills surrounding Florence. The case had become the longest and most expensive criminal investigation in Italian history. Close to a hundred thousand men were investigated and more than a dozen were arrested, many lives were ruined by rumor and false accusations.....The investigation has been like a malignancy, spreading backward in time and outward in space, metastasizing to different cities and swelling into new investigations, with new judges, police, prosecutors, more suspect, more arrests, and many more lives ruined.
Despite the longest manhunt in Modern Italian history, the Monster of Florence has never been found.....
Along the way, Spezi and I fell into the story. I was accused of being an accessory to murder, planting false evidence, perjury and obstruction of justice, and threatened with arrest if I ever set foot on Italian soil again. Spezi fared worse: he was accused of being the Monster of Florence himself." pg. 5

"Many countries have a serial killer who defines his culture by a process of negation, who exemplifies his era not by exalting its values, but by exposing its black underbelly." pg. 24

"When the Monster of Florence arrived, Florentines faced the killings with disbelief, anguish, terror; and a sick kind of fascination. They simply could not accept that their exquisitely beautiful city, the physical expression of the Renaissance, the very cradle of Western Civilization, could harbor such a monster." pg. 30

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Contagious by Scott Sigler was released on December 30, 2008. My hardcover copy has 438 pages.

First, if you have not read Infected, you need to read it before you even read this review, the synopsis, or the quotes. Contagious is a sequel to Infected and even though Sigler tries to bring you up to date at the beginning, you really need to read Infected before Contagious to appreciate the continued story of Perry Dawsey and the alien invaders. Apparently Sigler is writing a trilogy so I can look forward to Pandemic later this year.

It could be said that action/adventure books combined with elements of science fiction are my guilty little pleasure. Sigler didn't disappoint me. Infected was one of my top books for last year so I've been looking forward to Contagious. I enjoyed Contagious very much and highly recommend it. It should be noted, however, that Sigler isn't the best writer in the world. This isn't a literary masterpiece and a careful reader will find a few technical mistakes, but it is among the best of it's kind. Very highly recommended. Rating: 5

Synopsis from cover:
Across America, a mysterious pathogen transforms ordinary people into raging killers, psychopaths driven by a terrifying, alien agenda. The human race fights back, yet after every battle the disease responds, adapts, using sophisticated strategies and brilliant ruses to fool its pursuers. The only possible explanation: the epidemic is driven not by evolution but by some malevolent intelligence.

Standing against this unimaginable threat is a small group, assembled under the strictest secrecy. Their best weapon is hulking former football star Perry Dawsey, left psychologically shattered by his own struggles with this terrible enemy, who possesses an unexplainable ability to locate the disease’s hosts. Violent and unpredictable, Perry is both the nation’s best hope and a terrifying liability. Hardened CIA veteran Dew Phillips must somehow forge a connection with him if they’re going to stand a chance against this maddeningly adaptable opponent. Alongside them is Margaret Montoya, a brilliant epidemiologist who fights for a cure even as she reels under the weight of endless horrors.

These three and their team have kept humanity in the game, but that’s not good enough anymore, not when the disease turns contagious, triggering a fast countdown to Armageddon. Meanwhile, other enemies join the battle, and a new threat — one that comes from a most unexpected source — may ultimately prove the most dangerous of all.

Catapulting the reader into a world where humanity’s life span is measured in hours and the president’s finger hovers over the nuclear button, rising star Scott Sigler takes us on a breathtaking, hyper-adrenalized ride filled with terror and jaw-dropping action. Contagious is a truly grand work of suspense, science, and horror from a new master.
"Symptoms begin with itching and small rashes that grow into large welts, then finally triangular blue growths. The disease also seems to create extreme paranoia in its victims..." pg. 2

"Dawsey is the only known survivor. He had seven parasites, which he cut out of himself, removing the final one five weeks ago." pg. 4

"Hatchlings tried to build and activate a construct that we believe is either some kind of gateway or weapon." pg. 5

"They called themselves the Exterminators.
The boys had even come up with a unit insignia: a lightning bolt hitting an upside-down cockroach. They wore it on the right shoulder. Under it they added small black triangle patches for each combat mission, and decorated the triangle with a white X for each monster killed." pg. 12

"It wasn't an ambush. He had a feeling it was something worse.
Not a trap... a decoy." pg. 34

"As the saying went, if you don't like the weather in Wisconsin, just wait ten minutes. Dew had heard the same kinds of jokes about Michigan, Ohio and Indiana - and they were all true." pg. 63

Sunday, January 11, 2009


I've been playing around with updating the look of my blog today, so if you've noticed color changes, you are not seeing things. After trying to fine tune a nice, fresh, light blue background I scrapped it all and went dark. I'm going to live with this for a few days and decide if I want to go back to a light blue or live on the dark side.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

lack of ratings

If you've noticed the lack of rating on both books this year, please note that I'm re-thinking my rating system for books again.
My quandary is based on the fact that emotions will often determine how a book is rated. I may read a book that is very good, but if I'm not in the mood for that type of book the rating might suffer. Alternately, if I happen to read a book which fits my mood perfectly, it may be rated higher than another book that may be worth the same rating but suffers a lower rating simply because it's not the perfect book for me at that time.
Until I make some decision I'm going to leave the rating off the reviews. Since I'm no longer part of the book group that required a rating on the books read, I'm comfortable taking my time and will gladly listen to any discussions on ratings, pro and con, in comments or via email.

Outside Valentine

Outside Valentine by Liza Ward was originally published in 2004. My hardcover copy has 301 pages. The story is told from the point of view of three different narrators who are all linked by the 1958 murder spree of Charlie Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in Nebraska. Apparently Liza Ward's grandparents were killed by the murderous pair, so she does have a closeness to the crimes. It should be noted for those thinking this is an accurate account of the Starkweather/Fugate murders, it isn't. This is Ward's first novel, and while the writing is exquisite in many places, I can't say with total conviction that she accomplishes what I felt she set out to do with the three narrators, Caril Ann in 1957-58, Puggy in 1962-63, and Lowell in 1991. In the end I didn't care about any of the characters and ultimately felt that the novel, however haunting and poignant the writing may be, fell short of what it could have been. In the end it was a sad, desolate story with no hope. Rating: 3


"In my dream, the snow was falling all across my old Nebraska. The minister had come to tell me about my parents. " opening sentences

"You see, I could no longer be trusted around beautiful things and my weakness was apparent. Suddenly everyone had realized I was missing something." pg. 3

"When I am half asleep and everything is dark, ghosts rise out of the prairie and swim across my eyes." pg.6

"I buried my face in the folds and inhaled, hoping for some secret knowledge, a whisper perhaps, from the world where Starkweather was going." pg. 17

"At one point we had had our dreams, and now it seemed so different, as if all the good parts were over." pg. 23

"I stayed up late, thinking about my son, wondering how much better he was faring without us. Sometimes, it seemed, leaving home was what saved a person. Home could be so complicated." pg. 29

"She settled down behind thousand-page novels, disappearing to places where her life became less real and my father and I were the illusion." pg. 37

"My mother seemed to me then like someone who could drag the whole world down around her, someone like Starkweather. She could swallow everyone and everything." pg. 49

"Everything was about what she needed. It took so much work to love her." pg. 52

"For all those years, I watched my every sentence, trying to convince them all that I had moved forward, that love for me wasn't connected to a terrible kind of pain." pg. 86

Indiana Jones

It was Indiana Jones adventure night!

We watched:
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Temple of Doom
Last Crusade

(Since we just saw Crystal Skull this fall we didn't watch it again)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Lost 4

I know, I know, the book reviews are slow, but allow me to explain.

We are watching the last season of Lost in preparation for this season. It is so good...

We are also continuing to slowly work our way through the complete X-Files series.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Places in the World a Person Could Walk

Places in the World a Person Could Walk: Family, Stories, Home, and Place in the Texas Hill Country by David Syring was published in 2000. My paperback copy has 200 pages, including the bibliography. The nonfiction personal family history is broken up into five parts:
Part 1 Speaking in Tongues, Telling Tales: Family Stories
Part 2 Honey Creek Church - Chapter and Verse
Part 3 Migrations toward Home: Fredericksburg, Texas
Closings: Beginning Again
I would have to say that the purpose of Syring's book was somewhat confusing. On the one hand it is a book about his family's tragic history of poverty and abuse in the Texas hill country; on the other hand, it also explores the area as it stands today. The author could have improved the book if he made it into two sections and clearly made a distinction between the family history versus the area today. The telling of the family history could have been better organized too.

Like the author, I have never lived in one place enough to call any place home in the sense that Syring is exploring, and I truly understood Syring's curiosity about people who live in one area their entire lives. Some of the quotes I flagged were based on this mutual understanding. Syring's book would probably be of more interest to those living in Texas hill country or relatives of Syring. While it is certainly not a bad book, it does have a limited audience. Rating: 2.5

Synopsis from cover:
Spring-fed creeks. Old stone houses. Cedar brakes and bleached limestone. The Hill Country holds powerful sway over the imagination of Texans. So many of us dream of having our own little place in the limestone hills. The Hill Country feels just like home, even if you've never lived there.
This beautifully written book explores what the Hill Country has meant as a homeplace to the author, his family, and longtime residents of the area, as well as to newcomers. David Syring listens to the stories that his aunts, uncles, and cousins tell about life in the Hill Country and grapples with their meaning for his own search for a place to belong. He also collects short stories focused around Honey Creek Church to consider how places become containers for memory. And he draws upon several years of living in Fredericksburg to talk about the problems and opportunities created by heritage tourism and the development of the town as a "home" for German Americans. These interconnected stories illuminate what it means to belong to a place and why the Texas Hill Country has become the spiritual, if not actual, home of many people.
"...I drove to the small piece of property that I call 'the shack' and my aunts and uncles call 'the country place.' The difference between those who lived here once, and one who only visits." pg. 2

"I have not lived in one place for more than a decade at a time, and it is possible that I never will. So what can a sense of place possibly mean for my life?" pg. 3

"I once told a friend that families were like minefields, that we walk and dance through them never knowing where or when something is going to explode..." pg. 15, quoting Mary Helen Washington in Memory of Kin

"He was taking our history, Syring history, and selling it for a dollar." pg. 63

"I've been moving most of my life, and it's not so much because I've wanted to, but it seems that's just the way it always has been. Sometimes I'd like nothing better than to settle down in some little house with a garden and get on with the real work of tending a place. I've come close a few times, but to this day, everytime I start getting established someplace, something comes up and I've got to move on. I suppose my upbringing has something to do with it." pg. 102-103

"...the past does not, in fact, have to determine the present. Grappling with the memory of painful stories has become a path of healing." pg. 184

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

used books

I buy books new. I buy books used. I use libraries. I love books. I read a lot. Imagine my surprise to see that apparently there is a controversy swirling around the book blog community concerning buying used books.
Chris Meadows, from Teleread wrote on December 25th, "It seems there is a movement to require second-hand (or “used”) book stores to pay royalties on books they resell."
Molly at my cozy book nook was chastised on her own blog for buying used books.
Chris at Book-a-rama also had an interesting post about buying used books.

So, rather than supporting literacy and all the various ways people acquire their reading material (new, used, libraries) some authors and publishers want to somehow make sure they make money even on used books.

All I have to say is that if buying used books makes you a monster by all indications I should look outside my door and see the house surrounded by peasants with pitchforks and torches.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Chunkster Challenge

The Chunkster Challenge is up!
There is nothing better than a big book!
I'm adding books to my TBR challenge list for the To Big To Ignore Anymore challenge, which requires any number of books over 450 pages but they must be on my TBR list.
I know I will complete the Mor-book-ly Obese challenge, which requires 6 or more chunksters OR three tomes of 750 pages or more.
I've added a couple books to my TBR alternate list and noted the page numbers of those that will fulfill the Chunkster Challenge requirements.

The books I am planning to read from my TBR list are:
Echo Maker - Powers,TBR, chunkster, 451 pages
Cloudsplitter - Banks, chunkster, 758 pages
Gold Bug Variations - Powers, chunkster, 639 pages
History - Morante, chunkster, 734 pages
The Last Ship - Brinkley, chunkster, 616 pages
A HeartBreaking Work of Staggering Genius - Eggers, chunkster, 437+48 pages

I'm sure I will read more than 6 chunkster's this year.


Meg by Steve Alten was originally published in 1997. My hardcover copy is 278 pages. After reading the third book in Alten's Meg series several years ago I could not resist picking this up from the clearance section at my local used book store in anticipation of Alten's Meg: Hell's Aquarium, which is set to be released on May 19, 2009. Alten is not the best writer around, but his stories are usually exciting escapism, full of action. And let's be honest, I read this as an easy, fun novel over a vacation, not as fine literature. No rating.

Synopsis from cover:
On a top-secret dive into the Pacific Ocean's deepest canyon, Jonas Taylor found himself face-to-face with the largest and most ferocious predator in the history of the animal kingdom. The sole survivor of the mission, Taylor is haunted by what he's sure he saw but still can't prove exists - Carcharodon megalodon, the massive mother of the great white shark. The average prehistoric Meg weighs in at twenty tons and could tear apart a Tyrannosaurus rex in seconds.

Written off as a crackpot suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Taylor refuses to forget the depths that nearly cost him his life. With a Ph.D. under his belt, Taylor spends years theorizing, lecturing, and writing about the possibility that Meg still feeds at the deepest levels of the sea. But it takes an old friend in need to get him to return to the water, and a hotshot female submarine pilot to dare him back into a high-tech miniature sub.

Diving deeper than he ever has before, Taylor will face terror like he's never imagined, and what he finds could turn the tides bloody red until the end of time.

"If the T. rex was the most terrifying creature ever to walk the earth, then Carcharodon megalodon was easily lord and master of the sea." pg. 3

"Imagine a great white shark, fifty to sixty feet in length, weighing close to forty thousand pounds. Can you visualize that?" pg. 5

"Theoretically, if members of the Megalodon species inhabited the waters of the Mariana Trench two million years ago, waters that maintain a deep tropical layer as a result of hydrothermal vents, then one could logically say that a branch of the species might have survived." pg. 10

"Do me a favor, Maggie. Next time you take a cruise to Baja, don't come back." pg. 22

"Jonas took a look at the photograph. It showed a UNIS submersible lying on its side at the bottom of the deep-water canyon. The sphere had been cracked open. Its tripod legs were mangled, a bolted bracket torn off, and the titanium skin of the sphere itself severely battered and scarred." pg. 25-26

"But let's just make sure that the reason you're making this dive with D.J. is to assist him and not to go off looking for some tooth." pg. 64

"The Megalodon could detect the faint electrical field of its prey's beating heart or moving muscles hundreds of miles away.....Unlike man, the creature possessed directional nostrils that not only could detect one part of blood or sweat or urine in a billion parts of water but could determine the exact location of the scent." pg. 68

Sunday, January 4, 2009

vacation termination

I was forced by threat of plague to abandoned my New Year's vacation plans and head home early with my two nephews and niece squeezed into the back seat of the car. We had to drive through freezing rain and ice for about 7 hours of our whole 8 1/2 hour extended trip home - a trip that should be about 5 1/2 hours. Along the way we witnessed countless accidents and cars in the ditches. Oh, and for the record, Iowa stinks at sanding/salting roads. South Dakota and Missouri were great - on task and working hard.
Bad news: The whole trip took about 3 hours longer than normal.
Good news: averaging at break-neck speeds anywhere between 30 mph up to 55 mph, we made the trip on one tank of gas.

TBR Challenge

12 books for the TBR Challenge:

The Known World - Jones, Pulitzer, TBR
Echo Maker - Powers,TBR, chunkster, 451 pages
The Kite Runner - Hosseini TBR
The Traveler - McLarty
These Granite Hills - Stonich
Ten Days in the Hills - Smiley
The Bounty - Alexander
English Creek - Doig
The Last King of Scotland - Foden
The Human Stain - Roth
The Manchurian Candidate - Condon
Seeing - Saramago

The Shepherd of the Hills - Wright
Cloudsplitter - Banks, chunkster, 758 pages
The Stone Raft - Saramago
Gold Bug Variations - Powers, chunkster, 639 pages
History - Morante, chunkster, 734 pages
Tying Down the Wind - Pinder
Their Father's Gods - Rolvaag
Peder Victorious - Rolvaag
Prairie Nocturne - Doig
Ride With Me Mariah Montana - Doig
The Last Ship - Brinkley, chunkster, 616 pages
A HeartBreaking Work of Staggering Genius - Eggers, chunkster, 437+48 pages

The TBR Challenge was a great success for me last year and I look forward to another year!