Friday, October 30, 2009

The Book of Dave

The Book of Dave by Will Self
Hardcover; 495 pages, including glossary
Bloomsbury USA, November 2006
ISBN-13: 9781596911239
dystopian science fiction

When East End cabdriver Dave Rudman’s wife takes from him his only son, Dave pens a gripping text—a compilation about everything from the environment, Arabs, and American tourists to sex, Prozac, and cabby lore—that captures all of his frustrations and anxieties about his contemporary world. Dave buries the book in his ex-wife’s Hampstead backyard, intending it for his son, Carl, when he comes of age.

Five hundred years later, Dave’s book is found by the inhabitants of Ham, a primitive archipelago in post-apocalyptic London, where it becomes a sacred text of biblical proportions and the template for a new civilization. Only one islander, Symum, remains incredulous. But, after he is imprisoned for heresy, his son Carl must journey through the Forbidden Zone and into the terrifying heart of New London to find the only thing that will reveal the truth once and for all: a second Book of Dave that repudiates the first.

The Book of Dave is a profound meditation upon the nature of religion and a caustic satire of contemporary life.
My thoughts:

Whew! Reading The Book of Dave was exhausting work.
It might seem that there are spoilers in this review, but, trust me, not really...
The Book of Dave is about a present day London taxi-driver who, after his divorce, becomes increasingly bitter - and psychotic. He eventually becomes convinced he is god and has his writings printed on metal plates, which he then buries in his ex-wife's backyard. Hundreds of years later his rantings are found and become the religious creed of a future people populating London. There are sixteen chapters that alternate between the dystopian future and the present. In turn, these chapters also jump around in time in their own era. This alone is enough to keep track of, but then you have to add the dialect used in the future. That is really what makes The Book of Dave so challenging, and I would imagine this will hold true for most American readers. The dialect in the future is a phonetically-spelled cockney, mixed in with text-message shorthand, and unique slang words. This vocabulary was extremely challenging for me to read and almost incomprehensible at times. Thank goodness there was a glossary in the back which help a little bit. Now, the dialect does start to make more sense after awhile, but it still remained extremely challenging for me to read. In fact, since the first chapter starts in the future, I almost gave up on the book.

The Book Of Dave is a dark narrative involving domestic violence, misogyny, religious zealots, psychosis, superstition, and, occasionally, brilliant insight. It's hard to read - very hard. The amount of dialect is off-putting, especially in a book of this size. The future is as hopeless as the present. You really don't have even a clue as to what is going on until later in the book. There are weird domesticated creatures called motos which are seemingly a genetically engineered human/swine/bovine hybrid. It is a long, complicated, and sometimes disgusting novel. I'm not sure if I'd actually recommend The Book of Dave simply because it is such a struggle to read. The actual concept is great (found tablets of a raving psychotic become the basis for a religion and a society), but the execution, especially with dialect was at times almost too demanding for me.
So-so, but recommended


Chapter One
The Hack's Party
JUN 523 AD
Carl Dévúsh, spindle-shanked, bleach-blond, lampburnt, twelve years old, kicked up buff puffs of sand with his bare feet as he scampered along the path from the manor. Although it was still early in the first tariff, the foglamp had already bored through the cloud and boiled the dew off the island. As he gained height and looked back over his shoulder, Carl saw first the homely notch of Manna Bä, then the shrub-choked slopes of the Gayt rising up beyond it. The sea mist had retreated offshore, where it hovered, a white-grey bank merging with the blue screen above. Wot if Eye woz up vair, Carl thought, up vair lyke ve Flyin I? opening

Carl stood watching as first one moto, then the next, was coaxed up and eased over into a wallow, until all seven were occupied. The other motos waited their turn, snuffling and licking each other's buttocks and flanks. Each elevated pool of muddy water was just broad enough to hold one of the creatures. Once in, they used their webbed feet and hands to turn in a tight circle, ducking their little mushers. pg. 6

His half-brother Bert broke in on Carl's reverie, asking:
- Djoo wan me 2 cumman gé Runti wiv U?
- Nah, nah, he stuttered, vis iss tween me an ím an Dave. U an ve lads betta gé ve wallowin dun an pack ve uvvers orf. Runti - eez mì mayt. Av U ló sed yer tartars 2 Runti? he called to the wallowing motos.
- Goo-bì, Wunti, goo-bì! they lisped in response.
- Catch U lò bakkat ve manna, Carl called to the other lads, then he started down off the crest of the hill and into the woodland. pg. 7-8

- I care not one whit, he said, the lad's crime is the same as yours, flying, and I am not fit to sit in judgement on either of you. You will have to go to London, to the PCO. The Examiners have taken it upon themselves to try all flyers, and I cannot stand in their way. Dave have mercy on your fares!
- Dave av mursee, the dads echoed. pg. 25

December 2001
Hunched low over the wheel, foglamps piercing the miasma, Dave Rudman powered his cab through the chicane at the bottom of Park Lane. pg. 27

Toyist. Dave had taken the child's coinage for his own. On good days only the obvious fake things were toyist, like the giant spine stuck on a chiropractor's in Old Street, or the big plug sunk into the wall of a block on Foubert's Place. But on bad days almost everything could be toyist: the Bloomberg VDU on the corner of North End Road was an outsized Game Boy, the flaring torch outside the new Marriott Hotel at Gloucester Road is a lit match. pg. 47

SEP 509 - 10 AD
Effi told little Symun the old legends of Ham, from before the Breakup and the Book that ordained it, legends that, she maintained, went back to the MadeinChina, when the world had been created out of the maelstrom. pg. 58

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Lori, Hipee, and ED, with fish

(Notice my gameshow model stance; Hipee is half hidden behind the fish)

My childhood seemed to be filled with a lot of camping vacations. Camping was usually in a tent. Occasionally it was in a cabin, of sorts. Vacations were never luxurious. I imagine all of our vacations were much more work than fun for my mom. She probably always needed a vacation from the vacation. And, although we got away from home, we never really did all the fun touristy things other people seemed to do on their vacations.

Often we were taking vacations to fish. I never go fishing as an adult. I never even think about it. We also seemed to eat a lot of fried fish when I was a child. I’m not even sure how much I like fish anymore, to be honest. Oh, I like certain fish, like salmon and fresh tuna, but almost any other fish is on the menu because it was on sale and the rest of my family enjoys fish. I always bake our fish. I never fry fish. I just can’t take fried fish any more.

We went to a lake by the Black Hills of South Dakota several times when I was young. Now if you are picturing a lake surrounded by woods or actually in the picturesque Black Hills, think again. This lake was located in the sand hills near the Nebraska and South Dakota border. Picture an open prairie with low, rolling hills, a few scrub cedar trees (very few), lots of brown, dry grasses – that was where the lake was located. There were also some cottonwood trees by the water and some dead tree trunks submerged in the water. It was not a cool, picturesque lake retreat. It was hot, dry, sandy, and dirty.

I remember bits and pieces of our trips there. I know my dad and brother went fishing every day. I know we stayed in a cabin, but it was really more like a shack. I remember a marina bar/restaurant where we’d go to occasionally get a soda during the day. I seem to recall that they allowed my Dad to use a freezer, or had freezer space for all his cleaned fish. The goal was for him to get his daily limit of fish while on vacation. It seems like it was more of a hunting/gathering expedition than a vacation, but that was the way it went at my house.

One day my dad caught a big snapping turtle – and I mean big. The shell must have been eighteen inches across. As we were all looking at it, carefully staying away from the jaws, a man came up and offered my dad what was a large sum of money in those days to buy it. Dad sold it. I guess the guy was going to eat it. We didn’t eat turtle. We just liked to look at them. Did I mention that we did eat lots of fish, always fried?

While there were also many other little camping vacations, the other one I remember was when we were camping by a canal. It was, of course, another fishing expedition. I remember this particular spot not so much because it was a more lush and verdant area. I remember it because of the total freak-out. See, there was a little stream my sister Hipee and I were playing in near the tent. The stream had a small, cement spillway for easy crossing. The stream itself was shallow, so it wasn’t a problem to cross, or play in. The problem was after we were done playing in the stream. We discovered we had leeches on us. (Cue in high-pitched girlish screams here.) Yes, leeches. You know in the movie Stand by Me, when the boys get leeches on them? Yeah. Leeches like that only not down our pants, just on our legs. Even so, that was bad enough.

We also had to do a tick-check every day. I don’t know about you, but somewhere where you have to do a tick-check on everyone at least a couple times a day, if not more often, no longer sounds like a very appealing vacation spot to me. Maybe one tick check after one day in the outdoors, but the thought of a vacation composed of mandatory tick checks several times a day just sort of sets my teeth on edge now. At the time it seemed normal.

Dad, ED, Hipee, me, and an Uncle.

Hipee is behind the fish, half hidden, again. Notice her open shirt and both hands holding up her shorts. I'm the one, hands on hips and stomach out.
Since ED and I were looking off to the right, something must have been going down over there

I’m not too interested in camping any more. Although I’m not opposed to doing dirty jobs and like to be outside, gardening if possible, I also like to bathe regularly and have indoor plumbing with privacy. I prefer a bed over a sleeping bag in a tent. I like my pillows. I like air conditioning and refrigerators. Even when my family had a small camper it just wasn’t the same as my own bed. In fact, that old camper was more uncomfortable than a tent, as far as sleeping went, because it stayed so darn hot, even at night. Perhaps I’d be comfortable in one of those nice, new, big campers that are more like a home on wheels, but that wasn’t an option when I was young and I’m just not interested now.

Of course, we all know how I feel about ticks and leeches. Today I’m still not too thrilled when I have to pick ticks off the dogs - or me. And I would imagine people would be less accepting of a fifty year old woman screaming over a leech and doing the get-it-off-me dance.

(The photo's are from photocopies of water damaged prints. Why, yes, they are pictures of us posing with dead things.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Shampoo Planet

Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland
Hardcover, 299 pages
Pocket Books, 1992
ISBN-10: 0671755056
highly recommended, but...

Synopsis from the Publisher:

Shampoo Planet is the rich and dazzling point where two worlds collide — those of 1960s parents and their 1990s offspring, "Global Teens." Raised in a hippie commune, Tyler Johnson is an ambitious twenty-year-old Reagan youth, living in a decaying northwest city and aspiring to a career with the corporation whose offices his mother once firebombed.

This six-month chronicle of Tyler's life takes us to Paris and the ongoing party beside Jim Morrison's grave, to a wild island in British Columbia, the freak-filled redwood forests of northern California, a cheesy Hollywood, ultra-modern Seattle, and finally back home. On the way we meet a constellation of characters, among them: Jasmine, Tyler's Woodstock mom; Dan, his land-developer stepfather; "Princess Stephanie," Tyler's European summer fling; and Anna Louise, his post-feminist girlfriend with an eating disorder.

Tyler's dizzying journey into the contemporary psyche — a voyage full of rock videos, toxic waste, french-fry computers, and clear-cut forests — is a spellbinding signature novel for a generation coming of age as the millennium comes to a close.

My thoughts:

Shampoo Planet was in some ways a brilliant piece of writing with unique characters set in a specific place and time, but in other ways it rather missed the mark with me. While I really did enjoy Coupland's witty observations and similes in Shampoo Planet and the many references to the young product obsessed American consumers of the early 1990's, I've never personally been a participant in rampant consumerism. With that said, though, there was something sad, sweet, and touching in Shampoo Planet, but in other ways it felt too sleek, glib, and disposable. Coupland is an enigma to me. He is a great writer and can be scathingly funny and insightful, but there always seems to be something askew in his worlds. Highly Recommended - but...

Random Reading challenge


My mother, Jasmine, woke up this morning to find the word D-I-V-O-R-C-E written in mirror writing on her forehead with a big black felt pen. Of course she didn't know the word was there as she was awakening. Not until she stepped into the bathroom to brush her teeth and looked in the mirror (a mirror surrounded by a long-suffering wandering-Jew vine and the mirror in front of which I learned to shave several years back) did she see the word, now facing the correct way, at which point she screamed loud enough to wake the dead, which in my house means my sister, Daisy. opening

Now is an exciting period in my life and refuse to let fate steal away my excitement. I'm back in the New World now, back in the world of jumbo ruby Florida grapefruits and understandable telephones, of bottomless coffees, decent malls, and high ambition - back after spending a summer of thrills in the Old World of Europe. pg. 4-5

Hair is important.

Which shampoo will I use today? Maybe PsycoPath, the sports shampoo with salon grade microprotein packed in a manly black injection-molded plastic motor-oil canister. Afterwards? A bracing energizer splash of Monk-On-Fire, containing placenta, nectarine-pit extract, and B vitamins. And to hold it all together? First Strike sculpting mousse manufactured by the pluTONium hair-care institute of Sherman Oaks, California. pg. 7

If you ever have a free moment, you might consider checking out the travel brochures for the town in which you live. You might be amazed. You might not want to live there any more. pg. 9

Jasmine was/is a total hippie, even though sometimes she can be too modern for words. Jasmine has the perennially breathy, childlike quality particular to the ex-hippie group, a childlike quality we, her children, understood early on in life. Because of this quality, Daisy and Mark and I have always felt parental toward Jasmine, have always been on "hippie parent alert": inspecting the microwave oven for chunks of hash before friends came over to watch videos.... pg. 15

I call my room the Modernarium, the only room in the house into which Jasmine's hippie stained glass decorating sensibility has not been permitted to seep.... extremely tasteful black modular sofa units, a TV and CD sound system built into the man-high "entertainment totem"(black), the incredibly tasteful nonshag carpet (gray), the futon (gray-and-white stripes),....sleek Italian minifridge (gray)....The walls are gray. All ornament has been neutralized. It is - yes - hot. pg. 25

"You're beautiful, Tyler"

"No, you're beautiful, Anna-Louise."

Tyler, you are fabulous. Truly fabulous. Stop being so fabulous. Just stop it."

I love you, Anna-Louise. From the bottom of my heart I want you to know how much I love you, Ana-Louise."

We kiss.

Anna-Louise and I are speaking to each other in Telethon-ese. That's how we met last year at Lancaster Community College. pg. 28

No one challenges my authority regarding designer knock-off merchandise. That's how I paid for my trip to Europe, as well as the Comfortmobile and the Modernarium: fakes - watches and T-shirts. pg. 37

The tactic of choice? Preemptive boringness. Being one-dimensional is the most satisfying method of coping with out-of-control people - with any situation that's out of control. Keep your face like a screen-saver software program. Don't let people know the ideas you love, the games you've played, the places you've visited in your mind. Keep your treasures to yourself. pg. 47

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Kronos by Jeremy Robinson
Mass market paperback, 425 pages
Variance Publishing, 2008
ISBN-13: 9781935142010
highly recommended

Synopsis from cover:
Two years after his wife's death, oceanographer and former navy SEAL, Atticus Young, attempts to reconcile with his rebellious daughter, Giona, by taking her on the scuba dive of a lifetime-swimming with a pod of peaceful humpback whales in the Gulf of Maine. But the beauty of the sea belies a terror from the deep-a horrific creature as immense as it is ancient. There is no blood, no scream, no fight. Giona is swallowed whole by the massive jaws.
Atticus' inconsolable grief turns to an unquenchable thirst for revenge.Drawn by the spectacle, Trevor Manfred, a ruthless billionaire, approaches Atticus with a proposition: Trevor will make available all the advanced technology of his heavily armed mega-yacht, the Titan, to aid Atticus in his death-quest. In return, Trevor is to receive the beast's corpse as the ultimate hunting trophy. But in the midst of the hunt, Atticus makes a terrifying discovery that changes the way he sees the ocean's creatures and begs the question: what is Kronos? The answer sets him on a new and much more deadly course.
My thoughts:

I enjoyed Kronos and Jeremy Robinson is a writer I will continue to read. OK, the actual sea monster isn't the focus of the book and really isn't causing as much havoc as the humans. This isn't like Jaws or Meg, the monster isn't inciting terror and causing deaths along a coast. What you do get is a tough ex-navy SEAL bent on revenge, a billionaire bad-guy looking for a trophy, and plenty of action. No, this isn't fine literature, but it IS fine escapism and the story moves quickly. Kronos would be a good vacation read. The chapters are short and the plot is easy to follow and fast-paced. This really is a book about a quest of mythological proportions.

Yet again some reviewers on Amazon seem to be faulting Robinson for writing "Christian propaganda" in Kronos just like they did in Antarktos Rising. It seems just having some mention of the Bible or a Christian principle sends some reviewers over the edge. Oh, please... Come on... Would these same concerns be brought up if it were any other religion mentioned? Any Christianity in Kronos is really minimal, the bulk of it is found in the first chapter (which features a minister from 1673), and could hardly be called propaganda. Those complaints are quite silly - any monster story asks you to suspend belief in some way. My advice would be to simply sit back, read the book, and enjoy the story.
highly recommended


June 17, 1673 Boston Harbor
Each slice of oar through water seemed more like a guillotine splitting flesh, vertebrae, and nerve bundles over and over - unceasing agony. opening

At that moment he longed for God to do more than whisper. The beliefs for which he had been exiled were not his own. He surely had been misjudged and mistreated by man, but would his God abandon him while on a divine errand? pg. 3

Tepid, rank air greeted him as he realized that God, angry at his disrespect had sent the devil himself to eat him alive. pg. 5

Rye, New Hampshire, 2008
The sea can do many things. It is the womb of all life on the planet. Weather patterns and natural disasters are at the mercy of the mighty blue's ebb and flow. A food chain that supplies sustenance for most life-forms on the plant begins and ends in the deep. But what Atticus Young had learned in the last two years was that the ocean, for all it's might and wonder, could not heal a broken man. pg. 11

Even people in the rooms on the floor above could hear his anguished. That day, seventy-five people heard what it felt like to have a portion of one's soul extinguished.
Few of them could stop their own tears. pg. 13

But the day he'd come home from the hospital, eyes burnt red from crying, and just looked at her with those sad eyes, she knew two things. Her mother was dead, and she wouldn't let herself get that close to anyone ever again. Not even her father. pg. 26

Two sets of diving gear were there. Wet suits, oxygen tanks, everything. "We're going diving?"
"We're going on the dive."
Giona's eyes flashed with excitement. It had been Giona's dream to dive with whales. She'd said it would be the closest thing to a supernatural encounter a human could experience. pg. 48

The coldness and hard-heartedness of his past began creeping up on him. He felt a chill run up his back. There was a lot to do. Killing something the size of a jumbo jet was going to be a challenge. But he knew in his heart, the creature didn't stand a chance. Not against him. pg. 70

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Movie Dude Weekend: slug edition

Three movies last night from the Nightmare Worlds 50 movie pack:

Maciste in Hell, 1925, silent movie
star: Bartolomeo Pagano

The Fury of the Wolfman, 1972
star: Paul Naschy

They, 1974
star: Paul Bentzen

Movie Dude: It always feels better to blame somebody.

Wonder Boy: Only short term Long term it leads to a hollow and meaningless existence.

Inevitably, as we watched our movies and talked, the conversation last night turned to slugs and keeping slugs as pets. Just Me and Movie Dude had to have a frank discussions with me about the mating habits of slugs.
Just Me: "That's all the slugs did for fun."
She found a video online from The Discovery Channel's Animal Planet to show me. The video had a warning about the disturbing contents. I should have heeded the warning... The video narration ended with the observation, "Nature's most gymnastic lovers have earned their rest."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Spock's World

Spock's World by Diane Duane
massmarket paperback, 388 pages
Pocket Books, 1988
ISBN: 0671041134
Star Trek series

From the Publisher
It is the twenty-third century. On the planet Vulcan, a crisis of unprecedented proportion has caused the convocation of the planet's ruling council -- and summoned the U.S.S. Enterprise™ from halfway across the galaxy, to bring Vulcan's most famous son home in its hour of need.
As Commander Spock, his father Sarek, and Captain James T. Kirk struggle to preserve Vulcan's future, the planet's innermost secrets are laid before us, from its beginnings millions of years ago to its savage prehistory, from merciless tribal warfare to medieval court intrigue, from the exploration of space to the development of o'thia -- the ruling ethic of logic. And Spock -- torn between his duty to Starfleet and the unbreakable ties that bind him to Vulcan -- must find a way to reconcile both his own inner conflict and the external dilemma his planet faces...lest the Federation itself
be ripped asunder.

My Thoughts:

First, I totally understand and accept the fact that Trekkies will not care one iota what I thought about Spock's World. Any rabid Star Trek fan who is also reading Star Trek books is far more into the Star Trek canon than I could ever be. Spock's World has chapters concerning Vulcan history interspersed with those following the current action on the Enterprise. Even though the purpose of Spock's World is basically to explain the history of the planet Vulcan, make no mistake about it, Captain James T. Kirk, or Jim, is the star of Spock's World. You will find all of the series regulars here, along with their dialogue written to mimic their accents. There are a couple of funk-a-delic aliens to expand your imagination.

This book just made me smile. Not because it was funny (although parts were), it was just the whole idea of me reading a Star Trek book. The characters and some of their trademark phrases are clearly recognizable to anyone who has ever seen Star Trek. I can't fault Duane for her writing. She tackled the Star Trek world with an easy-to-read style that will likely appeal and be accessible to a wide age range. Even though one review on Amazon claimed, "Duane continually effeminates Spock's World." I didn't really notice that, but then I am effeminate myself. Do I recommend Spock's World? Well... as a general audience SF book, no; there's not that much action and you really need to know Star Trek to follow it. Would I recommend it to fans? Yes. You will like it. Will I read more in the Star Trek canon? No, please let this be it, Just Me. I am now anxiously awaiting the Star Wars book.


The joke in Starfleet is that the only thing that can travel faster than warp 10 is news. opening

His looks somewhat matched his dress: a man dark-haired, dark-eyed, deep-eyed, a hawk-faced man with no expression... at least none that most people here were competent to read. There was an energy in the way he held himself, some of those people would have said... perhaps too much energy, bound in check by a frightening control. They never knew how tight a control; they never knew how it slipped sometimes, and left their thought open to him. pg. 2

He had certainly needed one [a vacation]. That business with the Romulans, and right after it the interminable famine runs for gamma Muscae V, and after that, the intervention at 1210 Circini, with the Enterprise caught in the middle and everybody on the four planets in the neighborhood shooting at her: it was enough to turn your hair gray. pg. 13

I would suggest to you, Captain, that all liberties are about to be cancelled. I thought you might appreciate an advanced warning."
"Noted. What's going on?"
"A vote was taken this morning, and Vulcan has decided to call the Referendum. My presence will be required there and I would strongly suspect that the Enterprise will be sent there as well, to... reinforce the planet's memory of favors done in the past by the Federation."
..."We have no orders yet?"
"No sir. But I judge the probability of the imminent arrival of such orders to be ninety-third percentile or higher." pg. 19

"Go maire tu i bhfad agus rath!"
He hadn't turned the translator on that morning. Jim looked at Ronan, bemused. Ronan raised eyebrows at him and said, "Old Irish wayfarer's blessing. It translates as 'Live long and prosper.' " pg. 20

The source-of-gossip, also present at the party, had let Jim know later that the name signed at the bottom of the 'gram had counted for almost as much as Jorg's jump in grade to quartermaster's mate. Jim had been gratified -- there were apparently times when being a galactic hero could be turned to some use. "You're very welcome." pg. 27

"Ye can't put a drive together as if it was a bitty babbie's picture puzzle, for pity's sake," Scotty was telling the air with genial scorn, as junior crewmen scuttled around him with calibrating instruments and tools and engine parts, looking panic-stricken. "There's got to be some system to't. You can't bring up the multistate equivocators until the magnetic bottle's on-line, and where's the bottle then? Ye've had ten whole minutes! -- Afternoon, Captain," he added.

Jim smiled again. "Problems, Scotty?" he said, not because he perceived any, but because he knew Scotty expected that he would ask. pg 29

"...Dammit, I'm a doctor, not a _"

"Belay it, Bones..." pg. 38

"Secession," Spock said, "is not the most accurate term for the act which the Vulcan planetary government is being asked to consider; but for the moment, it will serve. 44

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Sanctuary

The Sanctuary by Raymond Khoury
hardcover, 432 pages
Penguin, August 2007
ISBN-13: 9781615538553

From Booklist:
Here is one of those novels that spans centuries, interweaves stories from past and present, and involves a brave hero trying to uncover the truth behind an ancient conspiracy that unnamed individuals will kill to protect....When archaeology professor Evelyn Bishop is kidnapped, her daughter, Mia, vows to find her and to find the secret behind the artifacts that apparently led to Evelyn's abduction. Her odyssey takes her into unexpected corners of history, quickly putting her own life at risk. The action takes place mostly in Iraq but also journeys to eighteenth-century Italy and present-day Lebanon. The large cast of characters includes plenty of villainous types, including "the hakeem," a doctor whose grisly medical experiments seem linked to a centuries-old mystery. There are dozens of ways this novel could have collapsed under its own narrative weight, but Khoury makes the conspiracy feel utterly believable and imbues his characters with infectious passion for finding the truth. A surefire hit with fans of conspiracy-based historical thrillers. David Pitt

My Thoughts:
The Sanctuary started out strong, with a secret book being sought and a tale of a lab of horrors, and then it seemed to lose it's appeal. The characterizations and plot were lacking and felt formulaic. Twists in the story felt very contrived. Part of my disappointment with the book is probably due to my expectations. I didn't use the synopsis from The Sanctuary's cover because the description really makes it sound much more exciting and terrifying than the book actually is in reality. Not that it's bad, but it does slow down in the middle and wasn't keeping my interest. I'll admit I've been busy, but even then an exciting book would be able to hold my attention. I kept finding my thoughts wandering and I'd jump up to do something while reading The Sanctuary. If you run across it and need something to read don't pass it up as not worth your time, but be aware that it is not the best of the best. Recommended

Naples - November 1749
The scrape was hardly there, but it still woke him up. It wasn't really loud enough to rouse anyone from a deep sleep, but then, he hadn't slept well for years. opening

"....If what I suspect you know is true, we can be emperors. Don't you understand? People will sell their very souls for this."
The false marquis didn't doubt it for a second. "That's what I'm afraid of." pg. 5

He had done his best, tried his hardest, to discover what the missing pages of the codex had contained and wrest the ancient book's lost secrets. pg. 7

Baghdad - April 2003
The man in the headdress didn't even know his name. He only referred to him as the hakeem.
The doctor. pg. 12

Zabqine, Southern Lebanon - October 2006
She brought the photograph up closer, studying it intently, her fingers brushing over it in a futile attempt to make it clearer, her mind trying to swim through the deluge of memories that the image had triggered: it showed an ancient codex, sitting innocently between two other old books. Its tooled-leather cover was extended out. A distinctive feature of medieval Islamic books, it was normally tucked in under the front cover when the book was closed, used as a bookmark as well as to preserve and protect the pages.
Taken at face value, there was nothing remarkable about the old book, except for the symbol tooled into it's cover: the ringlike, circular motif of a snake feeding on its own tail. pg. 23

....A large, circular carving of a snake eating its own tail had been tooled into the main wall of the chamber.
The Ouroboros.
It was one of the oldest mystical symbols in the world.... The self-devouring serpent was a powerful archetype that represented different things to different peoples - a positive symbol for some, a portent of evil for others. pg. 32

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Homeschooling Post

This is a homeschooling post. Since I don't often mention too much about my (current) personal life, you might be wondering what in the Sam Hill suddenly inspired this real true-life admission. (Despite the obvious answer - I haven't finished my current book yet.) Well... I recently read a post about some self righteous homeschoolers making some poor public school family feel bad. (Insert big sigh).

Disclaimer: I homeschooled both of my kids all the way through high school, graduated them from our homeschool, and sent them both off to college. We were rigorous school-at-home homeschoolers. Starting at an early age my kids wrote papers and book reports and took tests. Many of my dearest, long time friends are/were homeschoolers and we met through homeschooling.

Now, I am the first to admit that all homeschoolers aren't perfect, but then, nobody is perfect. And, as my family moved around and we homeschooled in four different areas of the country (one area twice), we ran into a wide variety of homeschoolers. Yes, some were self righteous and overly proud. Some were disorganized and unfocused. Some kept to a schedule. Some were busy doing activities every day of the week. Some kept mostly to themselves. Some think every homeschooled kid is gifted or above average. Some homeschooled for religious reasons. Some homeschooled for academic reasons.....

You get the idea - homeschoolers represent a wide variety of people not easily lumped into one category anymore. Almost all the homeschoolers I've known have a pretty firm idea of what they believe and why they believe it. But, gracious, I see the same types of people in all families, no matter what their educational choices were or are. Yes, homeschoolers are basically just like everyone else only they've decided for some reason to homeschool their children.

Have I seen or experienced homeschoolers saying something_____ (fill in the blank - unkind, odd, strange, self-serving, etc.)? Yes. Even to me, another homeschooler. (I have some stories I could tell...) But, again, people who aren't homeschoolers are guilty of ALL the same things.

I am going to step out on a limb here (a big, sturdy Sequoia limb) and say that I would imagine that many more homeschoolers have had negative comments made to them by family, friends, casual acquaintances, and strangers than any person has experienced at the hands of homeschoolers. And, again, over the years I've known some really rabid and odd homeschoolers.

The best advice given to me when I first started homeschooling was "Never say anything negative about the public schools to people who have their children in the public schools." This has been my standard. When talking to other homeschoolers about some law, requirement, or interaction, some negative words toward public schools most assuredly did cross my lips. But never to anyone who had their children in public schools. Never.

This begs the question: Why Lori, did you have negative comments made to you about homeschooling?

Boy-o-boy! Do you really want me to go there?

You do?

Let me just say that we had strangers come up to us, if we happened to be out during public school hours, and ask what my kids were doing out of school. All the time. This occurred almost every time we took a field trip. Our requirement was that school work had to be completed in order to take a field trip. During much of this time (my kids were mostly grade school age at this time) we often had my mother and sometimes my father with us. Yet, strangers, all ages, still felt they had the right and responsibility to come up and ask my kids, even with two to three adults with them, why they weren't in school.

We had family extensively talking trash about us behind our backs. Then, to our faces, they felt they had the right and responsibility to ask us pointed question about our homeschooling - questions that would have never been directed at them. We received lots of unsolicited advice from all generations. Some family members put us on trial every time they saw us.

Talk about education and everyone suddenly becomes an expert.

We suffered through years and years of all kinds of people from family to strangers telling us what we were doing wrong and handing out all sorts of "advice." Yes we burned inside, but we were always nice and polite to everyone. Because of this I refuse to feel sorry for some poor public school parent who has had a couple silly homeschoolers tell her that her kids are too nice or well behaved to be public school kids. We went through YEARS of it being open season on homeschoolers and negative comments fell around us like rain. If I ever hear one more question like, "What about socialization?" in regards to homeschoolers it may finally push me over the edge. Somebody will be going down and it won't be me.

I no longer need to be nice about this. While other kids are off having all kinds of issues, my kids are grounded, received a sound educational foundation, and turned out great. I think much of it is due to homeschooling. My son, when in high school, took all the big tests the public school kids did: State high school proficiency test, PSAT, ACT, SAT. During the PSAT, taken at a public high school, the teachers harassed him while he was taking the test. In spite of that he ended up a top scorer and was a National Merit Scholar. He has a full academic scholarship to the college of his choice. He's an honors student, in the honors program, involved in research, and doing well. My daughter worked hard, graduated from high school in three years, and went off to a community college to explore different career options. She is also an honors student, has blue hair streaks, and is doing very well "in the real world" for a poor little sheltered homeschooler.

So you know what? Stop talking trash and lumping everyone into one big group. Stop thinking you know what's best for everyone. Talking negatively about homeschoolers is exactly what you are accusing them of doing to your public school students. As long as we have the freedom to make choices concerning the education of our children, private, public, or homeschool, let's allow everyone the right to exercise that choice. Maybe everyone needs to stop the self righteous behavior and get on with their lives.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Movie Dude Weekend; Tammy

From the 'Tammy' Triple Feature set we watched:
Tammy Tell Me True (1961)
Tammy and the Doctor (1963)
Cast: Sandra Dee, John Gavin, Peter Fonda

(I can't vouch for the voracity of the following story as told by Movie Dude, but it is certainly worth sharing.)

Movie Dude:
"I found Dodd Darin's U-tube channel and commented, 'Your mom was MEGA HOT!'
He replied and called me a pervert."

Just Me assured him, "It's OK that Sandra Dee makes you feel g-o-o-d."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Night Gardener

The Night Gardener by George Pelecanos
Hardcover, 372 pages
Little, Brown & Company, August 2006
ISBN-13: 9780316156509
mystery/crime novel
highly recommended

From the Publisher:
Gus Ramone is "good police," a former Internal Affairs investigator now working homicide for the city's Violent Crime branch. His new case involves the death of a local teenager named Asa whose body has been found in a local community garden. The murder unearths intense memories of a case Ramone worked as a patrol cop twenty years earlier, when he and his partner, Dan "Doc" Holiday, assisted a legendary detective named T. C. Cook. The series of murders, all involving local teenage victims, was never solved. In the years since, Holiday has left the force under a cloud of morals charges, and now finds work as a bodyguard and driver. Cook has retired, but he has never stopped agonizing about the "Night Gardener" killings. The new case draws the three men together on a grim mission to finish the work that has haunted them for years. All the love, regret, and anger that once burned between them comes rushing back, and old ghosts walk once more as the men try to lay to rest the monster who has stalked their dreams.
My Thoughts:

The opening of Pelecanos' novel is at the scene of a murder in 1985 where we are introduced to the three of the characters: patrolmen Gus Ramone and Dan Holiday, and sergeant T.C. Cook. Then the novel jumps to 2005 and Gus Ramone is now a detective, Dan Holiday is no longer a cop, and T.C. Cook has retired. Another murder has occurred that closely resembles three unsolved murders in 1985. But this novel is much more than a simple quest to solve the crimes. Pelecanos is a very good writer. His characters are very well developed with depth and nuances. The settings are real. The sub plots are compelling. In the end it all comes together, and the ending was unpredictable and original. There is some gritty language and dialogue in this emotionally complex novel. The Night Gardener is not a heart-stopping thrill ride; it is a careful walk at midnight in the rain where you can see all the details. (I also love the cover on this book.) Highly Recommended


THE CRIME SCENE was in the low 30s around E, on the edge of Fort Dupont Park, in a neighborhood known as Greenway, in the 6th District section of Southeast D.C. A girl of fourteen lay in the grass on the side of a community vegetable garden that was blind to the residents whose yards backed up to the nearby woods. There were colorful beads in her braided hair. She appeared to have died from a single gunshot wound to the head. A middle-aged homicide police was down on one knee beside her, staring at her as if he were waiting for her to awake. His name was T. C. Cook. opening

An ID on the body would confirm it, but Cook suspected that this one was like the others. She was one of them. pg 4

The victim's name was Eve Drake. In the past year, two other black teenagers, both living in the poorer sections of town, had been murdered and dumped in similar fashion in community gardens, both discovered shortly after sunrise. Shot in the head, both had traces of semen in their rectums. Their names were Otto Williams and Ava Simmons. Like Otto and Ava, Drake's first name, Eve, was spelled the same way backward as it was forward. The press had made the connection and dubbed the events the Palindrome Murders. Within the department, some police had begun to refer to the perpetrator as the Night Gardener. pg. 9

They could not know that this would be the last victim of the Palindrome Killer. For now, there was only a dead teenager, one of three unsolved, and someone out there, somewhere, doing the murders. On a cool rainy night in December 1985, two young uniformed police and a middle-aged homicide detective were on the scene. pg. 10

Over the desks of the detectives were corkboards, many displaying photos of children, wives, and other relatives alongside death photos of victims and apprehended but unconvicted perps who had become obsessions. Crucifixes, pictures of saints, and psalm quotes were in abundance. Many of the VCB detectives were devout Christians, others only claimed they were, and some had lost their faith in God completely. pg. 50-51

He had been a cop, and then he wasn't. Now he wore a stupid hat, made conversation with people who did not interest him at all, and jockeyed luggage in and out of the trunk of a car. pg 83

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club

The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club by Laurie Notaro
Trade paperback, 225 pages
Random House, 2002
ISBN-13: 9780375760914
nonfiction, autobiographical
not recommended

From the Cover:
Introducing Laurie Notaro, the leader of the Idiot Girl's Action-Adventure Club. Every day she fearlessly rises from bed to defeat the evil machinations of dolts, dimwits, and creepy boyfriends—and that's before she even puts on a bra. For the past ten years, Notaro has been entertaining Phoenix newspaper readers with her wildly amusing autobiographical exploits and unique life experiences....
My thoughts:

Well.... I gave Notaro a second chance, reading this collection of columns originally written for the Arizona Republic, and the results are in: I didn't find over half of the stories in this collection funny and some of them I found disgusting. How many stories about doing stupid things, not practicing personal hygiene, and chain smoking while being (or hoping to soon be) inebriated can one really find humorous? The sad thing, beyond the stories that are supposed to be funny, is that there really are a few funny stories in the collection, but after so many of the sad/bad ones, the funny stories lost some of their spark just from proximity to the drunken, smokin', unwashed stupid stories. Immature, stupid behavior isn't so humorous once one gets out of their teens or early twenties. It seemed like the better stories, for example Moral Sex and Extreme Clean Sports that both featured her Nana, were in the second half of the book. Frankly, I wonder how in the world Notaro got a job writing a humorous column in any newspaper because even the writing isn't all that good. It was a chore finding quotes without questionable content or language.
Even with the stories that are funny, I can not recommend Notaro's book.


"I', happy that I'm one of the Dumb Ones," he informed me. "I like it better that way."
"Really?" I said. "Why?"
"Well, because there's stuff that I know about, and there's more stuff that I don't know about, which makes it less stuff that I have to worry about in the Big Picture," he answered. pg. 8

Anyway, because I am Dumb, and a Idiot Girl, not only do I have memories of the stupid things I've done, I also have pictures, since that's what happens when a Dumb one gets control of a camera. pg 11-12

The pain was incredible, and sure, the booze helped for a while, but eventually that comfort evaporated. I knew I had to find a medical expert with experience and credentials, as well as the ability to get me some good drugs. pg. 14

My mother did a better job naming her dogs, Cali and Cory, than she did me, Laurie Ann, and I have to live longer. pg. 19

My father gathered up all of our wet shoes from outside and took our small hibachi out under a tree. After lighting a fire and watching it carefully, he placed our sneakers on the grill until he was satisfied they were dry. He was getting ready to bring the shoes back into the trailer when he realized the soles had melted so thoroughly that they had become one with the hibachi. He entered the trailer with the sentence, "I hope you guys brought a lot of socks." pg. 29

Clowns, however, are a different story. They carry forces of the dark side with them, impenetrable by any act of retaliation. Pop a clown's balloon, and he'll only mutilate a bigger, nastier one. pg. 112

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Movie Dude Weekend

Movies watched:

The Day of the Triffids (1963)
Director: Steve Sekely Cast: Howard Keel, Kieron Moore, Janette Scott, Nicole Maurey

The Day of the Triffids (1981) BBC mini series
Director: Ken Hannam
Cast: John Duttine, Maurice Colbourne, Emma Relph

While the first Day of the Triffids was playing, Movie Dude wanted Just me to Draw him a picture.
Just Me: "What do you want me to draw? Paint me a scene with words."
Movie Dude: "Draw an alien with a big butt."
After the alien was drawn:
Movie Dude: "Make the butt bigger
Just Me "How do I make the butt on this alien bigger?"
Movie Dude: "Ask Aunt Lori"
Lori: "What am I? The resident big butt expert?
Movie Dude: "Make it naked."
Just me: "Aliens don't have genitals."
Lori: "Well, according to the X-Files..."
Just Me: "You blog about this and think of the searches you'll get!"
Movie Dude (singing): "I like big butts and I can not lie..."
Just Me: "Oh! I know what the drawing needs! A disco ball!" (Just me has a penchant for putting the various people/aliens/monsters Movie Dude inevitably asks her to draw in a disco setting.)

During intermission/snack time

Wonder Boy claimed he wasn't feeling well. Just Me and Movie Dude immediately broke into a chant:
"Drink more water! Eat more fiber!
Drink more water! Eat more fiber!
Drink more water! Eat more fiber! ..."

And the finally, may I present this comment from Just Me for your consideration:
"She wasn't really a man, she just took man hormones."

Friday, October 9, 2009

Greatest Thing That Almost Happened

Greatest Thing That Almost Happened by Don Robertson
part 3 of the trilogy featuring Morris Bird III
Trade paperback, 268 pages
HarperCollins, 2009 (Original copy right 1970)
ISBN-13: 9780061868146
very highly recommended

Synopsis from cover:
If there was one genuine truth that Morris Bird III thought he understood, it was that the world forever and relentlessly changed. But only in one direction—from simple to complicated.
When he was nine, Morris Bird III learned the meaning of bravery. Now, at seventeen, he's on the verge of adulthood . . . and he's fallen in love. But it's 1952 and the Korean War hangs over his head like a dangling sword—and his prickly, complicated relationship with his cold and silent father has never been satisfactorily resolved. When Morris's own mortality stares him in the face, he learns what it truly means to become a man.
The Greatest Thing That Almost Happened is the final book in Don Robertson's classic trilogy featuring one of the most endearing characters in American literature.
My Thoughts:

You really need to make sure you read Don Robertson's trilogy featuring Morris Bird III in order, starting with The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread. (The Sum and Total of Now is the second book.) Four more years have passed and Morris is now 17. He has a girlfriend, by his own admission he swears too much, and he's on the basketball team in high school. He imagines he will be drafted and heading off to the Korean War after graduation. He's also a little concerned that he's been feeling sleepy and out of breath lately. This is Robertson's heartbreaking last novel featuring the unforgettable character of Morris Bird III.
I very highly recommend reading all three books in the series.


There are larger considerations than the world, or pain. One of them is grace. Or call it decency. Or call it love. (Why should your neighbor hurt because you do?) opening

The boy's name was, ahem, Morris Bird III, which was ridiculous, and you didn't have to tell him it was ridiculous. He was seventeen, and his complexion was awful. He was a Democrat, and so he did not like Richard M. Nixon's dog, the sainted Checkers. pg. 1

....last year the laps hadn't bothered him, and so what was it? Was he over the hill at the great and colossal age of seventeen? (Sometimes lately his chest hurt, and sometimes lately he became very sleepy for no reason, and what the hell was happening? pg. 3

"Leave movies out of this."
"But the Thing was a vegetable," said Morris Bird III, "and I'll guarantee you something. I am not a vegetable. I am all animal, all blood and guts and ten yards wide."
"Very funny. You and your movies." pg. 5

Julie makes no effort to dislodge his intrepid hands, but she does wriggle a bit, and then she says: "It's all you think about."
"What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean."
"More than smooching."
"So?" says Morris Bird III. "So I'm human, that's all." pg. 15

But all good things end. and some good things end before they happen. God knows, they almost happen, but when you're seventeen too many of them are grabbed away at the last second.
Which means that the greatest things that happen to Morris Bird III are the greatest things that almost happen. pg. 17

As for truth, well, he believed in the truth of facts, which was as usable a truth as he'd ever found. And the truth of the more cruel emotions - grief, for instance. pg. 23

Any day now he would have to get to know, by God, his father.
Any day now he would have to sit down with his father and say: Permit me to introduce myself, old boy. My name is Morris Bird III, and... since yours is Morris Bird II... that makes me your son. Would you care to shake hands? pg. 25

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Catching Fire

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Hunger Games Series #2
Hardcover, 391 pages
Scholastic, September 2009
ISBN-13: 9780439023498
YA dystopian fiction
very highly recommended

Synopsis from publisher:
Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

My Thoughts:

After The Hunger Games, this was a very satisfying second book. Yes, it's true that like most second books in a trilogy, events do seem to move a bit slowly as the story is in transition, but I thought Catching Fire was very good and kept up the high standards Collins previously set. Book three should be amazing. Although it has been said that the YA label only reflects the presence of a teenage protagonist, I still feel that the reading level is also simpler. (I imagine I could do something like a Flesch Reading Ease test to prove my point, but it doesn't matter that much to me.) Most YA books do have simplified language and plot lines. They are quick, easy reads. As I mentioned in the review for The Hunger Games, " this plot has been done before, and that Collins didn't provide many in-depth details on the society, setting, or the cameras, which is all true, but I still felt this was a very successful YA book."
Catching Fire is very highly recommended.

If it were up to me, I would try to forget the Hunger Games entirely. Never speak of them. Pretend they were nothing but a bad dream. But the Victory Tour makes that impossible. Strategically placed almost midway between the annual Games, it is the Capitol's way of keeping the horror fresh and immediate. Not only are we in the districts forced to remember the iron grip of the Capitol's power each year, we are forced to celebrate it. And this year, I am one of the stars of the show. I will have to travel from district to district, to stand before the cheering crowds who secretly loathe me, to look down into the faces of the families whose children I have killed... pg 3-4

The only time I really get to see Gale now is on Sundays, when we meet up in the woods to hunt together. It's still the best day of the week, but it's not like it used to be before, when we could tell each other anything. pg. 5

Peeta keeps all of us in fresh baked goods. I hunt. He bakes. Haymitch drinks. We have our own ways to stay busy, to keep thoughts of our time as contestants in the Hunger Games at bay. pg. 15

Then he turns and my heart skips a beat.I'm staring into the snakelike eyes of President Snow. pg. 17

"And if a girl from District Twelve of all places can defy the Capitol and walk away unharmed, what is to stop them from doing the same?" he says. "What is to prevent, say, an uprising?" pg. 21

"Katniss Everdeen, the girl who was on fire, you have provided the spark that, left unattended, may grow into an inferno that destroys Panem," he says.
"Why don't you just kill me now?" I blurt out.
"Publicly?" he asks. "That would only add fuel to the flames." pg. 23