Thursday, July 28, 2011

Meg: Hell's Aquarium

Meg: Hell's Aquarium by Steve Alten
Variance Publishing, 2009
 448 pages
ISBN-13: 9781935142041
Meg Series #4

The Philippine Sea Plate... the deepest, most unexplored realm on the planet. Hidden beneath its ancient crust lies the remains of the Panthalassa, an ocean that dates back 220 million years. Vast and isolated, the Panthalassa in inhabited by nightmarish species of sea creatures long believed extinct.
Tanaka Institute, Monterey, CA.:
Angel, the recaptured 76 foot, 100,000 pound Megalodon, has birthed a liter of pups -- five females -- far too numerous and aggressive to keep in one pen. One solution: A Dubai royal prince is building the largest aquarium in the world and seeks to purchase two of the "runts."
The deal hinges on hiring Jonas Taylor's 21 year old son, David, to be their trainer. Jonas reluctantly agrees, and David is off to Dubai for the summer of his life-- --not realizing he is being set-up to lead an expedition that will hunt down and capture the most dangerous creatures ever to inhabit the planet!
My Thoughts:
Hell's Aquarium by Steve Alten is the fourth novel in his Meg series. (There is a fifth novel planned: Meg: Night Stalkers.) Obviously, since this is the fourth outing of Alten's Megalodon, readers of the series know what to expect - bloody attacks and narrow escapes from huge primal predators from the sea.
Hell's Aquarium follows the set pattern of the Meg books and perhaps even ramps the action up a little bit more. It was most certainly packed full of action and was fast-paced. Alten does an admirable job researching his antediluvian creatures from the deep. (I guess I'm accidentally on a cryptozoology kick.)
Alten is certainly a competent writer, but for some reason there seemed to be a few more exclamation points than he normally uses this time out! Perhaps he's taken a hint from Matthew Reilly's playbook, huh! If a gazillion ton creature is chasing another one and our protagonists are right in the path of soon-to-be-carnage, I think we all sort get that it's pretty darn exciting! If it's the megladon ramming it's pen or eating a meal, yeah, that's exciting too, but we don't need quite so many exclamation points!
That minor annoyance aside, I actually got this book because the Movie Dude wanted to read it. I'm going to be passing along all the Meg books to him. While the series was fun, I may be done with it. Not that I want to discourage anyone else from reading the Meg novels. They certainly are full of action, narrow escapes, and bloody carnage. Those of you who want to read the Meg books are going to read them anyway. This was comparably a good addition to the series.
highly recommended for Meg fans.


Encompassing sixty million square miles, the Pacific Ocean is the largest and oldest body of water on our planet, and with an average depth of fourteen thousand feet, it is also the deepest, possessing some of the most biologically diverse creatures ever to inhabit the Earth. prologue, opening

With an average depth of 19,700 feet, the Philippine Sea Basin represents the most unexplored, isolated region on our planet, its tremendous pressure making it inaccessible to all but the world’s deepest-diving submersibles.
Scientists have had to rely on bathymetric equipment in order to obtain any kind of significant data on this ancient geology. In the process, they failed to discover the sea plate’s true anomaly—an isolated sea, hidden deep beneath the basin’s crust, that dates back to the Panthalassa. Harbored within this enclosed habitat is a thriving food chain that has sustained primitive life since the very first marine reptile returned to the ocean over 240 million years ago. pg. 4

At 122 feet, the female pliosaur is longer than a blue whale and just as heavy. Behind its immense crocodile-like skull is a long, muscular torso powered by forward and rear flippers, ending at a stout tail. Incredibly agile for its size, the monster banks hard, performing a series of quick, tight loops around its adversary, ever mindful of the Meg’s fearful set of jaws. Possessing a keen sense of smell, the hunter’s sensory system has locked in on the steady stream of blood pouring from the Megalodon’s partially severed tail. It can feel the pulsating rhythm of the shark’s two-chambered heart, it can taste the hot, pungent blood pumping from the wound.
Barely able to propel itself forward, the wounded megalodon fights to stabilize itself against the circling predator’s powerful current.
What happens next is as fast and furious as it is deadly.
With a colossal thrust of its powerful forward flippers, the one-hundred-ton pliosaur shoots off into the darkness. Then, with the grace of a sea lion, it banks into a 180-degree turn and, circling in from behind, strikes the floundering Megalodon with its open maw, the force matching that of a charging locomotive hitting a stalled car. pg. 8

 Before he can signal Jonas to move the car, twenty-year-old David Taylor steps out of the baggage claim exit, an orange and blue University of Florida duffle bag slung over one broad shoulder. Jonas’s son is wearing a gray Gator’s Football tee-shirt, faded jeans, and sneakers. He is fit and tan, his brown hair long, speckled with golden highlights from being in the sun, his almond-brown eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses. pg. 12

Over the years, Angel had grown into a seventy-four-foot-long, seventy-thousand-pound monster, her presence attracting millions of visitors. Jonas and Terry were married. And then, one day, Angel broke through the giant steel doors of her canal and escaped, making her way across the Pacific to the Mariana Trench, returning to her species’ ancient habitat to mate.
Two decades later, the creature would find its way back home to California waters to birth a second litter of pups in the man-made lagoon.
Masao died tragically in the interim, but Angel’s return gave his institute a new lease on life. With help from the state of California, the Tanaka Lagoon once again became the most popular tourist attraction in the world.
But success is fleeting, bringing its own innate set of problems. Running an aquarium as large as “Angel’s Lair” required an extensive staff: marine biologists and animal husbandry specialists to care for the Meg as well as her new pups; an environmental team charged with maintaining the lagoon and the new Meg Pen; and administrators and public relations staff, security and food handlers. Working with a fully mature, fifty-one-ton Megalodon and her five offspring created its own unique challenges, where any mistake could be a fatal one. pg. 17

“Safety’s the main concern,” Jonas says. “Do we build a plexiglass retaining wall around the main tank? Do we close the lower bowl? How do we prevent Angel from going berserk again?”
“It was the drums.”
All eyes turn to David, who is leaning back in his chair against the far wall. “The underwater acoustics irritated her. She didn’t enter the lagoon to feed; she came in to show you who’s boss.”
Side discussions break out, the staff’s reaction mixed.
Jonas taps his glass again for quiet. “David, Angel was conditioned to respond to those acoustics. I trained her myself. If we can’t regulate her feeding times, she’ll remain in the canal underwater and we’ll have no show.”
“Then use a different stimulus. Re-train her.”
Teddy Badault shakes his head emphatically. “She’s too set in her ways. She is too old to learn anything new.”
“That’s ridiculous,” David retorts. “Two summers ago I worked with a guy in Gainesville who specializes in shark behavior. He told me the Navy recruited him to train sharks as stealth spies in order to follow enemy vessels. Angel’s smarter than any of the sharks he worked with, and just as capable.”
“I agree.” Jonas nods. “Call him. He’s hired.”
“We don’t need him. He taught me everything I need to know. I can set up a light grid along the canal doors and—”
“No. Let the experts handle this.”
“He’s never worked with Angel or her pups. I have!” pg. 36-37

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Instinct by Jeremy Robinson
St. Martin's Press, April 2010
Hardcover, 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780312540296
Chess Team Adventure Series #2
very highly recommended
When the President of the United States falls victim to a weaponized and contagious strain of a genetic disease—one that kills its victims without warning or symptom—Special Forces commander Jack “King” Sigler is on the case. He and his team of highly trained operators have been assigned to protect a CDC detective as she journeys to the source of the new strain: Vietnam’s Annamite Mountains.
Surrounded by old landmines, harsh jungle terrain, and more than one military force not happy about the return of American boots to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the fight for survival becomes a grueling battle. Pursued by VPLA Death Volunteers, Vietnam’s Special Forces unit, the team’s flight through a maze of archaic ruins reveals an ancient secret that may stop the disease from sweeping the globe—even as it threatens both the mission and their lives…

My Thoughts:
Instinct by Jeremy Robinson is the second book in his Chess Team adventure series. (Pulse was the first.) Fourteen years earlier cryptozoologist Dr. Anthony Weston was attacked and disappeared in Vietnam’s Annamite Mountains, the same area where a deadly plague, the Brugada syndrome, originated. The Brugada Syndrome has been weaponized and the President of the United States has been infected. The infection is on the brink of being released and would soon wipe out most of the human race unless a cure can be found.  The Chess Team (called this because their call signs are chess pieces - King, Queen, Bishop, Knight, Pawn) are sent to this same area with a CDC agent to search for the source of and find a cure for the Brugada syndrome.
This is pure action/adventure escapism as the Chess Team fights for survival and to complete their mission. Instinct is a novel where you have to suspend disbelief and just go where the action takes you. I mean, come on, who doesn't want to read an action/adventure novel with a crytozoologist and a special forces unit. At the end, there is even a clue about what may be the next mission for the Chess Team.
Now I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a big game player, but I can see why some readers might think Instinct reads like a video game with its fast pace. Instinct is a fast paced novel. The plot surges forward, which suits the genre. I appreciate the science included in the plot, but I am reading the book for the action - and it delivers action. Robinson also furthers the character development of the Chess Team members and includes plenty vivid descriptions along with the action.
Although Robinson has been compared to Matthew Reilly, I can definitively declare that Robinson is a better writer than Reilly. I think he compares more favorably with James Rollins, Clive Cussler, Lincoln Child, and David Goleman.
The dedication in Instinct made me smile. It says: "For Mom, even though I know this one will freak you out."
very highly recommended - this ones for action/adventure junkies

 Three months had gone by since Dr. Anthony Weston began his search for the elusive creatures, and now that he’d found them, they were going to kill him.
A cascade of sweat followed a path of crisscrossing wrinkles down his forehead and dripped into his wide eyes. The salty, dirty sweat stung and brought forth a welling of tears, blurring his vision. He couldn’t see the creatures clearly, nor the ground on which he ran, but he could hear them all around, calling out to each other. opening
Weston lost his footing for a moment and screamed. He was surprised by the volume and high pitch of his voice. It sounded as inhuman as the noises made by the unclassified creatures pursuing him. As he sensed the front-runners of the group closing in he searched for any hope of escape. In the movies this was the point where the hero would trip and slide down a perfectly formed mud-covered waterslide and escape. pg. 3

In many ways the creatures were more suited to a life in the trees than on the ground. Once on the ground, the beast stood erect, stretching its height to a mediocre five feet. If not for their physical strength, Weston might even have been able to fight his way out. But he remembered how easily he’d been thrown, as though he were but a child. pg. 4
Regardless of dress or duty, the spirits had slain every man in the village, first striking them with a mild fever and coughing, then death. Whether sleeping, tending the field, or washing clothes, men were struck dead. Some in midsentence. Others in their sleep. The spirits were relentless... to the point that the villagers realized it wasn’t spirits killing the men.
It was a plague. pg. 10
Then a pain racked his chest. He stumbled and stopped, suddenly dizzy. He checked his pulse... and found nothing.
His heart had stopped. pg. 30
"Bird flu is not typically contagious to people, but there are cases of it jumping species, and this strain looks like nothing we've seen before. It's mutated in a way that is just as contagious as any other flu, but it also carries genes, which it adds to the host's DNA." pg. 38
There is no quick fix here. It's more than a simple virus. The disease alters genetic code. Permanently." pg. 39
"Each of you will have a cardioverter defibrillator implanted on your heart. Without getting technical, if your heart sops beating it will deliver a shock that should bring you back."
"Should?" said Knight.
"Mortality rates in Brugada patients with cardioverters has been zero percent for the past ten years, but this new strain may affect the body in different ways." pg. 41

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Ledge

The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival on Mount Rainier by Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughan
Random House Publishing Group, July 26, 2011
Advanced Reading Copy, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345523198
highly recommended

“My eyes travel up the frozen walls. I figure it is eighty feet up to the sunlight. The walls above me climb up at about eighty degrees, then they go dead vertical, and then, higher up, they overhang. It is as if I am looking out from the belly of a beast, its jagged white teeth interlocking above me.”   In June 1992, best friends Jim Davidson and Mike Price stood triumphantly atop Washington’s Mount Rainier, celebrating what they hoped would be the first of many milestones in their lives as passionate young mountaineers. Instead, their conquest gave way to catastrophe when a cave-in plunged them deep inside a glacial crevasse—the pitch-black, ice-walled hell that every climber’s nightmares are made of.
An avid adventurer from an early age, Davidson was already a seasoned climber at the time of the Rainier ascent, fully aware of the risks and hopelessly in love with the challenge. But in the blur of a harrowing free fall, he suddenly found himself challenged by nature’s grandeur at its most unforgiving. Trapped on a narrow, unstable frozen ledge, deep below daylight and high above a yawning chasm, he would desperately battle crumbling ice and snow that threatened to bury him alive, while struggling in vain to save his fatally injured companion.

My Thoughts:
In The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival on Mount Rainier, Jim Davidson, with the help of Kevin Vaughan, shares some of his life's experiences, especially with mountain climbing. The main focus of The Ledge is the climb of Mt. Rainer he and his friend Mike Price undertook almost 20 years ago, in June 1992. This challenging climb changed Jim Davidson's life forever and took Mike's life. During the climb, Jim and Mike broke through a snow bridge and fell 80 feet into a glacial crevasse, landing on a narrow ledge.
After opening with some background stories and foreshadowing the accident to come, the book jumps back and forth in time until the fall happens in the timeline. Then it details the event and Jim's struggle to get out of the crevasse. As a result of the accident, Jim suffered from survivor's guilt and had another hurdle to overcome. 
The book started out strong, but perhaps had a few too many details in the background stories. Once the climbing starts, anyone who has mountaineering and climbing experience will likely enjoy the detailed technical explanation of the climb(s). If you don't, the overwhelming number of details provided can become, well, overwhelming, and detract from the story.
What completes the story is not Jim's survival, but the determination it took to overcome adversity when the odds were not in his favor. He survived the tragic accident in more ways than one and was able to take the life lessons he learned from the event and use them to help him motivate others in their own personal growth. Jim Davidson is now a motivational speaker who has helped many other people.
While those who climb mountains or enjoy nonfiction accounts of adventures are going to appreciate this novel, others might be slightly put off by the amount of technical details. Yes, it's a solid nonfiction choice, however, the writing can be uneven in places. 
For me, it's highly recommended, with the admission that I didn't even try to follow the technical climbing information. 

Disclosure: I received this novel through the Goodreads First Reads program. 

Chapter 2
Holding the ice ax in my right hand, I probe the glacier ahead. The ax shaft sinks in six inches and the snow feels solid, so I step forward. My boot settles into the soft, wet slop up to my ankle. Probing before each step is exhausting but necessary as I check for hollow snow bridges that could conceal yawning glacial crevasses.
I probe again, feel firm snow, and sink to my ankle as I take another step.
The air is calm, and the midday sun is strong on this first day of summer, June 21, 1992. We can't see or hear any other climbers. The snow before me lies smooth and flat and blindingly white as we descend from the summit of Mount Rainier. I flip aside the rope that leads back fifty feet to Mike. Looking at the glacier in front of me, I see no cracks, sags, or aberrations.
I stab my ice ax shaft into the snow, and it sinks in the usual six inches before resisting. Stepping forward, I press down my right boot. I sink to my ankle, and then my shin.
Snow seems deep here.
Momentum pushes me forward, and more weight rocks onto my front foot. Oddly, my boot is still settling into the soft snow.
It should feel firm by now.
I sink almost to my knee.
What the . . . ?
The ground beneath my foot caves.
Snow's collapsing!
A burning electric shock of fear jolts my body. Before I can even say it or think it, my body knows what's happening: I'm on a snow bridge across a hidden crevasse, and it's giving way.
I'm falling . . . into . . . the mountain.
Instincts take over. As I scream a warning to Mike--"FALLING!"--my right leg locks to avoid stepping down any farther. But there's no stopping; inertia carries me forward, and I sink faster into the snow, up past my knee. My scream sounds like a scared shout from the other end of an empty house, and the confused terror in my own voice sends a second wave of adrenaline burning through my veins.
I dart my eyes sideways and think about scrambling to the solid ground behind me, but momentum and my backpack's weight drive me down face-first. There's no turning back. My left leg also crashes through the weak snow bridge, and in a heartbeat I'm in up to my thighs.
I vaguely hope the wide bottom of the backpack will spread my falling weight across the weak snow and somehow stop me; instead, with a muffled whompf the fragile bridge ruptures further, settling and sagging all around me.
I drop faster into the ever-widening hole, and I instinctively thrust my left arm to the side. Through an open crack, I see blackness underneath.
I'm going in!
I'm slithering downward, my chest above the snow, my belly encased in the disintegrating snow bridge. In the void below, my legs churn madly. There's nothing but air under me now. Only the side walls of the snow hole dragging against me hold me up.
Just a split second has passed, but my mind has slowed it all down. It's as if I'm watching a movie, and someone else is in it.
Gotta stop.
As I sink to my sternum, I slam my ax down hard. The pick bites deep into the snow surface in front of me.
My right arm snaps ramrod straight; I grip the ax shaft even tighter, preparing for the impact, expecting the 220 pounds of me and the pack to rip my shoulder joint. I don't care--anything's better than going into the crevasse.
But the pick tears through the wet, granular snow in a spray of slush. There's no resistance.
"FALL . . . !" I scream. My one last attempt to warn Mike ends abruptly as my face smashes into the crevasse lip, ramming ice crystals up my nose, into my mouth. Just one or two seconds after the collapse of the snow bridge started, my helmeted head vanishes below the surface.
Gravity yanks me from the warm world into the belly of the glacier, as though something evil has a deadly tentacle around my feet and is dragging me deeper. The monster has me.  pg.9-11

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Memory of All That

The Memory of All That: George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Family's Legacy of Infidelities  by Katharine Weber
Crown Publishing Group, July 2011
Advanced Reading Copy, 267 pages
ISBN-13: 9780307395887
The Memory of All That is Katharine Weber’s memoir of her extraordinary family.
Her maternal grandmother, Kay Swift, was known both for her own music (she was the first woman to compose the score to a hit Broadway show, Fine and Dandy) and for her ten-year romance with George Gershwin. Their love affair began during Swift’s marriage to James Paul Warburg, the multitalented banker and economist who advised (and feuded with) FDR. Weber creates an intriguing and intimate group portrait of the renowned Warburg family, from her great-great-uncle, the eccentric art historian Aby Warburg, whose madness inspired modern theories of iconography, to her great-grandfather Paul M. Warburg, the architect of the Federal Reserve System.... Her mother, Andrea Swift Warburg, married Sidney Kaufman, but their unlikely union, Weber believes, was a direct consequence of George Gershwin’s looming presence in the Warburg family. A notorious womanizer, Weber’s father was a peripatetic filmmaker who made propaganda and training films for the OSS during World War II....

My Thoughts:
The Memory of All That: George Gershwin, Kay Swift, and My Family's Legacy of Infidelities by Katharine Weber is a family memoir. Weber is the granddaughter of Broadway composer Kay Swift, who was married to banker James Warburg. She had a affair with George Gershwin for ten years. Her mother, Andrea Warburg, married Sidney Kaufman, who was notoriously unfaithful to her. The FBI also kept extensive files on Kaufman. Weber describes her very dysfunctional family, and along the way name-drops a whole host of characters who passed in and out of their lives.
Initially, the title of the book seemed a bit misleading. It really feels like most of the book concerns Weber's parents, especially the poor relationship she had with her father. In fact, I would have to admit that The Memory of All That would have failed the 50 page rule (if you aren't enjoying it by page 50, it is not worth your time) except for I wanted to get to the information about Kay Swift and George Gershwin. I could have done with less disgruntled information about her father. Once she actually gets past her disappointing father and on to other relatives, The Memory of All That does become more interesting.
Although this seems like a negative review, what saves the book from failure is Weber's writing ability. At times Weber is funny, enlightening, informative, and entertaining.  Ultimately, all things considered, this is an uneven memoir. A good half of the book details Weber's parents and their failures as parents and in their relationships. If you can get through the first half and onto the rest of her family history and included anecdotes, it becomes more interesting. I can't help but think that this is a memoir that would have benefited from some reorganization in the presentation.
Recommended if you are a Gershwin or Kay Swift fan
Disclosure: I received this novel through the Goodreads First Reads program.


We are walking into the ocean. He is holding me in the crook of his left arm and I cling awkwardly to the soft expanse of his chest where I am squashed against his cold skin and his disconcerting chest hair. He wades deeper into the black water that laps against my thighs, and I am afraid, afraid of him and afraid of the ocean. He strides through the waves, a father going into the ocean with his little girl, and over his shoulder I see my mother in her blue seersucker shorts and her dark blue sleeveless shirt standing on the wet sand at the hem of the tide, taking photographs, her face masked by her perpetual Leica as she frames her picture of a devoted father holding his happy child.
She takes the picture of her husband and her little girl, the devoted father and his happy child enjoying this moment of going into the ocean on this perfect summer day. This is a day we won’t forget, a moment we have not forgotten, because she is taking, she has taken, this photograph, the evidence of this afternoon, this spot of time in one of many summer days spent in the funny rented house on Luchon Street at the end of the block facing the dunes. Remember that summer? she will ask me from time to time for the next forty years. Remember that summer, the one after the summer of John’s heart operation, the summer we rented the Lido Beach house with the kitchen upstairs, and you had that terrible sunburn, remember the lady across the street who put polish on the nails of her brown standard poodles? What were their names? Coco and Chanel. You remember everything, don’t you?
He strides purposefully away from the shore, his enormous black swim trunks billowing under me like seaweed. He is as purposeful as the polar bears I have seen at the zoo, the ones who dip into the water, swim in a circle and clamber out, only to repeat the activity relentlessly. They have to do it. They don’t know what else to do. He is wading deeper into the ocean, turning momentarily sideways to brace against the occasional wave that breaks against us, as if this slow march toward the horizon is a requirement, as if he doesn’t know any other way to be at the beach with his child, any other way to go into the water with his little girl. He doesn’t know what else to do.
I have never seen my father run, I have never seen him throw a ball, I have never seen him sit on the ground, I have never seen him in a bathing suit before, and now he is carrying me into the ocean, and I am seven years old and he is fifty-two, and this is the summer we are renting the beach house at the end of  Luchon Street, facing the dunes, the house with the kitchen upstairs and the dog-smelling shag carpet, and the sour piano on which my grandmother, my mother’s mother, the one we call Ganz, teaches me to play a new chord each time she visits. The sea air has ruined the soundboard, she diagnoses. My father is working at his office in the city and is only here on weekends, like a guest, and he sleeps in the room we call the guest room,downstairs, next to the room where my brother sleeps, and I share the upstairs bedroom, with its twin beds, with my mother. opening

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Doc by Mary Doria Russell
Random House Publishing Group, May 2011
Hardcover, 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9781400068043
very highly recommended

Description from cover:
The year is 1878, peak of the Texas cattle trade. The place is Dodge City, Kansas, a saloon-filled cow town jammed with liquored-up adolescent cowboys and young Irish hookers. Violence is random and routine, but when the burned body of a mixed-blood boy named Johnnie Sanders is discovered, his death shocks a part-time policeman named Wyatt Earp. And it is a matter of strangely personal importance to Doc Holliday, the frail twenty-six-year-old dentist who has just opened an office at No. 24, Dodge House.   Beautifully educated, born to the life of a Southern gentleman, Dr. John Henry Holliday is given an awful choice at the age of twenty-two: die within months in Atlanta or leave everyone and everything he loves in the hope that the dry air and sunshine of the West will restore him to health. Young, scared, lonely, and sick, he arrives on the rawest edge of the Texas frontier just as an economic crash wrecks the dreams of a nation. Soon, with few alternatives open to him, Doc Holliday is gambling professionally; he is also living with Mária Katarina Harony, a high-strung Hungarian whore with dazzling turquoise eyes, who can quote Latin classics right back at him. Kate makes it her business to find Doc the high-stakes poker games that will support them both in high style. It is Kate who insists that the couple travel to Dodge City, because “that’s where the money is.”
My Thoughts:
Doc by Mary Doria Russell focuses on the early years of Dr. John Henry (Doc) Holliday, especially the time he spent in Dodge City, Kansas. In the notes at the end of Doc, Mary Doria Russell writes: "Arriving at the end of historical fiction today, the modern reader is likely to wonder, 'How much of that was real?' In this case, the answer is: not all of it but a lot more than you might think."(pg. 391) I appreciate knowing that she did her research and wrote historical fiction that follows historical fact. 
Russell starts with Holliday's Georgia childhood through his dental training and the onset of the tuberculosis that sent him out west for his health. She does an excellent job of replacing many of the myths surrounding Doc Holliday with facts and showing us the man behind the legend - his struggles, disappointments, and precarious health. The descriptions of Holliday's struggles with tuberculosis are heart breaking. All the players in the well known story are here, but without the exaggerations found in the myths.
As I mentioned, this novel mainly focuses on Doc's time in Dodge City, KS. While the novel does not cover the infamous shot out at the OK Corral, it does briefly cover the end of his life. Anyone hoping for a more complete picture of Doc's whole life, may be disappointed with this. Since I have never been a huge fan of westerns, I thought the novel was brilliant in its focus on the part of Doc's life that set fate into motion and on to Tombstone, Arizona.
This is a work of fiction, but Russell includes a cast of "Players" at the beginning of Doc that shows what characters were real and which ones are fictional. The chapters in Doc are named after poker terms, which is clever because poker and faro are a huge part of much of the story.
Between the story and the writing, Doc will likely be one of the best novels of the year. This is a perfect example of historical fiction done right.
Russell ends the Author's Note section suggesting that readers who are touched by Doc's story should consider giving a donation to one of the organizations around the world that provide free surgical correction of cleft palates and cleft lips. You can follow the link above to Russell's website for information on the Smile Train where she and her husband chose to give a donation.  
Very Highly Recommended - one of the best
He began to die when he was twenty-one, but tuberculosis is slow and sly and subtle. The disease took fifteen years to hollow out his lungs so completely they could no longer keep him alive. In all that time, he was allowed a single season of something like happiness.
When he arrived in Dodge City in 1878, Dr. John Henry Holliday was a frail twenty-six-year-old dentist who wanted nothing grander than to practice his profession in a prosperous Kansas cow town. Hope – cruelest of the evils that escaped Pandora’s box – smiled on him gently all that summer. While he lived in Dodge, the quiet life he yearned for seemed to lie within his grasp.
At thirty, he would be famous for his part in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. A year later, he would become infamous when he rode at Wyatt Earp’s side to avenge the murder of Wyatt’s brother Morgan. The journalists of his day embellished slim fact with fat rumor and rank fiction; it was they who invented the iconic frontier gambler and gunman Doc Holliday. (Thin. Mustachioed. A cold and casual killer. Doomed, and always dressed in black, as though for his own funeral.) That unwanted notoriety added misery to John Henry’s final months, when illness and exile had made him a lonely and destitute alcoholic, dying by awful inches and living off charity in a Colorado hotel.
The wonder is how long and how well he fought that destiny. He was meant to die at birth. The Fates pursued him from the day he first drew breath, howling for his delayed demise. opening

In that way, Alice taught her son to read by the age of four and though correction of his speech required years more, their diligence was rewarded. In adulthood, if his difficulty with certain consonants was noticed at all, acquaintances were apt to ascribe it to his lazy Georgia drawl. Or, later on, to drink. pg. 5

“He ain’t big and he ain’t strong,” nine-year-old Robert Holliday told his Aunt Alice, “but that boy’s got a by-God streak of fight in him.” pg.6

"A man could gamble himself to poverty and still be a gentleman," his second cousin Margaret would one day write in her famous book about the war, "but a professional gambler could never be anything but an outcast." pg. 20

Dodge City had a single purpose: to extract wealth from Texas. Drovers brought cattle north and got paid in cash; Dodge City sent them home in possession of neither. pg. 28

"I can always tell Southerners," he told Doc at the barbershop. "Northerners'll tell you where they're goin', not where they're from. Southerners're like Indians. They'll ask who your relatives are until they find out, oh, my mother's sister married your father's uncle, so we're cousins!" pg. 50

For the rest of his long and eventful life, Alexander von Angensperg might have topped just about any war story told in a Jesuit residence. He could have listened, nodded, and acknowledged each man's most colorful adventure, and then achieved an awed, respectful silence with just six words: "I heard confessions in Dodge City." pg. 79

"Deny it, if you will, but there's an Irishman revealed!" Eddie accused, thumping his empty shot glass on the table. "Make him sad, get him drunk, and on to the poetry, it is!" pg. 102

Friday, July 15, 2011

State of Wonder

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
HarperCollins Publishers, June 2011
Hardcover, 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062049803
very highly recommended

Description from Cover:
Ann Patchett raises the bar with State of Wonder, a provocative and ambitious novel set deep in the Amazon jungle.
Research scientist Dr. Marina Singh is sent to Brazil to track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have disappeared in the Amazon while working on an extremely valuable new drug. The last person who was sent to find her died before he could complete his mission. Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on an odyssey into the insect-infested jungle in hopes of finding answers to the questions about her friend's death, her company's future, and her own past.
Once found, Dr. Swenson is as imperious and uncompromising as ever. But while she is as threatening as anything the jungle has to offer, the greatest sacrifices to be made are the ones Dr. Swenson asks of herself, and will ultimately ask of Marina.
State of Wonder is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss. It is a tale that leads the reader into the very heart of darkness, and then shows us what lies on the other side.
My Thoughts:
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett is an atmospheric novel that opens in Minnesota and travels to the Amazon jungles of Brazil. In the opening we learn that a lab doctor, Dr. Anders Eckman, has died and been buried in the jungle. Eckman was sent down to Brazil to check on the progress of Dr. Annick Swenson's research in the development of a new drug. After his death, Eckman's lab mate, Dr. Marina Singh, is sent to Brazil to find out what happened to Eckman and to complete the task he had been charged with: getting answers from Dr. Swenson about her research. Marina knew Swenson years ago, as an instructor in medical school. This relationship was troubled and Marina is not looking forward to meeting Swenson again. 
Once Marina arrives in Brazil, readers will know that they are not in Minnesota anymore. Patchett does an excellent job describing the heavy heat and humidity, the raucous, blood-thirsty activity of the insects. Through Patchett's descriptions you can feel the oppressive heat and the torment from insect bites.  You will understand Marina's frustration as a couple Swenson has hired try to keep her from meeting the doctor and getting answers.
Swenson's research involves a fertility drug. There is a tree whose bark, when eaten, allows woman to have children well into their old age. The tree is only in this one area of the Amazon and only used by this one tribe. All of that explains the secrecy behind the location of Swenson's research lab, but also brings to mind questions about the exploitation of the indigenous people, their way of life, and their land by the pharmaceutical company.
From the opening you know you are in for a treat. Patchett's prose is exquisite. She is such a wordsmith it is a pleasure reading her writing. She can describe a scene and you will feel it as the characters do. The characters themselves are all fully realized. You believe that they could be real people thrust into this wondrous experience. Even when you are doubting the tree and it's bark, she manages to convince you through her words that it is real, that this all happened, and that Dr. Marina Singh was transformed in the jungles of Brazil.
My only complain, and it really isn't one, is that the end came so abruptly. I wanted more. I not sure if my desire for more would have improved the story, however, so perhaps it's just based on wanting more of Patchett's writing.
Very Highly Recommended - one of the best
The news of Anders Eckman's death came by way of Aero­gram, a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served as both the stationery and, when folded over and sealed along the edges, the en­velope. Who even knew they still made such things? This single sheet had traveled from Brazil to Minnesota to mark the passing of a man, a breath of tissue so insubstantial that only the stamp seemed to anchor it to this world. Mr. Fox had the letter in his hand when he came to the lab to tell Marina the news. When she saw him there at the door she smiled at him and in the light of that smile he faltered. opening

There were more than thirty buildings on the Vogel campus, labs and office buildings of various sizes and functions. There were labs with stations for twenty technicians and scientists to work at the same time. Others had walls and walls of mice or monkeys or dogs. This particular lab Marina had shared for seven years with Dr. Eckman. It was small enough that all Mr. Fox had to do was reach a hand towards her, and when he did she took the letter from him and sat down slowly in the gray plastic chair beside the separator. At that moment she un­derstood why people say You might want to sit down. There was inside of her a very modest physical collapse, not a faint but a sort of folding, as if she were an extension ruler and her ankles and knees and hips were all being brought together at closer angles. pg. 2

No one seriously thought the outcome of telling Dr. Swenson she needed to bring her research back to Minnesota would be Dr. Swenson packing her lab into boxes and coming home - not Anders, not Mr. Fox, not Marina. In truth, it wasn't even essential that she come back. Had she been willing to reopen the lines of communication, to prove that the drug was nearly completed, to let the company install a coterie of its own doctors who would give regular and accurate reports of the drug's progress, Vogel would have left her in her research station for years, pouring in cash from an opened vein. pg. 10

Dr. Swenson would never see herself as accountable to Vogel, any more than she would think of herself as working for them. pg. 22-23

Oh, Anders! To have been sent off on a mission you were never right for. To be regarded after your death as an error of judgment. "So now you'll find the right person."
"You," he said.
Marina felt a small jolt in the hand he was holding, as if something sharp had briefly stabbed through him and into her. pg. 24

"Their eggs aren't aging, do you get that? The rest of the body goes along its path to destruction while the reproductive system stays daisy fresh. This is the end of IVF. No more expense, no more shots that don't end up working, no more donor eggs and surrogates. This is ovum in perpetuity, menstruation everlasting." pg. 26

First things first, Marina made an appointment with an epidemiologist in St. Paul and got a ten-year vaccine for yellow fever and a tetanus shot. She got a prescription for an antimalarial, Lariam, and was told to take the first pill immediately. pg. 33

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Guest Post: Connie Corcoran Wilson


 For a Special treat, please allow me to present a guest post from Connie Corcoran Wilson:    

It Came from the '70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now

by Connie (Corcoran) Wilson, M.S 


A long time ago, in a far-away corner of the state of Iowa (the Quad Cities), a young English teacher at Silvis Junior High School (Silvis, Illinois) approached the Editor of the Quad City Times newspaper (Davenport, Iowa) and said, "I could write your movie reviews for you. I have a Journalism and English degree from the University of Iowa and a Master's beyond that, and I've been obsessive about movies since the first one I ever saw. Plus, I used to hang out with the film crowd in college, including Nick Meyer, the director of "Time After Time." I've won a contest predicting the Oscars every year for 10 years, and I just won the (Moline, IL) Daily Dispatch Oscar-predicting contest. You don't have anybody local reviewing movies. Would you like me to take a crack at it?"

The gentleman who came out to talk to the English teacher from East Moline, Bill Wundram, assigned me to write a "trial" review of "Lipstick." I did. He hired me as a stringer and I dutifully trotted off to the movies 4 to 5 times a week and wrote up my impressions, typing "First Rights Only" in the top left corner as I had been taught to do in a Midwestern Writing Conference class taught by Max Collins (writer of "Road to Perdition"). I dedicated my book to Bill Wundram, who has been writing a column for the Times for 67 years, since 1944---longer than any other columnist in the country--- and continues to write for them today.

My reviewing for the Quad City Times soon included books and plays, but movies were my main focus. As Bill would later "blurb" on the cover of It Came from the '70s:  "Connie Wilson, the inveterate movie-goer, writes like you're sitting in the middle of the theater.  If anyone knows the silver screen, its hits and misses, it's Connie Wilson.  For years, she was a valued writer for the Quad City Times with weekly (sometimes daily) reviews.  This book is not only a good read, but a fine reference tool.  It makes me think of the days when an usher would call out, 'The best seats are now in the balcony.'"

After I sold my two businesses in 2002, I got out my old reviews, carefully preserved in nearly 15 scrapbooks, and began re-reading them, reliving the days when I was 25 to 35 years of age. These reviews read like a tiny time capsule. They could not be written this way today.  They preserved the history of the decade as it was occurring. With a few exceptions that had to be written from the viewpoint of looking back, these reviews preserve the zeitgeist of an era.

I began the process of trying to bring the 150 dots-per-inch of 1970 up to the 600 dots-per-inch needed for this book. It was not easy. In fact, the entire process of deciding what films to include and securing some original previously-unpublished photos from directors and searching through microfiche for missing reviews and reviewing a few of the major films from the vantage point of "looking back" took me 8 years. But I had always said I was going to do this "when I retired."

I'm not very "retired" right now, with 12 titles up on Amazon and a newly-launched e-book Imprimatur (Quad City Press), but this book was a true labor of love. I hope you enjoy reading about these 70's movies as much as I loved watching them and writing about them. (

Thanks, Connie! Don't forget to enter the giveaway for It Came From the 70's luggage tags by July 30th!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It Came from The '70s - and a Giveaway

It Came from The '70s: From the Godfather to Apocalypse Now by Connie Corcoran Wilson
Merry Blacksmith Press, 2011
Trade Paperback , 260 pages
ISBN-13: 9781453791028
very highly recommended

Description:  It Came From the '70s is the book movie lovers old and new have been searching for. The 1970s represented a fertile decade that produced such films as: Alien, Dirty Harry, Apocalypse Now, The Exorcist, Chinatown, The French Connection, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Godfather (Parts I and II), Star Wars, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and many, many more. Featured in these pages are over 75 photos, major casts, a multitude of reviews, "Best of/Worst of" lists, and trivia for both the film buff and the uninitiated. It Came From the '70s is a slice of film history, painstakingly documented by noted author and journalist Connie Corcoran Wilson. The original reviews found here could not be replicated today.  Consider them tiny time capsules capturing the zeitgeist of a decade.

My Thoughts:

It Came from The '70s by Connie Corcoran Wilson is a selection of movie reviews Connie wrote in the seventies for the Quad City Times of Davenport Iowa. Connie writes: "I saved almost all of my original reviews in scrapbooks....They've been there for 39 years. Now, they're coming out to play.(pg. 4)." Movie aficionados who know or remember movies from the seventies are in for a treat.
Movie reviews in It Came from The '70s include: the title of the movie; the year it was released; the number of stars Connie gave it (on a 1-4 scale); the date and/or the year it was originally reviewed; her review (some of them include current comments); pictures that can include scenes from the movie, the poster, and/or the ad the cinema put in the newspaper showing the dates and times; a list of the cast and crew; and trivia questions and answers. For movie fans the trivia is a great addition.

Obviously, all the movies Connie reviewed in the seventies are not included, but she has chosen a great selection. The list of movies Connie included in her book are: Alien; Apocalypse Now; The Black Hole; Burnt Offerings; Carrie; The Cassandra Crossing; The China Syndrome; Chinatown; Close Encounters of the Third Kind; Coma; The Deep; Dog Day Afternoon; Dracula; Exorcist II: The Heretic; Freaky Friday; The French Connection; The Fury; The Godfather and The Godfather II; Halloween; Infra-Man; Invasion of the Body Snatchers; King Kong; Logan's Run; The Man Who Fell to Earth; Magic; Manhattan and Annie Hall; Marathon Man; Moonraker; Nosferatu; Obsession; One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; Rocky; The Seven-Per-Cent Solution; The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea; Saturday Night Fever; Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger; The Sorcerer; Star Trek: The Motion Picture; Star Wars; Superman; Time After Time; Twilight's Last Gleaming; Two Minute Warning; When a Stranger Calls; Kong, Cuckoo, Omen Movies to Top Ten; Best and Worst Films of 1976; Best and Worst Films of 1977; Best and Worst Films of 1978; Best and Worst Films of 1979. 

From Close Encounters of the Third Kind: "The Mother Ship appears to be gigantic as it descends atop Devil's Tower, but it is, in reality, barely 3 feet in diameter. It is an amazing miniature, complete with underside observation ports and tens of thousands of tiny holes 10 to 24 thousandths of an inch in width. They're individually capped with plastic bubbles and illuminated from within by more than 1,000 neon tubes. (pg. 51)"
From Logan's Run: "The story starts to crumble about the time the pair reached a frozen cave inhabited by a robot named Box. Even their later encounter with Peter Ustinov as a senile old man who lives with 100 cats in the ruins of the Senate Office Building and quotes T.S. Eliot to the runaways cannot save the picture at that point, especially since Ustinov sounds like a cross between the regular speaking voice of Jim Backus and that of Mr. Magoo. (pg. 123)"
Speaking of Logan's Run, Connie met the author, William F. Nolan and sent me a picture of them.
From Magic: "The familiar Hitchcock technique of alerting the audience that something is going to happen and then letting them stew about when it will happen drives the plot. (pg. 129)"
From Saturday Night Fever: "As a dancer, Travolta may single-handedly do more for popular disco dancing than Rudolf Nureyev did for ballet. Travolta displays the lithe grace of a panther and supreme macho self-confidence in the disco scenes, while the discotheque crowd falls back as though in anticipation. (pg. 179)"
From the Worst of 1978: "Number One: Grease. A big disappointment to me....Sill, the songs are catchy. (pg. 246)"
You know, I never liked Grease either and it warmed my little heart to read this. I never liked it because the very shallow message it seemed to be sending was that young women must change themselves in order to get the man. Let me just say, "Bologna" rather than another B word.

The verdict is that I very much enjoyed It Came from The '70s and would Very Highly Recommend it.
The Movie Dude is going to love this book.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author for review as a part of  the  Premier Virtual Author Book Tours.

Connie is giving away cool It Came from the '70s luggage tags to 10 of my lucky readers.  In addition, she will send the winners a short story "sneak preview" of her upcoming short story collection, Hellfire & Damnation II, the sequel to Hellfire & Damnation (all available on Kindle right now; short story title "The Bureau.")  She welcomes reviews of "The Bureau" on and, as well as comments or reviews of It Came From the 70's on 

Additionally, if you purchase a copy of It Came from the '70s and post a review for it on and/or, Connie will send you her new novel, about to be released on Kindle, The Color of Evil.  The Color of Evil is a thriller about a young boy with paranormal abilities.  You can even suggest plot directions to Connie by e-mail for this first-in-a-series novel and, if you wish, Connie will use your name as a character in the novel.

Both "The Bureau" (6,500 word short story) and The Color of Evil  (80,000 word novel, Book One) will be sent to you by e-mail, free of charge, as a Microsoft Word document to read on your computer.
After you have reviewed It Came from the '70s on and/or, Please send Connie a link at, with Book Tour Review in the subject line, to claim your free copy of The Color of Evil.
So, leave a comment to enter for a chance to win a cool luggage tag! (And who doesn't need to make their luggage more distinct in some way when traveling.)
+2: a comment gives you an entry. I'll give you up to 2 entries if you can find 2 unique things to say.
+3: Follow me and comment that you are for 3 more entries. (one comment, note +3)
+3: Friend me on Goodreads.  (one comment, note +3)
up to +2 more entries if you comment on the two 70's Movie Dude Weekend posts.
That gives you up to 10 ways to win one of the 10 luggage tags! I will use a random number generator to pick winners on the evening of July 30, 2011.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

As Silver Refined

As Silver Refined: Learning to Embrace Life's Disappointments by Kay Arthur
Random House, 1998
Trade Paperback, 356 pages
ISBN-13: 9781400073481
very highly recommended
Are you disappointed that life isn't turning out like you planned? How do you respond when your husband or wife tramples your emotions? When your boss fires you unexpectedly? When you lose your life’s savings? When the child you’ve loved and prayed for turns his back on you and your values? When disappointments like these smash their way into your life, you may want to scream, “How could God let this happen?”
But what if God didn’t just “let it happen”? What if the things you call disappointments are really His appointments — events He is using to make you more like Christ? What if He is using your disappointments like flames to melt and burn away the undesirable elements in your life, leaving you pure and radiant — like refined silver?
You can be defeated by life’s unavoidable disappointments, or you can become stronger because of them. Kay Arthur paints a graphic picture of the dangerous downward spiral of disappointment that can lead to discouragement, depression, or even despair. But you can learn to break that cycle and embrace disappointment with a faith that recognizes the trials of life as tools that God uses to make you — as silver refined — a reflection of His goodness.
My Thoughts:
In As Silver Refined: Learning to Embrace Life's Disappointments, Kay Arthur is instructional, compassionate, and encouraging to those who are going through some kind of crushing disappointment. The book includes the text, to page 286, and then a study guide with thirteen lessons that correspond to the text.
As you read Kay Arthur's books you can really feel that she has a heart for God and for teaching others the truths she has found in the Word of God. Her faith is uplifting and offers some real encouragement to those going through life's disappointments. She always makes it clear that God loves his people no matter what and He wants us to come running to Him or stay close to Him when trials hit. He will not forsake us.
Instead of focusing on our disappointments, we need to look at them as His appointments, and opportunities for our refinement. God would not allow it in our lives if He did not have plans to use it for the good according to His plan and purpose for our lives. This book will help Christians who are facing disappointments and trials of all kinds and sizes to keep the focus where it belongs, on Christ.
Very Highly Recommended
Disclosure: I received my copy through a Goodreads giveaway.  
Satan will attack your mind with imaginations and thoughts that are contrary to what God says in His Word. These ideas and perceptions will be a perversion of His truth about you. These thought will be nothing more than disinformation and distortion...."bring into captivity every though to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)...Do you realize that how you think really determines how you behave? So consider your thought patterns. Ponder how they affect you. "Ponder the path of thy feet" (Proverbs 4:26) pg 19
Satan chooses the mind for his battleground because he understands so well the principle laid down in the Word, that as a man thinketh so he is. pg. 20
Never allow a penetration. Don't allow the enemy to get his foot in the door. If you do, he'll have the leverage to push his way far deeper into your life. pg. 21
God doesn't say the situation is good, but He does promise that because He's your God and you're His child, He will bring good from it. pg. 28
Just remember: We may be despised and rejected now, but someday we'll sit with Him on His throne. Someday we'll reign with Him. And someday every knee shall bow before Him and every tongue confess that He is Lord... pg. 82
But someday we must all stand before the judgment of Christ, "that each one may be recompensed for his deeds  in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10). pg 167
...before you go to any human counselor, you should go to God in prayer. Pour out your situation to Him - it would be good to write it out. Then be still and know that He is God. Cease striving, let go, relax and know that because He is God and because you cried to Him for help, He will let you know where, if any place, you are to go and what you are to do. He will impress upon your mind persistently, and He will bear witness to it through the Word and through other godly people. pg. 220

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Movie Dude Close Encounter

In anticipation of the review this week of  It Came From the 70's by Connie Corcoran Wilson, we decided our second 70's movie would be Close Encounters:

Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1977

Director: Steven Spielberg 

Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon

I think almost everyone should know the plot to Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Close Encounters was Steven Spielberg follow up to Jaws (1975). This is a science fiction movie about one group of people, out of many across the world, who have all had a close encounter with UFO's. There is an international team, which is also tied into the military in the USA, following the close encounters in an attempt to communicate with the aliens.

Richard Dreyfuss plays Roy Neary, an electrical lineman who has a close encounter of the third kind with an UFO. Neary becomes obsessed with what he saw and a vision he is having of what urns out to be Devil Tower. Teri Garr plays his wife, Ronnie Neary. Jillian, played by Melinda Dillon, is  single mother whose son is abducted. François Truffaut plays Claude Lacombe  a French researcher who is trying to communicate with the aliens.

The Hynek System is commonly used to classify sightings of UFOs. Developed by J. Allen Hynek, the system categorizes experiences with UFOs and possible extraterrestrials on a scale of 'close encounters'. Hynek originally proposed three types of close encounter, but more have been added later 
Close Encounters of the first kind are when you see a UFO within about 150 yards.
Close Encounters of the second kind are when you see a UFO in the sky or on the ground and it leaves evidence behind such as scorch marks on the ground or indents etc.
Close Encounters of the third kind are when you see a UFO with visible occupants inside.
I learned to drive in a big old station wagon in the 70's. The first car I cruised the streets in at night when I was in high school was a station wagon. Because of that little fact, when Roy and Jillian took off cross-country right through the fence in the huge station wagon, I was saying to myself "Oh, yeah!"

It was decided by all of us that Close Encounters has a timeless quality. The movie is not dependant on current trends or events from when it was made.
It does not scream "this was made during the disco era of the 70's.
Even the special effects don't feel dated (with the exception of the tall alien at the end.) We all agreed that it was impressive that they could do all the special effects without computers.
Quotes for the night:

Roy Neary: "I guess you've noticed something a little strange with Dad..."

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Dry Ice

Dry Ice by Bill Evans and Marianna Jameson
Tom Doherty, Associates, August 2011
Advanced Reading Copy, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780765324726


In the frozen heart of Antarctica sits TESLA, a secret weather "research" station designed by Greg Simpson for Flint Agro-Chemical, a world-spanning agribusiness. Only a few people know that TESLA is creating weather all over the globe, granting Flint huge harvests and punishing the company's rivals with hailstorms and drought. Even fewer know that from time to time, Flint and TESLA help the Pentagon by providing just the right weather for a military operation.
When Greg strikes a secret deal with the Pentagon, Flint executives decide to replace him with the beautiful and ultra-intelligent Tess Beauchamp. Arriving, Tess is surprised to find that Greg's second-in-command, Nik Forde, is even better looking than he was when they had a brief affair, ten years ago.
Tess doesn't have long to worry about the difficulties of a workplace relationship. Greg has barely left Antarctica—escorted by Flint security—when his secret, encrypted computer programs activate, sending fatal weather across the globe, striking every continent's grain-growing region and livestock-farming area. Tess and Nik must crack Greg's code and stop TESLA before the US government—unwilling to sit by and watch the planet's agriculture be destroyed by storm and fire, avalanche, and tsunami—launches a nuclear missile at the TESLA base.

My Thoughts:

Dry Ice by Bill Evans and Marianna Jameson concerns weather control gone awry. In this novel the TESLA research station which is owned by Flint Agro-Chemical, an agribusiness company, is controlling the weather to their benefit - and the detriment of others. Greg Simpson, who designed the station and runs, has gone insane and rogue. After it is discovered that he is working secretly with the Pentagon, Flint wants him replaced with Tess Beauchamp, who has no idea what TESLA does. The only problem is that Greg is vindictive and when Tess arrives to take over, more of his evil plans come into play.
Dry Ice features some scientific facts and gruesomely described weather related disasters. This makes sense because  Bill Evans is an award winning senior meteorologist for WABC, Channel 7 in New York City. Marianna Jameson has an experienced writer for the aerospace, defense, and software industries. Together, Evans and Jameson have written two other books:  Category 7 and Frozen Fire.
I did enjoy Dry Ice but it also read like a science fiction channel disaster movie. Now this can be good; I've been known to love to distraction some made for television disaster movies in my time. On the other hand, I've also been known to cruelly mock them. Nevertheless, most of the descriptions of weather-related destruction wrought by the antagonist, Greg, felt like they'd be better appreciated as scenes in a movie - quick glimpses of what the bad guy has done with the science behind it glossed over. Additionally, many of the descriptive passages concerning the disasters were overdone in comparison with the rest of he novel.
While the writing is technically good (and since I had an ARC, I have to assume mistakes were corrected), I felt the characterizations were lacking. I really didn't connect with any of them. They were also very simple characters without any layers or nuance. It's quite clear who is a good guy and who is a bad guy. (And for some odd reason, all the women are good while the bad guys are all men. On one level I totally understand this, but in reality it seems a stretch.) 

Although Dry Ice has been promoted as a book for weather geeks, I think real weather geeks are going to find it lacking. The disasters hit very quickly with pinpoint accuracy and some (of us) weather geeks like to follow the data, the build up, anticipating what the storm is capable of doing. We like the science. Also it should be noted that all the disasters are not weather related.
No quotes because this was an ARC, advanced reading copy.
Disclosure: I received this novel through the Goodreads First Reads program. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Ark by Stephen Baxter
Penguin Group, 2009
Hardcover, 544 pages
ISBN-13: 9780451463319
very highly recommended

It's the year 2030. The oceans have risen rapidly, and soon the entire planet will be submerged. But the discovery of another life-sustaining planet light years away gives those who remain alive hope. Only a few will be able to make the journey-Holle Groundwater is one of the candidates. If she makes the cut, she will live. If not, she will be left to face a watery death...
My Thoughts:
Ark by Stephen Baxter returns to the Earth as seen in Flood.  It's a sequel but at the beginning events from both novels are running concurrently, just in different locations and following different people. Ark follows project Nimrod, or Ark 1. This ark, however, is a spaceship. The story follows the project from the early days when Ark 1 is being developed and young candidates for the crew are being trained, to the flight and subsequent problems that emerge in the flight to Earth 2. Baxter mainly follows three different women: Holle, Venus and Grace.
I enjoyed Flood quite a bit, so I was pleasantly surprised that Ark surpassed it in some ways. Baxter does an excellent job of moving the story forward and developing his characters through dialogue. He covers the science and the sociological aspects that a program like Nimrod would encounter. Baxter deals with some dark, harsh realities that an elite program in a world in crisis, as well as a long space flight, would face. This makes his work eminently readable.
Even though I would imagine that you could read Ark as a stand alone novel, I would suggest reading Flood first, and then Ark. Flood explains some background details. The science isn't daunting either, so if you normally avoid hard science fiction for that reason, Baxter makes it easy to enjoy his novels. It has been a trying couple of weeks, including being forced to wait to finish Ark right after I started it due to other pressing circumstance.
Very Highly Recommended
Gordo shrugged. “They left you behind to give you a shot at getting into Ark One. A Chance of a better life than any of them face now, especially if they’re right that their boat has been sunk.”
“I don’t even know what Ark One is.”
“You’ll find out.”
“I’ll never see any of them again.”
“I guess not.”
“Once again I’m alone, with strangers.”
He sighed, pushed back his peaked cap, and scratched his scalp. “So are we all. The whole world is screwed up, kid. At least here we got something to do.” He looked around. The last dust from the chopper was settling now, and the homeless were pushing back to decolonize the space they had cleared, like water pooling in a dip. In a few minutes there would be no sign that a chopper had landed here at all. “Well, that’s that. Come on, let’s get you out of here.” He released her arm and set off back through the town, towards the waiting cars.
She followed, having no choice. pg. 5

"...There's a selection process for newcomers to the project. Like Thandie said back in Cripple Creek, you're actually a better candidate than your husband would have been, in terms of Nimrod's criteria. You've shown independent survival skills. I saw that for myself." pg. 8

This was LaRei, a secretive and exclusive society, established in the years before flooding as a source of contacts for good schools and exclusive vacation resorts and fabulously expensive merchandise like watches and jewelry, now become a kind of survivalist network of the superrich LaRei, where a net worth of a billion bucks wouldn't even get you in the door; without Nathan's sponsorship Patrick wouldn't be here. pg. 26

"But we're going to have to proceed with extreme caution. Think about it. The Earth is drowning. Tell the world you're building an ark and every hapless IDP and his brood will be fighting for a place aboard." He glared at them, his face pinched and calculating. "I'm hoping we're going to support each other in years to come. But we must work discreetly. We must keep our secrets  - even from each other. We should each know only what we need to know about what the other guy is doing, like terrorist cells..." pg. 34