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- (11/27) @expectations by Kit Reed.
- Disappointing novel (highly touted by the NYT Book Review)
about a woman who loses herself in a chat room.
When her real life marriage becomes unsatisfying, she is driven to the web
where she seeks out new
relationships on-line. Only the man she falls in love with turns out not
to be quite who she thought he was. Even though I've read at least two
novels with this same exact plotline, I gave it a try because I really
enjoyed the other two. The problem with this one is the writer -- she
seems to think her readers are so stupid they can't remember anything for
five pages. About the sixth time she defined the expression "IRL" (In
Real Life), I started to get so annoyed it was hard for me to press on.
Eventually, I just skipped to the end, only to find it ended just as I
thought it would. Just like all the others. Only recommended to people
who really CAN'T remember anything for five pages and have never read
anything like this before in their lives. The rest of you guys are better
- (11/25) Passage by Connie Willis.
- Interesting, entertaining, but ultimately somewhat
unsatisfying novel about two research scientists studying near death
experiences (NDEs). Their theory? That NDEs are purely physiological --
the body's chemical response to the approach of death. And to prove their
theory, they've found a drug that will induce NDEs in patients without any
risk of pushing them over the edge into a DE. There's only one problem --
another research scientist who is widely thought of as a religious nut
keeps getting to their subjects and confusing them with his talk of angels
and life reviews, thus altering their perception of their experience,
making their testimony untrustworthy and invalid for the study. So, one
of the research scientists, Joanna, decides to go under herself -- they're
running out of subjects and not getting any closer to the truth about
NDEs, so what else can they really do? What she sees when she's finally
put under was pretty amazing, though, and from here the book really takes
off into an incredible adventure as Joanna rushes to go under over and
over again in an attempt to figure out what exactly she's seeing and why.
To tell you much more than that would give away the story's best asset:
its incredible knack for surprise. But even though the surprises keep
coming and the book was one I found almost impossible to put down, there
are parts to this novel that really bothered me. First and foremost was
their actual discovery, which didn't seem to me to be any more solidly
backed up by science than the religious nut's theories and which by the
end of the novel had led to the development of a medical application more
like those found in a Robin Cook story than a serious sci-fi one (i.e.
wholly unbelieveable and lame, not to mention blatantly convenient for
getting the author out of a story jam). Secondly there were the
characters, who seemed like stereotypes from the start and never changed a
single bit no matter what happened to them (or how dead they ended up
being). Their conversations with each other began to get repetitive
towards the end -- everybody stays the same and thus, so do their
relationships to each other.
Despite my complaints, though, I heartily recommend this book to fans of
Willis and medical-related science fiction. And the Titanic. And that's
all I'm sayin' about that.
- (11/18) Quitting the Nairobi Trio by Jim Knipfel.
- Memoir about the author's 6-month stay in a locked-door psych
ward after a botched attempt to take his own life (again). This isn't one
of your standard "psych wards are kooky and spooky" stories, though. In
fact, it's a completely different look at what goes on. The narrative is
sort of broken -- at times it's even hard to know which parts are true and
which are dreams or hallucinations. This style helps to subtly convey
something to the reader that the author clearly doesn't know himself at
the time. Because, initially, Jim insists that he's NOT crazy -- his
suicide attempts are the climaxes of bouts of extreme frustration over his
repetitive, dull life and so, the time when he's the least unstable is the
time immediately following an attempt. But then there goes another dream
sequence. And some chats with his "neighbors" on the ward, fellow psych
patients, who seem to him to be just as normal as he is. So, does that
mean he's a nutcase after all? And just how is he supposed to get better
when the doctor only sees him for ten minutes, once a week?
In some places, I kind of had trouble following Jim's train of thought
(probably not a bad thing, actually). But overall, I found this to be a
very unique look at mental illness -- how nebulous it is, how impossible
to define. This is a far more revealing and personal look (in a very
subtle way) than any others of this genre I've read before.
- (11/17) Shock by Robin Cook.
- Predictable medical thriller about two young women who agree
to donate some of their eggs in return for a hefty sum (ostensibly to help
infertile couples). Though they are nervous, the procedures go well and
when they get their checks, they promptly take off for a year in Italy
together. Happy go lucky. La la la.
During that year, though, they begin to get curious about whether or not
their eggs ended up being viable. So, as soon as they return to the
States, they put in a call to the clinic to ask if any of their eggs were
successfully transplanted and turned into babies. As you'd expect, the
clinic is completely unwilling to release this information. Completely
contrary to what you'd expect (from two Harvard Ph.D.'s), the girls
decide to commit about eight different felonies in order to steal that
information for themselves. Okay, now, sure -- most women would love to
know whether or not they are fertile before it comes time for them to
actually start trying to have children. But how many of us would rob,
steal, trespass, and commit fraud to find out? I mean, for Pete's
Anyway, of course they end up finding out the clinic is actually up to no
good. Human cloning and blah blah blah. I found it ironic that when they
tell a doctor friend of theirs what the clinic is up to, he responds
pretty nonchalantly to the whole story -- he's probably read this story a
thousand times before too, huh? Pretty much the only TRULY
interesting part of this book was when one of the clinic patients went
into a dressing room named "Dorothy Stevens" (p. 57) and came out of it
minutes later named "Dorothy Washburn" (p. 58). Gasp! What did those mad
scientists DO to her in there? Oops, nevermind, I forgot Robin Cook
turned into an overpaid hack with a lousy editor about 15 novels ago.
- (11/16) The Cases That Haunt Us by John Douglas and Mark
- Entertaining and informative book that takes a closer look at
some of the most famous unsolved murder cases of all time. It starts with
Jack the Ripper, moves through Lizzie Borden, the Zodiak Killer, and the
Black Dahlia murder, and then finishes up with Jon-Benet Ramsey, a case
the first author was actively involved in for a time (as a profiler).
Though I enjoyed this book, I did start skimming the sections of each case
wherein the authors present THEIR opinions regarding the evidence. I
wanted this to be about forensics and it really isn't -- these guys are
more into psychological profiles, which I just don't find that
interesting. I like the science, not the mental stuff. But hey, that's
just me -- and even if you're just LIKE me, you'll still enjoy learning
more about these really famous cases. Recommended. Mostly!
- (11/14) The Blair Witch Chronicles (numerous authors).
- I should've learned my lesson with the LAST Blair Witch book I
read, but I had already put this on hold at the library, so I decided to
give it a chance despite the odds. The odds were right though -- this
book was even MORE boring than the other one. And what a bummer, as the
fact it's in comic book form gave it a lot more space to get creative
(well, one would've thought that so, anyway). But still, we learn nothing
interesting about the past or the present or the future of the Blair Witch
and her victims. Why can't they write a GOOD fictitious account of the
history for a change? How hard can it be? Jeez, am I going to have to do
- (11/13) Donbas by Jacques Sandulescu.
- What is this, the month of inspirational memoir reading? This
makes two in a row for me -- it's crazy! And while "Personal History" is
a much stronger book than "Donbas" when it comes to the things you need to
win a Pulitzer, I was equally moved by both. Donbas is the true story of
the author's escape from a Russian prison camp after he was captured by
Russian soldiers in Romania and forced to work as a heavy laborer for over
two years. Though he was only 15 at the time, he could do the work of two
full-grown men, which gained him a lot of freedoms and extra benefits that
other prisoners there with him didn't get. The extra half a loaf of bread
and hour to himself a day didn't make prison fun, but it kept him alive
and, most importantly, kept his will from being crushed. When an accident
in the mine got him taken to a hospital, Jacques (called "Vanya" by his
friends then) managed to escape and over a period of several weeks
somehow found his way from deep inside Russia all the way to an
hospital in Germany -- just in time to save his badly injured legs from
gangrene. How Jacques survives -- how he keeps his strength both
physically and emotionally -- is just incredible. And the best part is
that I heard about this book when I recently read an article about Jacques
as an adult and how about 5 years ago, he'd taken his first trip back to
Russia to try to find the mine where he'd worked. How often do you get to
read books about amazing kids AND find out how they turned out 50 years
later? This is a book for people of all ages (well, maybe starting at age
15 and going up from there). I think teens could learn a lot from Vanya
-- possibly even as much as I did. Recommended!
- (11/11) Personal History by Katharine Graham.
- Captivating autobiography by the famous Washington Post
newswoman. This is the story of a woman who really defied the odds --
breaking free from emotional isolation as a child, grief and insecurity as
an adult -- to emerge an absolute powerhouse in what is traditionally seen
as a man's world: the world of American political reporting. This memoir
won a Pulitzer Prize and not just because the writing is wonderful.
Graham is disarmingly candid -- even revealing her emotional struggles
after her mentally ill husband committed suicide. Before I read this
book, Katharine Graham was just a name and a reputation to me. Now I feel
like she's a real person -- I feel like I know as much about her as I do
about my closest friends. And where some might think a woman revealing so
much about her innermost self might weaken her somewhat (it's harder to
worship a human being than a God, e.g.), to me it's only made her that
much cooler. Highly recommended to ANY woman who has EVER doubted that
she could do anything she wanted to. This book is a real inspiration.
- (11/8) The Blair Witch Project: A Dossier by D.A. Stern.
- A few weeks ago, I rented "The Blair Witch Project" for the
first time after it scared the patooties out of me in the theater. This
time, I was able to watch the whole thing (previously, I spent large
chunks of time hiding in my husband's armpit) and truly appreciate it for
what it is -- a really damn good spookfest. So, I went nuts. I
eventually bought a copy of the movie for myself and then started looking
for other stuff to go along with it. One of those things was this book, a
fake "dossier" containing official police reports, Heather's journal, etc.
I was hoping to find more more MORE information about the Blair Witch and
her history (even though, yes, I do know this is all made up). More about
what happened to those kids. More about everything! But instead, this
was full of really boring stuff I'd either already learned from watching
the movie itself or the documentary that followed it (which aired on
Sci-Fi). Even Heather's journal made me yawn. Total disappointment.
Though not nearly as disappointing as the "Blair Witch" movie sequel,
"Book of Shadows." What the hell was that crapola? Total bummer. Great
idea, poor follow-up!
- (11/6) Niagara Falls All Over Again by Elizabeth McCracken.
- Absolutely marvelous novel about two vaudeville actors in the
1920's who together form one of the most famous comedy teams of all
(fictional) time. How they each deal with their fame, however, is so
radically different it eventually drives a wedge between them. But not
before they have grown to love each other so dearly that their bond can
never actually be broken. This is a truly delightful novel, rich in
character and story and extraordinarily funny and moving. But readers of
McCracken's other novel "The Giant's House" won't be surprised by any of
that. McCracken is, hands-down, one of the quirkiest and greatest writers
I've ever encountered -- she has yet to write something I haven't loved.
And this book, like her other, is pure treasure (even though it
doesn't star a librarian this time, damn). Highly, HIGHLY
- (11/4) Managing Pain Before It Manages You by M.A. Caudill.
- Very informative and helpful book on various methods of coping
with chronic pain. Not only does this have the usual information on
relaxation and medication, but it also has chapters debunking myths,
stories from actual patients (which is great for readers who are suffering
themselves -- nice to know our mixed-up emotions aren't unusual), and
step-by-step methods for keeping anxiety and frustration in check. The
book is also loaded with worksheets and questionnaires to help you explore
the origins of your emotions and the path your pain seems to want you to
take. One of the most helpful books on this subject I have encountered in
a long time.
- (11/3) Eva Moves the Furniture by Margot Livesey.
- On the morning of Eva McEwen's birth, six magpies are seen in
a tree outside the bedroom window -- a bad omen, according to legend.
That night, Eva's mother dies, leaving her to be raised by her aunt Lily
and father David. Life for Eva starts out ordinary and peaceful, if a bit
lonely, but all that changes one day when Eva is about six and a woman and
girl mysteriously appear in her garden. The two, who Eva quickly realizes
are apparitions only she can see, begin to make frequent visits.
Initially Eva is thrilled to finally have a couple of friends -- but as
time progresses, her companions' intentions become unclear. They are
usually so kind to her -- helping her find work, make friends, fall in
love, even saving her life -- but every now and then they seem intent on
sabotaging her life. Eva spends most of her years both loving and hating
the companions, feeling torn between the life she wants for herself and
the life the companions seem to want for her. When Eva finally finds out
who her companions are, though, she also finally realizes the role she has
played in their lives, changing their relationship forever.
This is a beautiful novel -- haunting and poignant with characters I grew
to love so much I often thought about them during the times I spent NOT
reading this book. The writing is incredible -- everything Livesey
describes became real to me: the landscape, the people, the smells of the
war, everything. All in all, a truly perfect book. Highly, highly
- (11/2) Point Deception by Marcia Muller.
- Great mystery set in a small California town on the coast
still suffering from nightmares 13 years after a mass murder was
perpetrated there. Deputy Rhoda Swift was the first cop on the scene back
then, and she's the first cop on the scene now when a young woman's body
turns up in the water -- a day shy of the massacre's 13th anniversary. At
the same time, a big shot reporter from New York shows up to stir up the
past for his new book. He and Rhoda end up swapping notes and together
get sucked into the mystery behind the new murder -- a mystery that they
eventually realize is closely tied to the murders from so long before.
This is a well-thought-out and complex mystery with a fantastic female at
the helm. Thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended!
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