Monday, June 30, 2008

Demon Theory

I'm always trying to find a book to read that strikes me as different than anything I've read before. When I saw a snippet about Demon Theory, it fit the bill nicely. It's written in three parts, and presented as a screenplay treatment; full of direction and camera angles and even footnotes.

What is there to say about a book which at one point has a character inject creamed corn into another characters brain by syringe? Perhaps "strange" and "weird" would work, but it's more than that. It's campy, sometimes silly, and chock full of pop culture references that it gets a little distracting.

The fact of the matter is, I wanted this book because I know a friend who options books to have made into movies. I thought to myself, what better movie from a book than a book written like it's three movies?

This novel, written by Stephen Graham Jones, begins easily enough. It's Halloween and med student Hale gets an odd phone call from his diabetic mother, and fearing that she hasn't been taking her insulin, Hale and five friends head out to the house he grew up in to check on his mother. That's the last time the book made complete sense to me for the next 265 pages--until part three.

Demon Theory is written from the perspective of a doctor in a mental institution, created from the notes he transcribed during a patient interview to be made into a movie called "The Devil Inside" (and two sequals). It has the usual slasher flick regulars--twenty somethings who think they know everything but don't know they're about to be slaughtered. There's the smart one, the stupid one, the reluctant hero, the slut and so forth. For the life of me I could not keep their names straight. All I can keep straight is that Hale is the one who grew up in the house, it's his mother who is missing, and he has a dead (I think ?) sister named Jenny. She either has no legs from a three-wheeler accident caused by Hale, or she has the legs but they're all chewed up and useless.

Con is the reluctant hero who runs away more often than sticks around and helps. He smokes. And part of his costume in part one is a prosthetic arm that by part three is actually his own prosthetic because he lost an arm in part two.

Then there's Nona. She was a med student in part one and a janitor recently out of the loony bin in part two. In part one she was dating Hale. But in part two Hale is only 14 and in a coma while she's the adult janitor. Part three comes around and they both sort of remember having a romantic relationship, but it's all fuzzy and slips out of view when they look for it straight on.

Confused yet?

Maybe my mind got so screwed up because of the footnotes. I think if you strung the footnotes end to end, they would have wrapped around the moon. Seriously. It was just ridiculous. Over 400 plus footnotes! So every third sentence in this 374 page book had a footnote. And the footnotes are not located on the bottom of the page for easy access, no--they are located in the back of the book for another 56 pages! Anyway, so I was flipping back and forth, reading the footnotes, then trying to get back into the story. Overkill.

Here's what I got: Hale is feeling guilty about the accident that happened when he was 14 and his sister was 10. They were out riding on the three-wheeler when Jenny's pant leg got caught on a wheel and she was pulled under. Hale didn't realize what happened right away and when he finally did, Jenny was all kinds of messed up, bloody and screaming. He picked her up and carried her home where she eventually gets planted in a wheelchair because she will never walk again. Well, while alive anyway.

Hale, throughout each part of the book, has flashbacks from different age perspectives, of the accident. So we get little pieces of the puzzle as we go. At one point we find out he tried to hang himself and either did or didn't succeed.

In Jenny's childhood room are charcoal drawings of angels and demons, large black wings and evil looking fang faces--picture a very large and icky gargoyle.

During part one when all the med student friends make it to the house, Hale's mother can't be found. Then a storm comes, then night falls, then the bloody bits begin. But who's behind it all? A man in a gargoyle mask that was orginally part of one of the med student's (Egan's) costume.

Let me take a moment to say that apparently Egan is also Nona's father, but in Part 1 he's the same age, and we only find out about this info in Part 3 when Nona drags everyone back to the house to "figure out" what happened and maybe save themselves.

Turns out the man in the mask is Hale's father who is completely off his nut and really wants to die, but Death doesn't want him. Go figure. Believe me, I'm not really giving anything away here, because bits and pieces are littered throughout the entire book, waiting for you to make sense out of it.

I don't want to say this book was crap really. The author has a catalog of obsessed knowledge in the footnotes about horror films and dialogue. I found myself trying to fight the urge to flip back to the footnotes but I couldn't stop myself. A few times I smacked myself because I really didn't need help knowing where "don't cross the streams" comes from (Ghostbusters) or that T1000 is the Terminator.

Perhaps if you can read the book straight through without giving in to the dreaded footnotes, you'll get a kick out of the book as slasher film. I've honestly never read a book like this but I'm thinking that maybe I should stick to the traditional format in order to keep my head from exploding.

What this comes down to is a bewildering trip through a flashback in a dream by a corpse who may or may not really be dead for the 4th time.

If you can figure it out, more power to you.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Castle in the Forest

Now, I’m not a fan of Norman Mailer (the author) as a person and that turned me off to reading any of his books. At least until I heard about The Castle in the Forest. It intrigued me so much I was willing to set aside my prejudice about the author and pick it up.

That man can write! Well, no wonder, he’s won multiple awards—including the Pulitzer.

This is a book that is narrated by a Devil (there are apparently many, with Satan being the leader) about the life of a young Adolph Hitler and his growing up in Austria. In the story, Adolph is the spawn of an incestuous relationship between a civil servant and his niece. Apparently Satan loves a good incest baby (who doesn't?). They have potential.

This book doesn't go as far as Hitler's years in the military and later as the Fuhrer of Germany; it ends by the time Adi's (what Adolph is called by his family) a teenager.

There's a lot of narrative in this book, usually something I can't stand, but this time it works. It kept me interested. It's a bit like reading the diary of a devil. And that devil is writing it on the sly, hoping he doesn't get caught by Satan.
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The Nymphos of Rocky Flats

What do you do when your tour in Iraq has ended with you murdering a small family trying to escape the violence and you've been turned into a vampire as your penance? Become a private detective of course!

"I'll bet you have a weapons-grade hard-on for me."

nymph.jpgThe Nymphos of Rocky Flats by Mario Acevedo follows Felix Gomez as an Army veteran turned vampire turned private detective who has been hired by a former friend to investigate an outbreak of nymphomania at the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado outside of Denver. During the environmental cleanup, a group of female employees encounter an unknown room and are exposed to a mysterious toxin that sends them off on a sexual rampage as they bang men like a screen door in a hurricane.

Now, I picked this book up simply on the name. Or, more aptly, the name of the sequel… Once I noticed that this was a series involving the protagonist I grabbed the first book in the series. Vampires, nymphos, the cold war and it's in the Sci-Fi section of the book store? Oh my! Color me there.

The characters are humorous, if a bit cliché, and a bit predictable. Sometimes, you're just out for some pure mind candy and that's what this book is. The vampires are vampires, the wannabe vampires are wannabe vampires, the nymphos are nymphos, and the federal bureaucrats are well…you can guess.

The book reads like a 20's era detective novel set in a modern time with a supernatural twist. There is a dame, only she isn't the one directly involved in the origination of the storyline, the gangsters appear in the form of Federal employees, and did I mention the vampires?

At times the book gets a bit slow, but the writer does a decent job of working past these pieces. Descriptions can be a bit simplistic, and at times outright intellectually insulting. I don't need a detailed explanation of how the writer imagines a wolf's thought process operates nor do I need to read it.

The protagonist repeatedly finds himself at odds with his vampiric nature, as well as wondering why his newfound powers are slowly failing him. Not to mention the vampire hunters hot on his trail, nor the dryad (tree fairy sort) repeatedly trying to bed him.

Felix navigates his way through the intricacies of the vampire hierarchy, Big Wong the sexual dynamo scientist, and a group on individuals hell bent on removing his head from his corpse and claiming his teeth as a trophy. Along the way he comes to grips with his past, embraces his future, and enjoys the pleasures of the present.

In a way the book is a metaphor on how to live your life in the now and how to accept what your future holds for you, even if it isn't for the long haul.

If you want something to read that is light on the scat, drugs, and presidential penile tattoos, this book is for you. If you're looking for something so far out of the way as to require a detour to see the world's largest cast iron skillet, well keep on looking.

It's not Shakespeare, no, so this is the perfect beach read for the summer. If you like vampires. And nymphos. Which, of course, I like both.

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Bloodsucking Fiends

bloodsuck.jpgA lot of people have read novels by Christopher Moore, mostly chatter about
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal which I
haven’t actually read but intend to. The first book of his I picked up was
Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story about, you guessed it, vampires.

We begin in San Francisco, following the pretty hot redhead lead character Jody around who has a bad history with relationships. She picks the ones who use her and never quite commit.

Walking home from work one night she is mugged in the financial district and awakes under a dumpster, with tears in her skirt and runs in her stockings—and money stuffed down her top. Strange mugging.

Soon she realizes that something very strange has happened. Her hair becomes soft & full, all the fine lines disappear. Even her crooked toe is suddenly straight. She’s perfect. She’s also undead and really hungry.

Trying to recall everything she’s ever seen on TV or in movies, or read in a book about vampires, she puts together that she definitely needs to be out of the sun, and probably needs a little bit of help because as soon as the sun rises she falls into a sleep so deep as to be pretty much dead. Wherever she might be, in the street, in a store, or in bed—she will drop dead at sunrise and not wake again until sunset.

Clearly it’s time to find herself a minion and that she find in one Tommy Flood, aspiring writer from Indiana. He’s 19 and naïve and very small town. The two meet, become lovers, and soon move in with each other. Sure it’s fast, but she’s hungry and needs to feed.

Tommy gets himself a job at Safeway on the night shift, where he falls in with the Animals (the other night shift employees) and learns the intricacies of turkey bowling and smoking weed.


The conflict here is that the centuries old vampire that turned Jody, Elijah,
is quite bored and changed Jody so he would have a toy. Jody, however, was not
interested in that in the least. So to amuse himself, Elijah leaves dead
bodies all over San Francisco with broken necks, intentionally leaving a trail
right back to Jody.

Another character in the book, The Emperor of San Francisco (a homeless guy)
and his Men (two dogs) guard the city and protect it and he wanders in and out
of occasional scenes. I guess he fills the eccentricity requirement and while
he does that quite well, I liked his dogs better than I liked him.

In the end, Jody and Tommy team up with the Safeway Animals to do battle with Elijah and free the city from his presence.

I won’t tell you anything further, but the ending does sort of just stop. Thankfully at the time I first read this book I was high on morphine and in the hospital so the most outrage I could muster was “oh, look at that”. Another thing in my favor is that the sequel to Bloodsucking Fiends, You Suck came out not too long after so I was able to pick that up and read what happened after the most unusual bronzed ending of Bloodsucking Fiends.

I enjoyed this book. Enough so that I bought the second. I liked that one as well. This was another case of a writer getting his groove better with a second attempt versus the first. It kept rolling along, right where the first ended, which I prefer in a sequel.

Anyway, Bloodsucking Fiends was humorous and seemingly original. Very quick read on this one I finished it within 3 days while completely high. Don’t expect anything intellectual here, but there are some pop culture references and a bit of snark. Toss in some satire and you have a winner of a book, even if it does lack depth. I thought Christopher Moore could have expanded a bit on Jody’s relationship with her mother for example. I see some comedy gold to be mined there.

This is the sort of book you want to grab yourself a Bloody Mary, sit back and enjoy. Have a few laughs and then maybe go nibble a neck or two.

I recommend both Bloodsucking Fiends and You Suck.

Next week, I will try and find another book I thought was pure crap.

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Anyone out there who is remotely interested in politics? Do you lean a tiny bit more right than left? Ever wondered what would happen if there was a modern day civil war between the red states and blue states? If yes, then Empire by Orson Scott Card might be the book for you.

Empire_Cover.jpgMajor Rueben Malich, formerly in combat in the Middle East is sent stateside to attend university where he is enrolled in the courses of one Professor Averell Torrent. Unsure of what he was doing there but attentive nonetheless and taking notes in Farsi, he listens to Torrent and on occasion participates in verbal sparring. One great mind pitted against another. Arguing about Rome versus the United States. Absolute power. Revolution. World domination. Democracy. Race. The usual.

One day after class, Professor Torrent says to Malich, "Dammit, I'm trying to find out if you'd be interested in a covert assignment to help hold this country together and prevent its collapse into pure chaos….If there were some way you could help in an effort to prevent civil war, to preserve the republic, such as it is, how far would you be willing to go?" Malich's answer? "I'm a major in the United States Army, sir. I will never do anything contrary to my oath." Torrent responds, "Yes, that's what I'm counting on."

That sets Malich on a path of deception and secrets. However, he's stationed at the Pentagon and used to many secrets. See, his new assignment is to find holes in the security of the Secret Service. How can the President be assassinated? So he sets out to the do the best job he can and he finds a way.

And then that way is used to kill the President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense.

While Reuben and his partner, Cole, avoid the authorities and try to find out which domestic terrorist is responsible for the murders, Reuben's wife Cecily, a former aide to Senator LaMonte Nielson, who is now the interim President, begins to worth with Nielson from that direction to find who is responsible.

While all this goes down, while the nation is in emotional chaos a secret movement becomes public. A radical left-wing army calling themselves Progressive Restoration invade and take over New York City, shooting and killing anyone in a uniform. Even a hotel doorman. They use high tech weapons, what I visualized to look a bit like the big spidery metal aliens used in the last remake of War of the Worlds. They are 14 feet tall and bulletproof. Seemingly invincible. Not many people on the planet have the resources and money for such massive research and development. So the list of possible leaders is narrowed down.

While this civil war begins to rage with National Guard versus city cops and people confused about their roles and what they’re defending, the rest of American society goes on about their business like usual. Everyone goes to work, goes grocery shopping, still goes to the movies.

Not much changes in the day-to-day lives of the citizenry and it’s more of an apathetic disinterest with moments of paying attention to CNN but for the most part it’s not everyone else’s problem. No one seems to care what the politicians are doing, as long as it doesn’t mess with American Idol.

The author, Orson Scott Card, takes a departure from his usual writing genre. This novel, written in approximately three months focuses on current events. Typically, as in Ender’s Game series, he is a sci-fi futuristic writer. This time, he was commissioned to actually write this story for a video game focusing on a modern day civil war in America. This book was the result.

I found this book entertaining because it’s just paranoid enough to be plausible. Every election season nowadays, who doesn’t get tired of all the jingoism and rhetoric? Even now, the next Presidential election isn’t until November of 2008 and the media has already been focusing on candidates and party platforms. Can we get a break here?? Among other things, 9/11 has taught us all that life can change on a dime and our priorities can be changed in a millisecond. So we end up tuning it all out due to political overload.

So a civil war between blue & red states, while sounding impossible, maybe isn’t quite. Citizens turning a deaf ear and blind eye while the nation melts around them, as long as they still get their cable TV? I can believe it.

This is tale of what might happen if someone like George Soros used all of his resources to “fix” the country after the debacle of the illegal elections of 2000 and 2004. To put it all right, the way it should have been if the true winner had taken office.

Orson watched episode after episode of 24 in order to keep the pace going in this book. He also relied heavily on the internet for research. So in more ways than one this was a very modern novel, utilizing pop culture, the web, and television shows to help put you inside the story.

In a lot of ways I lean to the right so I didn’t hate this book. I have a feeling that it might piss people off who lean more to the left. There were parts of this story that I found to not make much sense due to my pre-conceived conceptions of behavior. By this I mean, what sort of leftist liberal wife is a stay at home mom and on the staff of a conservative politician? Okay, so there’s a few out there, just like I’m a Republican pro-choice atheist, I’m sure there are liberal SAHM’s. Just seemed a little strange. But I suppose if Mary Matalin and James Carville can make their marriage work, the marriage between Malich and Cecily could work too. Since they’re fictional and all.

In the Afterword the author tries to explain that he really isn’t biased or anything and doesn’t mean to give an impression of leaning to either the left or right but it definitely leans. He does mention that in today’s political environment, a moderate does get vilified like never before. Believe one thing of a party and suddenly you’re labeled as being in lock step with that particular party and not allowed to think anything else.

Look, the story moves along, it’s another fast paced book. Lots of battle, intrigue and wondering if it truly is the Left or the Right who is behind this. I have my ideas and the story ends in such a way as to leave it open for a sequel or for you to draw your conclusions about whether the actions of a particular character were for the good of the country or the advancement of his own selfish goals. Is one man capable of master manipulation of the entire nation, to become a benevolent leader that everyone looks up to and trusts, and actually be hiding a desire to dictator? Is it possible for a single man to dupe the United States in such a way?

Are we that naïve and trusting?

I can see this being an interesting video game. I could visualize the scenes in my mind very well.

There were twists and turns and yes, I was even shocked over a couple of unexpected actions. I even gasped once.

This isn’t a book that is going to have mass appeal in my opinion. I even asked someone who read this book what his impression of and he didn’t like it compared to the author’s previous work. It was too “Tom Clancy”. While Tom Clancy is a great author, he isn’t what you expect to read from a SciFi writer. This was the first book I’ve read from Orson Scott Card and I like espionage/spy thriller types and I was entertained.

This was simple enough to make a good summer blockbuster flick with lots of things blowing up. And it reads just like that.

I am not an expert on the military or the weaponry utilized so I can’t really tell you if all of that was accurate, but it sounded good. Big and shiny with lots of noise and blood.

Another thumbs up for a recently read novel. Pick it up if you’re interested in a hypothetical modern day American civil war where in the end, the right side wins. Maybe.

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The Eyre Affair

What comes to mind when you hear words like: Shakespeare, Dickens, Poe, Marlowe? If what comes to your mind involves time travel, portals into prose, rainbow painted convertibles and a Crimean War that's been going on for over a century, then your brain just might be the sort to enjoy Thursday Next.

In a previous review I mentioned briefly the Thursday Next series of books by Jasper Fforde. Satire, mystery, scifi, comedy—it's all right here in this collection of novels. This is the sort of series that makes me think, "damnit! I wish I had thought of that!!" because it really is just all-around entertaining.

As of today there are four novels in the series, beginning with The Eyre Affair, followed by Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, and Something Rotten. There is a fifth book, Thursday Next: First Among Sequels: A Thursday Next Novel, available for pre-order with a release date of July 19th. I am all over that!

The story begins in 1985. But not the 1985 we're used to, no, this is a 1985 where dodo birds are pets and the Crimean War has been raging between England and Russia for over a century with no end in sight. Thursday Next is basically a literary cop. There are various law enforcement agencies, and she is a LiteraTec in SO-27.

Due to earlier experience with a particular villain named Hades, she is momentarily promoted to SO-5 which is a super secret arm of the law enforcement and no one outside of SO-5 itself knows what they do. Thursday Next, having met Acheron Hades when she was a student can identify him as well as repel his unusual charm and powers of persuasion.

A little more about Thursday. She’s 35 and single, a veteran of the Crimean and pretty anti-war. She has a brother, Joffy, who is a preacher and another brother, Anton, who was killed in action. She lives alone with her pet dodo. Her father is a member of the ChronoGuard which is the time traveling arm of the law enforcement and technically he no longer exists since he went rogue in time. So he jumps about time and drops in from time to time to say hello. Her mother is a little flighty, sort of reminds me of the mother from Bridget Jones.

Okay, so Thursday is in London where she gets involved in trying to nabb Hades and things go wrong and two agents are killed. While Thursday is in the hospital recovering from being shot, she sees herself show up in a strange looking hotrod with a waving man sitting next to her, telling her to move back to Swindon (where she grew up) and take the LiteraTec job there. Then she watched herself disappear. The next day she sees an ad for a job in the paper
for a position in Swindon and taking her own advice, she applies and gets the job.

After moving, she runs into her former boyfriend who was also in the Crimea with her, but she hasn’t seen him in 10 years. Landon is his name and they had a sticky break up due to his testimony of Thursday’s brother screwing up in the war which resulted in the deaths of pretty much everyone around him. Thursday didn’t take that well, broke up with Landon, and moved to London.

Okay. Keeping up? Her new boss is named Braxton Hicks and there are various other characters with plays on words and phrases twisted and dropped and just all around clever.

The Wall Street Journal said The Eyre Affair combines elements of “Monty Python, Harry Potter, Stephen Hawking, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and also says it’s part “Nancy Drew and part Dirty Harry”. That sums it up fairly succinctly. The Buffy reference comes from another SO department that fights vampires and werewolves. Oh yes, these books have it all.

Thursday also has a brilliant scientist type for an uncle who invents many odd things. His name is Mycroft and he’s created a Prose Portal. I want one. A couple of them actually. This machine enables a person to literally jump into a book or poem and see it from the inside. Talk to Jane Eyre or Edward Rochester, or any other literary character, and even nab them and bring them out into the “real” world.

Which is the problem. Hades has kidnapped Jane Eyre for ransom and the Goliath Corporation, which is what actually runs Great Britain and has since WWII, wants to end the Crimean War by using a weapon that can never work, period.

Unless the imagination of a writer creates a book in which it did work. Get the Prose Portal, jump inside, and pull the weapon out and arm an entire army. Not bad really.

An ever growing government, doing whatever it needs to keep the “peace” of England, with an “ends justify the means” mentality.

And one dysfunctional woman with a wobbly love life and a sassy mouth is fighting them.

This is one of the most creative and clever books I’ve ever come across. The entire series just got me all excited. Could not wait to see what familiar character was going to pop up next and I loved the personalities the author gave to fictional characters. I got a kick reading Miss Haversham from Great Expectations having a thing about racing cars in the real world
and getting speeding tickets.

There are other clever bits like book worms that get gassy and fart out extra commas and random capitalization and those extra punctuations show up in the paragraphs.

These books are for people who really, really love books and have read lots of them. Also for people who get a giggle out of puns and grammatical play.

As often happens, this author got his groove the more he wrote with a few hiccups here and there, but after reading The Eyre Affair I had to get the other three and devour them upon purchase.

There is so much to find in these books that I guarantee you will be entertained. Pick ‘em up, you won’t be disappointed.

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The Didymus Contingency

Let me start by explaining that I'm a slut for certain sorts of fiction. Namely anything to do with time travel. Or pirates. Even better if it's time traveling pirates (Ice Pirates anyone?). So occasionally I will pop over to, or and search around for keywords "time travel".

I'm also a theology/philosophy junkie so when my search on Amazon turned up The Didymus Contingency by Jeremy Robinson, my curiosity was piqued.

The story is about two physicists who are working on a super secret project in the Arizona desert. That project is to figure out how to time travel. Their future selves send back in time the technology to time travel, to their past selves, and while drunk, atheist Dr. Tom Greenbaum decides he wants to go back in time to meet Jesus and prove to his believer partner, Dr. David Goodman that Jesus was a fraud and never rose after three days & was most certainly not God.

So I was interested 'cause that would be one heck of an interesting place to drop yourself in time. As a non-believer but lover of theology, I thought there might be some interesting twists between the two characters.

I ordered the book from Amazon and awaited its arrival. As soon as the box got here, I ripped it open, removed the book, and sniffed the pages. (Is that really weird, sniffing pages? I love the smell of new books.) I flipped it over and read the reviews on the back and saw something that gave me pause.

There was a reference to the Left Behind series. So I thought to myself, "wait a tic! What's this? I don't want any Kirk Cameron religious nutbar goop to rub off on my time travel fiction!" But I decided to forge ahead and crossed my fingers there would be no attempt at sly conversion.

The story begins with Tom flying to Africa to meet his wife, Megan, who is a missionary there. However, she's running her ass off through the jungle because some native sorts with boomsticks are killing all the Christians. She's trying to make it to the airfield to warn Tom to turn around. She pauses when she sees a man getting the shit beat out of him by four tribesmen, and she is shocked when the man sees her and tells her to run, using her name. She didn't know who the guy was, so how did he know her name? We later find out that it was David. Problem here being that when David called her name, the tribesman looked up and saw and began to pursue her.

She makes it to the clearing and waves off Tom, and he sees her look of panic, her look of fear, and is gripped with uncertainty and terror of his own. He sees her jerk and then blood flies, and Megan ends up dying in Tom's arms.

This gives him a very bad taste in his mouth (not that any blood got in there) in regards to God and religion; Megan dying for being a Christian.

The murderers raise their weapons at Tom and ask, "are you a believer as she?" and he said no, he would never believe as she did, and they laughed and said he was free to live.

Fast forward a decade and Tom is working in a super secret facility in the Arizona desert that is accessed through a dilapidated shack that is completely ignorable by anyone driving by, but actually houses a vehicle platform and retinal scan for security. Once vehicle occupants are approved, the platform descends many stories into the heart of the installation.

The two friends carpool together, eat dinner together, and basically just hang out. Tom is a tiny bit bitter but overall a nice fella and he enjoys teasing David about his religion. And by tease I mean poke at him for his lack of cursing or alcohol consumption. But it's all good-natured ribbing.

The two, facing pressure from their boss have apparently chosen a specific date and time for their future selves to send back the technology needed to time travel. With a bright flash and a bang at the designated minute, but a few seconds late, the lab begins to fill up with various electronic equipment, as well as instructions and ten wristwatches.

They explore the gadgets like giddy boys with new Tonka trucks and go out to celebrate. Tom gets drunk, then gets melancholy thinking of his dead wife. He decides that he must convince David that Jesus was nothing more than a man, and once he's convinced, he will give up his faith and live a free and atheist lifestyle.

It should be noted here that both were/are Jewish. So I guess that makes David a Jew for Jesus but it wasn't made a big deal. It just was what it was. Which was convenient for the storyline because they both have to have knowledge of Israel and experience traipsing around. The average time traveler would probably not do so well being dropped into the Middle East 2000 years ago.

Drunk Tom returns to the lab, dons a robe costume to fit in to the time frame he's hopping into, straps on a watch and ZAP, BANG! he's laying in the dirt barfing his guts out in Israel.

Conveniently enough, a couple of Samaritans wander by and offer help. They were good like that. Har har.

It's not long before David realizes what Tom has done, and fearing a massive impact to the planet if Jesus is exposed as a fraud, removing Christianity forever, and wanting to rescue is friend, David throws on a robe and watch as well and flings himself into the past. He also barfs.

jesusbeer.jpgLucky for David, he happens to speak the Aramaic of 2000 years ago. Tom limps along on his rudimentary Hebrew. Thankfully, Tom remembers how to order beer in the right language.

So! Armed with the proper garments and language, David and Tom both set out on their disparate goals: Tom to prove Jesus a fraud, and David to save Tom from himself.

I have to say that I really liked the way Jesus and his disciples were portrayed. Nothing spectacular, just 12 guys hanging out, touring the country, visiting many pubs. Even one description of having to wait a minute for some preachin' 'cause Jesus was behind a tree peeing.

What I didn't particularly like was the lack of explanation about how any of the time travel worked. There weren't any theories put forth or mentions of worm holes or relativity. Just 10 watches that a person sets to the correct time and latitude/longitude of the place they want to go. The watches also come with a nifty GPS bit that will help you find where someone else with a watch is.

There were also itsy bitsy mechanical "flies" that had facial recognition chips and poison needles as part of an assassin's tools. Well now. That seems a bit far-fetched. All of that and the size of a fly? Hmm.

Another problem I had was the declaration of undying love between two characters who had never been out on a date or seen each other naked. There should have been more back story for that relationship. It came off as a little unbelievable.

Last issue I can't explain too much, but suffice to say it has to do with a 2000-year old bible character's reaction to the future when he was brought forward as some muscle was just not realistic. Old dead dude put in front of computers and elevators and doesn't so much as bat an eye. Uh huh.

Moving on.

The author incorporated some bible stories into this book, but not in a sermon sort of way. It was as a foil for Tom to explain why it was trickery and deception. I recognized some of the bible bits, but not all. But it didn't detract from the book in the least.

The story moved along at a decent clip. It was easy to get into and not want to put down. There was action and adventure and a bit of romance, including some involving a hot sister of Lazarus.

There was a wee moment of confusion when "voices" were introduced around the middle of the book. Some shadowy figure of doom and evil. But it manifested only as "voices" in a person's head. I had no idea where that was coming from. It wasn't explained until near the end. Maybe another reader might catch on sooner who it was but I was entirely in the dark about the identity.

I dreaded that I would be taken by surprise at some point and thrown a bucket of conversion in my face. So I kept one eye prepped for spotting that sort of hanky panky while my other eye just kept on enjoying the story. Then it finally happened. At the end of the book, there it was. How the world would be without Christianity, how the USA wouldn't exist and other "arguments" I've seen put forth by the more fanatical sorts of religious people and I couldn't stop myself from grinding my teeth and wanting to bitch slap the author for sticking that crap in there.

The upside to it was that it only lasted about two pages. Two pages out of 290 isn't bad. I truly expected more.

I really liked this book. It didn't turn me into a believer or anything, but I would read it again. I thoroughly enjoyed the "humanizing" of Jesus and the disciples and how their characters were written. Like I said, the science aspect was lacking, but it only took a little suspension of disbelief to let go of that issue.

No, this book isn't terribly unique and there is an air of the formulaic. Good versus evil. Temptation. Believer and non-believer. Does Jesus speak American English? If you want something pretentious, this isn't the book to read.

The author has now written a few other books and I'm intrigued. He writes from a religious perspective, using bible stories. But if he keeps up the non-proselytizing nature of The Didymus Contingency, then I can see myself picking up his other works.

I actually read much of this book like I do the Thursday Next books. Impatient to flip to the next page to see what familiar character is going to pop up next. Don't know the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde? You should remedy that. Or I could review the first book in the series, The Eyre Affair. Maybe I'll get around to that soon.

Anyway, if you like time travel fiction then The Didymus Contingency will keep you entertained enough during the morning commute on the subway.

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The Memory Keeper's Daughter

This review is about the novel The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards, her second book.

In a nutshell, the year is 1964 and a doctor, David, and his wife, Norah, are expecting a baby when she goes into labor during a Kentucky snowstorm. David gets Norah to his clinic, where Caroline, his nurse, shows up, and they deliver a healthy baby boy they name Paul. Unbeknownst to everyone, there is a twin. A girl with Down’s Syndrome-Phoebe. Now, during the labor & delivery Norah was drugged so she hardly remembers any of it, and what she does recall is vague and foggy.

memory_cover.jpgWhen David discovered that Phoebe was handicapped, he handed her over to Caroline and instructed his nurse to take her to a home for mentally challenged kids, so she bundled up Phoebe & took off for the home.

When Norah awoke she asked after the twin, saying she could remember there being another, and David told her the girl baby died and was whisked off to the funeral home for burial immediately because he thought it was best.

The deception continues when, upon arriving at the home, Caroline decides that the care is unacceptable so she takes the baby to her apartment, quits her job, moves to another town and never looks back.

There ensues a novel following the next 25 years of lies and trickery which affects the birth family as well as Caroline, while Phoebe grows up to be a happy & healthy woman. Paul rebels, Norah drinks and feels something is missing from her life because she never saw Phoebe, David is wracked with guilt which drives him to be distant.

I’ll leave it there since I don’t want to give too much away. I found this book to be excellent to have on camping trips or in the trunk of the car in case of emergencies. It would make fantastic kindling or a flare starter. Not that I am all for burning books but this one is worthy of destruction. I was literally bored to tears and could not wait for it to be over.

Let me explain. I am not a person who enjoys pages of narrative without dialogue. I need characters that speak. Speak to a grocer, speak to their pet, speak to each other.

Have any of you seen the movie The New World with Colin Farrell? Do you recall the amount of time he spent wandering around in the weeds? I had to turn that movie off due to the fact that the longer I watched, the more I wanted to start frying bugs with a magnifying glass to amuse myself. This book was like that. Wandering around in the weeds, laying on the ground, staring at the ocean—everything but SPEAK.

There comes a point in the book when David finally confesses to a stranger all that he’s done. He then brings that female stranger home, who is about the same age as his son, and she moves in. What in the world??

I wanted to smack these characters upside their heads for their inability to communicate with each other about what they were feeling and missing. This book angered me. I had zero sympathy for these people. I wanted them all to die. Slowly & painfully.

The first chapter began with promise and action. After that it went downhill fast and finished with this reader slumped over asleep, covered in drool, dreaming of gouging her eyes out with a rusty spoon.

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Running with Scissors

What can be said about Running With Scissors: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs? Well, many things. It was quirky, disgusting, disturbing, twisted, surprising, hilarious.

This was one of those books that people raved about and insisted I read so I finally picked it up. I wanted to read it before seeing the movie anyway.

It began normal enough (and by “normal” I mean what the ever loving hell??); dysfunctional family, dysfunctional kid. Kid is massively anal-retentive, must have his pants pressed and his hair shellacked in place, and he boils his quarters to keep them shiny. He also redecorates his room in tin foil chic.

Deirdre, his mother, has some delusion of grandeur of being a published poet in various magazines and sits her son down to listen to her pages-long prose and he just worships her.

scissors_cover.jpgMeanwhile, the father, Norman, is confused by these people he is somehow related to, has no idea how to communicate with them, and Deirdre and he constantly go round for round screaming and shouting, culminating with the Deirdre accusing Norman of trying to kill her. So what does he do? Loses himself in booze.

This book follows Augusten from the ages of about 11 to 18. And for most of the book I read with my jaw dropped and thinking, “no, that didn’t just happen”.

After finding some marriage counseling with a Dr. Finch, Augusten’s parents finally divorce and that’s about it for the dad for the rest of the book. From there, his mother is on a constant roller coaster of clinical depression and prescription drugs and so completely out of it that Augusten ends up spending more time at Dr. Finch’s home than his own.

Remembering that Augusten is a neat freak extraordinaire, his first step into the Finch home is a shock to his system. He expects a doctor’s home to be grand and tastefully decorated. What he encounters is a giant, dilapidated pink home with stacks of garbage in the yard. His mother and he walks inside and immediately dust motes land on his perfectly pressed slacks and linger. I about expected Augusten to start screaming and run outside.

In time, Augusten loses his neat freakiness and becomes just as slobby as everyone else around the house, begins hanging out with Dr. Finch’s rebellious daughter Natalie, and just lives life as if seeing a 5-year old boy take a crap under a piano is average, everyday events. Or discovering your mother has become a lesbian with the preacher’s wife. Or that Hope, another of Finch’s daughters, loses her marbles and thinks her cat has told her it’s his time to die so she traps it in a laundry basket to watch it go—and then later says she hears it calling to her from its grave.

But most disturbing to me was the fact that at age 13 Augusten began a relationship with the 33-year old schizophrenic adopted son of Dr. Finch, Bookman. Practically from the beginning it was known that Augusten was gay, so no big deal. But while he was gay in the sense that he wanted to grow up to create a shampoo and stylist empire, he hadn’t yet acted on it sexually.

Bookman took it upon himself to physically show Augusten what it meant to actually be gay and it was described in vivid detail. In fact, I was in bed reading when this chapter appeared and I gasped, causing my boyfriend (who was reading a book of his own) to glance over and ask what was up. I said, “you have to hear this” and I proceeded to read a couple paragraphs to him. He was silent and just blinked at me. I then said, “you need to read this book” and he responded, “no I don’t”. There ensued a quick discussion over whether or not they would show that scene in a movie exactly as it is in the book.

I suppose I would have been more disturbed by the relationship if Augusten himself didn’t seem so casual and okay with it all. Like, again, it was just another expected event in his odd life.

I don’t want to ruin the book by revealing too many spoilers, so I will leave the descriptions of the contents at that. I give this book a thumb’s up. And for all the dark and twisted bits, it was still humorous and entertaining.

Augusten Burrough’s brand of writing was swift and easy to understand, a quick read that can be gotten through on a flight from the Midwest to NYC.

He is not in the same category as David Sedaris though some try and compare the two. They are both gay and they both write autobiographical content. Other than that, the style was different. Sedaris makes me laugh out loud with a guffaw or two. Burrough’s elicited a few gasps, a smirk, and a couple giggles.

As for the movie based on Running With Scissors? God, what a load of manure that was. It was as if they pulled a few key elements from the book and then pulled the rest of the story from a screenwriter’s ass. They veered so far off from what was in the novel as to be *almost* unrecognizable. Perhaps if I hadn’t read the book I would like the movie. So readers, read the book—moviegoers, don’t read the book. Seriously, this movie was so bad that I hit mute when the phone rang so I could try and eavesdrop on my boyfriend, missing a good 20 minutes of the flick. The single saving grace in that movie was Alec Baldwin as the dad. I don’t even like that guy, but he was fantastic as the bewildered Norman with a perpetual, “who the hell are these people??” look on his face. Annette Benning played the part of Deidre. What happened to her? She looked like crinkled wax paper that had been wrapped around a 5th grader’s ham sandwich and left in the sun.

Ah well, this is about books, not movies. So in conclusion, book is good, movie is so very, very bad.


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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

It's always nice to jump into another pair of shoes. And by shoes I mean perspective and by perspective I mean lazily being a couch potato, picking up a book and reading a story from the point of view of a retarded kid.

Okay, maybe that's not nice. The kid is autistic. Or Asperger's. (Just so you know, I can say "retard" because my nephew is a retard and on the day he was diagnosed I was issued the "say retard without consequence" card. Plus, I just like the word.)

Anyway, so Christopher is the kid in question. He attends a special school where he has a semi-crush on a teacher named Siobahn and is greatly looking forward to taking his A-Level Maths exams. For some reason in England they call it Maths instead of Math. Go figure.

He lives with his dad and believes his mother is dead. His dad told him that she had a heart attack and died at the hospital. Turns out, not so much. She actually ran off with some guy to the city and wrote letter after to letter to Christopher, but the dad took them and hid them without ever showing them to Christopher.

haddon.jpgThere’s a neighbor woman, Eileen Shears, with a dog, Wellington, down the street and this comes to the crux of the adventure. Christopher discovers the dog dead in Eileen’s front yard, stabbed by a pitchfork. Eileen discovers Christopher over the dog on the lawn and concludes it was Christopher that killed the dog. He didn’t though. But he liked the dog so decides he’s going to solve the murder of Wellington.

Now, Christopher, being autistic, has certain personality quirks. He likes lists and decides how his day is going to go, whether good or bad, by how many yellow or red or brown cars pass by his school bus. So he starts making a list of what he knows and proceeds on his mystery, like Sherlock Holmes. His hero.

Throughout the book there are little things like riddles and diagrams and the chapters are prime numbers rather than the usual numbering. All a glimpse inside the mind of an autistic boy.

While looking for clues he discovers that his mom never died, his dad had a fling with Eileen, and found the address to his mother’s new home. Devastated that his dad has been lying to him he decides to run away to his mom’s.

I’ve never read a book from the perspective of someone like this, although bits of it did remind me of Flowers for Algernon. This books enjoyment for me was found in the details. The day-to-day existence for Christopher. How he handles getting money from an ATM or the endless patterns of how to keep him calm an stable, from dressing to only eating certain foods of specific colors.

There are parts I was bored with and parts that were slow. It wasn’t the most magnificent book ever written, but it was overall interesting. I did like it and I liked the uniqueness of the setup of the book.

In the end he does solve the mystery and learns about sex from a creepy old lady.

And if there’s a creepy old neighbor lady explaining sex to a retarded kid, how bad could it be?

But if you’re looking for a novel from the perspective of man with intellectual challenges I strongly suggest picking up the classic Flowers for Algernon. But if it’s sold out or checked out, then go ahead and get this book in the meantime.

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Plainclothes Naked

“Stranger still, the clit—no Jesus!—the clit seemed less like a man in a boat than Don King on a yacht. The departed, there was no other way to say it, sported a stubby miniature penis. With hair.”

That’s right. Know what else? The President has a happy face tattooed on his testicles. And jujubes will help a grieving widow recover from murdering her husband with 40 watt light bulb glass and Drano in his cereal.

stahl_stiller.jpgAnd so you have just a tiny bit of the crazy ass stuff going on in this week’s book, Plainclothes Naked by Jerry Stahl. Jerry Stahl is a former television writer, writing for shows such as CSI, Alf, Moonlighting, Northern Exposure and many more. He’s also written other novels, one being Permanent Midnight which was made into a movie starring Ben Stiller.

The cast of characters in this novel are quite the unique gathering. There’s Manny the former heroin addict and current well-endowed detective. Then there’s Tina, the formerly mentioned murderess who offed her annoying husband for being too nasal. Mostly it was an accident. She usually empties the cereal bowl before eats it, but that morning, oops, she was distracted.

When describing Tina, Stahl says, “Tina had that Faye Dunaway thing. Faye before the surgery, when her cheekbones were still sharp as can openers and she looked like a feral gazelle”. That just strikes me as cool.

Next we have McCardle, the black Dean Martin who killed a gay guy with a shovel and was recently on America’s Most Wanted. Mac’s partner Tony Zank, the crack addicted violent one who hangs his own mother out a four-story window and drops her ‘cause she won’t tell him who took the picture he hid under her mattress in the nursing home.

The picture? Oh, that’s the picture of the President squeezing his nuts to make it a “biobrain” with the smiley face tat smack in the middle of the focus. As George W grins goofily, the Mayor of Pittsburgh has her face within licking distance of the Presidential sack.

plainclothes_naked.jpgThe Mayor of Pittsburgh, Marge, happens to be Manny’s ex-wife. The picture happened to have been nabbed by Tina, an employee of Seventh Heaven nursing home.

Manny, being the former heroin addict, is now addicted to Tylenol 3 with codeine. He uses fake names to get prescriptions at various pharmacies around town, different names for different locations. He’s a jaded fella, popping pills to get through his day, resenting the fact that he’s a cop and driving around in a car that belonged to a former cop with a fat ass. Said fat ass causing a large divot in the seat that Manny sinks into.

Another man wandering through the pages is Chief Fayton of the Upper Marilyn PD. Manny’s boss. Fayton however came from the DMV and has never actually been a beat cop or worked a case. You wouldn’t know this however if you looked at the staged photos lining his wall. Even photos staged to make it appear he was apprehending perps and was involved in a hostage crisis.

He has every cop and detective report everything to him and they all wonder why one hand is always under his desk. They start thinking he’s whacking off under there, and from the direction of this book I wouldn’t have been surprised to find that to be true.

He’s a narcissistic, double-crossing, self-involved man who is really just waiting to strike it big with fame and fortune when someone buys and produces his screenplay he’s writing about being a Chief in a small town. Maybe get Benjamin Bratt, James Woods, or Tom Selleck to play him. To everyone else on the force he’s pretty much a joke.

Have I mentioned there’s a decapitated reporter and a very large Hispanic woman? Oh, yes, I did mention her. She has the hairy clit. Carmella that is. She’s the supervisor at Seventh Heaven and she finds herself accompanying McCardle and Zank unwillingly to a skeezy Indian motel where she turns the tables and gets them to reenact a certain scene from Deliverance. I’m sure you can think of the one.

Throughout all of this is a budding romance between Manny and Tina. From the moment he walks into the crime scene, aka, her kitchen, he’s struck by a deep fear that makes his hair stand on end when first seeing Tina. Love at first sight according to him. Right off the bat he’s covering for her and saying the death of her husband was suicide, that he was a “foamer” and Tina gives him the photo to hold onto.

Manny keeps going from crime scene to crime scene as McCardle and Zank try to find the photo of the Commander in Chief’s wrinkly basket and leave behind a trail of bodies.

The interaction between the various characters, how they communicate is at once outrageous and hilarious as well as sorta gross.

Jerry Stahl has a flowing style that moves along with a bit of noir detective novel style tossed in. Like saying a guy pulls back a blanket to reveal “seven decades of thigh” and “he had luck like other men has psoriasis” and another, “hair so riddled with dandruff it looked like confetti”. Lots of that. Maybe sometimes too much. Like I could imagine Stahl pausing at his typewriter, trying to think of witty analogies and metaphors to pepper his paragraphs.

“A chance, if you don’t end up behind bars or tied off for the lethal fix, you’ll end up in bed with a bent, beautiful, edge-of-your-seat genius female who sees right through your eyeballs to the dark room in the back of your brain, the one you never let anybody into because you didn’t know it was there….”

Stahl has a great turn of phrase. He paints pictures with his words, clearly he’s talented. And seriously screwed in the head, but in a good way. I like the way he thinks and I like the avenues he takes us down.

There were a few turns and twists, a couple little surprises, but mostly a different sort of book than I’m used to and I was glad of it. I was happy to find something that everyone isn’t talking about around me. Perhaps this is because the book isn’t new and I didn’t hear about it the first time around.

This is a weird and strange journey. One that includes barf and feces and penises and anal sex and really old mom vagina.

This book was one of the most creative I’ve read in a long time. I’ll eventually get another of his books, Perv – A Love Story, ‘cause who can resist such a title?

This guy is raunchy and demented and the sort of writer who says what he wants in the most colorful way he can imagine.

Then there’s Auntie Big’n. How many levels of wrong is it that McCardle, as a child, would have to wash his Auntie’s “lady parts” while watching the CBS Evening News? Seriously, the stuff in this book is just twisted.

There’s quite a bit more I could say about this book but I think you should just go get it yourself. I’m sure you will find something in there you haven’t come across before, even if it just references to overweight shaved lady parts.

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The Time Traveler's Wife

Is it a little creepy to think that you met the love of your life when you were 5 and he was over 30? Not only that, you hung out together when he was often naked? I know how nifty it would be to hang with my husband out in the yard having picnics and talking about kindergarten homework when he was in the buff.

Okay, so maybe that sounds a little molester-ish, this early in the review. It just amused me to put it that way.

I suppose I could have started off with the bit where a guy blows himself and gets caught by his dad. But I didn’t want to do that ‘cause I’m still not sure he actually did it. Maybe he gave himself a handjob. Entirely unsure.

Okay, enough with the scandalous teases. A lot of people have read this book already but since I’m currently not finished with any of the four other books I have going right now, I had to pull from the past to find something to talk about.

What I came up with is The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. What a book this is! I’ve read it three times now and a lot continued to confuse me until I got through it the 2nd time.

I grabbed this book for this week ‘cause I was just reading that the 2008 release of the film will have Rachel McAdams of The Notebook, Red Eye and Wedding Crashers is slated to play Claire and Eric Bana, of Black Hawk Down, Munich and Troy is playing Henry. After finding this out I kept thinking “huh” and then “huh” again.

See, Clare is a redheaded paper maker who comes from a wealthy WASP-type family. Henry is a skinny librarian who is often starving and breaking into Army surplus stores for clothing. They are both pretty much hippies with eclectic tastes in music. Lots of Iggy Pop, Dead Kennedys, Violent Femmes, and Clash.

I’m now concerned that Hollywood is going to turn this wonderful book into a wannabe romance akin to The Notebook. Which, no, don’t, please. Not that there isn’t romance. There is. Epic. But there’s really tragedy and it’s sci-fi. Hell, it’s TIME TRAVEL! My weakness. (No pirates though.)

Okay, let me get back to the book. Maybe next year when the movie comes out I’ll write about how much it screwed up. Right now it’s about the book. Yes! Okay.
Let me just say right now that I love that Henry is finally the one time traveler I’ve ever read about or seen on a show, wherever, that used the time travel to find out the lottery numbers and no one died and nothing bad happened. They just got money. Which everyone needs, so that’s taken care of. Not that they don’t work, but it’s still nice to not worry about it.

Anyway, Henry DeTamble is an employee at the Newbury Library in Chicago. He spends his time reliving traumatic periods of his life. The night his mother was killed in a car accident. The time his ex-girlfriend committed suicide. He also visits happy times, like meeting Clare when she’s a child. You see, Henry has “Chrono Displacement Disorder”. It’s a genetic disease that’s basically like having epilepsy. It can be set off by stress, fear, or wonky TV signals. When he’s not jumping around through time, he’s going to concerts, cooking, listening to music and reading all the books in the library, including works by Martin Heidegger. Being chrono-challenged and living outside the norm, makes one contemplate things like religion and philosophy and science. Heidegger was the natural choice.

Clare Abshire is about 8 years younger than Henry and she meets him for the first time when she is 6. However, Henry meets her for the first time when she is 20. Confused? Well. Henry time-travels to Clare for the first time when he’s already in his 30’s. When we first meet Clare, she’s a student at the School of the Art Institute and she’s a sculptor and paper maker. Very artsy. Henry describes her as akin to a Botticelli with a tiny geisha mouth, long red hair, and so pale she resembles a waxwork.

I love the way this story is written. It’s from the perspective of both Clare and Henry. Different paragraphs by each character and time-stamped so we know when they are and how old they are. That was a new experience for me. On the other hand, I had to flip back and forth for parts to see if they lined up and who was where.

The way time travel is approached in this setting is that everything has already happened and no matter what a person does, nothing will ever change. So Henry will never stop his ex-girlfriend from killing himself, and he won’t ever stop the car accident. Sort of sad really. Everything being static, over before you’ve experienced it really. On the other hand, it’s like Henry will never die. Not really. But take that a step further to the time when Henry lands into a year where Clare is gone, his friends are gone.

Overall, this book, to me, was just heartbreaking. Sure, there was some funny times, and I wanted to know what happened next. But in the beginning you already know the end, because it’s already occurred.

This is one of those books that I read over and over, hoping that the ending will change, or the middle. I want to discover a happier ending. This book is so bittersweet that it just tears my heart out.

I freely admit that this book made me bawl. I am one of those forever hopeful saps who never gives up on people, so this book got to me hard. But here’s the thing; I have recommended this book to men and I’ve been told, after they finish reading, that they too choked up and quite possibly shed a tear. I won’t be revealing their names however, as I’m keeping that info for possible future blackmail.

This book is no great literature type situation, but it’s also not just a mind candy beach read.

This book has every shade of emotion and challenge. It’s about a love to conquer time, as hokey as that sounds. It’s about a marriage and friendship, it’s about attempting to have it all even though you already know how it ends.

A big part of the relationship is whether they should have children. Is it even possible? What if a child ends up with the genetic disorder? Hell, will it time travel right out of the womb in some sort of odd cosmic miscarriage?

In the end, they do successfully procreate and have a daughter, Alba. Yes, she is also chrono-challenged. I don’t want to tell you too much, but there’s a moment when she’s on a school field trip and Henry pops up there and she runs over to him, and they call Clare on the phone. It kills me even thinking about it now.

This sort of book might make you ponder past relationships. If you knew in the beginning pretty much everything that happens, all the fights and challenges and the break up, would you do it anyway? Is love stronger than the fear of disappearing? At one point, both Clare and Henry were worried that the stress of getting married would mean Henry might POOF right out of the ceremony.

timetravelerswife_cover.jpgCouple all of the emotion with the fact that whenever Henry time travels, he ends up naked and barefoot with no money or ID on him. So he’s instantly a criminal with expertise in breaking & entering and robbery. There is so much fear in this story. Clare afraid Henry will disappear and never return. Henry afraid that the next time he lands somewhere, it’ll be the time he freezes to death or can’t call himself on the phone to come get him, or just get arrested. But still they hope.

An issue I had with this book were the supporting characters. The friends. The landlady. Seriously, how many people in your life could you say, “hey, I time travel all the time and I can’t really control it” and have them respond with, “oh, okay, neato” and just continue on like you only said the coffee was hot or the sky was blue? A large lack of incredulity here. No real disbelief. Just an Asian landlady who always had extra clothing around for when Henry would appear, and friends who took Henry at his word and then saw him around town at various ages and sorta just moved on. That struck me as a bit bizarre.

I loved this book. There is so much longing and desperation in it, coupled with just trying to get through day-to-day existence and what to have for dinner, that it ends up being a decent balance. Romantic sci-fi I suppose it could be classified as. This is how love is supposed to be, the ability to cope and adapt and hold on and hope. Never giving up. No matter what; even with all the human quirks and flaws. And having that love returned. Even the deep love Henry’s father has for his own wife (even after her death) is filled with such passion and yearning that you can’t help but be affected by it.

“Clare, I want to tell you, again, I love you. Our love has been the thread through the labyrinth, the net under the high-wire walker, the only real thing in this strange life of mine that I could ever trust. Tonight I feel that my love for you has more density in this world than I do, myself: as though it could linger on after me and surround you, keep you, hold you.”

Okay, so yeah, this epic love story is sort of hokey, but it leaves an impression. So beware. It might make you want something you don’t have, or force you to examine your own expectations and priorities. Shake your beliefs about what’s important, and the philosophy of how you live.

Or it might not. I could just be jonesing for a Hallmark Channel movie.

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Angela's Ashes

"Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood." And that right there pretty much sucked me in to the autobiography by Frank McCourt. See, my dad was born in 1935 in Boston, MA to a very Irish Catholic family. A lot of what I read in this book, even though it mostly took place in Ireland, it resonated with stories my dad had told me. In fact, after finishing this book, I insisted my father read it.

angela.gifFrank McCourt pretty much recounts his childhood growing up in poverty. First in Brooklyn, but unable to find work, his father decides they should all go back to Limerick, Ireland. Except Frank’s father was a drunk who couldn’t hold a job. And when he did, he used any pay to go get a few pints instead of buy food for the family. Though this poverty didn’t stop him from repeatedly knocking up Angela, his wife.

Angela was on the dole (welfare) and even that was measly and didn’t cover much. And her “extra” money went to buying cigarettes.

McCourt recounts his life with supreme openness, to the point of peeping in on a friend’s sister while she changed clothes and him and his pals masturbating to the view.

The McCourt family, which consisted of Frank, his 4 brothers, and 1 sister had to move from place to place due to inability to pay the rent, and ended up living in a place that flooded every winter so they had to live on the 2nd floor, and it also happened to be at the end of the street where everyone else dumped their sewage.

The priests who taught at the public school were appalled by the state of Frank and his lack of shoes and would constantly focus on sin rather than the three R’s.

The whole thing was dismal, including the deaths of his sister and two brothers due to lack of healthcare and being underfed with weak immune systems.

There are some very depressing scenes in this novel, including one where Frank’s father is in the pub resting his pint on the tiny coffin of his dead son.

Angela tries to keep the family going by getting help from relatives, even prostituting herself to a neighbor man in the hopes of getting food or money.

angela2.gifMcCourt really did just lay it all out there; the good and the very bad.

Throughout all this though is humor. I laughed aloud a few times, even during all the overwhelming tragedy.

Eventually the father leaves and goes to England to find a job, while the family remains behind in Ireland. Everyone is so proud of him, but once again he let everyone down and drank any paycheck away. So the remaining children, Frank and his brothers, take to stealing food or finding coal in the streets to sell. During one of these forays the boys see their mother standing in line at the St. Vincent DePaul society and apparently that’s even worse than being on the dole. It’s about as low as anyone can go, begging for food or shoes and being seen doing it means you’re about to be the gossip subject of the neighborhood.

McCourt recounts his childhood and adolescence with humor and such detail to make you feel as if you were experiencing it all right along with him. The man has a gift for storytelling. Something he inherited from his father.

Frank continues his story into his late teens, to when he decides to return the states and join the military. I actually didn’t want the book to end. So I got the sequel, ‘Tis. Which ended up being a great disappointment.

But along the way, Angela’s Ashes, is filled with torment and hilarity. Odd combo, I know.

Apparently it’s being assigned in schools for history, but I read this because I wanted to. I give this one the green light to read as well.

There are bits of monotony and the some of the reminiscing can be repetitive, and much of the time I just shook my head in amazement that any of this could occur and live through it. It’s amazing what humans will adapt to when necessary.

There’s an interesting bit about a girl he has a thing for and he wants to have sex with, but of course that’s a sin, but maybe he can get her to do it anyway. When they do the deed he soon finds out she’s dying, and that brings up a bunch of Catholic guilt about sex causing death and should he confess? And it’s little stories like that had me giggling in their absurdity.

There is some retelling that I’m a bit suspicious of. I don’t know anyone who can recollect with such perfect clarity, events that occurred when they were 3 or 5. Maybe Frank McCourt has an above average memory or he had some help from old neighbors or even family.

The ending of this novel was quite abrupt in my estimation. On boat to the states, meets girls, go to bar, then gets laid. Woot! All very slam bam the end. Wait, what? Is that it? Though that might how one gets sucked into a sequel.

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A Confederacy of Dunces

I'll be honest. When I first read this book I thought it was some crazy piece of shit. Insane. As in, what the hell was this guy smoking? So after reading it, I read it again. And it wasn't quite as shitty as previously thought. Still strange as hell though.

This is one of those books that people will whip out to appear intellectual and well-read. It did win a Pulitzer you know. And the author? He offed himself when he was 32. His mother actually had the novel published posthumously, in 1980. Unfortunately for me, I read this book long after it was published and years before it became all the rage to brag about reading. But I've now read it three times and it gets better with each consumption. Much like shots of cheap whiskey.

This novel by John Kennedy Toole is set in New Orleans in the early 1960's and the story revolves around a 30-year old stinky fat guy named Ignatius J. Reilly. He lives with his widowed mother and spends a lot of time sweating on his horribly foul sheets and masturbating, between bouts of writing on Big Chief tablets. He has no job and his mother takes him everywhere and it appears he exists to insult and turn his nose up at, well, most everything. He can't stand pop culture, sex, people, pretty much everything since he's really quite above it all and far more advanced as a human.

He is also a glutton and immensely slothful. He's just, well, gross.

Due to his mom crashing the family car and needing repairs, Ignatius is forced to find a job. He tries to sell hotdogs but he eats them all 'cause he's just too hungry all the time. He then falls into a job at the Levy Pants company where he works in a back office and mostly hides paperwork in file cabinets.

confederacy_cover.JPGIt's almost difficult to describe this book because there are so many eccentric characters it just kept me thinking "what in the holy fucking hell is going on here??" chapter after chapter.

First, there's Myrna Minkoff who Ignatius met in college and is the polar opposite of him. They continue having a pen pal relationship where they both analyze and degrade each other and Myrna speculates continually about his sexual orientation.

Then there's Miss Trixie, a clerk in the Levy Pants office who is senile and only wants to retire, but the owner's wife, Mrs. Levy, keeps her working, thinking she is doing the old crazy lady a favor by taking her under her wing as project. Even going so far as to give the woman a makeover. Mr. Levy would just like it if his wife would shut up.

Next up is the cop who keeps hassling Ignatius, Officer Mancuso who is completely inept, and his aunt, Santa Battaglia, who is Mrs. Reilly's new best friend, and hates Ignatius. It's Santa who helps Mrs. Reilly get a little more independent and to start standing up to Ignatius and his demands. It's Santa that gets Mrs. Reilly dating after 21-years of widowhood and that introduces the next character: Claude Robichaux. He's an old guy with a big dash of paranoia who is always looking for Communists around every corner.

Then there's the strip club occupants. Darlene, with a pet bird that she is trying to incorporate into her act to get herself famous, and Lana Lee the manager of the strip club. She just happens to also be running an illegal porn exchange on the side where she packages up photos and postcards and gives them to George, a high school aged kid, for delivery. Except of course he is compelled to peek in the packages and knows exactly what Lana is doing and demands a raise.

For pretty much all of the novel, Ignatius spends his time outraged and indignant and one really must wonder what the guy has in his head that makes him so superior to others.

This satirical novels encompasses corruption in the police force and the mindset of white trash nouveau riche. It even attempts a worker's revolt as Ignatius decides that being a clerk or hot dog vender are just undignified and everyone should rise up and protest. This is also an action that is staged to one-up Myrna Minkoff who continues to write from New York City with larger and larger leftist challenges for Ignatius to meet.

Ignatius is seriously one of the most disgusting characters I've ever had the pleasure of climbing into the skin of. Full of flatulence and hypochondriacal illnesses and a total disregard for anyone but himself.

This book was just ucky. I don't know what to say. I liked it. The 2nd time around. And subsequent readings. But the first time? Well, the first time I decided there must be something I'm missing and I'm clearly not the sort to be snooty about my novel consumption if this is the sort of thing that impresses the haughty class of those disdainful of the bourgeois.

This is a comedy and it was funny. The other plus is that you will sound smart at parties where you can drop the names like Ignatius P. Reilly or Myrna Minkoff because instantly people will know you read books. And Pulitzer Prize winners at that. That makes you SPECIAL. And not in that short bus sort of way. Really. It will be as impressive as knowing what nose your glass of pinot emits or which composer tackled that air on a g string.

Just read it, you won't be disappointed—but understand it might take a couple readings to appreciate it. Remember, it's like cheap booze. Wait, that isn't fair. It's more like cracking open a bottle of fine whiskey before it's had time to properly age. Do it too soon and well, that's just nasty and it will make you sick. But savor it, roll it over your tongue, inhale the vapor and let it intoxicate you and you will learn to appreciate the finer aspects of perfection.

That's the novel.

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A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

I was wandering back and forth down aisles of books hoping a title would catch my eye. I don't know that there has ever been another title as ambitious and arrogant as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. So I had to grab it.

This was the first novel by author Dave Eggers who, at the time, was dabbling with launching a magazine in San Francisco and navigating the internet craze.

hwsg.jpgThis is an autobiography. But there's more to it. It's charming and self-deprecating, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading every word—and by every word I mean every single word. See, I'm that person who actually looks on that one page with all the publishing info and Library of Congress filing position. To my surprise I found a not only a Kinsey scale pinpointing how straight/gay Eggers is but also other little informational tidbits.

How I wish that I had purchased this book the day it came out, in its first printing. Why? Well I'll tell you. The guy actually used real names of his friends and family which isn't so odd really, but he also included their phone numbers! So people who wanted to say hi or ask a question, they could just make a quick call. Subsequent printings had the information removed, with editorial notes explaining the inclusion and exclusion of the numbers. Strangely enough, only one person ever got a phone call.

Another different aspect about this novel was the offer a disk with the entire text of the book available for editing. Don't like the dialogue? Go ahead and change it. Just mail in your request.

Also found inside are goofball drawings that Dave and his brother, Christopher, draw at various times, and there is also a drawing of a whale sighting as Dave was kayaking in San Francisco Bay.

What else? There is also a section explaining why this or that chapter was written or what parts you can probably skip if you're in a hurry and why the dialogue was a bit more sophisticated than what they really sound like. As in, who wants to read a book where everyone just says, "Dude? Dude!" and sound like idiots.

So what's this book about? I suppose I should get to that. It's a journey with no end. It begins with the recollection of the home he grew up in, with his mother laying on the couch, coughing up green smelly phlegm into a plastic receptacle. His mom had cancer and spent her last days watching TV and being, well, kind of gross. He doesn’t pull his punches when it comes to describing how he felt watching his mother die and what cancer does to a person.

Within weeks of his mother's death, his father collapses in the driveway and also dies. Of cancer.

After the funerals, Dave, a 21-year old college student, packs up himself and his 7-year old brother Christopher and moves out of Chicago with their sister Beth and into San Francisco and responsibility.

Dave Eggers writes really well and he is all over the place. What I mean is, the guy can go from talking about being a "parent" to thinking of being an orphan and four other thoughts that follow, and Eggers doesn't leave any of it out. Every thought—every bit of rage or joy or disgust.

Page after page of hanging out with friends, trying to find a job or an apartment, youthful zeal and rebellion while trying to be the "dad" for Toph (Christopher's nickname).

I don't want to sound dismissive or give the appearance that this is all about some self-obsessed guy who has too much time in his own head, even though that's true, but it's just more. The guy can write. In turn this read is sad and hilarious and very dark.

eggers.jpgHow does a person laugh at cancer? Or laugh at a friend who took a header off a balcony and ends up brain damaged? Or write that your own brother stinks like pee and you're worried that he's gonna be that kid in school who wreaks? Who decides that sending out a press release that Adam Rich, star of the old show Eight is Enough, is dead? Well, that would be Dave Eggers, the fella who thought that writing his life's story at age 29 was a good idea. Turns out he was dead on.

There is a heavy dose of cynicism and wit to be found from a guy whose main goal of going to the Parent Teacher night at Toph's school is to find a single mother to bang. On the other hand, Eggers is so heavily self-aware that he gets how pretentious he might sound and happily shares where in the novel to focus for the most enjoyment while also letting us know how he spent the advance money from the publisher.

The guy draws a floor plan of his apartment to include—along with a stapler. A stapler? Yeah, why not.

I can see where some people might be confused by the uniqueness of this book and I'm thinking that people over the age of 40 probably won't really understand where this pop culture riddled media/internet freak might be coming from.

I loved this book, I was delighted with the depth of darkness. You know what else? I came away thinking that Dave Eggers is probably an asshole and not someone I'd want to hang with. But I'd not blink before handing over more money to buy another bit of his work; I just wouldn't lay out any cash to buy him a beer.

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The Historian

I was very much looking forward to this book. History and Dracula, suspense with a smattering of romance. Sort of. The Historian, the debut fiction novel by Elizabeth Kostova, was surrounded by massive hype such as "runaway best seller". Unfortunately, my reaction is wishing it had run right past me.

I feel like it took me a decade to read this book. And one of the distracting bits about the book is that the main narrator, the daughter of Paul and Helen, never reveals her name. We do find that she is named after Helen's mother, but we are also never given that name. Evidently this was intentional by the author. She called it a "literary experiment". I just call it annoying.

We begin this story in 1972 when Narrator Chick (this is now her name, "NC" for short) is 16 and living in Amsterdam with her father and a housekeeper/nanny named Mrs. Clay. Her father, Paul, is basically a diplomat sort who started a foundation called Center for Peace and Democracy which enabled him to do much traveling around Europe.

historian_cover.jpgWhile Paul is out of town on business, NC is nosing around in his library, snooping on the top shelf and found a copy of Kama Sutra as well as a mysterious book full of blank pages and one woodcut image of a dragon. Within the dragon's claws is a banner with a single word, "Drakulya".

When NC reveals to her father that she found the book, that begins an oral recitation of his previous adventures.

Paul, NC's father, is a former Professor and Historian and his mentor Bartholomew Rossi was at one time also in possession of an empty book with a woodcut dragon. The exact same woodcut actually. Neither knows the source of these books as they both just suddenly showed up in their lives. Paul's was sitting on the table in the library where he was studying for his dissertation. He had gotten up to find something about Dutch merchants and returned to find the little book opened to the dragon.

At that time it was the 50's and Paul was a student at Oxford. He took his dragon book to Rossi, hoping he might have information on its origin, and as soon as Rossi viewed it he blanched with recognition. And that sets off another story that takes place in the 30's.

So what we have here are three distinct stories and timelines all interwoven by the same goal: Finding Dracula.

Shortly after Paul receives the book and shows it to Rossi, and Rossi hands over research papers of his own from when he first started on the trail after Dracula, Rossi goes missing. The only trace left of him is some blood on his desk. Paul panics and feels guilty, taking on the responsibility of Rossi's possible death or kidnapping because of showing Rossi the dragon book. Soon Paul starts having odd feelings and paranoia, like someone is watching him or following him. Perhaps warning him off from his pursuit. Paul ignores all the warnings and decides to find Rossi, hoping it's not too late.

In the library he spots a woman reading Bram Stoker's Dracula and Paul chats her up, finds her to be cold and off-putting and pretty much moves on until the next day when he returns to the library to find that all reference to Bram Stoker's novel has disappeared from the card catalogue and the shelves.

He then goes to the librarian and smiles his way into finding out the co-ed's address, the girl who had the novel the day before, so he can give her a call. One thing leads to another and come to find out this is Helen Rossi, Bartholomew's illegitimate daughter that he never knew existed.

She has some serious daddy issues. She believes that Bart abandoned her mother in Romania. Later, when Helen's mom had moved to Hungary to live with her sister Eva to have the baby there, Helen's mom had written Bart to tell him about the baby, but he wrote back saying he had no clue who she was.

So Helen is a wee bit bitter. And angry. Scowls a lot. She has chosen the course of also becoming a Historian so that she might one day outshine her famous father. She had caught wind of his interest in Vlad Tepes and vowed to find out more information and publish sooner, stealing his glory. So she joined the hunt with Paul. Along the way they get a little romantic, but it's in passing and never the main focus.

What we end up with is a history lesson on the Ottoman Empire, the Turks, the fall of Constantinople, Sultan Mehmed II and his own obsession with Dracula, and travel from America to England to Romania. Then Bulgaria, Hungary, more of Wallachia and Bucharest. Also a trip over to Istanbul, Paris, Brussels. Seriously, all over the place. Too many places. I got lost and it even came with a map!

I shouldn't be too surprised at the constant traveling because Kostova is a writer of travel books. And if you ever felt the need to know what a sunset smells like from a café in Istanbul or how the dawn light reflects off the crumbling stone of a monastery in Krasna Polyana then you will like this book.

You will also like this book if you are fascinated by the routes of medieval pilgrims and monks. And not just the routes, but the shoes they wore and the shapes of their noses.

VladTepesPortrait.jpgNow, I don't want to sound like this book was complete shit. It wasn't. There were moments of enjoyment for me. It started off interestingly enough, but after about 30 pages I got bored. I kept at it, and it snagged me again around page 280. Lost me again at 500. Page 591 gave me a bit of "ooh, that was unexpected" and then immediately I became annoyed because how in the hell does someone who is being held captive by Dracula have the time to type out pages and pages of letters in a day or two?
That's another aspect of this book. A lot, and I mean A LOT, of it is told through letters and postcards. And for some reason the characters in this novel, when in peril, feel a need to stop and write paragraphs about footwear and religious icons. In my mind I see something like a chase seen, running around Bulgaria, guns and knives of silver, the scent of the hunt strong in our hero's nostrils and then—"Pardon me a moment, have a rest from your pursuit and let me record all of this for posterity. Now where is my inkwell and parchment? Tea?"

Here's what we have: Dragon book, Professor Rossi disappears, Paul gets his own book, finds Helen, and pursues the Professor. Paul and Helen marry, have baby (NC) then Helen also disappears. At age 16, NC finds dragon book, insists on knowing what it is, Paul begins to tell her, makes a discovery in the library at Princeton then also disappears. NC finds note from Paul, her father, saying he has to go do something. NC fears the worst and takes off to find him. Everyone is disappearing and trying to find someone while also trying to locate Dracula.

He's still alive. Just in case that bit wasn't assumed.

NC ends up losing her virginity to a guy named Barley. What kind of name is that? Wimpy ass British name I think. There's some buggery involved in his prep school days I'm thinking.

There is a treasure of knowledge to be found in this book. The history and detail is magnificent. But there's too much of it. It distracts from the story to such a degree that there are bits I skimmed past until I found quotation marks. I started to sweat from flashbacks of high school world history class.

Also to be found within the pages is a judgment of the world by Vlad Tepes. Dracula admires men like Hitler and Stalin as well as events that have impacted people and nations with horror and negativity. Why vilify and fear a man such as Dracula in a world where we possess nuclear bombs? Wrapped in all of that is also a bit of metaphor for the Western world of Christianity versus the Eastern Muslims. Dracula battled in horrific relief against Muslims in his time and to this day he is hailed as a hero in Romania.

Following the theme of History, the characters are affected in large or small scale by historical events. Helen's family disappears after a revolution in Hungary in 1956. Paul is killed by a landmine in Sarajevo in the 90's. Another major character dies in the 80's of a mysterious blood disease. Terrorists attack Philadelphia in the present day

But even all the metaphors and allegories are buried beneath all of the endless rubble of boredom and dusty boot descriptions.

Another issue? No one seems surprised or disbelieving that everyone is running around looking for Dracula. Find out your college librarian is a vampire and a minion of Dracula? No problem, grab a Pepsi! All of the characters react exactly the same as everyone else. From highly educated scholar, to ignorant peasant, to shy monks—everyone is just fine and dandy with the vampire situation.

I have a strong inkling that this is the sort of book people will read and recommend to others, even if they believe it sucked ass. Why? Because it appears intellectual. It's one of those books. All that jam packed history and travel detail, it must be enjoyed! To not profess great love for this book could possibly lead to an embarrassing moment over chilled mojitos.

I have no doubt that some people will genuinely like this novel and all that it delivers. But I've said it before—I can't stand endless narrative. I want characters speaking and relating to each other. I don't think it would have hurt this book to be cut in half. At 676 pages it was just too much.

The Historian is considered a mystery full of suspense. Not a single time was I drawn in and worried about a shadow or the sound of footfalls on stone. I would not have been upset if I turned a page to find every character dead due to a house fire. Darn.

As it is, the ending is flat, uneventful and I felt cheated. At times during this book I was ready to stake my own heart just to get out of finishing it, but I kept at it and by the end of the last sentence I wished I had staked myself.

I recommend this book only to people I don't like. Click Here to Read More..