Sunday, August 30, 2009

Abandon by Blake Crouch

The book begins with a great quote: "In the West, the past is very close. In many places, it still believes it's the present." --John Masters

On Christmas Day in 1893 the entire town of Abandon, Colorado disappeared without a trace. Present day finds a team of six people, two paranormal photographers, a journalist, a prominent university historian, and two guides, hiking their way in to the isolated ghost town. The story alternates between 1893 and 2009, giving the reader the story behind the town's disappearance and the unsettling events going on their now. The 1893 residents encountered an evil they never saw coming and the recent explorers will experience the same, though it is two different evils brought on by one common theme. See if you can unravel the mystery!

What Abandon reminds me of most is Clint Eastwood's superb film, Unforgiven, with a seasoning of the film Wolf Creek thrown in to give you that slightly foul taste in the back of your throat.

I definitely am not saying that this is not a great book, it is quite good, but merely that it showcases, proudly showcases, some of the worst parts of the human psyche. The characters in this book range wildly from good and innocent to mad and out-of-control to evil and sadistic, but even the sadists in the cast show glimpses of what might have been.

It was not what I'd call a pleasant read but it is, in my opinion, a shining psychological thriller with heavy doses of creepiness thrown in to sweeten the mix. Other books that come to mind are Dean Koontz's Intensity, Anne Matthews' The Cave, and David Morrell's Creepers. Intensity was my fav of those three.

Abandon is gory, violent, and contains a lot of equally violent language, as I usually say, just so you know ahead of time.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

One Jump Ahead by Mark L. Van Name

Jon Moore has some body mods that he certainly didn't ask for but makes the most of nonetheless. After the disasterous experiments that introduced nanomachines into his body, he escaped from the lab and is, hopefully, presumed dead by all involved. He wants nothing more than to be left alone to live as peacefully as he can manage. Unfortunately he becomes deeply involved in some particularly nasty politcal/corporate espionage.

With Jon, the aggressor in this campaign has unknowingly bitten off more than they can chew and Jon will bring all the weapons he can find, external AND internal, to bear on the problem...including the AI-equipped Predator class assualt vehicle Lobo, who (as opposed to "which" as he is a fully realized character in his own right) acts as a rather more emotional that Jon would like sidekick in their adventures.

I truly love being introduced to new books that I myself do not select and this is the main reason I love book groups, as I'm sure I've mentioned before. So, Inner Worlds, the sci-fi book group I started going to back in May, selected One Jump Ahead as the September selection.

We just finished my pick, John Scalzi's Old Man's War, so I was excited to read another military sci-fi selection for comparison. They are both excellent! Scalzi's book has a more slapstick humor to it, but I love the interplay between Jon and Lobo in Van Name's novel and the involved plot pulls in intergallactic politics, corporate backbiting, combat loyalty, and some truly great battle strategy discussions! The next book in the series is called Slanted Jack and I have already put in a reserve for it at my library! Between this and Robert Buettner's Jason Wander series, I am fully emersed in military science fiction right now :-)

Benny & Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti

I cannot pass up a book about a librarian. I don't know why that is, but if there's a librarian in the story I'm going to read it. That is how I found Benny & Shrimp and it sounded SO promising!
From the front cover:
It started in a cemetery, where they begrudgingly share a bench. "Shrimp," the childless young widow and librarian with a sharp intellect and a home so tidy that her jam jars are in alphabetical order, meets Benny, the gentle, overworked milk farmer who fears becoming the village's Old Bachelor. Both driven by an enormous longing and loudly ticking biological clocks, they can't escape the powerful attraction between them.

This is Katarina Mazetti's first novel for adults and is translated from Swedish by Sarah Death(!!!). It was, as some of the endorsements have said, offbeat and quirky but in the end I was disappointed. I believe the fault lies not with the author or the story but with my perception of it. I'll be honest. I was expecting a funny, sweet romance between a librarian and a dairy farmer. What you get instead is an offbeat and quirky story of two incompatible people trying desperately to fall in love. I should have known there'd be trouble when I noticed there was a reader's guide and discussion questions in the back. Easy, uncomplicated, feel-good books do not often come with reader's guides and discussion questions. The book ends rather abruptly and I noticed in the author interview that she mentions writing a sequel but there is no mention of the title nor can I find any additional information from the modest amount of digging I've done. arghhh!

So, to sum up. Benny & Shrimp is offbeat and quirky but don't go into it in a particularly romantic frame of mind.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

One of my book groups is discussing In the Time of the Butterflies and I was frankly glad of it. This is a book I’ve heard about off and on for many years but never really felt compelled to pick up and that is one of the main reasons why I love being in a bookgroup! Everyone would benefit from joining a book group as long as they read the selection. I won’t even say you have to do it without complaint because what kind of fun discussion would that be?

This novel is loosely based on the story of Mirabal sisters who lived in the Dominican Republic under the Trujillo dictatorship. The four lively sisters were in a reasonably well off family and had a relatively quiet childhood up until their father began a more or less open relationship, complete with children, with another woman. They grew up under the shadow of Trujillo’s rule and became amazingly independent women for their time, going to school and university as well as getting involved with the revolution to overthrow Trujillo…a movement that ultimately, and sadly, led to their own downfall.

Stories like this always leave me melancholy simply because of the kernel of truth they are based on. Most of the worst of the action happens off the page but it is the imagining that sometimes makes it worse. I am not terribly fond of the arrangement with different chapters from different perspectives told in different persons. It reminded me of what I didn’t like about The Time Traveler’s Wife and made it hard to focus on what I did like. I believe the story of the Mirabal sisters is an important one and I would definitely like to know more about them.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Dr. Faraday remembers Hundreds Hall from visits there as a child when his mother was on the nursery staff. He loves the house and the gardens and surrounding parks so when he is called there in his capacity as a doctor many years later, he is dismayed by the amount of decay and decline that has taken place. Only Mrs. Ayers and her two adult children, Roderick and Caroline, live there now and it is slowly draining what little remains of the family fortune. Dr. Faraday is called in to see the new parlor maid, Betty. Betty is young and excitable and is not really very sick but instead tells Dr. Faraday that she doesn’t like being in the house, that something bad is in it. Dr. Faraday scoffs at her claims, prescribes some mild digestive medicine she clearly doesn’t need, and doesn’t think too much more about it. However, something is amiss at Hundreds Hall. A dinner party goes terribly wrong and a young girl is horribly disfigured. Roderick claims to see movement where there can surely be none. A host of creepy noises and vague shadows permeate the house and terrorize the residents.

Are you scared yet?

There is very little I enjoy more in life than a good case of the creeps. I may complain about it and spend a few sleepless nights, but I love creepy movies. I love creepy books even more. Which brings me around to Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger. ..I would SO love a good British director (NOT a Hollywood one, witness the 28 Days Later/28 Weeks Later difference!) to get ahold of this and run with it. This is so atmospheric and gothic with none of the gore/monster/vampire/zombie fetishes that other horror tends to run to. This is ExCeLlEnT horror is you like that sort of thing AND it is on the Man Booker Longlist for the 2009 awards! The shortlist will be announced in September and I will be heartbroken if it is not on there. I think, based on a conversation that Katie and I had earlier today, that it would make an excellent book group selection.

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

In a post-apocalyptic United States called Panem there now exists only the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year, the Capitol requires two Tributes from each district, a boy and a girl, to compete in the televised Hunger Games in a battle to the death. The winner receives fame, fortune, food, and a life of relative ease. Children are eligible for the Hunger Games from ages 12-18 and sixteen year old Katniss Everdeen has avoided the Reaping for 4 years now, every year standing strained and anxious expecting to hear her name called. To her horror, this year it is her 12 year old sister’s name which rings out across the square. She lurches forward to put herself in Prim’s place and so begins the 74th Hunger Games.

Hunger Games is a rising star in young adult literature right now and will no doubt get even more popular when the next book in the series, Catching Fire, is published next month. Katniss is a wonderfully complex young heroine who finds herself on shaky ground physically AND mentally in the Hunger Games Arena yet manages to remain true to herself the entire time. The choices she is forced to make will often make you cringe, but admiration is hot on that cringe’s heels! I can hardly believe I haven’t cracked the cover on the advanced reading copy I picked up in Chicago, but such is the life of a librarian…too much to read and not enough eyeballs to shoehorn it all in.

Starred reviews all over the place, celebrity endorsements out the wazoo (Stephenie Meyers AND Stephen King), a strong and intelligent heroine and some pretty decent world building make this novel a must read for the year. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

family trees, shallow roots

It's kind of odd to stand back and, from a slight distance, watch your family slowly rot and topple. It all begins, as much as I hate to say it, when one whole generation has girls. My maternal aunt had girls, not that the boys would have carried on the family name anyway. What an ambiguous proposition family names are. All my uncles who had children had girls. My brother died.

My half brother carries the load now since he had a boy. And that's it for the family name. There were no boys on my mom's side of the family, or at least none I've met. One little boy to carry on the family name. This is not important to me as I don't have plans for a family myself but I can feel the brittleness when the paternal side, the name carrying side, of my family gets together for holidays. It's aging, decaying, and getting increasingly fragile year after year. I can see, or imagine I see, a sense of betrayal in my paternal grandmother's eyes when she looks at her progeny for she herself gave birth to four healthy boys. Ironically, she appears to blame the wives for the trouble and I thought that was no longer a problem in this age of science. I often am tempted to ask her if she understands how such things work but in the end it isn't important enough to me to pose the question.

All our family gatherings are quiet, awkward affairs so I find happier families to join for the holidays. I like Thanksgiving with friends and Christmas with the side of my halfbrother's family to which I am not related. They seem to like me too and always treat me like a full sister when I visit. Don't get me wrong, I do love my family but we are almost like character actors in a low budget made-for-tv movie when we get together. Long silences, strained small talk, heavy glances loaded with unnamed guilt...oh, it's quite comical when you think about it objectively.

Sometimes I feel so different from the rest of them that I think surely I must have been adopted and no one has told me. How common is that, I wonder? Surely other people in the world must feel that way. I've read novels describing the same thing but don't all novels contain at least a kernel of truth, a little grain of sand in an oyster? Have you ever felt like a stranger in your own family?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mop Men by Alan Emmins

Mop Men I happened upon by chance. This takes more effort in a library than you might imagine since I work here and I don’t browse. The last thing I’m hurting for, trust me, is reading material. But, the bloody “Wet Floor”-type sign snagged my attention and I can never turn down the possibility of gore.

In Mop Men, Denmark-dwelling Englishman Alan Emmins travels to California to follow Crime Scene Cleaners, Inc. CEO Neal Smither around for one month as Neal cleans up the messiest of other peoples’ messes.

The side of his truck says it all:

Crime Scene Cleaners, Inc.

Homicides, Suicides & Accidental Deaths

This book is so descriptive, it almost physically stinks. Just so you know ahead of time. I loved it and read it in one afternoon. Ironically, the afternoon where I finished A Bride In the Bargain and The Posthuman Dada Guide. That in itself is very dada.

The Posthuman Dada Guide by Andrei Codrescu

I count myself among the lucky ones who can finish a Christian historical romance and The Posthuman Dada Guide in the same day and still retain my sanity!

I will usually snap up anything having to do with Dada ever since I studied it in grad school. It was actually a class on the era of the little magazine and my classmate and I had the good fortune of being assigned to Broom. Don’t worry, most people have never heard of it.

I had my first taste of Dada then and fell in love with it. It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t stand for anything. It takes no side but its own. It would be offended that I’m trying to label it with a description.

It was a movement of artists, writers, poets, and thinkers rebelling against the Great War, any other movement, and itself. In The Posthuman Dada Guide, Andrei Codrescu ponders the beginnings of the movement and its infiltration of daily life through a hypothetical game of chess between Tristan Tzara and Lenin. This is not done in any roundabout way that I can sum up for you. I will only say that if you like literary, philosophical, contemplative essays, give it a whirl!

One of Tristan Tzara’s favorite poetic methods was the cutup: to take a newspaper/magazine article or a page from a book, cut out the individual words and put them in a hat, then write the words down in the order he drew them out. At Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, the group would pick two members to read two different poems at the same time while someone played loud, discordant music. I love these guys! I would love to have been one of them. I like things that are out of sync with the world around them, and that certainly describes Dada. This is a book I’ll definitely have to add to my personal collection!

A Bride In the Bargain by Deeanne Gist

Joe Denton settled in the Seattle territory because they were giving away 640 acres to married men. Unfortunately, his wife died before she could travel out to the beautiful house he’d built for her as he also built a thriving lumber business. Now, ten years later his livelihood is threatened because he has no wife and can’t find a copy of her death certificate. If he doesn’t get married, and SOON, he will lose half of his land. Local businessman Asa Mercer to the rescue! For a cutthroat nominal fee, he will travel East to secure young brides for the lonely men. Joe asks for a woman who can cook and signs on the dotted line.

Anna Ivey is a Civil War orphan. She has a pretty good job as a cook, but her boss is a sleazebag (my words, not hers obviously). After he corners her one too many times, Anna decides to answer an ad in the paper which asks for cooks and nannies for families in the Seattle territory. Replies should be made to Asa Mercer. Anna has to finance her journey but she signs on the dotted line.

So, Joe thinks he’s getting a bride and Anna thinks she’s getting a job. Won’t they be surprised? J

I came across A Bride in the Bargain while looking through book review magazines and thought it sounded pretty good. A young Civil War widow heads to the Pacific Northwest to marry a lumberjack. So, I put in a reserve for it then it sort of slipped from my mind until the book came in for me. The cover was cute, featuring a young lady in a terribly formal dress leaning on an ax. But then I noticed the Bethany House label and realized I would be getting no hot lumberjack action as this is a Christian historical romance. I read it anyway and was pleasantly surprised. There were a few cheesy moments and only occasionally did the religious discussion become kind of cloying. I enjoyed it for its funny moments AND for Mrs. Gist’s truly sexy descriptions of a handsome, shirtless, sweating, nice-guy lumberjack (as they all are in my imagination). All in all, a fun and quick read. I wouldn’t hesitate to try another of her works.

best laid plans

I had all sorts of plans for the day but so far all I've done is exercise and farm on Facebook :-) It's my late night so I have to work 5 to 9 tonight and the rest of the day is mine...IF I can get up off my lazy tush and do something. I'm just not terribly motivated. I got up yesterday in a ferocious mood combined with a severe case of the blahs.

It's hard to be grumpy with no energy, though it was probably a blessing for John Q. Public. Usually I'm frenetically in a bad mood and then the bad sh!t happens. I was just too tired to take it out on anyone. Not that I didn't have ample opportunity. My first 3 or 4 patrons of the day were in worse shape than me and fully willing and able to show it but I gave them the standard cheerful grin and ignored the waves of antagonism rolling off. Really people, 9am on a Monday is far too early to chew anybody's @$$, much less mine.

From a work point of view, we are kicking @$$ and taking names at work. The adult summer reading program was another rousing success this year and the fall lineup of programs ROCKS! We have several day trips planned to area museums and attractions in conjunction with the Birmingham Museum of Art exhibit Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery as well as the library's annual wine and food festival AND we've booked Mary Kay Andrews in October!

Life-wise, I really shouldn't be able to find anything to complain about, but rest assured that I do. Maybe it's the lack of outside stimuli. I don't subscribe to periodicals and I don't have cable, satellite, or a converter box so no tv stations, just an active Netflix account. I do read the front page of the newspapers when I put them out at work and I listen to NPR and I have steady access to the internet so I'm not completely under a rock but I am sheltered from the nanosecond news cycle that everyone else is constantly exposed to. Should I be ashamed that this makes me happy? Oh well, it is what it is.

By the way, a philosophy for which I was criticized by a patron last week for having. Whatever. He probably wouldn't be too happy about the "whatever" either. I am not an activist. Maybe I'll be led to such activity at some point in my life, but I'm not right now though I have made what I consider to be very positive changes in my life.

I stopped gratuitously using paper products. I eat WAY less meat than I ever have in my entire life, though that's a financial point rather than an ethical one. I drive a high MPG, subcompact car and I drive that car slowly. I unplug all the electronics that I don't use daily. I leave my thermostat on 80 unless I just am about to have a comeapart. I read books/articles/websites on environmentalism and sustainability and implement ideas where I have time and resources.

Do we all have to be warriors? Do we all have to give orders and come up with plans? Are not the steady workerbees just as important to the hive? Is a grass roots effort made up only of the militantly faithful? Am I a bad person because I am not fervent about much at all, with the possible exception of high fructose corn syrup avoidance? I want to live, be the best human being I can manage to be, and be hopeful of the possibility of helping a few people along the way. That is all. It is wealth to me.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

Oh, what exactly to say about Beat the Reaper...

1. I listened to this in the car (great audio!) and I put the first CD right back in when I finished the last one because I wanted that visceral experience again immediately.
2. There is a bunch/wealth/plethora/no shortage/heaping serving of crude language and imagery as well as gratuitous and brutal violence. Just so you know ahead of time.
3. It was so f&%king funny I could barely stand it...when it was crude and/or violent, it was often funny then too.
4. I am SO buying this for my personal collection. The Bearclaw will cheer me up when I'm feeling blue.

So, Dr. Peter Brown's day has started with a bang. He witnesses a bloody altercation between a rat and a pigeon, then someone tries to mug him. Poor, poor mugger. You'll learn more about elbow tendons and tracheal rings than you'd think possible in a few paragraphs. When he finally makes it to work, nothing really improves. Peter is a first year intern in the city's worst hospital and it is a battleground. As he makes his rounds, the impossible happens and one unexpected patient identifies him as Pietro "Bearclaw" Brnwa, former mafia hitman turned witness. Chaos of varying bloody and disgusting types insue. Layered with this turn of events is the life story that has changed Pietro Brnwa to Peter Brown.

It's funny. It's gross. It's rude, crude, and undeniably socially unacceptable. I love it so.

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

GwaPE was a re-read for me but I consider this to be the book that started my love affair with biographical fiction. It doesn't take much to describe the plot. Chevalier takes a somewhat mysterious historical figure, Johannes Vermeer, and one of his most famous paintings and imagines what led to its creation. What I love about his story takes much longer to describe.

Vivid imagery, characters I could love and quite a few I dislike (I would have slapped Cornelia constantly), ambiguous moral questions, period detail that you can practically touch...a wonderful story all in all! If you haven't yet gotten around to this book, I highly recommend it!

I also Netflixed the movie and it is good, though it's choppy and a lot was sacrificed for forward momentum. Scarlet Johanssen is magnificent as Griet and the little girl playing Cornelia has exactly the nasty attitude and facial expression that is described in the book.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

non sequitur

I can't make this sh!t up...

Me: Hi there! May I help you?

Patron: I'm terribly sorry but I've just got my hair cut and it's still wet. Can you get this book for me?

Me: Let me just get that for you.

that is all.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I found a burgeoning hornet's nest in the barn! It was only about the size of a golf ball and I'm not 100% sure it was a hornet's nest but that it the only buggy structure I've ever seen that it resembled though it was only about the size of a lemon. It got hosed down with roach spray anyway as I don't want those creatures that nearby. Of course, then I had to go through the other parts of the barn to see if I could find evidence of anymore. I did not see anything else but it was by no means a thorough search as the barn gives me the fantods, even in broad daylight.

I think of my barn as I think of the ocean...kind of distant, I can't see the bottom, and stuff lives out there that I'm pretty sure is not afraid of me and could be quite harmful there for I don't go in too far. I would love to post a sign on it: Rummage Sale, For Real! As in, you stop by and rummage through (after signing a release waiver for harm, allergies, stitches, rabies, tetanus, mold, mice, rats, hornets, feral cats, opposums, armadillos, bunnies, etc) and I'll charge you $1 for every item you find and want to take home with you. Do you think anyone would be interested in dusty, buggy crap for $1?

Monday, August 10, 2009

! ! ! this just in ! ! !

Young Patron: I'm looking for the second Harry Potter book, the lady downstairs said you had one up here.

M: Well, I just looked over there for one of the other books for someone else and it was the last one. Let me check the catalog.


M: Yes, Chamber of Secrets just checked in so go down to the front desk and give them the name of the book and that it was recently returned.

YP: *squirming and making noncommital noises and the corresponding facial expression* Well, I really wanted it today. We're going to the beach.

M: um..well, downstairs is IN the building so you'd have it today. Just go to the desk and tell them it was recently returned.

YP: Well, I'll just find something else.

M: Let me just go get that for you.

that is all.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


If you'll remember (and if not, this the reminder), my last big grocery trip was around the first of May. I spent $152 and got 91 meals out of it, the last of which I finished this past week. May to August on one grocery run is not too bad. I did have to go back intermittantly (sp?) for milk and fresh produce of course, but not for entree-type items. For whatever reason, my yield was not as successful this time around but I got a solid 80 meals out of a $180 trip.

I tried some new recipes because I was tired of the other food except for lasagna and chicken & dumplings so I added the curried rice & chicken, white bean chili, mexican goulash, and a pot roast with potatoes. It's a nice mix of flavor, color, and texture and should last me. I also had some turkey sliced at the deli as I can not abide the processed lunch meats anymore. I got some Hebrew National hotdogs as they are the best things evah! I had some leftover rice from the curry recipe so I added the roasted onions/garlic and leftover stock from roasting the chicken and I figure that can be some additional meals all on its own.

My freezer is full to bursting. I have a veggie drawer full of fruits and veggies. I have a block of horseradish cheddar from the Amish Country (Thanks again Kathy!!!). Life is good.

Today Mom and I are going to see what kind of trouble we can get into. I think we are going to see The Ugly Truth. Gerard Butler, purrrrrrrrr.

Friday, August 7, 2009

moment of Facebook shame

So, what to do when a high school classmate brings up a painful, humiliating moment from your own educational career with the addition of a "hahahahaha"?

It's really not a question (since there is nothing to be done and I really shouldn't be so sensitive) so much as a venting since I would have liked to think that my classmates thought more of me than that..oh well.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Dont Know Much About Literature

It's truly embarrassing how badly I did on this quiz! Alas, I am only a page (a job title I actually held for about 5 or 6 years).