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5 stars: Completely enjoyable or compelling
4 stars: Good but flawed
3 stars: Average
2 stars: OK
1 star: Did not finish

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Waiting for the Barbarians: 11/30/08

Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee is one of those books I had to read for college that I read only well enough to take the mid term or final and move on with other assignments. In other words, all these years later, I couldn't remember thing one about the novel. This Thanksgiving weekend I set things to right by re-reading the novel at a leisurely pace without the stress of having to study it. The book has now gone from "unmemorable" to "damn good novel" for me.

The book follows the life and times of a small town magistrate at the edge of an unnamed empire that is trying to expand its borders into "barbarian" territory This outpost at the edge of the hinterland sees first hand the war with barbarians and the ways in which the empire ill treats its prisoners of war.

Much of the book focuses on one prisoner, a young woman who has been crippled and nearly blinded during her "interrogation." The magistrate lives with her for a while but decides in the end that she should be returned to her people. His act of kindness is taken as an act of treason.

As the empire is never named it works well as an allegory for any number of nations. It could be either Coetzee's own homes, South Africa, the place of his birth, or Australia, his current home. To me, it fits easily in any of the South American nations, although I was especially reminded of Brazil. The book also reminded me in tone of George Orwell's 1984.

Waiting for the Barbarians is short but powerful. It's less than 160 pages and can easily be read over a weekend. It's well worth a read, or perhaps a re-read.

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Leave: 11/29/08

The "Reed-of-the-month club" (p. 56) offering is "Leave." It's a story about a family frantically trying to save their son from alien recruitment for a never ending war.

The story is narrated by the "fond uncle," a friend of the family who doesn't have any children of his own. He and his wife Cheryl have become the uncle and aunt to their friends' children: Amanda and Donnie (or L.D. for short).

"Leave" mostly focuses on L.D. who was a sweet child, a troubled teen and a missing adult. His family suspects that he has been recruited by the Kuipers for their on going war.

The war though isn't the point to Reed's story. It is there to cause a reaction in LD's family. Most of "Leave" is the account of their reaction. Through their attempts to find LD and to just come to terms with his disappearance that we learn both about LD and the people close to him.

Having read now six Robert Reed stories, I appreciate his flexibility as a writer. "Leave" comes somewhere in the middle of my enjoyment. My favorites so far remain "Five Thrillers" and "Character Flu."

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Mort: 11/28/08

Mort comes early in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. It's number four in a series containing nearly forty novels. It has the freshness of humor that makes Colour of Magic so charming.

Mort, the title character, needs a job. Death, or rather, the anthropomorphic personification of death, needs a break. It's a match made in the after life: Mort becomes Death's apprentice.

Death has a fatalistic view of the universe and certainly of how things work on the Discworld. Mort, being young and mortal has a decidedly different view of how things work. Their differences come to a head at the botched assassination of princess.

The princesses' death or not depending on where one is on Discworld calls into question basic assumptions about reality. It also brings Death to a breaking point. I liked seeing how the two literal interpretations of reality (Death's and Mort's) play out. My favorite scene, though, is Death's final breakdown where he decides to leave his "job" and become a fry-cook.

I've read this book for the third time for the "Herding Cats" challenge hosted by Bottleofshine. The challenge ran May 1 to November 30, so I'm coming down to the line with this last review.

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Requiem for the Author of Frankenstein: 11/27/08

Requiem for the Author of Frankenstein by Molly Dwyer is an ambitious paranormal historical fiction. It is akin to children's classics such as A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley and Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce but written for an adult and literary audience.

The book has intertwining narratives, one set in the present where Anna is researching her family's ties to Mary Shelley and then Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin's relationship and later marriage to Percy Bysshe Shelley. The two plots mingle together through dreams and trances revealing the many ways that Mary and Anna are kindred spirits even though they are separated by time.

At six hundred pages, the novel requires a commitment from its readers and the initial payoff doesn't come until well past page 100. So much of the book, especially early on, is weighed down with historical details and unnecessary tangents. Anna, for instance, may be a competent traveler but she gets confused up on common use British terms (such as torch for flashlight). These hiccups in her basic working knowledge feel out of character. At the other extreme, too many pages are spent in outlining the accomplishments and beliefs of the famous people in Mary's life. While in small doses it is interesting to see these figures interacting entire chapters of nothing but exposition breaks up the flow of the plot.

I think I expected more ghost story and less feminist essay in the disguise of a novel. There is nothing wrong with social commentary in fiction, Frankenstein, the inspiration for Requiem does an excellent job of it, but Requiem oft-times sacrifices entertainment for thesis.

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Pinkalicious: 11/26/08

You might think from looking at the cover of Pinkalicious by Elizabeth and Victoria Kann that the book is in Harriet's collection but you'd be wrong. It's actually Sean's book because it covers things near and dear to him: the color pink and baking cupcakes.

On a rainy day, a mother and daughter decide to kill time by baking cupcakes. The daughter insists on making them pink: pink cake and pink frosting. When they are done she spends the rest of her day eating them until she ends up turning pink!

Most of Pinkalicious is about the downside of having too much of a good thing. The young girl learns that being completely pink isn't all that great. Of course, like most children her age, she doesn't learn her lesson all at once. Sean likes the silliness of what happens to both the girl and later her baby brother. I like watching the concerned and confused parents trying to fix the problem. Parenting so often seems to be a series of bizarre events that no parenting book could ever cover.

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Tom's Midnight Garden: 11/25/08

English manor homes seem to inspire a certain kind of time travel story. They are usually dream like and include a friendship across the ages. The only caveat, the protagonist from the present is usually unable to alter past events. Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce fits perfectly in this category and it's one of my favorite examples.

Tom Long, the present day (that being probably the 1950s) protagonist is sent away to his aunt and uncle's flat while his brother recovers at home from the measles. The flat, of course, was once a manor house and has sometime in the last fifty years been dived up into apartments. The only clue to the house's history is an old grandfather clock that keeps perfect time but chimes at random.

The clock is also the key for Tom to travel back in time to the Victorian era where he meets a girl about his age named Hatty (Harriet) Melbourne. As the summer progresses, Hatty grows up. Tom's goal during his short stay with his aunt and uncle is to learn the secret of the clock and to find out what happened to his friend Hatty.

Tom's Midnight Garden is a short but extremely satisfying novel. It is tightly plotted and populated with interesting and believable characters. When the book ended I was both happy to have enjoyed the book and sad to say goodbye to Tom and Hatty. Of course, I was partial to Hatty, having a Harriet of my own. But even without that personal connection, I would have loved the novel.

If you like this sort of time travel story, you might also enjoy:

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It's About Your Friend: 11/24/08

My reading choices tend to bunch up thematically. It's About Your Friend by Phillip Scott follows up on Stephen Fry's The Liar except it pulls fewer punches.

It's About Your Friend is two parallel novels that only come crashing together at the very end. There is Aaron, a tax accountant recently out of the closet who is desperately in love with a male hooker. He decides to prove his love for the shady Fergal by bilking a cat lady out of her lottery winnings. The other story focuses on Nicholas, a hack actor suffering from a nervous breakdown during the filming of Galactic Trilogy 3.

Marc St. James, a character on
Ugly Betty

The cut-throat nature of both tax accounting and filmmaking kept bringing me back to Ugly Betty if the show were told from the point of view of Wilhelmina Slater's assistant / henchman Marc St. James. Like Ugly Betty, It's About Your Friend suffers from too many things going on at once. In the television show the sets are at least distinct enough to pick up when the narrative has jumped between threads but in the novel the jumps aren't always obvious. About midway through the novel I decided it would be easier to read all of Aaron's scenes and then go back and read Nicholas's scenes.

Nicholas in It's About Your Friend shares Adrian Healey's (The Liar) love of Noel Coward. That connection (and of course the crude language and gay themes) made me naturally compare the two novels. Both have too many characters and crude senses of humor. Both books are flawed but I enjoyed It's About Your Friend more than I did The Liar. It doesn't try to be clever and that allows a greater focus on the (albeit over-the-top) plot.

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The Liar: 11/23/08

The name Stephen Fry for me brings to mind his roles in Blackadder and Wooster and Jeeves. Seeing is book, The Liar, available through bookcrossing piqued my interest.

The Liar follows the life and times of Adrian Healey from his time at boarding school through his early adulthood. The blurb on GoodReads, describes the book this way:

Adrian Healey is magnificently unprepared for the long littleness of life; unprepared too for the afternoon in Salzburg when he will witness the savage murder of a Hungarian violinist; unprepared to learn about the Mendax device; unprepared for more murders and wholly unprepared for the truth. Unprepared or not, Adrian is led through an adventure that takes in toast, Piccadilly rent-boys, Charles Dickens’s lost pornographic novel, an international espionage conspiracy, disgraceful scenes on the cricket field and a machine that compels its victims to tell the truth.

It sounds good, doesn't it? It sounds wacky, convoluted and full of potentially humorous mayhem. Unfortunately, it isn't.

There are moments of brilliance. The scenes in the boarding school and the last couple of chapters feel very real. The quotes and endorsements at the beginning of the book describe The Liar as an "autobiographical novel." I'm going to guess and say the school bits and the early acting career bits are autobiographical. The rest of the novel where Fry fleshes out Adrian as his own character with a life separate from his own lacks the same clarity.

Around the middle of the novel things fall apart. There doesn't seem to be any logic to explain how Adrian or anyone else in the novel gets from one plot point to another.

Even though I didn't enjoy The Liar as much as I had hoped I would, I would give Stephen Fry a second chance.

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Falling Angel: 11/22/08

I really enjoyed the reprint of Eugene Mirabelli's "The Only Known Jump Across the Time" but I'm not sure what I think of his latest F&SF story.

The story follows the tragic romance of a part-time computer programmer and a fallen angel named Morning Glory (or sometimes Jill). She lands on his skylight during a heat wave and stays for a period of time for fantastic sex and take in food.

It's basically five pages of sex so fantastic words can't describe it followed by her tragic death. Jill hints at the reasons behind her escape (as she calls it) from heaven but never goes into the details. Brendan, the programmer, never thinks to ask her about it or to question her presence. I wish he had.

The last thing that annoyed me that so many writers seem to get wrong: the California Institute of Technology calls itself Caltech. It's one word with a small t. NEVER EVER on pain of DEATH: Cal Tech. Dear editors and writers of the world, learn this!

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Don Quixote: Book 2: 11/22/08

The second book of Don Quixote de la Mancha begins during Don Quixote's joust picking up where the last book ended. As there is a ten year gap between when books one and two were written, there is a noticeable shift in narrative style.

Cervantes tries to explain away the time between the books using a method Elizabeth Peters uses for her Amelia Peabody series. He says that he had exhausted the original papers and had been searching, waiting and praying for further scholarly papers from the life and times of Sr. Quxada. At long last, a local street urchin who knew his love of old papers sold him a bundle written in Arabic. After having gotten them translated by a reliable source, he found to his heart's delight the missing details of Sr. Quixada's adventures as Don Quixote.

There is something oddly reassuring to know that this cliched technique of creating a bogus pedigree for fictional characters goes all the way back to at least 1615. For all I know, it goes back further. It wouldn't surprise in the least if the truth behind the explanation was along the lines of "and then I got tired of my fans pestering me for the next installment".

Book Two is actually shorter than Book One by about twenty pages but it is part of a much longer sequel. As far as I know, all the remaining books were written and published in the same year, 1615. After this comes a longer Book Three and the remainder of the novel in Book Four (Parts One and Two).

Book Two centers around a group of goat herds and the death of a local hero of a broken heart. His death and funeral should serve as a warning to Don Quixote. Chrysostom was a book lover and intellect as Sr. Quixada once was before he lost his mind to his books and set out on a Renaissance style cosplay. Just as Chrysostom's death can be attributed to his unwanted advances on the local shepherdess beauty, Marcela, so might Dulcinea some day be Don Quixote's downfall.

Don Quixote being the epitome of optimistic doesn't take the warning to heart. Instead he mistakenly proclaims Marcela's right to freedom, thus "saving" a damsel who neither wants nor needs saving.

Next Saturday I'm taking a break from writing about Don Quixote. I will be down in South Pasadena for the Thanksgiving holiday and I don't want to drag my book along. It's old and a little fragile. I will discuss Book Three on December 6th.

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Fatal Vows: 11/21/08

Thirteen months ago Stacy Peterson vanished from her home in the Chicago suburbs. She left behind her husband and children. Stacy's disappearance ultimately lead to the reopening of the investigation into the death of Drew Peterson's second wife, Kathleen. Fatal Vows by Joseph Hosey of the Chicago's Herald News sums up the circumstances of the investigations.

Fatal Vows is well written and easy to read. If you are interested in this particular case or enjoy true crime, you'll enjoy this book. Personally, I found the timing of the book distasteful especially since the Stacy Peterson investigation is still on going.

On a side note, the mysterious death of Kathleen Savio in 2004 reminds me of a CSI episode: "Last Laugh" i (April 2003) in which a woman's accidental death in a bathtub is later discovered to have been a murder. When I was reading the book I thought the show had used the case as a starting point. Now though on comparing dates, I see that's not possible. It's just an interesting coincidence.

Having now read two true crime books in close succession, I'm ready for a break.

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Atlantis Gate: 11/20/08

Atlantis Gate is the third book in a five part series by Greg Donegan (a pen name for Bob Mayer). As it is so far along in the series there is little time given for back story or character development. Gates start opening all around the world in the present and past and the Shadow start making their move.

I believe books should stand on their own even if they are part of a series. It isn't always possible to start at the beginning. Atlantis Gate doesn't live up to that standard. It may very well be good book having arrived at it after having read the previous two books. By itself, though, it is a choppy, disjointed narrative that is somewhere between mystery/thriller and science fiction.

The five part series is:

  • Atlantis: Bermuda Triangle (2000)
  • Atlantis: Devil's Sea (2001)
  • Atlantis Gate (2002)
  • Assault on Atlantis (2003)
  • Battle for Atlantis (2004)

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Captains Courageous: 11/19/08

I usually picture Indian settings when I think of Rudyard Kipling. His 1896 novel Captains Courageous has nothing to do with India. For the most part, it's set mostly on the Atlantic Ocean on the schooner "We're Here."

What the book shares with the more typical Kipling fare is a young boy as a protagonist. In this case, the boy is fifteen year old Harvey Cheyne the spoiled son of a railroad tycoon based in California.

Harvey falls over board and ends up on the schooner during fishing season along the Grand Banks. Young Harvey spends the season learning how to fish. Along with the fishing he learns responsibility.

I enjoyed most of the novel but the time at sea seemed to drag on too long. The sea chapters are padding with a number of sea shanties. Kipling did a good a job of showing how multicultural the fishing industry was and how sailors would need to know a handful of languages well enough to communicate with the other ships. Yet, Captains Courageous doesn't seem like a Kipling novel; it reads more like a parody of a Joseph C. Lincoln novel.

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Animal Attraction: 11/18/08

Animal Attraction by Jamie Ponti is a young adult romance set in the fictional town of Ruby Beach Florida. Jane is trying to have one last summer of fun before her senior year of high school. The only problem: she has to work two jobs to repay her parents for her "new to her" car.

Jane is a swimmer so her summer job choices are simple: swim coach to beginning swimmers at the local club and Mermaid at the water park. Unfortunately if she's to get a sports scholarship to USC, she can't be a Mermaid. Instead, she ends up being one of the park critters: a beaver.

I'm not really spoiling anything. Those two paragraphs sum up the first chapter of the book. The rest of the book follows Jane through her two jobs and the uneasy task of managing the two men in her life, Alex, a seventeen year old rich boy hunk who is scared of water and Grayson, a fellow park mascot.

To survive all the demands on her life, Jane compartmentalizes herself. During the swim lessons with Alex she's Bikini Jane. When she's at the park she's Plain Jane. At home she's just Jane. Of course even with careful planning things go awry; that's life.

Throughout the book and the elaborate schemes, Jane remains a likeable and believable heroine. Either of her two potential boyfriends are charming and convincing good matches for her. The romance could have gone either way and Animal Attraction would have been just as delightful.

Since this book was published in 2005, Jamie Ponti has had two more young adult books published: Prama (2008) and Sea of Love (Dec. 2008). Both are books I would love to read and review for this blog based on my enjoyment of Animal Attraction. If you haven't read Animal Attraction and are looking for something light and entertaining to read, pick up a copy!

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Gentle Giant Octopus: 11/17/08

The giant octopus is the largest of the 150 species of octopuses. The largest one ever found had tentacles 15 feet long. Despite their size, they are rather docile creatures with the curiosity and intelligence of the average cat.

Gentle Giant Octopus by Karen Wallace and illustrated by Mike Bostock is an introduction to the life cycle of the giant octopus and follows a female octopus as she finds the perfect place to lay her brood of eggs. Giant octopus females lay eggs only once and lock themselves in with their brood for the five months it takes for them to hatch. They die shortly after the eggs hatch.

Gentle Giant Octopus is really two books in one. There is the very informative story set in a fairly standard looking serif typeface. Then there are the extra facts included on almost every page. These are represented by wavy text that mimics the sea currents or perhaps the undulating motions of the octopus as she swims.

Bringing all these two books together are Mike Bostock's gorgeous illustrations. They are done with an attention to detail and a lightness of touch. Sometimes I just like to flip through the book to admire the pictures.

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Love and Sand: 11/16/08

Love and Sand by Howard M. Layton is the second in a planned trilogy of memoirs. The first one, The Thirteen Club was published in 2001. I have read The Thirteen Club but after having so enjoyed Love and Sand, I want to read the first one.

Love and Sand covers Layton's RAF career in World War Two. He spent most of the war in the deserts of North Africa.

Layton's memoir isn't laden down with the big facts of the war: battles and dates. It's a more personal and quirky. Layton writes with a light touch, managing to bring humanity and humor to the war.

His descriptions of various missions are riveting. The book opens with an emergency landing, pushing a plane's engine well beyond operating specs to limp back across the water to the airstrip. Later there is an equally nail biting chapter involving flying blind in the desert looking for a refueling station that has gone silent.

The book isn't just about flying. It's also about the many different people Layton worked with and the places he lived and worked.

I really liked Love and Sand. It is clearly among my favorite books that I've read this year.

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A Foreign Country: 11/15/08

"The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there." (p. 37).

"A Foreign Country" by Wayne Wightman continues the end of year trend of politically themed stories in F&SF. It's written as a memoir over a very strange election and how it affected the entire world.

Imagine if Ross Perot had won. Imagine further that he had unexplained powers like the boy in "It's a Good Life" (Twilight Zone, Season 3, Episode 8). That's the gist of "A Foreign Country."

There's really not much more to this first story of the December issue. It has potential but the narrator just rubs me the wrong way. His incoherent "C+ if... [he works] hard" style of writing gets old fast.

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Don Quixote: Book 1: 11/15/08

The Don Quixote de La Mancha (1605) story most of us probably know off the top of our head is actually the first of two books. In comparison to the sequel (written a decade later) is just a novella.

I originally planned to re-read the shorter of the two Don Quixote books for the Classics Challenge but upon taking my lovely old copy off my shelf I realized I wanted to do more than just write a quick review of the part we all know.

My posts about my re-reading Don Quixote won't be especially scholarly, rather they will just be this fan girl's thoughts. If you want to "read along" with the translation I'm reading is available online through Google Books.

Book One has eight chapters that cover the first quest of Don Quixote and in true serial fashion, it ends on a cliff hanger. Can you imagine having to wait ten years to find out how the big show down turned out?

The first chapter quickly establishes that Don Quixote is a parody of the literary elite who had made novels the most popular use for the printing press. Two hundred years after Gutenberg's printing press made book publishing so much simpler, people wanted entertainment, not scholarly or religious work. Of course, those books get published too in great numbers, but for every documentary film, there are probably a dozen cheesy blockbusters.

With cheesy entertainment come the dedicated fans. Think cosplay is a new concept? Ha! Sr. Quixada was doing it back in 1605 when he donned a mostly cardboard suit of armor and went out into the world to live first hand all the adventures he had been reading. That's right, Don Quixote is a complete fan boy. His only problem; no fantasy conventions to attend! Does that stop him? Of course not. He just puts on his armor, arms his nag (Rocinante) and sets out to defend the honor of the fair Dulcinea.

Book one has four main parts: the transformation of Sr. Quixada into Don Quixote, Don Quixote's first quest and the way it's received by the people he meets, an intervention by his well meaning friends and servants and his enlistment of Sancho Panza to make an escape for a second and longer quest. What becomes of that second quest comes in Book Two and will be left for future posts.

I will be covering roughly ten chapters per post. I plan to do my Don Quixote posts on Saturdays. I don't want to overwhelm this blog (or my readers!) with too much Don Quixote.

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Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type: 11/14/08

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin is a cute parody of Animal Farm aimed at the 4 to 8 set.

Farmer Brown's dairy cattle go on strike after their typewritten demands aren't met. Soon the chickens follow suit and the farmer is told via a note: "Closed. No milk. No eggs." (p. 13)

Cronin's funny story with a rhyming scheme that mimics the sound of an old manual typewriter is paired perfectly with Betsy Lewin's illustrations and the wobbly Courieresque lettering completes the illusion of novices typing on antique equipment.

Unlike Orwell's Animal Farm, the animals don't actually take over the farm to set up their own co-op. The cows, as far as I can tell, don't become the party leaders over a farm animal proletariat duped into over throwing one master for another. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type is less about revolution and more about labor negotiations.

The ducks, though, they might be planning something.

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Za-Za's Baby Brother: 11/13/08

It's not always easy being an older brother or sister, especially when the younger sibling is a baby. Za-za, a zebra learns just how difficult it can be to have a baby brother in Za-Za's Baby Brother by Lucy Cousins.

Za-Za is just a toddler herself, trying hard to be a big girl but still needing the extra love and attention that young children crave. Unfortunately for Za-Za, her parents are preoccupied with a new born. All they want is a moment of peace and quiet but Za-Za's confusion and jealousy results in baby brother crying. Fortunately it gets easier to be a big brother or sister. Za-Za learns how to treat her brother better and comes to see him as part of the family.

From reading other reviews of Za-Za's Baby Brother, the book is recommended for young children who will soon be older siblings. Harriet, though, the "baby" of our family was the one who chose the book from the library. Sean, Harriet and I read the board book together. Both children thought the baby brother was really cute. Sean added that Za-Za needs to be more patient with her parents.

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The Amityville Horror: 11/12/08

The 1970s seems to have been the decade for the horror genre, especially ones focusing on demonic possessions. Mix horror genre with true crime and you'll end up in a gray area that includes The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson. The book reads like a novel and the Wikipedia entry calls it a novel but the Library of Congress categorizes it as non-fiction, specifically demonology (case-studies) and parapsychology (New York) and its call number is BF1517.U6 A57.

So what are facts? In December 1975 the Lutz family moved into a 1924 farm house in Amityville that had been the scene of a grisly murder. In January of 1976 they moved out the house citing demonic activity as the reason for their short stay. Over the course of the book Jay Anson lists out a number of clues that point at paranormal and perhaps even demonic activity. Except for the white hooded figure at the end which may very well have been invented to prove a point the rest of the book's events seem pretty common place.

The house still exists, by the way, though the front facade has been changed as has the address. It even has it's own wiki entry.

Like the Lutz's, my family and I are living in a fixer upper. We've had our own series of strange events in our home but we've managed to stay nearly five years. Since my home shares a lot of things in common, I thought I'd make a check list to see if my house is haunted.

Signs your house might be haunted:

  1. Fly infestation even in winter?
  2. Strange cold spots?
  3. Strange sounds at night?
  4. Waking up at the same time each night?
  5. A pet who likes to sleep all day?
  6. A crucifix turning itself upside down?
  7. Strange hidey holes under the stairs?
  8. The smell of excrement? (you bet... we have a diaper pail)
  9. Misbehaving toilets?
  10. A broken banister?
  11. Random and bizarre damage to doors and windows?
  12. Other things randomly breaking?
  13. Other strange smells?

Twelve out of thirteen signs, I guess my house is haunted. Or it could just be old and not well maintained. How about your house? How does it hold up against the Amityville test?

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The Only Known Jump Across Time: 11/11/08

I am still a relatively new subscriber to Fantasy & Science Fiction especially considering that next year the magazine has been in print for sixty years! Although there is no way I could possibly catch up on all those fantastic stories that have been printed in those years, I can enjoy the online reprints that they offer along with their newly printed issues.

"The Only Known Jump Across Time" is part love story and part history lesson. The romance is between two unlikely time travelers: Lydia Webster Chase and Enzo Augusto Capellino. The location of their jump: Cambridge, Massachusetts. The time of their jump: May 1928. Enzo is a tailor and Lydia is the daughter of a botany professor. A love of gardening brings these two together slowly over the course of 20 years before they break the fabric of time in the name of love.

The history lesson follows the creation of the time machine and a similar machine that's come to be known as the Van de Graaff generator. The closing paragraphs of "The Only Known Jump Across Time" reminds me of the later books in the Amelia Peabody series of mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. The story ends on a note thanking Abigail Capellino Beauchemin the daughter of Enzo and Lydia for her help by providing her father's notes and diagrams and her mother's diary. Although it's not a very science heavy science fiction short story, it is a wonderful and touching character study.

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The Scarecrow's Boy: 11/11/08

I have to wonder if the recent election results with influence a trend of more hopeful stories in future issues of Fantasy & Science Fiction. "The Scarecrow's Boy" by Michael Swanwick, the last story of the October / November issue, is decidedly dystopian. With its political upheaval and all machines being robots on a wireless grid, I'm reminded of "The Voluntary State" by Christopher Rowe.

A young boy, Pierre, is found running through a field by a robot turned scarecrow by his master. For whatever reason (perhaps the unspoken but generally agreed upon Three Laws of Robotics), the scarecrow thinks beyond his initial programming and the orders he is receiving over the grid. Rather than turning in the boy who is an enemy of the state for political reasons, the scarecrow convinces the other robots he works with to help the boy cross the border.

Being an American I first assumed that the story was a flight from the United States north towards Canada. Neither nation is named so it could just as easily be a flight south or more universally a flight from any country to a neighboring one.

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Strike Anywhere: Poems: 11/10/08

Strike Anywhere by Dean Young is his third collection of poetry. It's a slim volume, nearly identical in length to Some Ether by Nick Flynn.

Dean Young is an award winning poet. His poems are surrealist. I like surrealism but in smaller doses. Eighty pages of surrealism was more than I could handle.

I managed to read seriously the first twenty pages. After that I resorted to skimming. Perhaps if I'd had the opportunity to read the collection at a slower pace or in a quieter location I would have had a more positive experience. As it was, the disjointed phrases and strange imagery made for a non comprehensible read.

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Ring of Hell: 11/09/08

Chris Benoit in June of 2007 killed his wife and son before killing himself. The thesis of RIng of Hell by Matthew Randazzo V is that the stresses of being a pro-wrestler contributed to Benoit's breakdown.

Ring of Hell isn't about the murder as it is about the pro-wrestling. The book outlines the history of the "sport" and its mob ties and the ways in which the stars are encouraged to bulk up on steroids and to self medicate their injuries with alcohol and pain killers and illegal drugs.

From all accounts, Benoit didn't start out as one of those who was a partier or a user. He did however use steroids to bring his light weight frame up in bulk so he'd be able to wrestle. Years of nothing but travel under poor conditions, constantly taking a beating for a sport he loved and the stress of trying to prove himself and reinvent himself, he finally was broken by the lifestyle he loved and had sacrificed for his entire adult life.

I'm not a pro wrestling fan. I've never watched a match. I wasn't expecting to like the book. In the end I came away having learned a lot about pro wrestling (but I still don't want to watch it!) and found the book to be well written. It has a nice balance of background information for novices like me and specifics for fans who might read the book as well.

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Best-Loved Art From American Museums: 11/08/08

From the time I was about Harriet's age I have been fascinated with paintings and the artists who paint them. 0517551683? Best-Loved Art from American Museums by Patricia Failing is a journey through the history of the world as experienced through art (and not just paintings but statuary and textiles among other media).

Patricia Failing explains that the pieces chosen in the book were the ones that were most popular with visitors to the various American museums. They also happen to be a large portion of the pieces I learned about in AP Art History. It was especially thrilling to see artworks written up that I have been lucky enough to see in person.

The book includes full color reproductions and a description of the following pieces: (I've bolded the ones I've seen in person)

  1. Archangel Raphael (Artist Unknown)
  2. View of Toledo (El Greco)
  3. The Wedding Dance (Pieter Bruegel the Elder)
  4. Prometheus Bound (Peter Paul Rubens)
  5. Portrait of a Young Boy (Rembrandt van Rijn)
  6. The Polish Rider (Rembrandt van Rijn)
  7. Young Woman with a Water Jug (Jan Vermeer)
  8. Madame Aubry and Her Son, Léonor (Nicholas de Largillière)
  9. The Blue Boy (Thomas Gainsborough)
  10. The Matador Pedro Romero (Francisco de Goya)
  11. Dort or Dordrecht, The Dort Packet-Boat from Rotterdam Becalmed (Joseph Mallord and William Turner)
  12. The Young Shepherdess (Adolphe William Bouguereau) (more times than I can count)
  13. Flaming June (Lord Frederick Leighton)
  14. Spring (Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema)
  15. Pollice Verso (Jean Léon Gérôme)
  16. The Getty Bronze (Lysippos)
  17. The Thinker (Auguste Rodin)
  18. Imperial Easter Egg (Peter Carl Fabergé)
  19. Libation Dish of Darius the Great (Artist Unknown)
  20. Hand Scroll of Deer and Poems (Honami Koetsu and Twaraya Sotatsu)
  21. Tibetan Temple Hanging (Artist Unknown)
  22. The Unicorn in Captivity (Artist Unknown)
  23. Prayer Rug with Three Arches (Artist Unknown)
  24. Quilled Buckskin Shirt (Artist Unknown)
  25. Kansas Crib Quilt (Artist Unknown)
  26. Quilled Buckskin Shirt (Artist Unknown)
  27. Boulevard des Capucines (Claude Monet)
  28. Springtime (Claude Monet)
  29. Water Lilies (Claude Monet)
  30. Near Sydenham Hill (Camille Pissarro)
  31. Portrait of Estelle Musson (Edgar Degas)
  32. The Streets of Paris on a Rainy Day (Gustave Caillebotte)
  33. Romaine Lacaux (Auguste Renoir)
  34. Girl with a Watering Can (Auguste Renoir)
  35. The Dance at Bougival (Auguste Renoir)
  36. Romaine Lacaux (Auguste Renoir)
  37. Mother and Child (Auguste Renoir)
  38. The Luncheon of the Boating Party (Auguste Renoir)
  39. Self-Portrait (Vincent van Gogh)
  40. Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (Georges Seurat)
  41. At the Moulin Rouge (Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec)
  42. The Sleeping Gypsy (Henri Rousseau)
  43. Still Life with Peaches and Cherries (Paul Cézanne)
  44. William Smith and His Grandson (Charles Willson Peale)
  45. The Voyage of Life (Thomas Cole)
  46. Washington Crossing the Delaware (Emanuel Leutze)
  47. Buffalo Hunter (Artist Unknown)
  48. The Jolly Flatboatman in Port (George Caleb Bingham)
  49. The Sierra Nevada in California (Albert Bierstadt)
  50. Niagara (Frederic Edwin Church)
  51. Young Soldier (Winslow Homer)
  52. The Country School (Winslow Homer)
  53. Sunday Morning in the Mines (Charles Christian Nahl)
  54. Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines (Thomas J. White?)
  55. The Pathetic Song (Thomas Eakins)
  56. Fumée d'Ambre Gris (John Singer Sargent)
  57. The Pailleron Children (John Singer Sargent)
  58. El Jaleo (John Singer Sargent)
  59. Woman Ironing (Pablo Picasso)
  60. Black Lines (Vasily Kandinsky)
  61. The Jack Pine (Tom Thompson)
  62. Red Balloon (Paul Klee)
  63. Dempsy and Firpo (George Bellows)
  64. The Artist and His Mother (Arshile Gorky)
  65. Forest, British Columbia (Emily Carr)
  66. Nighthawks (Edward Hopper)
  67. The Flower Carrier (Diego River)
  68. The Thousand and One Nights (Henri Matisse)
  69. Autumn Rhythm (Jackson Pollock)
  70. Three Flags (Jasper Johns)
  71. Mirrored Room (Lucas Samaras)
  72. Untitled (Larry Bell)
  73. Love (Robert Indiana)
  74. Helene's Florist (Richard Estes)
  75. Supreme Hardware Store (Richard Estes)
  76. Briseis (Paul Manship)
  77. Indigo Mercy (Betye Saar)
  78. The Bookstore (Red Grooms)
  79. Girl with Green Eyes (Henri Matisse)

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Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse: 11/07/08

Leo Lionni was a Dutch artist who grew up in Italy but fled to the United States at the outbreak of WWII. There he worked as a graphic artist and illustrator for Fortune Magazine. He returned to Italy in the 1960s where he began a new career as the writer and illustrator of children's literature. On of his earliest books is Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse.

Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse is an old childhood favorite of mine. Alexander is a mouse who lives in the wall of a home that has a little girl. One of her favorite toys is a wind up mouse named Willy. Alexander and Willy strike up a friendship that is slowly tainted by Alexander's jealousy over Willy's popularity. In the end though Alexander comes to rescue of Willy.

For the choice of a wind-up mouse and for the theme of the transformational powers of love, I am reminded of Russell Hoban's novel The Mouse and His Child. Lionni's book is a nice introduction to the much longer children's novel.

Leo Lionni's illustrations are similar to Eric Carl's. My children also have A Color of His Own, a book I'm surprised I haven't reviewed on this blog.

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The World I Imagine: 11/06/08

The World I Imagine is the second book by Debbie Jordan I've read and reviewed this year. The first was a novel, Lion's Pride.

The World I Imagine is Debbie Jordan's manifesto. She calls it her "creative manual for ending poverty and building peace."

The project began with a poem written in 1989. She called it "Ode to War (Or: Peace is Dull)" and she starts the book with her poem. From there Jordan outlines the problems she sees with the world and how she thinks they can be fixed. Her ultimate goal is end poverty to bring about world peace.

Jordan divides her plan to end poverty into a number of essays. Each chapter is a different piece of the over all puzzle. She has suggestions for meeting all the basic needs to support a comfortable life (though she doesn't suggest what those needs are), how to pay for this distribution of the basics, universal employment, how to administer society on a global scale, governing politics, establishing democracy, providing universal education, universal health care, justice and finally civil rights.

While I agree with Debbie Jordan's political views, her manifest is naive and flawed. While many of her suggestions might work (in modified form). Her vision for the world seems to assume that the whole world works like the United States. It doesn't. If we are to truly make the effort to meet the needs of the world's people we must be willing to take in account the myriad of cultures, no matter how alien they may seem to us.

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Finders Seekers: 11/05/08

Finders Seekers is the first of a mixed genre trilogy known as The Ghatti's Tale. Doyce, a Seeker, is leading the investigation in a number of gruesome murders where the victims are found with their brains scooped out their heads. All the while her ghatti companion is trying to keep Doyce's nightmares at bay.

The book is a mixture of horror, fantasy and science fiction. The different genres don't always mix perfectly and he jumps between these genres are sometimes jarring. What saves the book is Greeno's attention to detail and her sense of humor.

What the novel needs more than anything is tighter editing and a rearrangement of key plot points to avoid unnecessary flashbacks and redundant scenes. The novel starts off in fantasy mode, reading like one of Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar books except with cats (called ghattis). It's only about forty pages into the novel that Greeno reveals the science fiction twist. Although the Seekers are living and working with Renaissance type technology on a distant planet. The cat like ghatti are actually a native species to the planet that happen to look and act a lot like the cats from Earth except for a greater intelligence and the ability to share their thoughts with humans.

The two things that kept me reading Finders Seekers were the mystery and the world building. Although superficially similar to Valdemar, Greeno's country of Canderis on planet Methuen is detailed and unique. I would have preferred less emphasis on the ghatti mind-speaking and more on the actual job of being a Seeker Veritas.

Although flawed, I am intrigued enough by Finders Seekers to want to read more of Greeno's Ghatti books.

The list of Ghatti books includes:

  1. Finders Seekers (1993)
  2. Mindspeaker's Call (1994)
  3. Exiles' Return (1995)
  4. Sunderlies Seeking (1998)
  5. The Farthest Seeking (2000)

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Planetesimal Dawn: 11/04/08

In "Planetesimal Dawn" Wolverton and Nozaki find themselves on the wrong side of a sun rise on asteroid LGC-1. To escape the certain death in the heat and radiation of the sun they chose to jump into a crater they hadn't previously noticed. From there things go from bad to worse and finally to weird.

More than anything the story reminded me of one of the modern incarnations of Doctor Who. The one that comes to find first is "Silence in the Library" for the eerie undertones and perhaps "The Impossible Planet" for the setting.

Although I did ultimately enjoy the story, I struggled with it. I had to reread the first half of the story about three times before I was able follow it. Of course the historic presidential election was competing for my attention.

What I did enjoy about the story was the setting, the truly alien species, the time bubbles and the way the way Nozaki grows as a character. The story could have been better with a more coherent opening and tighter characterization for Wolverton. His motivation is finally explained at the end but I wanted to know more about him early on.

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Counterfeit Gentleman: 11/03/08

Counterfeit Gentleman by Clarence Budington Kelland was first serialized in the Saturday Evening Post from May 26 through July 7, 1956 as the "Counterfeit Cavalier." It's status as a serial goes a long way to explain the choppy nature of the narrative.

The basic plot is a standard Kelland romance between Annlee "Jick" Roche and Artemus Baldwin. Jick is a "slick chick" (p. 2) and Artemus is a confidence man. In the middle of all of this is a counterfeit ring of both Canadian and American bills.

The book reads like an episode of CSI Miami if it were to go on location to Arizona. It suffers from the same bizarre jumps of logic, clumsy plotting and wooden dialogue. I normally enjoy Kelland's novels but not this one. Counterfeit Gentleman even with a re-read has left me scratching my head.

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Walking the Rainbow: 11/02/08

The 1970s should have been a decade of civil rights advancements for gays and lesbians. It started out the way but then a mysterious illness started to crop up. Called at first "gay cancer" it was later more properly named HIV and AIDS. Although it's not a disease exclusive to the gay community it unfortunately became associated with it and a way for bigots to spread panic. Richard René Silvin's memoir Walking the Rainbow chronicles the progress of the virus and how it personally affected him.

Silvin worked for a company that built state of the art hospitals. His access to doctors top in their field gave him inside knowledge of the disease long before it was common knowledge. At the same time, he was a young man trying to come to terms with his own sexuality.

Walking the Rainbow is divided into four sections: Life Before AIDS, Tim, Bob and The Arc of Triumph. Tim and Bob were his two partners, both died of complications from AIDS. Tim's life and death was tragic both for what the disease did to his body but to the way he was treated by his family, the medical practitioners and by society. Bob's life and death was very different. He had the support of friends and family and access to better medicine. The Arc of Triumph section shows what Silvin has learned from his two partners and how he has learned to "thrive with AIDS."

I enjoyed the memoir, although there are times when the focus seems to swing too much towards his work. The book eventually evens out and it is worth the effort to read through those intense first pages.


Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment: 11/01/08

Whenever I see a Mary Rickert short story in FSF, I catch my breath knowing that ahead of me is a well written but emotionally gut wrenching story. "Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment" goes above and beyond the previous Rickert stories I've read and two days later I'm still shuddering.

"Evidence of Love..." takes the current state of affairs (assuming a Republican win) and plays connects the dots arriving at a near future that is a mixture of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.

The story is told from the point of view of an "abandoned daughter" at a time when women are publicly executed for having had abortions. The daughter doesn't know if her mother has fled to escape her fate or if she has been disappeared. Whatever the reason behind her mother's vanishing is of little interest to the daughter beyond her own brainwashed take on the current treatment of women in her society. It is the daughter's own lack of empathy for her mother that I found the most chilling.

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