Friday, September 30, 2011

The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion is a memoir that speaks to me. I've lived this way more than once in my life, and I swear there are worse ways to live. Sometimes I think a total retreat from reality would be much preferable to the reality I've suffered at times. I first heard about this book on NPR and picked it up soon after, but it was years before I could bring myself to read it. When I read about her life, I wonder how I can be so desperately unhappy in my own. She's had much tragedy to deal with.

from the back of the book:
From one of America's iconic writers, a stunning book of electric honesty and passion. Joan Didion explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage - and a life, in good times and bad - that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.

It opens:
Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

The NYT has a glowing review, as does EW. Slate calls it extraordinary. In fact, I haven't seen a single negative review.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

How to Murder the Man of Your Dreams

How to Murder the Man of Your Dreams by Dorothy Cannell is one of a series of mysteries begun with The Thin Woman. I've also read How to Murder Your Mother-in-Law. These books are all humorous & light, and I get a kick out of them. When I start going back to book stores, I'll be looking to pick up more of them.

from the back of the book:
Any day now, stay-at-home mum Ellie Haskell plans to slim down, kick the romance-reading habit, and resume her career. But not today, for when she arrives for the Chitterton Fells Library League meeting, she stumbles upon a corpse: Miss Bunch, the librarian, lies sprawled next to an open copy of The Dream Lover. Could she have been a victim of the library ghost, a man with a grudge against the romantic novels that kept his daughters forever holding out for the perfect suitor? It is a question that haunts Ellie - especially when a sexy male romance cover model hits town and strange goings-on begin. When a second mysterious death occurs, Ellie knows she must unmask the culprit...before she herself meets a sinister and decidedly unromantic fate!

Kirkus Reviews says, "The plot is porridge, the suspense nil, but lovers of English eccentrics and their archly comic antics will have fun with this one."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

L.A. Requiem

L.A. Requiem by Robert Crais is the 8th novel in the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series. The author has a website where you can read an excerpt. I remember enjoying this book when I read it but have honestly forgotten all of it. I read it back when The Grandmother was in the hospital. Spending the nights there with her once I wasn't quite so worried, this book made a fine distraction. Along with HGtv's Design Star. I took my distractions where I could get them in those days.

from the back of the book:
The day starts like any other in L.A. The sun burns hot as the Santa Ana winds blow ash from mountain fires to coat the glittering city. But for private investigator Joe Pike, the city will never be the same again. His ex-lover, Karen Garcia, is dead, brutally murdered with a gun shot to the head.

Now Karen's powerful father calls on Pike and his partner, Elvis Cole, to keep an eye on the LAPD as they search for his daughter's killer - because in the luminous City of Angels, everyone has something to hide. But what starts as routine turns into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. For a dark web of conspiracy threatens to destroy Pike and Cole's twelve-year friendship - if not their lives.

Kirkus Reviews calls it "a taut, suspenseful case". likes it, opening this review saying, "If you don't buy and read this book, you ought to be shot." sfgate says, "in "L.A. Requiem" he's found his own voice and has made himself a contender."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


by Patty Larkin, heard recently on WEVL.
I wear a helmet and a seatbelt at home
Thought that would save me but it won't
I bolt the door and now there's strangers on the phone
It's not what they say it's what they Don't

Monday, September 26, 2011

Furious Gulf

Furious Gulf is the 5th of the Galactic Center books by Gregory Benford. Somehow, I wrote up the last in the series but not this penultimate one. This is a series I plan on reading again. I have a special fondness for space opera.

from the back of the book:
The last humans from the planet Snowglade have taken flight from the genocidal mechs aboard the spaceship Argo. As the ship hurtles toward the Galactic Center, hunger and desperation are taking their toll among the refugees, who are beginning to question the leadership of Captain Killeen. Convinced that his people's one hope of survival lies in the True Center of the galaxy, he is determined to find it, with a will bordering on obsession.

As the crew of the Argo, and even Killeen's own son Toby, find their faith in their captain's brilliance tested to the limit, Toby faces his own perilous journey into the uunknown, into the mysteries of adulthood. Like the others in this Family of voyagers, Toby's spine contains microchip implants holding the memories - the legacy - of his race. But just as the technology designed to save his people may tear Toby himself apart, so his father's desperate gamble to save the Argo may plunge the ship and its inhabitants into a cosmic pit of all-consuming fire.

Kirkus Reviews says, "when it comes to conjuring the marvels of space and the bizarre possibilities of high-energy physics, Benford is second to none."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a 2005 film loosely based on -maybe "inspired by" would be better?- a true story. It's directed by Scott Derrickson, who did the 2008 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still. I liked the film fine, but I don't feel like I missed anything not seeing it in a theater. This one won't go on the list of horror movies I re-watch.


Roger Ebert gives it 3 stars. It gets a 36% from the top critics at Rotten Tomatoes, but the general audience likes it much better. The New York Times calls it "propaganda disguised as entertainment." Slant Magazine gives it 1 1/2 stars out of a possible 4, saying the film
pits spirituality against secularism in a court of law, defending each side with such righteous, calculated equal-opportunity you know some suit at Sony is applauding himself for coming up with a concept that would wrangle fans of The Passion of the Christ and everyone else in the world into the same room and possibly get them talking—except there's nothing to discuss here except for how little room the filmmakers allow for subjective thought.
BBC's review describes it as "A classy "boo!" movie for those who like their horror polite." Variety likes it and calls it "an unusually intelligent genre item that manages to mix full-bore horror with courtroom drama." Entertainment Weekly isn't a fan, but isn't specific. Moria gives it a single star and says it's "a thorough disappointment." DVD Talk says it's
an intelligent and thought provoking film that hits the right blend of drama, intrigue, intelligent debate, and genuine scares
The Exorcism Of Emily Rose proves to be a very clever film that delivers some scares but more importantly makes you think about your own faith and your own beliefs.
Rolling Stone objects to the silliness, using a quote from the movie. TimeOut calls it "silly and insulting". didn't like it and has a snarky review.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Thursday the Rabbi Walked Out

Thursday the Rabbi Walked Out is another in the Rabbi Small mystery series by Harry Kemelman. I enjoy the books in this series, although it's been a couple of years since I last read one. Besides being enjoyable reads, they've shed some light on Judaism for me. The author is dead now, so no more books are forthcoming.

from the back of the book:
If the murder victim had not been a notorious anti-Semite, Rabbi Small might never have become involved. When several members of his congregation became suspects, Rabbi Small was forced to match wits with the killer.

Here is another lively and engaging tale of suspense that will keep you turning pages - especially after sundown.

There is a mention of Methodists later in the book:
Jennings smirked his satisfaction. "That's because you Catholics wouldn't join this Visit a Church program we had a couple of years ago. Your Father Regan was all for people coming to visit his church, but he wouldn't encourage his people to go and visit other churches. You see, Hugh, you Catholics tend to be kind of narrow-minded about certain things, whereas we Methodists-"

Friday, September 23, 2011


Jingo is one of the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett. The City Watch is featured and Death makes only a fleeting appearance.

from the back of the book:
It isn't much of an island that rises up one moonless night from the depths of the Circle Sea - just a few square miles of silt and some old ruins. Unfortunately, the historically disputed lump of land called Leshp is once again floating directly between Ankh-Morpork and the city of Al-Khali on the coast of Klatch - which is spark enough to ignite that glorious international pastime called "war." Pressed into patriotic service, Commander Sam Vimes thinks he should be leading his loyal watchmen, female watchdwarf, and lady werewolf into battle against local malefactors rather than against uncomfortably well-armed strangers in the Klatchian desert. But war is, after all, simply the greatest of all crimes - and it's Sir Samuel's sworn duty to seek out criminal masterminds wherever they may be hiding... and lock them away before they can do any real damage. Even the ones on his own side.

SFSite calls it "a fine addition to the Discworld series" but says it's not his favorite. This review, also at SFSite, opens by saying,
Jingo does not contain as many laugh-out-loud moments as many of the Discworld novels, but there are still many humorous moments in the book as Pratchett makes his statements about war, but moreso about the nature of mobs, civic pride and nationalism.

My favorite moments in the book are

"Do you need an excuse to have a war?" said Nobby? "I mean, who for? Can't you just say, 'You got lots of cash and land but I've got a big sword so divvy up right now, chop chop?' That's what I'd do," said Corporal Nobbs, military strategist. "And I wouldn't even say that until after I'd attacked."

"Ah, Captain Jenkins! This is your lucky day!"
The captain looked up from the rope he was coiling. No one likes being told it's their lucky day. That sort of thing does not bode well. When someone tells you it's your lucky day, something bad is about to happen.

I have read these other books from this series:
The Color of Magic
The Light Fantastic
Equal Rites
Wyrd Sisters
Guards! Guards!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mantis enjoying her dinner

on the door into our garage.

The Sinister Pig

The Sinister Pig, by mystery writer Tony Hillerman, is 16th in the series and features Sergeant Jim Chee. I always enjoy books from this series, and this one is no exception.

from the back of the book:
Sergeant Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police is troubled by the nameless corpse discovered just inside his jurisdiction, at the edge of the Jicarilla Apache natural gas field. More troubling still is the FBI's insistence that the Bureau take over the case, calling the unidentifiedvictim's death a "hunting accident."

But if a hunter was involved, Chee knows the prey was intentionally human. This belief is shared by the "Legendary Lieutenant" Joe Leaphorn, who once again is pulled out of retirement by the possibility of serious wrongs being committed against the Navajo nation by the Washington bureaucracy. Yet it is former policewoman Bernadette Manuelito, recently relocated to Customs Patrol at the U.S.-Mexico border, who possibly holds the key to a fiendishly twisted conspiracy of greed, lies, and murder - and whose only hope for survival now rests in the hands of friends too far away for comfort.

Kirkus Reviews calls it "Hillerman Lite".

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Pillars of the Earth

This massive 983-page tome is well worth it. You might look at it and think it's intimidating and would take forever to read, but it is a very approachable page-turner. The Pillars of the Earth (1989), by Ken Follett, is set in medieval England and includes characters high and low through a couple of generations. The characters are well-developed, and the settings and times are vividly described.

from the publisher:
As a new age dawns in England's twelfth century, the building of a mighty Gothic cathedral sets the stage for a story of intrigue and power, revenge and betrayal. It is in this rich tapestry, where kings and queens are corrupt, that the common man shows eternal promise - and one majestic creation will bond them forever...

from wikipedia:
The book traces the development of Gothic architecture out of the preceding Romanesque architecture and the fortunes of the Kingsbridge priory against the backdrop of actual historical events of the time.

The author's site has information, including a reading and discussion guide. Oprah also has a guide.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Robots of Brixton

Robots of Brixton, directed by Kibwe Tavares is an animated short film available to watch free right now at MUBI. It is a disturbing little thing.

io9 describes it this way:
a fascinating and gorgeously-designed interpretation of what might happen to robots created to be humanity's slave force. Tavares imagines robots consigned to the same neighborhoods as immigrant workers, and dealing with the kinds of police neglect and aggression that sparked what came to be called Bloody Saturday in 1981. The political message is stark, but you won't be able to take your eyes off Tavares' brilliant robot concepts and his surreal vision of a robot slum.

Crocodile on the Sandbank

I was disappointed in Crocodile on the Sandbank. I expected more of author Elizabeth Peters than I got out of this book. The relationships felt formulaic to me, and there was more romance than I like in my mysteries. Much too much. This 1975 book is the first in the 19-volume Amelia Peabody series. It is in this book that Amelia meets future husband Radcliffe Emerson, an Egyptologist. Maybe there's less romantic drama in the following books, but I'm not motivated to find out. This book has interesting plot/characters/setting; I just can't get past all the swooning.

from the back of the book:
Amelia Peabody, that indomitable product of the Victorian age, embarks on her debut Egyptian adventure armed with unshakable self-confidence, a journal to record her thoughts, and, of course, a sturdy umbrella. On her way to Cairo, Amelia rescues young Evelyn Barton-Forbes, who has been abandoned by her scoundrel lover. Together the two women sail up the Nile to an archeological site run by the Emerson brothers - the irascible but dashing Radcliffe and the amiable Walter. Soon their little party is increased by one - one mummy, that is, and a singularly lively example of the species. Strange visitations, suspicious accidents, and a botched kidnapping convince Amelia that there is a plot afoot to harm Evelyn. Now Amelia finds herself up against an unknown enemy - and perilous forces that threaten to make her first Egyptian trip also her last...

Monday, September 19, 2011


The Daughter's boss loaned this dvd to her because she likes Criminal Minds and thought she might like other stories about serial killers. Lovely. We watched it last night. The Younger Son had seen it and had a test to study for, so he passed. The Husband likes funny movies with happy endings, and he'd had a long day; he also passed. Se7en is directed by David Fincher and stars Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt.


Roger Ebert describes it as "a dark, grisly, horrifying and intelligent thriller, [that] may be too disturbing for many people" and says it
is well-made in its details, and uncompromising in the way it presents the disturbing details of the crimes. It is certainly not for the young or the sensitive.
The New York Times review doesn't like anything at all about the film except Freeman. Moria calls it "an absolutely breathtaking thriller". DVD Journal opens their review by saying, "Se7en is the most unsatisfying serial killer movie ever made. And I mean that in the best possible sense." Rotten Tomatoes describes it as "A brutal, relentlessly grimy shocker with taut performances, slick gore effects, and a haunting finale." Entertainment Weekly likes it. AMC has an overview.

Love in the Ruins

Love in the Ruins: The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World (1971) is a science fiction work by Walker Percy. I enjoyed this take on the-end-of-the-world. -a bit of a different perspective.

The Literature, Arts and Medicine Database calls it "a satire of the limits of technology, the medicalization of the human spirit, and the trivializing tendencies of 20th century medical science".

As I was googling the title I found a Memphis blogger who read it a couple of years before I did. She still actively blogs. She seems to post a lot of book and family-related matters from what i can tell.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

This Land Is Their Land

This Land Is Their Land, Reports from a Divided Nation, by Barbara Ehrenreich is a 2008 publication I think of as a companion piece to her earlier Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. I liked Nickel and Dimed, which I read as part of a church reading program, and found this book complementary.

The New York Times review has a point when it says that "the first thing you notice about Ehrenreich’s book is that the villains who did the snatching are only vaguely present." The essays making up this collection are quite short, so i didn't expect much depth, but she doesn't so much point a finger as wave generally in that direction.

The Mother Jones review calls Ehrenreich "a full-fledged member of the glass-has-only-one-drop-left cohort." The Daily Kos reviewer liked it, which I expected, and closes her review by saying,
Her willingness to think out loud, to explore, to continue to push to find new implications in current events has never been displayed to better advantage than it is in This Land Is Their Land

Short excerpts can be read here and here.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Major Dundee

Major Dundee, a 1965 Sam Peckinpah western, is one of those movies that passed me by. How I missed it I'll never know, but I don't remember ever having seen it. I was at The Grandmother's place changing the channels and came across this coming on TCM. It stars Charlton Heston, the titular Major after Apache blood; Richard Harris, a confederate prisoner and former friend of Dundee; James Coburn, scout for the garrison; and Slim Pickens. It has an ugly history of edits, lost film & re-releases. I'm glad I've seen it, but this won't go on the list of films I'll watch again. It does have James Coburn in it, though, so I may have to come back to it for that reason alone.

a fan-made trailer:

Reviews are mixed, often within the same review. Most reviewers are talking, not about the theatrical release, but the extended version which added back some of what had been cut. The top critics at Rotten Tomatoes like it. Variety opens by saying the film
might well have been a better picture before its director was dismissed in post-production after a fractious Mexican shoot. But it is also more evident than ever the film is inherently a deeply flawed work that was far from fully realized in both script and shooting. is conflicted, saying, "Even if the picture falls apart in the second half, the first half is loaded with individual scenes that are beautifully staged and acted." Time Out closes with this: "A fine if fractured Western, more subversive of conventional mythologies than it seems." Entertainment Weekly says, "the movie sprawls like an inflated Dirty Dozen. ... yet at its best you can feel Peckinpah, at the twilight of the studio era, dreaming of a far wilder bunch." DvdTalk concludes
a great picture with many brilliant scenes and powerful moments. If mangled movies by great filmmakers were studied as closely as lost books by great authors, I believe Dundee would stand out as an American national epic about the politics of military adventurism.
Combustible Celluloid is a fan and calls it "an ode to the unstable, explosive force that was Sam Peckinpah, as well as to the powerful studio system that crushed him and kept him down." MUBI ranks it 8th of 10 Peckinpah films.

The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 (1965) by Thomas Pynchon is fascinating. It's been in my tbr stack for years and it would probably still be there if I hadn't seen Trystero Coffee's web site. I'm glad I read it. It's fun, as conspiracy theories go.

from the back of the book:
Oedipa Maas is made the executor of the estate of her late boyfriend, Pierce Inverarity. As she diligently carries out her duties, Oedipa is enmeshed in what would appear to be a worldwide conspiracy, meets some extremely interesting characters, and attains a not-inconsiderable amount of self-knowledge.

Time picked the book as one of "the 100 best English-Language novels from 1923 to the present", saying,
With its slapstick paranoia and its heartbreaking metaphysical soliloquies, Lot 49 takes place in the tragicomic universe that is instantly recognizable as Pynchon-land.
The book has its own wiki. Postmodern Mystery has a review. SparkNotes has a summary, analysis, information on the characters and other goodies.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Track of the Cat

I've decided if I don't go ahead & get back into this I'll never do it and I do enjoy the blogging, so I've pulled out the books I've read since my last book note. Track of the Cat is the first in Nevada Barr's mystery series featuring Anna Pigeon, a park ranger in Guadalupe Mountains National Park in West Texas. This 1993 book won both the Agatha and Anthony awards for best first novel. An interesting read, it keeps moving, holds the reader's attention and does a good job developing the characters and vividly describing the setting.

from the back of the book:
The fascinating hero of Nevada Barr's award-winning series, park ranger Anna Pigeon has brought an unyielding love of nature and sense of fair play to the mystery genre. Track of the Cat is the acclaimed novel that first introduced readers to Anna, as a woman looking for peace in the wilderness-and finding murder instead...

Patrolling the remote West Texas backcountry, Anna's first job as a national park ranger is marred by violence she thought she had left behind: the brutal death of a fellow ranger. When the cause of death is chalked up to a mountain lion attack, Anna's rage knows no bounds. It's up to her to save the protected cats from the politics and prejudices of the locals-and prove the kill was the work of a species far less rare...

There are musical references scattered throughout. The first is on page 24 and mentions a tape, a boombox and Guy Clark's "Rita Ballou". On the next page there's mention of a new cassette tape with "I wanna be seduced" by The Chenille Sisters. They aren't frequent, but I found it a nice touch.

Here's the Guy Clark song: