Thursday, October 30, 2008

Shape Shifting Lizard-People Are Running the World. Really!

9-11, JFK's murder, the moon landing, Area doubt you have heard all the conspiracy theories out there about these things. Name a major event and there is someone out there with a theory that there is some secret group behind it all, hiding the truth, while selling us, the little folk, a bill of goods.

And we love to see these conspiracies spelled out in our books, and movies and TV shows from the X-Files and 24 to the DaVinci Code and the books of Robert Ludlum, don't we?
So, do you think that there is anything to any of it?

Well, in her piece on Murderati, Conspiracy Theories, J.D. Rhoades comes down firmly on the side of disbelief.
“I did a panel at the last Thrillerfest on the subject of conspiracy theories. One of the questions was--and I'm paraphrasing here-- "do you believe in  conspiracies in real life?"  Some members of the audience looked a bit startled, and some were visibly disappointed  when I piped up and said "no, I believe in stupidity, randomness and  chaos. That's what causes most of the misery in the world."

I think they were unhappy because people want to believe in order. They want to believe there's a reason for some of the awful stuff that happens, even if that reason is based in evil. They want to believe someone's in control, even if that person (or persons, or shape shifting alien reptile) is malevolent. We want a culprit. At least that gives them something  to fight against. There's no fighting stupidity and chaos.”

Hmm.....well, I think I must strongly disagree on just about every point. Because, you see, I do believe in order and truth and ultimate Good ...and the absence of good, evil. Now don't get me wrong...there is plenty of stupidly in the world. Lots of stupid people doing lots of stupid things. Just as there are lots of smart and good people, doing smart and good things and they are, in fact, just by their very presence fighting stupidly and chaos.

But there is also evil and evil people who freely choose to do evil things. And while good attracts good, evil attracts evil and therefore many of these people with evil on their minds get together, not for the greater good, but for the Greater Evil. Bad people get together to do bad things and to keep them secret. You don't have to look very far in recent history...Mao, Stalin, Hitler...just to name a few. Millions of people dead as a result of their being in control and as a result of their conspiracies. They conspired with like minded men to present a face to the world of order and good, while in fact they were conspiring to ends of death and evil. Yes, sometime there are malevolent people in control and sometimes they try to keep their actions secret.

On a smaller scale isn't crime a conspiracy, whether two guys get together to rob a store or on a much bigger scale, the so-called 'Organized Crime' families. Nothing imagined there. There are criminals, and serial killers and spies...and we the fans of the suspense genre...enjoy seeing this evil ultimately overcome by good. The bad guy gets caught. Order returns to the universe. We like mysteries and suspense novels, not because of a hopeless attempt to control chaos, but because of a real knowledge that good, like truth and justice can prevail, that culprits can be caught.

Is the government hiding the bodies of little green men in Area 51..pretty darn unlikely I think. Someone would have sold an alien hand to the National Enquirer by now. Was Marilyn Monroe's dead really a murder...not beyond possibility. You get involved with very rich, very powerful, very married men with a lot to lose and something bad may happen to you. People have killed for a lot less.

Sometimes truth actually is stranger than fiction and just because you are paranoid doesn't mean people aren't following you.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

a review of Playing Dead

Playing Dead by Allison Brennan

15 years ago, police officer Tom O'Brien was convicted of killing his cheating wife and her lover, shooting them in bed after he comes home from work in the middle of the day and finds them together. Even worse, from his point of view, is the fact that his daughter walks in and see him and the dead bodies and believes that he is guilty of the crime. But, of course, he is not; rather he is the victim of an elaborate frame. Just weeks before his scheduled execution, he escapes from prison during an earthquake. While attempting to elude capture by the FBI, he has two goals; first to follow up on the visit from a law student who claims he has evidence of O'Brien's innocence, and most importantly, to try to convince his now grown and PI investigator daughter that he did not kill her mother.
Actually, the two goals will mesh, because, of course, the daughter will want to get involved in the investigation. A dangerous situation for all..

This is the third book in Brennan's 'Prison Break' series, and while I did not read the previous two, from what I can gather that should not have been an issue. O'Brien was not the only prisoner who escaped in that earthquake and the other two books, while having some overlap of characters, like FBI agent Mitch Bianchi, tell some tales of these other escapees.

Did I mention issues? Well, yes, I did, because while on the surface this is the sort of book that is right up my alley, sadly I can't say that I enjoyed it a great deal. The reason comes down mainly to the characters. First, there were too many. As the story unfolds, in what I found a rather confusing way, there were any number of indistinct minor characters that were hard to keep straight, with a number of interconnected subplots that were also hard to keep straight. I really don't think it was just
But the main problem comes down to the main characters, his daughter Claire and Agent Bianchi. I just never really felt connected to them nor bought into their connection to each other. The evidence to support that just was not there for me and without it, I had a problem staying interested in the outcome.

The other issue has to do with something I have discussed in reviews of suspense genre books before. To my mind, what raises a book from the mediocre to the very good is the twists and turns the author entices us on. We find ourself being led one way...only to discover the path leads, very cleverly, somewhere else altogether. Facts are given, hints dropped, that have us saying when the story reaches the conclusion “But of course! Why didn't I see it...of course, he/she did it!”
Such is not the case in this book. It plods forward and reaches a conclusion that just seemed overly complicated and not 'fair' from what we were told throughout the story. But by that point, I really wasn't all that interested.

I have heard good things about Brennan's earlier books, especially her first series The Hunt, The Prey and The Kill. She is a nice writer, with a clear fluid style, so perhaps I will go back and give those books a try in the future.
As to Playing Dead....just an Ok book for me.

Available from Amazon

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

If This is Tuesday.... must be Tuesday Thinger Time!
And once again, I am forced to look into something on Library Thing that I am only vaguely aware of...legacy libraries.

So, today's question from The Boston Bibliophile. This week's question: Legacy libraries. With which legacy libraries do you share books? Tell us a little about a couple of them and what you share.

OK, it only took me about 15 minutes to figure out where the heck to fine the answer to this one. And I must say that I really admire the people who have compiled and continue to compile these libraries of the famous...and a number of people that I never heard of because I continue to discover how poorly read I really am. Now if you are not quite sure where to find this info on Library Thing, I will be kind and give you a link to the groups page. On there you will also find and interesting link to wiki page with a link to some very interesting proposed libraries. You can also go to your profile page, click on statitics, and then on the Legacy Libraries

But back to the question at hand. I clicked on them all, completed and incomplete, and what I found really interesting was the number with which I have no books in common. Since I have a number of books in my library that I think everyone with any claim to literacy should have, I think that a number of these famous dead people should be ashamed of themselves.

But there are two authors who stand out as sharing the most books with me. Or is that the other way around...yes, perhaps. The second is Ernest Hemingway, who I share 36 books with and the winner, Walker Percy, with whom I share 38 books. That seems like a lot. I must say it is a shame that they are both dead, because I could see Ernest and Walker and I maybe taking a boat down to the Keys and doing some fishing and talking about books. And since Walker was also trained as a doctor, it would be handy to have him in case I got a hook in my finger or something. Especially if we were flyfishing. Yes, salt water flyfishing. And maybe had a beer to two. Yes, that could be dangerous. But, back to the books....

The list of books that Mr. Percy and I share contains some of my very, very favorite books. The books I would take with me if I quick had to pick one box of books to take with me to a desert island...beside the survival guide that is.
And a knife. And a firestarter.
And a plastic tarp.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh..the book that caused me to join Library Thing.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder..I read it as a kid and it made a lasting impression on me...
Desert Calling by Anne Jackson Fremantle...another I read young that I will always remember.
The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas favorite Merton and I am a great fan of Merton...until he went a wee bit nutty.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles favorite Dickens. What a great opening...
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain...A rip roaring good story!

Well, it just goes on and on...all 36 books that Mr. Percy and I share are winners. Of course, I would have to include Mr. Percy's own Love in The Ruins, a very interesting and rather odd book.
I also discovered the excerpt from his 'self interview' on his profile page at Library Thing, "Questions They Never Asked Me". I found his answer on religious faith in the modern age excellent.
Q: How is such a belief possible in this day and age?
A: What else is there?
Q: What do you mean, what else is there? There is humanism, atheism, agnosticism, Marxism, behaviorism, materialism, Buddhism, Muhammadism, Sufism, astrology, occultism, theosophy.
A: That's what I mean.
Q: I don't understand. Would you exclude, for example, scientific humanism as a rational and honorable alternative?
A: Yes.
Q: Why?
A: It's not good enough.
Q: Why not?
A: This life is much too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then to be asked what you make of it and have to answer "Scientific Humanism." That won't do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight, i.e. God. In fact, I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less. I don't see why anyone should settle for less than Jacob, who actually grabbed aholt of God and wouldn't let go until God identified himself and blessed him.
Q: Grabbed aholt?
A: Louisiana expression.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Three Hour Cruise

The plan was to post a book review today. Not going to happen, because I did not finish the book this weekend as planned. First, I was called into work for 12 hours unexpectedly Saturday. Then Sunday, after I got home from church, it was just such a lovely day that I decided to go on a cruise...yes, a three hour cruise. But without Gilligan.

No, I decided to take a ride on the Cape May Lewes Ferry, which, oddly enough, goes from Cape May NJ to Lewes Delaware, crossing the Delaware Bay. On a fine day such as this, temperatures on land of about 60 degrees and not a cloud in the sky, it is a grand trip, of about 1 1/2 hours each way. In a stormy evening, with wind and rain and snow and waves crashing over the car deck in the winter, well, it is a whole other sort of fun. But Sunday was fine and calm.

The Ferry service runs four ships, each carrying about 100 vehicles and bikes and a large number of walk on passengers as well. I decided to leave the car safely parked in Cape May and just pack my camera and binoculars for the trip. But when I arrived in Lewes, rather than just stay on and head right back, I disembarked to check out the Lewes terminal. There are shuttle buses on both ends, to take you into Cape May or, on the Delaware side, to the nearby shopping outlets.
Sadly, I did not think that there was enough time to go into Historic Lewes on this trip, but there were docks to check out, a gift shop (two books, of course, one tee shirt) and I had a nice lunch out on the terminal's large patio overlooking the harbor while waiting for the next ferry to arrive. A great place to start those books on Delaware lighthouses and Delmarva day trips, with the gulls carrying on and all sorts of pleasure boats in the nearby water.

And did I mention that you can see 4 lighthouses from the ferry? Yes, at least on a day as clear as this you can. Of course, there is the Cape May Lighthouse as you pull out from the terminal in North Cape May. And if you are very lucky, as you cross the Bay, off in the distance, maybe about 10 miles up the river you can see the Brandywine Shoal Lighthouse, sitting in the middle of the Delaware River. It was a great test for the zoom on my new camera!

Finally, as you sail into Lewes Harbor, you pass two very long breakwaters built offshore, out in the bay, to protect the harbor from the ice and storm ravages of the open ocean, each capped by a lighthouse. There is the poetically named Harbor of Refuge, pictured above, lit in 1908, and the red Delaware Breakwater Lighthouse, shown below, built in 1855. Since you can now visit both on cruises led by the nonprofit Delaware River & Bay Lighthouse Foundation from a dock just next to the Lewes ferry terminal, in the summer I forsee another visit in my future, with a complete rightup of the two lights then.

For most people, the ferry is a way to cut a good many miles off the road trip down the coast from NJ to Delaware, and you will see tractortrailers and RVs and cars from many states on the lowest car deck. Not to mention quite a few dogs happy to get out of their cars for a bit and take a walk around the outside decks. But it
is also a pleasant trip for we humans, whether you choose to sit inside in one of several lounanges and have something to eat or watch a football game as many were doing yesterday, or sit outside and get some sea air and some fine sights. No whales or dolphins, which are pretty common sights, yesterday. But there were those four lighthouse, without having to take a step!

Friday, October 24, 2008

a review of Lady Liberty-A Biography

Lady Liberty- A Biography by Doreen Rapport and Matt Tavares

Now, I don't usually review children's books. Because I don't usually read children's book...most likely because I have no children.
But, somewhere I read about this book and was compelled to buy a copy. I think that it is such a lovely book that I must tell you a bit about it and give it my recommendation...for children you know or maybe just for yourself.

Lady Liberty- A Biography is just what it says, the story of the Lady from the time that she was first conceived, up to her completion and beyond, in the experiences of those that first saw her upon their arrival in the United States. We start with Edouard de Laboulaye, a French professor of law in 1865, through the work of the sculptor Auguste Bartholdi, the engineer Gustave Eiffel, the poet Emma Lazarus and a number more. Some are very famous and some are surely unknown to us, but moving nevertheless. Those that dug the holes and those that gave their pennies...and their see her completed. The story is told from the view point of 10 individuals who were involved with the Lady's construction, most stories spanning a two page spread, the text written in a narrow column, almost like poetry, and the rest taken up by the very beautiful illustrations of Matt Tavares.

It is a very personal book to Ms. Rappaport, as she explain in the first story. She tries to recreate how her own grandfather, sailing into NY harbor in search of a better life, having left behind in Latvia everyone and everything that was familiar to him, must have felt at the first sight of what has been to millions a symbol of the freedom and liberty they sought in America.
Arms reached out as if to caress her.
People lifted babies so they could see her.
Tears ran down my grandfather's face.
People around him were crying to.
And the a wave of cheering and hugging
swept over the ship.

Imagine for a minute what courage and determination these people, our ancestors, our great grandparents, and grandparents and my own father, must have had to leave their homes and their families, knowing for many, in the age before easy air plane travel, that they would never see them again. But the Lady was a symbol of their dreams; of owning their own home, of having a good job, of seeing their children go to college and have more opportunities than they had.

She ends with a few quotes from some emmigrants, of their first sight of the Lady. This one is from Olaf Holen, who arrived from Norway in 1909.
I was wondering as I looked at you “what is going to happen to me in this vast new land of America?” But you gave me courage....with the torch in your hand, pointing heavensward, and telling me as you have told millions of others, “You are welcome to this new land.”

A very nice book, a good introduction to the history of the Statue of Liberty and a fine reminder for us all.

Available from Amazon

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuesday Thingers Time

Again it is Tuesday and time for the Tuesday Thingers question from The Boston Bibliophile

Today's question: Series. Do you collect any series? Do you read series books? Fantasy? Mystery? Science fiction? Religious? Other genre? Do you use the series feature in LT to help you find new books or figure out what you might be missing from a series? I collect series? Well, yes, I do. Not always as a conscious effort but more due to the fact that if I like an author I tend to go and find what else they have written and read them all. And if it is a reoccurring character, then, in the past at least, I have tried to start at the beginning and read them in order.

But....lately I have had to break that habit. For example, last month was it, I received Voices: A Thriller by Arnaldur Indridason from Library Thing Early Reviewers. Now that was the third in the series, and while the publisher was very nice enough to send the winners all three books, in order to get it read and reviewed in a timely fashion, what with other reading obligations and all, I had to read the third one first. Which in this case was fine.
Then there was White Nights by Ann Cleeves, another Early Reviewer win and the second in a series. Now I bought the first one, but have not read it yet. And then..hey, wait a minute..I see a pattern...this month, from Early Reviewers, I received Playing Dead (Prison Break, Book 3) by Allison Brennan. Again, the third in the series, and I have not read the first two. I just started this one, and I do hope, while not an idea situation, it does not ruin the experience of the book...I guess we will see!

Wait!! I smell a conspiracy here!! Someone, call the book police! I was a series reader and Early Reviewer is trying to stop me. Or, it is part of a giant plot to get me to buy all the previous books.
Like I need more

Beside mysteries...hmmmm...not so much. Except the 'classic' series like Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia. Yes, I do think that you have to read Lord of the Rings in order.

But generally, yes, I do read series, mostly in the mystery genre. And yes, I have used Library Thing to find the series books in the correct order. But now that I know they may be part of this Giant Series Conspiracy....

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Weekend of Lighthouses

Because I know that you were all anxiously awaiting news of my return from the Great NJ Lighthouse Challenge, I decided to take a break from fooling around with carefully editing my numerous pictures to check in.

It was great fun, the weather was..interesting...and the sights were spectacular.
As to the weather. Well, it was sunny...and cloudy...and mild...and cold...and gale force windy.
You know what they say; if you don't like the weather, just wait 5 minutes. But at least there was no rain. Everything else, but no rain.

I started Saturday at 7 A.M. at Tinicum Range Light in Paulsboro, on the Delaware River, right across the river from Philadelphia Airport. Sunrise in a lighthouse is lovely and the sky was clear and promised smooth sailing. Until I headed southeast along the coast and I headed into the clouds. And wind. And extremely high tides. I guess I should have read the weather alerts.
Now if any of my friends or relatives are reading this, they were be happy for me to know that there is a very nice Cracker Barrel restaurant on the ride from Paulsboro to our next lighthouse in the Pennsville area. Of course I had to stop. Then Finns Point...interesting view of the Salem Nuclear Power Plant in the distance..East Point and the Cape May Museum.
The wind and clouds and high, rough seas just made for more interesting pictures as the trip continued along the Atlantic coast now. That is until I got to North Wildwood in the afternoon and had to avoid flooded streets as I drove down the island. I noticed something this weekend; waterfront property can quickly become flooded property in extremely high tides.

Now, my plan Saturday was to end up in Cape May last, because they were one of several lighthouse that they were staying open until 8 P.M. that night for a nighttime climb. Very beautiful...and quite cold, especially a couple of hundred feet in the air, standing out on a walkway. But well worth it.

Sunday morning, better prepared with a warmer fleece jacket, I headed north to the Twin Lights at Navasink and then Sandy Hook, with a detour around Fort Hancock for awhile, and then worked my way back south. Sea Girt...Jennifer, if you read this, you were right, a lovely house... Barnegat...where the wind was so strong they would not allow climbs...but the sky was clear and the sun was out! For a few minutes. Then the Barnegat eyeglasses almost blew off with the wind coming off the ocean, who knew that could happen...then on to Tuckerton and ended my day back in my 'home' lighthouse of Absecon.

You will be happy to know that even on a lighthouse weekend, I found books to buy. One or two lighthouse related, but I also happened into a nice little store in Barnegat Beach that had used books for sale as a community fund raiser. It is ones civic duty to help the community after all! Hardcovers $1...paperbacks 50 cents! The other things I bought were not to support the community, but the store owner I assume. Oh, if I only had more time to dawdle. But I had miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before I sleep. Hmmmm...maybe a prize if anyone catches that literary reference.
Oh, and somewhere I picked up a great DVD on the history of lighthouse illumination technology. You are all invited over to see that one! Popcorn and Fresnel lenses...woo hoo!

So, it was all great fun. I had many interesting chats along the way with the volunteers at many of the lights. I always find that people are eager to answer questions about something they love. These people have a sincere affection for their charges, the lights, and a genuine concern for their future preservation. So what appears to be a very good turn out this year, including a lot of young families with kids in tow, had them very happy. And it is always nice to have those kids racing past you on the spiral staircases, calling to their parents, still far behind them on the climb. Oh yes, we climbed, some faster than others...hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of steps we

Friday, October 17, 2008

a review of The Darker Side

The Darker Side by Cody McFadyen

In his third book in the series, following The Face of Death and Shadowman, Cody McFadyen has once again given us an excellent, solid FBI procedural. With The Darker Side returns Agent Smoky Barrett, a character with her own tragic, horrific past. She and her family, her husband and young daughter, were taken hostage in their home. Barrett was raped and tortured, her husband and child both died. When we first met her in Shadowman, she was recovering from her injuries, her terribly scarred face and body nothing in comparison to the scars she carried within her. She spent her days alone in her house, trying to decide whether to end her life. So she is a police officer that certainly understands the pain of both the victims of crime and their families.

When she and her team of investigators are called by the FBI Director himself to delve into the murder of a beautiful young woman on an airplane flight to Virginia, it seems at first that her fame is the reason they are given the case. The victim is the daughter of a powerful U.S Senator and Smoky has been requested especially, partially because of her previous skill in solving some high profile cases but also because the victim's mother knows that she understands their pain and will stop at nothing to find the killer. And she is right...

What first appears to be one of those 'locked-door' mysteries, a murder on a plane in the air with the possible murderers all locked in, turns out to something else, a very small part of a much more horrible reality. And not everything is as it appears at first. Everyone has their secrets it seems and this book is all about secrets; not just those of the criminal or the victims of crime but those that have dedicated their lives to bringing justice to the victims as well.

I will not lie to you, my dear readers. Mr. McFadyen books are not cozy, superficial mysteries. Some may find then rather gory and intense and all three of them present some difficult situations for the reader to consider, a lot of gray rather than black and white. But I can assure you that you will be rewarded in each of his books with a taut, compelling story, with wonderful, complex characters that each have their own demons to wrestle with.

As I mentioned, this is the third book in the series, and while the author gives us a brief synopsis of the relative background of Smoky and the others from the previous books, this is one case where I really think it is best to start with the first. The first book, Shadowman, is such a powerful story that you deserve to read the whole thing from the beginning...and begin to understand Smoky's own secrets...because it is all about the secrets after all.

And then you will have this very good book, The Darker Side, to look forward to reading.

Available from Amazon

Thursday, October 16, 2008

a review of The Wordy Shipmates

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

What do you think of when you think of the Puritans? Bucket hats, brass buckle shoes and Thanksgiving pageants? If so, Sarah Vowell thinks you are a bit confused. Well, that certainly wouldn't be a first for me!
Her book is not about those religious separatists that landed on Plymouth Rock, but rather the loyal British citizens who founded the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1630, a very different people. A very literate, principled group that would found the first college in what would become the United States, Harvard. An intellectual people obsessed with words and language, Greek and Latin and the classics and most of all by the Bible. Hence the title of the book, The ,Wordy Shipmates.

Also, beside correcting that misapprehension, Vowell wants to explore what their heritage has meant to us as a nation, especially the idea that their leader, Governor John Winthrop, discussed in his “A Model of Christian Charity”, the idea that they were to be “a city upon a hill”. She gives examples of how that idea was used, and in her estimation, was misused, to shape Americas' idea of herself and to justify her actions throughout history.
One example was in the words of John F. Kennedy in a speech to the Massachusetts legislature 11 days before his inauguration as president.
“Then he boils down the two phrases from “A Model of Christian Charity” that means the most to him: 'We must always consider, [Winthrop] said, that we shall be a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon is.'
I fall for those words every time I hear them, even though they're dangerous, even though they're arrogant, even though they're rude.”

Well, she falls for them when Kennedy delivers them, but is not so enamored of them when delivered by President Ronald Reagan in his famous “shining city upon a hill” references. She launches into a political polemic, somehow trying, I think not very successfully, to link this idea to everything from Iran Contra to Abu Ghraib, a political tirade that I found jarring. But then jarring is common in this book. There is certainly no chronological storyline here. Vowell jumps from 1630 to the present...not surprisingly she is not fond of President Bush either...then back again, with little side trip to various pop culture references and field trips with her nephew, in a way that I found particularity confusing to the overall idea of the book.

Vowell herself seems conflicted by this very 'city on the hill' idea. On the one hand she sees it, as I quoted, as dangerous and arrogant, the idea of the Puritans that they, and by her logic we today, feel that we are a superior people, chosen by God to lead, a “beacon of righteousness that all others are to admire”. Their strict Calvinist theology led them to believe that they were predestined to be superior, certainly to the Native Americans, who they saw as waiting on the shore for the Puritan's help when they arrived.
'God Almighty in His most holy and wise providence, hath so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity; some mean and in subjection.'

I bet you can figure out who the Puritans thought went in which group.

But then, as Vowell acknowledges, these ideas are totally at odds with the ideas of the Founding Fathers less than 150 years later, the ideas contained in the Declaration of Independence, in the Constitution, in the Bill of the very idea of the American Dream.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

More than that, I think there is a problem with her basic premise that America thinks of itself in some way as a Puritan nation. The very ideals the country was founded on were at odds with the strict predestination theology of the Massachusetts Bay colony. Then the history of Massachusetts itself, while important in America, was certainly not the only intellectual influence, even at the beginning of our nation. And that is not to even mention the hundreds of years of huge immigrations to our country from all over the world, bringing a breath of cultural and religious and intellectual ideals that the Puritans could not even have imagined. I can assure you that my Irish Catholic ancestors would not have been welcome in their vision of that city on the hill, since the Puritan's pet name for the Pope was the Great Whore of Babylon and they were a people, as Vowell says “who rarely agreed on anything except that Catholics are going to hell”.

So, at times an amusing book, that certainly left me with an increased knowledge about the Puritans and the founding of Massachusetts but also a bit of a confusing and overblown jumble, with a premise that just didn't hold up.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Still looking for those up to the challenge

From Drop Box

Yes, folks, the day is almost upon us, the day of the Great NJ Lighthouse Challenge. 11 lighthouses, two museums in 2 days.
On the weekend of October 18th and 19th the New Jersey Lighthouse Society will be holding the 9th Annual New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge . In order to raise lighthouse awareness, especially of NJ lights, all are encouraged to visit one or all.

It is a rain or shine, two-day event held during the 3rd weekend in October when 11 land-based lighthouses are open for visitation and climbing. During this weekend, the public is invited to visit any or all of the sites along the Challenge route. For 2008, we are pleased to introduce the addition of 2 new sites to the Challenge route:
-Barnegat Light Historical Museum displaying Barnegat Light's 1st Order Fresnel Lens.
-Cape May County Museum displaying Cape May's 1st Order Fresnel Lens.

At each site visited, participants of the Challenge receive a complimentary souvenir depicting that particular lighthouse. Collect all 13 and you will receive a complimentary "completion" souvenir at your final stop to commemorate your achievement.

look for me..I will be the one with a

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tuesday Thingers

Today's question: Early Reviewers- do you participate? How many books (approximately) have you received through the program? Have you liked them generally? What's your favorite ER book? Do you participate in the discussion group on LT?

Yes, I love the ER...because the ER is about free books, and I love me the free books! Woo Hoo!
I have been in it about 6 months...and I refuse to tell you how many books I have received. I refuse because I was over reading the LT thread about people that 'hate' Early Reviewers because they have not gotten any books, or have not received a book in months and are all upset...

OK, I will tell you. I have received a book every month I have been in it. In fact, I got three last month because the publishers sent all three books in the author's series.
So shoot me....but I will still have my books!! So take that! And, of course, now I will not get one for a year. But I have my other sources now.

Yes, I have generally liked them. One or two I could have skipped. But several are from authors I had not heard of before, so might never have bought, but will now add to my list. Yes, I have already bought several of their books other books. One or two...or four or five. Six tops...maybe.

I do post at in the Early Reviewer group a bit. Mostly just to say if I got a book and when it arrives, so others know if they are getting the same book, it might be on the way.

Do I participate in the other LT groups? Yes...I do. In the Tea group and the Bloggers, and the ARC Junkies. I have learned quite a bit from posts there about the whole ARC subject.
And tea. Because I love books, free books and tea.
And then for general amusement, the Green Dragon. Always something funny there.

Monday, October 13, 2008

America's Oldest Lighthouse

Today we are off to northern NJ...well, relatively north, to visit the Queen of lighthouses. Perhaps that should be the King of lighthouses, considering the symbolism of the towers and all. Yes, the King of lighthouses, Sandy Hook, the oldest existing, continually working lighthouse in the Unites States.

There is evidence that the need for a lighthouse at this sandy spit of land, that extends up to form the south end of the entrance into NY harbor, was discussed as early as 1679. Ships had to sail very close to Sandy Hook to follow the natural channel and there were numerous shipwrecks over the years, but it was not until there were several shipwrecks in a very short period of time, in early 1761, costing over £21,000 in lost of ships and merchandise, that a number of NY merchants approached the His Majesty’s Council, requesting that a lighthouse be built. The government decided to hold two lotteries, raising £3000 each, to buy four acres of the sandy land and to contract to build a tower.

Little is know about the mason who designed and built it, a Mr. Isaac Conro, except that he built a very strong and lasting structure that has survived lightening hits, and cannonball attacks and hurricanes for over two hundred years and still stands in excellent condition. It was built of rubblestone, stuccoed over and years late, lined with brick. Construction was started in 1763 and the light was first seen in what was then called the New York Lighthouse on June 11, 1764, the country's fifth lighthouse. As described in the New York Mercury newspaper ...
“On Monday Evening last the New York Lighthouse erected at Sandy Hook was lighted for the first time. The House is of an Octagonal Figure, having eight equal sides; the Diameter at the Base is 29 Feet and at the top of the Wall 15 Feet. The lanthorn is 7 Feet high; the circumference 33 Feet. The whole constructure of the Lanthorn is Iron; the top covered with copper. There are 48 Oil Blazes. The Building from the surface is Nine Stories; the whole from the Bottom to Top 103 Feet.”

Of course, it was not many yearsthat the nation was in the midst of the Revolutionary War and Sandy Hook was to be in the thick of it. The New York Congress decided to either destroy the tower or at least render the light useless by dismantling it, so as to make a British attack on New York Harbor more difficult. It seems that Major William Malcolm was successful in taking the light apart, but the British repaired it within a few months, leading to a daring attack by ship by Benjamin Tupper, in an attempt by the colonists to once again make the light useless. Happily, the attacks by cannon proved unsuccessful against the structure. After an hour, he “found the walls so firm that the cannon fire could make no impression” and Sandy Hook would remain under British control for most of the rest of the war.

After the war, there was a dispute over ownership of the lighthouse between the States of New York and New Jersey, which was settled in 1789 when the federal government took over control of all U.S. Lighthouses, saying..

“The necessary support, maintenance and repairs of all lighthouses beacons, buoys, and public piers erected, placed or sunk before the passing of this act, at the entrance of, or within any bay, inlet, harbor or port of the United States, for rendering the navigation thereof easy and safe, shall be defrayed out of the treasury of the United States."

And so it has remained for Sandy Hook up to the present day.

The original copper oil lamps were replace with Argand lamps in 1812, with eighteen 21” reflectors, and then the lighthouse received a fixed, third-order Fresnel lens in 1856, which remains in use today. It was also the first American lighthouse to be lit by electric incandescent lamps in 1889 and today is illuminated by a 1000 watt bulb, that emits 45,000 candle-power, and that is visible for almost 20 miles out to sea.

Oddly, Sandy Hook, unlike many other lighthouses, is in no danger from the encroaching sea. When it was first built, it was about 500 feet from the ocean, but the strong current at the inlet has deposited more and more sand on the hook over the years and today the light is over a mile from the water. History has not left the tower alone out there on that spit of land either. In the 1890's the government built Fort Hancock next to the tower, which while deserted today, was for many years the site of massive gun batteries to defend NY harbor. The Nike missiles once there can be seen on display on the roadside as you drive in to the Gateway National Recreation Area, the Federal park that encompasses the entire area today. Now the National Park Service controls the lighthouse and all the surrounding buildings but the light itself is still maintained by the Coast Guard, who has a station at the far northwest corner of the hook.

On June 11, 1964, the lighthouse was declared a National Historic Landmark, on the 200th anniversary of the night it was first lighted, and you can see the plaque marking that day mounted on the side of the tower.

It is a beautiful and stately lighthouse, well worth a visit, as is the whole Gateway National Recreation Area, in which it is located. There are a number of beaches, open for swimming and very popular in the summer and available for surf fishing year round. There are miles of bike and hiking trails, several observation towers which promise views of NY city when the weather is clear and amazing views of huge ships, very close offshore, sailing into the harbor year round. You can also see any number of pleasure crafts and fishing boats just off the beaches on a fine day, as I can attest.
The Park also includes the Sandy Hook Bird Observatory, established in 2001 by the New Jersey Audubon Society, in what is one of New Jersey's best year-around birding locations and you can check their website for a list of activities they offer.

So, whenever you go, bring your binoculars and your camera and a picnic lunch.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Giant Book Giveaway!

Again...not mine. No, Devourer of Books is having a Giant book giveaway, in honor of her 100th book review. She is giving away several prizes for a total give away of, at this point, 18 books. And if there are more entries, that may go go over and post a comment and get a chance to enter!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Can a Bad Review End a Career?

Today's post is stolen borrowed from Murderati, yes, again. What can I say, they have the most interesting discussions! This post is by one of my favorite authors, Tess Gerritsen, and is entitled "Can a bad review end your career?"
I realize that's a pretty blunt answer, and many of you will disagree with me on this. Nobody reads reviews anyway, you'll argue. Bad reviews come with the territory, and authors survive them all the time. Or you'll observe (accurately) that I'm famously hypersensitive to lousy reviews and I endow them with more power than they really have.
So let me explain why I think one bad review can, indeed, end your career as a published author.

.. imagine that your first review appears in Publishers Weekly, and they pronounce it a disaster. They call your publisher a house of idiots for buying it.
Now your editor looks like a dope. The enthusiasm at your publishing house suddenly deflates like a popped balloon. Everyone there feels a bit embarrassed, not just for you, but for themselves. The big bookstore orders don't come in. Costco and Walmart take a pass on it. Even before your book goes on sale, it already feels like a big failure and an expensive mistake."

But is it not only the first time writer that can have a terrible reaction from a bad review. She then goes on to tell her own experience from a bad review last year. How very depressing it was, how it made her consider quiting!

A number of very interesting points made in the post and in the comments too...go read the whole thing. There are several items that could be discussed but there is one point, made in the comments, that I would disagree with. Even if it is made by a cartoon character...
Someone quotes the critic Anton Ego, in the movie Ratatouille, saying
"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read."

Oh no...oh no...I must disagree with that idea. I hate to write a negative review. You will not have to look very far down on my blog to find one, but I hate doing it. I know that out there is someone who has poured themselves into this book, who has labored on it for years perhaps. Someone who thinks it is wonderful,or beautiful, or amusing.
And then I must say, that in my opinion, it is not. Granted, it is just my opinion, and let's face it, I am no one, relatively speaking, but still...
In their place, I wouldn't want to hear it from a person in line at the grocery store, let alone the reviewer at the NY Times. Which is why I am not a writer. That and a lack of talent.

Then why am I so bold as to write some reviews? Well, I see myself and many of my fellow bloggers as Every Reader, if you will. I read a fair bit, I love books, and I think at this point that I have some ability to give some objective opinions. Is it a good plot, does it make sense, does it seem honest, are the characters developed, are they true to themselves, does the dialogue sound natural? Did it effect me in some way, make me laugh, make me think, make me understand something in a different way? Bottom line, would I recommend it to a friend, to a fellow book lover?

And I hate to answer no to that. I will, but I hate it.

a review of Arsenic Soup for Lovers

Arsenic Soup For Lovers: When Chicken Soup Doesn't Work by Georgia Z Post

It's a clever title and I loved the book's cover...cute. And then the promise of something to read that is short and funny, or as the book is described on the back cover, a “tart and wickedly amusing collection”, was hopeful. If you have read other reviews of mine, you will know that I love an amusing book. If only it were true in this case....

Now granted, humor is a personal thing, but I can't honestly say that I found any of the 25 two or three page stories in the collection funny. One, called “Valentines” was rather sweet but the word that came to mind after reading most of them was....well, creepy.
A lot of spouses cheating on each other with the offended spouse taking some sort of revenge, often in a quite nasty way. Now, maybe if you have found yourself in that situation, you might find some of the actions funny, but I can't say that I did. And while the stories are very short and granted, don't leave much room for development, I often found the endings to the stories needlessly abrupt.

As I said, humor is an individual thing, and there might be people out there that find this sort of thing funny, but I am sorry to say that it didn't do it for me.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tuesday Thingers

Seems it is Tuesday once again, if just barely. So, lets go over to The Boston Bibliophile and see what this weeks question is.
This week's question: LibraryThing's Recently Added feature: do you look at it? Do you use it for ideas? Is there something listed there now that looks interesting to you? What have you added to your LT library recently?

Well, there are actually two 'Recently Added'...recently added by me and recently added by other members and I can say that I use them both. More often the recently added by myself oddly enough. Oddly because, if I just added them, why do I need to book at them again? Good question. I could say short term memory loss which is also true. But more importantly, I like to use the feature to go back and add tags or a rating. And I just like the pretty book covers. Because I am a book addict.

I also look at what other members have recently added because, you know, I always need more books to acquire. Because, yes, I am an addict.
And also because there are often some very, very odd books there. There was one there as I just looked that contained the tags pigs, dystopia and prostitutes. An interesting combination, don't you think?
But the one I just saw that I would actually consider buying is 'The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell' by Mark Kurlansky. It seems Mr. Kurlansky is also the author of 'Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World'. The oyster book...if I reviewed it, I could reuse the picture of the oyster boat that I used in my post about the East Point Lighthouse!

To be totally honest, I find all the recently added book titles interesting. Because I am an addict. Yep...

Have I added books recently? Are you serious? What do you think? With the addict thing and all...the most recent addition being Five Skies by Ron Carlson, because someone on LT mentioned it and it sounded great. And I am an addict. :-)

Friday, October 3, 2008

The World's Best Paid Authors

There was an interesting article in Forbes recently called The World's Best Paid Authors .
For any writers out there it will either give you hope....or make you feel like an utter failure!

While the publishing industry has struggled to come up with a "Happily Ever After" storyline in recent years, there's still plenty of money to be made in the business of books...In fact, the 10 stars on our list of the best-paid authors pulled in a combined $563 million between June 1, 2007, and June 1, 2008, thanks to hefty advances, impressive sales and silver screen adaptations.
Topping the list: J.K. Rowling, who banked a jaw-dropping $300 million over the course of the year...
James Patterson places second on the list, raking in a cool $50 million during the 12-month period...
Coming in third: Stephen King, who earned $45 million over the course of the year.
Tom Clancy places fourth, banking $35 million this year...
And Danielle Steel rounds out the top five, earning $30 million.

Others on the list: Nicholas Sparks, Janet Evanovich, John Grisham, Dean Koontz and, thanks to a little Oprah magic, Ken Follett. Last year she chose Follett's 1989 novel Pillars of the Earth for her viewers, turning it into a bestseller. With friends like that, who needs a new book?

They say, you know, that even in a bad economy, sales of alcohol and books will still be good. Maybe because addicts buy them both? lol

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Who....or the What?

There was a discussion somewhere out there in cyberland recently...and no, I don't remember where....about which is more important to a novel, the characters or the plot. So I was happy to see a post yesterday on the Murderati blog by the author J.D. Rhoades called Driven by Desire that discusses this very thing. And best of all, he agrees this me!
“Writers and critics talk sometimes about "plot-driven" versus "character-driven" fiction.  I've always thought it was a false dichotomy, however. In my opinion, character drives plot. Or to be more specific, characters have desires, and it's desire that drives plot....

Figure out what each of your characters wants, both in the short term and in the long term. In real life, people  want more than one thing, and the same should be true in your fiction.  For example, the main character may want to rule the world, he may also want to get the girl. For each character, then, write out:  what are their deepest desires?  What will they do to achieve them? Will they have to sacrifice one desire to achieve another?”

To me, ever story, of every genre, is about the characters. Even suspense stories, which some might say are the most plot driven stories. Isn't a mystery all about the plot, you may say? Well, speaking as a reader, not a writer, I would say no. Sure, a good plot is very important and there is little I enjoy more than a good suspense book with a really clever plot. I wrote about that in a review recently, that a good suspense writer can led you to think you have it all figured out and just when you are patting yoursef on the back, the author just pulls that rug out from under you....excellent!

But...I think that what then take that book up a notch, and it is a big notch, what take that from just a pretty good mystery to really good fiction, to really good writing, is the character development. We have to become vested in these people, we have to understand them, like them, care about them and care about what they do and what happens to them. In the case of the villain, we have to hate them. But even that should not be so simple, so one dimensional.
“Keep in mind as well that, in the words of the famous quote, "no one is a villain in his own eyes." The antagonist, if he's not a maniacally cackling, hand rubbing cartoon villain, has reasons for his actions which seem perfectly logical and consistent to him, even if they may not seem that way to the reader. Or, as I put it, the villain thinks he's the hero.”

This whole issue of the characters came to mind as I was reading a mystery novel recently. No, I did not write a review of it, I didn't have the heart too. I had read a number of non-fiction books by this same writer over the years and I enjoyed them a great deal. She is a very good writer and she can tell a great story. But the difference was that in her non-fiction, she was telling true stories. Or, I assume, fairly true stories. The plot, the character were there, for her to organize and describe and share with us and she is very good at that. But when she wrote this mystery...well, the plot was not awful. It was not “pull the rug from under you” great but it was ok. The overriding problem was the main character....or actually all the characters. There was never a sense that you knew this person, and to the degree that you just didn't care. You were not vested in them...There was no sense that “our hero” was real to the author, so of course he was not real to us.

And I see this most often in suspense novels that are part of a series. The characters have to grow, we have to get to know them better in each book of the series and care about what they do and what happen to them, or the series just starts to die. The best plot will not save them for long.

So yes, I think in a real way, a novel is all about the characters. Ok, not 'all' maybe but a mediocre plot can be rescued by great characters while I suggest that a good plot will not really grab and hold us with poor least not for long.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

a review of "Lighthouses of the Mid-Atlantic Coast"

Lighthouses of the Mid-Atlantic Coast by Elinor DeWire

“Lead, kindly Light, amid the circling gloom...
The night is dark, and I am far from home.”

John Henry Newman wrote over two hundred years ago.

You might have noticed that I do have a particular interest in lighthouses and in my mind, if you have an interest, you need some books about that interest. There are a number of very good books out there about this fascinating and beautiful subject, but somehow in my wandering on the subject, I had never heard of the author of this book, Elinor DeWire. It was on the suggestion of a fellow book blogger, Bookish Ruth, that I found the books of Ms. DeWire and while this is not the one Ruth named as her favorite, I do have a particular fondness for the sentinels from my own mid-Atlantic area. This book calls itself “your guide to the lighthouses of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia” and it is that. But it is also a very good introduction to the history of lighthouses along the east coast and also tries to answer the question of why these structures continue to hold such an interest for so many.

The photographer of the book, the excellent photographer of the book, Paul Eric Johnson, tackles that question in his introduction.
“In the light of recent world events, lighthouses may seem trivial to some. For others, including me, America's lighthouses- and the hope they symbolize- have become even more significant. The world has definitely changed. But when surrounded by marsh grasses as far as I can see, with the ocean lapping at my feet, and a distant beacon alight against the sun's fading color, I can imagine the way it was before.”

Yes, the interest in lighthouses is very much about the 'way it was before' and this book gives a nice introduction to the interaction of American history along the east coast and these lights. From the first settlements and the rise of trade, the importance of safe navigation became of great importance. Throughout the wars, from the Revolution, up through the War of 1812, the Civil War, WWII, the lighthouse has played a part. And they are also a guide to our advancing technology, from the first most primitive lens, to the introduction of electricity and wireless radios, to the unmanned, fully automated, often solar powered lights of today. All this is covered in a very interesting fashion in this book.

But DeWire also gives us a view into the behind the scene, more personal aspects of the lights. We get to meet some of fascinating characters, good and bad, that have been the lights keepers throughout the centuries and learn something about what their lives were like.
Some were tour guides to thousands of visitors a year, like the keepers of the Absecon and Cape May, some lived with their wives and children, running a farm, raising livestock and fishing to supplement their incomes, while also maintaining the light and it's property. Often they had a lot of time on their hands and I found it very interesting that for many years the U.S Lighthouse Board maintained a circulating library, delivered by tenders every few months and even had special wooden bookcases made with doors and a handle, each holding 50 books, to make the delivery of books easier. On the more exciting end of the spectrum, some keepers found themselves isolated at sea for weeks at a time, through the worse weather you can imagine, hoping the structure would survive the ice of winter or the next Nor'easter or hurricane. And sometimes they didn't...

While the text is very interesting and DeWire has some excellent stories to share, also very important to this book are the very beautiful photographs of Mr. Johnson, as well as some of the historic photos they have included. I personally found it interesting to study his photographs of some of the lighthouse I know quite well, and see how lacking my photos are compared to his. Well, I can only get better!

The book ends with an epilogue, discussing the future of these historic lights. Many have already been lost. Those that are still navigation lights are all automated, some visited now only by their Coast Guard maintainers. But many have also been adoptered by a variety of volunteer groups that help, by raising money and labor, not only to maintain the physical buildings but also to try and preserve and pass on the memories and histories and the human stories of the lighthouses. As one volunteer, quoted by DeWire, writes about the lights, “They are beautiful, so very beautiful. But they are more than bricks and motor and glass and metal. People built the lighthouses, people tended them, people made them automatic. And now, only people can save them.”

DeWire and Johnson's lovely book could no doubt inspire many to do that. A nice read and beautiful pictures if you enjoy lighthouses.