Monday, December 28, 2009

Backyard Bird Secrets for Every Season by Sally Roth

Backyard Bird Secrets for Every Season, Sally Roth.
New York: Rodale Press, 2009. large paperback, 337 pps. inc. sources and index.

We've had a bit of a cold snap and I found my self wanting to read books that remind me that spring will return. Backyard Bird Secrets for Every Season fits the bill. Sally Roth is an avid birder from Indiana. She knows her stuff and has been widely published. The book itself uses medium thickness glossy pages which pleased my fingers and colored photographs which were a feast for my eyes. Charts and writing style are both clear and precise. I am as pleased with this book as I have been with other things that Roth has written.

The book is divided into sections according to the four seasons with winter being the last. I turned first to Part 4 subtitled Winter: Getting down to Basics. In Part 4, Roth addresses the need for proteinous foods, water, and shelter. The colorful pictures compliment her information rather well. A picture of a hollowed out tree caught my eye. I was pleased to see Part 4 mention the roosting together of birds in nesting boxes and small cavities that we observe here. If I get up early enough in the morning that was preceded by a cold night, I can be rewarded by the sight of a bunch of little birds pouring out of a roosting box, having all shared the box and body heat for the night. Roth suggests putting up birdhouses early, cleaning the feeders once a month in the winter time (with steps included), and providing water via a heated water source or at least special plastic with a dark interior that will delay freezing. I am now actively looking for either a solar water unit or a water heater for my birdbath. Roth also mentions the reliance that buffleheads have on woodpeckers in finding shelter. Buffleheads are considered incidental here along the Mohawk, although I did have the pleasure of watching a female bufflehead one fall down by the locks. Upon spying me and my dog, she dove underwater and came up again 50 feet later. Charts included in Part 4 illustrate which plants and trees attract which birds in the winter landscape.

Sally Roth has once again succeeded in presenting information about birds in an easy-to-read style bound to appeal to people who find pleasure in feeding birds. Although this book is not a scholarly tome, it is worth the look-see for anyone wishing to hone their knowledge about backyard birds.

sapphoq reviews says: break out those suet cakes! A definite plus for the casual birding library.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Nothing by Nica Lalli

Nothing, Nica Lalli. New York: Prometheus Books, 2007. paperback, 271 pps.

Nica Lalli grew up in a (secular) Jewish Italian family. In second grade, she envied a classmate who was going for First Holy Communion. She wanted a white dress too and a veil. But when she asked her parents about what the family was, she was told that the family was "nothing." The family did not practice any religion and her parents did not believe in God. This resulted in a round of tears as now Nica would not be a miniature bride of Christ for one day after all.

The book transitioned smoothly from remembrance of times past to philosophical musings of time present. There is a proselytizing high school ski trip and Girl Scouts and a dead bird. There is a marriage, a couple of kids, and a very Christian sister-in-law. There is also 9/11. Meg and Jacob (husband's very Christian sister and spouse) have several protracted fights with Nica and her spouse Greg and the end result is estrangement shortly after 9/11. "Nothing" was very powerful up until the last two chapters.

Nica went through her struggles and was able to choose atheism for herself in the end. In the last couple of chapters, she belatedly discusses her own two children. Amanda and Victor are more fortunate in growing up. And the answer to "What are we?" is a somewhat sappy "Let's find out together."

In sixth grade, I had a classmate who was an atheist from an atheist family. She was open about her non-belief but not obnoxious. We were the obnoxious ones, demanding to know of her how she thought the world began. Even at that young age, we used the First Cause argument in our own primitive manner. But classmate was a strong kid and would not yield to our reason and logic. After a few minutes, we let her be.

Our great nephews are being raised also in an atheist home. The two kids are comfortable within themselves and confident in their views of the world. Their parents are upfront about their atheism and when asked will tell the kids directly, "We don't believe in any gods. We are atheists.
That family is fortunate to live in an area where their scientific nature is understoon and celebrated.

sapphoq reviews says: "Nothing" is an interesting book. Through its snapshops, we get an impression of life in the fifties up through today in the eyes of an unbeliever. Although Lalli's style
will not appeal to everyone. Nica's story may appeal to those who are going their own"crisis of faith."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

DumbHeart, a Get Fuzzy collection, by Darby Conley

Dumb Heart, a Get Fuzzy collection, by Darby Conley.
Kansas City: Andrews McNeal Publishing L.L.C., 2009.
large paperback, 127 pps.

I love Get Fuzzy. The antics of Bucky the snarky cat, Satchel the lovable pooch, and their friends vs. Rob Wilco the human never fail to please me. This collection does not disappoint. Of special delight to me was the introduction of Satchel's new hosta and Bucky's new clothing line. The presence of weasels was unexpected and livened things up. The brief political banter between Satchel and Bucky left me lmao.

As an aside, I have problems reading other books with comic strips because of the layout and print use. I had no problems reading this one. (And never do).

sapphoq reviews says: Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A.B.C. Wife Swap

Today I sat through an entire episode of A.B.C.'s Wife Swap show. The episode I watched turned out to be a rerun. The actual episode was episode 6 of season 4-- Kim and Randall Beckman-Heskett vs. Lee-Ann and Christopher Childs. The guide describing the two families can be found at:

Basically, the show goes for drama (as much of unreal "reality" teevee does). The paired up families are frequently polar-opposites in parenting styles as well as in values. Randall is a stay-at-home dad with a strong background in theology who likes to sing fundamentalist religious rounds in an off-beat way. Wife Kim is a C.E.O., kids Allison and Hannah are "regular kids," the family is liberal. I believe that "Lutheran" was specifically mentioned but I am not entirely sure of that.

Christopher refers to himself as the gatekeeper of his family (odd how that particular term is also used in a very witchy context, although the meaning of course is a bit different). He works. Lee-Ann is a stay-at-home mother who homeschools her six kids-- five girls and one boy. The boy does manly chores involving garbage and lawn-mowing. The girls are being trained up to be good fundamentalist christian housewifes. There is an emphasis on cheerful service as well as a firm belief that their god will bypass the whole dating scene and just sort of reveal the girls' future intended husbands to them. The middle girl wants to be a medical doctor and cannot understand why she cannot combine her dream with marriage and raising a family.

Kim talks to the middle child about her dream and assures her that it is possible to have a career and a family too. Kim stares in obvious disbelief as the the two older girls and the one boy explain that their god will just drop their mates upon them. They don't want to date and they like the feeling of "being sheltered." Middle child is whisked away to safety by the god-fearing dad as the girls scuttle around doing chores cheerfully.

Lee-Ann and Randall get into theological tiffs. She does not have the background, knowledge, or proficiency with languages that Randall has. In the show, he soundly trumps her several times and she appears "silly" in her sincerely held beliefs. By far the most disturbing thing to me was when Lee-Ann had the two Beckman-Heskett girls write out vows concerning dating (or rather not dating). These "vows" were forced upon the two girls. When mother Kim returns home, she spends an evening with the two girls undoing the "vows" which they had been pressured to write out.

I found this particular show to be offensive on several levels. In the United States, since children do not have the right to choose their own religion (especially without parental consent), parents get to raise their kids in the fashion that they choose to. Forcing two 12 year olds to record fake assurances that they will remain chaste (virginal) until marriage etc was upsetting to me. On the other hand, it was more than likely wrong for Kim to impose her views of happy slavery and life options on middle fundy daughter. That did not upset me nearly as much. I suppose that exposes my own bias. If there is any truth to this episode, I suspect the battle for middle daughter's future lifestyle to line up in accordance with literalist biblical ideology has already been lost long before the television crews showed up.

sapphoq reviews says: One complete episode of the show "Wife Swap" was more than enough for me. A big YUCK.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I Cry "Fowl" on Sion Chickens

Yes it is true, sapphoq is a Second Life (r) drone-- I mean avatar. Within the past month over on the grid, I was given some eggs and they did the expected thing. They hatched into fuzzy yellow chickens. One thing led to another and soon our group (friends of sapphoq-- the branch that is on Second Life) had a big skybarn and lots of chickens in coops squawking their little heads off. Soon after, the group acquired a version 12 vendor and a Sion corn vendor. We swung into chicken farmer mode with a vengeance. And then suddenly, all vendors went down. And ours did not come back up.

The creator of this mad mess, one Sion Zaius by name, allegedly does not speak English very well. His profile says so. After the failure of the vendors, Sion Zaius changed his profile to reflect a three month vacation. Must be nice. No matter. A cursory look-see revealed that many vendors besides our own remained non-functional.

Sion Zaius himself does not want to be bothered with the problems of his customers. His profile says so. Sion Zaius has two assistants. I was able to get one of them online-- GreenShamrock McMahon-- who was "busy" of course. She did take a few moments to carefully explain to me that since the stolen chicken food episode, security was tightened and our dinky little market did not make the cut. Or rather, friends of sapphoq was cut out. All small businesses were cut out and their vendors permanently offline. Only the top one hundred or so vendors were allowed to remain. (This is supposedly in response to the great food heist. Apparently, someone had stolen a bunch of Sion chicken food and was selling it in bulk). There was a vague promise that perhaps "more vendors can be given out in the future." So in other words, if friends of sapphoq wishes to sell eggs and chickens in Mirr, folks would have to then go elsewhere-- to the larger farms and markets-- to purchase the totally necessary food, transport boxes, and other "accessories." To my way of thinking, this sucks. My group had spent significant amounts of money to get set up in the chicken business. Belatedly we discovered we are to be denied the privilege of having Sion Lab vendors in our store. In the vast world of Sion Labs, the individuals and the small groups-- even a small group of disabled and otherwise misunderstood folks-- really don't matter. Business is business, to quote my dad. To which I say, "Phooey."

GreenShamrock McMahon was unyielding as befitting her job description of Customer Support. After a bit more stomping of pixeled feet, I was told to "Have a nice day and be safe." I held back on what I really wanted to say. What I really wanted to say was a vulgar phrase denoting the advisability of Sion Zaius and Sion Labs (r) to . Or that is to say, to engage in carnal intercourse with themselves. What I did say was, "Stick a fork in me. We are D O N E done. Thank you Sion Labs for wasting the time and investment money of our group." Then I muted her so she could not ever contact me again.

I returned to the skybarn and in a fit of rage, deleted bunches of chickens. Let the great Sion Labs boycott begin!

sapphoq reviews says: If you are in Second Life (r), don't bother with Sion Chickens or the new "pettable turtles" or any other thing that Sion Zaius wishes to sell to you. Instead, get yourself over to the dogpark on Canis Beach in Rhoda and buy yourself a pixelated doggie. The dogs come with a training package, they respond to you, you can pet them. And although they do come with a set of dog food bowls, you are not required to shell out money repeatedly to feed the dogs. Cuz they, unlike Sion Chickens, don't really consume the "dog food" in their bowls. The dogs come in a variety of breeds and price ranges. Furthermore, Vitolo Rossini and his young son Danny06 Aya provide excellent customer support.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Campos de Castilla by Antonio Machado

Antonio Machado, Campos de Castilla. (trans. from Spanish by Stanley Appelbaum).
New York, Dover Publications, 2007. trade paperback, 195 pps.

I was first introduced to the Dover line of dual-language books (Spanish on the left side/translation on the right side) during my foray into community college level Spanish courses several years ago. During those four semesters in which I engaged in my lifelong dream of learning Spanish, I quickly found that I needed more than textbooks and language labs. That void was filled by Dover dual-language books. Although today I read Spanish-language newspapers and periodicals, I have not set down these books which I favored early on.

Antonio Machado (1875-1938) was a teacher and poet from Seville Spain who spent some time in the Old Castile province at a teaching job. It was from that time that this, his second published book of poetry, hails. The poetry itself is lyrical and descriptive both in Machado's native Spanish and in Appelbaum's translated English. I was at once enchanted by his use of colorful adjectives as well as by his subject matter-- common people and the countryside of Castile.

highly recommended for those who love Spanish poetry
written in Spanish

Friday, September 04, 2009

Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, The Phoenix Endangered

Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, The Phoenix Endangered: Book Two
of The Enduring Flame.
New York: Tor, 2008. trade paperback.
468 pps including preview of The Phoenix Transformed.

Book Two of The Enduring Flame does not disappoint. The two teen heros--
Harrier and Tiercel-- continue their long trek past the veiled lands and into
the desert in order to find a mysterious Lake of Fire and the evil contained
therein. The story opens with Harrier being dunked into some water by
a golden unicorn named Kareta and then having a red satchel with three books
foisted upon him. Kareta is not the usual sort of unicorn. She is somewhat
annoying and impetuous. The Three Books of the Wild Magic mark Harrier's
passage into the ranks of Knight-Mages, something that the son of a harbour
master would not have chosen for himself. For one, Harrier hates spells. He
doesn't want to do them. He has no interest in studying the books which contain
them. For another, he cannot imagine himself killing another human being,
never mind fighting in a war. Kareta hitches herself to the caravan so she can
nag Harrier until he yields.

Tiercel, son of a noble family, discovered some time ago that he was able to
"do" high magic. He continues his growth in this book cumulating in a quite
formidable purple (I quite approve of the color purple) shield used to hold back
some crazed desert folk from destroying a city. The cities in the desert are built
around the presence of water, water wells to be precise. There is a glorious black
dragon also, Ancaladar, who picks off shoters (something like camels I imagine
although we are never told directly) and other desert game for his meals. The
dragon comes equipped with a saddle so his newly Bonded, Tiercel, can go along
for the ride as the caravan containing Harrier, Kareta-- and later on a wounded
swordsmaster-- makes its way along roads and sand.

The people of the desert are drawn with excellence. Of particular cunning is the
foe, a BlueRobe gone bad ["bluerobe" being the name for wild mages] named
Bisochim who for the love of a lady is able to rally the desert tribes into one
maddened hoard. He tells them that those who do not follow him and the way
of The True Balance are actually disciples of The False Balance. His argument
of needing both the dark and the light are convincing to me (but unfortunately,
it is the "wrong" argument in the book).

Having rallied the people to his cause, Bisochim leads the various tribes to a
city where everything is provided to them in the middle of the desert. The
people are not used to idleness and so Bisochim appoints the young and the
restless warriors to go out in bands of twos and threes to find the Nalzindar
and their woman leader Shaiara who did not follow along with his propaganda.
Instead, they went off into hiding and managed to find another city underground.
Shaiara is able to keep the peace within her own tribe and their frugal ways
enable them to live quite well in the artificial orchards miraculously provided
for the Nalzindar.

Unfortunately for Bisochim, the young warriors have taken his words to heart and--
under the leadership of Zanatter-- mass destruction of the desert cities occur. There
is killing and plundering enough for those who like that sort of thing. There are also
fine examples of military strategy as can be found in any fantasy world. Bisochim
must now work even harder and faster to undo what Zanatter et. al. had unwittingly
done to make his goals even more difficult to achieve.

The Phoenix Endangered was an especially pleasing read for me. I enjoyed immensely
the introduction of new characters to the series. I also enjoyed being let in on the
thoughts of Tiercel and Harrier. The only weakness perhaps was when the two were
"held prisoners in a suite of luxurious rooms" at the bequest of the city heads. This is
something which is repeated often in the fantasy genre. It is overdone in my estimation
and not very convincing in this book. Perhaps there could have been developed another
way to get the two where they needed to be for the rest of the story to continue. At any
rate, this book comes recommended to those who like fantasy and especially to the
adolescent crowd.

sapphoq reviews

Victor LaValle, The Ecstatic

Victor LaValle, The Ecstatic. New York: Crown Publishers, 2002.
Trade paperback, 276 pps.

The Ecstatic is a different kind of book. The narrator is a fat, black, and
crazy college drop-out named Anthony who comes home to his mother who
had traded Haldol (registered trademark, no copyright infringement
intended) in for thin living via vegetarianism, his 13 year old sister
Niasase who fought viciously with his mother and also entered beauty
pageants, and his feisty 93 year grandmother who did not hesitate to
call the cops on either her daughter or her grandaughter. Actually,
Anthony doesn't come home. Urged on by his younger sister, all
three family members show up at his rented room in Ithaca to find
that Anthony is not mentally well. Instead of admission to the nearest
nut ward, Anthony is installed in the family basement and watched
over until once again he becomes an impaired but functioning member
of society.

There is sex in the book. Anthony picks up Lorraine, a fat woman with
ambition on the subway and there is a brief two week interlude of failed
love. Niasase also has her day in a movie theater, much to Anthony's
horror. Besides sex, there is the neighborhood loan shark and a preacher.
The preacher, Uncle Armes, is responsible for the beauty pageant held in
small town Lumpkin, Virginia for teen girls who are virginal and have
allegedly fallen upon hard times. Naisase wins the hearts of the audience
by declaring that she and her grandmother-- strapped to Naisase's back
due to a bruised hip-- are both "orphaned." Anthony finds out that Uncle
Armes is a fraud. In return for his knowledge, Uncle Armes offers to allow
Naisase to win the pageant if Anthony opens the door to some protesters
outside the auditorium. Anthony agrees and gets hated for it later on.

Between a flooded hotel room and a pack of neighborhood dogs intent upon
biting whoever they can; between Mom's burgeoning collection of dog
statuary and Anthony's job cleaning up moldy abestos; between the ill-fated
barbecue and the ill-fated visit to the local fat clinic, there is much laughter
in this book. Yet the laughter rings hollow when we consider the underpinnings.
Still, this is a worthwhile book for those who like offbeat books about folks
who are not typical heroes. I enjoyed it immensely, although not enough for
a re-reading. Recommended for the offbeat reader.

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Cristina Garcia, Dreaming in Cuba

Cristina Garcia, Dreaming in Cuban.
New York: Ballentine Books, 1993. 246 pps. trade paperback.

Dreaming in Cuban is a novel written in the lyrical style. Husband surprised me
by picking this book up at a sale and further astonished me when he read through
it and liked it. "You like Spanish lyricism," I taunted him over his morning coffee.
Intrigued by the idea that husband was reading such a novel, I read it also. Last

Dreaming in Cuban introduces us to several branches of one family scattered
in several places. The grandmother, a strong atheistic woman named Celia,
remains in Cuba but has preternatural conversations with a granddaughter
named Pilar nightly. Pilar lives in Brooklyn with her mother Lourdes (who is
one of Celia's daughters) and her father Rufino. Lourdes runs a bakery and gets
fat on the pastries.

Lourdes' younger sister lives in Havana and her baby brother lives overseas in
Czechoslovakia. There are also relatives in Florida that send Pilar back to Brooklyn
when she runs away in an effort to get back to Cuba. Pilar is the most intriguing
woman-child in the novel. She is artsy but not insane. She is there when her
grandfather is sent to Brooklyn for cancer treatments. (He dies). She is the
catalyst for a trip to Cuba with Lourdes in time to witness Celia's passing on.

The thing is, both Lourdes and the middle sister Felicia go insane. Felicia is
intoxicated with the (Cuban) revolution. Lourdes (who is as anti-Castro as
Felicia is pro) has an unhappy marriage to a cheating husband. Yet Cuba
still calls to Lourdes. She reminisces about birds she had over there in an
aviary once in times past.

But the glory days never quite return. And the old haw about never being
able to return home again holds true.

The language in Dreaming in Cuban is rich as befitting the genre. The
novel is sentimental, perhaps syrupy. I found myself liking Celia and
Pilar the best out of all of the characters in the story. The forays into
Santeria were also of interest to me since there are some who practice
here in my hometown.

Cautiously recommended, for those who are devoted to the lyrical

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Jeffery Deaver, The Broken Window

Jeffery Deaver, The Broken Window: A Lincoln Rhyme Novel.
New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.
Hardcover, 418 pps.

The first Lincoln Rhyme novel I read by Jeffery Deaver was
The Bone Collector. For the uninitiated, Lincoln Rhyme
was a detective until an accident rendered him a quad. He
now has a high tech life in his townhouse, an attractive
girlfriend by the name of Amelia Sachs, an assistant Thom,
and a bunch of N.Y.P.D. colleagues who depend upon him.
Amelia walks the grid of crime scenes and Lincoln processes
the information into leads and suspects. The Bone Collector
has also been made into a movie with the attractive Amelia
Sachs played by Angelina Jolie.

The Broken Window has at its' heart several identified and
convicted innocents and one estranged Rhyme cousin who is on
his way to a similar fate. UNSUB522 is cunning. He has inside
connections to a data mining company. The data mining company
holds a half-dozen suspects and an aura of evil. One of the detectives,
a young man with a traumatic brain injury, has a run-in with one
of the suspects who mocks him for not knowing what Excel (trademark,
no copyright infringement intended) is. With a great deal of compassion,
Lincoln Rhymes tells the detective not to bother learning stuff that isn't
useful for him.

Jeffery Deaver comes through with shining colors on this novel. For
those who enjoy mysteries, highly recommended.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

My Sister's Keeper, the movie

Recently some women friends and I opted for a night out. After dinner at the King's Buffet, we adjourned to a local cinema to feast on "My Sister's Keeper." Here I must confess that I have not read the book and probably won't.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Cameron Diaz in a starring role as the evil, controlling mother. I am a great fan of hers ever since "Something About Mary." She played the role with excellence. I found myself hating Mrs. Fitzgerald during the show for what she was putting her younger daughter through medically.

Younger daughter Anna (Abigail Breslin) was very convincing. I felt her pain as she talked about being "spare parts" for her older sister Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) who was then terminally ill with leukemia. She was gutsy in court and I applauded her triumphs.

Older sister Kate was also very convincing. I was glad to see that sex happened during the movie. Very often professionals and others forget that we folks with disabilities, illnesses, and conditions often still like sex and want it, just like anybody else. Her death was moving and she got to say all the things she had to say via a scrapbook collection she shared with her witch of a mother.

The movie opened with a horrific nosebleed. The seriousness of Kate's condition was immediately established. The hospital scenes were poignant, the court scene was dramatic, the sex scene was fun. Dad (Jason Patric) who was usually cowed by Mom showed character growth when he defied her in order to fulfill Kate's last wish for a day at the beach. Unfortunately, the ending paled. It resembled "On Golden Pond" and I would have liked to have seen something stronger done.

"My Sister's Keeper" is a pure chick flick and one I recommend as such. Ladies and those men with especially sensitive souls, bring your crying towels. You will need them for this tearjerker.

sapphoq reviews

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Poetry Jamming at Barnes and Noble

Last night (which was Wednesday) I went to the open mic at the Barnes & Noble in Niskayuna. The open mic was held in the lounge area rather than the coffee shop. There were rappers there-- including the famous M.C. Graffiti-- and singers and poets and one really old guy with an easel making art.

The guys there were bee-bopping away, the singers sang, the poets jammed, the rappers rapped. I got up and told part of my journey. I talked about my car accident and the traumatic brain injury, about Nick from the bait shop who went down to the police station and started screaming at the desk sargeant that I needed help too (the man who was high had proceeded downstreet causing a second accident), about the hospital taking x-rays of everything but my head. Unbeknownst to me, Nick's granddaughter was in the audience. Nick has been dead now a couple of years (that I knew) and a grandson had recently reopened the bait shop (that I also knew). We talked later, a difficult meeting for her to be sure as she was not expecting to hear a stranger talk glowingly about her dead grandfather last night.

There were truly some beautiful talented young people there last night. I plan to go more often as the jam is held the third Wednesday of each month at 7:15 p.m.

five stars
sapphoq reviews

Friday, July 03, 2009

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

Jeff Lindsay, Darkly Dreaming Dexter. New York: Vintage Crime Books, 2004. paperback, 288 pps.

I am a big fan of The Sopranos, a Home Box Office Series that ran for six seasons. Very recently, I've been treated to Nurse Jackie on Showtime, another series staring Edie Falco (Carmella Soprano). Showtime is now releasing yet another series called Dexter. The other day, I found the books that the character Dexter is based on.

Like The Sopranos there is killing in Dexter. Like Nurse Jackie, there is a cut off ear. Where The Sopranos tells a somewhat fictionalized account of a New Jersey crime family, Dexter tells the fictional story of a serial killer who works alone. Nurse Jackie is pithy and self-confident. Dexter is socially clumsy but hides it.

Dexter is serial killing with a twist. He operates out of Miami, Florida. He has a day job where he is quiet and unassuming, attempting to blend in with the scenery. Dexter Morgan is a blood splatter analysis by day and his foster sister Deborah Morgan is a cop. Deborah is a frustrated cop stuck in the clothing of a prostitute busting johns in a seedy motel with a real bitch arch-rival. Dexter has an arch-rival too (besides himself) in the form of a cop named Doantes who hates him for a reason he cannot quite finger.

Dexter's late great foster dad Harry Morgan was also a cop. Harry realized that Dexter had the makings of a serial killer when Dexter was young. We are told that Harry taught Dexter to only kill people who deserve killing. Throughout the book, Dexter endeavors to live up to The Code of Harry. The first principle is not to get emotionally involved. Dexter comes close to violating that essential rule in the book but does not cross the line.

This book has all the elements of a thriller, complete with one high-speed chase. Jeff Linday the author has also managed a fair amount of forensic psychology in it, especially in portrayal of a sociopath as one without feelings. The one and only weakness I can point to is the repeating of a phrase several times by Dexter the narrator whenever he chooses not to answer a question that might give him away.

I genuinely like this book, read it in one sitting. I like this book so much that when done with it, I was ready to go out to the bookstore to get the other three. No doubt the other three books will make their way into the home library. Not since Jeffrey Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme mysteries was I so captivated by a crime fiction book.

Highly recommended for readers who watch C.S.I. and who are fascinated by serial killers.

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Mexico Lindo

Mexico Lindo describes itself as a "Family Restaurant and Cantina." It has four locations-- Melrose and Methuen in
Massachusetts, South Portland and Portland in Maine. We visited the one located at 865 Forest Avenue in Portland,
just down the street from The Caravan Bead Shop. Steps and a ramp lead up to the front doors which are situated
behind a Thai Restaurant. Once inside, we saw colorful clean premises and cheery personnel. We were immediately
seated in a booth whose table was painted flamingo pink, given menus, and asked what we wished to drink. Along with
the water (no straws) came a basket of chips and some watered down but fresh salsa. The salsa did not have much
hotness to it and we figured that was in deference to northern gringos who dislike food that burns on its way down
the esophogeal canal. The chips were homemade and delicious.

For our main courses, I had Carnitas de Res (8.45 lunch special in the back of the menu) and companion had Chicken
Mole (also an 8.45 lunch special). According to the menu, my dish is described as "Top sirlion, grilled and sliced
with bell peppers and onions, sauteed in...mild sauce, served with rice and beans and melted cheese, guacamole and...
warm corn or flour tortillas." The meat was sliced thin and flavorful. the bell peppers and onions were fresh. The
sauce was tomato-based and yummy. The rice was separate from the beans with melted cheese but were easily mixed
together to form a satisfying repast. I chose the flour tortillas. They were good.

Companion's chicken mole sauce was peanut butter based with less chocolate and more cinnamon than I personally care
for. The chicken was shredded nicely and well cooked. Coleslaw was crisp. His rice and beans were served the same
way as mine. Companion remarked that his corn tortillas tasted suspiciously of wheat (a potential problem for any
patrons with celiac disease). Otherwise, companion enjoyed his meal.

We declined dessert. Our bill came to under 20 dollars. Recommended for those on the road and looking for something
slightly different but reasonably priced lunch.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey

Abbey, Edward, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. New York: Ballantine Books, 1968. paperback, 337 pps.

Naturally since I am on an island in the northeastern part of the United States this week, I decided to pick up an Edward Abbey book about living in the desert of Utah for reading. Abbey was a guy (he is dead now) who liked his living and had many things to say about stuff I am just getting educated about now. The books covers a couple of
summers worth of time spent living in an old trailer at Utah Arches before Industrial Tourism came in and wrecked everything. Abbey had a pithy style of telling stories interspersed with humor which I admire greatly. He spoke about the desert surrounding the town of Moab, the hikes he took, his reflections on nature as found in the desert, the great irrigation and dam projects which served to and continue to serve to obliterate much of what was once remote and beautiful. Glen Canyon was one such place and Abbey described a rafting trip there before the engineers took over.

Abbey and his friend with one bum leg navigated the Glen canyon on a blow-up boat-- no leaks, rips, or holes the whole trip. There was catfish aplenty, a few day hikes which Abbey took alone, petroglyphs and pictoglyphs left by the natives in times past. It sounded grand and I would have liked to float through Glen Canyon myself.

On another trip, Abbey went down the Grande Canyon in Arizona (I'd been to the rim) and he stopped at the Indian settlement at the bottom. The folks there had been wise enough to refuse the government's offer of a "free road" which would have enabled more tourists to wreck havoc with their way of life. Abbey stayed in the tourist hostel one night, then rented a house. He floated a few more miles down the Colorado River and slept out in the stars among some old ruins. It sounded wonderful!

Abbey's dealings with the tourists passing through Arches is not to be missed. Of particular hilarity are the questions that the tourists asked him over and over again. His comment on television caused me to laugh out loud. Something there about vacuum tubes. Many of the tourists complained about the rutted road they had to take to go into the Arches and leave by in order to get to the highway. At that time, there was also no soda machine-- that little "problem" has probably been fixed by now.

It is hard to summarize this book. A few of the things Abbey talked about I had passed through on my cross-country trip several years ago. Most of it was foreign to me and even so I was moved when reading about the plight of the desert out west. I came away with a distinct feeling that I will not purchase any land west of the 100th meridian and a desire to see more of the desert which I had caught only glimpses of in my travels.

Highly recommended for those who like the outdoors and simple living.

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Lost on Planet China by J. Maarten Troost

J. Maarten Troost, Lost on Planet China. New York: Doubleday, 2008. paperback, 382 pps.

I have become a fan of Troost. I was first introduced to his rollicking style in The Sex Lives of Cannibals and went
on to laugh through Getting Stoned with Savages. Lost on Planet China is Troost's third book and I hope there are
many more to come.

J. Maarten Troost decided to go check out China. He was unable to pick up any Mandarin Chinese and knew virtually
no one when he landed in China. The book narrates his haphazard voyages around mainland China. I learned several
things from this book: the air in China is incredibly foul, and so are the bathrooms. Prostitution is rampant there.
Karaoke bars are very popular. At one such bar, he was forced to sing "Hotel California" for his guide of the day
whose name was MewMew. People are numerous. Lines are disorderly and little kids are encouraged to use the streets
as a restroom. And I won't quickly forget the mental image of schoolkids pissing on the Great Wall.

While retaining his humor, Troost also addresses the race toward Industrialization and Bigger Cities that continues
to be going on in China as well as the desert which continues to threaten to overtake Bejiing. Not a riotous book
but still recommended to those who like his writing.

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Down the Nile, Rosemary Mahoney

Rosemary Mahoney, Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff. New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2007. paperback, 269 pps
excluding bibliography and reading group guide.

Rosemary Mahoney is a rower by choice. She likes it. She first began to row from a Casco Bay Island in Maine where
she used to live to the mainland. She continues to row where she now lives in Rhode Island. Having been to Egypt
a couple times before, Mahoney became enamoured of the Nile itself as well as with the folks who live along side it.
She decided that she wanted to row part of the Nile.

The problem is that (most of Egypt is Muslim and there are a few Coptic Christians thrown in for good measure) as a
woman in Egypt, Egyptian men did not believe that she should or could do much strenuous work. She found the purchase
of a skiff to be very difficult. She ran into an Egyptian man who did allow her to row his boat around the hotel
where she was staying at. The friendship between her and Amr resulted in her being a guest in his home on Elephantine
Island. At long last, she was allowed to row his boat partway up the Nile with his felucca sailing behind her. At
a halfway point, she takes her leave of Amr and succeeds in buying her own skiff. She rowed the rest of the journey

rosemary Mahoney has written a fine book. The rowing is essential to the story but also a backdrop. Through her
experiences, she illustrates the difficulties that vastly different cultures have in understanding each other. She
also quotes from the travels of several other Nile travelers-- among them Florence Nightingale. Florence Nightingale
was far more than the nurse I had learned about in grade school. For me, the book got off to a slow start, the middle
was excellent, and the ending was rather anticlimactically and suffered a certain lack. At any rate, this book comes
recommended to armchair travelers looking for something a bit different. I also must admit that Down the Nile seems
to me to be very much chick lit and not something that the average man would appreciate.

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Bitter is the New Black

Jen Lancaster, Bitter is the New Black. New York: Penguin Books, 2006. paperback, 400 pps.

Jen Lancaster had a high tech career and an expensive wardrobe, a live-in boyfriend, and a penthouse apartment in
Chicago. The memoir opens with a series of e-mails before one is transported to a high-tech chartered fishing boat
where she holds court via an impromtu comedy routine. She was a rising star in the company one day with a promotion
in hand. The company was in the process of a merger/takeover and thus two days later she was dismissed. Laid off.
Done. Five years later she was still unemployed.

During those five years, Lancaster sold most of her extravagances on E-Bay. She also married the boyfriend, moved to
a "slum" (in comparison with her old digs), and acquired two dogs. She never did buy the fancy 8K couch with no
back. The two dogs were a total riot, her quest to find employment was one I can relate to. These days employers
want one's experience to be specific to their job offer. For instance, years of tutoring adults with a myriad of
disabilities somehow does not translate into the ability to make sure that the folks living in a community residence
for those with "mental health challenges" are doing their laundry on a regular basis or washing dishes.

The reason why I had picked up this book at the island library buck for a book sale is that Lancaster became a blogger
during the time of her unemployment. In fact, she was not hired at one company because they had mysteriously "found"
her blog. She had published a list of places which passed on her for work. Some of that company's client companies
had made the list. The interesting thing about finding her blog is that the domain wasn't registered to her, but
rather to her live-in boyfriend. The personnel woman refused to say how her blog had been found. It turned out that
a former co-worker competing for the same position had spilt the beans about Lancaster's website.

The first half of the book to me was boring. I have never been a clothes horse. Lancaster made the point many times
over that she was. The second half moved quicker for me and there were some priceless moments. Her description of
her Las Vegas wedding made me smile. The best thing about the book was it left me curious about her blog.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Last Gangster by George Anastasia

Anastasia, George The Last Gangster
New York: Harper, 2004.
paperback, 341 pps., with b&w pictures

When I was in sixth grade, I said something about the Mafia. The teacher (who was Italian) retorted, "Oh, you watch too much television. There is no Mafia."

Over the past several years, himself and I have watched the steady influx of mafioso chronicles infiltrating the true crime section at the bookstore. We have read many of them. And we own quite a few.

The Last Gangster is a true gem of a book. Anastasia's style highlights his subject and it is evident that he knows it well. The Last Gangster plays out on the streets of Philadelphia (and some other places like southern Jersey). The well-researched book chronicles the failing Philly family after the days of Bruno, the bloody struggle for power, and the reflections and experiences of Ron Previte who was wired for sound. Previte comes across as a WYSIWYG sort of guy without any phoney baloney conversion experiences.

Worth reading for anyone who is fascinated by mafia history or desires a deeper look into the psyches of made guys.

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