Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Supremely Bad Idea by Luke Dempsey

A Supremely Bad Idea: Three Mad Birders and Their Quest to See It All, Luke Dempsey. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2008. e-book, 239 pps.

     Luke Dempsey is a transplanted English man living in New York City at the time of the writing of A Supremely Bad Idea. He became hooked on birding and found a couple of pals to share his passion with. They birded in NYC of course and the road trips began.

sapphoq reviews says: I found Luke Dempsey's writing to be extremely entertaining. I related to the madness that is familiar to all serious birders. For birders with a sense of humor, highly recommended.

Pilgrim's Wilderness by Tom Kizzia

Pilgrim'sWilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier, Tom Kizzia. New York: Crown Publishers/ Random House, Inc., 2013. e-book, 285 pps.

     Robert Hale was a sick dude. To look at him and his large family, the casual observer might have concentrated on the Christian message that he was presenting and the apparent wholesomeness of his lifestyle. 

     But appearances can be deceiving. Behind close doors, his wife and children suffered. "Papa Pilgrim" was quick with the insults and quick with the belt. There was physical abuse to be sure. And incest. Some extreme drinking on the part of "Papa." The expectation that his wife and his children would jump whenever he ordered them around. His brood did exactly as instructed or consequences would be dire.

       The family had relocated to Alaska after bits of trouble in other places. They lived on a mountain outside of McCarthy. At first the people of McCarthy welcomed the Pilgrim family. They sang and played musical instruments. That changed.

sapphoq reviews says: Robert Hale was a fundamentalist Christian with a nasty twist. He was his own church. He was also mean. Pilgrim's Wilderness lays out the story of the Hale family against the backdrop of the history of McCarthy, Alaska. Another fundamentalist Christian family living in the Alaska frontier [whose dad was not mean and the center of his own cult] provided rescue. The children were able to get out. They did not abandon their Christian faith. They did come to understand that the actions of their "Papa" were not Christ-like. I wish every one of them happiness and peace.
     For those adults who are interested in the study of familial religious cults and dysfunctional families as well as for those who like bits of Alaskan history with their biographies, highly recommended.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

Skippy Dies, Paul Murray. New York: Faber and Faber, Inc./ Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010. e-book, 629 pps.

     Skippy dies in the donut shop near his male-only boarding school abruptly. His buddy Ruprecht is with him. The waiter thinks that Skippy is choking but he isn't. We learn all of this in the Prologue before Chapter One.

     The rest of the book is an extended study in character and motivation of Skippy and the people around him. Each chapter deals with the events of a specific period of time either before or after Skippy's death.

sapphoq reviews says: My initial reaction to the length of the book was something akin to a small panic. As I continued to read, I began to appreciate the tale that Paul Murray has laid before us. 
     Everything is in there: bullying, teen angst, teacher problems, a girls' counterpart to the boys' boarding school, screwing around with science until it becomes unrecognizable, drinking, bits of teen sex [but not in much detail], and how our desires and actions or non-actions reflect who we are and shape us into who we are becoming.
     Adults may wish to preview this book before allowing their teens to read this one. There were very few curses in Skippy Dies-- the word "shite" is the most common one-- but there are bits of drug selling and drug taking along with the other stuff.
     I found Skippy Dies to be an intricate and satisfying read. Highly recommended for those adults and mature teens who don't mind a long but deep novel. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Born into The Children of God by Natacha Tormey

Born into The Children of God: My life in a religious sex cult and my struggle for survival on the outside, Natacha Tormey. London: HarperElement/ HarperCollins Publishers, 2014. e-book, 233 pps.

     Several kids in my high school joined up with The Children of God-- as the sex cult was known in its early days. One of them took me to the commune in New York City once. Even back then, the commune residents were dependent upon the charity of others/ donations/ garbage-raiding for food. The commune itself was a converted warehouse, rather grungy-looking. It was a place I knew I didn't want to wind up living in.

     The girl who took me to the commune got kicked out of our high school. She was intellectually brilliant but had decided to rely on "the Lord" to give her the answers to tests. Homework remained undone in favor of memorization of Bible verses, reading Moe Letters, and preaching to whatever bugs were flying around her head at any given time. I figured that this stuff wasn't really working for her all that well so I continued to do my homework [most of it anyways-- I refused to do proofs in geometry because I figured that if I could just look at the drawings and deduce the answer, doing other stuff was redundant and didn't make sense] and to study for tests.

     The girl told me about Flirty Fishing and Moe David's [David Berg's] excuses for having the C.O.G. women offering sex to businessmen while trying to convert them. It made sense to her. Made no sense to me. Another distinct turn-off.

     A few years ago, people who had escaped from the sex cult that the Children of God had devolved into began to tell their stories on the Internet via forums for ex-members and in published books. And the stuff that was coming out was horrid, sick, depraved. Adults having sex with other adults and children. Beatings of kids. Living in poverty. Begging on the streets or 'selling' COG lit in order to eat. Communes getting kicked out of various countries.

     I picked up Born into The Children of God thinking that I was prepared for whatever Natacha Tormey had written about. Perhaps not so prepared. Her book is a personal memoir of what it was like being born into a sex cult and how difficult life is outside of that cult when that was all she ever knew. Kids were abused in there [and I deeply suspect probably still are under the auspices of The Family International or whatever what is left of COG is calling itself these days]. Natacha Tormey was fortunate. Two of her brothers weren't. 

sapphoq reviews says: Natacha Tormey has written about her experiences in a clear and direct voice. For adults who are interested in coercive religions and cultic studies, personal memoirs and child abuse: highly recommended.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

You've Been Warned by James Patterson and Howard Roughan

You've Been Warned, James Patterson and Howard Roughan. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017. hardcover, 306 pps.

     Even living here in the middle of nowhere is not an adequate excuse for never having read any James Patterson until today. I don't know why I haven't either. But now that I've read this one, I will probably read more sometime.

     I've never read anything by co-author Howard Roughan either. But then again, I'd never head of Howard Roughan. Maybe I really am a country bumpkin.

     Kris is a woman with a dream. Several of them actually. A recurrent dream which wakens her screaming and her neighbors don't care for that much. And a waking dream of being a photographer. She shoots pictures, works as a nanny, dates, and eats lunch with her two girlfriends.

     She also seems to be going a bit over the edge. Reminiscent of the 1999 movie Sixth Sense, she begins to shoot dead people. Or is she? 

     Screaming in a taxi cab earns her an overnight trip to a local emergency room. Even her old shrink does not want her back in therapy with him. Why oh why is everyone picking on her?

sapphoq reviews says: Although set primarily in New York City, the descriptions of various places there littered throughout the novel was not evocative for me. I've ducked under subway turnstiles, prowled the streets at all hours, been exploring in places that my parents to this day don't know that I've been to. The real strength of You've Been Warned for me was in the character development. Every person in the novel had their own unique personality. And I liked that. Suspense building and the glimpses of the terror inside Kris' head were both also very satisfying to me. For those who like spooky psychological thrillers, highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Shattered Dreams by Irene Spencer

Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist's Wife, Irene Spencer. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2007. e-book, 380 pps.

     Irene Spencer grew up in a fundamentalist Mormon household. Although the official LDS Church has reneged on the practice of polygamy, the FLDS folks have not. One well-known settlement is in Short Creek which straddles the border of Colorado and Arizona. Several not-as-known settlements remain in Mexico, where the authorities are not as intent on prosecution of plural marriages as the United States is at present.

     As a teen, Irene Spencer found true love but she turned her back on him in favor of the Principle [of Celestial Marriage; and thus of plural marriage here on earth]. She became second wife to her half-sister's first husband. [Sisters, half-sisters, and step-sisters may share a husband]. Her husband's household quickly moved to Mexico to what was supposed to be a ranch but proved to be a hovel of rat-infested huts. 

     Irene Spencer was an obedient wife prone to meltdowns and tantrums whenever her husband married again. He wanted at least seven wives. Adding insult to injury, she was called upon several times to court the extra wives and/or give them to her husband in the marriage ceremonies. She had many babies and put aside her own dreams and health in order to please her god.

sapphoq reviews says: Irene Spencer has come out on the other side of a chaotic existence. She is now happily married to a monogamous husband and has converted to born again christian status. She is certain to have more freedom as such in spite of a belief in fundamentalist biblical interpretations.
     I found Shattered Dreams to be a studied glimpse into the reality behind sister-wives. Jealousy, poverty, and a subservient posture towards men and whoever declares himself to be god's next prophet is a recipe for personal disaster. I learned bits about plural marriages that I had been previously unaware of. Recommended to those readers who like religious-type memoirs and perhaps to sociology students.
     I wish Irene Spencer well and I do hope that she continues in her classes for creative writing and in her speaking engagements.


Raising Steam by Sir Terry Pratchett

Raising Steam: A Discworld® Novel, Sir Terry Pratchett. New York: Doubleday, 2013. e-book, 306 pps.

     If you've never read any of Sir Terry Pratchett's work, you've been missing out. His is the stuff of legend, both entertaining and thought-provoking. The Discworld® novels can be read in any order that you please. I tend to read them in the order that they are published in myself.

     The title Raising Steam excited me. I am an aficionado of all things train and have traveled long-distance on them. When I am older, I shall perhaps join the ranks of train-spotters. There is something about waiting at the station and then hearing the conductor shout "All aboard!" that speaks to every cell in my body.
Frequent long-distance travelers on trains tend to act very much like their counterparts on cruises: They sit down during dinner and compare which trains they have been on. They are also full of train history and a plethora of factoids. And you haven't really lived until you've seen the great train yard in Chicago. Well, perhaps you have managed to live but-- like Raising Steam-- that particular bit ought not to be missed.

sapphoq reviews saysRaising Steam does not disappoint. A railroad is introduced at Ankh-Morpork and becomes a worldwide sensation rather quickly. There are goblins and their fanciful names, engineers, assorted real characters, and gnomes. They are all melted into the type of story that only Sir Terry Pratchett can tell. Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sir Vidia's Shadow by Paul Theroux

Sir Vidia's Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents, Paul Theroux. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, 2000, 1999, 1998. e book 372 pps.

     I was delighted to come across Sir Vidia's Shadow in e-book format. My [traumatic brain injury] visual and perceptual difficulties dictate the use of an e-reader these days. I am a fan of the writings of Paul Theroux. This particular book included travel but the focus was different. I enjoyed it immensely.

     Sir Vidia S. Naipaul is an English writer with ties to India who has lived in a bunch of places. Paul Theroux first encountered him in Africa where they became friends. V.S. Naipaul [as he is usually identified by those of us who only know him through his writing] saw the young man in Africa as a writer first before anyone else was wont to do so. Their adventures in Uganda evolved into letter-writing and meet-ups elsewhere through the years of their long-term friendship.

sapphoq reviews says: Paul Theroux has written an interesting account of V.S. Naipaul which provided for me a rare glimpse into a man who was at once secretive and ornery. Equally exciting to me was Paul Theroux's obvious evolution as a writer through the years. I expected to like Sir Vidia's Shadow because I love Paul Theroux's ability to impart both a sense of place and of being Other throughout his published work. I suspect that I myself would not have been able to tolerate V.S. Naipaul's quirks had I been offered his friendship, but Paul Theroux was able to and grew as a result. Highly recommended, especially to those who are fans of the writings of either man, fans of travel literature, and perhaps fans of psychological sorts of "case studies."

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Night School by Mari Mancusi

Night School, Mari Mancusi. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group/ Penguin Group Inc., 2011. trade paperback, 244 pps.

     Vampires have become popular in fiction. Mari Mancusi has a series of books involving teen sanguine vampires who also may be fae or vampire slayers or both. She also has a site for those who wish to role-play vampires in her fictional "Blood Coven." 

     Night School started out with promise. The McDonald twins-- Rayne and Sunshine-- were hastily relocated to their absentee dad's condo in Las Vegas. Dad had re-married. Mom and her boyfriend came from Massachusetts the following week with dire tidings. It appears that everything about the McDonald family history was made up (with the use of actors, a bit which I found particularly unbelievable). Dad wasn't such a cheating skunk after all. He had to leave because of a bit of nasty fae business. Mom, Dad, and respective partners are buddies of a surprising sort.

     It gets worse. Fairyland wants the McDonalds to come back. Instead, the twins-- who had become vampires-- are ushered into hiding at a vampire slayer school. The school itself is not friendly about any sort of immortal or otherworldly beings. The top student vampire slayers are composed of a nasty but sexy boy and his cronies. Their ambition is to be accepted into "Night School."

     Rayne finds a library book and she releases her fae heritage along with budding feathered wings. Not necessarily a smart move, considering that she is supposed to be keeping a low profile. Things turn nasty, people get zombified or imprisoned and then released, or not. Fairyland has turned into a refuge for storybook characters. And so on.

sapphoq reviews says: I was willing to forgive the bit about actors playing a granny and an aunt for the twins. But classic fairytale creatures showing up in Fairyland was a bit much. [Shrek did that well, Mari Mancusi's attempt turned out silly and annoying]. A few curses and a brief description of fairy infidelity may cause some parents hesitation in allowing their tweens to read this book. The descent into silliness caused me to chuck it across the room. Verdict: Skip this. There are other books about fictional teen vampires which do much better.