Friday, April 11, 2008

Her Last Death

By Susanna Sonnenberg

This is a memoir about the author and her mother, called in this story Daphne, not her real name. Daphne seems to truly love her two daughters, of which Susanna is the eldest. Daphne has a volatile personality and a tendency to abuse drugs and alcohol which leads to some sad and terrifying moments in her daughters' lives. Daphne also has a voracious sex life and she shares the intimate details with her daughters. Daphne has a pathological need to be in the spotlight and goes so far as to manufacture fake rapes and fake illnesses like cancer and leukemia. Living with Daphne had to have been a real burden.
One of the cruelest things Daphne did to her daughters was to expose them to sex at an early age. Not only did she describe her intimate sexual trysts to her children, she wanted Susanna to get fitted for a diaphragm at the tender age of thirteen and she tried to set Susanna up to lose her virginity on the occasion of her sixteenth birthday.
The list of Daphne's sins is too long for me to recount. Still, Susanna remembers tender moments, fun moments, times when it is clear that her mother loved her kids in her own warped, peculiar way. The story starts out with Susanna getting the bad news that her mother has been in an accident and is in a coma and may not survive. Susanna makes the hard decision not to go see her mother in the hospital. Sometimes, when dealing with an addict, the only thing you can do to protect yourself from their lying and manipulation is to simply cut them out of your life. It's harsh but necessary and that is the decision Susanna made and this book is the story behind that decision.

Susanna led quite a life before settling down to motherhood and responsibility in Montana, thousands of miles away from the hotshot lifestyle she used to lead in New York City. Before she met her husband, Susanna was well on her way to living a lifestyle very similar to her sex-obsessed and drug-addled mother. What a story!

For other reviews see The Washington Post and The Observer.

New Words:
Cristofene: a tropical West Indian vine, Sechium edule, of the gourd family, which bears small white flowers and produces an edible fruit. Also called christophene, chouchou, chayote. "She'd [Daphne] pluck a grilled cristofene from my plate, and the smell of her tea rose perfume overwhelmed the fragrance of the food."
Vaporetto: a motorboat for transporting people along the canals in Venice. "Hubert de Givenchy was staying there, too. My mother said, 'He just got on that vaporetto!'"

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Last Hero

By Terry Pratchett

Set in Discworld, this illustrated novel sees the ancient Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde of octogenarian heroes returning fire to the gods. In the Greek legend it was Prometheus who stole fire from Zeus; on Discworld it was Mazda who stole fire and he received the same punishment that Prometheus did: chained to a rock to have his liver eaten everyday by eagles. Cohen and his crew, who have a grudge against the gods, have decided to return the stolen fire to the gods, but in the form of an extremely explosive device, a Discworld version of a WMD.
The wizards of Ankh-Morpork are concerned that Cohen's actions could result in the destruction of the whole world. The Patrician, Lord Vetinari, sends two of his best men and one of his worst to deal with the gang of aging heroes, the Silver Horde. His two best men are the genius Leonard of Quirm, the Discworld version of Leonardo da Vinci, and Corporal Carrot, the true blue captain of the City Watch. His worst man is Rincewind, failed wizard (or as Rincewind spells it, wizzard) and unwilling world traveler. Rincewind knows Cohen and the boys and it is thought he may be able to persuade them not to blow up the world.
Cohen and the Horde are headed to Dunmanifestin, the city of the gods, located atop the impossibly high mountain, Cori Celeste. In order to get there in time to stop the Horde, Carrot, Leonard, and Rincewind will have to fly there in a machine designed by Leonard of Quirm. This flying machine, a space ship really, is propelled by the fiery breath of swamp dragons. Using this ingeniously powered vehicle, they will attempt to reach Dunmanifestin and halt Cohen's misguided attempt to get back at the gods.
This oversize illustrated novel is packed with drawings by Paul Kidby. I actually didn't care that much for his drawings, they are just too cartoony, I think. Also, I know that Cohen and the Silver Horde are heroes, but I just can't believe that even a hero could survive for long in a snow drift wearing a loin cloth and little else. After all, they are not super heroes.

I always enjoy Discworld stories. However, I find the stories about Rincewind just a little less enjoyable. This story held true to that trend. For one thing, it seemed truncated, like it needed more detail. I know I found the story kind of choppy and abrupt in parts. I have never really cared for Rincewind, he is my least favorite Pratchett character. Despite these points, I enjoyed this Discworld story.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Natural History of the Land of the Bible

By Azaria Alon

This book takes a look at the plants, animals and climate of the modern state of Israel, with reference the biblical land of Israel. It has lots of photos, some in color. I do wish all the pictures had been in color. For instance there are several photos of wildflowers that are in black and white, very disappointing. Anyway, the book doesn't go into a lot of detail; it is a good, basic reference to introduce the land of Israel and its unique situation in the natural world at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa.
Azaria Alon is the author of more than thirty books about nature and environment and he has been a leader in the preservation of Israel's natural resources. For more info on Alon see Beit Hashita.

Great Cities of the Ancient World

By L. Sprague de Camp

A look at the history of various cities: Thebes, Jerusalem, Nineveh, Tyre, Babylon, Memphis, Athens, Syracuse, Carthage, Alexandria, Rome, Constantinople, Anurâdhapura and Pâtaluputra. Very readable and informative, the only thing I didn't care for were the fiction inserts from the author's novel which I didn't think they belonged in a book like this. All the chapters were interesting and full of fun nuggets of info. The only chapters I had trouble with were the chapter on Thebes, which had detailed and dull descriptions of the buildings of Thebes. The other chapter was the one on Constantinople which seemed very long. Other than that, I enjoyed reading this book.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Cipher

By Diana Pharaoh Francis

Lucy Trenton is a minor member of the ruling family of Crosspointe and a customs official. Crosspointe is a place where magick flows wild and free and is a threat to those who perchance encounter it. Since she was a wee child, Lucy has had the unique ability to sense the presence of what is called a cipher, a kind of magic spell disguised as a common object. No one believes her when she points out the presence of these ciphers and so she grows up keeping her talent hidden.
Lucy works as a customs agent at the harbor. She has another secret, besides her hidden talent. She has a highly illegal collection of true ciphers. She is drawn to these ciphers and is unable to resist their attraction. If anyone found out about her collection not only will she be exiled but she would bring down disgrace on the royal family.
While working one day, Lucy is drawn to the presence of a true cipher. When she approaches it, it erupts out and fastens itself to her arm. Most of these true ciphers are bad news and result in death and destruction to those to whom they attach. Lucy knows she is in big trouble. The news keeps getting worse, though, because now Lucy finds herself being blackmailed by someone who knows about her illegal collection of ciphers. Lucy, with the help of a few friends, has to rid herself of the attached cipher and cope with its deadly powers, get rid of her collection, save the royal family and her country from invaders and find her true love, all in one book.

This is a big story and pretty interesting although somewhat of a mishmash. It was diverting following the trials and tribulations of intrepid heroine, Lucy Trent. Unfortunately, Lucy's trials seem to involve a lot of vomiting and soiling and injuring herself. After awhile, I got pretty tired of that. I also thought the ending was disappointing in that Lucy never gets to directly confront her blackmailer. But other than that, I enjoyed reading about Lucy and her odd little world.

For a contrary view, see Dear Author.

New Word:
Archivolt: A decorative band or molding around the face of an arch. "FARADAY was inlaid in small flowing brass letters in the archivolt above the polished oak doors of the shop."