Author Archive

Born on a Blue Day: A Memoir

June 23, 2010

June 23, 2010 by rayjani

Author: Daniel Tammet

Title: Born on a Blue Day: A Memoir

Genre: Nonfiction/Biography

Publication Date: 2007

Number of Pages: 226

Geographical Setting: United Kingdom

Plot Summary: Tammet writes an inspirational biographic memoir of his struggles with Autistic Savant Syndrome and the unfailing support of his parents. OCD is a symptom of the syndrome and Daniel’s obsessive need for order and routine permeates every aspect of his life. Thinking of numbers has a calming effect on him because he has synesthesia, a rare neurological mixing of the senses that causes him to see numbers as shapes, colors, textures, or motions. He can calculate large numbers in his head as quickly as a calculator can. The process happens “spontaneously” for him. It is interesting to note, however, that he cannot do algebra. Daniel can learn a foreign language within a matter of days and quickly become fluent in it. He reveals the knowledge of his homosexual orientation since the age of eleven, and that it was never a problem because that is just the way he is. His first crush was at the age of sixteen on a new student at school. After a few awkward, but polite advances on Daniel’s part, he was very gently and respectfully turned down by the other teen. Daniel found socializing extremely difficult, which is normal for an autistic. He found that he could communicate easier by writing, since speaking was a struggle for Daniel. Daniel feels emotions, although sometimes it takes him a while to identify the emotion being felt at the time. He did not receive any special help or consideration during his schooling and was able to make the necessary (for himself) compensations. He was quite successful academically. After finishing school he did some volunteer work in Lithuania (language tutoring) and later Daniel met his soul mate, Neil. Lacking the “normal” communication and social interaction skills, Daniel found it difficult to enter the working world. With the love and support of his partner and his parents, Daniel was able to start his own successful web-based business for language tutorials. At the beginning of the book, Daniel writes that his younger brother was recently diagnosed with ASD, and it is Daniel’s hope that this book will inspire him, as well as others with ASD. Daniel acknowledges that the constant involvement, loving support, and closeness of his parents and partner enable him to live a fully independent life.

Subject Headings: Mental Health, Autism, Patients, England, Biography, and Savants (Savant Syndrome).

Appeal Terms: honest, moving, inspirational, extraordinary, fascinating, revealing, educational, encouraging, hopeful, amazing, remarkable, and unique.

Three terms that best describe this book: extraordinary, inspirational, and moving.

Relevant Nonfiction Works and Authors:

No Excuses: The True Story of a Congenital Amputee Who Became a Champion in Wrestling and in Life By Kyle Maynard is the remarkable and inspiring story of a congenital amputee who overcomes the physical and psychological barriers of his handicap to become an athlete and a motivational/inspirational speaker. He has appeared on the Larry King and Howard Stern shows.

The Day the Voices Stopped: a Schizophrenic’s Journey from Madness to Hope By Ken Steele gives an honest account of his own struggle with schizophrenia over thirty years. This revealing story tells how he became victorious over his illness and was able to build a new life for himself.

Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression by Sally Brampton (an editor for “Elle” magazine in the UK) offers hope and inspiration as she shares her struggles with depression and alcoholism. Her advice is encouraging to other sufferers. Brampton extends her support for those suffering from mental illness, and challenges that part of society which blames those suffering from mental illness for their own conditions.

Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

Tilt: Every Family Spins on its Own Axis by Elizabeth Burns tells an intimate, courageous story of a woman’s struggles and expectations for her family. When her daughter is diagnosed with autism, new challenges and issues emerge and her world begins to fall apart. This is a hopeful, painful, and humorous story of redemption.

The Pleasure of My Company: A Novel by Steve Martin portrays Daniel Pecan Cambridge as a mild-mannered person who suffers from a mix of autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder. This witty, poignant account of Daniel’s life and the challenges he faces is tender and inspiring.

Wild Orchid by Beverly A. Brenna is the story of 18 year-old Taylor Jane Simon who has Asperger’s Syndrome. Because she cannot be left on her own, she must spend the summer with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend at a Canadian National Park. Taylor is encouraged to explore the park on her own – a daunting task for someone with no social skills. Brenna tells the heartwarming story of Taylor’s courage and determination to overcome her obstacles.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

June 16, 2010

June 16, 2010


Author: Mary Roach
Title: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
Genre: Nonfiction
Date of Publication: 2003
Geographical Setting: U.S. & Global
Time Period: Present
Plot Summary: “Death. It doesn’t have to be boring.” Writes Mary Roach as she takes a scientific approach (sprinkled with humorous commentary) to the subject of human bodies donated to research. What the public doesn’t know (or want to know?) are the various forms of scientific research for which human cadavers are used. When a body is donated to science, the donor and/or the donor’s family really have no say as to the area of research in which the body will be used. Roach covers several areas in her book, and she does so using very accessible language coupled with a wry sense of humor. She is neither disrespectful nor irreverent in her tone. Her descriptions and comments are delivered in a conversational manner, and her observations are objective. Stiff can be read in chapter order, or can be “dipped into” as one might read a collection of short stories. Roach begins by sharing an experience of observing a seminar for surgeons seeking to hone their skills in facial surgery. The doctors will only be working on the head of a patient, so they will practice exclusively on that part of the cadaver. This means that the heads used for the class are separated from their bodies. This first chapter ended with an unanswered question referring to the pupil less eyes of the cadavers. In another chapter, Roach discusses the obsolete practice of body snatching and the selling of corpses. The process of human decomposition is covered in disgusting detail. Cadavers are used as human crash test dummies and the military uses human cadavers to study the effects of bullets, weapons, and explosives on the human body. Casualties from a plane crash can tell their own story of the crash. By studying the victims’ wounds, an injury analyst can piece together fragments of events involved in the crash. “Beating-heart cadavers” are discussed as a relatively new term. This term refers to a person who has been declared brain-dead, after which their organs may be “harvested” for donor recipients. Roach follows this process with a female patient she calls “H” expressing that “H” is “a living, breathing, thriving person. It is strange, almost impossible, really, to think of her as a corpse.” In the historical period before death could be clinically and scientifically confirmed, the primitive methods for determining death are described, from jamming needles under toenails to thrusting a sharp pencil up the deceased’s nose. Of course, the only reliable way to determine absolute death was to delay burial of the body. The wait period had to be long enough to confirm the telltale signs of decomposition. This prevented the possibility of live burials, at least. Stiff even delves into the scientific study of the soul, its location in the body, and its weight. Decapitation, reanimation, and human head transplant theories are discussed. Roach describes experiments done in France with real human heads of decapitated criminals. The transplant experiments were done with animals. Experiments using human cadavers to simulate the effects of crucifixion have also been performed. In the last part of the book, Roach discusses medicinal cannibalism (not done in the U.S.). She writes about the medicinal use of mummified humans to benefit the living. The grossest details of uses of other body parts and/or byproducts (which will not be detailed here) are given as well. In China, aborted human fetuses are believed to have medicinal benefits when consumed. The final chapter deals with environmental issues surrounding traditional cremation, which consumes lots of energy. There are now safe and energy saving “green” methods that can be used to organically break down a corpse. What option is the author considering? She expresses some humorous considerations, but remains undecided.
Subject Headings: Human experimentation in medicine, dead, and human dissection.
Appeal Terms: morbidly fascinating, informative, humorous, medical, technical, enlightening, revealing, educational, unsettling, detailed, engaging, bizarre, and quirky.
Three terms that best describe this book: morbidly fascinating, human dissection, and humorous.
Relevant Nonfiction Works and Authors:
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson is probably the funniest book available about the history of science. Bryson, a well-known humor writer, discusses the Big Bang Theory, particle physics, geology, evolution, and science throughout history to the present. He takes his experiences observing, gathering, and researching, and turns them into funny stories.
Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature’s Most Dangerous Creatures by Carl Zimmer is a thorough study of the relationship between humans and parasites. Zimmer gives disturbing accounts of parasites that are dangerous to humans as well as those that are beneficial. He artfully balances the disgusting and the scientific.
The Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell takes the reader to various historical landmarks and museums that have become significant due to assassinations. She covers the Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley assassinations with her trademark wit and sarcastic humorous commentaries compiling a rather bizarre travel guide.
Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:
The Immortals by Tracy Hickman is a medical thriller that depicts governmental extermination of targeted citizens who have contracted a dreaded virus in epidemic proportions. Chilling accounts of the main character’s discoveries make it a gripping read.

Crisis by Robin Cook takes place in the courtroom and the hospital as a malpractice trial unfolds. In this spellbinding story, the wife of the defendant asks her medical examiner brother to exhume the body in question and perform an autopsy in hopes of clearing her husband. All are surprised at results of the autopsy and their significance.

Deadly Harvest by Leonard S. Goldberg portrays forensic pathologist Joanna Blalock urgently seeking a liver for her dying sister. She retains the services of what she believes to be a legitimate organ-transplant service, but discovers that the business obtains its donors through questionable means. While the mystery unravels, time is running out for Joanna’s sister. This is the second book in a medical/detective series.

The Almost Moon

June 14, 2010

June 14, 2010

Author: Alice Sebold

Title: The Almost Moon

Genre: Psychological Fiction

Publication Date: 2007

Geographical Setting: Pennsylvania

Time Period: Present with reflections on the past

Plot Summary: Helen Knightly is the 49 year-old divorced mother of two grown daughters. She has been divorced for twenty years and is a professional art class model. She lives in a small town in Pennsylvania where she grew up. Helen is an only child and the primary caretaker for her 88 year-old mother, Claire, who still lives in the house in which Helen grew up. The story begins with Helen’s admission (very matter-of-factly) of having killed her mother. She believes that the dementia her mother suffered revealed the core of the real person and that her mother’s core was “rotten like the brackish water at the bottom of a week’s old vase of flowers.” Helen continues with a brief reminiscence of how her mother was beautiful when Helen’s dad met her. Within the first chapter, the reader becomes privy to the details leading up to Claire’s demise, and the act itself – suffocation at the hands of her daughter. Helen had always had a love/hate relationship with her mother. Even while growing up, she experienced nightmares about killing her mother. Claire suffered from mental illness that was compounded by agoraphobia. Helen and her dad had code phrases when dealing with especially difficult aspects of Claire’s illness – “it’s a hard day” and “it’s a good day” would say it all for what Helen could expect to deal with on any particular day. As Helen wends deeper into her story, the reader discovers that the murderous deed was not done out of hate, but rather out of frustration with, and ultimately love for her mother. Helen knew it would torture Claire unbearably to be moved from her home and sanctuary, her fortress of protection from the outside world to a hospice. She wanted to spare her mother any more pain and torture. Helen went so far as to carefully and tenderly wash Claire’s body before placing it in the basement freezer (where police later found it).
Helen moves back and forth in time, recalling memories of her past and circumstances in the present. Her father committed suicide when Helen was a teenager, and when he was alive, he would leave home for long periods of time as a coping mechanism for Claire’s illness. This left Helen alone to deal with Claire. She recalls times with her ex-husband and she called him for help after killing her mother. He immediately hops a plane and comes to Helen’s aid. The reader becomes “intimate” with Helen’s feelings about her family and friends and her past experiences. All the while, Helen is struggling with how she should handle the situation. She finally arrives at a decision, taking into account the emotional needs of her family and friends.

Subject Headings: matricide, mentally ill women, mother and adult daughter, middle-aged women, divorced women, mothers – death, detachment (psychology), family relationships, murder, childhood innocence (concept), mother and daughter, parent and child, senior women, and psychological fiction.

Appeal Terms: disturbing, emotional, empathetic, probing, reflective, vexing, warped, sobering, bittersweet, gloomy, melancholy, searching, and thought provoking.

Three terms that best describe this book: emotional, disturbing, and reflective.

Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

The doctor’s daughter : a novel by Hilma Wolitzer portrays a woman who must come to terms with her personal past and present, and her own family history.

Crazy as chocolate : a novel by Elisabeth Hyde tells the story of two sisters whose mother had battled with depression and mental illness for most of her life, finally committed suicide at age 41. Sibling and parent/child relationships are explored.

Mercy by Jodi Picoult deals with the subject of euthanasia and its effects on family. Family relationships are explored within immediate and extended family.

Relevant Non-fiction Works and Authors:

The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner covers interpersonal relationships, women’s psychology, self-help in anger management, anger in family relationships, and self-help in women’s personal growth & happiness.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion is an autobiographical portrait of marriage and motherhood. Didion gives her account of personal struggles with life, death, illness, sanity, and grief.

Woman’s inhumanity to woman by Phyllis Chesler deals with indirect aggression among girls and teenagers; mother-daughter relationships in fairy tale, myth, and Greek tragedy; gives psychoanalytic views of the mother-daughter relationship; sisters and the search for best friends; women in the workplace; and women in groups. It discusses the “good enough” mother and her persecution of the “good enough” daughter and the psychological ethics involved in women’s issues.

Sharp Teeth

June 14, 2010

June 14, 2010 by rayjani

Author:  Toby Barlow

Title:  Sharp Teeth

Genre:  Fiction – Horror

Publication Date:  2007

Geographical Setting:  Los Angeles, CA

Time Period:  Present Decade

Plot Summary:

Anthony takes a job as a city dogcatcher only to find himself trying to save three dogs from extermination.  A shape shifting, lycanthrope gang leader (known as Lark) has devised a scheme for domination of the normal human population of L.A.  Anthony unknowingly becomes involved in Lark’s plan when the female lycanthrope in Lark’s gang and Anthony fall in love.  These shape-shifters can change from human form to canine form at will; they do not need a full moon.  Anthony’s love interest (who remains nameless throughout the book) keeps her secret from Anthony.  The gangs are rivals, and one of the gangs seeks out and destroys meth labs and their owners for partner leaders in organized crime.  There are three rival pack gangs.  Lark’s pack is the “money laundering” gang.  Cutter’s pack (rival to Lark’s pack) is into organized crime involving drugs and competing meth labs.  The third pack is a battered and reduced pack of surfers who are out to avenge dogs that were adopted from the pound and trained to become gladiator dogs forced to fight for their lives.  After betraying Lark, Baron, a member of his pack, takes over the rest of Lark’s pack, forcing Lark to go undercover and recruit new pack members.  Lark allows himself to be impounded in the city kennel and is adopted by a needy woman named Bonnie, who treats him very well.  At night while Bonnie sleeps, Lark goes about rebuilding his pack.  In the midst of all this, Peabody, an L.A. detective, is investigating mysterious murders of city dogcatchers.  The “surfer” pack is responsible for these.  Meanwhile, Anthony’s love becomes the target for execution by Baron’s pack.  Baron sends his pack’s female, Sasha, to do the dirty deed but Anthony’s girlfriend foils the attack and kills Sasha.  She then goes into hiding, knowing she is being hunted.  Anthony becomes depressed and distraught over her disappearance and easy prey for initiation into Baron’s pack.  The rivalry and murder investigations culminate in a battle involving all three gangs and the meth lab partner kingpins.

Subject Headings:  werewolves, animal wardens, police, gangs in Los Angeles, murder, murder investigation, dogs, supernatural, drug traffic, Los Angeles, novels in verse, horror stories.

Appeal Terms:  eerie, creepy, unsettling, surrealistic, supernatural, vicious, gory, graphically descriptive, bloody, menacing, dark, violent, ominous.

Three terms that best describe this book:  visceral, unsettling, and surrealistic.

Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

Canyons by P.D. Cacek portrays Lucius as the leader of a highly civilized pack of Denver werewolves who is holding off the invasion of a rival pack.  He does all this while avoiding his increasing attraction to a journalist who is bent on reporting on Lucius’s pack.

The Wolfman by Nicholas Pekearo has Marlowe Higgins moving from one town to another after a dishonorable discharge.  Higgins becomes trapped in an ongoing struggle with his werewolf nature that forces him to kill heinous villains during every full moon.  This eventually leads him into a deadly confrontation with a serial killer in a small town in Tennessee.

Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris pits telepathic waitress, Sookie Stackhouse against a race of unhuman beings who are more powerful and secretive than vampires or werewolves.  The smell of war is in the air in Bon Temps, Louisiana as vampires, werewolves, and werepanthers prepare for battle.  Sookie soon finds herself in the thick of it as she investigates a murder of a werepanther.

Relevant Non-fiction Works and Authors:

Streetwars: Gangs and the Future of Violence by Tom Hayden gives a hard look at gangs and youth violence in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.  He includes firsthand stories from gang leaders.

Inside the Crips:  Life Inside L.A.’s Most notorious Gang by Colton Simpson describes the home environment that led to gang membership for a member of one of L.A.’s most dangerous gangs.  Included are accounts of confrontations with rival gangs and his incarceration at Calipatria Prison.

Monster:  The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member by Sanyika Shakur, who is one of Los Angeles’s most notorious gang leaders, gives readers an inside look at the world of gangs including gang wars, politics, his climb through the ranks of his gang’s hierarchy, how he survived rival gang attacks, and what prison life is like for a gang member.

Kiss the Girls

May 26, 2010

May 26, 2010

Author:  James Patterson

Title:  Kiss the Girls

Genre:  Fiction – Adrenaline

Publication Date:  1995

Geographical Setting:  South Carolina and San Francisco, CA

Time Period:  1990s

Series:  Alex Cross

Plot Summary:

“Casanova” is kidnapping, torturing, and killing young coeds from South Carolina to Florida, while another killer known as “the Gentleman Caller” with a similar m.o. is claiming victims on the West Coast.  At first, the authorities believe them to be one and the same person operating on both coasts.  It turns out that there are, in fact, two separate murderers and there is a bond of some kind between the two – they are long-time friends who share their warped fantasies with each other.  Psychologist / detective, Alex Cross is assigned to the case when a young woman’s body is found bound and mutilated.  He becomes personally involved with both killers when his niece turns up missing from Duke University.  The evidence indicates that Casanova has kidnapped her.  Cross’s niece has become part of Casanova’s collection of beautiful, intelligent, talented young women.  They have been kidnapped and hidden in underground chambers for Casanova’s personal use, so he can fulfill his secret fantasy.  When he tires of one, becomes disappointed in her, or if she breaks one of his rules, he tortures then kills her.  Naomi (Cross’s niece) realizes that she is not alone in the underground chamber and figures out a way to communicate with the other victims.  Casanova is able to move among the authorities as one of them.  He knows how to cover his tracks and expertly does so.  Cross races against time as he puts the pieces of the “puzzle” together to rescue his niece and the other women before it’s too late.

Subject Headings:  Mystery & Detective Stories, Police Procedural, and Serial Killers

Appeal Terms:  dramatic, violent, fast paced, dark, unsettling, tense, compelling, dangerous, exciting,

chilling, quick-read, psychotic.

Three terms that best describe this book:  dark, suspenseful, and fast paced.

Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

Unnatural Exposure by Patricia Cornwell portrays M.E. Kay Scarpetta dealing with an elusive serial killer.

The Broker by John Grisham is fast-paced and engrossing with a political power broker becoming the object of a CIA plot to see who will assassinate him first.

The Judgment by William J. Coughlin involves a serial killer, political corruption, and a corrupt police chief who is being framed for a crime he didn’t commit by the more-corrupt mayor.

Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

The Last Victim:  A True-Life Journey into the Mind of the Serial Killer by Jason Moss and Jeffrey Kottler contains memoirs resulting from interviews with real serial killers.

Zodiac by Robert Graysmith retells the story of the well-known killer in the San Francisco area during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Nightmare in Wichita by Robert Beattie gives an inside look at the 36-year hunt for the bind-torture-kill murderer.

Tags:  Serial Killers, Suspense, Police Procedural, fast-paced.