October 28, 2004
Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park by Marie Winn

Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park by Marie Winn: the true life tale of a of Red-Tail Hawks living in Central Park in New York City.

Unbeknownst to most people, Central Park in New York City is a habitat to hundreds of birds, butterflies, plants, and small mammals. There are many dedicated people that watch and meticulously record where these animals can be found, how they live, and what they do. Marie Winn fell in love with the Bird Registry (the book that records this information) and became a dedicated bird watcher herself.

In the spring of 1992, a pair of red-tailed hawks began trying to raise a family amongst the skyscapers in this urban jungle. The Regulars, the dedicated nature lovers in charge of the Registry, breathlessly watched and recorded the struggles of this family.

I’ve only been to New York City once and didn’t get to see Central Park, so I had no idea that so much life was contained in its boundries. The book definitely makes me want to visit Central Park next time I go to New York City. However, I could never get into the story.

I found the struggle of the hawks very interesting, but most of the book seemed to revolve around other, smaller dramas that couldn’t quite capture my attention whole-heartedly. I’m a nature lover myself, so I’m not sure what I felt was lacking to really make this book a page turner for me, though some of it had to do with the fact that I never felt that I truly knew The Regulars and had a hard time keeping each ones specialty (be it butterfly knowledge, plant knowledge, or whatnot) straight. This tended to distract me from the story.

As much as I wanted this to become a gripping story, it fell flat for me and I really couldn’t recommend it except to the most ardent nature lover.

October 18, 2004
The Halo Effect by M.J. Rose

The Halo Effect by M.J. Rose: the story of a sex therapist and her desperate attempt to find one of her patients when she goes missing.

Morgan Snow is one of New York’s top sex therapists. One of her clients, Cleo Thane, is an extremely well-paid, very discreet, prostitute dealing with some of the most influential men in the world. Cleo, however, has decided to write a tell-all memoir and even though she disguises the men in her book, it’s still pretty easy to figure out who they are.

Then one week, Cleo misses her regular appointment, something she’s never done. Morgan is concerned and eventually reaches both Cleo’s boyfriend and her business partner. Her concern escalates since a serial killer, dubbed the Magdalene Murderer, has begun to kill prostitutes in a highly ritualized manner and Morgan fears that Cleo has fallen victim to this madman.

She meets Detective Noah Jordan, the policeman assigned to the case, and despite his warnings, attempts to solve this mystery herself. A spark between the two also develops, complicating matters.

For the most part, I liked this book but never found it to be a mesmerizing read or get too involved with the characters. I’m not sure what it is that I felt it lacked, but it really never ranked above a slightly better than average read. This is the first in a new series, however, so the subsequent books may be worth checking out to see if they improve.

October 11, 2004
The Dark Tower by Stephen King

The Dark Tower by Stephen King: the final chapter in King’s magnus opus, The Dark Tower series. Warning: This will contain spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book, you may want to stop now.

I honestly don’t know what to say here. I’ve been reading the Dark Tower series since I read The Gunslinger for the first time in the late 80s. There was something about the book that hooked me and I was desperate for the next novels in the series. The Drawing of the Three drew me even further into Roland’s universe and with the additions of Eddie and Susannah, made me wonder what was going to happen and fear for these characters that I was beginning to love. The Waste Lands, with Jake coming back into Roland’s life, and the new band of gunslingers left in Blaine the Mono’s insane grasp only underlined this fear. And then the waiting began.

For almost six years Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy sat in Blaine and I waited to see how their dreadful rhyming contest would end. When Wizard & Glass was finally published, putting an end to Blaine and giving us all the information we needed to see why Roland became the man that he became, I was estactic. Surely, this would be the greatest series ever written. Surely, a series with four incredible novels like these could only be destined to be the best epic ever told.

Alas, it was not to be. While Wolves of the Calla was still pretty much classic Dark Tower, you could tell by Song of Susannah that the path to the Tower had been lost. This is not to say that they aren’t fine books - they are; I particularly enjoyed Wolves of the Calla. But looking at the Dark Tower series as a whole, they don’t hold up to the previous books. I believe the difference in the change of tone of the series is King’s insertion of himself into the story line as a character, and one that is more important than even Roland himself.

Which brings us to final book in the series, The Dark Tower. For the first four hundred pages or so, despite my misgivings over King becoming a character in his own novels, I still felt that the book was fairly true to the Path of the Beam, if you will. However, after the battle at Algul Siento, where Eddie is shot and killed, breaking the band of gunslingers ka-tet irrevocably, that was no longer true for me.

This is not to say that I didn’t expect any of the gunslingers to die; I did, though honestly I thought it would be Roland that did not make it to the Tower’s top. What I disliked and thought was untrue to the series was the way that the group disintegrated with that death. At that, the novel quit being about the people that I have loved and worried about became characters in a story.

To me, ever since The Drawing of the Three, this series has been about the people - Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy. By destroying the bonds between them so that I barely recognized who they were anymore. The scene between Susannah and Roland where she elects to leave him and try her luck in the alternate New York is an example. In that scene Oy barely remembers Jake, his best friend, and I just don’t buy it. Despite the emotion between Susannah and Roland and the despair that was felt, it all just fell flat for me. Never should their ka-tet have been broken so easily. Logically, I understand that this breaking apart had to happen so that the ending could play out as it did. In my heart, however, I just can’t accept it. Thoughout these novels, one of the underlying themes was the way that Roland was able to feel again and learn redemption, especially with Jake. The changes in him have been profound and I don’t believe he would let his ka-tet fall apart like that, even if he had to fight Gan himself.

Circling back to King’s own role in the story, I did not like it. When the idea of King as a part of the story was introduced at the end of Wolves I remember being apprehensive and thinking that this would either be a brilliant or a horrible move for the book. It’s hard for me to really put it into words, but the whole thing came off as a cheat, a way to get out of having to come up with any real story. I’m sure that lots of you will disagree, but that was all that was going through my head the more that I read of The Dark Tower.

In a way, I can relate it to the deus ex machina that was used at Dandelo’s house. The first time I came across the term (literally meaning machine of the gods, it’s an “unexpected, artificial, or improbable character, device, or event introduced suddenly in a work of fiction or drama to resolve a situation or untangle a plot” - definition from Dictionary.com) was in one of King’s books, perhaps Misery, though I’m not entirely sure. In Misery Paul Sheldon was faced with the difficult task of bringing back to life a dead character, but in a way that was fair; in other words, her death just couldn’t have been a dream or some other nonsense. Paul Sheldon was able to pull it off without a deus ex machina; Stephen King was not. I think that right there is telling enough of how the series degenerated.

However, the biggest give away that the novel is not up to par, is King’s imploration not to read the coda - where the ending is - and the author’s note. In the coda we find out that Roland has been completing his quest for the Dark Tower countless times over. Every time he reaches the top of the Tower, only to begin again in the desert where The Gunslinger began. This revelation made me feel cheated.

I’ve been reading these books for about half of my life. To have no true ending (though one may argue that since Roland picked up the horn of Arthur Eld that maybe the next iteration will be the final one) is disappointing beyond words. The only redeeming quality is that maybe in the future a final Dark Tower book may be written or that at least I can create an ending that I find more fitting in my own imagination.

I’ve always looked forward to reading the Author’s Note that are usually included at the end of King’s novels. In these notes I’ve always felt that King is, while maybe not my friend, friendly and both respects and appreciates me. In the final paragraph, though, when King says that he doesn’t want anyone to drop in on him to discuss the ending and that, “(m)y books are my way of knowing you. Let them be your way of knowing me, as well,” I almost feel insulted. Never before has he had to warn readers away from him and a note like this isn’t going to change some crazy, determined reader from visiting him and the rest of us already know not to. It’s almost an admission that he knows he did not end the series rightly, fairly, and this is his way of avoiding taking responsibility.

I’m afraid that this long-winded post has not been able to truly express how I feel and there are other parts that I didn’t even get to (For example, why was the battle at Jericho Hill never explained? We found out nothing more about Cuthbert, Alain, and the others past Wizard & Glass. I also believe that Randall Flagg - a truly evil, sly figure - wouldn’t have died as easily as he did at Mordred hands). This series has been such a big part of my life (there were years where not a day went by that I did not think of Roland and his ka-tet and what the future held for them) that maybe no ending would have been able to satisfy me, but deep in my heart, I know that to be untrue. I needed this last novel to give me more closure than it has. Maybe in my dreams Roland will reach the Tower and be able to halt his quest and hopefully, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy will be there as well.

October 04, 2004
The World According to Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers

The World According to Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers: a small, lovely collection of quotations by Mister Rogers, everyone’s favorite neighbor.

Fred Rogers, known to children and adults throughout the world simply as Mister Rogers, was one of the most well-known and beloved television figures. His message was simple - everyone is precious, love your neighbors, treat people right, and believe in yourself.

The collection was divided into four sections: The Courage to Be Yourself, Understanding Love, The Challenges of Inner Discipline, and We Are All Neighbors. A foreward by his wife Joanne was also included which contained my favorite quote, though it wasn’t by Mister Rogers. It was from Mary Lou Kownacki and said, “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you’ve heard their story.” What could be a better definition of empathy and tolerance?

I’ve been going through some rough times lately and I’m not ashamed to admit that reading some of Mister Rogers words made me cry, mostly because they made me feel better about myself than I have in a long time.

Part of a public service announcement that he made for the first anniversary of September 11th, included this, “I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger: I like you just the way you are.” Is there anything more comforting to know that Mister Rogers loves you and, more importantly, likes you for who you are? Somehow I don’t think so.

October 02, 2004
Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde: the second novel in the Thursday Next series, picking up where The Eyre Affair left off.

Again, it’s 1985, England is the world’s biggest superpower and a virtual police state seemingly controlled by the mega-corporation Goliath. Thursday Next, Special Operations Literary Detective, has managed to infuriate Mr. Schitt-Hawse, a Goliath executive, by imprisioning his half-brother Jack Schitt in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” Schitt-Hawse proceeds to blackmail Thursday into getting his half-brother back by eradicating any trace of her new husband so that she’s the only one who even remembers him.

To make matters worse, a bunch of bizarre coincidences have resulted in accidents that almost take her life and she still has to figure out if the newly discovered Shakespearean play was really penned by the bard and save the world from turing into a ball of pink sludge.

As with The Eyre Affair, one has to have a certain suspension of disbelief, but I completely loved the book. The literary references and jokes were wonderful and trying to figure out how Thursday’s going to deal with everything that’s going on is both interesting and fun. I really look forward to reading the next book in the series, The Well of Lost Plots