Friday, March 27, 2009

Heated Topic: Global Warming and Climate Change

Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr. James Hansen and the Truth of Global Warming / by Mark Bowen
Arguably one of the earliest scientists to seriously view global warming as a threat to our way of life and one of the world’s leading climatologists, Dr. James Hansen has been advocating the perils of global warming and climate change for decades. This new book investigates the alleged censorship of Hansen’s advocacy efforts during the Bush administration and the political reasons behind the cover-up.

Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming is Changing the World / by Gary Braasch
Award-winning photojournalist Gary Braasch visually details the effects of global warming over a six year period in this book. Wonderfully illustrated and well-annotated with scientific explanations backing up the images, this pictorial shows the striking effects that global warming has had and is having on our world.

An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It / by Al GoreBasically a companion book to Al Gore’s award winning documentary of the same name, An Inconvenient Truth: A Global Warning examines how industry-induced greenhouse gases and diminishing glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica pose a viable and imminent threat to our way of life. [DVD documentary also available]

 he “quasi-religion” it has become, Lord Nigel Lawson says that the pervading notion on global warming should be re-evaluated and that it is in no way the widely-alleged disastrous threat to the planet many see it as. Lawson, a former energy commission chairperson, further forecasts that proposed remedies to the situation could be more damaging than the threat itself.
Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics and the Battle Over Global Warming / by Chris Mooney
Is glob
al warming causing more hurricanes? The issue raises questions not only among scientists, but also with the media, politicians and various special interest groups. In his new book, veteran newsman Chris Mooney investigates recent major hurricanes, the debate over global warming and any correlation—theoretical or fact-based—which may exist between the two.

An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming / by Nigel Lawson
Far from t

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Cure For Modern Life / by Lisa Tucker

Lisa Tucker's tried her hand at quite a diversity of occupations in addition to writing. Once a computer programmer, she's also been a waitress, math teacher and touring jazz musician. Having penned three popular novels prior to her latest, The Cure For Modern Life, Tucker's developed a loyal audience with her well-written books often chronicling the parallel lives of loosely connected characters from opposite ends of the social spectrum.

40-year-old Matthew Connolly is a successful research scientist and executive for the prominent drug company Astor-Denning. Having helped cultivate a wonder drug called Galvenar which has since exploded onto the scene, Matthew's a major reason why Astor-Denning is currently sitting atop the market. But not everyone's so excited. Amelia Johannsen is a chairperson on a bioethics committee which is evaluating Galvenar in its early treatment phase, closely monitoring its counterbalanced side effects and not-unfrequent adverse reactions in patients. Amelia also knows Matthew personally. The pair were once amorous young lovers engaged to be married before the whole thing dissolved over an illicit affair. Now she's dating Ben Watkins, Matthew's longtime best friend and the doctor who helped develop Galvenar.
Even if he is only 10 and despite the fact that he's had virtually no formal education, Danny knows how to work the streets. As is so often the case these days living with his undependable junkie mother, Danny must do what needs to be done so that he and his toddler sister, Isabelle, can survive. Its only through his savvy in creating pity and empathy from passers-by which enables them to get any food at all, much less the medicine that a sick Isabelle badly needs. But even Danny's not expecting what the tired-looking man in the suit does when Danny asks him for bus fair. Before long, Danny and his sister find themselves swiftly caught up in quite an unexpected turn of events.
Tucker is a nice writer but this story's just too multi-faceted. The problem has as much to do with content apportionment as quantity. It's difficult to accurately get a handle on the characters as they wind their way through a quagmire of weighty issues like world-saving medical cures, relationship woes, serious ethical dilemmas, instances of charity gone haywire, drug addiction, pregnancy and abortion. Aspects of the backstory are hard to concede as well, mainly in the premise that three people as different as Matthew, Ben and Amelia have been best friends since college--not to mention each's awkwardly depicted livelihood as semi-famous yuppie science nerds. While largely unveven and overly sentimental, the book's message of mutual integrity in the medical profession--whether within corporate pharmaceutical policies or the domestic well-being of the underpriveleged--is easily understood by the end.

Monday, March 23, 2009

There Goes . . .

The Neighborhood / by S.K. Epperson
Hospice nurse Abra Ansen thinks she's made a smart career move when she moves into the quiet home of bed-ridden Thomas Conlan, a man slowly dying of AIDS . . . or so she's been told. In actuality (and as Abra soon finds out), Mr. Conlan ails from a completely different illness; one that's just as deadly but far more infectious--smallpox. Supposedly a disease which was wiped out decades ago, Conlan suffers from a unusually volatile strain which has somehow been re-introduced into the natural world. But why would such a bizarre illness be attached such a harmless old man? And why the lie in the first place?
Meanwhile the world outside concerns itself with the sudden disappearance of Cindy Melo, a local teenage girl seemingly having vanished into thin air a little over a week ago. The search for the missing girl ongoing, Abra steadily begins to learn more about her new neighbors; things like retired cop Zane Campbell's home business involving prosthetic eyeballs and creepy Craig Peterwell's assortment of exotic pets all eerily interconnected somehow amidst some very strange and sinister dealings. Slowly does Abra realize what's truly at stake concerning Mr. Conlan and his neighbors.
S.K. (Sharon K.) Epperson may be the best kept secret within the thriller genre and, more particularly, within the context of psychological suspense. From the very first page all the way to the end, the story is uncannily original with the reader perpetually drawn to the plot. Yet unlike many traditional thrillers where action and suspense are the central attributes, it's the characters--primarily Abra, Zane and Craig--which evoke the most intrigue, Epperson's well-crafted involvement of each's motives and their successive contributions to the story subtley making for a rewarding read.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Splitting / by Fay Weldon

UK author Fay Weldon has compiled quite a resume of stories, novels, plays, screenplays and tv episodes in her lifetime, earning numerous accolades and ultimately being presented a prestigious PEN award in 1996. Splitting explores the anatomy of one woman's engagement, marriage, divorce and subsequent descent into madness after the fact.

Despite her youth, 17-year-old Angelica White is in love with Edwin Rice who, at 21, is equally passionate about Angelica. So they get married. Unlike such other young lovers, both are quite well-to-do; Angelica having had a brief stint as a teen idol when her band "Kinky Virgin" recorded a hit single and Edwin being a member of the nobility and heir to a large estate. Things are great for the first few years, and even 10 years into the--still childless--marriage, it's not so bad; dinner parties, home renovations, and gossip about the couple's clique of friends allowing both to live adequately comfortable lives. But when, after 15 years of marriage, Edwin accuses Angelica of infidelity and files for divorce, Angelica's world shatters to pieces--literally.

Her life, and more specifically her mind, gradually "splits" into four, and ultimately five separate personalities, each a distinct representation of herself. Having well established her present identity at the time of the divorce as "Lady Rice", the refined, dutiful wife of Sir Edwin, Angelica further develops the alter egoes of "Jelly White", a practical working girl and nubile "Angelica", the former teen rocker still swooning over Edwin. Fourth and fifth personalities emerge in the forms of "Angel", a pleasure-seeker only out to fulfill her wanton desires and "Ajax", a violent, rage-filled hellion bent solely on personal vengeance. Angelica's body ultimately falls victim to her conflicting identities as each seek to live out their primal desires and subconscious objectives. A humorously scathing take on modern matrimony, Splitting immediately grabs your attention with its acrid, punchy writing style and strong emphasis on dialogue. With each competing personality, Weldon satirically, but authoritatively exhibits the dynamics of emotional breakdowns and identity crisis'--symptoms all too synonomous with grief over a divorce or breakup. Psychoanalysis not withstanding, the book is well worth it for Weldon's sublimely clever prose and masterfully parodied caricatures of domestic life. (FIC WELDON)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Blood Simple (1984) DVD / a Film by Ethan and Joel Cohen

"Now, in Russia, they got it mapped out so that everyone pulls for everyone else . . . that's the theory, anyway. But what I know about is Texas, an' down here . . . you're on your own."

In a remote town in rural Texas, a young man named Ray tends bar at a saloon owned by his boss, Marty Julian. Going on behind Marty's back--though not quite so discretely--is an affair between Ray and Marty's wife, Abby. Suspecting the adulterous tryst, Marty hires a private investigator to validate the fact and the truth ultimately comes to light. Intent upon retribution, Marty mulls his options only to have his plans interrupted by the same man he hired to investigate the affair, a man with an inherently violent and far more deliberate agenda.

Simple. Subtle. Visceral. The Coen brothers' directorial debut wasted no time in establishing their trademark imprint on the industry. While there's seemingly little out of the realm of the ordinary and almost no cinematic highlights, Blood Simple manages to visually tell a story in a way that's far more enticing than most action-packed blockbusters. Psychology and character-dimension aren't so much a part of things and motives are sometimes hard to discern, and yet the plot sequence is so diabolically imaginative, one can't help but be enamored by the effecting culmination of events. Locally filmed in and around Houston, the cinematography's another reason this movie works so well, widescreen footage of the flat, featureless landscape well-reflecting the eerie, desolate mood of the story.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bit O' Blarney: Irish-themed Novels for St. Patrick's Day

The Wild Irish / Robin MaxwellBased on the legendary Irish piratess Grace O’Malley who used to raid English ships, this swashbuckling tale depicts the confrontation of Grace and another 16th century heroine—Queen Elizabeth I. Grace dares to face down the most powerful woman in the world in defense of her oppressed Irish homeland, even risking her life on a voyage up the Thames to face the Queen herself. Beautifully written and historically accurate, The Wild Irish is a great retelling of this legendary heroine. (FIC MAXWELL)

Song of Ireland / Juliene Osborne-McNight
This exciting fantasy-adventure novel about the origins of ancient Ireland traces the story of the Celts of Eire and their interaction with the mythical Danu, or “little people” inhabitants of the forest whose supernatural powers give them control over time and nature. With vivid characters and colorful depictions of the ancient Celtic world, Song of Ireland is an imaginative and romantic rendering of the mystical Emerald Isle and its ancient heritage. (FIC OSBORNE)

Shannon: A Novel / by Frank Delaney
"Find your soul and you'll live". So were the parting words given to young Robert Shannon upon his personal quest to seek out his Irish roots. Previously an American combat veteran of World War I and currently a priest in training, Robert has become disillusioned and disheartened by the comprimising events surrounding his Boston archdiocese. So, in late summer of 1922 in a nation still reeling from political turmoil and civil war, Robert sets foot on the banks of the river bearing his namesake intent upon reconnecting with his heritage. Yet unbeknownst to Robert are external forces which are bent upon keeping him out of the way of his true calling--forever. Delaney's latest novel about his beloved Irish homeland wonderfully weaves together Ireland's turbulent history, its ancient legends and darkest secrets. (FIC DELANEY)

Friday, March 6, 2009

On the Couch: Great American Stories About Therapy / by Erica Cates

 Everybody's got problems. From the mightiest patriarch to the lowliest peasant, almost everyone can identify with the inescapability of life's ups and downs; and, subsequently, the comfort and emotional release a sensitive ear can bring when things are at their worst. While not all the stories in On the Couch deal with the woes of existence, they all confront the nature of talk therapy and its truly purposeful--though controversial--use as an antidote to mental and emotional dilemmas. Among such other literary notables along with the likes of John Updike and Amy Bloom, stories in this unique anthology center on the "behind closed doors" atmosphere of counselors and their patients. So whether you veiw talk therapy as some do: a universal cure for mental illness. Or even if you render the realm of psychology and psychotherapy as a profession of glorified hand-holders, this book is a win-win with its intriguing stories on, well, other people's "issues". (SSC ON)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Lisa Genova first paid a company to publish and distribute this book to independent bookstores, until she was finally introduced to the right agent and negotiated the book’s official release. Ms.Genova has a PhD in Neuroscience from Harvard, writes for the National Alzheimer’s Association, and is an actress. Her grandmother had Alzheimer’s, and this was the inspiration for Still Alice, her first novel. The book’s heroine is a Harvard professor, Alice, who discovers that she has, at age 49, an early onset of Alzheimer’s disease, which afflicts 10% of all those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. One of Alice’s first warnings of the disease is forgetting some words of a speech, and this episode is swiftly followed by one in which she can’t (momentarily) find her way home. She sees her surroundings, she knows what buildings are which, but nothing tells her which way to turn. This riveting illustration of how everything can be known but without the connections needed to function kept me reading, committed to the journey’s end. Genova has the credentials to write accurately about the stages and symptoms of Alzheimer's, and about the current medication and life strategies for the patient and family. What most of us lack , however, is not just this specific knowledge of Alzheimer’s that Genova offers in her book, but the ability to imagine what the sufferer is experiencing. The poetic license Genova assumes in writing the book from Alice’s point of view is risky, and not all readers concur in how believable the story is. I found it both convincing and enlightening. I recommend the book, at the very least for inviting us to consider and ponder on how we do persist as individuals, even under the most debilitating of circumstances.