30 October 2012

New York City... and what might lurk there

NO disrespect meant to New York City, Long Island, or New Jersey communities, trying to recover from the terrible devastation of Hurricane Sandy.  I can't stop watching news or thinking about all the destruction and the long road back to normalcy that a lot of our mid-Atlantic neighbors have ahead of us.

But... I recently read YET ANOTHER book set largely in Manhattan.  Forget about vampires or zombies,  meet some sexy angels in Danielle Trussoni's Angelology.

There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. - Genesis 6:5
These children were the "Nephilim", kind of a hybrid of angels & humans.  Some thinkers (including Simcha Jacobovici of Naked Archaeologist fame) believe that these were really the offspring of Neanderthal and modern Homo Sapiens.  Others define the Nephilim simply as "giants;" suggesting that Goliath or other large men of the Old Testament were more-than-simply-human. Strange stuff indeed.

(Note: angelology is a genuine branch of theology.  However, this book is a novel.)

Trussoni's angels are not "angelic" at all.

It's only recently that angels have been represented
as beatific; for most of recorded history
they were fierce and frightening
These angels are supernatural, but most are FAR from "good."  They are the "fallen," imprisoned deep in the earth for thousands of years for their transgressions.  Thing is, they're also irresistably appealing - the curious humans who go searching for them are drawn to them, even against their own will.  They want to touch them, to be near them.  Oh, and by the way, full-blooded angels are radioactive; contact with them is deadly.

The Nephilim are not as toxic as the full-blooded angels, but they have tremendous power within human society.  I suppose you could consider them socially or psychologically toxic.  They're narcissistic, wealthy, and pampered.  They foster discord in civilization.  They have been the wealthy and powerful families of the world (Hapsburgs, Tudors, etc).  In contemporary New York, the wealthy Gregori family holds the cards.

Angelology is the battle between the Nephilim and humans, or more specifically, angelologists - scholarly experts in the angels and the Nephilim.  We're talking scientists and double agents, hidden treasures, hidden people, all the juicy stuff of a good adventure novel. 

So how is this related in any way to New York City? Angelology includes action in medieval Thrace/Bulgaria, Vichy Paris, and the fictional Convent of St. Rose of Viterbo on the Hudson River Valley (late 1990s).  And much the way Dan Brown's characters chase frenetically all over Rome or Paris, the final fifty pages is a Manhattan scavenger hunt involving objects hidden in Riverside Church, the MoMA, The Cloisters, and Rockefeller Center.  I'll never think about those places, or look at Prometheus over the skating rink, quite the same way!

Angelology is fun and thrilling in much the same way Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire is thrilling: subtly erotic, mysterious, with the suggestion that these superhuman beings walk, cloaked, among us. It's fun in a frightening kind of way. 

A spooky, sort of Halloween way, even.

And to our dear friends in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, hope things get better, and dry out, soon. <3 <3

23 October 2012

Writing happens mostly when I'm not writing

Agatha Christie once said, "The best time to plan a book is while you're doing the dishes." SO TRUE.
photo courtesy
"miss pupik" Flickr Creative Commons
Life gets kind of crazy.  In the last couple of weeks: I helped out with the Friends of the South Portland Library annual book sale. Youth football season wrapped up.  Hubbie & I volunteered for a school fundraiser.  We went to the Maine Association of Broadcasters Annual Dinner where I received an award for my writing & producing (no kidding!).  My son, bright boy that he may be, hit a small bump in the road in terms of time management and the difference between "optional" and "required" homework (the lesson here: unless otherwise noted, assume it's required), and we're coming to terms with the fact that  6th grade is WAY more involved than it was in the early 1980s.  Parental homework supervision on high alert.

I think about this blog all the time.  What do I want to read and think and write about?  What do you, dear reader, want to read about?  I think about writing when I'm driving, when I'm doing housework or errands, and definitely when I'm listening to MPBN Radio.  In fact, the Agatha Christie quote above is something I heard on Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac.  Keillor can read poetry like no other, but what I really love about that segment is learning about authors' and poets' real lives.  They grow up, fall in love & marry & divorce, raise families in all sorts of circumstances.  They work at other jobs before they "make it" as writers, or, very often, concurrently throughout their lives as writers.  They struggle with personal tragedies and professional setbacks.  They write, and they continue to do the dishes.

One of my husband's college friends (and my friend too), Laura Kilmartin, has recently become a published author!  Her novel Next Year I'll Be Perfect is available now.  I have a copy - I'll be reading it and sharing my thoughts with you soon.

I'm finishing the non-fiction Strap Hanger, about public transportation (or, rather, the lack thereof) in the United States, and as a new feature here I'll be interviewing Christopher Alvarado, an urban planning professional in Cleveland who specializes in transportation issues.

Last week I read Jeannette Walls' Half Broke Horses in a single evening!  I'll be darned if I'm unprepared for book group, PLUS I found it to be a truly gripping read.  Walls' Glass Castle was amazing, and this tale about Jeannette's grandmother gives additional insight into her mom.... from another perspective.

To celebrate the season, I'm enjoying two spooky novels: Susan Heyboer O'Keefe's  Frankenstein's Monster is a "sequel" to Mary Shelley's original masterpiece - what does the "monster" do after the death of his creator?  Something interesting to ponder.  I'm about 100 pages in and his adventures are decidedly unexpected.  And Danielle Trussoni's novel Angelology dares to define angels in an entirely different way.
The sons of God saw the daughter of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose....There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them.  Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. Gen 6:2-4
The premise is that these "sons of God" were actually angels (really, really sexually alluring ones), who hooked up with human women, and their offspring became the mighty families of Europe - the Capets & Tudors & Hapsburgs & Medicis, etc.  And they aren't as "nice" as you'd expect angels to be.... there's something to think about over dirty dishes! 

More details to come - as soon as I catch a breath, and put a book down!

11 October 2012

Today, I am not the 95%

Today is a milestone.   The Maine Page Turner turned ONE!

Last year I attended a speaking engagement by Mike Volpe, a specialist in new media and social network marketing.  Of everything he said, this sentence was the one that really stuck with me:

"Ninety-five percent of blogs peter out within a year."

Besides providing you with (hopefully) something interesting to read, I have been determined to beat that statistic.  And I have you, my dear readers, to thank for these 365 days of success - and beyond.  When I've struggled with what to read or write about next, I think about you, anticipating my next post.  I want to give you something interesting, or funny, or sad, or just something to ponder.  I know you are reading, and I love your feedback.  That means so much to me.

A few statistics: I've reviewed 39 books since the launch of The Maine Page Turner.  Only 14 of those are off "The Shelf Project."  I'm easily distracted.  Squirrel!

(Sidebar: you've probably noticed that I'm slightly obsessed with Pixar.  Yes, it's true.)

I'm planning some new things for the days ahead. Hold onto your hats!

10 October 2012

Don't be so possessive!

To me, the apostrophe is the most over-used piece of punctuation in 21st century English.

Note the following:

This was posted on the cordoned-off section of the football field, designated for, yeah, you guessed it, coaches and players.

I see this kind of spelling mistake all the time.  I don't get it.... why the obsession with apostrophes?  Is it because we (not so) secretly want to own everything?  


Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine.


04 October 2012

Go ahead... read a Banned Book

We take it for granted that we have a Constitutionally-protected right both to Free Speech, and the Freedom to Read.
But remember, freedom requires vigilance.  There are those who would seek to limit what we can read, even here in the United States. 
We're nearing the end of the 30th Annual National Banned Books Week .
Here's the top 20 of the Top 100 Books Banned/Challenged 2000-2009:
1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan

Note that most of these are fiction.  Fiction explores the human condition.  To deny that we are violent, racist, or sexual beings is to be untrue to ourselves as humans.  Reading enables us to reflect on our joys, and our flaws.  To celebrate ourselves, and to challenge ourselves to behave better toward one another.
One of the most egregious cases of censorship on my radar these days is what's going on in Tucson Unified School District.  Educate yourself.

Our nation was founded on widespread literacy; printers up and down the Eastern Seaboard were able to share ideas and information quickly (for the era) - the 18th Century Internet, if you will.  Which pieces of writing are truth, which are opinion, and which are out-and-out lies?  Then and now, it's OUR responsibility as readers to decide.

Freedom includes everything.  Take a deep breath.  You can handle it.
  • You thought 50 Shades of Grey was racy?  Try Anne (Roquelaire) Rice's Sleeping Beauty trilogy, Anais Nin's Delta of Venus or Little Birds, or Marquis de Sade's Justine.  
  • Hitler's Mein Kampf or Mao's Little Red Book
  • You can read about the Ku Klux Klan or the Black Panthers
  • Books by Bill O'Reilly or Chris Matthews. 
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder or Judy Blume. 
  • Books that extoll or disparage organized religion of each and every denomination.

Remember, nearly everything in print is objectionable to somebody.  The thought of reading Mein Kampf kind of turns my stomach.  But like they say, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer."  If today's Tea Party seems uncannily like the John Birch Society, it might be nice for me to know what they're talking about.
Here's an encouraging anecdote, and reason #279 why I like living in Maine.
Check out this map, a portion of the interactive "Mapping Censorship" map:
All those blue flags represent communities where books have been banned or challenged in schools or libraries since 2007.  Maine has just one.
"(Lewiston, 2008) Robie Harris'  It's Perfectly Normal: A Book about Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health was removed by a patron because of her objections to the book's sexual content. Other patrons donated 4 copies of the book, which remain in circulation today."
I'm grateful to live in a country that is free, and especially in a state where those freedoms are held particularly sacred.

Celebrate your freedom this week, and every week. 
Read a Banned Book.

Hey honey, I know...

"I know what we should do for our 20th anniversary!  Double date with the Romneys in Denver!"  - Said No One Ever.

02 October 2012

Vikings just want to have fun

I'm willing to bet that every time you read about the Vikings in school, they were always the "other guys" or the "bad guys."  Bernard Cornwell's Last Kingdom, the first in his (thus far) six-book Saxon Stories, turns that on its head.

It's 866. Bebbanburg Castle is taken by the Danes. The Earl is killed, and ten-year-old Uhtred of Bebbanburg (fictional character based on an historical person) becomes a captive.

But here's the thing.  Uhtred doesn't really seem to like much about Saxon (aka English) life anyway.  With some arm-twisting, he learns to read & write. He spends more time than he'd like at Mass or other prayer.  He finds most of the priest/teachers/tutors in his Saxon life pretty insipid.  He is a second son, and during his first ten years, he seems on the (unhappy) path to priesthood.  But when his father and his older brother are killed by the Danes, things change.

Dane Earl Ragnar takes a shine to Uhtred and adopts him.  Uhtred relishes Dane life.   Vikings really know how to party.  There's plenty of sacking, pillaging, but also a lot of feasting, storytelling and mystery.  Sexual mores are much more relaxed; Uhtred and his childhood friend Brida become sexual partners in their teens, scandal-free.  He connects more easily to Thor and Odin than the Christian god, preferring the tangibility and power of Thor (the lightning god) rather than the meekness of Christ.  It's a lifestyle well-suited to a "man's man," someone who would rather be a chieftain and warrior than a scholar. Possessing an excellent sword, and knowing how to use it properly, is essential. Fierceness and bravery rule the day.  

Don't we have these people in our lives too?  I think about my son, who is a bright boy, and he does just fine in school, but would MUCH rather be moving.  He doesn't want to sit and read; he wants to ride his bike, climbs trees, play contact sports, wrestle and rough-house.

None of this excuses the vicious attacks by Danes against civilians (notably Lindesfarne), especially unarmed nuns and monks.  But brutality was not uncommon among any population at this time (the Christian rulers weren't peace-loving non-combatants!).

Dane life is active; Saxon life is "civilized."  But not everyone wants to be civilized.  Uhtred certainly doesn't.  It's dull.  History is written by the victors, in this case, the Saxons/English.  Whatever redeeming qualities the Danes may have - a laissez-faire attitude toward teen sexuality, a culture that honors combat and adventure above nearly all other things - these have been filtered out of our history.

Uhtred identifies with both the Saxons AND the Danes.  It makes him a distinct and believable character.  He has reasons for loyalty on BOTH sides of the conflict.  An interesting balancing act indeed.

Refreshing to read historical fiction that is sympathetic to "the other side."  Makes me want to hang out in a mead hall!