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Author Archive for Candice Smith

Dan Brown’s Inferno

by Candice Smith on July 5th, 2013
Dan Brown’s Inferno Cover Image

Dan Brown’s new novel Inferno came out recently, and I’m not (too) embarrassed to admit that I was looking forward to reading it. It seemed like a good summer read, and I liked his previous novels well enough. So, it’s with a little disappointment that I have to say that this just didn’t quite do it for me. There is nothing really wrong with this book, it just didn’t seem to have the momentum that I’d come to expect. I think one reason for this might be that, this time around, Brown has concocted his own mysterious riddle to move the story along. Several of his previous books (The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol, Angels & Demons) had as their backbone an established conspiracy (Jesus’ bloodline, the Masons, the Illuminati) that Brown is able to draw upon and build the action around. Inferno has mystery and murder and good guys racing to uncover a secret to beat the bad guys, but it all seems a little less intricate.

Still, you’ll learn a lot about Dante and his life, about the environs of Florence, Italy and some art, and a bit about infectious diseases. If you like Brown’s previous books and the character of Robert Langdon, this book won’t disappoint. For the record, though, I figured out where the riddle was leading way before Langdon did.

The books you need, when you need them.

by Candice Smith on June 14th, 2013
The books you need, when you need them. Cover Image

Did you know that, if you’re bottle-feeding a kitten, you have to burp it? Or that you might need to perform a little magic maneuver with the wet end of a towel to coax said kitten into going potty? I didn’t either, but I do now.

I never thought I would need to know these things, but suddenly last week there was a 3-week-old kitten in my house, and he was very hungry. Of course, I was able to look things up online and find some quick help, but I still wanted a book. A lot of what I was finding was from forums, and while that was good and helpful, I also wanted information that wasn’t so anecdotal. Lucky for me, the Library has many books on kittens in general, and also this little gem: Hand Raising the Orphaned Kitten. Absolutely perfect.

This is just one of those instances where you need something that is very specific and maybe a little unusual, and the Library has that exact thing. Found a baby squirrel? No problem. Your old VW broke down? Fix it. Want to know if that weed your child ate in the backyard is bad for him? Get here quick (and maybe plant something that he can eat)!!

Yes, the Internet is easy and full of information. Sometimes, though, the information you need is important enough that you want a thorough, research-backed book by a knowledgeable author. When that’s the case, the chances are good that the Library will have just what you need.

And…does anyone have any good cat names?

Mystery! Science fiction!

by Candice Smith on May 11th, 2013
Mystery! Science fiction! Cover Image

I wanted to do a quick update on what I’ve been reading…I realized that the most recent titles I posted about were nonfiction, and I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about me suddenly having switched to the dark side. No, I’m still firmly rooted in the world of fiction, happily delving into some good ol’ fashioned pleasure reading (dedicated readers of nonfiction, please take no offense…I have nothing against it,  I’m just generally more of a murder and mystery type of gal. This says more about me than it does about nonfiction.).

I’m just a few chapters into Stuart MacBride’s Birthdays for the Dead, a gritty little tale of a serial killer who has abducted 12 young girls who are 12 years old. With each girl, he waits one year after the abduction, then starts sending the parents photographs that document the torture and eventual death of their child–one photo each year. Investigators are just beginning to find the bodies of some of the victims of the ‘Birthday Killer’ when a 13th girl goes missing. Even more harrowing is that one of the investigators, Det. Constable Ash Harrison, has a daughter who went missing years ago; he has already received five pictures from the Birthday Killer, but Harrison continues to tell people that she ran away so that he can stay on the case. Each time a body is found, his tension is palpable as he prays–begs–for it not to be his daughter. There’s a small amount of relief provided by the new forensic psychologist Harrison has been partnered with; Alice McDonald is young and has keen insight, but is also a bit neurotic and has some odd issues to deal with. Overall, though, this is a proper Scottish thriller, violent and a bit grimy, with some dark humor thrown in.

As for the science fiction, I’m not reading but watching…I’m a bit of a latecomer, but I’ve just gotten into the Dr. Who series that began in 2005. I know!! I’ve had many people tell me to watch it, and so now I am, and it’s far better than what I imagined. Having grown up in the 70s and 80s, watching a few episodes from the original series, I was totally hesitant to watch it again. Then I saw Torchwood (SO good!) and made the commitment. I’m only a couple episodes in, and am very happy I have more than 80 to go.

It is written in the stars

by Candice Smith on May 3rd, 2013
It is written in the stars Cover Image

I’ve often thought that, if there was an area of knowledge that I could suddenly gain understanding and excel in, it would be physics and astronomy.

This goes back a bit, to the days when I was fascinated with the planets. When I was 8 or so, I received a book about the beings that inhabit different planets. As it turns out, this book was fiction. I didn’t realize that, and was amazed and delighted that the book gave me numerical call signs to actually make contact with the planets–yes, really!! I spent many hours in my room, on the floor facing the window, with my walkie-talkie in hand, patiently tapping out (in Morse code, of course) these call signs. Hours. To no avail. No matter, though, I moved on…I had a period of fascination with Mars, and ordered as many books from the Weekly Reader as I could get my hands on. Then movies about space and aliens and time travel and the future. Books about string theory (started, rarely finished) and the cosmos. Pictures from the Hubble.

As it currently stands, I have a really hard time grasping some (most) of the basic principles, but I am still fascinated by it all. Is the universe expanding? What happened before the Big Bang? What is at the bottom/on the other side of a black hole (a thing we know exists not because we see it, but by the disappearance of everything else around it, that is crazy!)? Do all points in time really exist at the same time, all the time, and if so, can I somehow go back to the 23-year-old me and say ‘hey, maybe don’t take in 8 cats’? And most importantly, the question that comes to my mind whenever I read something about some distant star, why are we just now seeing the light from something that happened millions of years ago, and does the thing even exist anymore?? I don’t understand Einstein’s theories, I can’t really visualize multiple dimensions, and light years are mind-boggling. I just can’t.

Imagine my pleasure upon discovering The Universe: an illustrated history of astronomy. Pictures! Concise explanations! A fold-out timeline! 100 brief and interesting tidbits about astronomy explained for someone like me. If you’re like me, and you desperately want to ponder the mysterious stars and expanse of space and matter, but just can’t quite manage it on your own, you’ll want this book. Or, if you’re a little more advanced than I, but want something beautiful and very interesting to read, you just might want it as well.

The Books That Mattered

by Candice Smith on April 24th, 2013
The Books That Mattered Cover Image

One could argue, in a very wide sense, that all books matter. Or rather, the idea of books and what they are, what they mean, makes them all matter. You know? In a real sense, though, not all of them matter as much as others, both objectively and subjectively. I won’t go into details about that, though (no need to thank me, fans of  Nicholas Sparks).

Frye Gaillard has written a lovely book titled The Books That Mattered: A Reader’s Memoir. He speaks of books that have had a profound effect on him and his life, for reasons too numerous and important to go into here; his explanations are wonderful little stories in themselves, and convey the meanings and relations of these books to him in a way I cannot. Sometimes the book itself, and the story it contains, is the essence; other times, it’s a moment or part of his life that has some connection to a book that makes it indelible in his memory. Each chapter tells you something about Mr. Gaillard, something about the books he’s read, and something about the importance of books in general, and in the lives of the people who read them.

One wonderful thing about a book like this is it prompts me to recall the books in my own reading history that have mattered most; I imagine that many of us would do the same. I could never be as eloquent in my explanation of why those books matter, but here are a few titles that come immediately to my mind:

The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, because it was the first book I can recall reading that had a main character who dies, and I distinctly remember crying when I got to that part…I was shocked and saddened, and surprised (disappointed? hurt?)  to read a book that seemed very, very real.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, because it was so cool, so unlike my own life, and it was even better than the movie that I loved so much. I wrote several book reports on this book, re-reading it every year, and I’d be a little mortified to go back and read them. Also–this book encouraged me to read Robert Frost, and I’d like to think that Ms. Hinton is responsible for others doing the same thing.

Atonement by Ian McEwan…I think I’ve mentioned this before, but my husband and I have had more than one major argument over this book, and it is simply–in my opinion–one of the best reminders of the power of the written word.

So, dear reader(s), please chime in with some of the books that have mattered most to you…

Blood Gospel by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell

by Candice Smith on February 8th, 2013
Blood Gospel by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell Cover Image

I’m not your most high-minded of readers, but I do occasionally make the effort to take in something that offers just a little bit more; a book that elucidates some part of history I know little about, a book that helps me learn and improve something about myself, a book that provides reflection on the beauty of this world.

This is not that book. I’m totally okay with that. I’d read a review of it a while back that included the words far-fetched, religious, Vatican and pet cemetery, and it likened St. Peter to an action hero; I put a hold on that book before you could say sounds kinda like Dan Brown. There are times where I am really in the mood for something akin to his works, a book that has some basis in a wildly interesting past, and then just loads on the speculation and conspiracy and silly, too simplistic dialogue spoken by characters who, let’s admit it, totally under-react to the insane situations they find themselves in. This book does not disappoint!

In fact, it excels to some degree by really layering on the improbable elements. It’s not enough that an archaeologist (super pretty and hyper-intelligent, of course) is on the verge of finding something huge and heretofore undiscovered about King Herod; in the real world, that would be news enough. No, there also has to be an earthquake at Masada that destroys the ancient fortress and requires her attention, and there has to be a US military attache (super handsome and good-at-heart, of course) sent their to make sure the area is secure and the bodies removed, and they meet up. And there has to be a mysterious Roman Catholic priest. And a boy with cancer who might be healed by the noxious fumes escaping the ruins (they killed everyone else, of course). And a gospel written in blood by Jesus. Then it throws in some vampires, both good and bad. The lucky ones survive by drinking consecrated wine, which as those of you in-the-know of the wily ways of the Church will recall, means that it’s been turned into the blood of Christ though a miraculous process called ‘transubstantiation.’ This is a topic that monks and priests have pondered for centuries, religions have cleaved over it, lives have been lost by those who refused to believe in it…and what I love about this book is that it takes just about three paragraphs to introduce the concept, have people say ‘no way!’ and then say ‘well, I never would have guessed.’

And it’s great. If you’re in the mood for a wild story and a little bit of contentious history, this might be the book for you.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

by Candice Smith on January 11th, 2013
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory Cover Image

Finally, the culmination of a saga that many have paid attention to for years. Paradise Lost 3 is the final part of a trilogy that documents the trials of three young men accused of the gruesome murders, in 1993, of three young boys in West Memphis, AR. I’m sure that most people are aware of the story and the personalities involved, at least to some degree, as there was a lot of publicity surrounding the case from the get-go. Without giving too much away, though, a brief summary: Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. were all convicted in court of killing three eight-year-old boys and leaving their bodies in a wooded area in West Memphis. Early in the trial, a link was made between Echols’ preference for wearing all black and listening to a lot of heavy metal music, the nature of the victim’s bodies (they are often described as being ‘sacrifices’) and the notion of an uptick in cult activity among young people. Before you could even say ‘but not all occultists listen to heavy metal’ the three suspects were labeled Satanists, the case blew up in the media, and they were convicted based on a confession made under severe duress, no real physical evidence, a lot of sketchy testimony, and seemingly slick work by the police and prosecutors. Two of them were sentenced to life in prison, Echols was sentenced to death.

Fast forward a couple years, and Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky make their first documentary about the case, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. The film focuses on the trials, as well as the community during that time, and brings to light a lot of issues with both. In 2000, Paradise Lost 2: Revelations is released, and introduces some of the new evidence that is being gathered in the appeals process, as well as the growing opinion among people (including some in the community) that the three young men are innocent.

In between then and the events of Paradise Lost 3, that consensus grows, the case gets support from many different groups, and more importantly for them, that support gives them the means to re-test DNA and hire experts. At some point the new evidence and the public support, along with some changes in law that affect the case, build a momentum that is palpable–watching the documentary, you can feel how close those involved are to having a positive outcome, but also how it all seems to hinge on which way the legal wind blows. Other sentiments that come across loud and clear are disbelief and frustration–three young men imprisoned for nearly half their lives, evidence uncovered that all but exonerates them and indicates other suspects, and a judicial system that won’t budge lest it have to admit its wrongdoing.

Watch this–watch all three if you haven’t yet–and let yourself be a little amazed at all of it: the horrific murders, the trials, the sensationalistic nature of it, the total wrongness of it all. And finally, be amazed at the three young men who remain at the center of it, and how they not only cope, but persevere.

New voices in poetry

by Candice Smith on November 6th, 2012
New voices in poetry Cover Image

First off: I am not an expert in poetry. I don’t consider myself, by any means, to be especially well-read in poetry. I often don’t understand it. Many of my favorite poets and poems are probably considered to be classic or popular, or–dare I say it–easy. I like Robert Frost. I like Shakespeare’s sonnets. I can fully throw my support behind a good limerick just as easily as a multiple-page epic or short, profound haiku.

That being said, I do actually enjoy poetry. More than that, I appreciate it: I like the succinctness of it, the necessity of well-chosen words, the play of sound and meter, and how a poem can show the power and connection of the word and imagination in ways that other written forms often don’t. Such is the case with a new book of poems I’ve recently come across, which has quickly become the shining star in my poetry world.

Behold, I Could Pee On This: and other poems by cats.

I don’t really want to spend too much time giving you my impression of these works, because I feel that can often ruin a good poem for other readers–so much of the impact of a poem is in the individual reading of it, of letting the words call out something of yourself. I’ll just say that these poems are really, really, REALLY about cats. Because they’re written by cats. Or, if you can’t suspend your disbelief, they could be written by cats. All the emotions and experiences that say ‘cat’ are there–curiosity, energy, sleep, ruined furniture, demands, disdain, pride, loyalty, mistrust…even a little love. And so much more. If you’re a cat lover, pick up this small tome and gain a little insight into your beloved feline companion.

Available Dark

by Candice Smith on August 31st, 2012
Available Dark Cover Image

I hesitated to read Available Dark by Elizabeth Hand when the review I saw started out by comparing the main character to Lisbeth Salander. I like Lisbeth just fine, and I’ve read other books that had similar reviews, but how many renditions of a character does one really want to read? However, I am so glad I followed through with this book.

Cassandra Neary might have a passing resemblance to that tattooed anti-heroine, but to me she’s kind of like the more authentic, slightly more grounded aunt. Cass is messed up — no doubt at all about that — but it’s not entirely her defining quality. Whereas Lisbeth seemed almost incapable of leading any “normal” life — social, physical, personal — due to her traumatic past and consequent defenses, Cass is just sort of a wreck that still manages to have some acquaintances, keep in touch with family, do some work, have talent and passions. So, yeah, she lives on alcohol and a wide array of pills, but it’s just sort of who she is. She doesn’t feel absolutely out of control because of it, she’s not overwhelmingly anti-social (although she can be selfish and behave badly), she’s managed to not destroy herself entirely…she’s just been down and out for a really long time, and she gets by that way. Lisbeth was alien (and at times, alienating) to me as a reader, but Cass feels real and familiar, like a ne’er-do-well relative, or that aged hipster downtown who used to do something cool but seems to have lost their way. I like her. I want her to do well.

Cass is a one-hit photographer, known for a years-old book called ‘Dead Girls.’ She lives in a squalid little dump in NYC, drinking and drugging to maintain, dulling her senses, catching a little work here and there. She gets a call from an art collector who wants her to authenticate some photographs that are definitely not for public consumption, and off she goes to Finland to make some fast money. Of course, things go wrong, very wrong. To say that people get killed is an understatement, and there’s no real hero in this story that saves the day. But — Cass perseveres out of some sense self-preservation and of finishing what she set out to do, and along the way finds that some part of her isn’t as dead as she thought it was.

Three other cool things about this book, besides Cass? Iceland. Norse mythology. Black metal. I know, those are all pretty particular niche subjects, and they’re all a bit dark, but that shouldn’t stop you from reading this book (I’m not exactly a metal fan either, you know). It’s subject is a little esoteric by nature, but that really makes it all the more interesting–at least for me. If you’re intrigued by foreign locales, old beliefs and outsider culture, this book has a lot to keep you reading.

Dead Scared

by Candice Smith on June 30th, 2012
Dead Scared Cover Image

If you’ve read any of S.J. Bolton’s books, then you know when you start one that you’re in for something good — an unusual mystery, a bit of darkness and a somewhat gothic tone, well-developed characters and plot. Serious mystery for serious readers. Her newest, Dead Scared, is no exception. The book takes place in the storied city and schools of Cambridge, where an unusually high number of students have taken their lives; as if that’s not enough, the suicides have strange similarities among them and a school psychologist has taken notice and gotten the police involved. The plan is to send one of their own in, posing as a less-than confident student, to suss out what’s behind it all. Things go very awry, though, when the officer and the psychologist become possible next victims.

One thing I really like about Bolton’s books is that each one is very unlike the others she’s written. I certainly like to read mysteries that are part of a series, but sometimes they just seem to fall into a rut–the stories are often unique only in the details, while the story development and characters’ actions all follow a too-similar path. This book actually has characters from two of Bolton’s other titles, so I guess it’s sort of a series, but really it feels like more of a coincidental meet-up: Dr. Evi Oliver from Blood Harvest, and detectives Lacey Flint and Mark Joesbury from Now You See Me all cross paths in Cambridge. While I know them from the other books, there was nothing predictable about them or the story, and that alone can be a very refreshing element in a mystery novel.

Dead Scared has a nice, slow pace — there are a lot of nice details about the setting, as well, for those of you who like mysteries that take place in other locales — and throughout it all Bolton never gives too much away. I watch and read a lot of mysteries, and it’s gotten to be that I’m constantly changing my assessment of ‘who done it,’ always second-guessing the characters and their motives as well as the author’s intent to keep it all, well, a mystery (everyone is a suspect, at some point!). Bolton does a fine job of keeping it all hidden without relying on trickery or unmentioned details that pop up in the end, and all is revealed in good time.