Sunday, July 26, 2009

Anniversary of my Surgery

Today is the second anniversay of my Craniotomy.
The time has gone by so fast.

Two years ago (after surgery and a hair cut) I looked like this.

Today I look like this. This was taken just 2 weeks ago. That is me on the left. And my favourite instructor in the right.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Library of the Dead - Book Review

Library of the Dead
by Glenn Cooper
Harper Collins 2009

An Ancient Knowledge
A Conspiracy of Silence
A Secret to Kill for.

In New York City, people are being killed. It appears to be a serial killer but there is nothing in common between the victims. Each murder is different.

But there is ONE small thing in common with all the murders. Each victim received a postcard in the mail a few days before they died. Each postcard had a date written and a coffin drawn on it. The date is always just a few days in the future. Each victim died on the exact date written on the postcard. All the postcards are post marked Las Vegas.

Will Piper is the leading FBI agent in charge of serial killers. He has caught every single serial killer in New York City in the last 20 years. He is not about to allow this one to get away.

As Will and his new Partner Nancy investigate all leads, they eventually conclude that none of the victims had anything in common with each other. So the answer must be in Las Vagas where the postcards come from.

As Will and Nancy follow the leads Will eventually comes to the conclusion that the killer not only lives in Las Vegas, but he works for Area 51. Will and Nancy are abruptly removed from the case and told to stop investigating.

Will chooses to continue against FBI rules. So a cat and mouse game begins with Will travelling to Las Vegas and the US Federal Government doing everythhing they can to stop him getting there.

What does this have to do with The Library of the Dead?
You'll have to read the book to find out.
But I really enjoyed this book.

Edited in May 2012 - I have just discovered a movie called Book of Days starring Wil Wheaton made back in 2003, with a very similar storyline.  I hate to suggest it - but is there plagiarism involved here?

You can also watch the Trailer of this movie

Friday, July 17, 2009

Handle with Care - Book review

Handle with Care
by Jodie Picoult
Simon & Schuster 2009
Authors website

Willow was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, or Brittle Bone disease. This means that she breaks bones very easily. Sometimes just by turning over in bed.

The story begins with Willow and her family going to Disney World in Orlando for a visit. BUT one very important item is left at home. The letter fron the doctor about Willow. Thus when Willow falls down at Disney World and breaks her leg, (something she has done many times before) she is rushed to a local hospital. When the X-rays show numerous breaks in her bones, some old, some still healing, the authorities are called. Willows parents are arrested for child abuse and sent to jail. Willows sister Amelia is sent to a foster family.

Because it is the weekend, it is two days befor the family doctor can be contacted to confirm Willow's condition and the family are released. When they get home, Willow's father decides to sue Disney world.

When he speaks to a lawyer, he discovers that, under the law, the authorities at Disney World did their jobs as required by law. While the law means well, it does cause problems when uneducated and ignorant people make assumptions like the Disney World people did. Willow's father would definitely lose the case if he continued.

BUT says the lawyer - there is another possible case here. A wrongful birth where the obstetrics doctor did not inform the mother of a problem with the baby in a timely manner whereby the mother could have done something about it. (ie abortion)

Willows mother decides to sue her doctor. Her doctor also happens to be her best friend. When Piper (the doctor & friend) is served the papers, their 8 year friendship is over - just like that.

This is the story of the strain on the family, as the mother continues with the lawsuit. Her husband decides that he wants no longer wants to be part of it and he leaves the family

This story is told in 3rd person narration by people involved in the story all speaking to Willow. Willow gets her own voice in the last chapter after the lawsuit is over.

If you ever want to know about Osteogenesis Imperfecta, this is the best book and the most easy book to read in order to learn all about it. Ms Picoult has obviously done her research. You will have to read it to find out what the outcome was.

So far of the 4 books I have read - Jodie has written about two subjects - medicine and religion.

This is a review that said that this book (Handle with Care) was exactly like another book (My sister's keeper) which I reviewed a few days ago.

Yes it does seem that these are formulaic books. I will have to read more before I decide if that is good or bad. I will say this. I do like both stories I have read so far, where Jodi has written about religius history and themes.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Change of Heart - Book Review

Change of Heart
by Jodi Picoult
Simon & Schuster 2008
Authors website

Now that I have discovered Jodi Picoult's books, I want to read them all. So far I have read four. They all involved court cases. Two of them were religious and the other two were medical.

This book is about Shay Bourne who committed capital murder (2 victims) and was sentenced to death. He has now spent 11 years on death row.

Shay is a slow learner. He has learning disability and seldom talks. He also seems to have the gift of healing.

In chapter one Shay Bourne is hired as a handy man to fix up the old house. The family consists of June, her husband Kurt and their 4 year old daughter Elizabeth.

Chapter two is Shay's trial for the murder of Kurt and Elizabeth. Since Shay's lawyer never puts Shay on the stand, he never has any opportunity to give his side of the story.

Chapter three is the present time, now 11 years later. June was pregnant when Kurt and Elizabeth died. She named her daughter Claire. Claire is now 11 years old and her heart is failing. She needs a new heart within a few months or she too will die.

Shay's last appeal for clemency is denied and his execution is set for 6 weeks hence. In all the 11 years he has never told anyone what really happened. He calls for a spiritual counselor (Father Michael) and tells the priest that he wants to donate his heart to Claire. He knows he must die but he still wants to donate his heart to Claire. Her story was in the newspapers. He wants to save the sister of the litte girl that was killed.

The trouble with donating his heart, is that lethal injections will stop the heart (that is their job) and ruin it for any transplant. An ACLU lawyer named Maggie becomes involved. When she interviews Shay and understands that it is his wish to donate his heart, she goes to court to get his execution method changed to hanging because that will not damage the heart.

The court case is all about the history of religions (mostly the Gnostics) and what constitutes a religion and does Shay really have a religion. A very interesting court case to read. I was surpised when Ian Fletcher showed up as an expert. Ian is an atheist from the book Keeping the Faith.

Meanwhile Shay's healing skills are used in the prison and become public knowledge outside the prison. A large group of religious people gather at the prison to hold vigil. Some of them want Shay to heal them, and others say that Shay is a devil, a false healer.

When June finds out that Shay want to donate his heart to Claire, she refuses, as does Claire when she finds out. Neither of them want anything to do with Shay.

As the day of execution creeps closer, we need to know the following answers.
Does Maggie win her court trial?
Does Shay get his hanging?
What really happened the day Kurt and Elizabeth were shot and killed?
Does Claire get a new heart?

You have to read this book to find out.
I really enjoyed it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Last Testament - Book Review

The Last Testament
by Sam Bourne
Harper Collins 2009 (USA & Canada)
First published in UK - 2007



This novel is also set in Israel but this one is MUCH more realistic. It involves both Israelis and Palestians working together and shooting each other to find the truth.

After the US illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Baghdad Museum of Antiqities was looted and a large number of important artifacts were stolen. This novel is about one small clay tablet that was stolen. This small clay tablet is probably imaginery just for this story.

Anyway the tablet is smuggled to UK and then smuggled back to Israel. Artifacts currently missing from Iraq are hot (stolen) and are not permitted to be sold. They must be sent back to Iraq.

Maggie Costello, a UN peace negotiator, is called in to try and calm the two sides as the killings increase. As Maggie is sucked into the search for this tablet, local archaeologists around her are killed - both palestinian and jewish. The tablet was hidden by a jewish archaelogist who is killed in the first chapter. Maggie and his son are left to follow his clues to find the tablet's hiding place before they are killed by the extremists who do not want the tablet to see the light of day.

What is the importance of this tablet? It was written in cuneiform writing - the language of the sumerians. It mentions three names - Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael.

It is effectively the last will and testament of Abraham - the founder of the 3 religions of the Book. He notes that his sons are fighting over their home and so he gifts Mount Moriah to the children of Isaac and Ishmael to be shared equally by all the descendents.

This is explosive news because Jerusalem is built on Mount Moriah. Isaac was the father of the Jews and Ishmael was the father of the Arabs. They must now find a way to share their home and stop fighting over it.

The last scene in this book is the leader of the PLO and the Prime Minister of Isarel in a room with one negotiator - Maggie Costello.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Copper Scroll - Book Review

The Copper Scroll
by Joel C. Rosenberg
Tyndale Publishers
Copper Scroll Project Website

How many of you have heard of the Copper Scroll? A scroll quite literally made of copper that was discovered in the Qumran caves in Israel in 1948 at the same time the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. On this scroll is a list of treasure items that so far, have never been found.

This novel is the fourth in a series of Books called the LAST JIHAD. Imagine. This is a christian author writing about the Last Jihad. The previous book (the 3rd book) The Ezekiel Option involved the end of the world. Apparently a number of middle eastern countries were destroyed.

Anyway in the Copper Scroll, a team of american experts are in Israel looking for the treasure of the Copper scroll. These experts are led by Erin McCoy Bennett (former CIA operative) and her new husband John Bennett. They were both involved in the previous story - The Ezekiel Option.

The beginning is rather slow. It takes 12 chapters to get all the main players either set in place, or killed so that their subsequent actions can affect the story.

Once the Bennets have been tracked down on their honeymoon, interrupted and sent to Israel, they begin the search for the treasure. They have to decode the list on the War scroll. Another scroll that was found some time after the Copper Scroll, but the war scroll seems to have clues on how to find the items listed on the Copper Scroll. This Copper scroll list consists of locations and items and amounts. Remember the Copper Scroll is real. This story is NOT.

The list has items such as...

Item 1: In the fortress which is in the Vale of Achor, forty cubits under the steps entering to the east: a money chest and its contents, of a weight of seventeen talents.

Item 2: In the sepulchral monument, in the third course of stones: 100 bars of gold

Item Three: In the Great Cistern which is in the Court of Peristyle, in the spout in its floor, concealed in a hole in front of the upper opening: nine hundred talents.

Item Seven: In the cavity of the Old House of Tribute, in the Chain Platform: sixty-five bars of gold.

Item 12: In the court of [unreadable], nine cubits under the southern corner: gold and silver vessels for tithe, sprinkling basins, cups, sacrificial bowls, libations vessels; in all, six hundred and nine.

Item 14: In the pit which is to the north of Esplanade tithe vessels and garments. Its entrance is under the western corner.

Item 32: In the cave that is next to [unreadable] belonging to the House of Hakkoz, dig six cubits. There are six bars of gold.

Item 37: In the stubble field of the Shaveh, facing southwest, in an underground passage looking north, buried at twenty-four cubits: 67 talents.

Item 64: In a pit adjoining on the north, in a hole opening northward, and buried at its mouth: a copy of this document, with an explanation and their measurements, and an inventory of each and every thing.

...and so on and so forth.

This list was translated and released by John Marcus Allegro in 1960

This novel did not feel realistic, although the story was fun. By that I mean that there were no Palestinians involved. Those Arabs who were involved were mostly Iraqis. Those Jews who were involved, drove on roads that were jewish only and really there was no interaction with any palestinians at all. Even the obligatory traitor was not an Arab but an Indian. It is almost as if the Palestinians did not exist.

One last thing - there was a lot of talk about the christians - which is why I think this book was written in the unrealistic way that it is. Mind you this book is set in the "last days" that christianity are desperately searching for.

Now if christians would understand that they are not supposed to be bringing about the end of the world. Only Jesus can do that, (as per the bible) and if jesus (god) chooses to not do that - well then thats his decision. The christians should not be trying to interpret what they think god wants them to do.

As we watch those Christians doing what they can to bring about the last days, do so because they desperately want to know that their faith in god is real and not a lie, not a delusion. The longer god stays away and does nothing, the more proof there is, that god either does not exist or chooses to not involve himself in the pettiness of humanity.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fair Game - Book Review

Fair Game
by Valerie Plame Wilson
Simon & Schuster October 2007

This is the biography (memoir) of Valerie Plame, a CIA employee whose identity was made public by the US government. Plame attended PSU - Pennsylvania State University and was recruited to the CIA in 1985. She describe the training she had to undergo. Most of the details are there but some specifics are redacted.

Plame's identity was leaked to the media precisely because her husband (Joe Wilson) refused to tell the Bush administration what they wanted to hear - that Iraq had purchased Uranium yellowcake from Niger in 2003. Wilsons report said that the purchase never happened.

Bush was not happy about this. He wanted an excuse to topple Saddam Hussein. So he ignored the CIA's reports (the NIE) that said that Iraq did not have WMD. Bush was emphatic that Iraq did have WMD. In March 2003, the USA invaded Iraq.

The CIA had this policy that under cover officers (and Plame had been an undercover officer in a US embassy in Europe during he 1990's) identities were forever after sacrasanct to the CIA and those identities would never be revealed.

Until 2003 when Plame was outed.

It is believed that it was Carl Rove who mentioned it to a journalist first. Then her name and her CIA employment were mentioned in a Washington Post column in connection with Wilson's negative report.

It was another 6 years before Plame eventually was forced to leave the CIA. During those 6 years her marriage went through the wringer and was nearly destroyed. Many of the Wilsons friends rejected them because she was "a spy" and had never told them. Her cover had always been an executive of a small energy company in Europe.

The Wilsons and their children moved to South East USA.

The really weird thing about this book, is that even though a fair chunk of Plame's CIA life is out in public - such as the countries she worked in and the years she was there - the CIA has this very strict policy of never allowing names of countries and years of service to be mentioned in a book.

So when Plame sat down to write her book, she knew that it would have to be censored by the CIA. She just didnt realise that they would redact (or censor) large chunks of it.

This is what the book actually looks like. On almost every page there were grey lines like this. On some pages that grey covered 2 or more entire pages. In fact one complete chapter was all grey.

Fortunately and precisely because there was a lot of information already out there in public, a epilogue has been attached to the book that tells Plame's real story and mentions the specific countries where she worked, and also the dates of service she worked there. This epilogue was added to fill in the holes. It actually does help to read it first.

Below are some links for more information

Valerie talks of future
Penn State University February 2008
There is also a timeline for easier understanding.

Her Identity Revealed, Her Story Expurgated
NY Times October 2007

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Codex 632 - Book Review

Codex 632 - The Secret Identity of Christopher Columbus
By Jose Rodrigues Dos Santos
Originally published in Portugal by Gradiva 2005
English translation published by William Morrow 2008
Author's website (in English)

This is a novel. But on the very first page is this Author's Note.
All of the books, documents and manuscripts mentioned in this novel do exist...including Codex 632.

When Tomás Noronha, a professor of History and expert cryptographer, is called upon to finish an unresolved investigation involving an aged scholar who is mysteriously found dead in his hotel room, his life takes several unexpected and dramatic turns. As Tomás slowly begins to unravel the cryptograms and enigmas that shroud the old professor’s work, he finds a code that could possibly change the course of historical scholarship:


In his quest to decipher this mysterious code, Tomás travels around the world, from Lisbon to Rio, New York and Jerusalem. He quickly immerses himself in the fascinating history of the discovery of the Americas, and the one enigma that no historian has ever been able to solve: the true identity of Christopher Columbus.

The mystery begins with the great explorer’s name. Columbus never introduced himself as Columbus, but as Colom or Colón. People who knew him personally called him Colom, Colón, Colona or Guerra. But never Columbus. Why, then, do we call him Columbus, a name he never went by?

Tomás finds that one mystery only leads to another. Take Columbus’ language. The great navigator tried only twice to write in Tuscan, and both his efforts are full of Portuguese and Spanish words. Why is that? Being an Italian, could he not write in Tuscan? Columbus wrote some letters to Genoese friends, but, amazingly, these letters were not written in Tuscan or Genoese, as might be expected in letters between Genoese people, but in Spanish.

Now, doesn’t that strike you as a little bit odd? Actually, say the Spanish philologists, it wasn’t really Spanish. It was Portuñol, the hybrid language Portuguese people talk when they try to speak Spanish. (similar in many ways to Yiddish)

Codex 632 tells the true story of a supposed Genoese weaver who left his town at the age of 24 and, yet, could not speak a word of Genoese or Tuscan, and whose Spanish was full of Portuguese words.

Another mystery is Columbus’s marriage. The Genoese Cristoforo Colombo was a poor and ignorant wool weaver, according to reports and documents from that time. And, yet, he supposedly married Dona Filipa Moniz Perestrello, a Portuguese woman from high nobility and related by family ties to the Portuguese crown. And this marriage took place in a 15th century full of class divisions, when social classes behaved like castes, with no intermarriage whatsoever. No noblewomen would ever marry a poor weaver. It was unthinkable. So why did this noblewoman marry this man? The answer could only be that he was not poor, and that he was not Italian.

Another question. Where did the name of Cuba come from? Is it an Italian word?
Is it a Spanish word? What if it is a Portugese name? And if it is a Portugese name - why would an Italian sailor employed by the Spanish crown, ever name a new discovery after a Portugese village?

It is reasonably well known that the Viking sailors and the Irish monks discovered Iceland, Greenland and Canada way back in the mists of time. The Chinese may also have discovered other continents and even mapped them. So in 1492, Columbus really did not discover America. He Re-Discovered America.

There are so many questions provided by history, and so many answers not being delivered by historians....Until now.

This was an excellent novel based on facts and real documents. exactly the kind of novel I like. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I could not put it down.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Shape of Mercy - Book Review

The Shape of Mercy
by Susan Meissner
Waterbrook Press, Colorado 2008
Author's website
Author's Blog

Lauren is a 20 year old college student at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB for short) doing an english and literature degree. Lauren is an heiress. Her father's family has been very wealthy for several generations and Lauren is not short of ready cash.

But Lauren wants a job. So she answers a job advert to do some transcription. Being an only child Lauren is a rebel - choosing a state school rather than a private one, and choosing to English Lit instead of Business.

Lauren is also upset that she is not a boy because now her father has noone to pass the family business onto. But there are 4 male cousins - all of whom have done degrees related to business in some way. These cousins are the sons of Lauren's uncle.

Abigail Boyles is an wealthy elderly lady in her 80s living in a large house in Santa Barbara. She has a diary from a relative (8 times removed) which was written in Salem (formerly part of Boston) in the 1600s durung the Salem witch trials. The ink has faded from a number of these pages, and Abigail wants the diary transcribed before it is all lost for ever. The diary was written by 19 year old Mercy Hayworth.

The Shape of Mercy is about three very different women: Mercy Hayworth, a nineteen-year-old charged with the 17th century death penalty crime of being a witch; Lauren Durough, the young college student who more than three hundred years later is asked to transcribe the barely legible words from Mercy’s diary; and Abigail Boyles, the elderly ex-librarian in whose family the diary has been passed from generation-to-generation.

Lauren immediately identifies with Mercy Hayworth and the innocent love story recounted in Mercy’s diary while she reluctantly approaches the brutal truth of Mercy’s final days that she knows will be revealed in the diary’s last entries. But Lauren is surprised to find that Abigail, through her own life story, can teach her as much about love, critical choices, prejudice and regrets as Lauren can learn from the much shorter and more tragic life described in Mercy’s diary.

Again this was an excellent story and I could not put it down. I loved the contemporary setting and the ties to the historical past. I think I like these kinds of novels best of all.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

My Sister's Keeper - Book review

My Sister's Keeepr
by Jodi Picoult
Simon & Schuster 2004
Authors Website
Movie Website

I went to see the movie yesterday afternoon. And I purchased the book off a book shelf at the same time. So I hadn't read the book when the movie ended.

I brought the book because on her website, Jodi says that the ending of the movie was different from the ending in the book.

Having now read the book and seen the movie, I understand why they changed the ending, and I actually do prefer the movie ending rather than the book ending. There were a number of other changes as well.

I dont want to spoil the movie for you so I will try not to put any spoilers in this review.

In the book you have the Fitzgerald family living in Rhode Island, In the movie they are living in California. The family consists of Brian Fitzgerald, a firefighter, his wife Sarah, who used to be a lawyer but has been a SAHM (stay at home mom) for the last 12 years. Their children are from oldest to youngest - son Jesse, and daughters Kate and Anna.

When Kate was 2 years old she was diagnosed with APL (acute promyelocytic leukemia). Her older brother Jesse was not a match for her. Neither were the parents. They were unable to donate any blood or bone marrow.

So Sarah decided to have another baby who was a perfect genetic match. This baby was named Anna and she is the main character of the book (and movie). Anne was a testtube baby - one of 4 embryo's who were genetically manipulated to have all the proteins required to be a perfect match to Kate.

Anna's cord blood was donated to Kate right after she was born, in the hopes that this might stop the disease. It did but only for 5 years. From then on Anna is subjected to more and more procedures just to help Kate stay alive.

The life span of an APL patient is usually 5 to 6 years. Sarah was desperate to save Kate, so she had Anna. Every time Kate was hospitalised, Anna was forced to drop whatever she was doing, and rush to the hospital to have contribute more blood or bone marrow to Kate. All the attention was on Kate. Anna was only in the lime light when she was required to donate more blood or bone marrow. Jesse is ignored altogether.

At age 14, Kate's body start shutting down. First her kidneys. Anna is told by Sarah, that of course Anna will donate a kidney. Anna revolts, hires a lawyer and demands medical emancipation from her parents. She takes her parents to court. She wants to stop being forced to be a donor, even if this means Kate will die.

There are several other major things that are in the book but not in the movie. One is the court appointed guardian for Anna which is not mentioned at all in the movie. The second is Jesse's activities. While Jesse is seen out by himself in the city, his activities are not shown.

The movie was powerful enough without the guardian or Jesse's activities. I really wanted to call Cameron Diaz (who plays Sarah) a bitch for spending all her time on ONE child at the expense of the other two kids. No parents should be like that. However I know that Cameron is just acting. She was so believable.

Also in the book the judge who is deciding the court case is a man. In the movie the judge is a woman. And in the movie, Kate gets to go to the beach. In the book she does not.

As to the ending, well one sister does die. You have to see the movie and read the book to find out which.