epiphanyTattoos most often have a personal meaning for their recipients. Hours of thought and planning are invested before needle takes to skin. But, in the world of THE EPIPHANY MACHINE by DAVID BURR GERRARD, those who receive tattoos from the mystical machine have only one choice: whether or not to stick their arm into the jaw of the beast-like device.

For me, The Epiphany Machine is not an easy book to write a review of. Mostly, the book follows Venter Lowood from high school through college. His parents were among the first of those to use the mysterious epiphany machine. The tattoo his mother received seemingly foretold her abandoning her family. And Venter’s father’s tattoo may have contributed to his lackluster parenting. Naturally, Venter has been told to avoid the machine. We can all imagine what happens next.

One of the first rules of using the epiphany machine is: “The epiphany machine will not discover anything about you that you do not, in some way, already know.” Venter’s tattoo reads DEPENDENT ON THE OPINION OF OTHERS. While this doesn’t surprise him, he alternates, for the rest of his life, between trying to defy and follow his tattoo’s words. And this is maybe the most frustrating thing about him. I spend a fair amount of time thinking of Holden Caulfield, one of my least favorite literary characters. I have to give David Burr Gerrard credit for writing a character that evoked an emotional response, even if it was frustration.

So, what is the epiphany machine? Who created it? How does it work? What powers the machine? No one knows. But the machine’s owner, Adam Lyons, begins operating it in his New York City apartment in the 1960s. The tattoos are brief and seem to reveal a truth about each person. These truths are somewhat uncomfortable, but at the same time, offer enlightenment. Before long, even John Lennon shows up at Lyons’ apartment, puts his arm into the machine, and receives a mystical tattoo. Generations use the machine with no major incident. After 9/11, the machine takes on a more sinister connotation.

Venter’s best friend, Ismail, is Muslim and has a tattoo that reads WANTS TO BLOW THINGS UP. Unfortunately, one of the pilots who hijacked a plane on 9/11 had the same tattoo. Soon, Venter comes back to his dorm to discover government agents want information. Stuck with an impossible choice — and DEPENDENT ON THE OPINION OF OTHERS — Venter turns his friend. From there, Venter’s life bounces from one bad decision to the next.

The Epiphany Machine is, at its core, a book about choices and how we deal with them. Should we use the machine or not? Once the tattoo is there, how much weight should you give it? Should you work to change yourself, or is there some core part of our personality that cannot be changed? Though Gerrard can’t answer those questions, he does set up a story that invites readers to explore them on our own.

Advertisements

Did you know that our staff write book reviews every week?

We choose a wide variety of materials offered by the library and give you our thoughts on them. The reviews are published in the Sunday edition of the Joplin Globe, but are also available on our blog at https://jplbookreviews.wordpress.com!

412tjs2mz0l-_ac_us436_ql65_

 

I don’t remember who recommended today’s title to me.  I tried to thank who I thought it was, but they only looked at me like I had a third eyeball, and had no idea what I was talking about.

Written by Mary Roach, who the Washington Post describes as “America’s funniest science writer”, “Gulp” attempts to make what could be a torturous read into something very readable, interest grabbing, and even chuckle-inducing, albeit at times crude, as it discusses topics generally considered taboo amongst the genteel.

Subtitled “Adventures on the Alimentary Canal”, it’s hard to fathom how a book on this topic could be considered interesting, let alone become popular. Yet, it is, if only because Roach takes such an unusual take on the subject, often adding in interesting material that is appropriate to whatever area of the canal she is describing at the time.

The author, though sometimes blunt and even crude in the book says, “I have tried, in my way, to exercise restraint… I don’t want you to say, ‘This is gross.’  I want to you say, ‘I thought this would be gross, but it’s really interesting.’  Okay, and maybe a little gross.”

Roach begins with the nose though this is technically above the alimentary canal, but plays into taste and eating.  She travels southward along the canal highlighting interesting sights and smells until she gets to the, ummm, end.

In the chapter “Nose Job” the importance of smell and how it adds to our sense of taste is exemplified through beer, wine, and olive oil smellers.  Did you know there are professional “smellers” and that it is not an inherent skill?  It can be learned, like a language, with “exposure and practice”.

From smell, she moves to taste, and devotes a whole chapter to the science and taste of dog food, going from there into the science of why we eat what we eat and why we despise other foods.  Worldwide, organ meats dominate some areas.  Not so much in the U.S. (I still have awful memories regarding certain organ meats prepared by my mother, in what I assume was an exercise in frugality, because I certainly didn’t consider it to be a successful plan for taste.)

Fletcherism was something I’d never heard about.  In the early 20th century, Horace Fletcher was a huge proponent of extreme chewing.  The fact he ever gained a following is amazing.  In Fletcherism, food is chewed until the food in the mouth is liquidized.  One-fifth of an ounce of green onion takes 722 “mastications before disappearing through involuntary swallowing.” Fletcher felt that extreme chewing would increase the nutrition absorbed into the body, resulting in the eater receiving double the nutrition.  This would save on the US’s overall food costs and result in less, you know, waste.

Roach continues her narrative asking many of the questions most of us have wondered about, but refused to verbalize.  Why do animals eat their own poop?  Why wasn’t Jonah dissolved by stomach acids when he was swallowed by the great fish?  Why doesn’t your stomach eat itself until there is nothing left?  Why is flatulence so disgusting?

Then there were a few questions she answered, that actually, I had never even considered asking.  Sudden death by defecation?  In there.  How do prisoners smuggle contraband into prison?  And what might they try smuggling?  Yep, it’s covered.  How about suicide bombing by placing explosives where the moon doesn’t shine?  Not effective, but she explains why.  Fecal transplants?  What???!!  And even more, WHY?  Question answered.

You may, or may not, enjoy this romp through the alimentary canal.  It certainly opened my eyes to much more than I dreamed it would.

Joplin Public Library also has several other of Mary Roach’s books, including “Stiff:  the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers”, “Packing for Mars:  the Curious Science of Life in the Void”, “Spook:  Science Tackles the Afterlife”, and “Grunt:  the Curious Science of Humans at War”.   All these are available in print, “Gulp” is also available in downloadable audio through our e-content consortium at http://www.molib2go.org.

 

 

 

 

61gbq2cyvzl-_sx331_bo1204203200_

From as far back as I can remember the allure of soccer has been hard for me to withstand. While I consider myself to be a fan of sports in general, certain games seem to transcend the monotony of all the rest. For me, soccer fits into that category. Thus, it was somewhat natural and logical when I recently picked up Phil West’s documentation of the premiere U.S. soccer league (i.e., the MLS)—The United States of Soccer.

Phil West makes a considerable contribution to the somewhat scarce amount of information concerning soccer and the fans who support it in the U.S. In large part, this is due to West’s outstanding credentials as a soccer journalist and his outspoken commitment to the propagation of the sport. In other words, his professional background definitely helps to push the agenda of this writing. Yet in addition to this, West’s credit as a fan places a lot of stock into the worth of this book as well. Many times a reader can find him/herself being ushered into a story that is dictated not by a journalist covering the minutia of a required story, but rather by a fan living out a desirable experience—it just so happens that this fan has the credentials and talent that allow him to document those experiences for the world to access. For me, this is one of the most enjoyable components of this text, as it allows me to share in the wonder and awe that the sport has to offer via the experiences of an avid watcher.

At the center of West’s treatment of the MLS and its fan base is what he identifies as the culminating event that resulted in the formation of the league. This event is what West labels “the promise.” In 1988, the Fédération Internationale de Football (FIFA) agreed to allow the 1994 World Cup to be hosted by the United States. However, there was one major stipulation required in order for this to happen—the U.S. needed to develop a top tier soccer league. A major hindrance to this was the recent demise of the North American Soccer League (NASL). As the most successful league in American history was making it’s exit, the idea of a prominent premiere league in the U.S. seemed doubtful. Yet, The United States of Soccer is a record of the story that somehow broke through the doubt, resulting in the modern-day incarnation of such a league. While America has a long way to go before being able to stand toe to toe with international powerhouses in the sport, the MLS has turned into a competitive league whilst creating an environment that supports avid fanbases.

Phil West takes the reader on a somewhat chronological timeline of the major events and major figures that contribute to the formation and history of the MLS. While there is an order to the events and circumstances surrounding this soccer league, West also takes liberty to interject the impact that these events have on current trends in the sport. So, while it is a chronological telling of the history, it also jumps around a bit in terms of voice and narrative. Part of this is due to the overwhelming amount of information provided. I will make note, however, that while much information is provided, West seems to deliver it well, as he disregards jargon often associated with the sport and uses a vernacular that is easy to comprehend for the layperson.

A strength behind this work is West’s ability to present a story. The stories in this book are truly what make it such a delightful read. In every page, there is a narrative that leads to the next. Again, this makes for an easy read, and for the most part, an enjoyable one. Major figures in sports (e.g., Lamar Hunt) show their faces in many of these stories, allowing individuals with little to no interest in the sport to find some kind of resonance with the contents. In addition to this, all of the prominent figures working behind the scenes and in front of the cameras during the building of this league make their appearance as well. This was another delightful aspect of the book, as West provides stories that are relatively unknown to the common fan (or outsider) about figures they are familiar with. One such story centers around the prolific winger/forward, Landon Donovan. While many fans are aware of the name, many may be unware of the fact that he made his MLS debut the same year that league almost folded (2001). Surrounded by the turmoil of 9/11, the overwhelming consensus in the league was one of fear and dread. Yet, through a series of events, the league withstood and eventually even expanded. Additionally, figures like Landon Donovan proved that Americans can take a place on the international stage as well.

West does well to provide his readers with a lot of inside information. Loaded with ample amounts of research and experience, West crafts a genuine and authentic piece of work that truly does give voice to a growing tradition in American sports. As stated before, no one reading this book will be disillusioned after reading it. Readers will maintain awareness of the long road that lies ahead of the sport and its fan base in the U.S. Yet, I believe that soccer fans, as well as “not-yet soccer fans” can find some valuable entertainment in this easy and quick read. The United States of Soccer is available to borrow at the Joplin Public Library.

dog's purposeI must admit that I dreaded seeing Lasse Hollstram’s latest film, “A Dog’s Purpose.” Months before, I’d been unable to watch the trailer without crying, so that didn’t bode well for the film. And I tend to avoid dog films after the trauma of viewing “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” (also directed by Hollstram) led to night of sobbing and wadded-up Kleenex, and days of sadness.

But the allure of cute canines was too strong, so I succumbed and popped “A Dog’s Purpose” in my Blu-Ray player the other night. Although I shed a few tears, much to my surprise I was able to power through and enjoy the film.

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by W. Bruce Cameron, “A Dog’s Purpose” depicts the story of one dog who, in his quest to find the meaning of his life, reincarnates again and again.

Once he gets past a short life as a stray dog, he is reborn as a Golden Retriever and finds himself attached to young Ethan, who names him Bailey. The two are inseparable, even as Ethan grows up and finds love.

Bailey lives his a long life and, sadly, must inevitably let go of his happy existence. He is reborn as Ellie, a female German Shepherd. Bailey’s new life is one of hard work, as he is a police dog partnered with the taciturn Carlos. Ellie’s days are spent chasing criminals, making drug busts, and tracking kidnapping victims, and her nights are spent trying to break through to the lonely Carlos.

After Ellie makes an early exit, Bailey reincarnates as Tino, an adorable Pembroke Welsh Corgi. He is the faithful companion of lovelorn college student Maia, joining her on her journey as she falls in love, gets married and starts a family.

Bailey lives a good life as Tino, but eventually must move on. He takes the form of a St. Bernard-mix puppy who finds a new home when he is given away in a parking lot. Sadly, his new existence is one of neglect and loneliness, as he is banished to growing up in a barren yard. When he is driven away from home and dumped, he follows his nose and finds himself in a familiar place, with a familiar person, and with a new name: Buddy.

I won’t reveal anything more about this final chapter of Bailey’s life, other than that some of the tears I cried during “A Dog’s Purpose” were from pure happiness.

Just a note: Bailey and his various incarnations are charmingly voiced by Josh Gad, whom younger viewers might know from his work as Olaf in “Frozen” and LeFou in the live-action “Beauty and the Beast.” If you’re in the mood for a sweet story and cute dogs, I recommend checking out “A Dog’s Purpose,” available on DVD from the Joplin Public Library.

tookReviewed by Tammie Benham

Continuing my quest to finish all books nominated for this year’s Mark Twain award, and realizing my opportunity to write a book review was due the week after Summer Reading Club ended, I closed my eyes picked one of the two books I had yet to read.  I ended up with “Took,” by Mary Downing Hahn in my hands.

 

Let me begin by admitting I am not a fan of horror.  So reading “Took,” took some effort.  This book is scary, creepy, icky, and all other words associated with this genre.  The book is also a good read and appropriate for children in third grade to sixth grade who love the Goosebumps books and are looking for something else to scare them late at night.

 

When Daniel and Erica move to West Virginia with their well-meaning parents who are looking to start over, they immediately sense danger.  Children bully them at school and on the school bus.  Their parents become more and more withdrawn, arguing and ignoring their children.

 

When Erica starts telling Daniel about the voices she hears, he doesn’t believe her.  Alone and fueled by the whisperings of “Old Auntie,” the ghostly witch who lives in the woods with her mutilated hog, “Bloody Bones,” Erica turns more and more to her doll for company until one day, Erica disappears.

 

When Daniel’s mother withdraws to her bed the day his sister turns up missing, while Daniel’s dad disappears into his office to immerse himself in videogames. Daniel takes it upon himself to use local lore and the few clues he has to find his little sister.  Will Daniel rescue her in time?  Or will Erica stay “Took” forever?

 

Well crafted, this offering from Ms. Hahn keeps suspense alive as the story moves through darkest night and deepest glen.  The characters are scary in the way the witch from Hansel and Gretel is frightening.  There is no specific gore and no actual violence.  Lots of spine-tingling suspense followed up with extraordinary bravery.  A great read for a dark night.

 

The drawbacks of this book, and possibly the most dangerous parts, are the lack of adult intervention when Daniel and Erica are bullied and the cavalier way in which Daniel’s parents dismiss and ignore him after his sister’s disappearance.  These two elements help to move the story along but in a time when bullying and violence appear too often in the news, finding them so easily accepted in a book intended for children is enough to give me nightmares.  Read, but make sure to discuss these situations.

matchup  More than 3800 suspense writers are part of an organization known as International Thrill Writers. They don’t pay dues but support the organization by publishing an anthology every few years. In 2014 the Faceoff anthology pitted popular characters from some of the most read male writers against each other.

The sequel published in June, MatchUp, pairs male and female writers together. The Booklist description says “Think Dancing with the Stars, but with mysteries.” The task for each pair of writers was to create a suspenseful short story starring their well-known characters.

Lee Child was the editor and also gives an introduction for each story. This information on the authors/characters and insight into the writing process is an interesting addition to an entertaining collection.

I am not familiar with all the characters depicted but for the most part that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the stories.  I saw the movie but have not read the Rambo series by David Morrell.  I was also unfamiliar with Gayle Lynds’ character Liz Sansborough but I thought their collaboration, “Rambo on Their Minds”, one of the best in the book.

“Midnight Flame” by Lara Adrian and Christopher Rice not only had characters I was unfamiliar with but also a genre I don’t usually read, the paranormal. The authors did an excellent job of taking two characters, Lucan Thorne and Lilliane, from different time periods and creating an entertaining tale. I probably won’t delve any further into the world of vampires and Radiants but I enjoyed this foray.

Child’s partner in prose was Kathy Reich with his character, Jack Reacher, coming to the rescue of Temperance Brennan. Brennan is charged with murdering a reporter who was going to expose her as inept or corrupt in her examination of the death of Army Colonel Calder Massee. As soon as he hears the news report Reacher knows she is being framed and heads her way to help.

In “Deserves to Be Dead” John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers is (to no one’s surprise) on a fishing trip when he becomes involved in a murder. Lisa Jackson’s Regan Pescoli is the investigating officer. In the intro Child’s identifies Sandford as the main author but surprisingly Regan Pescoli is the driving force for this dark tale.

Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta teamed up for the longest and in my opinion the best tale in the anthology called “Short Story”. The two authors take their characters back in time to younger days hinted about in the series.

Slaughter’s Jeffrey Tolliver has just received his shield and is in the north Georgia mountains for a romantic getaway. He is stood up but that doesn’t mean he goes without female company. His companion for the night tries to steal his car and winds up dead. Tolliver, who had given chase wearing his t-shirt, Auburn underwear and one shoe, is arrested.

At the same time Koryta’s Joe Pritchard and Lincoln Perry are sent to the same place to find a Detroit drug dealer who is in Georgia to meet his supplier. It doesn’t take long for Joe and Lincoln to get involved and determine Tolliver’s innocence. The three team-up to find the killer and the drug dealer during an all-time record snowstorm.

There are 11 total entries with something for everyone in this engaging collection of short stories. You may even find some characters and authors to add to your reading list. The library has both regular and large print editions of it as well as the eaudiobook for download.