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books & writing

Lisa reads Lost Girls: an Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker

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First off, let me say that Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker was not exactly the book I was expecting. I enjoy true crime novels and I have always been fascinated by the procedural part of the story – how the authorities track down their killer. In this case, the killer was never caught and it looks like the police threw the procedures out the window. This book is truly about the victims and while it is not what I normally look for in a true crime story, it was all the more fascinating for putting the crime on the back burner.

“Over the course of three years, each of these young women vanished without a trace: Maureen in 2007, Melissa and Megan in 2009, and Amber and Shannon in 2010. All but one of their bodies were discovered on Gilgo Beach, Long Island, an unsettled, overgrown, seven-mile stretch of shoreline on the string of barrier islands along South Oyster Bay.”

These young women are the center of this story. Some of them came from pretty troubled backgrounds. They had children, family and friends. They had pretty serious addiction problems. And they were all working as prostitutes, advertising on Craigslist.

What impressed me about the book is that these young women do not become stereotypes. They are not woman battered by a pimp or empowered feminists taking control of their bodies. They are young women who need money, who don’t have any great job prospects, and who find prostitution an easy way to make a lot of money in a short period of time. These women don’t deal with pimps. They advertise for themselves. They decide where and when to work (and the amount of work they can find with a simple Craigslist ad is astonishing), and while they make some provisions for their own safety, desperation can make people careless.

What infuriated me about the story is the way that authorities treated the disappearances: they didn’t care. A hooker disappeared – big deal. In some cases their families were unable to file missing person reports and it was clear that authorities did not consider these women to be worth looking for, at least not until the bodies started piling up. There were so many bureaucratic errors in these investigations, so many oddities, so many times where the police were clearly looking out for themselves and not really pushing these investigations that you can’t help but be frustrated for these women and their families. In the end, they still have no closure; they have lots of suspicions, but no definitive answers.

It takes a skilled author to write a compelling book without an ending, and I think Kolker did an excellent job. I certainly kept turning pages, alternately absorbed and furious, and I found myself very much engaged with these women and wanting justice for them. He doesn’t whitewash their stories, so you still get angry at them for putting themselves in so much danger for a few bucks, but you still wish for a better ending for them.

My copy of Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery is an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

lost girls


bad sports, good sports

Bad sports, good sports: Massive academic fraud at the University of North Carolina

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Over the last couple of years, there has been a lot of smoke coming out of Chapel Hill that seemed to point to some major wrongdoing within the University of North Carolina and its sports program involving fake classes and the like. The NCAA supposedly investigated and decided to accept the school’s own sanctions against itself, which were pretty minor, and took no further action. This week, a new report came out indicating that the problems were far more widespread than had been previously indicated. [Read more →]

diatribespolitics & government

The Matter with Kansas

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American politics is an endlessly fascinating procession of national and local selfies: little snapshots that tell us a little bit from moment to moment about who we are as a country. And often those snapshots are split-screen, presenting conflicting images of a nation that is not just deeply divided ideologically but also riven by conflicts, paradoxes, and contradictions. [Read more →]

Bob Sullivan's top ten everythingends & odd

Top ten little known facts about werewolves

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10. They prefer the name “lycanthropes”

9. During a half moon, they become slightly hairy

8. They actually get along great with vampires

7. Favorite singer: Warren Zevon

6. Wolfsbane doesn’t work, but silver bullets do

5. Most of them vote Republican

4. Thought Jack Nicholson was a lot cooler than Lon Chaney, Jr. or Taylor Lautner

3. Wolfman Jack was a fraud

2. It’s very dangerous to moon them

1. Prefer the Schick Quattro to the Gillette Mach 3, but what they really need is a five-blade razor

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

books & writing

Lisa reads The Wicked by Douglas Nicholas

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I am not normally a big fantasy reader, but I enjoy a little something fanciful now and then. I enjoyed Douglas Nicholas’ previous novel, Something Red, and I was not disappointed in The Wicked. Thirteenth-century England is the perfect setting for this sort of adventure, with elements of historical fiction, mystery and magic.

Once again, exiled Irish queen Molly is traveling the countryside with her granddaughter, Nemain, her young apprentice, Hob, and her lover, Jack Brown. They have come to the castle of Sir Jehan, who they saved in Something Red, to discuss a creeping danger that is facing his long-time friend, Sir Odinell. Something is preying on the people in the surrounding lands – draining their life force, leaving wizened corpses. Knights sent out to battle this evil do not return or return in a daze, a shadow of their former selves. With good reason, Sir Odinell suspects Sir Tarquin and his wife; they have a malevolent air about them and their behavior is suspicious. But how does one battle an ancient evil?

Of course, Molly and Nemain recognize the evil and have a plan for fighting it. Their particular variety of Irish magic fits so beautifully into the Olde English setting. However, for me, the star of this series is Hob. He has grown so much – he started out as such an innocent, raised by a parish priest, and he has become a vital part of this traveling band. While he may not understand the magic that they practice, he is bright and observant, often noticing details the others have missed. He struggles with their practices – he was raised by a priest, after all, and he is traveling with pagans – but he clearly loves his new family and it is interesting to see them all through his eyes.

I am really looking forward to the next book in this series. I enjoy the portrayal of life in that time period, the mysticism and the characters. Before writing novels, Nicholas was a poet and that shows in his writing. It’s a real pleasure to read.

My copy of The Wicked was an Advance Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

the wicked


bad sports, good sports

Bad sports, good sports: Joseph Randle shoplifts, gets caught, and benefits from it

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Perhaps it’s just me, but I preferred the version of the world where people who did something bad did not immediately profit from it. In that world, Kim Kardashian would still be famous, but only in a negative way, and she would not have made untold sums of money and become a household name by appearing in a sex tape while displaying no other notable skill other than self-promotion. Paris Hilton would have been seen as a family embarrassment rather than a worldwide celebrity. We have had a good number of athletes become famous for bad things too, and the pace at which the bad turns to profit seems to have accelerated quite rapidly. The current case in point is Joseph Randle, running back for the Dallas Cowboys and shoplifter. [Read more →]

language & grammarThe Emperor decrees

The Emperor decrees that the phrase “you guys” is banned

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I have been declared Emperor of the World. Let us not waste time explaining why or how; let’s all simply accept the fact that we are better off, as a result; hence, my next decree:

Emperor’s Decree No. YG100: Hey, you guys! Listen, guys… You guys have to stop opening your guys’s sentences with “you guys” and saying “you guys” every other word. You guys are, like driving the Emperor crazy, you guys. Don’t make the Emperor slap you guys in chains. Okay guys? I mean, like, some of you guys aren’t even guys, so “you guys” just doesn’t make sense, guys.

The Punishment: You guys who use “you guys” will have your guys’s butts thrown into the Imperial Dungeons where you guys will meet some other guys who will make your guys’s lives miserable.

Okay guys? See you guys later.

Now, go forth and obey.

The Emperor will grace the world with a new decree each Tuesday morning.

virtual children by Scott Warnock

A year (and counting) without cable

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So we got rid of cable about a year ago. The kids are not alright. Of course, they’re bitter about it, and maybe rightfully so, because I’m not convinced any of us are better off. You know, you get rid of cable to live a more intellectual life, to get more in touch with yourself, with your family. But is any of that happening? [Read more →]

art & entertainmentBob Sullivan's top ten everything

Top ten one-liners

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10. I’m not a big fan of shopping centers because, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen the mall.

9. I thought I’d found a mass grave for snowmen, but it turned out it was just a field of carrots.

8. I was so drunk last night that, when I walked across the dance floor to get to the bar, I won the dance contest.

7. Prison walls are never built to scale.

6. My memory is so good, I can’t remember the last time I forgot something.

5. My physics teacher told me I had a lot of potential, just before he pushed me off the roof.

4. After several karate lessons, I can now break a five-inch board with my cast.

3. I stayed up all last night, trying to remember if I had amnesia or insomnia.

2. Ebola has people so afraid of Liberians, they’ve completely stopped checking out books.

1. I’d have to say, looking over the past decade, this year would definitely be in my top ten.

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

books & writing

Lisa reads Season of Dragonflies by Sarah Creech

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Season of the Dragonflies by Sarah Creech was a great end-of-summer read. It leans more toward chick-lit than my usual choices. There are some interesting plot twists and a good build-up, but the big finish fell flat for me.

This is the story of the Lenore women – ever since their matriarch made a bold decision and ran off an amazing adventure, they have nurtured a secret business, deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains. They cultivate a unique flower, a gardenia brought back from the Amazonian jungle, and turn it into the most expensive perfume on Earth. It is sold only to a carefully selected female clientele and it brings them wealth and power and success. Actresses, politicians, artists, CEOs – they have made their mark on the world with the help of the Lenore women and their secret elixir.

But now, their empire is in jeopardy. Youngest daughter Lucia is home from New York, mourning her failed marriage and failing career. Elder daughter Mya, groomed to take over the business, is plotting behind her mother’s back and making rash decisions. Their mother, Willow, can feel it all slipping away from her, and the news gets worse: the flowers are dying.

For me, the most interesting part of the story was the interaction with the two young actresses receiving the perfume. There’s real trouble brewing and the women are making some bad choices. The romances seem a little too convenient and the big climax a little contrived. While these women have managed their business for decades, suddenly things will grind to a halt without men in their lives – I really find that hard to swallow. I’m all in favor of romance, but this isn’t really what I was looking for.

My copy of Season of the Dragonflies was an Advance Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

season of dragonflies


bad sports, good sports

Bad sports, good sports: Georgia running back suspended for selling autographs

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Sometimes it’s hard to tell who is worse, the players or the leagues. While the NFL and the NCAA find themselves in one bad situation after another, the players at both levels make it clear that many of them have little regard for rules or even for other human beings. At the college level, I think the good kids outnumber the bad kids by a lot, but there are still a number of them that clearly think the world revolves around them and the rules don’t apply. This week, Georgia’s star running back, Todd Gurley, was suspended indefinitely after it was alleged that he signed a whole lot of autographs while getting paid to do so, a clear violation of NCAA rules.

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Bob Sullivan's top ten everythinghealth & medical

Now that four states have passed ‘Assisted Suicide’ measures (in part because they’d been rebranded ‘Aid in Dying’), top ten other euphemisms for ‘Assisted Suicide’

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10. Dirt-Nap Helper

9. One Ticket to Paradise

8. Help Making It Across

7. Subterranean Horizontal Retirement Village

6. Motel Deep 6


4. Club Mud

3. One-Way Travel Arrangement

2. Stairway to Heaven

1. The Hokey Croaky

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

diatribesfamily & parenting

Ten Things I Won’t Miss Hearing After I Have My Baby

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Being pregnant, in my experience, is kinda like being part of an extremely trippy science experiment for the better part of a year. Suddenly, the body with which you have been intimately familiar for thirty-some-odd years changes drastically, turning you into a pod person for an ever-growing alien life form. It’s terrifying. There is a lot of poking and prodding, and I’m not just talking about what happens in the doctor’s office. I’m getting advice bombs lobbed at me from all angles, usually from people I don’t know all that well. I love talking to friends and family about every aspect of my pregnancy but the comments and questions I get from co-workers or strangers on the train have ranged from mildly odd to just plain uncomfortable. Here are some of the many things I will NOT miss hearing once my baby is born. [Read more →]

books & writing

Lisa reads The Children Act by Ian McEwan

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I’ve read two novels by Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beachand Saturday and loved them both, so I was thrilled to get an early copy of The Children Act. Like the others I mentioned, it’s understated and quiet; much of the action in the book happens inside the main character’s head. However, I was so caught up in the story, so engaged by her struggle, that I read nearly straight through. Thank heavens McEwan doesn’t feel the need for 800 pages to tell a story.

Fiona Maye is 59, a High Court judge who presides over family court cases. She thought she was happily married until her husband came to her with a proposition: he wants to have an affair. He tells her that he loves her, but they have become more like brother and sister and he wants to have one final, grand, passionate affair before he moves into his later years. Fiona is horrified, deeply wounded, and eventually her husband packs a suitcase and leaves Fiona alone and betrayed.

In a way, the rest of the book is about their marriage and how/whether they will come back to each other. It’s also a window into how Fiona’s cases affect her: a case involving conjoined twins leaves her squeamish about touch and her body. The bitterness and acrimony of divorcing couples makes it difficult to see her own marriage in any other light. But it is the case of Adam Henry, a teenager suffering from leukemia and refusing treatment, that will have the greatest impact, spilling out of the courtroom and into her personal life.

Adam and his parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and are refusing blood transfusions for religious reasons. He is seventeen, nearly an adult, but without treatment he won’t see his eighteenth birthday. Fiona’s decision changes everything in his life and leaves him without an anchor, a little lost and at odds with everything he has known. He looks to Fiona, hoping for a touchstone, some guidance, but she pulls away from him.

The Children Act refers to British legislation that makes the welfare and well-being of children “the paramount concern to the courts.” On the bench, Fiona can apply that standard easily; she can cut through the warring concerns of parents, social workers, and doctors, focusing on the child at the center of the conflict. Off the bench, she falters. Although Adam reaches out to her, she can’t take action to help him and her inaction will also have a price.

Adam’s story is heartbreaking and Fiona’s is frustrating. Over and over I wanted to shake her, or I wanted something to jolt her out of her structured, restrictive view of the world. I could easily imagine her losing everything in her life that was important to her because she couldn’t do something. Then, once Adam’s story started, I found the book impossible to put down and finished up about 2 am, both relieved and troubled. It was a fabulous read and I am already imagining the movie that someone is sure to make of it.

My copy of The Children Act was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

children act


educationvirtual children by Scott Warnock

School ratings: Your experience will be a 7.2

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Part 9 (of 874) in an occasional series about how standardized tests are destroying education.

Perhaps it’s surprising considering the U.S.’s supposed death spiral in mathematics, but we like numbers. We like the idea of pinning exactitude on things, on, you know, the right answer. And numbers lend themselves to lists and rankings. We like lists and rankings, particularly school rankings. From magazine stories about colleges to Websites about grammar schools, school lists abound. But what those lists and numbers don’t tell you at all is what kind of experience your individual kid will have at a school. Along the way, they may be committing serious, mean-spirited damage to lots of communities where real kids are trying to learn. [Read more →]

bad sports, good sports

Bad sports, good sports: Feel free to pray after a touchdown, but don’t slide into it

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It’s really amazing how much of the talk around the NFL this season has centered on non-football issues. It is more than I can ever remember, and that is saying something, as there is always a fair amount of that stuff going on. The early part of this past week included a lot of discussion of religious touchdown celebrations. Husain Abdullah of the Kansas City Chiefs was penalized after sliding to the ground and praying in Muslim fashion after he returned an interception for a touchdown in the third quarter of his team’s win over New England on Monday Night Football.

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Bob Sullivan's top ten everythingtelevision

Top ten new shows on the Paula Deen Network

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10. Cooking with Lard

9. The Amazing Racist: Ferguson, Missouri

8. The Better Butter Batter Broadcast

7. Chunky Brewster

6. Intolerant Cruelty

5. The Lards of Fatbush

4. Calling a Spade a Spade

3. Waiting for Hefty

2. Tales from the Darky Side

1. Cooking with More Lard

Bob Sullivan’s Top Ten Everything appears every Monday.

books & writing

Lisa reads The Drop by Dennis Lehane

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I am fast becoming a big Dennis Lehane fan. I read Shutter Island and loved it. I recently reviewed Live By Night and loved it. Even more recently, I devoured The Drop in one bite (on a flight between Cleveland and New York/JFK) and loved it. That’s a pretty good track record!

Bob is a loner, a bit of a social misfit, a man with secrets that come between him and the world — and Bob is desperately lonely. When he finds a battered puppy stuffed in a garbage can, he seems to have finally found a friend – not only the puppy, but a woman he meets nearby who encourages him to take in the dog. It would not be wise to step between the man and his new friends.

That’s only part of the story. Bob works for his Cousin Marv at the bar everyone thinks Marv owns, but is really a front for the Chechen mob. Cousin Marv used to be somebody, be a tough guy, but in the end, he wasn’t tough enough. The Chechens treat him like an errand boy and it galls him, maybe enough to do something stupid.

I think everyone reading The Drop sees the end coming. Cousin Marv’s bar is going to be “the drop” on one of the biggest nights of the year and that makes them a target. We all know that something bad is going to happen – the question is who will it happen to and how will they react. You can’t help but root for Bob, I think, and his poor puppy and his friend, Nadia. You want things to work out for them and there are so many ways this could all go wrong. I kept expecting one more twist, one more complication, and that’s the tension that kept me turning pages, rushing towards the end.

I am looking forward to seeing the movie, although I had a hard time imagining Tom Hardy as a misfit loner…until I saw the stills from the movie. You can see it in the hunch of his shoulders and the set of his mouth. It’s going to be interesting to watch. In the meantime, I strongly recommend the book. It’s a quick read and very enjoyable. It looks like I’ll be working my way through Lehane’s back catalog, while I wait for the next novel.

My copy of The Drop was an advanced reader copy, provided free of charge.

the drop