Wednesday, February 25, 2009


When I was little, I sucked my finger. Not my thumb, but my index finger. I apparently really enjoyed doing so, because we went through every possible kid-breaking technique to make it stop...the gross nail polish, band-aids, threats of violence. Finally, around the age of ten, I managed to kick the habit when my parents promised me I could have a dog. I actually really wanted a black cat for some reason, but since we already had two cats my parents convinced me that a black dog would be even better. So one day after school, the day after Bill Clinton was elected to his first term as President, we came home and there was what looked like a black sweatshirt under the kitchen table. It wound up being an adorable golden retriever mix, and I named her Hillary Clinton Brown.

Hillary was an awesome addition to the family, and she was always pictures of every dance and every holiday at home. She would come and sit with me through my various teenage angst. She was horrible on the leash, frankly, but it was so much fun to take her over to the sports fields at Forest Grove and let her run around. She had eight puppies, and we kept the runt who was last to master going down the stairs to the back yard, named Emma. Hillary kept guard at the front door, mauling the mail as it came through the slot in the door and ultimately chewing a large chunk of door away before my parents wised up and got an external mailbox.
When we went to visit relatives in Hilton Head, Hillary went out on the boat with us, sitting with her little doggie lifejacket in the front of the boat. There were dolphins out there and we have a great video of her touching noses with the dolphins as they went back and forth under the boat.
Hillary got old, the way dogs do, and she got shaky and developed cataracts and weird lumps and white fur on her muzzle. She lived a great life out in the garden with my Mom and hanging out with my Dad, and she lived for sixteen years, long enough for Clinton to serve two terms, Bush to serve two terms, and Obama to be sworn in. She lived through my graduation from high school, going to college, coming back from college and finally going to a new college. She was there when I got engaged in our living room. She was there when my brother and sister went to college and London and Philadelphia. When she got too weak to get around, my Mom and Dad carried her up and down the stairs to sleep in their room so she wouldn't be lonely. When she couldn't be left alone, they started taking her in the plane with them to their house in Florida, where she could amble around outside where there wasn't any ice to trip her up. She was a good dog, when she finally passed away, it was in my parents' house, at home on Ash Wednesday, surrounded by people she loved. What more could anyone want?

Cannonball Read #20: I Am America, And So Can You, by Stephen Colbert

What can you say about Stephen Colbert that hasn't been said? He is hysterical, and thankfully I finally got around to fixing my weird relationship with his show whereby I would watch it occasionally, wonder why I didn't watch it all the time and then promptly forget about it until the next time I catch it by accident. I now use the magic of DVR to make my mornings awesome as I watch it and get ready for the day. I so admire his ability to skewer the political process, and also to do so in a way so different from The Daily Show while still providing smart, funny commentary on a subject often ignored by those who don't have the time or patience for hours of CSpan and piles of newspapers. It's not the same as reading the New York Times and Wall Street Journal all the way through every day, but it helps increase people's awareness of what's going on in the immensely important political arena.

I want my high opinion of Colbert to be clear so you understand what I'm actually saying next. This book is more of the same. "More of the same" generally means "ick, boring" in context, but in this case it's more of a hilarious, witty product. Needless to say, I Am America is more broad, hitting up a massive swath of topics and ripping on all of them in that affectionate, blustery way Colbert has about him. I originally bought this as a coffee-table book, to go with my copy of Jon Stewart's faux textbook, America, but this is quite different. It's a snort-to-yourself-and-alarm-your-airplane-seatmates book, and now that you can get it in paperback and audiobook form, it's a much more portable option.

I am not going to continue on this one because I am now about fifteen reviews behind what I've actually read, and if you need me to explain why Stephen Colbert is awesome, you're probably not going to check this one out anyway. It's excellent, clever and a great read, and you should go on out and buy yourself a copy. Punto.

240 pages

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cannonball Read #19: Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon

I am not sure if by reading this book I am precisely fulfilling the challenge of the Cannonball Read Project, or if I'm being completely insane. It might be both. Either way, this is a hell of a book. As I understand it, most people meet Pynchon through Gravity's Rainbow, which I have not read. At some point I began to understand him as An Author I Should Read, and once I looked at his catalog, I was drawn not to Rainbow but instead to Mason & Dixon. This is not a history book. It's what I imagine a history book would be like if read at a rave, while tripping not just on E, but on every drug that every be-glow-sticked child had brought with them that night. In Philadelphia. In the 1760s.

The book follows Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon on their famous survey of the American landscape. That's the backbone of the story, but to leave the summary there would be to miss the vast majority of what's really important about Pynchon's piece. This is not one to read while the TV is on in the background. I read this on a trip to New York via bus, and once the woman behind me had shut up, I could really focus on the book and fully immerse myself in the story and the mode of writing.

(Dear Jamaican lady on the bus from Hartford to Port Authority,

Your eating noises are zoological in scope and tone. Your choice of tuna for an enclosed space is ridiculously inconsiderate and irritating. Laying in to your mother for trying to evilly foist 200 calories of bread on you while eating a metric ton of other junk, including potato chips, is just goddamn stupid. Laying in to your mother, period, without cessation, for everything short of existance, despite her being completely inoffensive and bland, is just gross and rude.

If I ever see you again, I'm going to lock you in a bus cargo hatch and leave you there.



Anyway, the story itself is quite complex; Mason and Dixon were not well-acquainted friends, nor was either one fully convinced that this whole survey would amount to anything. Those tensions set the stage for an examination not only of a growing belief in a shared mission, but for the development of a friendship. All this is set against a collection of spectacular adventures, some realistic and some straight-up insane (There's a talking dog. I'm just saying). On top of all this, the story is narrated by a Reverend Cherrychoke, and the time line shifts rapidly and without notice. It's a lot to process. Did I mention it's written in the language of the day? Check out the first sentence:
Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs, starr'd the Sides of Outbuildings, as of Cousins, carried Hats away into the brisk Wind off Delaware,-the Sleds are brought in and their Runners carefully dried and greased, shoes deposited in the back Hall, a stocking'd-foot Descent made upon the great Kitchen, in a purposeful Dither since Morning, punctuated by the ringing Lids of various Boilers and Stewing-Pots, fragrant with Pie-Spices, peel'd Fruits, Suet, heated Sugar,-the Children, having all upon the Fly, among rhythmic slaps of Batter and Spoon, coax'd and stolen what they might, proceed, as upon each afternoon all this snowy Advent, to a comfortable Room at the rear of the House, years since given over to their carefree Assaults.
Yeah, it's all like that. Bottom line, this is a great book and deeply enriching, but it does take significant dedicated effort to get through it. It helps if you have an interest in American history, but I don't think it's necessary. I'll probably wait a while to attempt Gravity's Rainbow or The Crying of Lot 49, but I am glad I got to know Thomas Pynchon and am curious to explore more of his work.

784 pages

Thursday, February 19, 2009


My Dad has done a bunch of cool stuff - worked for the government in a secure site inside a giant mountain, made papier mache pigs for the Chicago Field Museum, worked with the USAID project in Cairo, run a trucking business more or less by accident, run a record store with my Mom called Square Records. This basically means he has a story for every occasion and would decimate the trivia world if he ever decided to join a bar trivia league.

Among these stories is one about his time as a volunteer firefighter in Yellow Springs, OH while attending Antioch College. While he volunteered for the Antioch fire department, they responded to a fire in some pretty serious weather. They basically wound up driving down a road with every bird in the county hauling ass the other direction to get out of the way of a tornado, watching the sky go absolutely pitch black in a matter of minutes and be really, really scary. As I remember, they didn't wind up having to go too too close to the tornado, but it was a near thing and they were certainly close enough for everyone to need to change their pants when they got back to the station.

I think it's cool to consider and see your parents as kids, and to know about the cool stuff they have done. It's even better when your parents' friends from their youth tag them in old scanned pictures on Facebook.

My Dad is the one doing some kind of James Dean As Brooding Fireman routine; kneeling in the right side foreground with his chin in his hand.

When I told him about these pictures, he proudly told me that he was the one who got the funky patterns painted on the doors. Those who know my parents know my Mom as the crafty artistic one...sort of an interesting illustration of the complexity of people, no?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Mom Makes Me Valentines

This morning I went over to medicate my parents' elderly cats and Mom had left a valentine, some truffles and a little pair of stuffed animals for me. Those who have been over to my parents' house will know that my mother is a freakishly talented artist...the house not only is beautifully decorated with great color and lots (and lots and lots) of plants, but it also serves as a showplace for her beautiful paintings and her fabulous pottery. Did I mention that she'll occasionally get the idea to "try something new" and return several hours later from whatever art class or studio she bopped off to with some stunning item she's created? It's DISGUSTING, I tell you! This is to say nothing about the garden, which is phenomenal.

So when I say that she left me a valentine, I mean that she left me a handmade, beautiful, old-school valentine with a poem on it. She has been doing this for as long as I can remember. Observe.

2003: "Johanna the beautiful, Johanna the brave...embraces the wonders this world has in spades. A grand poet I am not, yet proud mother indeed, of my Jo whose wit and wisdom I always will need."
2004: "From the moment thy sweet infant face I beheld, my life changed forever, my heart thee did steal. Thy wisdom, thy humor, thy inquisitive nature unquelled, fill my heart to the brim with the awe that I feel. Be mine, Valentine! 12-14-12 [Mom]"
2006: "With a heart of pure gold, and quick wit to endear; a daughter who's artiste without peer! Creative confections from thy fingertips leap, for some, who are lucky, those treasures we reap."
2009: "With a sharp eye for detail, and a mind keenly engaged, my Jo relishes her courses, soaking up every page. A generous soul, with a [heart] oh-so-loyal, thy status in my eyes, it verges on loyal! Talented, beautiful, curious and wise...thee makes thy dear Richard the luckiest of guys!"

(That last part, that's just fact.)

Seriously though, how great is my mom?


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cannonball Read #18: The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov

A while back, some evil person linked me to an Exhaustive Set of Great Literary Works Through History. Not the big Encyclopedia Britannica leatherbound set that people buy to put in their offices in order to look smart, but an "affordable" - which in context means about $3,000 - version in paperback. I hate this person, and I wish I could remember who it was so I could invite them to...get a really bad rash or something, because this whole thing happened about two years ago and I STILL idly engage in complex Justification Gymnastics about how three large isn't really SO bad for being able to touch and read and enjoy and think about and smell the greatest uses of the printing press ever. This normally only happens with shoes. Because I do not have 3,000 spare dollars, however, I must instead chip away at the shelves of Great Literature piece by piece and on my own. My current focus (by which I mean, "perpetually over the course of the past five years") has been working through the annals of Russian literature, guided by Fellow Russophile Celia. For about a year, she's been all, "oh my god, Master and Margarita, Bulgakov, translation with the black cat in silhouette on the cover, DROP EVERYTHING AND EXECUTE," and I'm always like, "I know I know, but work school hockey crazy, wedding, more crazy, stuuuuuuuff, I'll do it next week," and then my calendar was all "duuude, it's 2009. And also February."

I have been picking at this one for a little actually attended the Inauguration with me, zipped into my coat for the duration after I realized that to turn pages, I would need to expose my fingers, and that doing so for more than about two seconds would make said fingers turn black and fall off. So that wasn't so productive. But I did manage to get cranking on it while riding Metro and such, so finally, I have finished it up (well, about 3 weeks ago), and wow, what a reward!

There is so much going on in this book that it's somewhat hard to describe. Apparently, its portrayal of Soviet Muscovian life was so accurate - and so cutting - that it was banned from publication for many years before finally seeing the light of Russian day, and after that, was only really translated poorly up until now. At this point, I find it fairly easy to tell between good and bad Russian translations, and I would like to pass along this knowledge. First, check and see if the book you're holding is Barnes & Noble's cheapie classics version of Anna Karenina. If so, put that shit down and go find the one translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky that Oprah put her Book Club stamp on. Second, and more univerally, if the writing presents in short, chunky sentences and rely on the same...let's say 20-35 verbs consistently throughout the first chapter or so, scrap it, find a new one. I know that sounds overly simplistic, but almost every crappy Russian translation I've ever read has followed that pattern. Stop doing that, Russian translators of the world! In any case, the general consensus, amongst both Celia and the larger reading world, is that this is an excellent translation, and I am inclined to believe it, because Bulgakov's voice comes through clearly and distinctively.

It's a little bit hard to describe precisely what Master and Margarita is about simply because the story is so rich. The overarching story is about the Devil's visit to Moscow and the havoc wrought therein, with secondary plotlines involving the relationship of the titular Master and Margarita and the development of a book the Master has produced about Jesus Christ and Pontius Pilate. Incidentally, this plotline trinity is cushioned by the Devil's entourage of a giant black, vodka-drinking, chess-playing, gun-slinging cat, a perpetually naked witch named Hella, a hitman and someone with some kind of death glare, insane asylums, a midnight ball for the dead, feminism, social satire on Soviet Russia, magic, literary snarkitude in spades and musical references by the truckload, all smoothed over with Faustian references throughout. That's the Cliff Notes.

Quite honestly, it's a book you won't get as much out of if you try to read it in a vacuum. This translation has a pretty good appendix summarizing the major references and plot points, but you don't want to wait until the end to get all the references nor do you want to be constantly flipping back and forth. Read Faust, familiarize yourself with the social structure of Soviet Russia, check out some Russian folklore, and get a decent grip on major composers and musicians. You should be doing this to improve yourself as a human anyway, but if this book provides the impetus for it, so be it. We're not always challenged in our standard experiences with literature to read things that have so much to delve in to and the reward to be had from taking on this book and the corresponding homework is immense.

384 pages

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Seething Vengeance of Tweed Knows No Bounds

Ah, just as the temperature drops to single digits, along come the Parisian couture shows to make my life good again. Merci, Paris! Here are my favorites and some commentary. I have nothing to say about Anne Valerie Hash. They showed ten looks, not one of which was particularly inspiring...all very pretty and well tailored, but designwise, a complete snore. Sorry, Anne Valerie Hash. Bring the big guns next time.

Before we begin, I would like to make an observation. I think that the fashion world just hasn't been TOLD that these bedraggled, malnourished looking zombie models they're using are making people sad. I was thinking that they just kept using them because they liked the undead look, but in retrospect I think it might just be that no one has told them. When I was in high school there was this one girl with really straggly hair and some unfortunate glasses, and then one day she came in with this awesome haircut that EVERYONE went nuts over, and finally in all the excitement, someone was like "you know, if you just got new frames on those glasses, you'd be a knockout," and she just had no idea that her glasses sucked. So, fashion world, I am telling you that your glasses suck. Give me some models who SMILE once in a while, and who have seen the sun at some point in the past decade. Enough with the consumptives. Give me some more of this:

This woman is named Ines de La Fressange and not only is she 51 years old and stunning as hell, but does she look like she is having fun, or what? Great clothing makes the wearer feel like royalty. Hire some models who can show the audience how great it feels.

Ahem. On with the show.

Armani Prive was swimming in Asian influence, and I think it was a very successful collection. A lot of Asian design can seem so trite at this point, but Armani Prive incorporated it extremely well and put out an extremely polished collection. I find the first suit on the below left to be just beautifully cut, and the jewelry keeps it from being too stark. The shape of the jacket is really interesting and flattering. I love the size and color of the necklace...I'm totally digging the Big Necklace Trend. The center look demonstrates a different sleeve type and some brilliant use of sheer patterning. Same fabulous skirt, and the tassels at the jacket closure are used effectively for just enough detail. I am impressed by Prive's ability to tread so close to the kitsch line without putting a toenail over it. I'm kind of ambivalent about the suit on the bottom right, but it is a great example of the funky sleeves that were on several looks in the collection.

When Prive went for color, they went big, as seen in this stunner of a dress on the bottom left. The draping is gorgeous, and the long tassel really makes the whole thing stand out. I'd wear it in a heartbeat. The last two below show some of the incredible detail work used on the collection. This lacy design was seen throughout the collection, but these two are my favorite examples. I don't love the neutral coloring of the one on the far right, but the effect is certainly dramatic. What talent!

Chanel punted, big time, in their Fall 2008 Couture show...geriatric looking tweed with no special - or particularly fresh - design. It seemed that they thought the entire collection could be "coutured up" by adding those weird plastic box hats to the whole shebang, and instead, the collection just wound up being one epic offense to the good name of tweed. The Spring 2009 Couture collection is a vast improvement, but still does not particularly do anything for me. I do admire the simple shape of the far left dress, and the detail work on the other two outfits is stunning, but the shapes still seemed fairly antiquated and the color was boring. A woman cannot live on neutrals and whites alone. To be fair, this was a problem throughout...several collections were presented primarily in this color palette.

I will give credit to Chanel, however, for making up some lost ground with some truly excellent hats. Not that these are utilitarian or anything, but seriously, if you can't appreciate a good, crazy hat, you should consider getting a little more fun in your life.

As we know, I allllllways wax poetic over the Dior show, and once again, I am in total stupid love with the house' collection. I wish I had an ounce of the creativity that Galliano has. I love the subdued blue on the lower left dress, with the wispy collar decore and crazy hat. It's nice to see Galliano continuing to call back to the heyday of Dior's siganture looks with the cinched waists, but modernizing it as he goes. The billowy skirt in the middle was seen throughout the collection, and you could almost see them moving through still pictures. I love the lacy detailing on this particular one, and the top is super funky and cute. On the right hand look, I just loved the gathering and pleating in the's such an unusual placement and style, and though you don't usually associate gathering and bunching with sophistication, I think this look is quite chic and interesting.

As usual, the Dior formalwear was a total knockout. I absolutely covet the swirling flower pattern on the dress on the left, and even though I kind of hate the bodice of the center dress, how spectacular is the blue flower design? I also completely love the idea of the print being inside the dress for a little surprise detail...the overall attention to texture and pattern is phenomenal on the last, right hand dress.

And then there was COLOR! This is what I mean about wishing I had the creativity of Galliano. To put all those design influences into the left hand dress and have it come out so gloriously is sheer genius. I love the French-wallpaper-esque prints he chose, and the orange tones in the right hand dress are to die for.

Though my love for Dior endures, holy hell did John Paul Gaultier put out a phenomenal collection. I really encourage you to look at the whole collection, but here's a sampling of my favorites. The first dress here is an absolute masterpiece of intricate design. The gussets on the skirt, the stunning contrast of the black striping against the floral Just wow. The suit in the middle is impeccably tailored, and I love the sort of shaded effect throughout. I don't really care for the black tulle hanging from her jacket hem, but I love the rest of it so much I am willing to overlook it. I have never seen anything like the circular lace dress on the right and I DEMAND that someone give it to me. What a cool idea.

I mean seriously, look at these things. If you told me yesterday that I'd be absolutely coveting a black and white pair of high waisted toreador pants with cut outs on the legs, I would have told you to share whatever drugs you were on, but this is just stunning. I am in total love with the dresses as well...the intricate detailing is out of this world! I wonder how they did it. I love the effect of the layers on the right hand dress.

More and more of this fabulous detailing. I even love the abstract mantilla combs all the women are sporting. I find the center dress to just be an insane level of cool is that slit up the front of the skirt with the detailed overlay?

Givenchy was a solid but not particularly thrilling collection. These two were my favorite looks, but AGAIN...come ON with the neutrals! I think the model on the left is ridiculously beautiful, and the suit she's wearing is so unusual and interesting. I like the funky pleat action going on in the shoulder area. The look on the right, I would wear immediately, though perhaps with something a little more low key than the chainmail neckpiece she's rocking here.

The Lacroix collection had a lot of the kind of Russian ballet influences that we saw in last season's Alexander McQueen collection (though with much less...well, less McQueen, I guess). However, I liked the pieces that deviated from that idea better. I adore this polka dotted coat...I am ALL about coats lately, and I think this one is so sweet, particularly with the cute tights. The color in the center picture is lovely, and the draping is brilliantly executed. I like the graduated dye, and the choice of necklace. I can't really explain why I like the dress on the right, but I suspect it has something to do with the fabulous green color on the skirt. Normally such a mashup of styles and colors would turn me off, but I think this looks stunning.

Maison Martin Margiela was weird again. Raise your hand if you're surprised.

That being said, I like something about this dress...thing, and it's not the weird face covering on the model.

Elie Saab's use of neutral and drab colors was the most depressing for me, because I find his gowns to be absolutely breathtaking, and I think they're at their best in strong color. His collection was technically impeccable and simply elegant, but I think a different color palette really could have made it outstanding. I love the one kimono sleeve on the left hand dress, and the obi-like bow balances the asymmetrical neckline and said sleeve, but the color leaves me a bit cold. The center dress is somewhat of an improvement (warm neutral over the cooler ones that were seen in many of the collections), and the bodice is so dynamic. I love the detailing and the flow of the skirt. The last dress on the right, however, I think is exceptionally lovely. I am not usually one for the one-shoulder look, but something about the design of the sleeve and the effect on the bodice in conjunction with the light aquamarine color totally does it for me.

I did not find Valentino particularly revolutionary in a design sense, but I did enjoy the vibrant jewel tones used. The dresses themselves are fairly simple - a classic shape with a central detail - but the impact created by the color is exceptional. I do love the sparkly, feathery dress at left center, but my favorite of all of these is the stunning teal ballgown at the far right. A far cry from last season's adventurous shapes, but a lovely collection nonetheless.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cannonball Read #17: People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks

I have been thinking more and more about teaching, and I have to say, this little gem has done a great deal to promote the idea. Before, I just wanted to teach because I enjoy being smart and because I feel like my chances at improving the world will be better if I have the opportunity to foster curiousity and social and political engagement in many students, rather than working with a small passel of politicos to keep saying the same shit year in and year out. Now, I want to teach because apparently even the dustiest academic disciplines are full of wild sex, international adventures, and high drama. I mean, academics are supposed to be dingy-looking, cantankerous, wrinkled, suede-elbow-patched asthmatics, right? But Geraldine Brooks' rare book expert, Hanna Heath, is tumbling into bed with a studly and heroic librarian by PAGE FORTY! The hell with political science, I'm going into book restoration.

Here's the deal. Hanna Heath is an expert in her field, and is called to Sarajevo to study and preserve a remarkable piece of history, the Sarajevo Haggadah. She travels to Sarajevo, and begins to parse out the history of the book through small remnants of civilization left between and on its pages. Had Geraldine Brooks stopped at that storyline, this would be a terrific book. Brooks flips between modern-day Hanna and historical vignettes that revolve around each of the fragments Hanna finds in the Haggadah...a butterfly wing, a white hair, a wine stain. The historical sections are beautifully rendered, with a rich religious tone and well drawn characters. These parts roughly trace the path of the Haggadah through centuries of conflict, and I found them to be quite thought provoking as well. It certainly raises the question of whether the importance of some objects supercedes religious and social boundaries, to say nothing of the questions about fate that are presented by the chance survival of the Haggadah.

However, Brooks did serious damage to her book by getting absolutely ridiculous with Hanna Heath's personal life. Not only is she getting it on with the Hunky Librarian after being in town for about 30 seconds, not only did this encounter begin with her licking "grease" off his finger that he'd just wiped off her face (um...ew? Grease? Really?), but she then goes against his wishes in regard to the medical care of his vegetative and maimed young son and takes nefariously obtained copies of the son's medical records to another city for a second opinion. Give me a break. Oh, and by the way, Hanna goes on at length about how tough and emotionall detached she is with men, only to have made a complete reversal by the end of the book for no clear reason. This is all before you get to the handwringing over her Emotionally Distant, Disapproving Doctor Mom, who looks down on Hanna's chosen profession. I probably don't even need to say that Hanna's father's identity is being kept a secret by her mother and it all comes out in a completely implausible way.

The modern-day portions of People of the Book are simply overdone. Had Brooks stuck with the historical narrative, this would be a unique and fascinating read, but as it is, I spent half of every present day chapter rolling my eyes in incredulity. Brooks tried to do too much, and as a result, the whole thing is excessively soapy and cliched. Regrettably, this quality made it extremely difficult to really immerse myself entirely in the vastly superior historical chapters. I also found the dialogue forced and the colloquialisms awkward. Again, this may be a consequence of trying to do too much...well written Australian is hard enough to pull off without trying to incorporate Bostonianism into the mix. Australian and Bostonian caricatures are some of the most overused and poorly handled in literature and film, and Brooks fumbles on both counts. As I understand it, she IS Australian, so I have no idea why she's so horrible at portraying her native citizenry. This is all to say nothing of the "twists," which I won't spoil here because this book is worth your time for the historical chapters, but they', and poorly executed.

I bought this book because I thought the idea of drawing history from a book's pages sounded fascinating. I love documetaries on forensic science, and I love religious and social history, and the idea of blending the two sounded great. The sections of this book that actually followed the historical and forensic plotlines absolutely lived up to my optimism. It's just unfortunate that the more romance novelly bits were allowed in.