This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Bad Books

After a good run of amazingly entertaining books, I have entered a streak of bad ones. I don't finish them so I don't usually rate them on goodreads, and since I haven't made the time to keep my blog up-to-date, surely, I won't make the time to write up books that I don't like and especially, finish.

But I also don't like to lose track of what was attempted. My brain is not as fresh at keeping memories as it used to so it's best to at least cite the book title and my attempt to read it.

These will have 'spoilers' but how can one spoil a terrible book?

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
This was supposed to be a scary book. It could've been scary - there were parts that were creepy - but it was weird. I gave it up about halfway through the 378 pages and went to to find spoiler reviews so I could find out how it ended.

The book started off pretty good: a pilot's account of taking his plane off, only to hit geese and lose his engines. He decides to follow Captain Sullenberger's miracle landing on the Hudson, but on a different lake. However, just as he was about to land on the smooth lake, a wave from a passing boat hits the plane at the same time causing it to turn over and over and break apart...and kill 39 of the passengers. I _think_ that's how many but regardless of the exact number, that number and that incident replays over and over throughout the book.

The family move to a town somewhere away from the lake, and where he would live with that memory. Here we meet some weirdos of the town: supposed witches or women who do stuff with herbs from their greenhouses. The pilot's wife is forewarned about these strange people but she continues to ignore the people who warn her, and doesn't seem uncomfortable with the fact that the weirdo witches are obsessed with her twin daughters. The weirdo adults invite the family over for socials but only devote their insane behavior and attention to the daughters.

Also, the pilot continues to replay the plane crash...with the ghosts of those who died. One being a young girl, about the age of his twin daughters, and the father and/or mother tells him that the ghost girl is lonely and needs playmates. The pilot dad goes, literally in a matter of a few pages, from 'no way will I kill my daughters' to attempting to kill one of the daughters in a eeny-meeny-miny way.

I couldn't take anymore. It just sucked. Stupid characters. When I found a spoiler, I found that the story had these two literal, separate paths: witches who were trying to sacrifice the twins (as they did previously with the town's twins), as well as the separate storyline of the PTSD pilot seeing ghosts and trying to kill his own daughter (whichever one that gets the tiger toe).

Where the God of Love Hangs Out by Amy Bloom
I read, what I thought, were the first two chapters of this book. I don't know if it was at the second chapter that I realized this was a book of short stories, or if I decided to _read_ the second chapter and give this book of short stories a try. Regardless, I don't like short stories. Seems weird not to since it's like a big book full of different novels but, there you have it, I absolutely do not like short stories.

The first story didn't really do much for me _anyway_ and I was considering tossing it while I was reading it. Basically, the story was about a cheating couple, who's two families were best friends for years, who eventually marry. It took a long time to get to the marriage part; it was a lot of writing about the woman, about the man, blah blah blah. They finally end up married, despite protests from their grown children. And then the guy dies. And the new wife spends the rest of the short story obsessed with his memory within her home and never leaves. For anyone. The end.

The second story I don't really remember. I looked for spoiler reviews again and most people seem to like this one. There are a handful, like me, who were not thrilled. And apparently there's one love story about a woman who has an affair with either her friend's son or her son's friend. Yeah. Not interested in these stories...

American Purgatorio by John Haskell
This one started out intriguing. "Something happened" according to the protagonist of the book. He was at a gas station, while his wife Anne waited outside in the car, as he purchased candies and snacks for them. When he comes out of the gas station, Anne and the car are gone. His journey begins to search for his wife Anne. Instead of going to Anne's mom's house, as they intended to go, he figures out how to get back to their home and replays the events to figure out what happened to Anne.

Do you like how much I name his wife Anne? He does this all the time. Anne, Anne, Anne. And the journey to find Anne is to go from NY to California. He saw a  map where Anne had drew a line to the coast of CA so that's where he decides to go. He rents a car, starts driving, and ends up meeting people along the way. Sometimes seeing Anne in their car and trying his best to turn his car around -- but goes on for miles because he can't find an exit ramp - before he tries. It's like a bad dream...

It was well before page 134 (of only 239 pages) that I was so fucking annoyed with this guy. He was going nowhere slowly and this book's dialogue was annoying as hell. I just couldn't stand it but I wanted to find out where the fuck Anne was so I skipped to the end to see what happened.

What happened was, the two of them both died at the gas station. As he made his purchases and got into the car with Anne, a car hit them and they both died. So all that shit about him coming home, getting a rental and searching for Anne was just him trying to get used to being dead. Wow. So bad!

I again read spoiler reviews and more than a few did as I did, although it seems I got further in the book: they stopped reading and jumped to the end.

Here is an example of the dialogue:
I wanted to find Anne, or the scent of Anne, hidden somewhere in or on this person. But there wasn't any Anne. I could feel the old despair imploding inside me, and I wanted a glass of water. But there wasn't any water.
I was able to overlook the knowledge that she wasn't Anne, so that to me, she _was_ Anne. In the back of my mind was the fear that she would say something or do something to wake me up, but because this new reality was preferable to the earlier one, I was able to maintain it. I settled into the more comfortable mode of lying with Anne, and the reality of Anne, such as it was, because more solid and stable, and when it got to the point where I was sure of its solidity, that's when she decided to go to the bathroom. 

So here's hoping for no more bad books.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Marathon Man

So I stumbled upon yet another 'gaffe' (that's putting it mildly) that Paul Ryan made this week. This time, he was interviewed by Hugh Hewitt, a talk show host (republican). In the interview, this is what was said:

HH: Are you still running?
PR: Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don’t run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or yes.
HH: But you did run marathons at some point?
PR: Yeah, but I can’t do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.
HH: I’ve just gotta ask, what’s your personal best?
PR: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.
HH: Holy smokes. All right, now you go down to Miami University…
PR: I was fast when I was younger, yeah.
A "two hour and fifty-something" personal best in a marathon? WOW. He was fast because that would be about a six and half minute mile PER MILE for 26.2 miles. That IS fast. And if that was really your personal best, you would know EXACTLY what that time would be.  Meaning, it is THAT good that you would never forget your time, down to the second.

And you would never say "under three, high twos" because you would say: My personal best is 2:50:45. I'm not even FAST and I know all of my personal bests...and I proudly display them at the bottom of my blog...and it's been over two years that I've raced competitively. A runner just doesn't forget these details!!!

But alas, the TRUTH comes out. Not only did Paul Ryan not run a sub-3 hour marathon, he ran only one recorded marathon (no one would run 26.2 miles for shits...well, maybe some extreme runners would do that as part of their training...) in over FOUR HOURS. That is NOT EVEN CLOSE to "two hour and fifty-something"...NOWHERE CLOSE. And IMO, only someone who is used to playing themselves up with lies and exaggerations would ever say such a thing.

And how stupid? That runners in the world wouldn't realize how fast that is...makes me think he doesn't know how fast that is because he just flippantly threw it out there.

Yeah. You may read my hysteria but that's because I don't like the man. I don't like his policies and one little white lie, such as this, just speaks even louder to what kind of character he may be...and it ain't good.

When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson

I am not sure how I screwed up the order but I did. This is book #3 of the Jackson Brodie series. I read #1 - Case Histories but not #2. No matter since I read Case Histories in 2007 and have very little recollection of it, other than I loved it. By the way I wrote my "review", I have no earthly idea what it was about. I mean, I have figments of the characters and story lines but not enough to remember the entire thing. And I sure didn't help with, yet another, lame write-up of a book.

So I'll have to start with little remembrance of Jackson Brodie but I do remember he was the main character in Case Histories. We meet him at a park where he's watching a group of children play soccer. He notices one in particular (oh, we don't know it's Jackson yet), and manages to pluck one of the boy's hair from his head as he returns a soccer ball to him.

This hair will be the one to determine if this young boy is his. The mother, an ex-lover, claims he is not but Jackson has to know for sure.

This part of the story isn't really revisited but it's the beginning of a wild ride for Jackson. He drives for hours trying to get back "home". He manages to finally get to the town he needed -- after what seemed to be an endless amount of writing that really didn't amount to much, IMHO -- to catch a train back to London, where he will meet back up with his wife. The new wife, who is on a business trip in the U.S.

Somehow, Jackson gets on the wrong train and heads away from London...and then, the train crashes. In Edinburgh.

Jackson is saved by a young girl, Reggie Chase. We already know Reggie by this part of the novel, as the story lines of Reggie and Jackson and Louise Monroe are intermingled.

Reggie is a sixteen year old girl who is a nanny for Joanna Hunter (more on that later), a doctor. She adores Joanna, as her own mother had passed away and she's pretty much on her own...except for her drug and troubled brother, who is never around.

Joanna Hunter and her son mysteriously disappear, leaving behind her dog, who Reggie knows would never be left behind. Joanna's husband acts very suspicious and somehow, Reggie is able to connect with Louise Monroe, a detective inspector who had earlier visited Joanna Hunter, before her disappearance.

Since Reggie saved Jackson in the train crash, she discovers that he is a retired private detective and, since she feels Louise is not believing her about her suspicions, she states that Jackson must find Joanna, since he owes her for saving his life.

Joanna Hunter, as we learn in the very beginning of the book, was six years old, walking alongside her new baby brother, her mom, their dog and her older sister when a man came out of nowhere and stabbed them all to death...except Joanna, who managed to hide in the fields until a young policeman named Jackson Brodie (we know this from Jackson, but no one else knows this) finds her.

Louise Monroe had come to Joanna earlier in the week (when Reggie met her) to warn her that the murderer of her family was about to be released from jail. So the mystery of the novel is: where is the murderer now and did he come back to finish what he started? Why is Joanna's husband lying about where Joanna really went?

It's a good book, nothing great. It was a long-winded novel as a lot of dialogue was in here that seemed to be extraneous. Nonetheless, I enjoyed Brodie's character and most especially loved Reggie Chase.

The most exciting part of the novel for me, however, was the killing spree of Joanna's family - the very beginning. Nothing came close to the drama of that horrific but well written story line.

In the end, Joanna and her son are safe. It had nothing to do with the murderer, who ended up committing suicide in Jackson's London apartment. Jackson also finds that he was duped by his wife, who managed to steal the millions of pounds he inherited from a cat lady from book #1.

There was never an explanation as to why the murders happened in the first place: why did this guy stab to death a baby, an 8 year old, a dog, and the young mother of all of these children? He was young enough that he wasn't that old when he was released from prison. But we never meet the murderer in the book, we never know why he did what he did and with something so brutal, his suicide is wrapped up as guilt for doing what he did...which just didn't bode well for me.

Granted, the book was very so-so but I wouldn't put the Brodie series out. I'll probably go back to book #2 and read that one...and maybe even the fourth. As I said, I'm not big into these one-character detective/mystery series but this one may be more for sentimental reasons as I have fond memories of Case Histories...although I may have to reread it.

Of Gods and Men

I've been watching a lot of Leonard Maltin's "Off-Hollywood" movies. These are generally Maltin's five movies to watch for (each month) that aren't necessarily the big movie hits that come out of Hollywood.

This will have **SPOILERS** so you may want to watch the movie and come back and read my post to compare notes.

Of Gods and Men is a French movie that really moved me. Not being a religious person, I was more curious about why this movie was a winner of so many awards (except in the US where we make sure our films are sappy and commercial).

It is loosely (maybe tightly) based on a real life incident from 1996. But the gist of this movie is wonderful as it's about christians (the Trappist Monks that this movie is mainly about) living with, caring for, and befriending rural Muslims in Algeria. The movie depicts the lives of the monks intermingled with the lives of the Muslims.

They join their Muslim traditions and then go back and do their daily life of prayer. There is no biases, no condescension, no 'sell-our-religion-because-it's-better' from both sides. Everyone lived in harmony being who they were.

Until Islamic terrorists and the government of Algeria clash and start impeding into the rural area where the Muslims and the monks have lived in harmony. At one point, the lead Islamic terrorist dude and his posse invade the monastery and demand medical attention for one of their soldiers, further from the monastery. The chosen leader of the monastery, Christian, stands up firmly with a no way, Jose. Our doctor stays, our medicine stays. We see the people of this village - they come to us. You can bring your sick to us.

Amazingly, the terrorists leave, with the monks unharmed. Eventually, they return with their wounded soldier.

But the Algerian government, along with the French government, plead with the monks to leave because they are in grave danger. The crux of this movie is just wonderful in that, these men of faith battle with their own dilemma of staying and risk their lives, or leaving to the safe housing of another monastery with their lives. Christian never wavers - his intention is to stay with these people. There is never the thought that God will protect them; that their status as monks will save them from harm. He knows that staying will be risking his life, and the lives of the other monks.

Through most of the movie, the decision "do I stay or do I go" continues amongst the monks. Eventually, all come together to stay. And eventually, the Islamic terrorists, minus the lead terror dude that Christian encountered earlier, comes and takes all of the monks except for one, who successfully hid from the kidnappings.

The movie ends with the monks being led into the woods by the terrorists. We know what happens and if you read about the real incident, where the monks are killed. By who is unclear - the kidnappers? Or the Algerian Army in a failed attempt to save them. Regardless, it's a heartbreaking end.

I love the quote (by Blaise Pascal) that showed up at the end of the movie:
Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.