Welcome to my bookshelf

I am a voracious reader who is constantly found with her nose in a good (although sometimes not so good) book. I felt the need to share my experiences and suggestions, so here it is. Recommendations and comments are most definitely desired.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Something Different

Currently Reading: The Hard Way

Pg 96:  "Simple trigonometry."

I had to chuckle when I read that line.  Picturing the hundreds of high school students who would be reeling if they heard that, not to mention all the adults, is too hilarious to consider.  The best part is that this line is coming in a book that is so not written for the mathematically inclined folks, but rather scripted to appeal to the everyday man, one who reads action tales, should he read for pleasure at all.  Yep.  That's right.  I am writing about one of my "fluff" books.

Several years ago, I came across my first Lee Child book in the lending library at the school I was working at.  I figured, sure, why not give it a try?  Needless to say, I was semi-hooked.  Lee Child's books all center around an enigmatic gentleman who goes by the name Jack Reacher.  Now Reacher is not your typical action hero, but rather an anti-hero.  He heartlessly kills dozens of men (and/or women) per novel, has no-strings-attached sex (always with the female cop/military officer/federal agent who just happens to be his counterpart in the investigation), is a master at hand-to-hand combat, and lives only by his own law.  Now that I have it all laid out, it seems that this actually might appeal to gentlemen hoping to live vicariously through Mr. Reacher just as women love to live through the lovely little heroines in chick lit books.  Here's what I mean by semi-hooked though.  I don't necessarily seek out Reacher novels, but if one happens to be in at the library and I am feeling like a little action is in order, I pick one up.  I have now worked my way through half a dozen or so and despite having the general plot line down, still enjoy reading them every now and again.  It is surprising what an olio my reading list is :)

I wanted to write about this book because the Jack Reacher movie is coming out soon and well, it needs to be discussed.  Not because of how awesome I think it will be (in fact I think it will be not awesome), but because I wanted to talk about casting and directing movies based on books.  The fact that the title is "Jack Reacher" and not "One Shot", the book it is loosely based on, is the first clue as to what the producers will most likely be doing with this adaptation.  I have a feeling many diehard fans will be disappointed in Reacher large on the silver screen.  Obviously the film will be focusing on the man and not the story, so you would think that careful thought would have gone into casting this all-important role.  But no.  It seems only name appeal was needed.  Because yes, the 250 pound, 6'3'', not all that attractive action hero will be played by none other than Tom Cruise, who happens to be short, wiry, and all too good looking.

Now don't get me wrong, Mr. Cruise is a fine actor in his own right, but seriously?  Could they have made a more inappropriate choice when casting the film?  It makes you wonder how much leeway was in the contract signed by Lee Child all those years ago.  Is he really happy with this decision?  What other things are they going to mess up?  I'm frustrated, but just as the books themselves appeal despite their definite lack of substance, the movie appeals just in the opportunity to see just how badly they muck it up.

I have always been one who loves the books more than the movie.  In fact, the only ones that have even come close, in my humble opinion, have been the Lord of the Rings films.  Those at least understood the gravity of the situation.  Undertaking a story with such a passionate fan base is a very daunting task indeed.  In fact, most of the time I don't even go to see the movie because I know I will be nit-picky and not enjoy myself at all.  So now reader, I pass the buck to you.  I never get many comments to my blog postings and would love to hear what you have to say on the subject of movies based on books.  Are you for or against?  Are there any particular standouts?  Share!!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Cramped Quarters

Currently Reading: The Arrivals

Meg Mitchell Moore manages to create a lovely tale surrounding the chaos of everyday events.  Empty nesters Ginny and WIlliam Owen find their summer completely overturned when not only do their three grown children come back to roost, but a couple of them bring several other needy folks along with them.  Between a pregnant daughter-in-law, still nursing grandson, and two betrayed and bitter daughters, Ginny and William must stay the course and stand strong for their family.  Both experience breakdowns and frustration, but their stalwart nature leads them to eventually manage to survive the summer unscathed.  Well, relatively unscathed.

This whole story brings up the theme of role reversals and changing norms.  The son is planning on staying home with his new child, the eldest daughter is tempted with abandoning her family and responsibilities, the youngest child, another daughter, is contemplating giving it all up and being dependent forever.  And she is already 29.  Throughout my entire reading, the thought kept popping into my head about how at my age, my parents were already parents (multiple times) and living far away from the safety net of their parents.  They were completely independent and fully functioning adults.  Can I say the same of myself?  I don't know.  Sure I have my own place, have been successfully employed for years, have title to my car and my name is on all the insurance papers, but still, I feel a lot further behind in my life than many of the other 28 year olds I read about.  Is it because I have stuck so close to home, knowing my parents would always be there to help?  Again, I don't know.

In the novel, Ginny is struggling with the idea of her son being a stay-at-home dad.  That just wasn't done in her days.  Stephen's sisters also don't understand his decisions, especially the one who is a stay-at-home mother herself.  Also not making sense though, is the entitlement that the children feel.  They have no problem packing up and heading home to have mom and dad take care of all their problems.  When did these things change?  What caused them to change?  It is definitely something to think about,  but really, is it a bad thing?  Fathers who stay home should be treated the same as moms who stay home.  It seems simple enough on the surface, but who am I to say.  I guess I have more connection to the idea of being dependent for a longer period of your life.  As I mentioned before, my parents left for college and marriage and never really looked back.  It just wasn't an option.  These days, it seems more and more children are staying at home longer or at least coming home when the going gets tough.  Is one way better than the other?  Who can say?

Now away from the pondering and back to the book.  This is Meg Mitchell Moore's debut novel and as it turned out to be a wonderful story with all these thoughts to chew on, I certainly hope there will be more in the future.  Hmmm...  another library database search is needed.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Changing Tides

Currently Reading: The Chaperone

Pg 325: "She was grateful life could be so long."

When we first meet Cora, she is presented as a respectable married woman living in Witchita, Kansas who has recently become an empty nester.  She is given the opportunity to serve as chaperone for a saucy young lady who is off to New York for a brief dancing course.  Little do we know, it is Cora who will be the one to surprise us and give us a new insight as to the motives that guide her choice to travel.  Her young charge inspires Cora to branch out from her traditional thoughts and really start to consider who she is and what she wants.

Cora was an orphan in what seems like a previous life, coming Kansas on a train filled with young, unclaimed children hoping for adoption and a new life away from the orphanage.  She is taken in by a kind family and eventually finds her way into a marriage that leaves both herself and her husband dissatisfied in love, but not in contentment.  Cora's decision to travel back to New York in later years is spurred on by her desire to find out more about her past and where she comes from.  Her memories are few and far between, but they tease her enough to take on the task of finding her birth parents.  Once in New York, Cora finds an answer, but it is not as satisfying as the love she finds with a German immigrant.  Through lies and subterfuge, Cora brings this suitor back to Kansas under the guise of her brother.  He comes with a young daughter himself and the trio live along with Cora's gay husband under the same roof.  Years go by and seasons pass, but their lives remain relatively peaceful.  This part of the story is pleasant in its progression.

The underlying themes of the novel are what make it so interesting.  Before her trip, Cora is already a bit of a political rogue, being part of the suffrage movement and speaking up (initially softly) for women's rights.  When faced with a homosexual husband, an immigrant lover, and the promiscuous dancer in her charge, Cora finds her life-view changing and also finds her voice in the community.  Cora becomes part of a group working towards supporting unwed mothers and is stalwart in her cause. As mentioned in the quote, Cora is grateful that her life has passed along when it did as she finds herself exposed to the growth of America not just economically or militarily, but in its morals and ethics as well.  Towards the end of her life, Cora and her husband's lover find themselves watching one of the first ever gay pride parades on the evening news.

Cora's story takes place from the 1920s until the 1970s and it is inspiring to see through her eyes the progress that was made in the name of women and other repressed groups.  What is very troubling is how we, in the twenty first century, are finding this progress digressing back into the olden days, even before Cora's time.  The leaps and bounds made by women are slowly being taken away.  The rights of  immigrants are being abused under shading rulings and obnoxious new organizations.  Religious freedom, the basis of our country, is even under attack.  I find myself wondering what Cora would think of us and our complete ungratefulness towards the things she worked so hard to see present in this country.  She may not be as glad to live so long these days.

Monday, July 16, 2012


Currently Reading: The Virgin Blue

I have been a bit obsessed with connections lately.  It is amazing how interconnected things are in our world and it is fun to put the pieces together and come up with a new idea.  Much of the new technologies and ideas that we see today are all connected back to something or someone in the past.  We build on the experience of earlier people and adapt them to meet our needs in the present.  Also, connections are made across subjects and concepts.  I recently went to Boston and was blown away by so many things from the history to the architecture and even the museum offerings that were abound throughout the city.  One of the most fun things was making connections between things I learned on the Freedom Trail to the exhibits at the JFK Library and Museum.  Or even the relationship between the sculptures at the deCordova Sculpture Park and the wonders displayed at the Boston Museum of Science.  I took tons of pictures of all the mathematical things that I saw and was astonished to note that many of them were at the Central Library building for the Boston public library.

The Virgin Blue is all about connections.  It is a tale told in two separate time periods, dealing with two women connected by more than just a few shared genes.  Isabelle du Moulin resides in the 1500s, a hard time for non-Catholics in France.  Her life is a hard one, filled with sorrow, persecution, and loss.  Enter the modern day heroine, Ella Turner, who is also dealing with sorrow in her own way.  Ella has moved to France with her husband and becomes enamored with the idea of finding her ancestors.  Throughout her search, Ella learns more about herself than she ever anticipated.  While the chapters alternate between past and present, the stories become more and more connected through shared physical and emotional characteristics between the two women.  Both woman deal with forbidden love, ostracization by the community, and even struggling with undesirable traits that make them completely unique.  I have not yet gotten to the end yet, but am anxious to discover more about the kinship depicted in the story.

This is Tracy Chevalier's first novel.  Her name may be familiar to you from the bestseller, Girl with a Pearl Earring.  One of the things that I enjoy the most about Chevalier's writing is the genuine quality of her characters.  They are likable, but still flawed, requiring you to think differently and perhaps save judgements until you hear them out.  I also love the historical aspect of her work.  While this is a fictional tale, there is always a connection (see there it is again!) to real events or objects in the past.  Her books are never dry or too daunting in terms of language and style, but still seem authentic in their telling.  If you enjoyed Girl with a Pearl Earring, I highly recommend this one as well.

For my mathematical pictures (and some awesome humpback whales), click here.

Oh and another connection.  In both this book and The Marriage Plot, men make allusions to Goethe at very inappropriate times.  Weird again how related life is...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Life Lessons

Currently Reading: An Uncommon Education

I am having a hard time figuring out the underlying theme of this one.  While it is hailed as a "coming of age" story, there are so many other subplots that it gets confusing.  Now don't let that put you off.  It is a wonderfully scripted story, but there are so many things that contribute to Naomi's growth as a young child through her college years.  It is a mother-daughter tale.  A touching story of daddy's girl.  Historical implications, religious identities and even young love also make their appearances in this novel.  I'm still wrapping my mind around it all.

Education plays a huge role in Naomi's life, something I can totally relate to.  Her education begins at the feet of her father.  He brings her along when he "entertains" business partners at Rose Kennedy's House.  Next to the salt and pepper on the kitchen counter can be found tomes containing everything from Einstein's theory of relativity to Grecian gods and anatomy figures drawn by da Vinci.  Naomi is blessed (or cursed) with an alarmingly accurate memory, called photographic by some.  This helps her do well in school, but also causes her not to fit in with the other kids and she is eventually ostracized by most of her peers.  This status of outcast continues and Naomi finds her sole friend in the newly moved in next door neighbor, Teddy, the adopted son of an Orthodox Jewish couple.  Here she learns about how her own family's religious standings and how even there, she is an outsider.  When Teddy moves away, she becomes obsessed with becoming a cardiologist hoping to find a way to fix the heart.  This leads her to follow in Rose's desired footsteps and attend Wellesley.  Little does she know, that once her college journey is over, Shakespeare will play a larger role in her life than cardiology and life will no longer be so simple.  The future does not always play out as planned.

A fun thing for me when reading this book is that it takes place in and near Boston, a city to which I will be traveling next week.  I was excited to hear a few familiar location names and am looking forward to seeing the sites in person soon.  It is interesting how being familiar with a setting can make a story all the more real for a reader.  I love being able to picture exactly where characters are standing when certain actions take place or decisions are made.  This idea is actually explored in another fantastic read, Imagined London, by Anna Quindlen.  I highly recommend it in addition to An Uncommon Education.  It will certainly give you an "uncommon" reading experience.