Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

I loved Wally Lamb's first two novels in the late 1990's. They were unique tales about tormented individuals that you couldn't put down. I was very excited to see that his long awaited book, The Hour I First Believed, was finally out. It was a 700-page book that I couldn't put down - a fascinating complex tale of the times we live in now.

There is a lot going on in this book - and it's hard to pin down the plot line. Caelum Quick is an English teacher in Columbine in the 1990's and his wife Maureen is the school nurse. The two had moved to Colorado to try to have a fresh start to help their troubled marriage. The Columbine Massacre leaves Maureen with Post Traumatic Stress disorder and the two move back to Caelum's Connecticut family farm. They have a rough time of it and Caelum starts to learn more about his family's fascinating past. That's the plot roughly - but their was much more going on.

Some of my favorite parts . . .

Caelum is in New Haven talking to his friend Janis about how in the old letters they have from his grandmother, there is talk of a river that no longer seems to exist. He tells Janis it probably dried up or went underground.

Janis says, "You can do that? Make a river go underground?"

Caelum replies "Civil Engineers can. Sure."

Since this is my line of work - I thought it was very cool. Besides that though, I like how they discuss that Caelum's ancestors are like the river. "We put them in the ground, right? But we also carry them forward because our blood is their blood, our DNA is their DNa. So we're intimately connected to these people who lives - whose histories - have gone underground and become invisible to us." Just like the river. I thought this was a great concept. Once Pandora's box is opened, Caelum discovers that life for his ancestors was very complicated and not much different than his own, with tragedies and heartache aplenty.

A couple other related quotes:

"Nothing ever changes, Janis had said. it did though. We lived, lulled on the fault line of chaos. Change could come explosively and out of nowhere."

". . . it reminds me of something Janis said to me that day up at Bushnell Park: that our ancestors move along with us, in underground rivers and springs too deep for chaos to reach."

This novel explored the tragedies of mental illness, Columbine, the war in Iraq, Katrina, women's prisons, drug addiction, sexual abuse, etc. It was quite the novel. I couldn't put it down.

The only negative I had with the book is my own prudish reading habits. I really didn't like when Lamb had graphic descriptions of Caelum masterbating. I could really have done without that.

Other than that I highly recommend this book. I couldn't put it down. Lamb is a 21st century Charles Dickens.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Who's Your City by Richard Florida

Who's Your City by Richard Florida is my Kewaunee Library Book Club pick for February. It is an interesting look into what Florida considers one of the most important choices of your life, where you live. How does this impact your life, why do people settle where they do, how does our changing world impact where you should live? All of these questions and more were explored in this book.

This book had a lot of very interesting information. I really liked my urban planning class I took at Marquette and this book was along those lines. While Florida tried to make the book as interesting and modern as possible by relating things to pop culture, at times the book really dragged along. For instance, there were tables and graphics that the text explained in great boring detail. You can see it for yourself by looking at the table, you don't need to write it out too. I wanted to edit those parts myself! Overall though, it was a very interesting book and I recommend it to anyone who is interesting in moving and is wondering where would be a good place to live. One word of warning, the book is more about urban living and not rural living.

Some interesting points in the book:

1. Florida argues that we live in a "spiky" world where certain places have more relevance and opportunities than others. These spikes are in "Mega-Regions." One "Mega-Region" of interest to me is the "Chi-Pitts" region that spreads from Minneapolis to Milwaukee (via Madison and Green Bay) to Chicago to Detroit to Toledo to Pittsburg. This encompases a huge area and means that Ben and I were both born in the same Mega-Region and that although I have moved hundreds of miles from home, I still live in the same Mega-Region I was born in.

2. Florida argues that people are more successful if they are mobile rather than "rooted" to one spot. Although being close to family provides significant benefits, being able to live where you have more opportunties can provide more significant benefits.

3. Florida discusses the rise of the creative class (which includes engineers) and how while manufacturing is decreasing in the U.S., the creative class is increasing. In other words, it is our creativity that is the future for the U.S. I buy this - Ben and I have discussed this for years.

4. Florida argues that cities have personalities too that fit certain types of people.

5. Florida discusses the three big moves that people make, when you are first out of college, when you have kids, and when you are an empty-nester or retired person. Ben and I moved to Milwaukee for professional reasons and Kewaunee when we had kids. We are following in the path of this book - I guess we just need to move again when we are retired or empty-nesters!

6. Florida argues that creative people cluster together in cities or mega-regions and that you are more creative with like minded people around. I am unsure of this. I do like discussing things with fellow engineers, but I also work from my home in a rural community and do just fine!

7. Florida has ranked communities across the country on how they fit into the three big moves you make in life. Green Bay and surrounding regions are ranked high on the best value for families with children - so it looks like Ben and I made the correct move! Madison, WI ranks high on all of the lists so no matter if you are a single person, a family, or an empty-nester, Madison is the place to be!

Florida also has an interesting website that leads you through his process on determining what cities are the best places for you to live. For a lark I entered Kewaunee, Houghton, Madison, Kalamazoo, and Escanaba for myself. It said I should definitely consider staying in Kewaunee or moving to Madison. It also said that Houghton was a maybe. It said I should not move to Kalamazoo or Escanaba.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks

While I was sick last week, I read The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks. I recieved it as a Christmas gift and have been trying to make my way through my library and book club pile so I could read it. Since I didn't feel good, I decided all other books could wait!

I really enjoyed The Lucky One. As a U.S. Marine in Iraq, Logan Thibault finds a picture of a beautiful young woman at a fair the sand. He posts the picture for someone to take back, but no one does. He finally take the picture with him and after three tours in Iraq where his comrades often met with tragedy, everyone regards the picture as his good luck charm.

Back in the United States, Thibault starts a trek across the United States to find the woman in the picture. Once he meets her, both of their lives will change forever.

I was riveted by the story and couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen next. My only complaint would be that the "bad guy" in the story was very one dimensional until the very end of the story. At the end though, he had added depth.

Overall, this was a highly entertaining story. This if my fourth Sparks novel read, and will definitely not be my last. An added bonus as one of my book club members has said, is looking at the picture of the author on the back. Hot stuff!

Cassandra & Jane by Jill Pitkeathly

Cassandra & Jane is a fictionalized account of Jane Austen as seen through her sister Cassandra's eyes. As I've said before on this blog, I am obsessed with all things Austen, so when I saw a review of this book on J. Kaye's blog, I knew I had to read it.

Overall, I found this book to be an interesting quaint book, with an unique perspective of Jane as it is told through her sister Cassandra's point of view. It's a quick read. While I was sick with the flu last week, I zipped through it. I enjoyed the book and was glad that it didn't take too many liberties with Jane's life story.

With that said, I didn't really like the personification of Jane in this book. She comes across as a selfish brat much of the time. She didn't always treat Cassandra very nicely and they often had a strained relationship. Cassandra herself wasn't that interesting, only as a conduit to Jane.

Overall, okay, but not great. I'd recommend the Jane Austen mysteries by Stephanie Barron for those that would like to read fictionalized stories about Jane Austen. They are highly entertaining.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Women (2008)

I watched the new version of The Women this week while I was sick with the flu. I felt rather negative about the film, which may have been caused by my sickness, so please forgive me. I watched the original 1939 version last year while on maternity leave so that may have also helped with my perceptions of it.

The Women is the story of Mary Haynes and her friends. Mary discovers that her husband is cheating on her with a perfume girl from Saks and her friends help her through the crisis. The interesting thing about this film and the original is that no men ever appear - it is an entirely women cast.

While I was entertained by the movie, it seemed to fall flat. First of all, the friendships between the women were rather flat and unexciting. They were much more catty in the original film - which filled it with a wicked fun. I felt like each character could have been interesting by themselves, but they were never really fully realized and their relationships with Mary never really felt real.

Secondly, what was up with Meg Ryan's hair and wardrobe for the first part of the movie? I realize she was a woman coming into her own, but didn't realize it was also a make over story. Come on! If she was a fashion designer, why, o why would she be wearing such terrible clothes. It made no sense.

I did like how the story was updated for the times though with the women having careers of their own. I also liked Mary and Sylvia's friendship in this movie - although it took away from the overall cattiness that was part of the original.

I did not like the ending. Having gone through labor and even before, I don't find fake labor on movies entertaining. At all. And to end it there, just seemed weird.

Did anyone else have more positive thoughts about this movie?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Mama Mia!

I finally got to see Mama Mia! this past weekend. I have a passion for musicals and enjoy the music of Abba, so I was excited to see what this movie had to offer.

Mama Mia! is a mother-daughter story of Donna (Meryl Streep) and Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) on a fictional greek island. Sophie is a 20 - year old planning her wedding. She does not know who her father is, but upon discovering her mother's journal, she makes the shocking revelation that she has not 1, not 2, but 3 possible fathers. She sends invitations to her wedding to all three potential fathers and they all accept. Donna is a little more than flumoxed when all three old suitors show up on her doorstep. Will Amanda discover who her real father is? Will Donna ever find true love?

The storyline was pretty simple, but the music was fantastically intigrated into it. I really enjoyed the songs . . . but not the singers. Meryl Streep's voice really left something to be desired. I really hate when they hire well known actors to place musical roles that can't sing. Sometimes it works great (Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge) and sometimes not so great (Renee Zellweger in Chicago) when the actor can not really sing that well. I also really liked the disco clothes when they were worn, but other costumes left something to be disired. Someone should shoot the designer who put Meryl Streep in the overall bibs. While I like bibs, that outfit did not suite her.

I really enjoyed Pierce Brosnan in his role in the movie, and was entertained by the movie. Overall, I liked it, but did not love it. I'm actually not that big of a Meryl Streep fan (I know - shoot me!), and I really don't like Christine Baranski. I think that's why I had a hard time connecting with their characters. I also thought the ending was too cute. I really just wanted them to figure out who the dad was!! What were your thoughts? Anyone else in the "like not love" category. I know this movie did supremely well in the box office . . . there must be some "lovers" out there.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Battlestar Galactica - Seize the Day

The fantastic episodes of Battlestar Galactica just keep on coming. If I had to describe this week's episode in just a few words, I would say "shades of grey." One of the great things about Battlestar are that there are no cardboard characters, and there is no right or wrong in the world. Gaeta was doing a terrible thing by starting a mutiny, and I certainly didn't want him to win . . . but I could also see his point. The Cylons had destroyed the 12 colonies and had been pursuing them across the galaxy. Now the admiral was asking them to trust a faction of them and allow the cylons on their ships. It would be a tough pill to swallow.

It was interesting to see the conflict across the fleet as "Hotdog" refused to shot down President Roslin's raptor and Aaron decided not to kill Tyrol. I really thought the Chief had hit the end. Divided loyalties, uneasy decisions, what is the correct course to take, it was an action packed episode with many interesting topics of discussion.

My favorite part of the episode though had to be Roslin's speech and that she would fight them with everything she had "down to her eyeteeth." Ben laughed out loud at that. I also loved the "I am coming for you!" It gave me chills. Don't mess with Roslin.

What do you think about the giant crack in Galactica? Think her days are numbered? What will Ellen's return mean? I never liked Ellen that much and am still kind of disappointed she is the final cylon. That said, I'm still very interested to see where this story line will take us!

Do you think it's the right decision to work with the renegade cylons? I think so . . .or maybe I hope so. I can see the mutineers point . . .but also can see how the cylons are not all bad. Shades of grey . . .

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Ghosts of Old Bay Road by Marie McFadden

The Ghosts of Old Bay Road by Marie McFadden is my Lakeshore Mom's Bookclub pick for February. This is McFadden's first novel and the primary setting is the "tip of the mit" or the northern lower peninsula of Michigan with action also in Chicago.

The novel starts in 1978 when Shayna McDuffy and Ben Flannery first meet and Ben feels an instant attraction to Shayna. Twenty years then pass before the two meet again. Shayna is an aloof widow that widower Ben is trying to start a relationship with. Ben can not figure out the mystery of Shayna and why she hides herself from all others.

Shayna's mysterious past suddenly comes to visit their small Michigan town and Shayna has to start a life on the run. Will she be able to live down her past and allow herself to love again?

I really liked this book. It was so engaging that it kept me awake for many night time baby feedings - which takes a lot sometimes, especially when you are sick with a cold! The plot was great and the characters were relatable and interesting. I especially liked Mabel - the widow who is chasing after Ben and won't take no for an answer, she made me laugh out loud. I thought this novel was only going to be a soft love story, but it was a love story wrapped up in a murder mystery. The ending and "ghosts" brought a tear to my eye. I also liked the setting, it is always great to read about areas that you know well - to me, Michigan and Wisconsin!
I also enjoyed that the main story is about two people finding a new chance at love in their middle age. Most love stories are about people in their 20's - which is fine, but it is refreshing to read that love can happen at another stage in life.

I highly recommend this novel to anyone who likes a good romantic mystery.

Battlestar Galactica - The Rising

All I can say is - Wow. "The Rising" showed once again why Battlestar Galactica is the best show on TV today. (For more on why I love Battlestar and think it is the best show on TV, see this previous blog entry) This episode was a heart pounding mutiny on board Galactica. For the first few episodes of this season, we have seen how the discovery of a destroyed Earth with Cylons amongst the dead has demoralized the remaining humans. Having Cylons as friends at arms has proven too much for some.

I used to like Gaeta, but since his leg injury and amputation, he has been a bitter, bitter man. Using his position on deck, he is able to play the entire commanding crew to the ends he wants and take over the ship and get Tom Zarek off and back to Colonial One. It was riveting to watch it all go down.

But I have to say my favorite moment was when Adama and Tigh take out the guys marching them to the brig. You can't keep an old dog down. These guys were in charge for a reason. I also liked that Starbuck was back. Rescuing Lee and taking charge - in true Starbuck style. I also liked the raised eyebrows Tigh had upon discovering Laura Roslin in her robe in Adama's quarters. I was sad when Laura and Bill had their final parting. It almost seemed like we might never see them together again. The final few minutes with Adama and Tigh together with their last stand was awesome. The "too be continued" . . . heartbreaking! I can't wait until next week!!! What were your thoughts on this episode? Did anything think it was as fantastic as myself?


I haven't blogged about the new season of lost yet. There is so much going on - I just don't know where to start. Let me say that I think this new season is spectacular. The first couple episodes have been reviting. Each season, Lost has started off with a bang and has been able to take the story in an entirely new direction.

This season we are flashing all over time. I am a big fan of time travel, so I am very excited to learn that the island exists in some sort of temporal hole in time. While our "Oceanic 6" friends try to get together and find a way back to the island, those on the island are flashing threw time. Penny and Desmond have their "happily ever after" on a boat with their child, but will it remain that way? The show seems to be answering some questions, but opening up many more. It all seems to be moving toward a conclusion though and it keeps me intrigued. I think Season 5 is starting off to be one of the best seasons of the show. This show has been consistently good (except for the first half of season 3) and I am excited to see how this season will play out. What are your thoughts on Season 5 so far?

Your Favorite Sci-Fi Series is a . . . tie?

There was no definite winner of my blog's poll on favorite sci-fi series. Lost, Star Trek TNG, and "Other" had a three way tie for favorite sci-fi show. What was the "other" that was so well loved? Please post - I'm very curious! Doctor Who came in second, and Battlestar Galactica and the X files tied for third. I was surprised that Star Trek the original series received no votes. It is a classic! Stargate also did not receive any votes.

What is my favorite sci-fi show? It is hard to say. Battlestar is my favorite current sci-fi show with Lost a very close second, and Doctor Who third. Of all time though - it would probably be one of the two Star Treks. I have loved both Star Treks since I was a child so it will take a few years for the current shows to sink in and take their place. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

The Sexiest Literary Hero of All Time is . . . Mr. Darcy!

Using a very unscientific method, I polled readers of this blog to find out who their sexiest literary hero is. It was a tight race between newcomer Edward Cullen (26%), but classic hero of the past 200 years, Fitzwilliam Darcy (46%) won in the end. Tied for third was Edward Rochester and Rhett Butler. Sullen Heathcliff received zero votes.

What is is about Mr. Darcy that makes him so sexy? Is it his description in Pride and Prejudice or are you colored by his portrayel onscreen by Colin Firth, Laurence Oliver, Matthew Mcfayden, etc?

To me Mr. Darcy is sexy because he is an aloof, misunderstood individual that we later determine has a heart of gold. Jane Austen cleverly makes us hate him at first, and then slowly peels away the layers to show us how he is a great guy that just wants to help his friends and family out and remain a gentleman. I find it hard to describe why I find him such a sexy character . . . but he drives me to read numerous Pride and Prejudice inspired novels. Why do you think he is such a sexy character?
What other characters do you find sexy? I think Jamie Fraser in the Outlander series is also quite sexy. Captain Wentworth from Persuasion is my second favorite Austen hero. I'm just curious - so please post away!
My February polls are inspired Valentine's day polls about love. Enjoy!