Good Books and the Random Movie

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27 February 2007

Movie: Brokedown Palace

Alice (Claire Danes) and her best friend Darlene (Kate Beckinsale) travel to Thailand for their high school graduation trip. Although their parents think they are in Hawaii, the pair have a great time in Bangkok.

They meet an Australian, Nick Parks, who shows them around the city. He offers to trade in his first-class ticket for 3 coach tickets, so they can explore Hong Kong for the weekend. He is to fly ahead and meet them after a business meeting. Alice and Darlene are shocked when, in line to board their flight to Hong Kong, they are surrounded by Thai police. Heroin is found in their bags.

From prison, Alice sends a plea to an America lawyer working in Bangkok, Yankee Hank. Can he do anything to get them out of prison? Is there a way to prove that the drugs were not theirs? And where has Nick Parks disappeared to?

This movie is a look at the drug trafficking problem in Thailand and the unsuspecting young people, largely from the US, who are tricked or enticed to transport those drugs. There are currently many of these young people in Thai prisons. This movie is a sort of compilation of their stories. The acting is phenomenal. Both Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale do an amazing job in their roles.

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26 February 2007

Sequence

Sequence is Lori Andrews first novel. She is an expert on law and genetics and the chair of the federal advisory committee dealing with the legal, ethical and social implications of the Human Genome Project. Needless to say, she had the knowledge to write a great forensic-style thriller.

The book's main character is Dr. Alexandra Blake, a geneticist at AFIP - the Armed Forced Institute of Pathology. She is working on a cure for the 1918 Spanish Flu to protect soldiers from potential biological warfare. Alex is forced to put her research on hold when a new presidential appointee takes over the AFIP. His plan is to turn AFIP into a mini FBI: solving murders involving the military. And it just so happens that at the current moment, there is a serial killer murdering women near military bases across the US.

Andrews has written a great first novel. The science is of course exceptional. Alex is an easy to relate to, likeable main character. And the plot, as one reviewer puts it, has a double helix sort of a twist.

Andrews, L. (2006). Sequence. New York: St. Martin's Press.

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25 February 2007

Orbit

John Nance is a great writer who writes stories around things that fly. He was a commercial airline pilot and a member of the National Transportation Safety Board. His latest book, Orbit, is fantastic.

In 2009, independent space travel is possible. NASA is no longer the only company sending ships into orbit. American Space Adventure offers trips around the Earth to those who can afford it. Kip Dawson wins a trip on one of these ships. The ships are small - one pilot and just a couple of passengers. Due to an emergency with the other scheduled passengers, Kip's ride ends up being just him and the pilot.

When a projectile shoots through the ship, killing the pilot, Kip is alone in outer space. He has lost radio contact with Control. He decides to keep a journal on a laptop he finds. The laptop, unknown to him, is connected to a website. Soon the whole world is watching / reading to see what will happen to Kip. Rescue plans are underway, but launching a ship into orbit is not as easy as sending a tow-truck.

Nance, John J. (2006). Orbit. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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24 February 2007

Tipping the Velvet

Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters, is the journey of Nan King. A girl from Whistable, England, she was raised on the sea and developed a love for oysters and theater. When one of the acts at the theater catches her eye she starts going to every performance. Eventually, she meets Miss Kitty Butler, a cross-dressing singer on her way to London. Nan goes with her as her dresser and the excitement begins.

The book follows Nan, and to a lesser degree, Kitty through London's theater scene, through friendship, betrayal, and Nan's new life. One in which she goes through many trials and adventures that stunningly illustrate the London at the turn of the 19th century. Nan meets many interesting characters along the way.

Tipping the Velvet was Sarah Water's debut. An exceptional start to her writing career that won the New York Times Notable Book of the Year award. I read it at least once a year!

Waters, Sarah. (1998). Tipping the velvet. New York: Riverhead Books.

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21 February 2007

Vietnam: A History by Stanley Karnow

I am taking a quick detour from the usual fiction books I usually blog about. I guess that US involvement in Vietnam has always been an interest to me because it effected my parent's lives so much. In undergrad I took a course on the subject to better understand what had happened. The main text was this book, Vietnam: A History.

Karnow begins his history of Vietnam with the history of the region when it was called Cochinchina by European explorers. Then through the French war, to finally focus on the United States' involvement with the region. It is a fascinating look at the country and the politics of the time for any of us who did not live through it (or did, but were too young to remember).

This time period was a very educational one in US history. However, my professor would ask, did the US learn anything? There were things learned in WWII and Korea that should have logically lead to much different policy decisions. It was a time of great turmoil in our country and obviously in Vietnam and its surrounding countries.

The book is a valuable read for anyone even remotely interested in our current political climate. It is easy to read with many first-hand accounts from people on both sides of the fighting, people at all levels of the military, and the government.

Karnow, Stanley. (1991). Vietnam: A history (revised & updated). New York: Penguin Books.

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naked

Naked by David Sedaris is outrageously funny. It is a great book to read out loud (if you can stop laughing enough to continue).

Naked is a memoir, sort of. I would have to guess that it is an exaggerated memoir with some embellishment thrown in. I don't even know what to say about it. He makes fun of his family and himself, usually a theme I wouldn't find all that funny. But, like South Park, he picks on everyone so thoroughly it doesn't seem biased or offensive.

I don't know; somehow it just works. Check it out.


Sedaris, David. (1997). Naked. Boston: Back Bay Books.

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20 February 2007

Solitaire

Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge.

Rena Segura lives on the corporate island of Ko. She is a Hope, a symbolic representation of Ko who on her 23rd birthday will take her place in the EarthGov. She is destined for greatness. But two months before she is set to take on this new role, her world begins to unravel. She finds out that she not a true Hope. The company and her parents have lied to her since her birth. Following her shocking discovery, she is convicted of an act of terrorism. She is sentenced to 40 years imprisonment.

In order to shorten her sentence, she agrees to be a part of a new virtual reality program experiment. She will be put into a virtual cell and time will be sped up so that she feels like she is there for 8 years. Her body, in real time, will be suspended in a medical chamber for 10 months. She can serve her time and still see her 24th birthday. 8 years in a small room with no outside interaction. No visitors, no guards, no one. Will she be able to handle it? Will she come out even remotely sane? When she does get out, will she be able to be around other people again? Will she even survive the fight with her innermost thoughts?

Eskridge, Kelley. (2001). Solitaire. New York: Harper Collins.

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19 February 2007

Replay

What if you could live your life over again? In the book Replay by Ken Grimwood that is exactly what happens to Jeff Winston.

When Jeff is 43 years-old he dies, and wakes up the next morning 18 years-old. He has all of the memories of his life, but he is back in college. It is 1963; yesterday was 1988. Once he realizes what has happened, he has to decide what he will do differently this time around. What knowledge does he posses that will help him lead an easier life this time around? Who won the World Series in 1963, or the Kentucky Derby, which stock is a good investment... Will his previous wife still fall in love with him in this cycle? Can he change the course of history? Should he?

Jeff Winston lives his life again. Changing the things he didn't like about his last time through, erasing regrets he may have had. Then, when he is 43 again, he dies once more only to wake up in college. How many replays will he get? Is he the only one who is in this cycle of re-living his life? Is this cycle a gift or a curse?

What would you do differently?

Grimwood, K. (1998). Replay. New York: Harper Paperbacks.

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18 February 2007

I Am A Holocaust Torah

I am a Holocaust Torah: The Story of the Saving of 1,564 Torahs Stolen by the Nazis by Rabbi Alex J Goldman is a touching book. It is written from the point of view of a Torah from Kosova Hora, Czecholslovakia. Stolen by the Nazis in 1944, it and 1,563 other Torahs were collected and left to rot in a storage room in Prague.

In 1964 these Torahs were rescued. Those which could be repaired were sent out to synagoges around the world. Some that were damaged beyond use were sent out as reminders or memorials. The rest remain today in a the Czech Memorial Scrolls Center in London where they are still being repaired.

This book is a beautifully illustrated narrative.

Goldman, A. (2000). I am a holocaust torah: The story of 1,564 torahs stolen by Nazis from synagogues in Czechoslovakia, rescued twenty years later, and placed in the hands of people
who love them. Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House.


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17 February 2007

The Blue Place (Aud Torvingen #1)

The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith is a thrilling, sexy introduction to her character Aud Torvingen. Aud is a six-foot, ex-police lieutenant who could just as easily kill you as smile at you. She is a magnetic presence who is developing a cult following in the lesbian community.

While out for a walk, Aud literally runs into Julia Lyons-Bennet. A few moments later a house behind her explodes into the quiet of the night killing a renowned art historian. Julia later seeks out Aud find out who killed her friend (said art historian). The investigation leads from Atlanta to Oslo and is filled with clues, bad guys, drugs, kick-ass martial arts and a quickly forming bond between the two women.

I have read this book four times now and each time I am pulled in on the first page by Nicola's prose. She describes thing with such rich language that you are instantly transported into the story. The Blue Place is the first of a developing series featuring Aud. It is followed by Stay and (due out this May) Always.

Griffith, Nicola. (1998). The Blue Place. New York: First Avon Books.

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15 February 2007

Abhorsen (Abhorsen #3)

The final book in the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix. Each book in this series is better than the last, which says a lot because they were all amazing. But, they do in fact get better as they go. I had thought that Lirael was the best book I had ever read; then I read Abhorsen.

In Abhorsen, the characters from Sabriel (Sabriel, Touchstone, and Mogget) and the characters from Lirael (Lirael, Sameth, and the Disreputable Dog) join forces with all of the Charter (Magic)
Mages to fight a growing Free Magic evil that was once imprisoned under the Earth. An evil who uses necromancers to bring the Dead back to life to fight the Charter. It will take all of the power and knowledge of Sabriel, Lirael, Touchstone, Sam and the Clayr to try to wrestle this evil back into its cage. The founders of the Charter did it once, at the beginning of time, but is the magic still pure enough to fight back today?

As I said before, this series is better than The Lord of the Rings! I highly recommend it to anyone who likes to read.

Note: According to Garth Nix's website, it appears that there is a fourth book in this series - Across the Wall. That, unfortunately, is not so. Across the Wall is a collection of short stories by Nix. There is one that follows this trilogy, but it is not enough to satisfy the craving for more you will be left with after Abhorsen.

Nix, G. (2003). Abhorsen. New York: Harper Collins.

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Lirael (Abhorsen #2)

Lirael is the second book in the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix. As good as Sabriel is, Lirael is better. And not just because half of the book takes place in a library.

Lirael is a daughter of the Clayr, a group who can see the future, or past, or well, they don't always know when, but they have the Sight. Lirael feels left out because she is getting older and doesn't yet have the Sight. She take refuge in the Great Library. Little does she know that she is slowly learning all of the skills and magic she will need when the Old Kingdom calls on her for help.

Guided by her companion, the Disreputable Dog, Lirael travels on a desperate mission under a growing shadow of ancient evil. She is joined by Prince Sameth on his own journey to save a friend from Ancelstierre, Nick, who was on his way to visit when he disappeared.

This novel takes over after Sabriel ends to continue the saga of the Old Kingdom and the fight of good verses dark magic.

Nix, G. (2001). Lirael. New York: Harper Collins.

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14 February 2007

Sabriel (Abhorsen #1)

Sabriel is the first book in the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix. Technically it is classified as young adult fiction. But for some reason, fantasy and science-fiction seems to place all of the best books under young adult.

Sabriel takes place in a world that is somewhat different from ours. Actually, the world in the book is divided into two nations - the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre. Ancelstierre is similar to our world but perhaps a few decades behind us in technology. The Old Kingdom is where magic takes place.

Sabriel was born in the Old Kingdom but was sent to Ancelstierre to boarding school. She has little practice with magic but is called to the Old Kingdom when her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing. Along the way, she picks up some helpers (I use the term loosely here!) and makes her way through out the Kingdom in search of her father. Each step they take further into the Old Kingdom leads them closer to a battle with the forces of life and death.

This book was amazing. And each of the three in the series is better than the one before it. In my opinion, this series blows The Lord of the Rings away!

Nix, G. (1995). Sabriel. New York: Harper Collins.

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13 February 2007

Movie: Home Room

Home Room staring Busy Philipps and Eirka Christensen is most likely the best movie I have seen in years. The acting is phenomenal.

The film is shot like a play, which is appropriate since most of it is dialog between the two stars. Contrary to the blurbs available on many websites, this is not a movie about a school shooting. It is a movie about how two students deal with tragedy. Yes, it starts out with a school shooting, but the movie is about the aftermath. It could be about any traumatic event. Two unlikely people are pushed together due to the circumstances of their lives. Together they learn to deal with the grief, anger and confusion that brought them to this point.

Both Busy Philipps and Erika Christensen are brilliant young actresses. It is refreshing to see acting of this caliber in the next generation of stars. Not to take anything away from those who act based soley on looks and not on talent... but these two are amazing. I think I have now seen all of the movies that feature either of them.

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12 February 2007

Ella Minnow Pea

ELLA MINNOW PEA:
a progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable
by Mark Dunn

Ella Minnow Pea is set on the tiny island nation of Nollop, just off of the coast of South Carolina. The people of Nollop take the English language seriously and pride themselves on its correct usage. In fact, they practically worship Nevin Nollop, the man who came up with the shortest sentence using all of the letters of the alphabet. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. They even have a statue of him in the capital square that includes that pangram.


But one day a tile falls off of the statue. The letter Z. The High Island Council goes into an emergency meeting. When they come out they have decided that Nevin Nollop is upset with the people for taking sloppy usage of the language. Therefore, the letter Z is banned. It is no longer allowed in writing or speech. There are even penalties for its usage.


As more tiles fall off of the statue, more letters are forbidden from use. The ramifications of this are enormous. The language and the society begin to unravel. The citizens of Nollop have little time left to come up with a solution to the total destruction of their culture and way of life.

Mark Dunn has written a thought provoking, scary novel about the power of governments using a format that is hilarous and heartwreching to anyone who uses the English language. I highly recommend this book to anyone who prizes our freedom of access to books.

Dunn, Mark. (2001). Ella Minnow Pea: a progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable. San Fransisco: MacAdam / Cage.

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10 February 2007

Jephte's Daughter

In this book by Naomi Ragen, Batsheva Ha-Levi, the daughter of a weathly American Jew is forced into an arranged marriage by her father. He is the sole survivor of his family and feels he needs to honor his inheritance and cultural identity by insuring his lineage of famous rabbis continues. Batsheva is married to a devout Torah scholar in Israel. She is thrust into a world she knows very little about (and which looks nothing like the Rodeo Drive she is used to) and expected to fit in and take care of her new husband following a set of laws she is unfamiliar with.

This book is beautifully written. It shows one aspect of the Hassidic Jewish community in Israel. Naomi Ragen got a lot of criticism for this book as the man Batsheva marries is not the nicest man and how that reflects on the Orthodox. But of course this is one story of one fictitious member of the community. Naomi Ragen is a talented writer and does an amazing job of pulling you into the story. This is her first book.

Ragen, Naomi. (2002). Jephte's daughter. Michigan: Toby Press.

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09 February 2007

The Thursday Next Series

Thursday Next is a Literary Detective in Jursifiction. In the first book, The Eyre Affair, she must go into the original manuscript of Jane Eyre to save Jane from an evil villian who has kidnapped her. If Thursday is not sucessful, all exsisting copies of the book Jane Eyre will be changed to match the new story taking place in the orginal. Sounds confusing here, but Jasper Fforde is a master at explaining the world of Thursday Next. One that is similar enough to our world that it is easy to follow, but with some very obvious differences. For example, Thursday has a pet Dodo bird cloned out of old DNA and Wales is a Socialist Republic. It is a world where they take literature seriously.

I would recommend his stories to anyone who likes books. He is bloody mad, but in a good way. (Pay attention to details, all of his books in this and the Nursery Crimes series play off of each other.)
Fforde, Jasper. (2003). The Eyre affair. New York: Penguin.
Fforde, Jasper. (2004). Lost in a good book. New York: Penguin.
Fforde, Jasper. (2004). Well of lost plots. New York: Penguin.
Fforde, Jasper. (2005). Something rotten. New York: Penguin.

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08 February 2007

The Point of This Blog

While one of the main points of this blog is to get extra credit for my GLSIS class, I do love to read. So, I am creating this blog to share good books (and the occasional movie) to my classmates and friends. I have eclectic tastes in reading. I couldn't possibly pick one favorite author. I could list my top 10, maybe. If it is a genre in fiction, I will probably read it. As such, my recommendations will go from fantasy to espianage to who-knows-what.

As far as the occasional movie goes, I pick movies like I pick books. I choose books by author and I choose films by actors. Again, I could not list just one favorite. Though I am more selective about recommending a movie than I may be recommending a book.

I hope that if you check this list frequently, as I must post 4 times per week, you will find books that sound enjoyable to you. Please feel free to recommend some to me as well. I read about 2 books a week, so at times I feel like I am running out of material as I have to wait for my favorite authors to write more.

Shalom,
Stacey

Oh - Sfarim Tovim is "good books" in Hebrew. And the 71 icon in my profile is my ice hockey number (based on my and my girlfriend's anniversary - the First of July or 7/1 ).