Good Books and the Random Movie

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30 April 2007

Exile

Exile is the latest book by Richard North Patterson. The book features David Wolfe, a San-Francisco lawyer who is about to enter the world of politics. Until an old friend and lover from college contacts him. She is in town, from the West Bank, following the speaking tour of Israel’s prime minister, Amos Ben-Aron. David had not heard one word from Hana in 13 years.

David and his fiancée, Carole, give a dinner party for Ben-Aron the night before his speech. The next day they watch the speech, live, and then walk to where his motorcade will pass on its way back to the airport. Just before his limo arrives, two copsicles (motorcycle cops) join the escorts. Seconds later, as the limo passes, one of them drives into the limo and detonates a bomb in his saddlebag.

Two days later, still in shock after seeing the first suicide bombing in the United States, David receives another call from Hana. She and her family have been detained on their way to the airport, their passports confiscated. The FBI has reason to believe that Hana may have been involved in the plot to kill Ben-Aron.

Will David take the case in spite of his fiancée’s horror at the thought that David knows an accused, Palestinian terrorist? Will there be any hope of proving Hana is innocent with the media and government looking so hard for someone to blame?

Exile is one of Patterson’s best. It will upset anyone with an opinion of the situation in Israel. He will offend people on all sides of the issues. But, he also does an amazing job of bringing to light how many sides there are and illuminating some of the factions involved. As I would not recommend this book for someone to use as a guide to Middle East politics, as a novel it is excellent.

Patterson, Richard North. (2007). Exile. New York: Henry Holt & Company.

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26 April 2007

The Alchemist

If you have not read The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream by Paulo Coelho, go read it today. As a matter of fact, buy it. You will want to re-read it often.

The Alchemist is a fable about someone in search of something. Santiago travels the world searching for treasure. He has had a dream that there is treasure buried in Egypt. He makes an amazing journey from his home in Spain to the markets of Tangiers and across the Egyptian desert. At the end of this journey he finds the alchemist.

This is the story that enlightens. It shows that the journey is as important, if not more so, than the destination.

Coelho, Paulo. (1998). The Alchemist. New York: HarperFlamingo.


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25 April 2007

Movie: V for Vendetta

This is a great movie!

V for Vendetta takes place in a future England. A freedom fighter, or terrorist depending on your view, is challenging the oppressive government. He, V, rescues a woman from the secret police and they become unlikely allies trying to lead the people to freedom.

The film, adapted from David Lloyd and Alan Moore's graphic novel of the same name, is an interesting commentary on our times. Many of the political comments can be related to our current state. This may be why the movie didn't do well in theaters in the US.

Natalie Portman does a great job as Evey Hammond. She is even more stunning with her head shaved! Hugo Weaving, of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, does an amazing job with many complex emotions, all while wearing a mask. He gives a soliloquy at one point in the movie, that lasts for minutes, where all of the words begin with the letter V. (Watch with the subtitles or you might miss it.)

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24 April 2007

The Stone Raft

Welcome to the world of magical realism! In Jose Saramago's The Stone Raft, the Iberian peninsula breaks off of Europe and floats away.

Although this book is not the easiest read due to the general lack of punctuation, it is worth the effort. And it has one of the best opening sentences I have read:

When Joana Carda scratched the ground with the elm branch all of the dogs of Cerebe began to bark, throwing the inhabitants into panic and horror, because from time immemorial it was believed that, when these canine creatures that had always been silent started to bark, the universe was nearing its end.

Saramago, Jose. (1996). The Stone Raft. Fort Washington, PA: Harvest Books.

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23 April 2007

Movie: Bound

Bound (1996) stars Gina Gershon, Jennifer Tilly, and Joe Pantoliano. It is a noir film about stealing from the mob, but with a twist. All previous mobster movies have been with a distinctly manly theme. This film is about two women. Violet, the girlfriend of Caeser, the money launderer, falls for Corky, the ex-con. Together Violet and Corky plan to steal the money Caeser and his business associates.

The Wachowski Brothers wrote, directed, and produced this film. They have a distinct style of filming. During this film, you may notice there are very few colors used. Most things are black, white or red. Green is thrown in when the money is involved.

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19 April 2007

The Telling

Ursula LeGuin's The Telling takes place on a planet that our Earth is headed toward. The planet of Aka is a corporate planet. It is all about consumerism. This is another of her books about the Ekumen.

Sutty travels to Aka from Earth. She is an Indian woman living in Vancouver, BC. She is grateful to leave her planet and what has become a religious planet. The government puts all non-believers (of their religion) into camps.

On Aka, people are forced to give up the old ways to become what past missionaries have described as the right way to be - producer-consumers.

Sutty finally get permission to leave the city and travel up river to a place that might hold on to the old ways of life. Will she find anyone who dares defy the law and continues the old ways?

LeGuin, Ursula K. (2000). The Telling. New York: Harcourt, Inc.

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18 April 2007

Life As We Knew It (Last Survivors #1)

In Susan Beth Pfeffer's novel, Life As We Knew It, the Earth goes through a major change. What at first sounds like a fun event to witness turns to chaos when a meteor hits the moon.

The moon is pushed into an orbit closer to Earth. This changes the gravitational effect it has on the oceans, rising the tides 20 feet. Coastal cities and islands are wiped out. Weather patterns change. Volcanoes erupts. And ash blocks out the sun.

Miranda and her family are better off than most. Her mother was smart enough to get all of her money out of the bank in cash. They stocked up on food and water to wait out the changes. Miranda is sure the scientists are coming up with ways to help, but with no electricity she cannot watch the news or go online to find out.

This young adult novel, written through journal entries, is a thrill ride into the unknown. Will Miranda and her family survive a winter that started in September and has no end in sight?

Pfeffer, Susan Beth. (2006). Life as we knew it. New York: Harcourt.

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17 April 2007

The Attack: A Novel

While on the theme of terrorism in Israel… The Attack by Yasmina Khadra was an amazing book. It looks at a suicide bombing through the eyes of an Arab Israeli doctor. Dr. Amin Jaafari is a dedicated surgeon trying to fit into Israeli society - a society that can appreciate his help in the operating room, but still not trust him outside it.

A bombing that kills 20 and wounds more keeps him awake for more than 24 hours trying to save lives. At the end of his shift he is told that his wife was among those killed in the bombing. And the evidence points to her being the bomber. In an attempt to find answers, Dr. Jaafari traces his wife’s movements from the past few weeks, from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to Jenin. What he finds will shock and anger him. How can a man who thinks of himself as a healer come to terms with a wife who became a murderer?


Khadra, Yasmina. (2006). The attack: A novel. New York: Nan A. Talese.

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16 April 2007

The Covenant

The Covenant is every bit as good as the other books Naomi Ragen has written, but it is harder to read. Well, let me clarify: it is as easy to read judging by writing style and the plot and characters that pull you into the story. For me, it was harder to read because of the subject matter. It deals with the continuous terrorism faced by Israelis and the results of one such attack. It is, unfortunately, a reality for everyone in Israel, both Israeli and Palestinian. It is also about Jews living in settlements, one of the most controversial issues out of Israel today.

Dr. Jonathan Margulies and his daughter, Ilana, fail to come home one evening. Elise, wife and mother, thinks it is her worst fear come true. And it is. Their car is found on the side of the road filled with bullet holes. Over the course of the next five days ordinary people join the fight against terrorism.

This novel describes a fear that is real in our world. It is not just in Israel anymore either. Our world is full of people who feel they need to go outside of the system to get any results or attention, and unfortunately that sometimes includes resorting to acts of terrorism. There is no easy answer found, and this book does not offer one. But it is a topic that cannot be ignored in our time, even from the relatively safe US. It is not going to go away on its own.

Ragen, Naomi. (2004). The covenant. New York: Penguin.

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13 April 2007

Empire

Wow. In Empire, Orson Scott Card takes the current political situation in the United States and extrapolates one possible outcome. We are more polarized now that we have been at any other time since the Civil War. Of course, it is a bit harder to separate possible sides in a possible crisis today, unlike the Mason-Dixon line. You cannot just say red states and blue states, or urban and rural.

Major Rueben Malich is ordered to look at the security in D.C. and find a way that terrorist might find a way to assassinate the President. As a trained Special Ops guy, this seems like a perfect assignment for his skills. But when his plans are used in an attack, he must find out who set him up - before he becomes the scape goat and ends up silenced.

The attack on the White House is the catalyst that sets off the civil war / revolution. But is the war started by the Left or the Right? And how can you tell them apart?

Card, Orson. S. (2006). Empire. New York: Tor.

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11 April 2007

Alaska

Over 1000 pages, and covering a billion years – from the woolly mammoth to becoming the 49th state – James Michener tells the both the natural and human history of Alaska. This epic begins with the geological formation of the landmass and the first humans to walk across the Bering Land Bridge, and includes Russian fur traders, the gold rush, the native Alaskans, Baranov’s founding of Sitka “the Paris of the Pacific,” Seward’s folly, the role of Alaska in WWII, James Cook, the Oil Pipeline and more. The history of Alaska is as wild and diverse as that of any land. And Michener covers all of it.

The history of Alaska and its role in the development of the whole of the Western United States and Canada is a fascinating story. Michener chooses characters, real and made up, who personify the types of people who gave up all they had in the hope that they would gain more in the gold rush - the prospectors, the merchants, those who ran the shipping lines that supplied the route, and those who died along the way.

After massive amounts of research, Michener weaves the fascinating and complex history of a land that will not be tamed. As in all good historical fiction, the fiction is hard to tell from the history. But, I do have one complaint – to make a grand closing to the book, Michener adds a geological event that did not happen. It made the story interesting up to the last page, but to add an event of such magnitude, one that does not exist, is a strange way to end. It brings into question what other major changes were made. In his defense, this book was never meant to become a history text. And overall, it did not detract from the enjoyment of the novel. I just recall getting to Alaska after reading the book and wondering what was real and what had been made up to enhance the narrative.

Michener, James. (1989). Alaska. New York: Fawcett.

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10 April 2007

The Glory

The Glory takes up where The Hope ended. Wouk’s second book on the history of Israel begins just after the Six Day War in 1967 and continues until the bombing of Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981. The characters in The Glory, are the children of those in The Hope. It is the next generation of Israelis, the first generation born in the Jewish State of Israel. This volume is a look at the people who still live in Israel today. And Wouk captures the spirit of the sabra quite well. He did a wonderful job of explaining the country of Israel. As I said about The Hope – if you are at all interested in Israel, Jews, or the Middle East, this is a must read!

After reading these books and then visiting Israel, I can see the characters in the real people there – their spirit, their stubbornness in the face of possible danger, and their love of the land. I can see my in-laws who grew up on Kibbutz Hulda in the story. And on my third day in the country, when I heard the sound of machine gun fire to the south of where I was staying, I felt safe in the knowledge that the current generation of fierce Israeli soldiers was insuring that there would be a Jewish State for as long as there are Jews born in Israel.

Wouk, Herman. (2002). The Glory. Boston: Back Bay Books.

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09 April 2007

The Hope

In The Hope, Herman Wouk tells the history of Israel - from the creation of the state in 1948 through 1967’s Six Day War. All of the major events in Israel’s history are covered, from the British internment camps and the Jews who had to sneak into the country, to the spirit of the Jews who finally had their own country to fight for and the battle for Jerusalem. Though this is a work of historical-fiction, it is real in spirit. Wouk captures the character of the Israelis.

Zev Barak, a Viennese-born military man, and Yossi Blumenthal, a soon-to-be legendary soldier, and others are representative of the many young men and women who fought and won independence for Israel. Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, and David Ben-Gurion, among other real people, are woven into the story of the fictional characters.

For anyone who is interested in Israel or Middle East politics, this is a good, easy to read overview of the history of Israel. It is fiction, but based in fact. All of the battles and many of the people in the story are real. Wouk weaves fact and fiction seamlessly.

The Hope is one of the best books I have read.

Wouk, Herman. (1993). The Hope. Boston: Back Bay Books.

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08 April 2007

Next

In Next, Michael Crichton explores the frightening possibilities of future genetic experimentation. Some turns out okay - a humanzee, or chimp-human mix - makes a good addition to a family. And a parrot with human genes added can help a child with math homework.

Then there is the bunny with bioluminescence, the pig with wings, or the giant cockroach pets. Plus the idea that is already happening today: the ability to patent a gene or protein that occurs naturally. Thereby making it expensive or even illegal for others to use it.

So what happens when a court rules that a university research facility owns the rights to use one man's genes in a cancer cure? What about the genes still inside of him? Or in his daughter or grandson?

And interesting, if sometime extreme, look at one possible future for genomics. Crichton is an easy to read author whose books are as exciting as his movies.

Crichton, Michael. (2006). Next. New York: HarperCollins Publishing.

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06 April 2007

TV: Life as We Know It

Life as We Know It was a great series. Why do they cancel all of the good ones before we get our fill? Who decides these things? This is the best teen-focused series since My So Called Life.

Life in a Seattle high school - shown through the eyes of three hormone driven best friends - Dino, Ben, and Jonathan. It is edgy and humorous with characters who are likable and realistic.

The creators / writers did a great job conveying the angst of being a teen today. A total of 14 episodes. All good. Not enough to satisfy.

Staring Sean Faris, Missy Peregrym, and Ben Foster - all up and coming actors on the big screen.

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05 April 2007

Zero Hour

Zero Hour by Benjamin E. Miller is a thrill ride. I will admit it; I love any book with disaster weather! Floods, Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Avalanche, Fire, plagues of Locust (well, maybe locust only in the Hagaddah!).

Computer weather models at MIT start to show an alarming possibility...a hurricane of crazy force could be generated above a lake or ocean where the water reaches 120 degrees in temperature. Of course, the only way the water would get that warm is if heated by lava. If it happened, it could cause a storm with winds reaching close to the speed of sound. There is some evidence that such a storm caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Unfortunately for us, the conditions seem just about perfect for such conditions in Antarctica. Deep below the frozen surface of the Ross Ice Shelf, a volcano erupts. Built directly above this eruption is a geothermal power plant.

USAF Colonel Tom Reed heads the team sent in to make sure things stay under control. But, is there anything people can do to change the course of mother nature? For Reed and his crew this could be a suicide mission.

Miller, Benjamin. E. (2003). Zero Hour. New York: Onyx.

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04 April 2007

Movie: D.E.B.S.

D.E.B.S. are highly trained, elite paramilitary super spies, trained at an all girls college to protect the United States from evil. There is a secret test hidden within the questions of the SAT that rates young women's potential to lie, cheat, steal, and kill. Only by scoring at the top of this test can you be asked to join.

The top squad at the school, led by Amy Bradshaw - the only one ever to receive a perfect score on the hidden test - is assigned to track down notorious super villain Lucy Diamond.

But while tracking Diamond, Amy mysteriously disappears. The D.E.B.S. begin a full-scale search for her. After all, no one has fought Lucy Diamond and lived to tell about it.

This is a great film! It is Angela Robinson's first feature length film. Yes, there are a few inconsistencies - she did write, direct and edit the film herself - but they do not detract from the fun. D.E.B.S. stars Jordana Brewster and Sara Foster.

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03 April 2007

The Misfits

The Misfits by James Howe is an interesting look at name-calling in middle school. Bobby and his friends - Addie, Joe, and Skeezie - make up the "The Gang of Five" (keeping a place open for another outcast).

During the Paintbrush Falls Middle School election, the Gang starts a new political party - the No-Name Party. Their platform is that name calling hurts and it must be stopped. Their posters are names they have been called with a red line drawn through them. It is a very well received, much discussed campaign at the school. Whether or not they win the election, the group doesn't have much hope of that, they will learn to stick up for each other and spark discussions of how name-calling hurts even the popular kids.

This book is a look at kids who don't fit in and all kids who have been called names. I think that covers pretty much all kids.

Howe, James. (2001). The misfits. New York: Adaddin Paperbacks.

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02 April 2007

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Aron Ralston's Between a Rock and a Hard Place is a true account of his time trapped in Blue John Canyon. The book is filled with great climbing and hiking stories.

In April of 2002 Ralston, an experienced climber, skier and all-other-outdoor adventurer, became trapped in Utah's Canyon Lands. On a Saturday at 2:45, a boulder shifted as he climbed over it, falling and trapping his right hand against the side of the slot canyon. He spent the next five days trapped - trying to free himself as he ran out of food and water. It is a harrowing tale that once again proves that you should never give up.

The book eases the tension of the situation by flashing back to his previous hiking and climbing experiences. Some of the time I was not sure if the previous experiences were to show how much he had learned along the way - as it to emphasize that anyone can have a freak accident and become trapped. Or if they were to show what crazy risks he has already taken and somehow lived through!

Overall, this is a great read that inspires the reader to spend more time outdoors (once s/he has left a detailed note of when and where).

Ralston, Aron. (2004). Between a rock and a hard place. New York: Atria Books.

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01 April 2007

TV: Firefly

Joss Whedon created Firefly, a now-cancelled sci-fi-western. I don't really know what to say about a western that takes place all over the universe. The characters are well developed and almost instantly likable. The ship, Serenity, is also a character.

Captain Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds heads a motley crew of people who either weren't satisfied living planet-side, or are running from the law. The fly around the 'verse doing odd jobs and crimes to keep the ship running so they can keep going.

This is the best series that was ever cancelled! The highest praise I can give it is that I own the DVD - it is part of my collection - 9 in total. Obviously, I only buy the really good ones. Movies and shows that can be watched over and over.

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