Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Testimony by Anita Shreve

Anita Shreve is one of my favorite authors and I've read ALL of her novels. I haven't liked her last several novels as much as my favorites (The Weight of Water, Fortune's Rocks, Sea Glass, The Pilot's Wife). While Testimony was better than the last several that I've read, it still was not as good as my favorites.

Testimony is a story of a sexual escapade in a private high school in Vermont that is caught on tape and through a domino effect, ruins the life of many people. The story is told in an interesting twist as a sort of testimony in past and present tense from a variety of different views of different people who were present at Avery school at the time of the event as told to a researcher who is interviewing people for an adolescent boys and alcohol study. There were three males and one female involved in the incident, but the story really becomes a love story between one of the boys, Silas and his girlfriend Noelle, as well as the story of Mike the headmaster and Silas' parents. The story was tragic in nature and hard to put down. The story had surprises and did not end with everyone wrapped up and solved.

I liked that the book had an ambigous ending as in real life. I liked the stories of Noelle, Silas, Mike, Anna, and Owen a lot. The overall tale was very well rounded from all points of views, not putting blame on the girl or the boys, but trying to see it from all angles. I thought it was a good story for showing on one thoughtless act can really affect many people in tragic ways. I thought it also showed a good story for they way our laws are now that if a freshman girl/boy is involved in a "relationship" with a senior male/female, it is against the law - especially when caught on tape. It's interesting to think about. Such things went on when I was in school, and I'm sure they did before me and after me. Usually it was only one senior boy and girl and no videotape/ internet leak, but still - it would be against the law technically. The book made a case for how the media can twist a story and make it larger than life. Secrets are harder to keep in our internet world.

I liked the concepts of the book and the main story, but I felt that to have SO MANY different view points took away from the story. It seemed that often the story went in random directions that had nothing to do with the main story. If it would have focused more on the main characters it would have been better. What happened to Noelle after the event? I still want to know!! Also I didn't like the porn graphic detail of the first chapter. It turned me off from the story, but since I like Shreve as an author, I trusted her enough to keep on reading.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Forgetting Sarah Marshall was an okay movie. It was the story of a composer named Peter who has been dating Sarah Marshall, the star of a CSI like drama for the past five years. His world is shattered when Sarah breaks up with him (while he is naked) for a British rocker. Peter travels to Hawaii to forget Sarah, but discovers she is staying at the same resort with her new boyfriend. Peter makes new friends including the receptionist, Rachel.

I liked several aspects of the movie including:

1. Male nudity. Well, I didn't like it that much - but was happy that they were showing a man and not just a naked lady like most movies.
2. Relationships from a caring, sensitive male point of view. It was nice to have the story of a nice guy on screen.
3. Three dimensional characters. I really liked all of the leads characters - they were really well developed and realistic.
4. Complicated relationships. Sarah may seem like a witch at first, but flashbacks and conversations show that Sarah and Peter's relationship had been fraught with difficulties that had come to a head.

I'm sure there were more things I liked, but for some reason I just couldn't get into this movie. Maybe I am over the whole gross-out comedies of late. Or maybe there was too much sensitive guy with Peter and his weepiness. I'm not sure what it was about it . . .did anyone else feel the same as me and find themselves wanting to love the movie, but falling short?

Monday, November 24, 2008

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

This month I've had some classics of literature for book club picks. My Kewaunee library book club pick of the month for November is For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. John and I picked the book this month as we had both listened to NPR and noted that this was both John McCain and Barack Obama's favorite book. None of us in our club had ever read the book, so we decided to read it and determine what made it the favorite book of both cotenders for the White House. Unfortunately, it took us all longer than we thought so we are postponing our discussion of the book until our December meeting.

For Whom the Bell Tolls is the story of Robert Jordan, a U.S. professor of Spanish from Montana, who has been fighting in the Spanish Civil War against the Facists for a year. He has been sent to a work with a guerrilla group to capture and blow up a bridge to help in an attack on the City of Seragovia. He falls in love with a young revolutionary, Maria, and has his will tested to complete his mission.

I liked the novel overall and had many points of interest throughout my reading of it. First of all, as usual in my reading of Hemingway, I think that he is not a good writer of female characters. I was pleased in this book that he did have the character of Pilar. A strong, multi-dimensional female character. Maria drove me crazy though. She came off as rather shallow and silly. It seems like the women in Hemingway's novels are either very simplistic and annoyingly clingy (like Catherine in A Farewell to Arms) or sluts (Brett in The Sun also Rises). I am confused on why all talk of Hemingway is always praise and no one ever addresses this glaring problem with his novels.

I also found it interesting that he used the term "obscenity" frequently when the characters swore and had rather tame love scenes. It's interesting how much novels have changed in the last 70 years. I wonder what a Hemingway novel of 2008 would be like. I find it more intriguing to have to use my imagination than to have things spelled out to me.

This novel did an excellent job of describing the horrors of war. Pilar's description of the killing of the Facists by Pablo in his home town was brutal. The images of the mob as they beat down and threw the facists over the cliff was terrible, but yet brillant writing. The crowd was able to get into the mob mentality and kill their neighbors and men that were not so bad - and also men that were bad, but did not deserve such a death. By describing the scene as it happened with the bad and the good, it was a very powerful and scary scene. It made you realize the power of the mob and why things such as McCarthyism, the Salem witch trials, etc. can happen.

Another powerful scene was when Robert Jordan killed a calvary man that stumbled upon the guerilla group's hidden cave. Jordan looked through and read the man's letters. The letters were from the man's mother and sister. They humanized the calvaryman and made Jordan realize that the man was just a normal guy that had a family that loved him. He was fighting against the communists, also for his country. War is cruel, but civil war is even crueler.

The third powerful scene for me in the novel was when Robert Jordan thinks about his beloved grandfather and how he was a great Civil War hero. He wishes his grandfather was there to advise him in the situation, but he also thinks about his father and how he committed suicide. He thinks it was a cowardly act and that he and his grandfather would be ashamed to be with his father. It was chilling to read knowing that 20 years later, Hemingway committed suicide. Hemingway had a father that committed suicide in the same way as Jordan's - with the grandfather's civil war pistol. This section gives one much to think and discuss about Hemingway's feelings about suicide.

The fourth scene that I marked as being especially great was when one member of the group, Andres, is carrying a message to the general from Robert Jordan and is thinking about his life. He thinks about how he will do his task, but that he wishes he could just be home on his farm. He says, "I think we ware born into a time of great difficulty." I found this section of the book to be powerful.

Overall, I thought this novel was excellent, except for the poor writing of the character of Maria. The novel was an excellent treatise about the brutality of war and the way that a man (or woman in Pilar's case) must face it. You can either be a man and do your duty to your fullest, or take the coward's way out. I think this is why both candidates like the novel. Robert Jordan was willing to sacrafice himself for his cause and for the good of his guerilla and revolutionary group.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Help the Automakers: Michigan's Future Depends on It

I know this isn't a review, but I thought this message from the president of my alma mater (Michigan Tech) was quite timely. Hopefully it will change a few minds about giving the auto industry a loan!

BTW - I sent this article as an email to some of my friends and it has produced quite a spirited discussion. Where do I stand on this? I'm not a fan of bailouts, but I think a "loan" to help the big three move on to oil independence would be quite timely, environmentally and national security friendly, and would also help to avoid a great depression. I'm not sure how people want an industry to fail that supports 1 in 10 jobs in America and not think it will sink our country into chaos. What do you think? I'm interested, please post a comment.

Help the Automakers: Michigan's Future Depends on It

Michigan Tech President Glenn D. Mroz

Most of us in Michigan know that the auto industry does a lot more than make cars and trucks. The "Big Three" in Detroit support millions of employees and retirees—not just their own, but those of their suppliers and dealers—and millions more in the health care, retail and service industries that those employees and their families use.

But the degree to which they also support education—the the ticket to our childrens future—may come as a surprise. For example, over the years General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have contributed substantially to Michigan Technological University, enabling the University to conduct cutting-edge research and provide priceless hands-on training for tomorrow's engineers and business leaders. The alternative fuels and the clean vehicles to use them that we so desperately need are being developed at Michigan universities and elsewhere with the support of the auto industry.

Consider the following from our own experience at Michigan Tech: GM, Ford and Chrysler sponsor Senior Design projects and Enterprise programs, the centerpieces of our discovery-based learning experience. Much more than classroom exercises, these projects give tomorrow's automotive engineers, technologists and business leaders an opportunity to solve real-world problems, to the benefit of industry and the economy. A 2006 Senior Design project sponsored by GM at Michigan Tech recently generated three patents.

Last year Ford established its first remote Information Technology (IT) Development Center in Houghton, home of Michigan Tech. There, computer science, technology, engineering and business students earn money for college while putting the skills they learned in class to work incorporating the latest in computer technology into Ford products.

Chrysler partners with the Keweenaw Research Center at Michigan Tech to test vehicles under winter driving conditions. They have also donated vehicles for students to study.

It's no wonder that more than 2,000 Michigan Tech alumni have been employed at the big three, and many more from other Michigan universities. The Big Three and Michigan universities are working partners, educating skilled workers and creating Michigan's and the nation's future. But there is even more at stake than that.

US carmakers have 105 plants in 20 states. They support 14,000 dealers across the country, who in turn employ 740,000 people. The automakers buy $156 billion in parts and services from suppliers in every state. The collapse of the Detroit automakers would lead to widespread failure of these suppliers, who also supply the non-US auto manufacturers. It would quickly put an estimated 3 million people out of jobs and cost this country $150 billion in spendable income and $45 billion in taxes those unemployed people won't be paying.

With all this at stake, Governor Jennifer Granholm has warned that allowing the Big Three to go into bankruptcy would push the automakers over a cliff and threaten their very survival. In our view, if such a catastrophe gives the country the economic equivalent of a severe case of the flu, it would give Michigan pneumonia.

Please join me in urging Congress to provide the support our auto industry needs.

New Star Trek Movie Trailer

I just saw this post on ew.com with a clip of the new Star Trek trailer that was out this weekend before Quantam of Solace. My first reaction was that I wasn't to excited by the youthful Kirk car driving next to a cliff (thought I was watching the wrong trailer), but I thought the rest of the trailer looked really exciting and action packed. I am REALLY looking forward to this movie, although with slight misgivings after the EW article where J.J. Abrahms talks about not being consistent with the franchise and traying to make it more like Star Wars. Luckily it comes out in May. I am too much of a Star Trek fan to not be excited by a new movie, especially since I love J.J. Abrahms and Lost. I've seen every Star Trek movie since I was a kid watching Star Trek IV in the theatre with my Dad and Mom. Danny will be over a year old at that point so it will be easier to leave him with a sitter so that Ben and I can go on a date to see it. I'm already making plans . . . !! I'm just sad I won't be in Michigan to make my three generational trip to the movie theatre. Usually my Grandma, Dad, best-friend Jenn, and myself make the journey to the latest Star Trek movie together.

On another note, I also saw this website with a trailer for Watchmen. Wow - this looks like a good movie. I know nothing about it though. I am still a graphic novel virgin. Is this something that should be a must read for me?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I just reread To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee for my Lakeshore Moms' bookclub. It is I think my fourth time reading it, but definitely not my last. This is a novel that can be enjoyed again and again and will always bring new meanings and messages to the reader.

To Kill a Mockingbird is the coming of age story of tomboy Scout Finch and her brother Jem . They live in Maycomb Alabama with their widowed lawyer father Atticus and housekeeper Calpernia. The novel spans several years with Scout aging from six to nine. Scout and Jem befriend a new boy named Dill that comes to visit his aunt during the summer. Together they fantasize about neighbor "Boo" Radley that hasn't been seen outside his house in years. The novel beautifully portrays small town Southern life in the 1930's. Scout has almost an idyllic childhood until she is forced to grow up when her father defends African American Tim Robinson against the false allegations of rape by a white woman, Mayella Ewell. I will say no more for those who have not read the novel.

I think this is a superb piece of American Literature for several reasons. First of all, it is one of the best coming of age stories that I have ever read. Secondly, it is a great tale about the inequality of race in the American South. I am glad that the nation I live in today has gone from this novel with such racial inequalities to a nation where we have the first African American President. Thirdly, Atticus Finch is one of the best literary heros ever. He is a good man who sticks to his principals and stands for honesty and integrety of individuals. I wish I lived in a world where there were more men and women like Atticus Finch. Lastly, the storytelling and description in this book are beautiful. It is truly a masterpiece.

The only thing I didn't like about the book is the racial epithats used throughout. It was a sign of the times and historically accurate, but it's a bit jarring for modern sensibilities.

I had this book with me at the orthodontist on Monday and heard from several people that they liked the book and hadn't read it since high school. I first read it in high school myself, but I was never made to read it for a class. Truthfully, when I look back on what books we did read in high school (and college), I find that 99% of the books I read for classes were written by men. Why is that? Why are important women writers left off the syllabuses? I still dream of someday throwing down my engineering degree and becoming an English professor of literature that forces everyone to read women authors:-)

If you have never read this classic, I HIGHLY recommend it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

I love Georgette Heyer novels and am glad I've discovered her in last couple of years. Her regency novels are romantic novels that play a lot more like Jane Austen than the modern regency romance novels that focus more on the "physical" parts of the relationship.

Cotillion is one of my favorite Heyer novels so far. The novel surprised me by taking the story line in a different direction than I supposed. By the end, I realized that Heyer had subtly changed my mind about the characters and had brought about the conclusion that I may not have expected, but by that point really wanted. This novel also had wonderfully developed characters and great secondary characters and romances.

Eccentric great-uncle Matthew summons his great-nephews to his estate to tell them he will live his adopted great-niece Kitty all of his money as long as she marries one of the great-nephews. Unfortunately, the nephew that Kitty has a crush on, Jack, refuses to show up. Kitty enlists the help of another great-nephew Freddy Standon to pretend to be engaged so that she can visit his family in London and hopefully make Jack jealous.

I really enjoyed this novel highly recommend it for those fond of regency novels or light, intellegent romantic novels.

The Other Queen by Phillippa Gregory

The Other Queen is Phillippa Gregory's (author of The Other Bolyen Girl) latest novel. The "other queen" of the title is Queen Mary of Scotland. This book takes a novel approach to describing Mary's captivity through three views: that of Mary herself, of Elizbeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury (or Bess of Hardwicke), and George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury.

George and Bess are older newlyweds and amongst the most priviloged Protestants in the realm when Queen Elizabeth picks them to be Queen Mary of Scotland's captors. At first the couple is overjoyed to be selected, but as the years go, the role of keeping Queen Mary destroys their marriage, happiness, and wealth (Queen Elizabeth never pays them for keeping Mary and all of her entourage). Also troubling is the fact that Mary is always trying to escape, which put's the Talbot's lives on the line. The novel covers the first few years of Mary's capativity and then flash forwards at the very end to her excecution. We see Mary grow from a vivacious, beautiful young woman, to an older than she should be middle aged and broken woman.

I found several points of the novel very interesting. One point was the description of how Bess acquired her wealth and status through the marriage of four husbands. Her second husband helped in the desolution of the Catholic church and kept much of the church's wealth for himself. It had interesting commentary of how the Catholic church was the social system in that time that helped those in need such as the poor and eldery. When the church was torn down, it often was to take the wealth of the church and no one stepped in to take over the care of those in need. It was interesting to think about . . . this vacuum in society made it ripe for Queen Mary to step in as a Catholic and overthrow Elizabeth. If she would have had a bit more luck and competant assistants on her side, history would have turned out a lot differently.

Overall, I thought this was an excellent novel. The only negative to the book for me was the rather abrupt ending. I didn't like how it ended and then fast forwarded to Mary's execution. At least it gave it closer, but it felt like there should either have been another novel, or this novel should have been longer to encompase those years.

Made of Honor

Made of Honor was a cute romantic comedy starring Patrick Dempsey. I'm feeling my age though. The opening sequence showed when the two characters met in college in 1998 with Clinton and Monica jokes and outfits at Halloween. That would be when I was in college, but I don't remember Clinton and Monica dress up at Michigan Tech! :-) As a side note - not to be picky, but Patrick Dempsey is a good 12 years older than me. He would have been the oldest senior in college around in 1998. Sorry - just had to put that out there!

Patrick Dempsey stars as Tom, a rich playboy. He meets Hannah (Michelle Monaghan) in 1998 at college. Hannah is a girl that tells him the way it is and doesn't want to sleep with him - so they become friends. Ten years later, Hannah travels to Scotland to restore artwork. While she is gone, Tom discovers that he misses her more than he realizes and loves her. When Hannah returns, Tom discovers that Hannah has met and become engaged to Colin. Coin is the "perfect" man. Not only is he Scottish, but he is very wealthy, a Duke, great at everything he does, and greatly "endowed" we found out in a gym scene. Tom feels overwhelmed, but agrees to be Hannah's "maid" of honor in order to stay close to her and steal her back for himself. Much hilarity ensues at the wedding in Scotland.

I enjoyed this cute movie. I didn't love it, but did think it was good.

Outlander Movie!!!!

Hi all - I just read on Diana Gabaldon's blog that Outlander has been optioned as a future movie. I am so excited! The Outlander series is one of my favorite series of books. If you haven't read it - it combines historical fiction, fantasty, action, and romance together wonderfully. It is the story of Claire a time-traveling nurse from the twentieth century, and Jamie, a sexy Scottish highlander from the 18th century. I will be so excited it a movie gets made - as long as they do it right!