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I read because I must. It's like breathing to me. And I love talking about books. But I'm also an Arsenal fan, a wine drinker, a music lover and weirdly obsessed with pop culture. I mostly blog about books, but sometimes about things I'm thinking or doing. When I'm not on the blog, I'm scoping deals for a professional services company, hanging out with friends, or seeing some live theater.

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Hidden Figures

Posted on 10 Jan 2017 In: Reading

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It’s another collaboration with Stephen Brown  of Silver Screen Capture. I read the book, we both saw the movie. I’m reviewing the book, he’s reviewing the film, and we both answered a few questions.

If you haven’t heard of Hidden Figures yet, you will. The film is getting tons of buzz- more than the book did, I think, when it was released in the fall of 2016. In fact, if I recall correctly, the film rights were optioned before the book was even finished.

I’m writing the first part of this review before I see the film. Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly, tells an important story: the story of the women of color who performed critical mathematical computations that not only ensured a technological aviation superiority in WW2 and beyond, but also put our astronauts safely in space- and more importantly, safely home.

In an era where these women could not even use the same restrooms as their female counterparts, where they could not sit anywhere they wanted to in the Langley cafeteria, where they were in any and all definable ways second class citizens, they directly influenced the course of American history.  And until now, most of us had no idea about it.

From the minute I found out Hidden Figures existed, I wanted to read the book and promptly ordered it.  I really wanted to love it, the same way I want to love the film.  But I’ll be  honest, getting to love the book was a tedious process.  Until about halfway through the book, I just wasn’t connecting with it.  I was reading about these women, and was impressed with their intelligence and gumption, but I didn’t feel like I was seeing much of them.  The best comparison/contrast  I can come up with TheAstronaut Wives Club, set in the same general timeframe, about the women behind the Mercury and Apollo astronauts.  With The Astronaut Wives Club, I felt a warmth and humanity about the women, like I was really getting a glimpse of who they were.  That  same feeling, for me, is missing from Hidden Figures until about halfway through the book.  The turning point for me came when we began to delve more deeply into Katherine Goble Johnson.   For some reason, at that point, I began to connect more with all of the women and their story.   From there, I was engaged in the story and at the end, felt the book was a solid enjoyment that I highly recommend.

I saw the film Hidden Figures. And I did love it.  I freely admit I nearly teared up at the end. The film did precisely what I expected it to do- make you root for Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and the other ladies from the first moment of the film.  It humanized them in a way the book took longer to do.  But like most film adaptations, it missed nuances and backstory you get in the book, so I highly encourage you to read the book and see the movie.

Because this is an important story- important for so many reasons.  It’s important because so many girls are still taught that to be smart and to be good at math are unattainable or undesirable things.  It’s important because we still have a long way to go with full equality and respect between the races. We may no longer have institutionalized, legal discrimination, but, to paraphrase Dr. Horrible,  the status is not quo with respect to race and ethnicity in this country. It’s important because we are living in a country where an appalling  number of people deny or doubt science.  We live in a country where the national desire to achieve scientific advancement and a sense of pride in our scientific achievement just isn’t there any more.

The surest way to combat ignorance is to read. Read things that teach you about other people and cultures. Read things that show true courage and heroics.  Read things that show this courage and heroics in everyday people who challenged themselves and convention.

This, this is how we more forward.  And this is why you need to read Hidden Figures.

Here’s the Q and A with me (TBF)  and Stephen from Silver Screen Capture (SSC)

Question: What made this an important story to tell?

TBF: It’s an unknown or unrecognized part of history that celebrates minority women for major achievements, despite so many odds being stacked against them. It makes science and math heroic activities performed by smart women.

SSC: The film is even more groundbreaking than its makers may have even known, what with glass ceilings, bathroom controversies and stereotypes still plaguing Modern America. The real-life characters were presented in a reverent, almost saintly portrayal. I almost wish the chronicle of their struggles had been a bit more visceral. These women were true trailblazers.

Question: What key points made it an effective tale to read or enjoy in the movie theatre?

TBF: For me, reading the book, it was the reminders of segregation and that the women had to do so much more than white men to be seen as credible, even approaching equal. And the reminder that a success and advancement for any of these women was a victory for African-Americans as a whole- they were fighting for themselves and their community.

SSC: The film valued sentimentality over genuine suspense. I found it approached the characters at surface level from a bit of a safe distance. But there are so few movies presenting such positive portrayals of women or African-American women that one can look past wishes that it would be a little less color-by-numbers.

Question: What characters fared the best in the translation?

TBF: Katherine Johnson the best, I think. But really all three main characters- Dorothy, Mary and Katherine. The movie gave them a more vibrant personality that may not have always translated on the page, but all three were drawn true to the core aspects of the women in the book.

SSC: Octavia Spencer’s Dorothy, in her bootstraps quest to become a supervisor, had the most satisfying story arch.

Question: How did the author/director bring history to life?

TBF: The importance of the NACA and NASA missions- what it took to advance our fleet of aircrafts for military purposes, of course. But then the most important part was the effort to keep our astronauts safe. I’ve always loved stories of our first astronauts and the courage they must have had to take on something so new. But until now, I hadn’t really thought about all the effort and work it took behind the scenes, and Hidden Figures really explores that aspect.

SSC: The actresses were superb, but I feel the director could have provided meatier material. We know going in that it’s a rather untold story, yet I’m still not sure I got in the veins of the characters to truly understand their verve and passion. Movies like this can have a slightly wax museum quality about them. I loved the story and even applauded at the end along with my fellow late-night theater-goers.

 

On Hitler’s Mountain

Posted on 2 Jan 2017 In: Reading

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On Hitler’s Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood is my first completed read of 2017. In Irmgard Hunt’s memoir, she recounts growing up under Hitler. She tries to understand how ordinary German people succumbed to Nazi rule, and understand the legacy of the Third Reich so that it never happens again.

As I was reading this book, I found myself underlining so many passages. While I don’t think we are on the cusp of another Holocaust, there are certain parallels in the rhetoric of the Nazis and our current climate.

The ground rules in a German family were the same as in the German state: Punish independence, rebellion against orders, and speaking up; instead, foster unquestioning obedience, submission, orderliness, and hard work.” (15).  If you have read or studied much about some fundamental evangelicalism (Quiverfull, patriarchy), then you will see the parallels here with the idea of unquestioning, unwavering obedience.

Hunt takes to task the general passivity of the German people, including her own family.  She highlights how conditions in Post-World-War 1 Germany set the foundation for Hitler’s ascension to power and how he enthralled supporters.  “But Mutti (mother) said that they were deeply alarmed by the local newspaper headlines of daily violence in the streets of big cities and the chaos that might lead to another Bolshevik revolution or worse, all out civil war (19).”

Further, she talks about how her parents’ generation were “easy prey” for Hitler.  “After years of being made to feel like beggars and scum, they lent an eager ear to the man who told them that Germany was not only a worthy nation, but a superior one  (emphasis mine). Anyone who promised economic stability would capture the nation’s mind and soul as well. Of all the Weimar politicians, only Hitler understood fully that playing up patriotism and making false promises to every interest group wold garner a following. And most important, perhaps, he realized that instilling fear of a vaguely defined enemy- the “conspirators of world Jewry”- would bring suspicious and traumatized people, including my own mother and father, to his side (emphasis mine, 29).”

As I read these passages, I was struck by the alarming similarities to language being used today.  It made me recognize even more the importance of ensuring we learn from history and do not repeat it- that we hold each other accountable.

Hunt acknowledges that ordinary Germans did not really know about the mass killings by the Nazi party until the very end and aftermath of the war.  But they were inundated with only Nazi propaganda. Early on, people understood that to speak against the furher was tantamount to treason. Still, Hunt recognizes that all Germans of that era bear some culpability in the actions of the Holocaust, even when they knew nothing about it. Complacency and passivity and silence are as destructive as committing the acts.

Hunt recalls how she was torn between Nazi indoctrination- looking forward to joining the Hitler Youth, for example-and the reality she saw around her. There was never enough food to eat, though the Nazi officers living above the village on the mountain, had plenty.  Her own mother seemed to still love the Fatherland, but as the war dragged on and on, began to become jaded.  While Hitler and his henchmen encouraged women to be active in the war effort, as well as keepers of the home, Hunt’s mother resisted as much as she could.

Outside recalling the horrors of the Third Reich, Hunt also movingly recounts the lean times during and after the War. She also explores how one’s moral code can shift a bit when survival is at play.    And, she tells the story of the mundane, every day activiites during war time. Children are still children, parents and children still have conflict.  It is a glimpse into a very ordinary life in an extraordinary time.

For anyone with an interest in history and who likes personal memoirs, you must consider reading this book. If you are at all concerned about the rhetoric being spouted today in this country, I urge you to read On Hitler’s Mountain.

Everyone Loves You Back

Posted on 27 Dec 2016 In: Reading

screenshot96 Did you ever listen to Click and Clack, of NPR’s Car Talk? Then Everyone Loves You Back has an immediate hook for you. Author Louie Cronin was a producer for Car Talk. And this is her debut novel.

From the Amazon summary:
Sex. Wine. Jazz. Existential dread.

Meet Bob, a sarcastic radio technician who has enough on his plate trying to navigate his forties without his Cambridge neighborhood becoming overrun by urban treehuggers and uppity intellectuals in tracksuits. Between a love triangle, a rapidly shrinking job market, and the looming threat of finally growing up, Bob is forced to dig deep―man―and figure out not just what he wants, but who he is. Change hits hard when you live in the past.

Louie Cronin’s breakthrough novel is a coming-of-middle-age story that pays homage to the everyday.

I loved  Car Talk, and learning about Cronin’s connection to the show, and that she was writing about radio, is what made me want to read the book.

And so, with a glass of wine beside me and a soundtrack of Yo Yo Ma, Mozart,  Bach, and Dead Can Dance, I sat down the night after Christmas and read the whole thing.  Overall, I really enjoyed it.  The prose is smart, and while I didn’t laugh out loud, I did find myself smiling- sometimes wryly- more than once.

I liked that the characters were full on adults.  Living in a city that is subject to the same types of development as in this story I could certainly identify with that part of the plot.In fact, Cambridge is as much a character as any of the people. I liked seeing some of the behind the scenes of the radio world.

The characters were entertaining, and drawn out enough that you understand their connection to the story.  I actually thought a few of them would be a fun group at a dinner party.  Some of the neighbors would certainly give you good stories to share with friends. There were four “B” names in the story- all men- so you did have to pay a bit of attention to keep all of them straight.

Without giving much context here, no spoiling, I thought that Bob’s complacence rang true. Most of us have had  time in our life where it is easier to stay the course than it is to make a major change; where starting something new can be almost too daunting.  And I completely understood Bob’s indignation when a secret with one character is revealed. No more on that so you won’t get spoiled. I also understood why his neighbors so got to Bob, although I think there are times where he let that work against him.

Riff was a delightful character- he’s at the point where really, he has few f’s left to give, and doesn’t mind letting that be known.

This is a highly recommend for me, and I look forward to more from Louie Cronin.

 

Promise Not To Tell

Posted on 20 Dec 2016 In: Reading

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In keeping with my recent trend of pure escapism reading, I picked up Jennifer McMahon’s Promise Not to Tell at the airport the other day.

Synopsis (from the publisher)
Forty-one-year-old school nurse Kate Cypher has returned home to rural Vermont to care for her mother, who’s afflicted with Alzheimer’s. On the night she arrives, a young girl is murdered—a horrific crime that eerily mirrors another from Kate’s childhood. Three decades earlier, her dirt-poor friend Del—shunned and derided by classmates as “Potato Girl”—was brutally slain. Del’s killer was never found, while the victim has since achieved immortality in local legends and ghost stories. Now, as this new murder investigation draws Kate irresistibly in, her past and present collide in terrifying, unexpected ways. Because nothing is quite what it seems . . . and the grim specters of her youth are far from forgotten.

Overall, the story was entertaining.   There were definite twists, trying to figure out the “Whodunnit” and more importantly, the Why?

The poignant part of the book is how we as children too often single out that one child to ostracize and pick on. And hopefully as we grow up, we see how truly terrible that behavior is, and never act that way again.   As the story is told in Kate’s flashbacks to her childhood and her friendship with Del, contrasted against her desire to also be one of the popular girls, I think more than one reader will recognize Kate’s conflict. And what we learn as part of the story is that true courage comes in many forms.

That’s the part of the book that spoke more deeply than I anticipated.  Now, without spoiling, I didn’t really go for how parts of the mystery were revealed.  While entertaining, I mostly believe they are implausible. Not a plot contrivance, exactly, but for someone on the more skeptical side, it just doesn’t ring true.

That being said, I had fun reading the book, and learning the who and the why.  I felt terribly sorry for Del, who had her own unique courage, and who must have worn a  heavy mask.  While I didn’t love the reveal of the bad guy, I’d still say this one is a decent, quick, escapist read.

 

The Rundown

Posted on 28 Nov 2016 In: Reading

So, life has been in the way a lot over the last few months. Nothing bad, just a lot of travel for work and a little for vacation. Then catching up on all the things at home when I have been here.  I’ve read a lot, but the blogging has fallen by the wayside a bit. I miss it.  I am planning to get back on track, with full reviews. But in the meantime, I’m going to give you a quick rundown on books I have recently finished and a few thoughts on them all.

I should warn you, lots of fluff, escapism reading lately.  Nothing deeply profound, and that is OK.  I don’t apologize for that.  Read what catches your interest!

So, here we go:

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The Dublin Murder Squad series, books 1-5, by Tana French.

I forget how I chose the first one, but I was entertained enough figuring it out that I wanted to read the next one. What makes these unique? It isn’t one set of characters the whole way through. A major/minor character in Book 1 was the focus of Book 2. Someone from Book 2 was the main character in Book 3, and so on. That keeps things fresh and interesting. All the books are set in and around Dublin, so there’s a good bit of Irish slang. But if you aren’t familiar, you can still figure it out. Mystery lovers, check these out.

 

In a Dark, Dark Wood by  Ruth Ware

screenshot75Another mystery, set in the UK. What I liked about this one? The story was told from current time and in flashbacks, so it takes a bit to get to the crux of the story. I also didn’t figure out exactly who did it until close to the very end, and then it was how?. I liked it enough that I was immediately on a quest for another read from Ruth Ware and frustrated I couldn’t find it in local bookstores. I finally downloaded from Amazon.

 

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, by Sara Hepola

screenshot76If you’ve ever wondered if you have a drinking problem, this book will make you seriously think about it and evaluate a life of complete sobriety. If you don’t have a drinking problem, it may still make you think about it. This memoir is one that is honest and at times brutal. But it is authentic and true. You can’t help but admire Hepola for overcoming her demons. It wasn’t easy. It surely wasn’t pretty, but she decided to get sober, and lived to tell the tale.

 

The Couple Next Door,  by Shari Lapena screenshot74

One wall separates you from your baby. She’s sleeping, and you and your husband are going home every half our to check on her. You have the monitor with you. So everything is fine, right? I mean, you just checked on her thirty minutes ago. Then you go home for the night, and the crib is empty. Someone has taken your daughter. This is how The Couple Next Doorbegins. An entertaining mystery of what happened to baby Cora, everyone is under suspicion. And just when you think the story is over, it isn’t. There’s a twist. I enjoyed this one.

 

The Perfect Girl by  Gilly MacMillan screenshot77

Seventeen year old Zoe Maisey has paid her debt for a tragic, terrible accident that left three classmates dead. She and her mother have started over in what is called a Second Chance Life. The story starts at a concert performed by Zoe and her step brother, Lucas, both musical prodigies. After a disastrous encounter that brings Zoe’s past back to haunt her, the perfect Second Chance Family is thrown into tumult. Six hours later, Zoe’s mother is dead. This story weaves together Zoe’s past and present as we learn more about what happened, how people deal with tragedy, and, ultimately, incredible moral choices.

 

The Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne

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A family torn apart by the death of one twin daughter relocates to a remote Scottish island in the hopes of rebuilding themselves anew. But strange things start happening when surviving twin, Kirstie, insists she’s really Lydia, the twin who died. Sarah and Gus’ marriage is in shambles, and their guilt and Kirstie’s increasingly disturbing behavior threaten to tear them further apart. As distrust in each other, and themselves, grows, they fight to simply survive. There was a twist to this one I didn’t see coming, and I told friends I need them to read this book so that we can talk about it. I also stayed up way too late reading it, so this is another one that mystery and psychological thriller fans will enjoy.

 

The Girls by Emma Cline

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This one reads like the Manson Family member who got away. I had a bit of obsession with the Manson family when I was younger- I couldn’t understand his hold over The Family, so I was really excited to read this one. And I was pretty disappointed. It wasn’t bad. Just meh. I was expecting something more from it than I got. It’s still entertaining. I wanted to love it, but I just didn’t.

So that’s it- a sampling a few of my recent reads. Back to regular postings in the next week or so. And all images courtesy of Amazon.

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