Monday, August 31, 2015

Book Review: "A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayl" by Ben Macintyre

I've never been able to get into fictional spy books. But here I sit, all ready to tell you about this crazy TRUE story that sounds like something the best spy writer dreamed up. Of course, if it was up to me it would end just a little bit differently...

There is quite the cast of characters in this book, and the fact that they are real makes it even better. It's also a time period full of intrigue, from the beginning of World War II, through the Cold War. The two people who the book really centers around is Kim Phillby and  Nicholas Elliott. If you couldn't tell from the title, Kim will be wearing the black hat, and Elliott is wearing the white hat. (I'm going to do my best to not give too much away, because the intrigue unraveling is the best part).

Kim's home life was rich in moolah and ridiculousness. His dad was a really well-respected expert on the Middle East, he even was a convert to Islam. However, he also brawled, drank and whored himself into oblivion so maybe not an upstanding example of, well, anything.(Another theme in this book is men who never got approval from their fathers and how it shaped them. This is a book with some daddy issues.) Kim's name isn't actual Kim, his dad nicknamed him that after the Kipling work. Kim went to all of the best schools and had the best of opportunities but always did the bare minimum to get by. After a "C's get degrees!" college education he drifted a little, until he dropped a hint that he thought it might be cool to be a spy (it didn't stop him that he had none of the skills that were required) and it happened. His true talents lay in his personality, he captivated people. He was charming and people were drawn to him instantly. When you were talking to him it was like you were the only person in the room.

Elliott also came from daddy issues and a lot of money. However, he worked hard and was dedicated to his work. He wasn't handsome, and he didn't quite have the charm that Kim had, but he made up for it by actually being good at his job. He was well liked and respected, incredibly loyal to his friends including Kim.

These 2 are fast friends as they work their way up through the ranks at MI6. While Elliott must have thought things like "Well, I have this awesome and glamorous job and I get to work with one of my best friends. How great is my life?" Kim's thoughts were more like "Well, I had dinner with Elliott and got all kinds of spy gossip. Got to make sure this get's passed on to my Soviet handlers ASAP!".

What follows is a book about terrible betrayal, near misses, paranoid dictators, weird code names and the basic crippling of spy agencies on multiple continents. And a few disastrous cocktail parties.

I loved this book. When I wasn't reading this book I wished I was. There are a lot of people mentioned in this book, but it wasn't hard to keep everyone straight. Luckily no one gets new code names often. The ending (which obviously was true and what actually happened) made me angry. It wasn't the type of justice that I would have liked to see handed out, but maybe I'm just a little bit vindictive!) 4 out of 5 stars!


*I received this book for free in exchange for a fair review from Blogging for Books*

Friday, August 28, 2015

Spotify Lists of Classic Book Characters

Robert from 101 Books did a post on this same topic, and I promptly told him "I'm gonna be stealing that idea from you. So thanks". I don't have any logic or reason to why these songs get picked, just a gut feeling on my part.

Scout - To Kill A Mockingbird (not Jean Louise of GSAW)
I Won't Back Down- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Both Sides Now - Joni Mitchel
Simple Man- Lynrd Skynrd

Holden Caulfield - Catcher in the Rye
I'm Not Okay (I Promise) -  My Chemical Romance
Perfect - Simple Plan
Boulevard of Broken Dreams- Green Day

Jane Eyre - Jane Eyre
Fighter - Christina Aguilera
Can't Tell Me Nothing-Kanye West
I Always Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me - Rockwell

Scarlett O'Hara - Gone with the Wind
The only sounds that Scarlett listens to is the sounds of other people telling her how wonderful she is; otherwise she is uninterested.

Uninterested or angry. Or both.

Happy Friday everybody!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Book Review: "An Unnecessary Woman" by Rabih Alameddine

I don't remember how I heard about this book, but I'm so glad I did! Our story is about Aaliya, a divorced, childless, 70-odd year old woman living by herself in Beirut. To say that she lives a solitary life would be an understatement. She lives in her apartment, surrounded by books (sound familiar anyone?!), but she doesn't just read, she translates. She carefully selects a book to translate, and it usually takes about a year. When she finishes, she reads it completely through, and then lovingly packs it in a crate, not expecting anyone to see it. She figures there's no market for most of these books, and besides, she basically does it for herself. It gives her a chance to really savor language.

We learn about her past life too. Why things didn't work out with her husband, her best friend and her lieutenant, the young man who walked into her life and after disappearing came back in a big way, and the bookstore that she worked at for many years.

This is a book lovers book. She talks about many different authors and their works. I didn't know some (cough cough most) of the obscurere references but it's kind of grand just to hear someone talk about books in such a beautiful and loving way. The author's writing style is very enjoyable and almost melodic in tone.She also talks about how a soldier pooped on her floor during the war. The talk about Beirut during the war and the general hardship of her life kept the book from being too "pie in the sky" for me.

This book would have been a great diversity/All Lady July read! But it will be great any time of year.I give this book 3.75 stars out of 5! (Yes I said I wouldn't do decimals, but look at that I'm a rule breaker).


Monday, August 24, 2015

Serena, a movie disappointment

The following blogpost will contain some spoilery elements in regards to the book,and the movie “Serena”. If you have not read “Serena” I would love for you to drop everything and read this book, and then come back and read this. It will be here when you are done.

I’ve talked before about my love for the book “Serena” by Ron Rash. I love it so much that it has a cemented spot in my Top 5 Favorite Reads. Then, I found out that it was going to be a movie, and reacted thusly. (Thusly? Sure let’s go with it).

After waiting and waiting it was released on Netflix and it landed in my hot little hands. I finally watched it last night. I have thoughts and feelings.

In general, the movie took a really interesting book full of complex and complicated characters and boiled away all of the heart and compelling elements. Just tons and tons of potential right there and they just swept away all the best bits.

Most disappointing was how they portrayed Serena. In the book she’s mysterious, whip smart and bold. However she’s also a little but off. Possessive and manipulative and very evidently not someone you want to get on their bad side. The movie made her smart and a little manipulative but left so much potential for a great character untapped. Spoilery- In the book and the movie she really goes off the deep end after she loses the baby. However, in the movie since you don’t have this backstory, you think that the death of the baby is what unhinges her. This makes her more sympathetic. In the book you know that she was already a little out there and this was the last straw that pushed her over the edge into a sinister, murdery villain.

Biggest spoiler: She dies at the end. She commits suicide. Book Serena would never do something that “passive” or “weak”. Uh.

Here are some other thoughts:

  • Bradley Cooper’s terrible Bostonian accent comes and goes throughout the movie.
  • The sheriff’s role was completely miscast. I like Toby Jones as an actor but the sheriff should have been someone younger. There’s supposed to be an element of maybe, possible romance between the sheriff and Rachel and that would not have happened as it was cast.
  • They completely leave out the whole knife at the train station incident.
  • There’s the usual “uhhh that is not how that happened in the book” moments that are in every book to movie translation.
  • Rhys Ifans was perfectly cast as Galloway.

I feel like a parent. I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed you didn’t make better choices.

Friday, August 21, 2015

10 interesting facts about Ray Bradbury for what would have been his 95th birthday (almost)!

Ray, one of the greatest writers ever, would have been 95 tomorrow. To celebrate, here are 10 interesting facts about my main man.

1. Ray's wife held down a full time job so Ray could write full time. In the 40s, that was crazy talk!

2. Ray was good friends with Walt Disney.

3. Ray hoped that fans would leave dandelions on his grave (a nod to his book Dandelion Wine)

4. Ray never learned to drive a car. He witnessed a horrifying fatal car accident as a teenager and it scarred him for life.

5. Ray has the following named after him/for his works: a comet, a crater on the moon and a Starfleet ship. (They mention the Bradbury in one of the recent Star Trek movies and I was like WHAT?! I want that tshirt!) 

6. "In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury was the first to predict the invention of flat-screen TVs, televised surveillance footage, ear-bud headphones, and ATMs — in the space of the nine days he spent writing the novel."

7.Considering all the great technological things he predicted, Ray didn't ride in an airplane until he was 62!

8. Truman Capote was one of the first people to recognize Ray's talent.

9. Ray was a vocal opponent of the hunt for Communists in Hollywood. A ballsy move considering he did a lot of work in Hollywood and it scared a lot of people to even talk about it.

10. Some of his books were set in rural Illinois, based on the area where he was born.

Thanks for being awesome Ray!

Sources: Mental Floss Flavorwire The FW

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Book Review: "Rain: A Natural and Cultural History" by Cynthia Barnett

I love books about very specific things. (Remember that whole book on rabies I read? That was an awesome book). So one day while perusing Netgalley I saw a book that was just on rain and thought "I'm going to read this and either think it was awesome or an utter waste of time. Let's find out!" Luckily, I thought it was awesome. The book is not JUST about rain. It's about rain and everything remotely connected to it: trench coats for perverts, umbrella holding as a family job, rain tourism and more!

Did you know that you probably picture rain wrong? You probably think of it as a skinny tip on top and then round on the bottom, right? That's how it looks when it comes from a faucet. When it falls from the sky it's actually opposite due to air pressure.

You know how everyone thinks Seattle is super rainy? It only has 7 thunderstorms a year! Lake Victoria in Uganda has 242 a year!

(Don't ask me what this has to do with rain because I don't remember. Witches travel in thunderstorms?) 50,000 legal executions of witches took place during the Middle Ages. Half of them in present day Germany!

Umbrellas used to only be for rich people. (Poor people just got rained on I guess!) And the style and color of the umbrella had a strict set of rules about who could carry what.

"When it rains, it pours" has nothing to do with rain and everything to do with salt.

This book was full of really interesting and intriguing information. I'm so glad I read it. Even if you're not very science brained it's easily readable! (Most of the super science stuff is in the beginning. Works for skimming!) I give it 3.75 stars out of 5!

Monday, August 17, 2015

The books that have been on my TBR for the longest and shortest amount of time...

I guess this isn't super accurate, because I'm going by my goodreads account. But it's close!







More recently added:






What about you, anything that's been languishing in your TBR for way too long?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Rapid Fire Mini Reviews #6

"Dust Tea, Dingoes, and Dragons: Adventures in Culture, Cuisine and Commerce from a Globe-Trekking Executive"  A man who sets up power plants all around the world writes letters to his family members detailing his experiences. The cultural stuff was interesting (especially the food stuff) but there was A LOT of talk about the power plants. I found myself wanting less of those details...much less...

Outlander. So, Outlander such high expectations I heaped on you. I liked it. I thought it was fun and entertaining. But nothing about it drew me in so deep that I wanted to run out and read the other books. I'm enjoying it on the TV show, so I think I'll just stick with that for now!

The Book of Speculation. There's a lot of buzz around this book at this moment. I thought it was alright, and that the stories were interesting. And one of the characters is a librarian, which is always a plus!

Pictures of the Past. Got this from Netgalley and was a little disappointed because I think there were "pages" missing ocassionally that made me miss parts of the story. But a book about World War 2 and art is always going to peak my interest!

The Arrival. Loved this wordless graphic novel. The pictures are soft and elegant. The creatures and setting a little Edward Goreyish. I want the little critter on the front cover as a pet! The immigrant experience is recognizable and universal even without words.

I think it's the ears, I love silly ears.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Book Review: "The Oregon Trail: An American Journey" by Rinker Buck

Ah, Oregon Trail. I'm sure many of you have memories like I do; sitting in front of a (now considered laughably huge) computer, loading up our fake wagons full of fake supplies (I don't know if I knew what an axle was) and naming our fake fellow travelers after real friends and crushes. And then being angry when you ford a river (again, what is fording exactly?) and lose a bunch of supplies and a buddy.

It's kind of funny how an incredibly dangerous voyage was made into a fun computer game. (But then again we also took pirates who were super scary and dangerous and turned them into a funny Johnny Depp led family friendly cinematic powerhouse. So, whatever, humanity is strange).

Aside from my computer gaming skills and some vague stories about the unfortunate Donner Party I couldn't really tell you much about the Oregon Trail, but now that I've read this book I feel like a near expert!

So our author Rinker, has an ambitious plan. He wants to travel in a super authentic wagon across as much of the original Oregon Trail as he can. He plans to go alone, but than his super outgoing and horeseman brother Nick decides he is going to join him. Rinker should be happy he does because he would have been in massive trouble if he actually went through this alone! The journey from Missouri to Oregon in a massive wagon pulled by 3 mules. (There is at least 6 pages on mules and how they are bred and what makes them such great workers. Never thought I'd learn that much about mules ever). They are greeted by so many friendly folks that offer them food, hay, creature comforts, or a place to park for the night. Interspersed with the tales of their journey is the tales of the pioneers and the trailblazers (literally) of the original trek.

Here's a couple of things I found interesting:

-There wasn't just one trail. Basically pioneers followed the small trails worn by Native Americans and fur trappers and made them larger. There were several ways to get out west, though several ran through the same places.

-You were far more likely to die from accidental shootings, drowning, or getting run over by a wagon; than being shot by angry Native Americans. But, Hollywood decided that that's all so much more dramatic and interesting for movies than someone getting crushed by huge wheels.

-Cholera killed between 20,000 and 30,000 people between 1849 and the Civil War.

-Almost all of the main Oregon Trail is marked. Even in the places where there is now highway and urban sprawl. There is a huge group of people who are devoted to preserving the trail and the many graves of the pioneers who died and were buried alongside the trail. It's a thankless job mostly, but they are a passionate group who understand how important this work is for history.

-The last part of a dead antelope to decay is it's rib cage. So if you're chasing loose mules across the prairie make sure you have good shoes or else you're going to have a dead antelope injury.

I learned a ton from this book. I would love to do this trip, but only if there's snacks and running water and air conditioning. I think I could go for about a week in the style that Rinker and Nick did but than I would be done. There were 2 qualms about this book. 1 - I'm so curious about how much this whole endeavor cost. I wanted to know so badly because so much was custom made and shipped across the country and all this stuff. So curious. 2- The author went on personal random tangents about things that really didn't seem relevant to the book. It didn't happen very often but when I did it almost always made me roll my eyes. Overall I give it a high 3.5 out of 5 stars!


Monday, August 10, 2015

Book Review: "Berlin: A Portrait of a City Through the Centuries" by Rory Maclean

"Lourdes equates with devotion. Paris is about romantic love. New York means energy. London is forever trendy. Berlin is all about volatility".

Even if you don't have any desire to go to Germany or Berlin I'd say that this book is still worth a read. Inside this book are people's stories that if they were told in history classes people would actually LIKE their history classes.I very much enjoyed this little microhistory of this old, complicated, ever changing city.

There are 23 stories/chapters that are each about 14 pages a piece that span from 1469 up until 2011. This book would be ideal for a "I only have 20 minutes to read and I don't want to have to remember a whole huge cast of names and people" situation. Some people in the story are famous (Marlene Dietrich, Joseph Goebbels, David Bowie) but others are just everyday people who either had their lives impacted because of a Berlinian (?) event, or are kind of a representative sample of Berliners at a certain time.

Here's a couple of examples of really interesting people who I'd never heard of, and now want to know more about:

-George Blake: British spy, betrayed his country  and started feeding information to the KGB during the Cold War. Including names of other British spies that got a lot of them killed.

-Leni Riefenstahl: a German filmaker who pioneered several new movie making innovations, almost all are in use today. She really paved the way for a lot of camera angles and things we see in movies today. BUT she almost exclusively worked for Hitler making propaganda films. "Triumph of the Will"? That's her. ( I really felt the animosity that the author felt for her. He used "cowardly" a lot in that chapter!)

-Fritz Haber: the man who developed poison gas used on the battles fields . He also developed Zyklon B which was used for murder in concentration camps. "The chemical would claim the lives of some four million people, among them all of Haber's nephews and nieces". He is the distant murderous relative of the sisters in "A Reuinon of Ghosts".

I loved this book. It was full of interesting stories and people. Some were incredibly sad, but Berlin (and Germany) has a lot of sorrow in the pages of her history. A great book for reading little snatches at a time. When we think of Berlin we should think of more than just the Nazis; and this book helped me do that. 4 out of 5 stars!


Friday, August 7, 2015

Book Review: "Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South" by Christopher Dickey

This is going to be a short-ish review, because I don’t really know what to say about it.

Right before and during the civil war a man named Robert Bunch was a British man who was serving the British government as a consul in Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston kind of boggles his mind. He has to schmooze with the “upper crust” people of Charleston but he soon gets really irritated by all of their hypocrisies. What drives him really crazy is that so many of them are slave owners and think that they are doing the slaves a favor. Their reasoning is all kinds of insane. Like “hey, without us they wouldn’t even know how to (insert whatever thing they are enslaved to do). We’re teaching them something!” Like I said, madness.

Anyway, so Bunch kept writing letters to his people in England and be like “we need to keep an eye on these Southern people. They’re totally going to start sneaking slaves into this country again.” Apparently there was a time that slavery was allowed in the states, but you weren’t allowed to bring any more Africans into the country. You could already own the people already over here, and their children. (That’s an unsettling sentence to write.) But the reproduction rates of slaves were not keeping up with the demand for more workers in the south and so skeevy types were trying to think of ways and places to sneak boat loads of people into the country.

So eventually this does start happening, though not many boats get from Africa to America and offload their human cargo successfully. One of the most horribly shocking things that I read in this book was the fact that one boat had a 75% fatality rate.

Sometimes Bunch’s people listen to him, sometimes they don’t.

It was too long at 400 pages. It was interesting in parts, but I had a hard time keeping myself interested in the book. I think the epilogue might have been the most interesting part. (There was a guy who had always been really mean to Bunch and he ended up having a cancerous tumor on his face. In the 1800’s you don’t want any kind of cancer, let alone face cancer). I gave the book 2 stars. Meh.
I recieved this book in exchange for an honest review from blogging for books

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Graphic Novel Review: "Andre the Giant: Life and Legend" by Box Brown

So I realized that I can't just review Lucy Knisley graphic novels each time so this is me branching out :)

I know Andre the Giant from "The Princess Bride", because I love that movie. I knew peripherally that he was a wrestler but I never was into wrestling (though I do ocassionally tune into that WWE Divas show. Mostly because it's totally ridiculous and Josh and I  can't believe what an a-hole John Cena is.) At any rate let's talk about Andre.

Andre grew up in France. By 12 years old he was too big to fit on the school bus, and a certain super famous person gave him rides to school in the bed of his pick up. He started wrestling in France but soon got discovered and became super famous in Japan. ( Airplane travel, you ask? Yes, he took up two seats. No, he could not fit in the bathroom...which lead to some uncomfortable solutions but what can you do). When he was in Japan, he was finally diagnosed by a doctor with acromegaly ('giantism'). He was told that he would continue to grow, he would have heart problems, joint pain and probably not live to see 40. (He actually lived to see 46).

He wrestled in the United States and became a big attraction. Though sometimes they had trouble finding opponents for him because you put even a big guy up against Andre and it's still pretty obvious who had the upper hand. The doctors were right though, he did have pain and and he did have to have surgeries. But he recovered in the tranquility of his beloved farm in North Carolina.

Was Andre perfect? No. He drank a lot. Was he a jerk sometimes? Yes. Did he put up with a TON of crap from other people? Heck to the yes. The staring and the comments that people would make, and people randomly trying to start fights with him would make anyone cranky. Also I liked that they didn't shy away from the "is wrestling fake?" question in the book. They made it pretty clear that he and Hulk Hogan's big match in Detroit was orchestrated for Andre to "pass the torch" on to Hulk. That fight is on youtube by the way, and after reading the book and kind of knowing what to look for, it was entertaining. (Like Andre slamming his own head down to make Hulk look better.) I bet some of the pre-fight interviews are fun to watch. Though it's hard to think of him besides anyone other than Fezzik, the best member of the brute squad.

Here's a story from Wikipedia I thought was great:
Whenever André treated someone to a meal in a restaurant he would pay, but he would also insist on paying when he was a guest. After one meal, Arnold Schwarzenegger had quietly moved to the cashier to pay before André could, but then found himself being physically lifted, carried from his table, and deposited on top of his car by André and Wilt Chamberlain.[83]

I think this kind of graphic novel is my niche. Simple, clean line, biographies of people I know nothing about. I'll always love food and travel ones of course, but variety is good. I give this a solid 3.5 stars.


Monday, August 3, 2015

5 Books I Don't Think I'll Ever Read

Of course, who knows? But I will say that these are probably not anywhere near my TBR each for a variety of reasons!


I'm counting this as one. My blog my rules :)