August 27, 2015

Cinemascope: Being Mortal

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2015.

Plot line: In FRONTLINE’s Being Mortal, Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, uses patient stories to illustrate modern medicine’s greatest paradox: medical advances may have diversified our options for extending life, but they have made accepting death harder than ever before. Doctors are expected to save lives, and patients are expected to fight death. So how does this dynamic change as lives grow longer, and chronic diseases become more prevalent? In life, Dr. Gawande points out, there are two big “unfixables”—aging and death—and quantity of life does not necessarily equate to quality.

This Frontline documentary, based on the book with the same title, is an unflinching look at death and how both patients and doctors are often unable to have the tough conversations needed at end of life. I found it both insightful and educational - we often think that doctors know what is best for us, but there are tradeoffs that only we can make for ourselves.

You can see the Frontline episode here. If you have yet to see it, this is a show worth watching.

August 24, 2015

Recent Reads

97. Seabiscuit: An American Legend
I have seen, and loved, the movie based on this book several times, and as I tend to enjoy non-fiction reads during the summer, decided to dive in. I listened to the audiobook which is wonderfully narrated by George Newbern.

This is narrative non-fiction at its best. I loved everything about this story. The characters, both human and horse, are broken but not out. The pacing of the story is excellent, and there were moments that I was on tenterhooks waiting to see what would happen next. Given that I already knew the outlines of the story and how it would end, that is some dang great writing. The book is so much better than the movie, in that it fleshes out the story of the characters, and captures a sense of place and time in America really well. I even learned that The Biscuit and I have some things in common: we both like to eat and take long naps.

The one thing I did miss out on with the audio, are the photos in the book. Well, Google to the rescue. And if you have yet to see it, go now and and watch the video of the matched race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral and see if you don't get choked up.

I listened to this story on long walks, and found my pace picking up each time Seabiscuit was racing. Even if you are not interested in horses, or horse racing, I would highly recommend this one. Rating: 5 stars.

98. The Dovekeepers
How could I not pick up this book based on this blurb: Blends mythology, magic, archaeology and women. Traces four women, their path to the Masada massacre. In 70 CE, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on a mountain in the Judean desert, Masada. According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived. 

This is exactly my sweet spot. I visited Masada many years ago, and was moved by the history and significance of the place. And here was a book recounting that story through the eyes of four women. How could I not love it?

And yet I did not. Yes, there were portions that entranced me. The writing is often poetic and lyrical, but the voices of the four women were indistinguishable, and I often had to remind myself which narrator was telling the story. The author has clearly done her research, and I loved the sense of time and place she captured, but there was too much repetition, and this book would have been a better read if the editor has snipped away anything that did not add to the story line. While the women were all strong and very progressive for their time, they were not well fleshed out, and blurred one into the other. There are huge coincidences in this story that boggle the mind, and yet I quickly read on to the end, snacking on Medjool dates to help soothe me for what I knew would not end well.

Still, it is always interesting to read about historical events told through the eyes of women, and this is a quick, if upsetting, read. Rating: 3 stars.

99. China Days: A Visual Journal from China's Wild West
I'm a fan of illustrated journals, and enjoyed this one. This is a visual journal complied from the author's sketchbooks and annotated photos, and is an interesting look at life in rural China. The photo of a dog transport system stopped me in my tracks. I have seen cows, pigs, chickens transported, and have never had quite the same reaction. A quick and colorful read. Rating: 3 stars.

August 20, 2015

Cinemascope: Crimson Tide

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 1995.

Plot line: You can almost hear the studio pitch meeting echoing throughout Crimson Tide like the sonar on the soundtrack: "It's The Cain Mutiny on a nuclear submarine!" When radio communications problems aboard the USS Alabama prevent the sub from receiving its orders clearly during a tense confrontation with Russian warships, Navy officer Denzel Washington faces a huge ethical dilemma: countermand the orders of legendary Captain Ramsey (Gene Hackman) to fire nuclear missiles, or follow his command and risk launching an unprovoked nuclear war. It's really an actors' picture, and the fun is in the fireworks between Washington and Hackman, each of whose characters articulates solid reasoning behind his decision. There are no easy villains, and there's no easy way to tell right from wrong - that's what makes the nuclear stakes so terrifying. 

I've been watching submarine movies lately, and recently watched this one again. This is a really good movie. The acting is superb and the story telling - alas, they don't really tell stories this well any more.

You can see the movie trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a movie worth watching.

August 18, 2015

CY 365 | July Update

Are you playing along with the CY365 project? You can read more about what I'm doing here.

Here is another week of 2015 Captured.

185/365 - 070415 #July4th #cy365
Started the day with a hike down the Bright Angel Trail, and ended it with fireworks of a different kind. #GrandCanyon #Arizona #Travel #family #nephews

186/070515 #Bellagio #cy365
Always love the exhibits in the atrium. Yes, we had an ice-cream stop later, but the sweetest part of today was watching the USA women's soccer team win the #fifaworldcup. #Vegas #family #Travel

187/365 - 070615#FreemontStreet #cy365
Hanging with my parents and brothers on a wet evening in the desert. #Travel #family #Vegas

188/365 - 070715 #Family #cy365
The older of my baby brothers with my oldest niece and nephew. #Travel #GrandCanyon #Arizona

189/365 - 070815 #Brothers #cy365
My baby brothers sucking it in at the #GrandCanyon. #Arizona #family #travel

190/365 - 070915 #VintageStyle #cy365
If you can't make it to Venice, I guess a trip to #TheVenetian in #Vegas will give you a teeny taste of the wonders that await you in one of my fave cities. #Travel

191/365 - 071015 #Sundown #cy365
My nephews soaking it in at the #GrandCanyon. #Arizona #family #Travel

As always, click on photos to view larger. You can also follow along with daily updates on my Instagram and Flickr accounts.

August 17, 2015

Recent Reads

95. The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto
I'm a fan of the author, but this slow travelogue is not working for me at the moment. About 20% done, I find myself reluctant to pick it back up, so I'll shelf it on my DNF pile, fully expecting that I'll revisit it some day in the future when I'm more in the mood for a meditative reflection of life in Japan. Rating: 1 star.

96. Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science
I'm a fan of science writing, and with a sub-title like this one, how could I resist? I listened to the audiobook, which was well narrated by James Lurie.

The first thing to know about this collection of essays it that they were all previously published in The New Yorker, and in creating this book the author added to those original essays. And that is the biggest complaint I have about this collection - it needs tighter editing. I've no doubt that I'd have given the original essays a five star rating. This collection had some rambling sections, but I was entertained and educated and for that I'm rounding up my 3.5 rating to 4.

1. The Mountains of Pi. 
This is an interesting account of eccentric genius brothers Gregroy and David Chudnovsky, who built a supercomputer from mail order parts in Gregory's apartment. The brothers are interesting for sure, but after this essay, I have a renewed respect for the fascinating number that is Pi.

2. A Death in the Forest.
When I think of extinction, I do not often think in terms of trees. This is an informative essay about the decimation of hemlocks by an insect, and some of the efforts by people trying to save the trees.

3. The Search for Ebola.
There might be a scarier way to die, but while learning about the 1994 outbreak in Kikwit, I could not think of one.

4. The Human Kabbalah.
The Human Genome Project is fascinating, and while I loved the science, I was bored by the long discourse on the political/scientific turf wars.

5. The Lost Unicorn.
The history of seven tapestries and the art and science of how they were cleaned and photographed was interesting. The brothers Chudnovsky play a role in this one too.

6. The Self-Cannibals.
This essay had me running to Google. How is it that I'd never heard of this genetic disorder before? Lesch-Nyhan affects about 1 in 400,000 births, and the symptoms are horrifying.

Rating: 4 stars.

96. Brimstone (Pendergast #5)
This is the fifth book in the Pendergast series, and the first in the Diogenes Trilogy, but since Diogenes does not make an appearance (yes there is a letter), I'm not sure why this is labeled as such.

At this point you are either already a fan of FBI agent Pendergast and his cool Southern ways, or you are not. In this book he reunites with D'Agosta and Hayward, two New York cops he has worked with on earlier books. 

This story involves gruesome crimes, the stench of brimstone, Faustian pacts with the devil, and End-of-Days drama, as we move from luxurious Hamptons estates, penthouses of New York City, Florence, and Italian castles. Spontaneous Human Combustion and Pendergast? Color me happy. A fun and quick summer read. Rating: 3 stars.

August 14, 2015

CY365 | June Done | July Update

Are you playing along with the CY365 project? You can read more about what I'm doing here.

Here is another week of 2015 Captured.

178/365 - 062715 #SmallPlanet #cy365
Dear #NationalGrid, please sent the EMTs to any neighborhood homes more efficient than us, as they must be dead and no one knows yet. #thatshowweroll #efficientandproud

179/365 - 062815 #LowLight #cy365
#onmywalktoday #nofilter #sunset

180/365 - 062915 #WaterTaxi #cy365
The sweetest way to get to the airport bar none. #Boston #boats #BostonHarbor

181/365 - 063015 #Trouble #cy365
My nephew Jonah and I causing trouble in Las Vegas. #lovethiskid #Vegas #family #travel

182/365 - 070115 #SayWhat #cy365
Exploring the desert is clearly not for the faint of heart. Did I mention that my nephews feel the need to hug every snake they encounter? #Vegas #travel #family

183/365 - 070215 #LookAtTheseTwo #cy365
Mom and Dad celebrating their 50th anniversary with a road trip. #Sedona #Arizona #family #travel

184/365 - 070315 #TheNextGeneration #cy365
My nieces and nephews are growing up so dang fast. #family #GrandCanyon #Travel #Arizona

As always, click on photos to view larger. You can also follow along with daily updates on my Instagram and Flickr accounts.

August 13, 2015

Cinemascope: Manhattan (Season 1)

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2014.

Plot line: Set against the backdrop of the greatest clandestine race against time in the history of science with the mission to build the world's first atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Flawed scientists and their families attempt to co-exist in a world where secrets and lies infiltrate every aspect of their lives.

I find this behind the scenes look at the men and women at Los Alamos fascinating. My only complaint is that the show seems to shy away from the science and math, which leads to a sort of dumbing down that loses much of the punch of what was happening with nuclear physics at the time. Without that it does seem rather like another show about human dynamics and drama against that particular backdrop, but I'm still hooked.

You can see the season trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a TV series worth watching.

August 11, 2015

CY365 | June Update

Are you playing along with the CY365 project? You can read more about what I'm doing here.

Here is another week of 2015 Captured.

171/365 - 062015 #GoldenBlooms#cy365
Flower pots at the marina. My neighbor is the resident green thumb. #nofilter #flowers #nature #urbangarden #beautiful #Charlestown #ConstitutionMarina

172/365 - 062115 #Viewpoint #cy365
Mishipmen getting ready for a briefing on board the #JuanSebastianDeElcano. #TallShip #BostonHarbor #sailingseason #boats #onmywalktoday #Charlestown

173/365 - 062215 #UrbanGarden #cy365
#onmywalktoday #nature #flowers #lovelies #Charlestown

174/365 - 062315 #Sketchbook #cy365
#sketches #art #draw #journal #watercolor #sakura #strathmore #artsupplies #artjournal #ArtOnTheBoat #Sharpie

175/365 - 062415#SummerBlooms #cy365
It feels like summer when these #lovelies appear in our garden. #flowers #ilovesummer #nofilter

176/365 - 062515 #SummerBBQ #cy365
It is all about bbq fruit this season. Salad with bbq pears, salmon pattie with bbq pineapple, and cauliflower rice. #delish #foodie #yummyinmytummy

177/365 - 062615 #LoveWins #cy365
#itissoordered #canhardlybelieveit #causeforcelebration #slate #lambalegal #scotus

As always, click on photos to view larger. You can also follow along with daily updates on my Instagram and Flickr accounts.

August 10, 2015

Recent Reads

92. Citizen: An American Lyric
This short audiobook is superbly narrated by Allyson Johnson. 

This book has received rave reviews and awards in the poetry category, and while the language is poetic, it read more like mini-essays to me. How about we split the difference and call it a poetic-mini-essay collection?

If I had a dollar for every time someone called me "articulate", or said "you speak English really good" ..... You know what's exhausting? Constantly calling people out for their actions, or giving someone the benefit of the doubt and trying to educate them. Sometimes you are so exhausted that you have to just let it go. Let it go. Let it go. And then a close friend, a loved one, a cherished one, says something, or worse, does not even see how you are being treated, and your anger flares up again. And so it goes.

"I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background."

This book is a meditation on race in the United States, a tabulation of racially aggressive encounters both micro and macro, and the life long effects of surviving said encounters. I loved some pieces more than others, and while some of the pieces are specific to black skin versus brown, I related to each and every one. Time to armor up. Again. Rating: 4 stars.

93. A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire #5)
So there is thing that happens that made me mad. Oh so mad. How mad you ask? Well, after reading that section I had a dream where I was yelling at Mr. GRRM while he sat across from me with a snotty smile on his face. I just wanted to knock that silly hat off his head!

This is book #5 in the A Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones), and at this point you are either gritting your teeth and committed to the bitter end, or you have already bailed. I'm a member of the former camp.

I'm not even sure how to summarize this story. There are more characters in this series than the Bible. If that is not true, I want to see proof, preferably documented as illustrated family trees with crest and motto information. This book is over a thousand pages, and it felt like I was introduced to about that many new characters. The key I've learned is to simply let all these people with strange names wash over me, and see who comes up again.

My current working model is to think about these books as a Game of Thrones Facebook group; there are people whose status updates you eagerly await and read with delight, and then there are those you'd de-friend if you could. There are sections of this book that are fantastic, but also large swathes that are a slog. I know (hope) that when (if ever!) the author completes this series all these threads will come together. Rating: 3 stars.

94. Therefore, Repent!
This graphic novel has such a fantastic premise: What if the religious right, are right? Once the Christians have floated bodily into the sky, life goes on pretty much as usual for the immoral majority, except that magic works, if you're willing to risk demonic mutations.

Unfortunately it does not deliver on that promise. The artwork is really great, but the story is way too convoluted, with too many sub plots that seem to lead nowhere in particular. It actually felt like I was reading an abridged version of a complex and wonderful story. Rating: 2 stars.

August 7, 2015

CY365 | June Update

Are you playing along with the CY365 project? You can read more about what I'm doing here.

Here is another week of 2015 Captured.

164/365 - 061315 #ihavethisthingwithfloors #cy365

165/365 - 061415 #BunkerHillDayParade #cy365
What I stumbled upon #onmywalktoday.#charlestown

166/365 - 061515 #BirthdayGirl #cy365
Cold and rain has beached the birthday girl, so the clambake in the sand has morphed into lobster rolls at home. #delish #foodie #lobstah

167/365 - 061615 #BagpipesAndKilts #cy365
A touch of Scotland in #Charlestown.#BunkerHillDayParade #latergram #nofilter

168/365 - 061715 #TallShip #cy365
We've got a new neighbor! Juan Sebastian De Elcano is a four-masted topsail schooner in the Spanish navy. She is a beauty. #BostonHarbor #boats #sailingseason #onmywalktoday

169/365 - 061815 #Visiting #cy365
Visiting our new neighbors. #TallShip#BostonHarbor #onmywalktoday #boats #sailingseason #Charlestown #JuanSebastianDeElcano

170/365 - 061915 #HolyMoly #cy365
Check out the size of the lines on the #JuanSebastianDeElcano. Clearly I need to amp up my gym workout! #sailingseason #TallShip #boats #BostonHarbor #Charlestown

As always, click on photos to view larger. You can also follow along with daily updates on my Instagram and Flickr accounts.

August 6, 2015

Cinemascope: Seabiscuit

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2003.

Plot line: True story of the undersized Depression-era racehorse whose victories lifted not only the spirits of the team behind it but also those of their nation.

I've watched this movie a couple of times, and watched it again recently. This is a really good story with wonderful characters and actors.

You can see the movie trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a movie worth watching.

August 4, 2015

CY365 | June Update

Are you playing along with the CY365 project? You can read more about what I'm doing here.

Here is another week of 2015 Captured.

157/365 - 060615 #Fawn #cy365
Look who I met #onmywalktoday. He/she came right up to me on his/her not quite coordinating spindly legs. #naturalbeauty #nature #deer #backyardfauna

158/365 - 060715 #InMyHands #cy365
Today #ontheblog I posted a short video of my pared down supplies for travel and art journaling. Link in profile. #artsupplies #artjournal #sketchbook #sketches#sakura #strathmore #watercolor #micronpen #pittpens

159/365 - 060815 #InMyLap #cy365
Sometimes the best place for my sketchbook is in my lap. Unwinding with a watersoluble pen and a water brush. #art #sketches #artsupplies #Fortitude #strathmore #portrait #draw

160/365 - 060915 #WhereIStand #cy365
In my studio with my sketchbook and some watercolors. #art #sketches #draw #artsupplies #artjournal #strathmore #watercolor #micronpen #sakura

161/354 - 061015 #WhereAreTheBees #cy365
#onmywalktoday passed this lovely plant. I wait every year for the blooms, and then cautiously step in to smell them. Have noticed this year that I don't need the caution as there are no bees around. That cannot be good. #flowers #nature

162/365 - 061115 # CurrentlyReading #cy365
Trying out the #CrossingMidnight #graphix this week. Interesting story and illustration style. #bookstagram #summerreads #librarybooks

163/365 - 061215 #Sunset #cy365
The party boats have gathered for the sunset canon. Another beautiful day on the water. #BostonHarbor #sailingseason #onmywalktoday #nofilter

As always, click on photos to view larger. You can also follow along with daily updates on my Instagram and Flickr accounts.

August 3, 2015

Recent Reads

88. Sketch!: The Non-Artist's Guide to Inspiration, Technique, and Drawing Daily Life
"The process that you go through, be it for ten minutes or three hours is the drawing. Like a visually impaired person has to feel someone's face with their hands to tell their features, I sit and gradually take in the details of a place or a person through the pen. While taking pictures with an SLR or smartphone is great fun, I feel involved on a much deeper level through the act of drawing. I sometimes walk through or past places I have drawn and am so well acquainted with them that I have the uncanny feeling of having lived there."

This delightful book is full of inspiration, tips, and wonderful sketches. The author walks you through supplies, how to start, drawing exercises, and ends with a list of A-Z prompts. I dare anyone to read even a couple of pages of this and not pull out a piece of paper and draw something. I'd recommend it to all creative souls, and anyone who wants to see more clearly the spaces they inhabit. Rating: 4 stars.

89. Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
Book blurb: In early 2001 cartoonist Guy Delisle became one of the few Westerners to be allowed access to the fortress-like country. While living in the nation's capital for two months on a work visa for a French film animation company, Delisle observed what he was allowed to see of the culture and lives of the few North Koreans he encountered; his findings form the basis of this graphic novel.

I love travelogues of all kinds, and was intrigued by this one. People who live and work in a foreign country often have interesting observations of the local culture, so I was looking forward to reading about the insights the author had on this trip. Unfortunately he does not seem to make a distinction between the North Korean regime and the North Korean people, and while I found some of his observations interesting, there is a disturbing amount of racist and misogynist comments in this book. I'll give the author the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he was trying to be funny, but it just did not work. There were glimmers of how good this book could have been, but unfortunately the reader learns more about the author's prejudices than about the country he visits. Rating: 2 stars.

90. Crossing Midnight, Vol. 2: A Map of Midnight
This volume collects issues #6-12.

Twins Toshi and Kai continue down their separate paths, each with a different objective. Toshi starts training to serve her new master, and Kai gets enmeshed with the enjokosai - middle to high school age girls who go on dates for money. It's legal in Japan, but a supernatural slasher is voicing disapproval in the bloodiest ways imaginable.

This is an interesting story with Japanese cultural aspects that I find fascinating, and I look forward to finishing the trilogy with the next installment. Rating: 3 stars.

91. Crossing Midnight, Vol. 3: The Sword in the Soul 
This final volume in the series collects issues #13-19.

Kai is trying to find and save her his sister, but Toshi has had her memories erased, and has a new assignment - kill Kai. You just know this is not going to end well. We learn more about the backstory about how the twins are the way they are, and I loved the explanation. War is inevitable, and this is a fun and satisfying conclusion to this graphic novel series. Rating: 3 stars.

July 30, 2015

Cinemascope: The Last Castle

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2001.

Plot line: When three star General Irwin is transferred to a maximum security military prison, its warden, Colonel Winter, can't hide his admiration towards the highly decorated and experienced soldier. Irwin has been stripped of his rank for disobedience in a mission, but not of fame. Colonel Winter, who runs the prison with an iron fist, deeply admires the General, but works with completely different methods in order to keep up discipline. After a short while, Irwin can feel Winter's unjust treatment of the inmates. He decides to teach Winter a lesson by taking over command of the facility and thus depriving him of his smug attitude. When Winter decides to participate in what he still thinks of as a game, it may already be too late to win. 

This is the second time I've watched this one, and seriously people, it is so, so good. Starring Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, and Mark Ruffalo, this is a really good story with superb acting.

You can see the movie trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a movie worth watching.

July 27, 2015

Recent Reads

84. Lumberjanes, Vol. 1 
This book collects Lumberjanes volumes #1-#4. A group of young girls are at camp, and there are badges to be earned. But all is not what it seems.

This young adult graphic novel for "hardcore lady-types" is a fun romp. I love that comics like this exist - ones that are feminist, embrace girl power and "friendship to the max", and showcase a variety of girls with different strengths. 

As an adult reader, I found the chapter introductions as to how one earns each badge more interesting than the story itself. I did not overly love the art either - seemed rather garishly manga to my eye. Still, I liked it enough that I'll continue reading the series (it has a page on Fibonacci!). This would make a fun gift for the middle grade girls in your life. Rating: 3 stars.

85. Crossing Midnight, Vol. 1: Cut Here
This fantasy/horror graphic novel story is set in Nagasaki Japan, and is an interesting mix of cultural memes. The story starts with the birth of twins - one born just before midnight, the other just after. Unbeknownst to them a promise their father made before they were born will have huge ramifications on the course of their lives. 

I liked this one. It has an interesting story line, introduced me to some Japanese mythology, and the art is good. This volume collects the first five issues of the series, and I plan to read the rest of the series. Rating: 3 stars.

86. Daisy Kutter: The Last Train
Have you read The Amulet graphic novel books by this author? If not, put this one down and go start there. 

I decided to try some of his other/earlier works, and stumbled on this one. This graphic novel is the story of Daisy Kutter, a retired bank robber and legendary gunfighter who has decided to open a dry goods store in the small town of Middleton. But giving up on a life of crime is harder than one might think, and when Daisy loses everything in a high stakes poker game, she is sucked back in. But all is not as it seems.

This graphic novel for young adults is a fun and quick read. The sketchy black and white art conveys the right level of bleakness for this story. I especially liked the section in the back of the book where the author walks through the multiple stages of graphic novel creation. Rating: 3 stars.

87. The Traveler (Fourth Realm #1)
This is the first book in the Fourth Realm Trilogy, and I picked it up because it has an interesting premise. Besides, the author lives off the grid? I'm so there.

Maya comes from a long line of people who call themselves Harlequins — a fierce group of warriors willing to sacrifice their lives to protect a select few known as Travelers. Travelers are people who can move between worlds (think quantum mechanics). Travelers have been people in history who have created world-wide movements, but they have all been hunted to extinction. Or have they? Enter Gabriel and Michael Corrigan, brothers who had a very famous Traveler as a father. Then there are the Tabula, powerful people who have hunted and killed all known Travelers and anyone who helped them. But we do live in a new age, and the Tabula has other agendas now.

How much privacy will we give up for the illusion of safety? Who has access to all that data that is collected on each of us whenever we go online? This story has been billed as a techno-thriller, and while I enjoyed all the action and themes explored, this did not live up to how awesome it could have been. The writing is not very good, the characters rather one-dimensional, and the plot predictable.

I listened to the audiobook wonderfully narrated by Scott Brick, and it was entertaining enough for summer walks, but I'm not sure I'd even have finished it if I had read it in print. Sadly, I'll be skipping the rest of this trilogy. Rating: 3 stars.

July 23, 2015

Cinemascope: Bloodline (Season 1)

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2015.

Plot line: The series focuses on the lives of the Rayburn family, who own and run a hotel in the Florida Keys. When the eldest son and black sheep of the family, Danny, returns home for his parents' 45th wedding anniversary, he quickly causes turmoil amongst the family who have a dark past–the death of one of their siblings when they were younger. When Danny gets caught up in the criminal world, he threatens to bring down his entire family and their legacy.

I've been binge watching this Netflix Original thriller-drama TV series. The acting is good, and my fave part might just be that Sissy Spacek plays the mom. If you like family dramas, in a lovely setting, give this one a try.

You can see the Season 1 trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a TV series worth watching.

July 20, 2015

Recent Reads

81. The Architect's Apprentice
This is historical fiction set in Istanbul in the time of the Ottoman Empire. I did enjoy the sense of place, what with slaves, harems, eunuchs, and a white elephant, and while the writing is not bad, I found myself rather bored with the story. So after 131 pages, I'm bailing on it. I really enjoyed her novel The Bastard of Istanbul, but this one missed the mark for me. Rating: 1 star.

82. Shadow Divers
This nonfiction book lives up to its subtile: The true adventures of two Americans who risked everything to solve one of the last mysteries of World War II. 

In order to fully appreciate my review of this book, you need to know that I am not a World War II (or WWI for that matter) buff in any shape or form. Yes, I've watched loads of war movies, and was that person; the one asking are those the Germans or allies? Am I the only one who did not know that you could tell them apart merely based on their head gear? 

I had never even heard of this book until a I read a review by a Goodreads friend, Carol K. It sounded interesting, so I immediately got it on audio, which is wonderfully read by Michael Prichard, and started listening to it on my walks. I was immediately hooked. 

This story of deep water wreck divers stumbling across a sunken German U-boat off the New Jersey coast in 1991, and how they go about trying to determine its identity is a fascinating and gripping read. This is my fave kind of narrative nonfiction, and the cast of characters alone are worth the price of admission. I have always been fascinated by people who push their bodies and psyches to the extremes. I think it is their obsession that I admire - that single minded focus, damn the consequences. 

I learned much about many things, and plan to watch some U-Boat movies in the near future. The only reason this book did not get the additional star is because the writing is choppy and repetitive at times, but even if you are not a history-war-diving buff, check it out for a fascinating ride. PS. My audiobook had a short interview with the two main divers in this story which was quite fun. Rating: 4 stars.

83. Flight, Vol. 2
I've been dipping in and out of this collection of short graphic novels over the past week, and as with any anthology, some stories are way better than others. Still, I quite appreciated the diversity of artists and styles represented in this one. It is a much fatter book than Volume 1, and a stronger collection overall. Rating: 3 stars.

July 13, 2015

Recent Reads

78. The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way
Book blurb: What is it like to be a child in the world's new education superpowers? In a global quest to find answers for our own children, author and Time magazine journalist Amanda Ripley follows three Americans embedded in these countries for one year. Kim, fifteen, raises $10,000 so she can move from Oklahoma to Finland; Eric, eighteen, exchanges a high-achieving Minnesota suburb for a booming city in South Korea; and Tom, seventeen, leaves a historic Pennsylvania village for Poland.

I listened to the audiobook well narrated by Kate Reading, and this is the second book by the author to receive a 5 star rating from me.

There are some fundamental questions one could and should ask about education:

1. What is the point of education?
2. Do we think education is important? On a personal level? On a national level?
3. What are educational best practices, and do we implement them in our schools?

This thought provoking book reads like a thriller, and I for one found this a fascinating read. Some interesting things to ponder:

1. Can a teacher teach something they do not know? If we believe education is important, then how is it that we don't tap the top 1/3 of graduating seniors and funnel them into education?
2. Does it make sense that athletes and celebrities get paid so much more then teachers? How would it be possible to recruit the best and the brightest talent, when compensation numbers are so skewed?
3. For learning to happen parents must be involved, and there is a huge difference between a parent-coach and a parent-cheerleader. It turns out that the mere act of reading to children has a huge impact on the child's test scores a decade later. Also, interestingly enough, the stats show an inverse relationship between a child's test scores and parental involvement in none academic activities (see # 5).
4. The best countries in the world have rigor built into the system; everyone from students, to teachers, to the media is bought in. Imagine how different it would be if there was as much emphasis and celebration of high achieving students as is currently placed on March Madness and the Superbowl.
5. If the main purpose of school is education, then we seem to be sending mixed messages to kids, what with high visibility sport programs, selling girl-scout cookies, etc. 
6. The practice of tracking is so very harmful to kids, and I know from personal experience that kids rise to or lower themselves to expectations set for them. So imagine a kid tracked into the "dumb" class in 3rd grade; sure it is not called that, but every student knows that is what it is. What message is sent to that kid? If we insist on tracking, do so much later - 16 years.

Sure, the PISA test is not perfect, but it is an interesting benchmark that shows how poorly US students do against the rest of the world. Sure, the USA is huge compared to other countries, but when we still have students who reach the age of 16 and have never heard the word evolution mentioned in school, how is do we expect our kids to compete in this globalized economy?

I grew up in a country and family where there was nothing more important than education. There were no mixed messages; everything else paled in comparison. As a freshman in a US college, it blew my mind that so many students seemed to have little grasp of some of the fundamentals of math and science. Imagine my shock and consternation when I taught for a couple of years in an urban middle school to learn that 7th grade is the first time that my students had ever encountered any "hard" science - it had all been cuddly animals til then. Most of my students had math and reading skills below grade level, and yet got promoted year after year. I've met many wonderful and competent teachers of course, but I've also met plenty of teachers who did not know the material they were teaching. I'll never forget the science teacher who did not know several of the answers on the 8th grade MCAS test. 

This book covers topics that are near and dear to my heart, and while no one country's education system is perfect, does it not make sense that we would learn from the best? We do that in business all the time, so why not in our schools? If you are an educator, parent, or interested in education, I would highly recommend this book. PS. Parents, there is an appendix with questions to ask about your kid's school. If nothing else, I think you'd find that most illuminating. Rating: 5 stars.

79. The Running Man
I save up all my unread Stephen King books for the summer. I get the audiobook, jack in for long walks, and love every minute of it. Summer does not feel like Summer until I have a King story playing in my head.

This book was written under the Richard Bachman pseudonym, and I do think it might be the first Bachman book I've read. Unlike the usual King tomes, this one is a much shorter book, and I listened to the audiobook wonderfully narrated by Kevin Kenerly.

First published in 1982, this story is rather scarily prescient of society today - turns out King does not have to find alien bogeymen to scare us, all he needs to do is look into his crystal ball 20 years into the future. As one might expect, humans have continued our downward spiral: the gap between the poor and rich is an unbreachable gulf, the environment is so degraded that the very air we breathe kills us, people are zoned out watching reality TV shows, and there is a terrible sense of apathy. 

Ben Richards has a very ill daughter, and no money for food, let alone medicines for his little girl. He decides to try out for one of the reality shows - if he gets selected, his family gets money. What happens next is part of the fun ride, so I won't spoil it for you. Speaking of spoilers, my version of the book has a introduction by King in which he drops a huge spoiler - so save that for the end. 

I remember watching the movie based on this book ages ago and plan to watch it again soon. If you are looking for a fun, political, social commentary, thriller of a ride, add this to your summer reads. Rating: 4 stars.

80. An Iranian Metamorphosis
Could a cartoon spark riots? One published in the children's section of the paper at that? Well, the modern reader is all too aware of how badly things can go for the artists and their publisher when some people take offense.

This is a wonderfully illustrated graphic memoir with a strong narrative arc, and the black and white art captures well the bleakness of the story. The author is an Iranian cartoonist, and when his cartoons do in fact start a demonstration, his life takes a Kafkaesque turn. One does not need to be turned into an insect for life to become horrifying and unrecognizable after all. This memoir is the story of what happened to the author, and is a stark portrayal of life under a totalitarian regime, especially for those who criticize it. The news often tells stories from a foreigners point of view, and I loved that this one is told from an insider perspective. Rating: 4 stars