Archive for the ‘Books’ category

Darkest Hour

January 28, 2018

Darkest HourLast week we went to see the movie “Darkest Hour” starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill. Of course, we had to get a sitter for Mary. It was good to get out with her.

I enjoyed the film, but the theater had the audio turned up a bit too loud. That made the audio a bit mushy and you combine that with the English accents one gets trouble understanding what’s going on. It seems that a lot of theaters run the audio loud on films (in this case it was an AMC theater.)

The timeline for the story is May 1940 starting with the sacking of Neville Chamberlain.  And carrying Great Britain through the days of exploring the idea of a negotiated peace with Hitler.

I was subliminally comparing the portrayal of Churchill in this film with the performance of John Lithgow as Churchill in the Netflix series “The Crown”. Both were fine performances but I kind of liked Lithgow just a bit more.

Interesting to read IMDB on the costuming and makeup for Gary Oldman. Another bit of trivia, film had a budget of $30,000 for cigars. They used about 400 cigars during the filming. Gary Oldman got nicotine poisoning from smoking the cigars.

The movie is based on the book of the same name by Anthony McCarten. Indeed, Anthony McCarten also wrote the screen play. I’ve just started reading the book. I think I would have been better off if I had read the book first. I wouldn’t have felt so confused at times during the film.

Oh, for fine dining, we ate at Denny’s. The film was about 2 hours long, so all the restaurants hadn’t closed for the evening when we pulled in.

Here’s a bit of information that I learned. The restaurants on the west side of Western Ave are in Rancho Palos Verdes. And as such, they are required to close at 9:30 PM on Sunday through Thursday. On Friday and Saturday, the Denny’s that we went to is open all night.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky – A Novel

January 3, 2018

img_0593Latest book that I’ve been reading is “Beneath a Scarlet Sky” written by Mark Sullivan. This is the true life story of Pino Lella, an Italian resistance fighter in WW2. The starts with introduction of Pino, a normal Italian teenager who wants nothing to do with the Nazis and the war. I am amazed at the amount of research it took to write this book.

The story starts with Pina escorting Jews over Alps to Switzerland. Then his parents force him to enlist in the German army in the hopes that will save him from harm.

After he is injured he ends up becoming the personal driver for a German general who is Hitler’s right hand man in Italy. From that point on he is busy spying for the allies and the partisans.

Good book, worth reading. Here’s a wikipedia article on the Italian resistance movement in WW2

Here’s a short excerpt:

They crossed the Po River, and long before dusk, while the countryside still lay blanketed in summer torpor, the train squealed and sighed to a stop amid gently rolling farmland. Pino carried a blanket over his shoulder and climbed after Carletto to a low grassy hill above an orchard that faced southwest toward the city.

“Pino,” Mr. Beltramini said, “watch out, or there will be spider webs across your ears by morning.”

Mrs. Beltramini, a pretty, frail woman who always seemed to be suffering some malady or another, scolded weakly, “Why did you say that? You know I hate spiders.”

The fruit shop owner fought against a grin. “What are you talking about? I was just warning the boy about the dangers of sleeping with his head in the deep grass.”

His wife looked like she wanted to argue, but then she just waved him away, as if he were some bothersome fly.

Uncle Albert fished in a canvas bag for bread, wine, cheese, and dried salami. The Beltraminis broke out five ripe cantaloupes. Pino’s father sat in the grass next to his violin case, his arms wrapped around his knees and an enchanted look on his face.

“Isn’t it magnificent?” Michele said.

“What’s magnificent?” Uncle Albert said, looking around, puzzled.

“This place. How clean the air is. And the smells. No burning. No bomb stench. It seems so . . . I don’t know. Innocent?”

“Exactly,” Mrs. Beltramini said.

“Exactly what?” Mr. Beltramini said. “You walk a little too far here and it’s not so innocent. Cow shit and spiders and snakes and—”

Whop! Mrs. Beltramini backhand-slapped her husband’s arm. “You show no mercy, do you? Ever?”

“Hey, that hurt,” Mr. Beltramini protested through a smile.

“Good,” she said. “Now stop it, you. I didn’t get a wink of sleep with all that talk of spiders and snakes last night.”

Appearing unaccountably angry, Carletto got up and walked downhill toward the orchard. Pino noticed some girls down by the rock wall that surrounded the fruit grove. Not one of them was as beautiful as Anna. But maybe it was time to move on. He jogged downhill to catch up with Carletto, told him his plan, and they tried to artfully intercept the girls. Another group of boys beat them to it.

Pino looked at the sky and said, “I’m only asking for a little love.”

“I think you’d settle for a kiss,” Carletto said.

“I’d be happy with a smile.” Pino sighed.

One more thing. The author mentions the aria “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot several times in the book. The title translated to English means “None Shall Sleep”. Click here to get a full translation of the lyrics as well as a performance by the late great Luciano Pavarotti.

Origin: A Novel

November 9, 2017

51oICD9UWKLOrigin: A Novel” is the latest book by Dan Brown that I just finished reading. Once again it features Professor Robert Langdon as the main character.

This time Langdon is in Spain meeting with a scientist named Edmond Kirsch who is about to announce to the world some amazing discovery that will put an end to organized religion.

So the story starts with Kirsch having a big announcement ceremony where he promptly gets shot and dies. Langdon of course comes to the rescue to chase the killers and find out what Kirsch’s big announcement was going to be.

An AI (Artificial Intelligence) persona is introduced with the name “Winston”. Of course, Winston and Langdon team up to find out all the answers.

The NY Times seemed to love the book. They wrote an absolutely gushing blurb (see the Kindle page on Amazon). They probably didn’t have to pay $14.99 for it.

I guess I was expecting more from Dan Brown. I’ve read all of his previous books. I was totally underwhelmed. Save your $14.99 for the Kindle edition. If you really must read it, wait until the price drops next summer or fall.

The next book that I will be reading is “Leonardo Da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson.

Hamilton

January 1, 2017

Well I finally finished reading “Hamilton”. I had been reading it off and on since this past June. That was a long hard slog. The book runs a total of 800 pages. Though, the main part of the biography runs only 730 pages. It’s a good read and worthy of your time to read.hamilton

So where do I start? I learned so much that I never knew. Here is an excerpt from the blurb on Amazon:

Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton. Chernow’s biography gives Hamilton his due and sets the record straight, deftly illustrating that the political and economic greatness of today’s America is the result of Hamilton’s countless sacrifices to champion ideas that were often wildly disputed during his time. “To repudiate his legacy,” Chernow writes, “is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.” Chernow here recounts Hamilton’s turbulent life: an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, he came out of nowhere to take America by storm, rising to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp in the Continental Army, coauthoring The Federalist Papers, founding the Bank of New York, leading the Federalist Party…

Here are a few things that I learned (more than I ever learned in HS History):

  • Hamilton was an illegitimate child born on the island of St Kitts in the Caribbean.
  • Republicans and Federalists despised each other. Much like political parties today. Maybe even more so.
  • The duel that ended Hamilton’s life occurred in New Jersey, because New York state had outlawed dueling. Although New Jersey was in the process of outlawing it too.
  • Both Hamilton and Burr were carried across the East River by (separate) row boats at the crack of dawn to avoid detection by local authorities.
  • Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury (under George Washington)
  • He fought in the Revolutionary War.

So much more. You can read the Wikipedia entry here. But don’t let that stop you from reading the whole book (click here for the Kindle copy)

Date Night

April 24, 2016

Jungle BookSaturday was date night. We really needed to get out without Mom even if only for a couple of hours.

So, we went to see the movie “The Jungle Book“. I guess we are getting cheap in our old age. Jungle Book was available in iMax 3D, Regular 3D and old plain 2D. 2D was $7 a person for Seniors. iMax was $17. We did the old fashioned 2D. Characters were voiced by Bill Murray, Idris Elba, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walken and many more fine actors and actresses.

The film is rated PG and rightly so. There are parts that are pretty violent and might be a bit scary for little kids. I wouldn’t take a kid to see it under the  age of 8 or 9.

We loved it. We went to a 4:45 showing and there were a lot of families with kids in the theater. I particularly liked Baloo voiced by Bill Murray where he starts singing the “Bare Necessities”. We also liked the scenes with King Louie.

Here’s the Bill Murray version from Youtube. I will be playing this tune at Lodge in a couple of weeks.

When you compare this version with earlier versions you can readily see how far the animation technology has come. This film was filmed completely in Los Angeles.

I would give the film 8.5 stars out of 10. We loved it.

And by the way, you can download the Kindle version of the Rudyard Kipling Book from Amazon for $.99. What a deal.

Now for dinner part of date night. We had hoped to try the Hopsaint Brewery restaurant in Torrance. Saturday night was not a good time. We couldn’t even find a parking space. We’ll try another time when it might be less busy.

We came up with a plan B. We decided to go to the “San Franciscan” in Torrance. I was itching to have a good steak. We don’t have a barbeque grill at our place (forbidden my HOA). It was busy too, but at least we found a parking space. Had to wait 20 minutes for a table.

I had a 9 oz Filet Mignon. Paula had something called a “Drunken Sam”. The menu descrbes it as

“Filet mignon, pan fried in burgundy wine and brandy. Served atop fried eggplant and topped with an Ortega chile and jack cheese”

I had a taste. It was very good. Paula cleaned her plate. This is not fancy and the decor is rather plain but food is excellent. This is our place to go to when we have a hunger for steak.

Captain John Smith

July 12, 2015

Great RogueI just finished reading a book titled “The Great Rogue: A Biography of Captain John Smith” by Noel Gerson. John Smith was one of truly great English explorers. He was one of the founders of the colony at Jamestown, Virginia in 1602, The book was actually written quite a while ago (the copywright notice says 1978). It was only recently published on Kindle.

The book tells the story of his early life and through his exploring and colonizing of the new world. The Jamestown colony came almost twenty years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

it was enjoyable read. A couple thoughts seemed to jump out at me. First that the English investors in the New World had this idea that gold, silver and precious jewels would be found as soon as the colonists landed in the new world.

The second idea was that the path to the Pacific Ocean was just around the corner and up the stream. It took John Smith a long time to persuade the investors that there wasn’t gold in every hill.

He did however that other natural resources were just as valuable. Those resources included lumber, furs and many other goods that were traded with the indians. He also discovered that fish and whales were abundant. Whales were valuable for their oil (used in lamps) and ambergris. Ambergris is a substance found in the digestive system of whales that was valued by perfumeries.

John Smith wanted to go on the Mayflower expedition but the leaders didn’t think he was a good fit. Instead they chose Miles Standish.

John Smith an outstanding job of mapping the New World. When he returned to London in 1609 after suffering serious burns, Smith returned with maps, charts and data about the new world. He never got to return to the new world but he certainly affected the development. It’s a good read.

Books That I Never Finished

May 5, 2015

So, I’ve read blog posts describing books that people have read. Sometimes the titles are like “Books I Read Last Year”. So I thought I’d write the books that for whatever reason I haven’t managed to finish. Having books on my Kindle makes it all too easy to amass books. If these were real printed books, I would have stacks of books piled up to the ceiling.So here in no particular order is my list.

Game of Thrones by George RR Martin

I got most of the way through Book One. I foolishly bought the entire five book set on Kindle, all 4000 odd pages of it. One would need a companion book to keep track of the various characters and the related mayhem. Paula and I watched most of season one on HBO. HBO is doing season five right now. Maybe we’ll get to it one of these years. I come to believe that one can watch any episode and know that there is going to be someone getting skewered with a sword and someone having sex with some wench.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

This time I only bought the first volume of the series. We’ve been watching the series on PBS. Sometimes I wonder if the authors get paid by word count or in the case of the physical book, by the pound. Once again the minutia is killing me. I am trying to keep up with many people that Thomas Cromwell interacts with. I haven’t quite given up on the read. But I’m getting to close to dumping into the bit bucket.

Eternity’s End (Star Rigger Universe) by Jeffrey Carver

This is a science fiction book. I occasionally read some science fiction. I bought this on the recommendation of by brother (the writer). Sorry Richard.  I think my biggest problem with the book was that this title is book six in a series. I was getting confused as to what a “star rigger” was and how the main character was jumping around the universe. I began to lose my way about half way through. Maybe one of these days I will go back to book one.

Speaker for the Dead (Book 2 of The Ender Quintet) by Orson Scott Card

I enjoyed (and finished) Book 1 (Ender’s Game). So when I discovered that Orson Scott Card had done a five volume series, I thought I would give it a try. I just sort of got lost. Time travel will do that to you. Luckily I didn’t buy the entire quintet.

Ulysses by James Joyce

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention “Ulysses”. I barely got out of the first 50 pages without getting totally lost. There was a reason why I majored in Electrical Engineering and not English Lit. It reminds me of my freshman year at Northeastern University where we were required to read “Crime and Punishment” for an English for Engineers course. We (the engineers) didn’t want to be there, neither did the instructor. Our “Crime” was that we were engineers and our “Punishment” was we had to spend a summer reading and discussing this crap. The instructor was probably a grad student majoring in English Lit and drew the short straw. Of course, one can down load the Kindle version for free. Still costs too much.

No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt by Doris Kearns Goodwin

I like reading Doris Goodwin, but sometimes she just goes too deep. I got about half way through when I just got bogged down in way too much detail. David McCullough is another history author that I read from time to time. He can also get bogged down in minutia from time to time.

Victoria: A Life by A. N. Wilson

Last but not least, I want to talk about Victoria. I actually haven’t read it, but have thought about getting it. The problem is that the price for the Kindle version is still way too high. When it first came out, it was $29.99. Now it is down to $18.99. Are you kidding me, $19 for a tome on Queen Victoria. I hate paying any more than $10 for a Kindle edition. Sometimes I will go a little bit higher for a name brand author like Stephen King. But $30, that’s nuts. I suppose it’s better than getting sleeping pills.