Posted tagged ‘books’

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.

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.

More on “Unbroken”

January 12, 2015

After seeing the movie “Unbroken”, directed by Angelina Jolie, I went back to my Kindle archives and reread the book by Laura Hillenbrand.  I just completed reading the book. There is so much more than the material presented in a two hour movie.

The book is divided into five sections. The first section covers the pre-war period and Zamperini’s war experiences up to the point where he becomes a bombardier.

Section II covers his early experience as a B24 bombardier up until the point where his B-24 crash lands in the Pacific. So far the book and movie are pretty much in sync.

Section III covers the experience in the lifeboat. Louis Zamperini, Russell Allen Phillips (the pilot) and the Francis McNamara (the tail gunner) were the only survivors. They survived for 47 days at sea before being captured by the Japanese. Movie and book still pretty much in sync.

Section IV covers Zamperini’s experiences at various Japanese prison camps. Particular attention is given to Mutshuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe. Watanabe was a Japanese Sargent in charge of some of POW camps where Zamperini was imprisoned. The book and movie both cover “The Bird” but the book goes into much more detail on the living conditions and the prisoner abuse at the hands of “The Bird” and other Japanese guards. The book mentions that most POW guards were the dregs of the Japanese military. They were the stupidest and the most troublesome. They could not make it in the front-line military. Go read the book.

Bird went into hiding after the war for seven years before all war crime charges against the Bird and other guards were quietly dropped. Bob Simon interviewed Watanabe for “60 Minutes” back in 1998. Here is a pointer to that interview on youtube.

The book talks about the arrival of the B-29’s in the Spring of 1945 in raids on Japan The POW’s quickly figured out the the B-29’s had to be based fairly close since the B-29’s were arriving early in the day. At first, only a few B-29’s arrived over Tokyo, but eventually hundreds of them were bombing Japan. Go read the book.

B29

One point that the film misses is that the POW’s were to be executed if Japan lost the war. The deadline for that action was August 15, 1945. The Atomic bomb probably put the fear of God into the Japanese. After the A bombs were dropped many of the guards headed for the hills. Go read the book.

I suppose that there is only so much material one can fit into a two hour film. The film misses so much. Section V covers Zamperini’s life after the war. The film barely touches his post war experience. The film shows Zamperini arriving home and that he lived happily ever after. Go read the book.

The film misses so much in this area. The film misses the PTSD, the alcoholism, the nightmares, etc. Most of the returning POW’s really had to struggle to return to a normal life.

The book covers so much more than the film. So what are you waiting for, go read the book. The first link in this post is to the Amazon Kindle entry for “Unbroken”. Go read the book.

Unbroken

January 4, 2015

Another date night last night. Paula and I went to see the movie Unbroken at a the Terraces theater in San Pedro. We like the Terraces theater because it’s close to home and they have a senior rate. Last night, the senior price was $6, After the movie we picked up some BBQ chicken, potato salad and some other kind of salad for dinner.

Unbroken” is the movie directed by Angelina Jolie and starring Jack O’Connell that is true story of Louis Zamporini. The film is based on the best selling book of the same name by Laura Hilldebrand. It follows the story of Louis becoming an Olympic track star and then serving as a bombardier in the South Pacific. The film is rated PG13 for violence.

Louis_Zamperini_at_announcement_of_2015_Tournament_of_Roses_Grand_Marshal

Louis’ bomber crashes in the South Pacific. He then spends 47 days in a life raft and is eventually captured by the Japanese. He then spends the rest of the war in various Japanese prison camps.

I am always amazed how film makers manage to make scenes look so realistic. The crash scene of the bomber looks so real. You actually feel the director had a camera on board a bomber and then crashed it in the ocean.

This film is not for the faint of heart. It spends a great deal of the film showing what it was like for him in the prison camps. But he survives. Zamperini had been scheduled to be the Grand Marshall of the 2015 Rose Parade. Unfortunately, he died this past July, Here is the link to the Wiki entry for Louis Zamperini.

Louis Zamperini is famous in these here parts. The Torrance Air Port is named after him. Torrance High School named its sport stadium after him.

Laura Hildebrand is also the author of “Seabiscuit” Another book worth reading.

Good film and a good book. Go see the film and read the book.

Shameless Plug

August 27, 2014

I recently discovered that my good friend Bob Simington has written a book titled “My Stories: The Stories I Tell My Friends and Family”. It is available on Amazon Kindle for the outrageous price of $2.99 (or free is you have Kindle Unlimited). It’s a great read. Do not delay. Click here to get your copy from Amazon.