Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gulliver’s Travels

This is an okay book written by Jonathan Swift. Lemuel Gulliver, the narrator, is a sea-faring surgeon who undertakes four voyages to unknown countries. First he discovers Lilliput and is a giant amongst people who are no taller than 6 inches. Next he visits Brobdingnag, a land of giants that are up to 60 feet tall. His next voyage is to Laputa, a flying island, whose culture is mainly a satire of the Royal Society. His final voyage is to the land of Houyhnhnms, where horses speak and rule, and obscene humanoid creatures known as Yahoos are their slaves. By the time Gulliver arrives back in England to stay, he feels disgust towards all humans, including his wife.

The book was originally published in 1726. The idea of aerial bombardment as a method of warfare was likely mentioned for this first time in this novel. The name of the website Yahoo! was taken from this book. The story became an instant success, selling out its first run in less than a week. The captain who invites Gulliver to serve as a surgeon aboard his ship on the disastrous third voyage is named Robinson, from Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe. In Fahrenheit 451, Montag briefly reads a section of Gulliver's Travels to his wife. A television miniseries based on the story was released in 1996 starring Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen and was about 3 hours long. A new film with Jack Black is expected to be released in December.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Valley of Fear

This is an okay book written by Arthur Doyle. John Douglas lived in a feudal manor house built upon the ruins of a castle surrounded by moat. Every night he lifted up the drawbridge to make sure no intruders could get in. Nevertheless, someone shot him in the face with a peculiarly American weapon: a sawed-off shotgun. The murder has roots 20 years in the past in the coal-mining area of upstate Pennsylvania where a secret terrorist organization of Irish miners operated.

The story is loosely based on the Molly Maguires and security agent James McParland. This is the final Sherlock Holmes novel and was published in 1914.

The Art of Racing in the Rain

This is an okay book written by Garth Stein. Enzo is a dog, but he has thoughts like any human and hopes to someday be reincarnated as a man. His master Denny is a champion race car driver and mechanic. After his wife dies from cancer, her parents sue him to gain custody of their daughter. Complicating the case is a false accusation that he raped a 15-year-old relative of his wife. Now he must fight to not only have the charges dropped, but to be able to regain full custody of his daughter.

The book would have been much better if it was told from the man’s perspective and not the dog’s view. It is way too easy for a man’s reputation and career to be destroyed from a baseless accusation of sexual abuse.

Killer Market

I liked this book written by Margaret Maron. Judge Deborah Knott is sent to North Carolina to resolve a custody case between a young couple that appear to be very much equal in most circumstances. While there, she discovers an old fling and is considered the prime suspect when her purse is discovered next to his dead body. Now she must try to prove her innocence and help to find the real killer.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ninja Assassin (2009)

This is an okay movie. Raizo (Rain) was kidnapped as a child, while living on the streets as a orphan. He was taken by the Ozunu Clan, a secret society that raises abandoned children and trains them to become lethal fighters. Their attack style is swift and almost supernatural. When his girlfriend (Anna Sawai) is executed after trying to escape, Raizo leaves and vows revenge on the ninjas. In Berlin, Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris) discovers financial transactions proving the existence of the gang and is rescued by Raizo from an attack.

The film is good, but the gore is too extreme. The Wachowski brothers, famous for the Matrix trilogy, were the producers. Rain is a pop singer and actor from South Korea.

The Swiss Family Robinson

I liked this book written by Johann Wyss. A Swiss pastor, his wife, and four sons, are traveling on a ship destined for a colony in Australia, when it is damaged and all of the crew vanishes while near an island in the East Indies. The family manages to get ashore and is able to use supplies from the wrecked ship. They encounter a wide variety of animals and plants, while thriving on the island.

The novel was first published in 1812. Pastor Johann David Wyss started writing the novel, and then it was edited and completed by his son Johann Rudolf Wyss and illustrated by another son, Johann Emmanuel Wyss. Rudolf also wrote the Swiss national anthem. The English novel Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719. Robinson is not a Swiss surname, and the title basically refers to a Swiss family version of Robinson Crusoe.

The Deer Hunter (1978)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. In 1967, three steelworker friends in Clairton, Pennsylvania, who like to hunt deer every fall season, are sent over to fight in the Vietnam War. All three men are captured and put into a prisoner of war camp. The sadistic captors force them to play a deadly game of Russian roulette and bet on the outcome. Nick (Christopher Walken) is rescued by a crowded helicopter, but Mike (Robert De Niro) and Steven (John Savage) are left behind.

It is loosely based on the 1937 novel by German author Erich Remarque. He was a veteran in World War I and also wrote "All Quiet on the Western Front". The film won five Academy Awards. The movie was shot in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Washington state, and Thailand. At the Berlin International Film Festival in 1979 the delegation from the Soviet Union protested the film because it did not give a positive portrayal of the Vietnamese. Walken only ate rice and bananas to look ill in the final act.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

This is an okay book written by Mark Twain. Huck Finn is now living with Widow Douglas, who is trying to educate and civilize him. His drunkard father returns to town and regains custody of the boy. When Huck feels threatened by his father, he fakes his own abduction to run away. He meets the slave Jim who is also on the run. While rafting down the Mississippi River, they meet a variety of people and have some exciting adventures.

It was first published in 1884. It is one of the earliest major American novels to be written with a localized dialect. The novel is considered a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. His manuscript was the first to be delivered to the printer in a typewritten format. Critics have attacked the book as racist, because of the excessive use of the "n-word", but actually Twain was trying to show that racial prejudice is wrong and that blacks have the same human emotions as everybody.

Borat (2006)

This is a moderate movie. Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Cohen) lives in a poor village in Kazakhstan and is recruited by a government officer to visit America to experience the culture and get ideas on how to improve their own economy. He starts out in New York and while watching television becomes infatuated with Pamela Anderson from Baywatch and decides he will travel across the country to Hollywood to find her. While taking a road trip with his producer Azamat Bagatov (Ken Davitian), he discovers the culture and hospitality of Americans.

The first half of the film is all right, but the second half is awful, starting with the hotel scene. There are a few funny moments, but I am surprised people took him so seriously. I was also amazed they found so many racists and I feel bad for some of the people tricked by him. The foreign languages in the film are neither Russian or Kazakh, but actually Hebrew and Armenian. Lebanon was the only Arab country (out of twenty-five) that did not ban it, and the Russian government told theaters not to play it.

In the Company of Heroes

I did not like this book written by Michael Durant. In 1993, while Somalia was in the midst of a civil war, President Clinton ordered US troops into the area to capture warlord Mohamed Aidid, because he was preventing food from reaching the starving residents. During the Battle of Mogadishu on October 3 and 4, two Blackhawk helicopters were shot down and pilot Michael Durant was kidnapped by Aidid’s militia and tormented. The story is about his treatment during 11 days of captivity and eventual rescue.

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

This is an okay book written by Arthur Conan Doyle. There are 11 short stories about the famous detective Sherlock Holmes as told by his associate and friend, Dr. Watson. They were originally published in 1894. "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" story has occasionally been excluded from the book, because adultery is involved.

The Hound of the Baskervilles

This is an okay book written by Arthur Conan Doyle. When rich landowner Charles Baskerville is found dead at his manor, it appears he died from a heart attack, but his friend thinks a supernatural dog is responsible. Since Holmes is busy working on other cases, Dr. Watson is sent to the residence to take notes and determine what is going on.

The story was published in 1901. The idea came from the legend of Richard Cabell, who died in 1677. Legends arose claiming that a phantom pack of hounds would howl at his tomb, and his ghostly image could be seen leading them. There is a legend in the British Isles about a ghostly black dog that was larger than normal and had glowing eyes and was considered a portent of death. The Baskerville effect is an observation that psychological stress can increase the chance of a heart attack.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

I did not like this book written by Mark Twain. Thomas Sawyer is a mischievous twelve-year-old boy who lives with his Aunt Polly, his half-brother, Sid, and his cousin Mary in St. Petersburg, Missouri, along the Mississippi River. After skipping school and getting into a fight, he is told to whitewash the fence as punishment. He falls for Becky Thatcher, a new girl, and asks her to commit to him, but she gets upset when she finds out he has said this to other girls. Tom and his friend Huckleberry Finn, witness a murder, but are afraid to tell anyone. When they run away to an island with a third friend, Joe Harper, the town starts to suspect that they all drowned and hold a funeral service for them.

The book was published in 1876. By the time of Mark Twain's death in 1910, the novel was both celebrated as an American classic and a bestseller. In 1995, Disney released the film Tom and Huck, starring Jonathan Thomas and Brad Renfro and based on the book. Tom Sawyer appears as a United States Secret Service agent in the 2003 film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

High Noon (1952)

This is a solid movie. On his wedding day, Will Kane (Gary Cooper) leaves his job as marshal of Hadleyville, New Mexico, to be with his Quaker wife. Before they can get started on their honeymoon, he discovers that the leader of a gang he arrested, is scheduled to arrive at noon to seek revenge. Kane decides that even if he no longer has the official title, he can’t abandon the town and dismisses the concerns of his wife. Unable to garner backup fighters, he must confront the gang of four alone.

It is based on the 1947 short story "The Tin Star" by John Cunningham. Gary Cooper was 28 years older than Grace Kelly. Some scenes were filmed in California. A documentary entitled "Inside High Noon" was made about the film and included an interview with President Bill Clinton. In 1951, Producer Carl Foreman was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, because of his previous membership in the American Communist Party. John Wayne strongly despised the film.

A Study in Scarlet

This is an okay book written by Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes is a consulting detective. Private and government agents come to him for advice when they can’t solve the cases they are working on. He and his roommate Dr. Watson are asked by Scotland Yard to investigate two murders. Although there are traces of blood, Holmes concludes that the men died from poisoning. The victims once lived in Salt Lake City among the Mormon pioneers, but then fled to Europe.

It was first published in 1887. This is one of only four full-length novels about Holmes. The next in the series was The Sign of Four.

Good Faith

I liked this book written by Jane Smiley. In 1982, Joe Stratford is a successful and well-liked real estate agent. His divorce was recently finalized. Joe meets Marcus Burns, an IRS agent, who has a plan for both of them to get rich. Marcus wants to purchase some land and develop it for a golf course and resort. However, problems start to arise with financing the project and earning revenues.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Virgin Suicides (2000)

This is a solid movie. High school math teacher Mr. Lisbon (James Woods) has just moved to Grosse Pointe, Michigan with his wife (Kathleen Turner) and five daughters. The neighborhood boys are instantly enthralled by the teenage girls. Although the family seems close knit and happy, their youngest daughter, 13-year-old Cecilia, commits suicide on her second attempt. The remaining sisters are sad, but football player Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett) convinces their dad to let them go to the homecoming dance. When 14-year-old Lux (Kirsten Dunst) stays out all night, the girls lose their privileges.

The story was based on the 1993 debut novel by Jeffrey Eugenides. This was the first full length film directed by Sofia Coppola. She also worked with Kirsten Dunst in 2006 with Marie Antoinette. The main song played throughout the film is "Playground Love" by French electronic band Air. The trailer uses the song "Right Here, Right Now" by Fatboy Slim. Dunst turned 18 about two weeks before the release date.

Trainspotting (1996)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable Scottish movie. Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) is friends with a group of heroin junkies. He decides to quit the drugs and locks himself within a room until he overcomes the withdrawals. While at a club he meets a girl and goes home with her, but in the morning he discovers that she is a minor. After getting bored with sobriety he decides to take another hit and overdoses. He is rushed to the hospital and then taken to his parents’ house to recover.

The film is based on the 1993 novel by Irvine Welsh. He has a cameo as drug dealer Mikey Forrester. The film has nothing to do with trains, but the title refers to a brief scene in the book. Iggy Pop is an American songwriter. Although he has had limited commercial success, he is credited as an early innovator of punk rock. Bob Dole criticized the film during his 1996 Presidential bid for glorying drugs, but later admitted he had not actually seen it.

The Sunday Philosophy Club

This is an okay book written by Alexander McCall Smith. Isabel Dalhousie is a middle-aged woman who inherited a lot of money and is also an editor. One day she sees a man fall to his death. When the police declare it a suicide, she decides to investigate to find out what really happened. During her free time she also likes to meet with friends and discuss philosophical issues.

Bad Connection

This is an okay book written by Michael Ledwidge. Sean Macklin is a Manhattan telephone operator with an invalid wife. He is desperate for money and is given a chance to get rich quick when he overhears a conversation about an upcoming merger. While listening in on company calls he discovers that the CEO sanctioned several murders and the repairman grapples with what to do with the information.

Taking Hold: My Journey into Blindness

This is an okay book written by Sally Hobart Alexander. The author was born in 1943 in Kentucky and became an elementary teacher in California. In her mid-20s, a rare eye disease caused her to go blind. She attended a training program in Pittsburgh for adults who had gone blind. The book gives an interesting experience about the sadness, fear, and loss of independence that comes from blindness.

The book ends at that point in her life, but later she went on to graduate school and is now a professor teaching writing. She also writes children's books. I have very poor vision and without glasses I can only see shapes and colors. I did not qualify for LASIK surgery and sometimes I worry about going blind.

Claws and Effect

This is an okay book written by Rita Mae Brown. When a hospital staff member is found murdered in the boiler room, Ms. Haristeen and her curious pets try find the killer.

The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St. Germain

This is an okay book written by Andrew Greeley. American Bishop Blackie Ryan is flown to France in order to discover what happened to a priest who had a popular television show, but disappeared. He hires a young woman named Marie-Bernadette to be his translator. Bishop Ryan tries to discover whether the priest is hiding or dead and whether the Catholic Church had anything to do with his disappearance.

The author, Andrew Greeley, is a priest.

The Insider (1999)

This is an okay movie based on true events. Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) was the top scientist at tobacco company Brown & Williamson before being fired over a disagreement with management. Veteran producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) wants to do an expose on tobacco for the television show 60 minutes and hopes the scientist can provide inside details. Wigand’s former employer suddenly starts to harass him by watching his house, leaving a bullet in his mailbox, and prank calling at night. CBS is worried that they will be sued if they broadcast the news story.

The full 60 Minutes episode was aired on February 4, 1996. The story was taken from the May 1996 Vanity Fair article "The Man Who Knew Too Much" written by Marie Brenner. Brown & Williamson merged with R.J. Reynolds in 2004 and they are now the second-largest American tobacco company (only behind Philip Morris). Crowe put on 35 pounds for the role. The actual courtroom in Pascagoula, Mississippi was shown. Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore portrayed himself in the film. The scene at the golf range is fictional.


This is an okay book written by Alison McGhee. Edwina, who prefers to be called Eddie, is an 11-year-old girl who likes to write lists and wears rubber bands that she snaps when bored. Her best friend Sally lives with her grandmother Willie, who always warns people not to rock in chairs. When her grandmother gets sick because of a blood disease, Sally becomes emotionally distant and refuses to play with Eddie.

Out of Sight

This is an okay book written by Elmore Leonard. Career bank robber Jack Foley escapes from a Florida prison and kidnaps U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco and places her in the trunk of her car and then uses it as a getaway. After escaping, she tracks the group of criminals who helped him to Detroit. Meanwhile, she starts to become infatuated with the robber.

In 1998 a film version was released starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

I did not like this book written by Alexander McCall Smith. After the death of her father, Precious Ramotswe opens a detective agency and becomes the first woman private detective in Botswana. Her cases include: women who suspect their husbands of cheating; a father worried that his daughter is sneaking off to see a boy; a missing child who may have been killed by witchdoctors; and a doctor who sometimes seems highly competent and at other times is befuddled. There is also a man who keeps asking to marry the detective, but she is not ready to start a family yet.

Mean Girls (2004)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. Cady (Lindsay Lohan) is a 15-year-old girl who grew up in Africa and was home-schooled by her zoologist parents. After they move to Illinois, she is put into a public school for the first time and feels out of place. On her first day, she meets a gothic girl and a gay guy who are social outcasts. They warn her to stay away from the stylish trio of girls known as, the plastics. She befriends the popular clique, but when they prevent her from dating Aaron, she retaliates.

The script was written by Tina Fey and is based on the 2002 self-help book "Queen Bees and Wannabes" by Rosalind Wiseman. A few other actors from Saturday Night Live also appear in the film: Tim Meadows, Ana Gasteyer, and Amy Poehler. The character Janis Ian is named after the Grammy Award winning singer. The film was partially shot in Toronto, Canada. Mariah Carey is a fan of the movie.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Fear in the Forest

I liked this book written by Bernard Knight. Sir John de Wolfe is a King's Crowner and is charge of investigating corruption in the county of Devon, England, in 1194. The penalty for hunting deer without permission is mutilation, banishment, or death. When a senior officer of the Royal Forest is found with an arrow in his back, and then another officer is violently killed, Sir John starts to uncover a conspiracy.

Nora, Nora

I did not like this book written by Anne Rivers Siddons. 12-year-old Peyton McKenzie lives with her single and emotionally distant father. Her mother died shortly after giving birth to her and now she blames herself for it. Her older brother died in an accident when she was only five. Her 34-year-old second cousin Nora, from her mother's side of the family, says she wants to come stay with both of them for a while. Peyton is reluctant to meet her. After a while the woman starts to act like a surrogate mother to the girl as she builds a friendship and emotional attachment to her.


This is an okay book written by Dick Francis. Journalist James Tyrone lives with and cares for his disabled wife who is suffering from polio. Since she can no longer provide physical intimacy due to being paralyzed and using a respirator, he starts to have an affair. When he discovers a betting racket involving horse races, he is attacked by a group of thugs who don't want their scheme revealed. They force him to get drunk and then leave his house. Now he must try to get his wife out of the house and attempt to drive her to safety.

Last Car to Elysian Fields

This is an okay book written by James Lee Burke. Homicide detective Dave Robicheaux's friend Father Jimmie Dolan, is being stalked by an Irish hitman. While he tries to protect his friend, he investigates a deadly crash involving three drunken teenagers. He also tries to find out what happened to a blues singer who disappeared from prison in the 1950s.

Boogie Nights (1997)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is a handsome teenager who washes dishes for a nightclub. He lives with his passive father and a domineering mother who keeps telling him that he is stupid and won’t amount to anything. At the club he is discovered by Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) a producer of adult films who hires Eddie to be an actor. He convinces the producer to make films that involve a lot of action and he gains popularity and earns a few awards.

The character of Dirk Diggler is based on John Holmes. Nina Hartley, who plays William Macy's wife in the film, is a real porn actress.