Friday, August 19, 2016

"Gravity, plus ocean current, plus wind"

The one time I felt in danger of drowning was when, as a middle schooler, I went to a place called Wet ‘n Wild. I ventured into the Wave Pool, drawn to its seemingly tamer attraction compared to the death defying twists and turns of the higher and faster water slides. I positioned myself next to one of the metal bars lining the deep end and waited for the waves to begin. Slowly the agitation quickened and the waves got higher.  Losing hold of the metal bar, it was all I could do to keep my head above water. Trying not to panic, I glanced over at the lifeguards who seemed oblivious to my plight. Meanwhile my companions were screaming in the delight of it all. Finally the waves subsided and I was able to touch bottom and climb out, thankful for the hot concrete underneath my feet.

This memory came back as I was reading Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. A plane has crashed off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. One of the passengers, Scott Burroughs, finds himself in the ocean, somehow still alive. Determined to swim to shore, he begins to set off when he hears the cry of a four-year-old boy who has also miraculously survived. Not only is it night, but Burroughs holding onto the boy, has dislocated a shoulder, fears the sharks swimming below, and faces giant waves which threaten to drag their bodies under.  The story of his rescue and the aftermath of the crash is entwined with the backstories of the other passengers on the private plane. Was it an accident or an attack? Answering this question proves as gripping as the first few pages of Burroughs’ heroic swim.

Since I’ve been obsessed with NPR’s you-might-also-like lists lately, I just have to say if you like Before the Fall, you might also like Hawley’s earlier novel The Good Father.  It too unravels a mystery of sorts. Why would a smart college-aged kid from a well-to-do family fall off the grid and assassinate a presidential candidate? This time, the character seeking answers is the boy’s father. He retraces his son’s travels across the United States, trying to prove his innocence.

And if you like The Good Father, you might also like this movie.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Mr. (and Mrs.) Holmes

You’ve seen the movies and shows. The haunting but jaunty violin music that follows Benedict Cumberbatch all over modern London. The signature intense cuts of Guy Ritchie. The unforgettable stained glass knightJoan Watson.

While you are waiting for Season 4 of Sherlock, read the original series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 
Or look for these other modern spin-offs.

Anthony Horowitz sends Sherlock and Watson on a new case in The House of Silk. He follows it up with Moriarty which explores what happened to Sherlock and Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls. Although it’s more graphic (ummm much more graphic) than the original mysteries, the suspense is just as thrilling.

Laurie R. King focuses the plot around Holmes’ wife Mary Russell. King explains how they met with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. If you find yourself hooked, find the complete series list (in order) here. The star in these books is the exotic locale which varies in each book.

Julian Barnes sets the stage around Sherlock’s creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in Arthur and George as he sets off to solve a mystery in “real” life. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

Aha Moments

There’s always one moment during yoga when I think to myself, “Oh, this is why I woke up this early.” Having resumed a somewhat regular running routine, I keep waiting for that moment to happen during a run. I haven’t given up quite yet.

Luckily that moment comes quite often when I’m reading. If only it burned more calories.

My latest why-I-love-reading titles:

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave  

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

Friday, July 29, 2016

"The bounds of arithmetic have been overstepped"

When my daughter started preschool, she attended a Montessori school. Although we were impressed by the diligence of the students, and the peaceful atmosphere of the campus, we were somewhat taken aback when the teacher informed us that she would not call our daughter by her nickname. Furthermore, she said, books with imaginary characters were frowned upon and were not allowed in the classroom. 

This philosophy came to mind when reading The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua for my reading challenge this week. As the book mentions, Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord and Lady Byron, was “conditioned away from dangerous poetical practices.” Her nurse was warned not to tell her any “nonsensical stories” for fear of flaming the fires of her father’s poetic madness.

Since most of the book takes place in a “pocket universe,” it may not have been the best pick for this challenge - read a nonfiction book about science - but it was an informative and fun read. Laid out as a graphic novel, this book traces the relationship of Babbage, an inventor, and Lovelace, a mathematician, and the development of the precursor to modern computers, the Analytical Engine. Even though the illustrations are most delightful, the end notes are what drive the reader forward. They contain the intriguing trivia, excerpts from correspondence, and the author’s own wry commentary on which the illustrations are based.

Despite her formative years of education, I’m happy to report that my daughter’s imagination remains intact, and she still quite enjoys a good nonsensical story. I’ll save this one for her. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

“The best I could manage was light chagrin”

Since the kids are at the grandparents this week, I ran (somewhat) amok in the DVD section of the library. A series called The Guild caught my eye. Apparently, I’m not the only one to think so because it was heavily scratched. My husband, in seeing my frustration, casually commented, “Why don’t you just watch it on YouTube?” Aha. Turns out I’m about 5 years late to this Internet series. But whereas the DVD from the library only had seasons 1 and 2, YouTube has them all.

Part of the reason it caught my eye was that I had recently read a book about gamers called The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone. Dahlia Moss is an aimless 20-something. When she is approached by someone at her roommate’s party who wants to hire her as a private detective, she jumps at the chance to earn some cash. Her mission is to find the Bejeweled Spear of Infinite Piercing…an item that only exists as part of an online game. When the guy who hires her ends up dead, she must reach out to the other members of his gaming guild to solve the mystery. Hilarity, well, you know. 

Half insightful, half clueless, Dahlia is a delightful narrator. As she says,

“…sometimes you just have to take some chances, right? And maybe things do get a little unfortunate. What of it? If you ask me, an unfortunate decision here or there can change your life. In a positive way, just so long you don't killed in the process. Admittedly, that's the tricky bit.

And the tricky bit of watching Internet series? Watching only one season at a time. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Strange New Things

After living with the placid, almost chilly, weather of Washington for the past six months, the heat humidity of South Texas came as a shock last weekend. Although I was grateful for the wind (keeping the mosquitoes at bay), it too was a reminder of the extremes of Texas weather. As we battled the sandy wind while walking along the muddy beach, the squelch of each footstep brought to mind a book I recently finished about a missionary who finds himself in an alien (literally) environment.

My choice for this week’s reading challenge to read a book about religion was The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber.  A global corporation, USIC, has chosen Peter, the pastor of a small congregation in England, to serve as their new missionary at an outpost on another planet. Although sad to be leaving his wife Bea, Peter excitedly boards a ship to the new world. 

Expecting the native population to be indifferent at best, hostile at worst, he is pleasantly surprised to find a healthy devotion to Jesus and familiarity with the Bible, which they refer to as the Book of Strange New Things.

Although most of the engineers and other tech workers of the USIC compound prefer the sterile air conditioned environment of the base, Peter comes to welcome the humid, windy conditions of life with the natives. As his relationship with the natives grows, his connection with his wife weakens. Bea, back on Earth, is dealing with the collapse of the economy and the environment. Peter is at a loss of comforting Bea via email even as he works to comfort those close to him.

My favorite passages in the book were those in which Peter is trying to translate Biblical metaphors into language that can be understood to someone who has never seen a lamb nor can pronounce many English consonants. My least favorite part was seeing how easily a married couple can disconnect. Electronic communication fails miserably when their daily experiences have become so foreign to each other.

This book is a testimony to the support faith can give in times of joy and suffering, but also serves as a reminder that we need the love and support of our human connections as well. 

Friday, July 1, 2016



In searching for this week’s reading challenge selection, I consulted this list. On page 3, I found Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (color by Lark Pien). Attracted to the enticing blue of its cover and image of a girl relaxing in a pool, I put in my request. 

In the graphic novel, Sunny is sent to Florida to spend some time with her gramps. He lives in a retirement village and his big plans for entertaining her include trips to the grocery store and post office.  Finally, he takes her to the pool where she meets a boy her age who introduces her to the wonders of comic books. Interspersed throughout the story of Sunny’s visit are flashback scenes that reveal the dysfunctional family events that have led her here. Despite the squeaky hide-a-bed sofa, and the absurdly early dinner hour, Sunny is able to enjoy herself and let go of some of the stress that has plagued her the previous year.

Whether it’s a glimpse of a superhero shadow on the pavement or a family frozen into Pompeii statues, the illustrations of this graphic novel work seamlessly to push the plot forward. Even though a novel about a girl’s visit to her grandpa doesn’t seem like a page turner, it is. Luckily the engaging drawing helps slow the pace for the reader to take a second (and even third) look.

Although the book is set in the 70s, it made me reminisce about my 80s childhood spent with my grandparents in their retirement village of Bella Vista, Arkansas. Swimming, mini golf, and picking beans for 25 cents a bucket were the big plans that filled our day. When I got tired of exploring the woods or sneaking Snickers out of the fridge, I would curl up on the sunflower patterned deck chair and make my way through the dozen or so library books I had packed for the visit.  And like Sunny, wish for the superpower of invisibility.