Thursday, September 7, 2017

What I've been reading: Books to fall in love with

It's been a few months since my last book post, so I thought I'd share with you some of the books I've read since then. As per usual, I've listed the books alphabetically by author and included a brief summary. (If you want to learn more about the book, read the reviews on Amazon or Goodreads.) And I invite you to share the name and author of any books you've read that you recommend in the Comments section. (NB: To see previous book recommendations, click here, or click on the Book Nook label at the end of this post.)

In related news, I've been writing my own book, a cozy mystery with the working title A Shell of a Problem: A Sanibel Island Mystery. I'm almost done writing the first draft and will be self-publishing it via Amazon this fall. Stay tuned!

The Windfall by Disha Basu. Fiction. A modern-day rags-to-riches (or middle class-to-riches) story set in India. When Mr. Jha, a hardworking accountant who makes a decent living but is far from rich, winds up selling a software application he developed for millions of dollars, he rejoices. But as he and his wife soon learn, money cannot always buy you happiness (though it can buy you a nice house -- with air conditioning, a nice car, and first-class plane tickets to the United States, things that Mr. Jha greatly appreciates). At times amusing, but often sad, the book is an interesting look at what it means to be well off, or rich, in India these days.

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. Young adult fiction. This book was recommended online by many adults, mainly librarians and educators, for other adults who love books and/or to read with their children or grandchildren. So I figured I'd check it out. The book revolves around Emily, an avid reader whose family constantly moves and has just settled in San Francisco. Emily is obsessed with an online game she and millions of other young readers play called Book Scavenger, where players hunt for books hidden in the real/physical world by other players, through clues they post online. However, when Emily accidentally stumbles upon what she is pretty sure is a new Book Scavenger game, she gets more than she bargained for -- and suddenly it's up to her to save Book Scavenger. When thinking about this book the words charming and endearing spring to mind. Highly recommend to parents of kids 8 -12 -- and big kids, too.

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken. Nonfiction/Memoir. WARNING: If you are a Republican and/or get your news from Fox and Rush Limbaugh/Conservative radio hosts, you will probably hate this book. This review isn't for you. The rest of you, read on.

I usually don't like memoirs, but I LOVED this book. (I also liked Franken's earlier books, Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.) And I was not a fan of Franken when he was on Saturday Night Live. But I really like Senator Al Franken, and I hope he runs for President (though he won't). If you appreciate people, especially politicians, who give it to you straight (stick to the facts and call out lies and the lying liars who tell them), and can tell a good story, and/or you are curious about what it takes to win a senate race these days, READ THIS BOOK. It may be a cliche but I laughed and I cried while reading the chapters of this book -- and I would totally campaign for Franken if he ever ran for President (though again, he won't). And no, Al Franken is not paying me to write this review.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry. Fiction. A lovely, lovely book. A love letter to bookshops and the people who work and spend time in them. I only wish there was a Nightingale Books in my little town. A story of friendship, love, realizing what it is you really want and going for it, and community. A delight. 

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Fiction. Eleanor Oliphant was doing just fine, according to her, even though she really wasn't. Introverted by nature and afraid to get close to people, her life begins to change when she and a coworker, the new IT guy (who could use a new wardrobe and smells of cigarettes), help rescue an old man who has fallen on the sidewalk. An unlikely friendship develops and, with the help of her new friends, Eleanor begins to come out of her shell and discover the life she had been missing. Bittersweet, heartwarming, and heart-wrenching, I found myself relating to Eleanor, and I bet a lot of women I know will too.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Fiction. I honestly cannot remember why I did not read this book when it came out in 2011. It has so many of the things I look for or enjoy in a book: good writing, an interesting plot, magic/fantasy (I'm a huge fan of magical realism), a love story. But I'm glad I finally read it. As for the plot, it revolves around a magical circus, a la the Cirque du Soleil. Only this circus, called the Night Circus, is only open at night -- and boasts actual magic. In reality the circus is a game board, in which a life and death game of magical one-upmanship is being played, and as the game drags on, lives and livelihoods -- and hearts -- are at stake. A beautiful novel.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. Fiction. The book takes place in the late 1800s, in England, and tells the story of a scientifically-minded London widow who decides to go to coastal Essex to seek out what has been dubbed the Essex serpent (similar to the Loch Ness monster), believing it to be a kind of dinosaur. While in the countryside she meets, falls in love, and butts heads with a local vicar whose religious views are at odds with her scientific/intellectual ones. And one is left to wonder, who or what, is the real serpent in this garden? An interesting read, but I didn't love it. Others might though.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Fiction. I was not a fan of Towles's first book, The Rules of Civility, so I was loathe to read his latest novel. But after my mother-in-law and a good friend HIGHLY recommended it, I decided to check it out. And boy am I glad I did! I LOVED this book. Loved, loved, loved. The story of Count Alexander Rostov (the gentleman of the title), who, in 1922, is exiled to spend the rest of his days inside the Hotel Metropol in Moscow -- or risk being shot. Rostov, who is well known to the staff, by whom he is respected, is not one to make waves. So he agrees to the sentence, even though he is forced to give up his luxurious suite and move into the attic, and embarks on a new life as a denizen of the grand hotel, making new friends (and enemies) over the years -- and observing the evolution of Soviet Russia from the inside. A fascinating, beautiful, heartwarming, amusing read. I highly recommend.


NB: I also read Daniel Silva's latest Gabriel Allon spy thriller, House of Spies, which I thought was okay (not great), and Kevin Kwan's Rich People Problems, the final chapter (?) of his trilogy that began with Crazy Rich Asians, coming soon to a theater near you! (I loved Crazy Rich Asians; the sequels, not so much.) And I read Neil deGrasse Tyson's Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, which just made me feel stupid (and sleepy). (Liked the astronomy parts, just couldn't get into the physics.)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The only reason the GOP would dump Trump

"The economy, stupid."

Remember when even the whiff of adultery could ruin a man's chances of becoming president or could get him impeached? Ha ha ha. That's so 1990s. (Though I'm guessing if a Democrat was caught screwing around, Republicans would be up in arms.)

So what does it take in 2017 to get impeached, or even censured by Congress? Apparently not racism, inciting violence, ethics violations, profiteering, shady (or illegal) business dealings, conflicts of interest, collusion with a foreign power, bullying, lying, or fraud.

In fact, I would wager that if Donald J. Trump stood in front of Trump Tower -- or anywhere on Fifth Avenue -- and shot someone, I doubt it would make a dent in his popularity, at least among his die-hard supporters. It might even raise it if the person he shot was black or Muslim. He would no doubt claim it was self-defense, and his supporters -- and Fox News -- would believe him and trumpet his innocence, even if it was proved that the attack was unprovoked.

And while Republican Senators and Representatives might initially condemn Trump for shooting someone, as some of them have in the past for his pussy grabbing, support of white supremacy, and other things, I doubt even that would move them to censure or impeach him.

No, the only thing that might possibly cause Republicans in Congress to impeach or remove Trump? If the economy went into a tailspin, meaning the stock market crashed, unemployment crept up, and we faced another recession.

Right now Trump is still enjoying the economic draft or slipstream left from President Obama's time at the wheel, similar to the economic situation George W. Bush inherited when he took office. And we all know how well that turned out.

And that quote at the beginning of this blog post, "The economy, stupid" (typically quoted as "It's the economy, stupid")? That was the rallying cry of the (Bill) Clinton campaign back in 1992, which helped get him elected.

Indeed, more than anything else (except maybe -- maybe) terrorism or the threat of terrorism, the economy is what determines who gets into or stays in office*. And if Donald Trump, the supposedly great businessman, turns out to be bad for business? Then, maybe, just maybe, he will be removed or voted out of office. But I wouldn't bet on it.



*I hear the spouse and many of my non-Republican friends yelling at their computer screens, saying "I disagree! The Russian thing is going to be his undoing!" To which my reply is, only if there is some major bombshell -- that there is indisputable proof that Trump personally colluded with Russians to influence the election -- will that possibly lead to impeachment. That's how crazy and depressing our political situation is now. Which, to quote Donald Trump, is sad.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Wanna save the planet? Then this job is for you!

Want to help keep Earth safe from aliens? (No, not the ones from Mexico! The ones from Outer Space!) Well, NASA has the job for you!

Yes, boys and girls, if you have always dreamed of protecting the Earth from nasty microbes -- or brain-eating space invaders -- the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has your dream job. (And you thought Men in Black was just a movie!)

While anyone, theoretically (well, anyone who is a U.S. citizen or "those who owe allegiance to the U.S."), can apply to be Planetary Protection Officer, if you want to save the planet, you need the right stuff.**

Specific technical requirements to be Planetary Protection Officer include:
1. Advanced knowledge of Planetary Protection, its requirements and mission categories. This includes demonstrated technical expertise to independently form technically sound judgments and evaluations in considerably complex situations. 
2. Demonstrated experience planning, executing, or overseeing elements of space programs of national significance. These elements include but are not limited to developing requirements, performing technical assessments, and preparing recommendations to leadership. 
3. Demonstrated skills in diplomacy that resulted in win-win solutions during extremely difficult and complex multilateral discussions. This includes building coalitions amongst organizations to achieve common goals.
[Regarding Requirement 3., I am assuming NASA wants candidates to have experience negotiating with aliens/alien governments. What a shame Sarek was a Vulcan. Though maybe Jonathan Archer or James T. Kirk is available.]

So if you like traveling to exotic places, are able to keep a secret, have x-ray vision, and can bend steel with your bare hands**, apply today! The planet needs you!

(Btw, the gig pays between $124,406 to $187,000, not too shabby. Though, on second thought, considering you may be keeping the planet safe from total annihilation, I think it's a bit low.)

* Or figure out how to get Congress to impeach Donald Trump.
** I made those last two up.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Now playing on WH TV: Throw Reince Priebus from the Train!

Breaking News: President* Donald Trump has fired White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, the former head of the Republican National Committee.

In a move that should surprise no one, Trump eighty-sixed Priebus barely 24 hours after new White House Communications Director (and aspiring wiseguy) Anthony "the Mooch" Scaramucci had accused Priebus of leaking information -- and I had suggested (on Facebook and Twitter) that the Scaramucci made-for-TV movie should be called Throw Reince Priebus from the Train**.

In Priebus's stead, Trump appointed John F. Kelly, a retired Marine four-star general currently serving as secretary of homeland security, breaking the news on Twitter a little before 5 p.m. ET.

On his Twitter feed, Trump thanked Priebus "for his service and dedication to his country" and said "We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him!" He referred to Kelly as "a Great American" and "a true star" of his administration. Bookies are now taking bets as to how long Kelly will last before Trump fires him, or he resigns.

Which brings me to my next point: Anyone else think that Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" should be the theme song of this administration, or that all the late-night talk shows should use it as background music whenever discussing a Trump resignation or firing?

Here's the Reince Priebus version***:

Reince walks warily through the West Wing
His chin pulled way down low
Ain't no sound but the sound of his feet
Scaramucci's ready to blow
Are you ready,
Are you ready for this?
Are you hanging on the edge of your seat?
Out of the Mooch the profanities rip
To the sound of the beat
Another one bites the dust
Another one bites the dust
And another one gone, and another one gone
Another one bites the dust
Hey, I'm gonna get you too
Another one bites the dust

*Every time I type that, another piece of me dies.
**For those too young, or too old, to get the reference.
***Future versions will be modified to include or feature the latest victim of Trump's wrath.

Friday, July 14, 2017

If the Trump family/administration was a 1960s sitcom...

If you were to compare the Trumps or the Trump administration to a 1960s sitcom or cartoon, which sitcom or cartoon characters would they be?

F Troop?

The Beverly Hillbillies?

Hogan's Heroes*?

The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show?

The Flintstones?

Leave your answer in the Comments section.


*And I'm not talking about the POWs.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Putting the screw back in corkscrew

This seemed an appropriate post for hump day.

Voila! The Costaud (or "beefy") corkscrew. No bottle can resist his charms!























The spouse and I happened upon this humorous -- yet fully functional -- utensil while in Italy (though M. Costaud appears to be French). And no, I did not buy one (for myself or my friends), though I deeply regret not doing so. But it was the first day of our trip, and I feared M. Costaud, who is rather large, would be too big to fit... in my suitcase.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Why Jon Ossoff (and the Democrats) will lose

Why do I think Jon Ossoff, the Democrat seeking to represent Georgia's 6th congressional district, will lose to Republican Karen Handel in today's special election, even though he's raised far more money and seems far more popular? Because Republicans vote and Democrats don't.

Obviously, Democrats vote, but their turnout is typically far lower than Republicans', especially in off-year elections. And the 6th has been a reliably Republican district since the late 1970s, when Newt Gingrich won -- and held onto the seat for 20 years (to be replaced by two more middle-aged white males).

And despite what they may say or write about a Republican candidate, when it comes down to a vote, Republicans almost always vote for the person with an R after his (or occasionally her) name. So it's doubtful that Ossoff will have managed to sway 15 or 10 percent of Republican voters to vote for him, even if they don't like Trump or Trumpcare/The American Health Care Act.

Moreover, Republican campaign strategists are very good at staying on message and getting Republicans to the polls. Their strategy: fear. Vote for the Democrat and you'll be paying higher taxes! (They'll grab your hard-earned money and give it to lazy minorities and illegal immigrants!) Vote for the Democrat and you'll be less safe (cause they'll take away your guns and will let criminals roam the streets)!

And despite plenty of proof to the contrary, the strategy always works. Just tell the people what they want to hear, even -- or especially -- if it's a bunch of lies. Because who's going to fact check? Most voters don't read anymore, let alone check the accuracy of what they're reading, especially on social media, or what they see on TV. And when faced with any facts that contradict their beliefs, they cling even harder to their beliefs. So it's really a no-lose situation for Republicans.

So what can Democrats do? I think part of the solution has to be going back to grass roots, old-fashioned campaigning, like what Ossoff's been doing -- and what Obama did in the 2008 presidential race. Going to lots of events that "real people," not just wealthy donors, attend. Going door to door, and/or to supermarkets, and the local car wash; attending sporting events at local high schools and colleges; holding town halls. And making people feel that you're listening to them.

Democrats also need to come up with some catchy soundbites, because when it comes down to it, people don't read or remember or really care about policy positions anymore. They want something short and pithy that you can put after a hashtag.

And Democrats need to register young people to vote and make sure they go to the polls on election day. Because the only real way to effect change is by voting.