Sunday, October 30, 2011

Book 90: Open

Andre Agassi’s Open is one of the frankest and most honest memoirs related to sports. But in the end, I think it was almost too open because the phrase “you should never meet your heroes since you might not like who they really are” comes to mind.

I grew up admiring Agassi. I literally started to take tennis lessons for a while due to Andre Agassi and his wife, Steffi Graf (well Stephanie but at the time it was still Steffi and she’s always Steffi to me). So when his book made the sport news shows, I knew I really wanted to read it. I didn’t get to read it right away but I finally got a chance to read it. I wanted to learn more about an athlete that I truly admired.

Because of PTI and Around the Horn, some of the most shocking elements of the book weren’t a huge surprise. But it was still amazing to realize how early he started to use a hairpiece while playing. I loved how he played with long hair-it reminded me of the rock stars and Klingons I admired- so it was crazy to think that the majority of the time I liked his hair, it was fake.

I was also a little bit shocked how often he would say he hated tennis especially since he was the player who kept coming back, playing stronger than ever and never quitting. It seemed that he was still trying to prove that he truly hated tennis. In some ways I think it’s like my relationship with the water, love/hate. I hate swimming and I’ve quit a few times, yet there is a something that keeps pulling me back to the sport. If there was only hate for the sport, I wouldn’t keep coming back and finding some joy/solace in the water. And I think truthfully that Agassi feels the same way. I don’t doubt that he hates tennis especially when he was hurting, losing and just dealing with life. But Open also shows he’s does get a certain amount of joy from the sport.

It was fascinating to see how much he fancied his second wife throughout his whole life. It’s funny that Brooke Shields used a photo of Graf to help motivate her to lose weight for their wedding. But because he fancied her so much, you can see the love he has for her. It’s a far better and more stable relationship that he had with Brooke. The book really showed why they got divorced.

There something about the book that I didn’t fully connect with. I think so much of it was getting to see too much of a person I’ve admired over the years. This isn’t a memoire where the bad things/ideas/thoughts/actions are glossed over or in some cases almost non-existence. It’s frank. It’s truthful. I respect that. But because of the honesty, I saw things about Agassi that I didn’t always like-his attitude at times and the drug use. So there is a child in me that wants to hold him the same esteem I had him in. Although after reading it, I see how much he loves his school and foundation and how that’s been very rewarding although a bit ironic. When he talks about the school or his family, that’s where I see that Andre I’ve admired.

Oh and I love Gil. The way Andre talks about his strength coach/body guard, I just think of Alexei (my favorite ballet instructor of all time). The way Gil works is strong solid conditioning and training. I wish there are more strength coaches that work like Gil. Plus Gil just seems like an amazing person.

Open is a book I would recommend to those who enjoy tennis and sports. It’s a book that lives up to its title. You can really feel like you’ve met Agassi by reading it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Book 89: Straying From the Path

Straying from the Path was a huge win. It’s a special edition book released in conjunction with Capclave by WSFA Press that was signed by Carrie Vaughn. It is amazing collection of non-werewolf stories that were just a thrill to read.

I’ve said this before, but I adore Carrie Vaughn. She’s writes great witty fiction that is infused with lots of great history and characters without getting dull or too overdone. It’s easy, fun to read fiction. So when I saw on her blog about this limited edition book, my interest was piqued. I was ecstatic to see that book was affordable on top of being a special edition with only 500 in print, signed, and hardback. It was on cloud nine. The only doubt at first was if I could purchase it since I wasn’t able to go to Capclave but I was able to purchase it. So I’m now proud owner of book 84 of the lot.

The stories are quite marvelous and varied in nature but all have the earmarks of Carrie Vaughn. I love how these stories each had a very different feel to them yet they were so enjoyable. There are stories about flying, fairies in space, fairytales and time travel.

My favorite story was “The Happiest Place.” It’s cool mix of a fairy tale with the classic be careful of what you wish for theme and the magical setting (although in this one it’s Disneyworld). I love how the blending of having a princess actress who gains a crown that allows her to grant wishes but then she starts to lose herself in the process. Then the layering of being the magical princess and making the happiness of sick little girls for the day but realizing how it’s just an act, just gave the story the depth to it. Like many great fairy tales, it does not have a happy ending.

Another fun story was “Swing Time”. It was fun seeing the love/hate relationship play out as they dance through time and space. When I read that Madeline had her Achilles severed, I was so sad cause I knew her adventure would have to end. But fortunately that wasn’t the end of it. One of the things I found awesome was how Vaughn was able to say how you couldn’t change events in history but no one seemed to notice if riches were lost. It had a touch of Doctor Who to it where there were just some things you couldn’t change (especially those related to your own history) and events that you could change.

One of the stories I enjoyed but misunderstood in a way was “Silence Before Starlight”. In the notes, Carrie said how it was actually a fairy as the creature calling to Barrie in the leannane sidhe sense. Well I didn’t see alien like most people but I just saw the classic siren story set in space.

I will have to say several of her stories in this collection made me think about and want to read more about military history and theory. It’s a shame you don’t always hear about the WASPs and almost never about Joseph Kittinger. But I’m glad that I read “This is the Highest Step in the World” because I learned about Kittenger and then subsequently went to find the photo to the right. Yes, he literally jumped/parachuted from space.  Then the story “Peace in Our Time” just made you think about what would happen if everyone relied on drones to fight wars.

I also loved “Real City.” It was perfect story that was so reminiscent of Singing in the Rain and yet so realistic with just a hint of futuristic. It was done at the perfect time since in a decade or so, this story would be dated. It was just a great diversion and relaxing read.

The only story I didn’t care for was “In time”. I get what she was trying to do. Show a little facet of Emily Dickenson’s life and talk about her dog. But it just didn’t hit my sweet spot for a good story, instead it was so-so. It doesn’t help that I’m not a Emily Dickenson fan.

I loved “Straying From the Path”. I was so good. It made me think, I got to learn about things while being carried away to far away lands.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Book 88: The Grays

The Grays by Whitley Strieber was an interesting story. This book is unlike many books that I’ve read lately. I enjoyed it but at the same time I felt that it was trying too hard especially towards the end.

So in all the years that I read science fiction, I’ve read relatively few stories about alien cover-ups and invasion. Normally the general population (or at least the parts that are focused on) knows about the aliens or there is one alien. The Grays is different since the majority of the population doesn’t know about the aliens that are on Earth. So it was cool to see the different perspectives of those who know nothing about the Grays, those that like the aliens and those that fear them.

The Grays is a complicated book. Set basically in our timeline (which after next year it will be slightly obsolete with the doomsday predictions) although it ties together the idea of the Roswell crash and alien abductions. You get several main characters: basically you have the child who will save the world but knows nothing until midway through the book (Conner), the military who know (Mike and Lauren), and the professors who suspect. Basically the book revolves around the idea that the Grays are on Earth and they are so old they are dying so they help to create a super genius name Conner (through the clever use of abductions and sheer luck). There are those who distrust the Grays since they believe they will turn the Human race into slaves while others believe their plans are less evil and could help save humanity. Conner has no idea about the Grays until one Triad who decide to speed along their plan by setting a fire. That fire creates a stir in the community (who are all professors to a local college).

As I said, this book was good but in the end, it had too many threads going on to make a neat bow. Instead it became a messy knot. So the ending was less than fully satisfying. It becomes like leftover gourmet cuisine.

I’m glad that my friend loaned me this book (Yes this year especially lately, I’ve had a few friends who really are helping me with this blog by not only sharing their recommendations but their books). It was a fun read and something different in a genre that I enjoy. I just wish the ending was a little tighter. But I loved the complexity to the book.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Book 87: The Long Program: Skating Toward Life's Victories

Peggy Fleming’s “The Long Program: Skating Towrd Life’s Victories” was an alright book. If it wasn’t for her spirit and personality, I think this book would have fallen flat.

I love sports memoirs especially ones related to figure skating. I’m a figure skater and a ballet dancer at heart, despite all my interests in other sports. So I’ve always been particularly drawn to reading about the champions over the years. Plus I love the fact that in many skating memoirs, there have been so many ideas for me to chew on for both the sport and the out of sport aspect.

One of the things I liked about this book was the fact that that Peggy was very introspective. She really got into it where she realized how her mindset has changed over time and how her mother’s views impacted her own. I liked that aspect.

But the book was fairly cluttered in its timeline. Stories would meld together quite frequently. At times, it worked since they would help place other stories but often the jolts in the timeline were just distracting.

Plus I hated how this book actually failed to give me much insight into figure skating itself. She would touch upon skating topics but didn’t go in depth. She kept trying to use how skating helped her off the ice to navigate life-which is a good message but at the same time, I wanted more about the sport.

Overall, the Long Program was decent. I wasn’t in love with the book since it didn’t give me as many gems and didn’t have a strong continuity. But really enjoyed seeing her insight on her own personality and how she infused that into the book.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book 86: Neverwhere

Neverwhere was an interesting book by Neil Gaiman. It was absurd, intelligent and fun. It was the perfect book to escape from the mundane world of working over 60s hours a week.

This book is another book I’m reading that’s a loaner from a friend who also enjoys fantasy, sci-fi and bad movies. I will have to say unlike the last loaned book, I saw much more of my friend in it then I saw myself. This matches her personality where Moon Called more matched mine. But I liked that since I can see why she liked it so much.

One of the first things I saw was the Tube map. There were a few extra stops but just seeing the circle line and the layout, I went that looks like the Tube. Then I actually read the labels on the map and saw it was indeed the London subway system and it showed the old stops that are no longer in existent. I had to laugh. I’ve only been to London a handful of times. Apparently those times definitely left it’s mark on me. Then again London is one of my favorite cities in the world and I ingrain places I enjoy into my brain.

Neverwhere was an excellent bit of urban Alice in Wonderland. A man’s unwillingly fell down a hole into London’s underworld by helping the Lady Door. This world is filled with intrigue, strangeness and danger. Richard and Door team up. He is looking for his way out of London Below while the Lady Door is trying to figure out who killed her family and who is trying to kill her. So it becomes a thrilling adventure. Angels, assassins, the velvets who were a succubus/vampire like creature, rat-speakers and the Old Bailey all create an interesting world. I will have to say that due to reading this book with all it’s plot twists and interesting wording, I found a friend who came over solely to use my bathroom late at night made complete sense.

I was almost ready to get really really upset at Neil Gaiman when it seemed to end the way it did. The ending was just so unsatisfying at first until the very last couple of pages. Then he fixed everything and was actually able to create a stronger ending by doing it the way he did. It worked much better since it allowed for the end of the quest but at the same time gave the readers what they want and tied in the prologue better.

The characters I’m a little meh on. They were both virbrant and had so many different layers to them yet they could be two dimensional all at the same time.

All in all, it was an absurd adventure that was well written and a fun read. It had so many plot turns and you could never be bored while reading the book. I’m really glad that Neverwhere was loaned to me.

Product 45: Cutler Shampoo

Cutler shampoo was a bit of a bust in my book. It’s an alright shampoo. I just didn’t like how it would really only work on mostly clean hair and the fact it smelled like a styling gel.

Shampoo is about the cleaning power. On most hair types, I think this Cutler Daily Shampoo would be great but on my oily hair, it’s a different story. I know my hair is tough on most shampoos and I’m lucky that I never have to worry about using a conditioner most days. But I’m still tempted to try new products. So when Schiller’s marked down the Cutler products a little while ago (the sales rack is now being used to display some great gifting ideas for kids and pets), I gave into the temptation to get the pretty packaged shampoo even though I was skeptical it would work well on my hair.

It did an adequate job. If my hair was in a really oily mode, the Cutler shampoo just didn’t cut it. It didn’t strip my hair. Now for color treated hair, this would be awesome. If my hair was mostly clean but I didn’t trust that the clean look would hold up for a twelve hour day, this is when the Cutler shampoo worked best. It made it look healthy and kept it clean all day.

Scent is surprisingly important with shampoo. I was finding myself hesitant to pick up the Cutler bottle since I knew it smelt like styling gel. It’s not that I don’t like the way styling gel smells, but I simply don’t feel clean using something that smells like a product that adds a layer of stuff to my hair. So there were mornings where I never felt clean or refreshed since it the smell was making me feel like I kinda skipped a step and I was already starting to style my hair.

Definitely felt underwhelmed by the Cutler shampoo. It’s not that I hate it like I do with my Framesi shampoo but it’s not a favorite like my Paul Mitchel Clarifying. It’s one of those it’s not bad but not great products.

Product 44: Eos Honeydew Lip Balm

Eos lip balm is really fun. It’s something that moisturizes the lips really well, has great flavor and a fun method of dispensing.

Eos lip balm is an all-natural lip balm. As with all products, it’s about the ingredients. I’m not one of those people who has to have something that’s paraben free or really picky but I know what I like. This has shea, landolin, jojoba oil, and other great moisturizers. I have to admit if I let the lip balm stray off my lip line, it’s an instant zit since that is too many moisturizers for my already oily skin. This isn’t the first lip balm that I had this issue with so I remind myself that as long as it’s solely on the lips, I’m golden. Plus my dry lips are fixed up instantly.

I love the flavor. It’s honeydew. I never had a honeydew lip balm before. Vanilla, menthol, cherry, strawberry, and fruit flavors are the usual. Yet the melon flavor really works. With the outbreak of deadly melons, this is a nice way to get the hint of melon in my life without having to worry about any diseases.

But my favorite aspect of Eos is the packaging. It’s shaped like a ball and you just unscrew the cap to reveal a ball on the inside. It’s protected but all in front of you. Plus allows for dual lip application in a cleanly and quickly. It’s just way more fun then the lipstick tube and easier to apply then some of the adorable pots that protect the lip balm (but Schiller’s has the cutest lip balms right now that are in the pots shaped like purses and little tarts). It’s unusal to see have the functionality and fun wrapped up in one lip balm but Eos has it.

Since I won the Eos lipbalm from my other job, I can only guess where you can purchase them. You can definitely get it from Eos from Amazon (and you can just click the photo to lead you to the page- just like most of my products and books). I assume that you can also get it from Ulta or Sephora but that’s a guess.

I would definitely recommend this lip balm. It’s wonderful since it’s got great packaging, flavor and it really works.

Letters 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90

Letters 81-86: The first of a few Halloween Cards. Got to celebrate my favorite holiday

Letter 87: A Rosh Hannah Card to wish some friends a happy, healthy new year

Letter 88: Some friendly fun to friend

Letter 89: Another one to catching up

Letter 90: More friendly fun

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Book 85: Comrade J

Comrade J by Peter Earley was a nice balance between a memoire and a more researched history book. It read really well and kept up the flow while at the same time trying to fact check the claims made by Sergei Tretyakov.

So I’m a huge fan of intelligence books. At least books that are based in fact (aka not James Bond). So I was drawn to Peter Earley’s book on two factors. First this was about a Russia spying on the Americans. And two, I’ve enjoyed a book by Peter Earley previously (Confessions of a Spy). He did an amazing portrait on Rick Ames. So I was looking forward to seeing another great portrait on a spy.

Sergei Tretyakov was Comrade Jean for the KGB and the SVR. He ran operations in New York City. So he knew all the key information going in and around the city when it came to the spying game. He shared an amazing amount of information many of it in the recent past (the past ten years) since he was working in NYC from 1995-2000. So many of the books I’ve read about the Russian/American spying game on each other were related to just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. So it was interesting to see how things changed but at the same time they really didn’t change at all.

It was so refreshing to read a book that felt like I was in one of my classes with Sealy. It was about spycraft at its core. But it wasn’t the American spycraft so there were some differences. It was just a fun book that shared a lot.

Throughout the book, I couldn’t believe how many times I thought the Russians were genius and even more often thought that the anecdotes were ridiculous. At times it seemed amazing that the Russians were on of the top intelligence agencies in the world. They feared their own phones were being tapped but they used a pay phone to set up meetings (which are probably just as likely to be tapped thanks to the war on drugs). But then you hear how they have an ambassador who is supposedly still working for the SVR (was former KGB before the break-up of the Soviet Union), using Raul Castro as a trusted friend, and some of the handling of the trusted friends. They could be brilliant.

Comrade J had some distinct problems. First off I think Sergei would exaggerate his ability to persuade his contacts. Some of the stories seemed like they were considering talks and dinners (which are very much in the process of trying to recruit an agent) never really got beyond the recruiting stage. Seemed like his ability to use his analytical skills were stronger then his actual recruitment skill. Which means he was able to really generate a lot of useful information was huge but very difficult to prove. Plus Earley had the issue of when he tried to get proof of Sergei’s stories, a lot of people said we met but I was never his spy. Plus this book didn’t have some background/collaborating information But Earley did even say how he ran into the roadblock of many people pressuring/suggesting that he didn’t return to Russia to make inquires into this case due to the current political situation.

One of the things I respect about this book is how Earley did a great job of managing to tell an engaging story about an interesting man while at the same time, he understood when to limit information. You can tell he respects the intelligence world immensely and doesn’t want to see people be hurt through really bad leaks of information that can endanger people’s lives which is why he didn’t go to Russia like he did for his Rick Ames book. At the same time, he didn’t give an unreadable book or seem to be scoffing at the institution. He did a great job of telling good stories and sharing information that were more personal. He did make it clear that certain parts of the narrative had to be classified by law.

I recommend this book to friends. I found myself talking about it in letters and just casual conversation. It was just a good read. I learned a lot even though I don’t trust all the information. I laughed, I was shocked and I was baffled.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Book 84: Moon Called

I’m so glad that I finally got a chance to read a whole novel by Patricia Briggs. Moon Called is the first book in the Mercy Thompson series. This book has been a lot of fun. I love how this was both a werewolf story but took a couple different twists like having a main character who was a walker. It was very entertaining.

I’ve been wanting to read a whole Patricia Briggs books for a long time. But while phenomenal for book selections, sometimes it’s not very good at helping to point out the best book to start with especially if the author has dozen of books and a couple different series. That’s where friends come in. Thank you so much to the friend who included this book in a pile of books that she thought I should read.

I love the way this series started. There is a rich amount of back history especially between Mercy and Samuel. In some ways, it was like reading a series that already started but at the same time everything felt so good and real.

I have to admit, it’s cool that Mercy has a connection to the werewolves without being a werewolf herself. She’ s an insider without being an insider. It creates some fun ties where she could get away with things other pack members couldn’t but she wasn’t left out in the cold either.

Plus I liked the plot twists and the layers to the story. It was just an entertaining read since there wasn’t a dull moment and things all built upon each other. You had to remember who was who and the political connections within the packs, the pack hierarchy, the relationship between species, and the fact not all magical species were out in the open while others were. But everything built upon each other and created a fairly neat little ending (can’t tie up all loose ends, so the triangle of claims over Mercy was left ambiguous).

I plan to read the rest of the books in the series and I already put them on my Amazon wishlist of stuff since the holidays are on quickly on the way. I am glad this was a great little dip into the werewolf genre.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Book 83: Jane Boleyn The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford

Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford by Julia Fox was an interesting look into the life during the Henry the VIII reign. This book was able to capture the life and times of that era while maintaining a very readable narrative. But the biggest fault was that there was a lot of information truly about Jane Boleyn that could be shared.

Jane Boleyn lived an interesting life by working in the privy chambers of several of the Queens of Henry VIII. She was able to rise in the court at first due to the fact her sister in-law (Anne Boleyn) became Queen. But unlike Anne and her own husband, she was able to live through the trials. Then she worked for Jane Seymour and Katherine Howard. But it wasn’t until she helped Katherine Howard set up clandestine meetings with her lover, that she was to lose her life.

I loved how Julia Fox really was able to bring the life and times of Henry the VIII to life. The book was so well researched and it was able to really capture so much. At times you could almost feel like you were there. The book actually read more like a narrative then it did a history book. Which was refreshing. It wasn’t overwrought with superfluous sentence structure.

But the book had one major short coming. Many aspects of Jane Boleyn’s life didn’t survive through history. We actually don’t know for sure if she attended many key events. It’s probable that she did, but we don’t really know for sure. But that is the price of trying to focus on someone who was around the major players but not necessarily a major player until later on in her life. It wasn’t until later when her name took on the name the Infamous Lady Rochford title developed and that was by people who focused on how she testified against Anne and George Boleyn (thus leading to their deaths).This myth is false since she was executed solely due to the fact she helped Katherine commit adultery, not her Boleyn family ties.

At times Julia Fox seemed to repeat the theme that Jane Boleyn was childless. While it’s important to realize, but the way she would word things made it seem like that the author could relate with Jane all too well and was hoping for children of her own.

But I enjoyed Jane Boleyn a lot. I’m glad that I listened to the minority vote (I asked three friends if I should read about a Russian Spy, Jane Boleyn or a tennis star-technically the spy won and will be read as my next nonfiction book). It was a good read. I learned a lot about the era and a fair amount about Jane Boleyn despite the fact that there wasn’t always a lot of historical documentation about Jane herself.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Book 82: Fair Game

I went from reading about bad intelligence in fiction to bad intelligence in real life. But I will have to say Fair Game by Valerie Plame Wilson was exactly what I wanted to read about. While Valerie didn’t actually do bad intelligence per say, she experienced firsthand how carelessness and exposure is damaging to the intelligence community. I enjoyed the book a lot.

It’s been a while since I enjoyed a memoire from the intelligence world. But this book just called to me. I enjoyed it thoroughly. It also reminded me how much I enjoy trying to understand what was redacted. Since this book had to go past the PRB (Publication Review Board), it’s entertaining to see what is deemed to be classified or dangerous to print and what is not. Some books are given a thorough job of redactions while other books have so much detail, you can scratch your head in amazement in that the book was able to get approved by PRB.

Now I will admit I was uncomfortable to read the afterward, that is where there is a lot more information in there that the CIA didn’t want Mrs. Wilson to publish but since it was in the open source, the publishers decided to put it in print. I hope that it didn’t add any additional blowback. It was interesting to see that Ames might have given Valerie’s name to the Russians as a potential spy (although that’s being debated and probably why the CIA wants to limit some of the information by Plame Wilson so it won’t confirm/deny that she was a said spy or if it was someone else). I place a lot of trust in the PRB in order to decide what is fit for print rather then a publisher or journalist to decide what is safe.

Now the life of Valerie Plame Wilson is both interesting and in a way a bit tragic. Her name was released to journalists as a way to minimize a critique that the US used faulty intelligence as a basis for the Iraq war. That act alone caused a lot of exposure for the CIA and damaged a lot of cases around the world that had any contact with Wilson (who was working with the counterproflieration of WMD). It was a dumb thing to by the government officials to let slip. But it was great to see the personal side to the problem. Since the leak not only damaged the cases, it killed her career and her livelihood.

I'm also very disappointed by how the publishers steered people to reading about postpartum depression rather then books about gathering intelligence. Quite frankly, that is more reading page should have directed readers. Her postpartum was only one chapter versus the many chapters about being an operative.

I really liked this book. But this book is not for people who don’t like redacted material. There are a lot of black out words, phrases and even paragraphs.