Author Archive: murfmonkey

Book Review: Stillhouse Lake

41leYSjxbyLGina Royal is surely the stupidest woman who has ever been invented in literature, Her husband, a psycho serial killer who in between torturing and murdering women is a very good husband and father, is arrested and prosecuted at the beginning of this book for being a psycho serial killer. Now, Mel–psycho husband–does all of his torturing and killing, guess where? IN THE ATTACHED GARAGE! Apparently he walled up the entrance to the garage and closed in the garage door and made an attached carport so brilliant Gina NEVER has to go in the always locked and padlocked garage, and she never does go in there. So Gina is SHOCKED, SHOCKED! when an SUV accidentally drives through the garage and the whole, sordid serial killing plot is exposed. This all happens in the first chapter.

Now, I am thinking, surely poor Gina is not that stupid. Perhaps this book is like “Gone Girl” and we will meet psycho Gina halfway through the book and find out that she is in cahoots with her husband. Nope. Gina really is that stupid and never suspects a thing even though nasty smells come out of the garage (“a raccoon died in there,” is her psycho husband’s explanation, which Gina believes without checking, naturally).

Gina’s stupidity doesn’t end with her acquittal as an accessory to murder. She goes on the run with her kids to hide from her psycho serial killer husband (who is in prison) and the various weirdos on the internet who want to track her down and kill her because they all think, “surely Gina couldn’t be that stupid. She is obviously guilty.”

[Note to various weirdos on the internet: You are mistaken. Gina really is that stupid and innocent.]

Gina piles on the stupidity when she goes to see her psycho serial killer husband in prison. I still don’t understand why she felt the need to do this, but it becomes the way that her psycho serial killer husband invades her life even though he is in prison.

The book eventually manages to become a murder mystery, but the beginning was so implausible and unbelievable that it just ticked me off for the entire book and made everything that followed not believable.

Emily Sutton-Smith does a fantastic job reading this book [I listened to the audible version], which is the one bright spot. She has a voice that is very easy to listen to, and does the characters quite well.

Advertisements

Movie Review: Home Again

I hated the movie Home Again with a deep and abiding hatred.  It’s a caricature of everything bad about Hollywood.  For starters it’s labeled a “romantic comedy,” even though it isn’t very funny at all, and the romance consists of a 40 year-old, not yet single, mom, jumping into the rack with a 27 year-old aspiring movie producer, even though she is still married–but it’s okay because she’s been separated from her husband for five months.  What is she teaching her two young daughters in the process?  The movie doesn’t really care and certainly doesn’t bother to stop to even ask the question.

Three young aspiring movie producers meet Alice Kinney, daughter of the famous movie director, John Kinney, at a bar where she is celebrating her 40th birthday.  They begin to party together and next thing you know she invites them home for the night because they (conveniently) need a place to stay [Now THERE is an excellent mom, right?].  The three discover the next morning that she is the daughter of John Kinney.  Alice [Resse Witherspoon] eventually invites them to use the guest house, presumably so she can sleep with one of them?  Yeah, like I said, great mother here.

The trio begin to connect with Alice’s daughters and pretty soon they are somewhat of a “family,” or at least Hollywood’s definition of a family, which appears to be: “anyone who happens to be living in or around one’s house.”

As a plot complication, Alice’s husband decides to show up and this creates various awkward moments since the trio of film makers now consider themselves part of the family after approximately two weeks living there.  But don’t worry, that pesky husband will eventually demonstrate his true colors and go away, so Alice can continue sleeping with her 27 year-old boy toy.

Poor Alice has to kick the trio out after one of them gets into a donny-brook with her pseudo-husband.  Of course the kicking out doesn’t last long and she goes over to where the boys are staying to assure them that her loser husband is now really out of her life and the trio can all move back end, so they can be one great, big, happy, Hollywood family.

What we have here is further undermining of what a family is by a Hollywood that is all too happy to be the one who undermines.  “Family” is simply anything you want it to be, even if it consists of the world’s worst mother and three man-boys who may (but probably will not) be around for the long term, but hey, that’s okay, when they all leave, Alice can just find someone else to sleep with and voila!  A brand, new family.  Yippee!  Yay for Hollywood!!

Movie Review: Ingrid Goes West

Trapped in my window seat on the way home from Phoenix, and having flown enough that I exhausted all of the interesting movies, I decided to watch the movie Ingrid Goes West.

The movie opens with Ingrid Thorburn crashing a wedding in Pennsylvania and pepper spraying the bride in the face because Ingrid had discovered that she was getting married on Instagram and Ingrid hadn’t been invited.  Next stop: Mental asylum.  So opens this movie which lightly explores how the fake world of Instagram affects the actual world that we live in.

Ingrid, once she gets released from the asylum, spends her days scrolling through Instagram and tapping twice (thus “liking”) pretty much every photograph she scrolls through.  She does this almost by rote, as if it is a required school assignment and obviously doesn’t get any joy from what she is doing.  She is trapped and enslaved to Instagram.

Ingrid comes across a random woman in Southern California and gets infatuated with following her life, at the same time she receives an inheritance from her recently deceased mother, she turns the 60k inheritance into a bag of cash and off she goes to California, with renewed purpose in life: to meet and get involved in the life of Taylor Sloane, her new Instagram obsession.

She manages to succeed by discovering where Taylor lives and then stealing her dog, only to return it the next day as if she found it, to the great delight of Taylor and her husband.  They invite Ingrid to stay for dinner and the creepiness begins.

The one genuine person in the entire movie is Ingrid’s landlord, Dan Pinto.  Ingrid borrows Dan’s truck to do a favor for Taylor and in the process does 8k worth of damage to the truck while driving high on the cocaine she found in it.  Yeah, she isn’t very reliable.  Dan is not happy with her to say the least, although the relationship isn’t broken completely.

Ingrid and Taylor go through various adventures before Taylor discovers that Ingrid is a psycho stalker.   Ingrid concocts a plan to kidnap Taylor’s brother and talks Dan into helping her.  Needless to say, the plan goes awry and Dan ends up in the hospital having been severely beaten by Taylor’s brother, whom Ingrid knocks out with a tire iron.

At the end of the movie, Ingrid, at the lowest point of her life, films herself as she takes pills to commit suicide and admits that she is trapped by her penchant for following other people’s (made up) lives on Instagram, but doesn’t think she can change.  Of course, she posts the video on social media!  The video goes viral and she gets messages from all over the world about how beautiful she is and how they are standing in support of her.  Ingrid discovers all this when she wakes up in the hospital, having been saved from her pill overdose.

The movie ends with Ingrid smiling as she discovers that she is suddenly what she always wanted to be, an Instagram celebrity.

I think that the ending to Ingrid Goes West is purposefully ambiguous.  Has Ingrid been healed from her Instagram enslavement, now that she has broadcast her “real” self to the world, or is she instantly sucked back into the world of fake, made up lives on Instagram, now that she is an Instagram celebrity?  The viewer can take it either way.  For myself, I took it as the latter choice.  Her attempted suicide only fuels her rise as an Instagram celebrity and she hasn’t really changed.

The movie doesn’t analyze very deeply or very well the fake, made-up lives that occupy much of Instagram today, nor the affects of Instagram celebrity on individual lives.  It seems to be content with observation rather than attempting to delve into the subject well.  Perhaps the screenwriter was content to allow the observation to be the analysis.  At any rate, Ingrid Goes West does manage to be a cautionary tale of the dangers of addiction to Instagram (not to mention other social media) and how social media shapes our lives, in this case in a very negative way.

The War I Finally Won

This is the second book in Kimberly Bradley’s series about Ada, a refugee from the east end of London who has the world’s worst mother and a clubfoot (that could have been fixed when she was young, but her mother doesn’t want to pay for it). The book picks up where the first book ends.

I didn’t like this book as well as the last one. Ada is a fairly whiny child approaching her teens and she ends up whining a lot which is annoying. I was hoping that her character would develop and become a little more grateful since she is a. saved from the worst of the London bombing, b. taken in by a very kind, wise woman, c. given her own horse, d. friends with a Lord’s daughter, etc. etc. etc. Will this change whiny Ada? Nah. She remains whiny throughout the whole second book. I found myself wishing that Susan (her guardian) would send her to military school where someone could kick her rear end daily.

Still, the book is not without it’s strong points. A German Jew comes to live with Susan, Ada, and Jaime (Ada’s brother), and of course! Ada is obnoxious and insufferable to her as well, although she eventually warms up and the pair become friends.

There are tragedies–it’s the war, many people die.

There is an ongoing theme of religion as Ada tries to figure out what makes Jews and Christians different and why Hitler hates Jews.

There is some humor, Ada, who is quite naive since her mother never sent her to school, wonders why Churchill doesn’t recruit some dragons with which to battle Hitler. She thinks dragons are real.

I read the audible version and the narrator, Jayne Entwistle, must read the book in the first person voice of a middle school child, (not to mention all the other characters). She knocks the narration right out of the park.

A River in Darkness:One Man’s Escape from North Korea

You don’t choose to be born. You just are. And your birth is your destiny, some say. I say the hell with that. And I should know. I was born not just once but five times. And five times I learned the same lesson. Sometimes in life, you have to grab your so-called destiny by the throat and wring its neck.

Thus begins the story of Masaji Ishikawa’s life, and what a story it is. Born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Korean father, for reasons which Mr. Ishikawa never fully understands, his father moves them from Japan to North Korea in pursuit of a better life! Things go downhill from there.

The book is—as the reader might imagine—one long litany of suffering and deprivation, hopelessness and starvation. Surely North Korea ranks right up there as one of the worst places on earth, especially if when you arrive, you are assigned to the lowest class of North Korean, as Mr. Ishikawa’s family was. I found myself dumbfounded that his Japanese mother would go along at all, but go she did, and suffered along with everyone else.

Mr. Ishikawa’s first meal in North Korea? Dog meat. Sad to say, but as the years pass and the starvation begins, Mr. Ishikawa no doubt would have been overjoyed to have a meal of dog meat, rather than subsisting on acorns and weeds as was necessary for his family.

The book is quite remarkable due to its insights into totalitarian regimes. He writes:

I soon learned that thought was not free in North Korea. A free thought could get you killed if it slipped out.”

When you find yourself caught in a crazy system, dreamed by dangerous lunatics, you just do what you’re told.”

We see Mr. Ishikawa’s despair as he slowly realizes what his father’s choices have meant for his life: “I knew that I was destined for a life of hell on earth, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.” And so he was.

In totalitarian regimes “Language gets turned on its head. Serfdom is freedom. Repression is liberation. A police state is a democratic republic.”

Mr. Ishikawa eventually escapes from North Korea, but is powerless to help his family who remained in country. His wife starves to death. One of his daughters starves to death. He loses contact with another daughter and his son. It’s a sad, tragic, awful tale, that is a good example of man’s inhumanity to man.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Confessions by Leo Tolstoy

I’m trying to read 50 books this year and this book is number 5.

Flannery O’Connor once commented about her audience: “My audience are the people who think God is dead. . . . To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”

I thought of Flannery O’Connor as I was reading “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” because in this short novel, Leo Tolstoy is going to hold us by the scruff of the neck and force us to face the reality of (our own) death. Ivan Ilyich is a normal Russian guy, who has a normal Russian life, until in middle age he gets cancer. During the cancer his life falls apart. His wife and daughter are basically annoyed with him because his illness is getting in the way of their lives. After his diagnosis Ivan sits down to explain things to his wife. Tolstoy writes:

“His wife listened, but in the middle of his account his daughter came in wearing a hat: she and her mother were going out. She sat down for a moment to listen to this boring stuff but she couldn’t stand it for long, and her mother didn’t listen to the end.”

Brutal.

Ivan is confronted–we may say slapped in the face–with his own mortality. Tolstoy:

“All his life the example of a syllogism he had studied in Kiesewetter’s logic–Caius is a man, men are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal–had seemed to be true only in relation to Caius the man, man in general, and it was quite justified, but he wasn’t Caius and he wasn’t man in general, and he had always been something quite, quite special apart from all other beings.”

Ivan has a general belief in death, but when applied to him specifically, he does not like the idea at all. Quite contemporary, Ivan turns out to be, for our culture is one that seeks to hide death and run from it as best we can. Leo Tolstoy is not going to allow us to run. He is going to force us to confront our own mortality.

We see it in Ivan’s plaintive cry as he gets ever nearer to death, suffering in deep and never ending pain: “There’s no explanation! Torment, death…Why?”

Why indeed.

The end is oddly hopeful, although Tolstoy doesn’t belabor the hope. I guess he wants us to figure it out for ourselves.

The second half of this book is Tolstoy’s own writing on his discovery of the meaning of life and it’s a good companion to Ivan Ilyich. Tolstoy will basically answer the questions that he has raised (but not really answered) in Ivan Ilyich. Tolstoy eventually became a follower of Jesus because he could see no other logical explanation of any ultimate meaning in life.

He writes: “I understood the truth I later found in the Gospels, that people loved darkness rather than light because their actions were evil.”

Tolstoy begins what he calls “a search for God,” he writes: “This search did not come out of my way of thinking–it was even directly opposed to it–but it came out of my heart.”

2017 My Top Ten Songs on Spotify

 

Spotify tells me that these are the ten songs I listened to the most in 2017, I suspect they are correct:

  1. Mention of Your Name
  2. Memorial – Ike Ndolo
  3. The One My Soul Loves – Josh Lavender
  4. I Won’t Let You Go – Switchfoot (with Lauren Daigle)
  5. He Shall Reign Forevemore – Essential Worship
  6. The Ruins – Jonathan Thulin, Moriah Peters
  7. Cornerstone – Coffey Anderson
  8. O Rock Eternal – Erik Nieder
  9. The Story I Tell – Micah Tyler
  10. Heart Like You – Love & The Outcome

Thanksgiving [On the Road…as Usual, but Maui!]

20161126_092543Well, if you have to be on the road for Thanksgiving, it may as well be in Maui, which is a lot better than Michigan, at least in November.  We got to stay at a truly stunning resort out on the northwest section of the island [for 24 hours!]. Since it was Hawaii, the weather was gorgeous, sunny and warm.

If you work for the airlines you’re going to be working a lot of holidays; most of them if you’re junior in the particular seat you occupy, which I happen to be.  In 26 years flying for the airlines I’ve been off on Thanksgiving maybe two or three times, and the same goes for Christmas.  I’m mostly on the road around the holidays.

This has made for some interesting holiday trips, and by interesting I mean sad, pathetic, and lonely.  I once spent Christmas at a Holiday Inn in West Palm Beach and I SWEAR the only people in the whole place were the six airline crew members and one actual employee who manned the front desk.  Do you think there was any food anywhere?  There was not, inside the hotel or outside, everything was closed.  We had to eat from vending machines until we left for the airport at 3 pm on Christmas Day.  This was not a fun Christmas.

We once rolled into Columbus, Ohio, [if memory serves this was a Holiday Inn also, I am sensing a pattern here] on Thanksgiving Day at about 6pmish.  They actually had a full holiday meal for the few, pathetic travelers holiday guests.  Sweet!  Finally, an actual Thanksgiving feast!  We quickly changed and headed down to the excellent meal only to find out that the restaurant closed at 6.  Instead I got to have another gourmet dinner consisting of Skittles from the vending machine.20161125_060504

I once had a Christmas trip in which I took off for Amsterdam on Christmas Eve.  The trip lasted 12 days.  I think it went to Amsterdam then to Philadelphia, back to Amsterdam, on to Mumbai, India, and back to Amsterdam.  On the morning of day 12 [going home day, Yippee!] we got a call from crew schedules saying, “we’re going to have to send you on a side trip to Delhi.”  Our 12 day trip ended up lasting 16 days.  I left on the 24th of December and got home on the 9th of January [fortunately for me, I have a longsuffering wife]. This was not a fun Christmas OR New Year.

The way we got our kids to actually buy in to Dad being gone every Christmas was to make sure that Christmas always took place before the 25th.  Usually it was whatever day was my last one home before my Christmas trip, somewhere between the 21st and 24th.  I’m sure our neighbors saw the pile of torn up Christmas wrapping paper and assorted boxes in our trash on the 23rd or 24th every year and told themselves, “there they go again, just couldn’t way until Christmas.”

I don’t like working the holidays, but I’m not ever going to complain about it.  There are so many good benefits of working for the airlines [fly pretty much anywhere for free], that working Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s/Easter/Memorial Day/Independence Day/etc. is a small price to pay.

Bloody Jack

So I picked up this book on Audible because the narrator, Katherine Kellgren, won the best female narrator on Audible in 2016.  At the time I had not heard of the Bloody Jack series, nor had I heard Katherine Kellgren read an audio book. I said to myself, “what the heck, at least the narration will be good if she woBloody Jack cover.jpegn an award for it, and the book cover certainly looks interesting.”  Wow, wow, wow!  Katherine Kellgren is simply amazing.

I like to read books, lots and lots of books, and I’ve had an Audible membership for about two years now and cranked through about 25 or 30 books each year just listening to them.  I’ve discovered that there are some books that are just made to be read out loud and the Bloody Jack Series is one of them.

There are multiple voices in each of the 12 Bloody Jack books [I’m into number 6 now], and by multiple, I’m talking 20 or 30 per book! So far I have not heard Ms. Kellgren repeat a voice. You have to listen to her read to fully understand her talent in voices, English, Cockney, American, Irish, French, Jamaican, etc., she does them all and does them well and believably and BOTH men’s and women’s voices.  I often listen to her read and just shake my head going, “how does she do this?”

Imagine that someone gives you two pages of dialogue with 10 voices total and tells you to read those two pages switching effortlessly between the ten voices and making them all different and accurate to their respective characters.  Ms. Kellgren does all this, makes it sound easy and sings too!

Here’s the thing, the story is engaging also.  The books follow the adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber as she cuts a swath [she begins by enlisting as a ship’s boy on a Royal Navy ship] through three [so far] countries, constantly getting herself into and back out of trouble and all the while entertaining those around her because you know, “I am a bit of a show off.”

While these books look like they might be for children, they really are not, probably teen and above because of the subject matter, but do get them in audio format and be amazed at the story and the sheer talent of Katherine Kellgren.  You won’t be disappointed.

DTW to SAN

sdWe had a night flight from Detroit to San Diego that arrived into San Diego at about 10pm.  Landing in San Diego is always a challenge because there is high terrain on the approach corridor.  We have to fly a steeper than normal glide path on descent to stay at a safe distance from the terrain, and to keep from doing a touch and go off of the parking deck immediately adjacent to the runway [why they allowed the parking deck to be built there baffles me].

At any rate, if there is lousy weather, a lot of rain and/or wind, it can be a pretty challenging approach.  Fortunately for us, it was a stunningly gorgeous evening as we descended into San Diego.  We could see the lights of the city from beyond the coastal mountains as well as the lights of El Centro to the south and Los Angeles to the northwest.  Flying on nights like this hardly seems like a job at all, more like a present that is to be absorbed and appreciated.

When I woke up in the morning, I went for a run along San Diego Bay and got to this park just as the sun was rising. Sometimes I wonder why I live in Michigan…

At about this same time, this song came up on my playlist:

You can’t buy mornings like this at any price, they are just a gift.