Becky’s Eightieth Book Review: “Catch Me if You Can” by Frank Abagnale Jr. and Stan Redding

It’s happened again. I’ve devoured another book and once again I am feeling that complete loss you feel after being forced to leave the world you have totally submersed yourself in. Oh well, there are so many books to read and so little time it seems. Yesterday I finished reading “Catch Me if You Can” by Frank Abagnale Jr. and Stan Redding. It is an autobiography of the nearly impossible adventures that Frank Abagnale Jr. goes on—a story so farfetched it can only be true. At least, that is how he put it. “I was pioneering a scam that was so implausible, so seemingly impossible and so brass-balled blatant that it worked” (Catch Me if You Can, pg 63).

This story was a lot of fun to read. I didn’t actually know that there was a book when I saw the movie (starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, and Christopher Walken) for the first time. It is actually one of my favorites and I was very excited to find out there was a book (as I pretty much always am…). Frank Abagnale Jr. is such a likeable person that you can’t help but cheer for him as he pulls off the most absurd cons. Part of this probably stems from the fact that although he was a conman, he never went after the individual, rather his target was always bigger—a bank, hotel, airport, etc—somewhere that had insurance. That is, with the occasional exception, but whenever Frank was telling his version of the exceptions the reader could easily relate to him and understand why that person deserved to get taken.

The book follows the same basic story as I got to know by watching the movie, but there were some differences. Hollywood will take its liberties. Frank’s parents did get divorced, but he was not an only child. Frank’s father was apparently a very honest man and although he believed Christopher Walken did an excellent job in the movie, the character he was portraying was very different from his [Frank’s] actual father. Frank did begin his conning by impersonating a pilot for Pan Am, and he did follow that with a doctor and then a lawyer. But there were other cons in there that didn’t get mentioned although they might have been altered. For example, he taught at a college for awhile, “There were so many lovely girls on one campus that I was tempted to enroll as a student. Instead I became a teacher.” (Catch Me if You Can, pg 110). This was not depicted in the story, although in the movie he pretends he is the substitute teacher at his high school. One thing that was strongly emphasized in both stories was Frank’s love of the ladies. His first con actually began because he was trying to take out so many girls and was running low on funds. So he unintentionally conned his father. That was the beginning of his conning, but certainly not the end. His reaction when he first pulled off his brilliant scam, “I was heady with happiness. Since I hadn’t yet had my first taste of alcohol, I couldn’t compare the feeling to a champagne high, say, but it was the most delightful sensation I’d ever experienced in the front seat of a car.” (Catch Me if You Can, pg 15). That made me actually laugh aloud.

Frank had a way with the ladies, he was very smooth and he knew what pleased them. When he first decided to impersonate a pilot he remarked, “There is enchantment in a uniform, especially one that makes the wearer as a person of rare skills, courage or achievement.” (Catch Me if You Can, pg 45). This statement couldn’t be truer—I don’t know a single girl out there who isn’t at least a little extra attentive to a guy in uniform. Frank certainly had his fun with women but one of the few individuals whom he decided to con was a woman. The entire scene was portrayed in the movie; the girl was played by Jennifer Gardner.

While pulling off all of his cons was a rush for Frank, everything did eventually come crashing down. Not all of this was depicted in the movie. Frank actually spend time in a French prison which is a synonym for hell. He was thrown into a hole basically with no clothes, no light, no bed, no toilet, not even enough room to stand. The only thing in his room was a bucket that was very rarely emptied. “Mine was not a term in prison, it was an ordeal designed to destroy the mind and body.” (Catch Me if You Can, pg 237). His description of the time he spent in the French prison is insane. The entire time I was reading his description I was wondering how prison could actually be like this. He put it best when he wrote, “Certainly no civilized country would permit such cruel and inhumane punishment to be meted out by its prison warders without cause. France does. Or did.” (Catch Me if You Can, pg 227). His account of the time he spent there made me realize even more so that I never want to be locked up abroad. Ideally, I’ll avoid prison all together and since I lead a pretty honest life I think that is a reasonable goal to set.

Would I recommend “Catch Me if You Can”? Yes—most definitely. I think that this book is a great, fun read and even ‘non-readers’ would enjoy this book. 

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Becky’s Seventy-Ninth Book Review: “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith

“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith is a book that I was given the first time by my mom. She handed me a copy and told me to read it. I was appreciative of the gesture, but thought at the time mom didn’t know anything about what I enjoyed reading. (I’ve since learned differently). So it stayed on my shelf for a little while. Eventually I decided to pick it up and discovered a wonderful coming-of-age tale where the main character could very well be me in another life. I’ve always felt parallels with Francie Nolan when reading this book but never have focused on it as much as I did this time while reading “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” for the umpteenth time. What I found surprised me.

This novel revolves around Francie Nolan, a lonely little girl growing up in Brooklyn in the early 1900’s. The story begins in 1912 and closely follows Francie’s life as she grows up. There are also flashbacks to different members of her family so that the reader can learn about how Johnny and Katie (her parents) fell in love and understand which parts of each member of her family Francie has inherited. There are many things that I enjoy throughout this novel, but I especially admire Katie, Francie’s mom, and how hard she works to make sure her kids have better than she did. Despite all the hardships that her family has to endure, Katie holds everything together. I feel like my mom is similar to Katie. Luckily for us, she never had to deal with a drunk who couldn’t support the family—quite the opposite actually. I really couldn’t have asked for better parents. But my mom always had a way of making everything ok. This is something that Katie demonstrates throughout the novel. She tells it like it is with her kids and doesn’t shy away from the truths of the world. This is especially true when she realizes that the only hope she has for surviving is learning to do so herself. And so she does.

As for Francie being a parallel character to myself, this is something that I see throughout the novel. It is apparent in her hobbies, her likes and dislikes, and even her attitude and demeanor. One of the biggest similarities I find is that Francie is a reader and an avid one at that. She reacts the same way that I do to books. “When she grew up, she would work hard, save money and buy every single book that she liked. As she read, at peace with the world and happy as only a little girl could be with a fine book and a little bowl of candy, and all alone in the house, the leaf shadows shifted and the afternoon passed.” (ATGB, loc 563 – kindle edition). I feel like this quote reflects how I feel about books. Reading and writing is strongly encouraged throughout the novel and not just by Francie. When Katie has her kids she is begging her mother for advice. She says in reply, “The secret lies in the reading and the writing.” (ATGB, loc 1445 – kindle edition). This is something that has always been pushed on me when I was a child. My education was a very important thing to my parents and now that I’m old enough to appreciate it, I understand just how very right they were. Even if it seemed like they were just being mean making me do my homework.

The way that Francie feels when she learns how to read just completely captures the wonderfulness of learning this ability. “She read a few pages rapidly and almost became ill with excitement. She wanted to shout it out. She could read! She could read! From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood…on that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.” (ATGB, loc 2730 – kindle edition). I personally cannot remember a time when I didn’t know how to read because I’ve been doing it for so long. But I do remember once making a similar vow about reading a book a day. Honestly, it just isn’t realistic if you have anything to do. Even then, now that I’m at the reading level that I’m at I choose books that simply cannot be finished in a day. I read Stephen King’s “The Stand” which was roughly 1500 pages. I was recently given a copy of “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand which is a very long book in itself. A book a day just isn’t feasible, but if I had nothing else to do with my time, I would certainly try. As is, I tend to get through about four books a month which is more than most people I know. This is in large part to the fact that I commute to work via train and therefore can read for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening. I was given the gift of time when I got this job and I use it to my full advantage.

When it comes to preferences in food, I very much enjoy the fact that pickles are popular with Francie because I certainly cannot get enough. This quote reminds me of when my mom would indulge my desire for a ‘big pickle’ and I’d get to pick one out of the barrel. “There were times though, especially towards the end of a long cold dark winter, when, no matter how hungry Francie was, nothing tasted good. That was big pickle time.” (ATGB, loc 855 – kindle edition).

Another similarity between Francie and yours truly is the extreme naivety of her during her childhood. When I was younger I was convinced that my mom had written the song “Zippity Do Da” and that Disney stole it from her. Francie displays her own naivety many times in the book but one of my favorites was when she decided that she wanted to be a teacher’s pet, “She vowed that when she was old enough to go to school, that she would meow, bark and chirp as best she could so that she would be a “pet” and get to clap the erasers together.” (ATGB, loc 2156 – kindle edition). Francie had many ideas about school and she was very excited at the prospect of the whole situation but what she was really looking forward to was school supplies. She describes them with such admiration that I can relate to because that is exactly the kind of weirdo that I am as well. Now that I’m older, I refer to them as ‘office supplies’ but the same principle is there.

As I’ve mentioned before, Katie is Francie’s mother and they have many interesting conversations. One that stood out to me was them discussing friends: “’Haven’t you any girl friends to talk to, Francie?’ ‘No. I hate women.’ ‘That’s not natural. It would do you good to talk things over with girls your own age.’ ‘Have you any women friends, Mama?’ ‘No, I hate women,’ said Katie.” Part of why I like this quote so much is because I feel exactly the same way. I may have a few women friends, but I have more male friends than anything else and the reason is the same.

Although I enjoyed looking through the book for similarities between Francie and myself, I did find a few quotes that I just thought were both a good reflection on the type of book this is and insightful as well. Quotes that I believe would help convince others to read this book. The first one is, “’Why should I want to cheat you, Mrs. Nolan?’ he asked plaintively as he put the money away carefully. ‘Why should anyone want to cheat anybody?’ she asked in return. ‘But they do.’” (ATGB, loc 4716 – kindle edition). The next quote is a good example of how entertaining Betty Smith’s writing is, “Everything, decided Francie after that first lecture, was vibrant with life and there was no death in chemistry. She was puzzled as to why learned people didn’t adopt chemistry as a religion.” (ATGB, loc 7245 – kindle edition).

If it isn’t already apparent, I would highly recommend this book to almost anyone. I think it is an especially good book for young girls who enjoy reading, but I enjoy it as much as an adult as I did when I was a kid. It is by no means a book written exclusively for kids, but rather is an adult novel that is highly accessible. The book is filled with so much and is just so well written that I fall in love with it over and over every time I read it. One new thing that I discovered when reading “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” this time is that there are MORE BOOKS!!! Betty Smith has three more books written that I didn’t even know about. I’m very excited and determined to track them down.

 

 

Becky’s Seventy-Eighth Book Review: “The Skeleton Key” by Jane Haddam

When I picked up this book I was under the impression that it was what the movie was based off of. Instead, this book has nothing to do with the movie. Part of the reason I did not realize that the book was a totally different story was because I have this theory that reading the back cover of a book gives ‘too much away’. So instead, I just start reading a book without knowing anything about it. The danger with this is that I went into the book expecting one plot and I got another instead. So when I started the book I was very disappointed that the story was different. 

Then it turns out that the book was really fucking good!! And, from what I can tell, the main character is in several more books. So now I need to go out and get my hands on those. Even though I went into this book expecting one thing and ended up getting something else, I am very glad that I picked up this book. I was very impressed with this author whom I had never heard of. 

One thing that I found very impressive was her character development. Each character was defined so well and while a lot of them were terrible people, I at least understood a bit where they were coming from. I think that it is nice when an author doesn’t focus exclusively on the main character but gives life to the supporting characters as well. This is what I found when reading “The Skeleton Key”. There was also a lot of language used that I liked and a certain truth to Jane Haddam’s writing. There are several examples that I could use, but my favorite was, “The truth of it was, of course, that people simply lied all the time. Even he lied. Nobody wanted to present themselves to the world in the full reality of what they were in the privacy of their own minds. Nobody was the person he wanted himself to be, or even the person he thought he ought to be. Nobody was without some corner of his life that embarrassed or shamed him.” (Skeleton Key, pg 230). I can definitely relate. 

Although the book got off to a bit of a rough start with me expecting something different than what I got, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a good murder mystery. I was a little disappointed at the ending, but in a way it seemed to be more realistic than most. Not everything ends all happy and shiny. I think that is more real than what most books tend to do. 

Becky’s Seventy-Seventh Book Review: “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books of all time. Re-reading this for I don’t even know how many times made me really focus on the why. Why do I like this book so much? Well, in order to answer this question, I need to take a look at the other book that is my favorite, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith. Both books have female protagonists and between these two characters I see so much of me. First of all, both Francie (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) and Jane (Jane Eyre) are big fans of the written word. This is more true of Francie than Jane, but they both are readers nonetheless which I am able to identify with every easily. They both are also very independent and could be described as loners. While I might not be the best example of independence, I know that I impress my mom at least with my many adventures between moving away to go to college and taking the initiative to chase a dream job. Either way, the loner profile fits, at least in the sense that I don’t feel like I’m one of the popular girls by any means. So I believe that at least part of the reason why I like these two books so much is because I am able to identify with each protagonist on several levels. That being said, here is my review on “Jane Eyre”.

“Jane Eyre” is known to be an important piece of literature for feminism. I went into my reading of this novel with this in mind and focused on different areas that I believe reflect this widely shared opinion. Jane is a very independent thinker even before she is able to be independent on her own. This is apparent early on in the book when she finishes talking with her Aunt Reed, “Ere I had finished this reply, my soul began to expand, to exult, with the strangest sense of freedom, of triumph, I ever felt. It seemed as if an invisible bond had burst, and that I had struggled out into unhoped-for liberty.” (Jane Eyre, pg 39) Here Jane is getting really her first taste of freedom, of independence and here we also see how bold a character Jane is. There are many instances throughout the novel where Jane is both demonstrating independence and also comparing herself to a man, pointing out how she would act if she were a man. “Let their motto be–hunt, shoot, and fight: the rest is not worth a fillip. Such should be my device, were I a man.” (Jane Eyre, pg 178). This kind of thinking was unheard of during this time and that is part of what made “Jane Eyre” so revolutionary.

Her independence does not go unnoticed in the novel either. It is commented on by many different characters including one of her cousins, “you perform your own part in life, and burden no one.” (Jane Eyre, pg 239). Jane frequently comforts herself with the idea of independence and freedom when things begin to look tragic for the heroine, “Still indomitable was the reply: ‘I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.'” (Jane Eyre, pg 314). The independence that she shows is truly remarkable. There are moments when she mentions wanting to give in, to not be so strong but her character won’t allow such frivolous things as giving up. Another example of this is “I wanted to be weak that I might avoid the awful passage of further suffering I saw laid out for me; and Conscience, turned tyrant, held Passion by the throat, told her tauntingly, she had yet but dipped her dainty feet in the flough, and swore that with that arm of iron he would thrust her down to unsounded depths of agony.” (Jane Eyre, pg 295). This is a great example of both independence and the dramatic way that Charlotte Brontë writes. I love the way she manipulates language in her works. Another example of Brontë’s uniquely beautiful writing is, “Turn back: on so lovely a night it is a shame to sit in the house; and surely no one can wish to go to bed while sunset is thus at meeting with moonrise.” (Jane Eyre, pg 247).

I know that I am using a lot of quotes to support my points, but I can’t look at the words Brontë composed when writing “Jane Eyre” and not want to share them. There are so many examples throughout the novel of Jane being independent and part of this is in the frankness of her nature. “There, you are less than civil now; and I like rudeness a great deal better than flattery. I had rather be a thing than an angel” (Jane Eyre, pg 261). Here she is speaking very frankly and again, later in the novel you can see a heated discussion that she is having, “’But I apprised you that I was a hard man,’ said he, ‘difficult to persuade.’ ‘And I am a hard woman—impossible to put off.’ ‘And then,’ he pursued, ‘I am cold: no fervour infects me.’ ‘Whereas I am hot, and fire dissolves ice. The blaze there has thawed all the snow from your cloak; by the same token, it has streamed on to my floor, and made it like a trampled street.” (Jane Eyre, pg 379). Jane is a very stubborn woman and this is part of what helps to display her independence.

Jane approaches the world very straight on with a frank and unyielding character. She comes to a cross roads and has the chance to be dependent or independent and this is how she assesses the situation, “Whether is it better, I ask, to be a slave in a fool’s paradise at Marseilles—fevered with delusive bliss one hour—suffocating with the bitterest tears of remorse and shame the next—or to be a village schoolmistress, free and honest, in a breezy mountain nook in the healthy heart of England?” (Jane Eyre, pg 356). In this quote, not only do you see Jane’s approach to the world, but Brontë uses different language to describe different situations. In the eyes of Jane Eyre, to be dependent is to be a slave, to be remorseful and shamed whereas to be independent is a light, free, breezy approach to life. The symbolism is very obvious here, dependence is like a prison while independence is free, honest, and healthy.

Jane dives even further into the notion of dependence vs. independence later in the book when discussing trying to please a man, “As for me, I daily wishes more to please him; but to do so, I felt daily more and more that I must disown half my nature, stifle half my faculties, unrest my tastes from their original bent, force myself to the adoption of pursuits for which I had no natural vocation. He wanted to train me to an elevation I could never reach; it racked me hourly to aspire to the standard he uplifted. The thing was as impossible as to mould my irregular features to his correct and classic pattern, to give to my changeable green eyes the sea-blue tint and solemn luster of his own.” (Jane Eyre, pg 394) Jane notices that through trying to please this man she is sacrificing her own ideals and becoming less than she was. This same man brings multiple soliloquies discussing what to do with the offered dependence when she has such an independent nature. “Oh! It would never do! As his curate, his comrade, all would be right: I would cross oceans with him in that capacity; toil under Eastern suns, in Asian deserts with him in that office; admire and emulate his courage and devotion and vigour: accommodate quietly to his masterhood; smile undisturbed at his ineradicable ambition” (Jane Eyre, pg 402). Jane realizes that she would never be happy to submit to another.

Overall the story is very entertaining and one that I believe every woman should read at least once, although there is no reason that “Jane Eyre” couldn’t appeal to men as well. Would I recommend it? Most definitely—“Jane Eyre” is a must-read. As much as I talked about independence in this review, the book is so much more than that. It is a tale of a woman who begins life as a dependent and vows to bring herself to independence. Through this journey she finds friendships, love, forgiveness, happiness, despair, family, and love again. It is a great read and a classic for good reason.  

 

Becky’s Seventy-Sixth Book Review: “Carrie” by Stephen King

SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE CARRIE MOVIE AND/OR READ CARRIE AND ARE PLANNING ON IT (and don’t want everything spoiled…)

I can’t believe it has taken me so long to make a new post! Already twelve days into the month and I’ve only finished one book! As I finished spooning my New England Clam Chowder into my mouth I also finished reading “Carrie” by Stephen King.

This is actually not the first time that I’ve read this book, but since I didn’t write a review last time I thought, why not? Plus with the new movie coming out soonish I thought it might be of interest to other people too.

There is a reason that Carrie is a classic. That so many of the lines from the novel and/or movie are well known to those who haven’t even read or watched Carrie. At the very basic level, Carrie is about a girl who is picked on her whole life until she finally snaps. The difference being that she has the useful and deadly ability to move things with her mind. If you want to go deeper into the novel, I think on some level people can connect with Carrie as a character. She is this friendless outcast that is always the butt of jokes. I believe that at one time or another, everyone has felt like an outcast. I guess I don’t really know what it is like for those in the popular crowd since I never fell into that category…but I was by no means friendless as a child and still felt that way sometimes.

In a strange way, I found myself cheering for Carrie. I knew how everything would turn out, having seen the movie multiple times and having read the book once before. Nevertheless I saw Carrie grow stronger the further I progressed into the book and looking forward to the inevitable carnage. Maybe it was partly because I connected so much with her and the pain that she was surrounded with. Maybe it was because I can just be morbid. Either way, I devoured Stephen King’s “Carrie” quickly.

Part of the delay in writing a review before this is because I have been reading several books this month. One I’m struggling with, so I think I may take a break and pick it up in a little while. The other two are my two favorite books “Jane Eyre” and “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” which I’ve never read at the same time before. I didn’t even do so intentionally now, but I am finding many parallels between the two main characters which is making me realize more and more why these are my favorite books. More reviews to come.

Would I recommend “Carrie” by Stephen King? Yes, the book is excellent. It is also on the shorter side, so it is a great book for those of you that cannot commit to extremely long novels, such as “The Stand” which was around 1500 pages. “Carrie” is only 290 pages, which to me is short.

I want to make a quick mention about the movie as well. The original movie that is the most well known came out in 1976 and did a pretty good job for the time. I did not like the fact that the total destruction of the town was altered to only include the fire at the high school, the car accident that killed Chris and Billy (the couple responsible for the buckets of blood), and the death of Carrie’s mother. She died differently in the book, but I think the movie did well with what they included.

When checking the dates of the movies I found out that there was a TV movie that came out in 2002. In 1999 a sequel of sorts came out, The Rage: Carrie 2. In it the main character has the same father as the original Carrie did but instead of destroying a high school, it’s a house where there is a party in full swing. I thought it was entertaining and have seen it a few times personally.

I am very excited to see the new movie which is scheduled to come out in October 2013. So I have to be patient for a few months, but from the small preview that I’ve been able to find on youtube, it looks like they may have adapted the movie to follow the book almost to a t. I think that is great and can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Becky’s Seventy-Fifth Book Review: “The Boleyn Inheritance” by Philippa Gregory

I did it. I finished my book at the cutoff of February and am now able to write my review. Hurrah for me. I was reading “The Boleyn Inheritance” by Philippa Gregory and I very much enjoyed this book. I have definitely picked up a taste for Philippa Gregory’s works.

“The Boleyn Inheritance” follows three women following in the shadow of Anne Boleyn and the disgrace that she brought to her family. These women each tell their story from their point of view which leads for a very interesting perspective. The women who are the main characters in this book include Jane Boleyn, Kitty Howard, and Anne of Cleaves. Anne begins the story getting married to Henry VIII as his fourth wife. Both Jane and Kitty are part of the queen’s household. Things progress very quickly in the marriage between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleaves—and not in a good way. They begin their lives together with an incident that sets the tone for their entire marriage. King Henry VIII bursts into Anne’s private room and forces a rough kiss on her, only he is dressed in disguise and Anne does not recognize him. So she shoves him off of her and spits out his kiss. I am not sure if this happened as Philippa Gregory writes or if she has taken a certain amount of liberty when telling the tale of when the two meet. It is well known among historians that Henry VIII did not like Anne of Cleaves after their first meeting, but what exactly were the circumstances in this situation I do not know.

Either way, “The Boleyn Inheritance” takes the reader on a journey through the lives of three women who surround the King who destroyed churches and monasteries just so he could do what he wanted. Henry VIII may not have started out his life as a crazy man, but he certainly became one. It was most likely Anne Boleyn who drove him to the edge of insanity and the loss of Jane Seymour that pushed him over the edge. Either way, reading historical fiction about his reign makes me even gladder that I live in this century. Manners may have gone out the window and people certainly don’t spend much time working on being presentable or educated, but at least I have rights and can enjoy walking around in pants. Although I must say, some of the feasts that are described would be fun to attend.

There is an author’s note at the end of the novel where Philippa Gregory discusses some of the liberties that she did take when writing the book but she doesn’t go into everything. History has never been my favorite subject, but I did reassure myself while reading the novel with the Henry the VIII chant ‘divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived’.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that Philippa Gregory has a unique talent when writing historical fiction that makes all of her books worth a read. She is not my favorite historical novelist, but she holds a close second to Tracy Chevalier. I think that a large variety of people would enjoy her works and upon the completion of “The Boleyn Inheritance” I am even more determined to get my hands on the rest of her works.