Friday, September 4, 2015

Book Review: Catch Me If You Can by Frank W. Abagnale Jr.

Like most people these days, I learned about this book by seeing the film staring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks years ago. I'm always curious to see how true these "true story" films are, so I decided to give the book a read.

Catch Me If You Can is the story of Frank William Abagnale Jr., also known as The Skyway Man - one of the most successful con artists of our time. Frank took advantage of his natural gifts (example: always looking much older than he was, being very outwardly confident, serious attention to detail, etc) and used them to steal millions and millions of dollars from banks and airlines in the early 1960s. Frank learns how banks and checks work and proceeds to pass bad checks, progressing to opening accounts under false names, then falsifying checks and even printing his own legitimate checks. Frank impersonated a Pan Am airline pilot and flew to different cities for free every few days and then cashed his bad checks all over before leaving to do it again somewhere else. By the time the banks learned that the checks were bad, Frank was long gone to another place. He went from impersonating a pilot to a doctor then a lawyer. He flew all around the US and Europe and South America. He bedded many trusting women. Frank did all these things before being caught in France at the age of 20. The buck stopped for him a bit during his 5 month term in a French prison that seemed to be the same as it was in the middle ages. He then served time in Sweden before returning to the United States to serve time there as well.

I have to say that I did not care for this book on moral grounds. Before you roll your eyes and call me a prude, hear me out. I don't mean that I have a problem with the many references to his dealings with women or even his brazen theft and falsification. I enjoyed reading this book and learning all the crazy things he did until I reached the end. The reason I, along with most of the country who saw the film based on this man's life, enjoyed the movie is because he comes to justice in the end and the film makes it a point to tell of the national good that came from this man's experience. Frank Abagnale later went to work with the FBI and helped develop our modern checks and banking system to keep people like him from being able to take advantage of loop holes. In the film, Frank "turns his life around" and does good for humanity, which leaves you with a feeling that he made up for his wrongs. The book on the other hand is nothing but a cocky, "look how cool I am" epitaph to his own personal genius. He admittedly never feels that he deserves to be in prison, and even tries to make the reader feel bad for the inhumane way he was treated by the French. He never seems to hit bottom and accept what he has done and the drastic effect he had on countless people and businesses, so he looks on his prison time as being unfair - which is just incredibly immature and borderline sociopathic. The biggest offense I took though is how the book ends *spoiler alert if you want to read it yourself*. The story concludes with Frank's "final caper" (at least the last one you hear about) where he escapes federal prison and drives off into the sunset with his hot girl friend. This was just the cherry on top with the lack of any morality whatsoever. He just basically says, "Ha ha, I'm so much smarter than everyone," and goes off to screw the world over again. And is completely unrepentant about it. When I finished the book, I was honestly upset that I supported this man by reading his book - thank heaven I didn't buy it myself, but I'm even upset about the money he got from my library buying it. It was interesting to hear how lax the financial system was back in the 1960s, and it's undeniable that the story is interesting just for curiosity's sake, but knowing what I do now about the tone of the book, I would not have read it. I give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Book Review: A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf

I've always planned on reading Virginia Woolf just on principle, but put the action of until "someday". Well, "someday" came and went a few weeks ago and I am so glad that I gave the time for this quick read.

A Room of One's Own is actually an essay based on a lecture series that the author gave at Newnham and Girton Colleges for women at Cambridge University in 1928. In this short explanation, Virginia Woolf gives her thoughts on how women have been treated throughout history that has kept them in the societal place they inhabited during her time. Her suggestion is that every woman should have "500 a year and a room of her own", meaning that these two luxuries free her from the oppression placed on women of having to rely on men for her livelihood. Perhaps the most well known example she gives is that of Shakespeare. She has the reader imagine if Shakespeare had had a sister who loved to write and longed to write her beautiful prose for all the world. She then illustrates how that would have been impossible, since women were barely ever even taught to read let alone allowed to express any thought on any subject but family and home care. If someone had actually existed like the Shakespeare's sister example, she would certainly not have lasted long because life would not have been worth it to her. Virginia write all these thoughts using her own life as an example since she inherited 500£ a year from an aunt, which enabled her to live on her own and run her own life - quite a big deal for a woman in 1925.

I really enjoyed this read. Virginia Woolf is an extremely eloquent writer, and I can only imagine how amazing this idea would have been for women during the 1920s. This was a woman openly expressing her right to not have children and live under the control of a man. That she can earn her own living and dictate her own future. It's inspiring to read even in this day and age when we have technical equality between the sexes. It's still an empowering speech that will lead you to examine your own individualism. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

FO: Shermy the Sheep

I finally managed to get pictures of my latest creation and my submission to the Ami-Along. It's a candy covered sheep!
I've had the Sherman the Sheep pattern from Monster's Toy Box ever since it was released, but I just never got around to making it up. A few weeks ago, I hit a thrifting treasure trove - about 30 skeins of brand new - with the labels - manufactured in the last few years - yarns ... and they were only 25¢ each! Some of the yarns were even ones I had always wanted to try out for animal making, so add those two aspects together and I couldn't load them into my cart fast enough. Take My Money! Anyway I've always wanted to get Bernat Dippity Dots, but I just couldn't justify buying yet another skein of yarn that I don't need at Joann's when I was trying to save money. Make the price 25¢ though, and I'm all there - I got 6 skeins of this yarn! Woot woot!
So, my awesome cutesy yarn to try PLUS the Ami-Along caused me to search through my patterns and I came out with the perfect combination - a very colorful sheep! I call him Shermy :)
Now, I had to make a few adjustments to be able to use this yarn on this pattern. The yarn is technically classified as Worsted weight, but in fact the white yarn strand is more like a sport weight - it's the fluffy dots that are worsted weight thickness. Since I wanted to make sure that my sheepy didn't leak his stuffing, I went down to a size F hook (the pattern calls for an H). I tried to use the thinnest yarn I had for the contrast that was still the right color, so all the beige is Red Heart Soft Solids in off white. The other issue (and one that I've read is common with others who crocheted with this yarn) is that the dots like to end up mostly on the  back of the stitches - so I actually crocheted this guy completely inside out.  I did my usual back stitch only, but instead of working around the outside of the circle I was creating, I inverted it and worked from the inside. This might not make sense unless you give it a try, but it worked really well for this project. Since the feet and head change yarn midway through, I crocheted his beige parts inside out as well. So if you're looking close at his stitches and wondering why he looks different, that's why.
There were still a decent number of fluffy balls that ended up inside his body, but the majority was on the side you see. I figure one day I can try to pick them out towards the front ... if I feel like it, lol.
The feet joining was s bit difficult to figure out with working them inside out, but we got there in the end and it was pretty smooth sailing after that. One thing to note if you use this pattern - you probably should weigh the feet down with poly pellets or something as the head tends to want to tip forward. This isn't a huge issue with the way he is shaped because his head is so low to the ground, but it is noticeable if your head doesn't end up perfectly level with the feet.
I used 12 mm eyes since I sized down in the hook, and while the pattern gives instructions for his nostrils, I felt he needed a cute little smile as well :)
And there you have it: Shermy the Candy Sheep :) I love how he turned out, but I will warn others wanting to use this yarn - it is a bit of a pain to crochet with. I'm hoping it works better for knitting.

It's been so long since I made a cute animal, and I'm so glad the Ami-Along gave me an excuse to get back in the game!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Book Review: Call The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

This book has been on my radar ever since I found out my beloved tv series was based on a book, so when it was up for grabs at the library (it's a very popular one, so I had to wait a while), I snapped it up.

Call The Midwife is the memoir of a woman who worked as a midwife to London's East End during the 1950s. The East End has always been the slummiest of slums in London, and in the 50s it was no different. The London docks employed many men in those days, and their families all lived in this area - the inhabitants were poor, uneducated, and without birth control, so you can imagine how many children there were running around. Jenny Lee shows up to the area thinking she is going to work at a hospital only to discover that Nonatus House is actually a group of nuns/midwives. The book is really a collection of stories on different types of delivery issues and social issues that Jenny encounters during her work. She tells about breach birth, premature birth, normal birth, eclampsia, mixed race birth, prostitution, underage mothers, and much more. She balances the fun stories with the not so fun ones well to keep an upbeat tone. If you've seen the British tv series, you pretty much know the stores - I was really surprised at how well the series follows the book. The whole first season of the show covers the first book (there are 3 books), and while it does embellish a few things and gives more detail and personality to the characters other than Jenny Lee, all the changes were fairly understandable and translate well. The book is just a nice introduction to the world of home birthing, and a peek into the slums of 1950s London.

I really enjoyed this book - it was just a nice, light read with a good message. If you have any interest in the show, you will definitely like the book. This was a nice way to get a different view of the world for a short time. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.