This week I found time to do a little gardening, which in my case means watching my friend weed my garden. Then I came back in the house and went right back to reading. I'm definitely on a big reading streak, partly because I had to cancel my cable last December as a cost saving measure. Which means I can't go online or I'll be inundated with Game of Thrones spoilers. So anyway, this week I read several cookbooks the most interesting of which is called Vegan Tacos by Jason Wyrick. The author has a nice breezy style and there are tons of gorgeous pictures. If you are all into tacos you should give this book a look.
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I read Lauren Beukes' second book Zoo City and liked it even more than I liked Moxyland. She takes the idea of an animal spirit and plays with even more than Philip Pullman did when he wrote His Dark Materials books. In her world not everyone has an animal manifestation. Only people who are responsible for the death of another person has one. Naturally this makes people without animals a little nervous and the animaled live in segregated areas. Our main character Zinzi has a Sloth, who is kind of endearing, even to me to find sloths rather terrifying. He acts almost as her conscience, grumbling and complaining when she wants to do things that are unethical or immoral. He's also quite literally a guide in that when she's trying to make her way through the labyrinth of a condemned building in the dark he steers her by poking her with his claws to tell her which way to go.
Along with the animal spirits comes some sort of psychic / otherworldly ability. In her case she can find lost things. When she looks at a person she sees sort of trails coming out of them with the missing object hanging at the other end. She's making a living finding lost things for people but she's also involved with some major scams. As the story begins she's finding a ring for an elderly woman but when she comes back the elderly woman has been murdered. So who's the suspect? Obviously it's going to be our heroine whose animal indicates she has killed before. This is the first step in an extremely convoluted journey that will take her into the depths of a corrupt music industry.
The story is interspersed with quotations from sources talking about the animaled and what it means. One of my favorites is a supposed transcript from a documentary about prisoners who have animals who are behind bars. The different ways that they're treated by their particular prison and their particular country was quite interesting albeit depressing.
Once again Lauren Beukes look at segregation, class struggle, and the wildly different lines of the Haves and the Have Nots. Zoo City was a fascinating and entertaining novel. You can read an excerpt here: http://bookslive.co.za/blog/2010/06/10/book-excerpt-zoo-city-by-lauren-b...
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Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
I started Tom Robbins' novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues back when it was first written. For some reason I never finished it. Maybe I lost interest? Anyway I finished it this week and don't know what to think. It's the story of Sissy, a young woman who is born with ridiculously large thumbs which she puts to work hitchhiking as soon as she can. She has a series of adventures that take her all around the world and bring her into contact with teenage cowgirls who are taking over a ranch, whooping cranes that vanish, rigid upper-class New Yorkers, a hermit, and a couple of fairly crazy doctors.
It's a book that is both hilarious and really dull. The language is lyrical and I love the metaphors and descriptions, such as a character wearing a skirt so short her crotch doesn't realize she finished getting dressed, but the philosophy and character rambling became very hard to get through. Maybe if you read like a chapter a day for years something it will be easier to cope with. Honestly I don't even know if I'm recommending this book or not. I guess you'll just have to give it a shot and see what you think. I may never know what I think. You can find an excerpt here: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/155513/even-cowgirls-get-the-blu...
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Heartbreak Hotel is Anne River Siddons first novel, published after her nonfiction essay collection John Chancellor Makes Me Cry. Set in the fifties in the deep, deep south, this is the coming-of-age story of a very privileged white girl. She is pretty. She is smart. She is pampered. She's the apple of her parents eyes. It's almost like she's in a cocoon. She just drifts along doing what everybody else is doing. She's in a sorority. She's pinned to a super rich dude whose family owns an honest-to-god plantation in Mississippi. She writes for the school paper but she mostly just kind of writes about nothing or at least nothing important. Until for one moment she's able to empathize with someone who is the opposite of her. When she writes about her experience and how it changed her she sets off a ripple effect that will impact everyone around her and change her forever.
The story takes place at the very beginning of the civil rights movement or at least when the civil rights movement is coming to the attention of the average American citizen. It was written in 1976, which makes reading it now when we've both come such a long way and no way at all quite interesting. If nothing else this book is worth reading if you have any interest at all in mid-century Southern life. The amount of drinking and driving that goes on is absolutely appalling. I felt like I spent half the book cringing, between the drunk driving and the racism.
Celestial Blues: Book One, The Taken
I read Vicki Pettersson's new book Swerve not too long ago and had mixed feelings about it. I did like it enough that I wanted to give her another try so I picked up a book called The Taking which is book one in her Celestial Blues series. Also set in Las Vegas, this story is quite different from Swerve which was a straight-up thriller. This is a supernatural story with a hero called Griffin who has been dead for fifty years. Unable to move on, obsessed with solving the murder of his wife and himself, he is a sort of angel that escorts the newly murdered to their next destination. He inadvertently starts a chain of events that will lead to the murder of a feisty young reporter called Kit, who lives a rockabilly lifestyle and looks like the women of his day. He is told he has to watch her rape and murder and then take her to wherever she goes next. Of course there is no way he can stand for this so he steps in, which leads to even more chaos and confusion.
There are lots of stories about angels falling in love with humans and I've always found them fairly creepy. In this story Grif is not a pure angel; he's a man who's been given angelic powers. He and Kit get the all-clear from me. If they want to have a romance I'm not going to say no. By which I mean I'm not going to put the book down and refuse to finish reading it.
I really enjoyed this one. I liked it a lot more than I liked Swerve. In fact I liked it enough that I'm reading book two in the series already. This book brings together a whole bunch of my various interests. Kit loves vintage and retro items and her house is beautifully styled. As a seller of vintage items myself I got a kick out of reading about her possessions.
There is an extensive trail of dirty doings in this book. Grif was a private detective in life and with Kit being a reporter they're both on the case trying to sort out who's done what and who killed Kit's friend. Like Swerve this book has some very grim, gritty elements, so be forewarned. You can browse inside the book here: http://browseinside.harpercollins.ca/index.aspx?isbn13=9780062064646
This week's bonus treat is video of a baby elephant seal that is making the rounds. I'm pretty sure it was a cat in a former life.
There are a ton of new films and television shows coming from Netflix in May, as well as several that are leaving. If you're old enough to have been a teen in the eighties you'll be thrilled to see Sixteen Candles is coming, but perhaps saddened by Blade Runner and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure going away.
Fan's of Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock will be excited to watch A Study in Sherlock, a 2016 documentary. Another great choice is Pleasantville, which throws Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon into a black and white television world that is stuck in the fifties, a place that is not the idyllic world some politicians would have you believe.
If that's not enough for you then perhaps you'll be thrilled to hear that Bring it On, the cheerleader showdown film starring Kirsten Dunst and Eliza Dushku will be Available May first, as well as Bring it On: All or Nothing.
See below for a selection of titles that will be added to Netflix in May 2016. (Descriptions courtesy of Netflix.)
All title and dates are subject to change.
A Study in Sherlock (2016)
Mark Gatiss, who co-created “Sherlock” and plays Mycroft Holmes, discusses the show with Benedict
Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and others in the cast.
In the 1600s, when the Netherlands is under attack by the British navy and on the verge of civil war, a
Dutch admiral is his country’s only hope.
Ava's Possessions (2015)
A young woman joins a support group for survivors of demonic possession to help her recover from a
recent exorcism and expose her repressed memories.
Bring It On (2000)
Pressure mounts on the captain of a decorated cheerleading squad as she attempts to lead her crew to
its sixth consecutive national title.
Bring It On: All or Nothing (2006)
Cheer captain Britney plans to have her squad earn a coveted spot in singing sensation Rihanna’s video
but must think fast when her plan is derailed.
Easy Living: Seasons 1-3
Drowning in debt and shackled to a spendthrift wife, family man Tapio takes dodgy jobs from career
criminal Eki in order to keep his family afloat.
El Crítico (2013)
A pretentious film critic who despises romantic comedies realizes that his life is turning into one when he
falls for a free-spirited woman.
FernGully 2: The Magical Rescue (1998)
When poachers capture their baby animal friends, the rain forest fairies of Ferngully must brave the perils
of civilization to rescue them.
Finger of God (2007)
When filmmaker Darren Wilson set out to document God’s presence in today’s world, he had no idea
what he would find or where the journey would take him.
Gary Gulman: It's About Time (2016)
Gary Gulman tackles topics like extreme laziness, Hitler and the joys and pitfalls of shopping at Trader
Joe's with his typical neurotic bewilderment.
Great Expectations (1998)
Unattainable to Finn since her youth, Estella holds his fascination. He soon becomes obsessed with
being a successful artist to gain her love.
I Am Road Comic (2014)
In his follow-up to “I Am Comic,” filmmaker Jordan Brady books himself a weekend gig and interviews
fellow comedians about why they go on the road.
Jesus Town, USA (2014)
When the actor playing Jesus in a small town's annual Easter pageant steps down, a young member of
the cast takes on the role --but he has a secret.
Just Friends (2005)
Years after high school, a once-portly nice guy comes home for the holidays and reunites with a former
crush he still has feelings for.
Kevin Hart Presents Keith Robinson: Back of The Bus Funny (2015)
It's everything you might expect from the man who taught Kevin Hart how to be a comedian. Keith
Robinson, brings his in-your-face style to everything from the moment he stopped liking his own son to
the real reason why Obama was elected.
Kevin Hart Presents Lil Rel: RELevent (2015)
In Lil Rel Howery's first hour-long special, he talks about everything from his upbringing to raising his own
children to getting roasted by teenagers on public transportation, all with his signature high-energy
delivery. A natural performer, Lil Rel proves that he can hold his own when it comes to all the relevant
Kevin Hart Presents: Plastic Cup Boyz (2015)
Comedy trio the Plastic Cup Boyz take the stage at San Diego’s House of Blues for a wild night of stand-
up, sketches and more.
LoliRock: Season 1 (2014)
LoliRock follows the journey of young Iris, a spirited teenage girl with a beautiful voice and an unending
desire to help others. When Iris joins the girl group LoliRock, her life is changed forever, as a new world
of music, mysteries and magical powers is revealed.
My Last Day Without You (2011)
During a brief trip to New York on business, German executive Niklas meets a young female musician
who exposes a new side of the city to him.
The Nutty Professor (1996)
Humiliated while trying to impress a pretty grad student, portly professor Sherman Klump takes a massive
dose of his new weight-loss potion.
Off the Map (2013)
Four friends in middle school – Federico, Paula, Graciela and Fabián-decide to skip class and sneak in
to the school basement. But Miriam, the class’ gossiper and teacher’s pet, discovers them and threatens
them. She will rat on them if they don’t let her stay and be part of the adventure. This way, what was
meant to be a time of intimacy, playing pranks and having fun between friends, is turned into the time
when jealousy, fear, hatred and hidden crushes are exposed, unveiling a series of conflicts unthinkable of
before skipping class. Meanwhile, upstairs, on the school’s surface, the Teacher and the Principal
discover five kids are missing and warn their parents, who react in different ways, hence revealing
conflicts of their own.
Palm Trees in the Snow (2015)
The accidental discovery of a long lost letter drives Clarence to travel from the snowy mountains of Spain
to Africa, to visit the land where his father Jacobo and uncle Kilian spent most of their youth, the island of
Fernando Poo. In the heart of a land as lush and seductive as dangerous, Clarence unearths the secret
of a forbidden love story framed within turbulent historical circumstances whose consequences will have
repercussions in her present-day life.
Teens David and Jennifer get sucked into the black-and-white world of a 1950s TV sitcom. But Jennifer’s
attitude literally brings color into the show.
Shark Lake (2015)
An exotic animal dealer accidentally lets a bull shark loose in Lake Tahoe, and the ravenous creature
wreaks havoc on the peaceful town.
She's Beautiful When She's Angry (2014)
An inspiring look at the brilliant, outrageous women who spearheaded the 1960s women’s movement
resonates with those who still face gender inequality.
Sixteen Candles (1984)
Samantha’s family has forgotten her sixteenth birthday, a day that could be perfect if only Jake Ryan
would look her way.
Sugar Coated (2015)
This documentary investigates the history of the food industry’s use of sugar, its health impact on society
and the politics of the “new tobacco.”
We no longer see the wild, we dream of it. It’s an age-old fascination, visible in the paintings of the
Chauvet Cave. But this dream is today disappearing, vanishing in factory smoke and industrial smog.
Things We Lost in the Fire (2007)
Attempting to piece her life back together after losing her husband in a tragic incident, grieving widow
Audrey turns to an unlikely ally: her husband's childhood friend Jerry, an emotionally wrecked heroin
To Catch a Thief (1955)
Suspected in a new series of heists in the hotels of the French Riviera, a reformed jewel thief sets out to
clear himself and catch the real thief.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down a Dream (2007)
Explore the history of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, including Petty’s famous collaborations and
notorious clashes with the record industry.
Who’s Driving Doug (2016)
When a college student with muscular dystrophy agrees to let a slacker be his new driver, they set off on
a reckless road trip to Las Vegas.
The Replacements (2000)
In the wake of a player’s strike, an old-guard coach drafts a team of gridiron misfits and losers as
replacements for the Washington Sentinels. (I am an extra in this!)
When the kidnapping of a controversial corporate figure’s daughter goes awry, her limo careens off a
bridge, leaving the survivors trapped underwater.
The Keeping Room (2015)
With the men of their clan all fighting or lost on the battlefield, three Southern women face the sinister
attentions of two Union Army deserters who are pillaging the landscape ahead of the main forces in this
taut Civil War drama.
Shanghai Knights (2003)
Dynamic duo Chon Wang and Roy O’Bannon are in London to avenge the murder of Chon’s father but
end upon on an even bigger case involving the royals.
Fourth Man Out (2015)
A young mechanic comes out to his extremely straight best friends. Once they get used to the idea,
they’re determined to help him find the right guy.
Marseille -NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Robert Taro has been the mayor of Marseille for 25 years. Now he faces a merciless election against his
young, ambitious former protégé.
Ali Wong: Baby Cobra -NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Unapologetic and nasty mom-to-be Ali Wong desperately wanted a conventional life. Baby Cobra is
Wong's hilarious journey of how hard she worked to find Mr. Perfect, get married, buy a house and have a
baby. But it all didn't exactly turn out how she planned. And while Wong complains that feminism is the
worst thing that's ever happened to women, what's more empowering than being the first and only comic
to film a 1-hour stand up special 7-months pregnant?
Baby Daddy: Season 5
Ben unexpectedly becomes a parent when an ex-girlfriend drops off a baby girl. But with help from friends
and family, he steps into the role of dad.
Grace and Frankie: Season 2 -NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin co-star as two women forced to reinvent their lives in this funny, honest
Emmy-nominated Netflix original series.
Young & Hungry: Season 3
A female food blogger is hired as a personal chef by a young tech tycoon and faces a new menu of
challenges, both inside and outside of the kitchen.
The Chosen Ones (2015)
Young Ulises falls in love with teen Sofia, even as he is forced to lure her into his family’s prostitution ring.
Now he’ll do anything to rescue her.
A Stand Up Guy (2015)
When his outrageous open-mic standup comedy routine goes viral, low-rent mobster-in-hiding Sammy
gets a lot of attention he seriously doesn’t want.
Eisenstein in Guanajuato (2015)
In 1931, famed Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein’s trip to make a film about Mexico’s history becomes a
journey of personal and creative awakening.
Chelsea -NETFLIX ORIGINAL
It’s not her first talk show, but it is a first of its kind. Ideas, people and places that fascinate her, three
times a week, all in her unique style.
None-too happy about moving to a small Maryland town, teen Zach Cooper finds his outlook changing
after meeting the gorgeous girl next door, Hannah Stine --whose reclusive father happens to be hiding a
They Look Like People (2015)
While visiting an old friend in New York City, a man begins receiving eerie phone calls that warn him
something evil is about to happen.
Bleeding Heart (2015)
A yoga instructor reunited with her long-lost biological sister is determined to save her from an abusive
boyfriend and a life of prostitution.
We Are Still Here (2015)
A couple recovering from their son’s death finds themselves haunted by vengeful spirits when they move
to a rural town that hold a horrifying secret.
Yo Soy la Salsa (2014)
More than a genre, the salsa was a cultural movement that arose in a time of need for strengthening the
Latino culture and spread across the world with such force that 50 years later still moving the feet of the
dancers in the most inhospitable corners world. At the heart of the movement is the figure of Johnny
Pacheco, who know as one of the great musical legacy responsible for gender salsa.
American Dad!: Season 10
This comedy follows a conservative CIA agent and his eccentric brood, which includes a talking goldfish
with the brain of an East German athlete.
Kindergarten Cop 2 (2016)
Assigned to recover sensitive stolen data, a gruff FBI agent (Dolph Lundgren) goes undercover as a
kindergarten teacher, but the school's liberal, politically correct environment is more than he bargained
Slasher: Season 1 (2016)
Although her parents were murdered just moments before she was removed from her mother's womb,
Sarah Bennett is all grown up and ready to leave the past behind. But when she and her hubby return to
the family home, history begins to repeat itself.
A Girl Like Her (2015)
Amid South Brookdale High School's social scene, sophomore Jessica Burns suffers unrelenting
harassment by class queen Avery Keller. But with help from best friend Brian Slater, Jessica turns the
tables on her tormentor.
Benders: Season 1 (2015)
Though their amateur ice-hockey squad comes up short on skills, Paul Rosenberg and his teammates are
united --not only by their passion for the sport but by an almost equal passion for drinking beer.
Lady Dynamite: Season 1 -NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Comedian Maria Bamford stars in a series inspired by her own life. It’s the sometimes surreal story of a
woman who loses -and then finds -her s**t.
David and Goliath (2015)
An epic drama drawn from biblical accounts of King David's life. While the army of Israel cowers before
the taunts of hulking Philistine giant Goliath, young shepherd David finds the courage and faith to meet
him in combat.
The Letters (2014)
Letters written by Mother Teresa to a spiritual adviser over decades reveal her inner struggles as she
devotes herself to helping the poor in India.
The Ouija Experiment 2: Theatre of Death (2015)
A group of unsuspecting theatre goers are trapped, after a ravenous spirit is resurrected and released
from a Ouija board.
ELECTRICITY is an Alice in Wonderland for the modern day -an extraordinary hallucinatory journey seen
through the eyes of a young woman with epilepsy as she searches for her long lost brother.
Graceland: Season 3
Joining forces in their undercover efforts, a group of agents from the FBI, DEA, and U.S. Customs move
into a beachfront house in Southern California.
The Last Man on the Moon (2016)
In this artful blend of memoir and documentary, former Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan looks back to the
glory days of NASA's lunar landings and his unique distinction of being the last man to stand on the
Bloodline: Season 2 -NETFLIX ORIGINAL
When the black sheep son of a respected family threatens to expose dark secrets from their past, sibling
loyalties are put to the test.
Chef's Table: Season 2, Part 1 -NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Find out what’s inside the kitchens and minds of six international culinary stars in this Netflix original six-
The Do-Over (2016) -NETFLIX ORIGINAL
The life of a bank manager is turned upside down when a friend from his past manipulates him into faking
his own death and taking off on an adventure.
Mako Mermaids: Season 4 -NETFLIX ORIGINAL
This “H2O” sequel follows Zac, a boy who accidentally turns into a merman and threatens the existence
of three young mermaids who guard Mako Island.
Hell on Wheels: Season 5
Former Confederate soldier Cullen Bohannon sets out on a quest to find his wife’s killer as post-Civil War
America struggles to rebuild its identity.
The following titles will be disappearing in May. Better watch them while you can.
The Animatrix (2003)
From the creators of the Matrix trilogy, these short films fuse computer graphics and Japanese anime to
provide the background of the Matrix universe.
Anna Karenina (1948)
When a debonair army officer sweeps a married Russian noblewoman off her feet, the resulting scandal
destroys her societal standing.
Author! Author! (1982)
Before playwright Ivan Travalian can attend to his flailing career, he must deal with the unraveling threads
of his personal life.
Beware of Mr. Baker (2012)
Legendary and indestructible rock drummer Ginger Baker is the focus of this documentary, which recaps
his turbulent history and many influences.
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)
High school underachievers Bill and Ted will flunk out if they don’t ace a year-end history presentation, so
they transport themselves back in time.
Broadway Idiot (2013)
Join Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong as he prepares for the debut of American Idiot, the
Broadway sensation based on the band’s 2004 album.
Bus Stop (1956)
A loutish cowboy kidnaps a beautiful nightclub singer, intending to bring her home to his Montana ranch
and make her his wife.
Tracy Flick appears to have the election for student council president sewn up until a teacher rounds up a
worthy opponent: a popular football player.
The Good Life (2012)
A seemingly perfect couple risks losing their marriage when they begin to sacrifice their vows for growing
career and personal ambitions.
Holiday Engagement (2011)
Hilary’s plan to hire a good-looking guy to act as her boyfriend backfires when she brings him home for
the holidays to try and fool her family.
Kiss of Death (1995)
An ex-con tries to distance himself from his past but reluctantly agrees to help his loser cousin with one
last heist that goes terribly wrong.
Mad Hot Ballroom (2005)
Ballroom dancing goes from lame to cool for a group of students in this documentary, which follows a
group of 11-year-olds as they learn to dance.
Mona Lisa Is Missing (2012)
This documentary examines the case of Vincenzo Peruggia, an unassuming house painter charged with
stealing the “Mona Lisa” from the Louvre in 1911.
Ralphie May: Austin-tatious (2008)
Comedian Ralphie May brings his outrageous stand-up to a Texas audience in this comedy special,
recorded live at Austin’s historic Paramount Theatre.
Terms And Conditions May Apply (2013)
Through interviews with technology thought leaders and futurists, this timely documentary examines the
erosion of privacy in the digital age.
That's What I Am (2011)
After his teacher pairs him up for a project with the school’s biggest reject, a boy forms an unexpected
bond with his new partner.
Bored by an arranged marriage to a dull but well-meaning husband, a young wife in rural France in the
1920s seeks a drastic solution to her problems.
Truth or Die (2012)
Four teenage friends are taken hostage by a vengeful psychopath and forced to play a party game with
Young & Handsome: An Evening with Jeff Garlin (2008)
Self-deprecating comedian Jeff Garlin exhibits his flare for storytelling in this concert filmed at Chicago’s
Second City improv theater.
Slightly Single in L.A. (2012)
After moving to L.A., Dale finds her life crumbling. Now she’s caught in a love triangle, and turning her
luck around will take a huge leap of faith.
JFK: The Smoking Gun (2013)
Veteran Police Detective Colin McLaren spent four years on the forensic cold case investigation of JFK’s
Stealing Harvard (2002)
In need of cash to put his niece through Harvard, mild-mannered John Plummer enlists help from his best
friend -who convinces John that crime pays.
Finding Normal (2013)
A big-city doctor traveling to her new home in the Hamptons has a run-in with the law, forcing her to do
community service in a North Carolina town.
JFK: A President Betrayed (2013)
This documentary presents evidence that John F. Kennedy pursued peace talks with Nikita Khrushchev
and Fidel Castro, determined to get out of Vietnam.
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (2012)
On the day of Dolly Thatcham’s wedding, the sight of her former beau leads her to realize that going
ahead with the ceremony would be a huge mistake.
A boarding school teacher is unusually close with her charges, until a new student’s arrival evokes strong
emotions and disrupts their relationships.
Tears of the Sun (2003)
Bruce Willis stars as a Navy SEAL sent to the African jungle to rescue a doctor, only to realize he must
also save the refugees in the doctor’s care.
The Score (2001)
Ready-to-retire safecracker Nick, flamboyant fence Max and talented but volatile thief Jackie team up to
rob the Montreal Customs House.
The Ladykillers (2004)
A Southern professor-turned-criminal puts together a group of thieves to rob a riverboat casino, but their
old lady landlord complicates matters.
Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? (2013)
Director Michel Gondry uses lively animations to illustrate conversations with activist Noam Chomsky as
he hold court on his theories, life and work.
The Master of Disguise (2002)
Simple, sweet Pistachio Disguisey discovers his keen hereditary talent for imitation when he must rescue
his father from a criminal mastermind.
When Tommy’s girlfriend and unborn child are brutally torn away as collateral damage by a ruthless and
murderous gang, his rage erupts uncontrollably.
A Pope For Everyone (2013)
This film profiles Pope Francis, the first pontiff from Latin America, exploring his life and work before
election and what he brings to the office.
Bratz: BFF: Best Friends Forever (2007)
The Bratz are as close as ever in these episodes which find the gals helping one pal build confidence
while urging another to be true to herself.
The Greatest Places: IMAX (1999)
This IMAX documentary takes viewers to seven amazing sights, including Greenland’s foreboding
icebergs and the Namib Desert’s undulating sand dunes.
In Her Skin (2009)
When pretty Rachel goes missing, everyone soon suspects Caroline, the overweight, acne-ridden
daughter of a domineering father.
Looking into an illegal lung transplant, an attorney crosses the border, where he learns the truth about
where these “donated” organs come from.
The Quest: Season 1 (2014)
Reality show contestants venture to an imaginative realm and test their own heroism, with ogres and
dragons standing between peace and chaos.
Search for the Great Sharks: IMAX (1995)
Journey around the world on an expedition to discover some of the planet’s most majestic and notorious
Tiger Eyes (2012)
Based on the acclaimed novel by Judy Blume. Following her father’s murder, a teenager goes to stay with
relatives in New Mexico and falls in love.
Blade Runner: Theatrical Cut (1982)
In the smog-choked dystopian Los Angeles 2019, blade runner Rick Deckard is called out of retirement to
snuff out a quartet of escaped androids.
The Last Tycoon (2012)
After becoming apprentice to a Shanghai crime boss, Cheng Daqi gets a taste for power in this story of a
real-life gangster that spans 30 years.
Peep World (2010)
Problems arise as four siblings gather for their father’s 70th birthday. One of them has written a novel with
characters that resemble them all.
Struck by Lightning (2012)
Carson is bent on escaping his hometown for college. His last few weeks of school unwind in a flashback
-until the fateful day when lightening strikes.
Raised in a Catholic orphanage during the Nazi occupation of Poland, a woman is poised to join the order
when she learns the truth about her heritage.
Stand Off (2012)
Unable to pay a debt to a mobster, Jimbo robs a fish market. But when realizes the mobster owns the
market he goes on the run with his baby.
Black Hawk Down (2001)
When U.S. forces attempt to recapture two underlings of a Somali warlord, their helicopters are shot
down and the Americans suffer heavy casualties.
Escape from Tomorrow (2013)
On the last day of a family vacation at Disney World, Jim White learns that he’s lost his job. Soon
thereafter, he begins to lose his mind.
Run & Jump (2013)
While struggling to support her family after her husband’s stroke, an Irish woman forms a bond with an
American brain researcher.
Vanishing of the Bees (2009)
This documentary details the economic, political and ecological consequences of a puzzling
phenomenon: a dwindling world honeybee population.
Years after rejecting Barfi, a hearing and speech impaired young man, for a more “appropriate” suitor,
Shruti finds herself falling for him.
These Birds Walk (2013)
This inspiring documentary profiles both legendary humanitarian Abdul Sattar Edhi and a young boy who
lives at one of Edhi’s orphanages in Pakistan.
A glimpse at a day in the life of Dante and Randal, convenience store clerks who are sharp-witted, potty-
mouthed, and bored out of their minds.
All titles and dates are subject to change.
You guys, I have been on a huge reading spree and finished quite a few books this past week. I'm going to jam in as many as I can, but they might not all fit. Ready?
The Mystery of Grace
I love Charles de Lint's writing and the book I just finished by him does not disappoint. Called the Mystery of Grace, it's set in the American southwest. Grace is a young woman who is very close to her abuelo (grandfather) sharing his love of old cars, rockabilly and surf guitar music.
When he passes away she is left with a giant void that leaves her numb and withdrawn. She takes up smoking again and heads down to the local grocery store to get a pack of cigarettes. But while she's there something terrible happens and she essentially starts a brand new life.
It's very difficult to talk about this book without giving any spoilers but I will do my best. This is essentially a love story but it's also a story about finding yourself while learning to be closer to others. Grace has a lot of friends and acquaintances but she kind of holds everybody at a distance.
This is a beautiful story and I loved it so much. Grace is a fantastic character that I would be happy to call my friend. There are lots of descriptions of working on old cars but they don't get too technical and you won't get bogged down like you would in a Tom Clancy novel. Instead we see just enough to understand her deepest passions and to feel the connection with her abuelo. The gorgeous cover by John Jude Palancar is just the frosting on this extremely tasty cake. This is a book that you want to hand around to all of your friends. You can read an excerpt here: http://www.tor.com/2009/03/26/lemgthe-mystery-of-gracelemg-by-charles-de...
If you choose to purchase the novel using this Amazon affiliate link I will receive a finder's fee, which helps keep this site running. My thanks if you do.
Kill My Mother
I think Neil Gaiman recommended Jules Feiffer's Kill My Mother, a graphic noir novel, in his journal, but I may be misremembering. I got my filthy paws on it recently and read it straight through. Like many things I have read recently it could be summed up as terrible people doing terrible things. (I think there are three characters that aren't awful, greedy, self centered twerps. Maybe four.) Essentially everyone either shoots someone else or gets shot, so don't get too attached to the characters. The book is a fun, fast moving homage to the film noir that was so popular around the Great Depression. The author and artist was a kid when film noir was in its heydey but he says it took him sixty years to be able to draw in the proper style. I was plagued by a feeling of familiarity while I was reading the book, as though it was a well loved story, but it wasn't until I was almost finished that I realized Mr. Feiffer drew the illustrations for the Phantom Tollbooth, a book I read dozens of times as a child. You can read an excerpt here: http://www.npr.org/2014/08/12/339598213/exclusive-first-read-jules-feiff...
If you choose to purchase the novel using this Amazon affiliate link I will receive a finder's fee, which helps keep this site running. My thanks if you do.
If I had to sum up Lauren Beukes' debut novel Moxyland in one word it would be “whoompf.” That's the sound of the wind getting knocked out of me. This is a powerhouse of a cyberpunk novel set in the near future, in South Africa. If you feel we're all corporate stooges or wageslaves now, you will cringe over this book. In this terrifying future your phone is your lifeline and you can be disconnected at any second for not toeing the corporate line. The police can essentially taser you via your phone, so of course they do, at any provocation.
Moxyland follows the lives of four characters who are at nexuses in their lives. Kendra, who is an artist about to let a corporation experiment on her, Toby, who is basically a You Tube star with the morals of a starving tomcat and the personality of a depraved 18th century French aristocrat, Tendeka, an activist walking a narrow line as he tries to get funding for the kids he works with, and Lerato who works for a giant conglomerate, revels in her privilege but is also working to undermine the company. Because she is a thrill-seeker? It's hard for me to say.
I feel kind of odd saying I enjoyed such a dark book but I did. It reminded me a little of Cory Doctorow's For the Win which also looks at how corporations use poverty, class and racial discrimination to treat employees poorly. Although in Moxyland it's also the consumers who are treated poorly, not just the employees. There is very much a one percent trampling and feeding off the 99 percent feel.
You can read an excerpt here: http://angryrobotbooks.com/samples/Moxyland.pdf It looks as though it is about to come out for the Kindle.
If you choose to purchase the novel using this Amazon affiliate link I will receive a finder's fee, which helps keep this site running. My thanks if you do.
The House Next Door
Stephen King spends a fair amount of time discussing Anne River Siddon's scary novel the House Next Door in his nonfiction book Danse Macabre. He gives plenty of spoilers but still made it sound intriguing enough for me to request it via inter-library loan. (It's an older book so a bit hard to find.) It's a little dry but the end gave me the super creeps. It's a haunted house story about a privileged couple who are dismayed when the vacant lot next to their house is purchased and slated for development. But when they see the plans for the new building they think maybe it won't be so bad. But it will. It will be quite a lot worse than they imagined. There are no howling ghosties stretching out long, ectoplasmic limbs, snatching up the neighbors as they go by; no poltergeist smashing all the dishes and throwing people off of roofs. This haunting is more sedate but nonetheless chilling. The House Next Door is well worth spending the time to ferret it out.
If you choose to purchase the novel using this Amazon affiliate link I will receive a finder's fee, which helps keep this site running. My thanks if you do.
This week's bonus treat is fairly melancholy. Losing Prince was quite a blow. Here he is singing the first song I remember of his.
I'm completely baffled and more than a little dismayed by the sudden surge of pop culture products featuring people being held captive in tiny spaces, usually underground. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Room, and a godawful novel called the Light of the Fireflies or some such are all about people who were kidnapped, are being held against their wills, and are/were being systematically lied to.
Of course stories about kidnappings and liars are a dime a dozen (especially on Amazon where you can buy a book for a penny) but these seem more hurtful to me, perhaps because the people who are treated like this in real life never get to put it behind them. Say the name Jaycee Dugard and one doesn't think about her current life as a writer and creator of a support foundation for those damaged by trauma. The first thought is of her terrible ordeal. Years ago I knew a fella who worked with Patty Hearst on a film. She was chatting with him at craft services as they both got breakfast, but all he could think about was her kidnapping and brainwashing. And this was literally decades after she had been freed! So I find it offensive on some level when we're told that these types of crimes are funny, as in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, or a couple of hours of diversion as in the film Room, or whatever the hell the fireflies thing was supposed to be. (Yes I hated that book as I haven't hated anything in quite awhile. I don't usually talk about entertainment that I hate in this column as there is so much that I enjoy to talk about, but I have been a little obsessed with loathing it since I finished the thing a few days ago.) Anyway, despite my concerns this type of story seems to be pretty embedded in today's zeitgeist.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
I watched Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as I was preparing to vote in the SAG awards and despite my misgivings there is a lot to like. Ellie Kemper (The Office, Bridesmaids) plays the title character, who goes around with a bit of a daft, disbelieving expression throughout season one (season two debuts today!). Her character was kidnapped as a middle schooler by a dude pretending to run a doomsday cult, and hasn't yet matured beyond that middle schooler sensibility. So what does an “Indiana Mole Woman” do when she's rescued? Takes off for New York City of course, where she will be able to fit in with the eclectic populace.
She gains a roommate, Titus Andromedon, an aspiring actor/singer played by Tituss Burgess (30 Rock), a loopy landlady played by Carol Kane, who I know best from her iconic role in Princess Bride, and an even loopier employer played by Jane Krakowski (30 Rock). Chaos ensues, as they say.
My favorite part of season one is Jon Hamm (Mad Men, Minions) as the kidnapper/leader of the cult, Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. He is disgustingly good as a snake oil salesman type, defending himself at his trial and weaving a sparkling web of lies. If you haven't seen it yet, here is Titus Andromedon singing his breakout hit Peeno Noir, an ode to black penis.
If you choose to purchase Netflix using this Amazon affiliate link I will receive a finder's fee, which helps keep this site running. My thanks if you do. Netflix
Room is a film that I would never have seen if it weren't for the SAG awards. It's also about a young lady who is kidnapped by a horrible person, who rapes her and holds her captive in a shed in his backyard. Ma (Brie Larson) gives birth to a little boy called Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who is celebrating his fifth birthday as the film begins. He has no idea there is more to the world than “room” (he names all of the inanimate objects, with very practical names) and believes that what he sees on television is not part of his world. They are existing as well as they can but when their abductor Old Nick (who should be called Old Scratch) becomes unemployed Ma realizes they are in more danger than ever. She comes up with a terrifying scheme that she hopes will result in their rescue.
The film is essentially split into two parts; in room and out of room. The first half deals with the problems of being incarcerated while the second deals with post traumatic syndrome, the invasion of the media, family problems and everything else that comes with a widely publicized terrible event. Both Ms. Larson and Mr. Tremblay are phenomenal in this film, giving nuanced performances that are heartbreaking and poignant.
A bit of a spoiler: at one point Ma submits to a television interview and the reporter asks her if she doesn't think she was being a bad mother by keeping Jack in the shed with her. Isn't she selfish by not sending him out into the world without her? While Ma is devastated by this question I just wanted to holler at the reporter. Old Nick is a kidnapper and a rapist. Why would anyone trust him to drop a baby or a tiny child off in a safe space? Killing and ditching the child would by far be the easiest thing to do. She did the right thing by keeping her little boy where she could watch over him.
If you choose to purchase Room using this Amazon affiliate link I will receive a finder's fee, which helps keep this site running. My thanks if you do.
Room [Blu-ray + Digital HD]
The Horrible Fireflies Novel
And now we come to the book I hated so very much. Called the Light of the Fireflies and written by Paul Pen it's a story about horrible people doing horrible things. The narrator is a preadolescent boy who lives in a basement with his mother, father, developmentally disabled brother, grandmother and a brand new baby. His sister is the mother of the baby which immediately raises the question who is the father? With only the family ever seeing each other there is no answer to that question that isn't disturbing and criminal.
The narrator seems to be a decent child who is facing his first real ethical dilemmas. I liked him and I think he does very well through most of the book, especially given the handicaps he struggles under; ie role models who are abusive and frightening.
Everyone older than he is has been burned badly, with his sister so disfigured she has to wear a mask. At the beginning of the novel I kept wondering how this worked. They seemed to be hiding from some sort of post apocalyptic event, or perhaps a genocidal war, or something similarly calamitous. Assuming they were burned in the last minutes before they went underground, how did they all survive? The types of burns they have are difficult enough to treat under the best of circumstances. Unfortunately that wasn't the only thing that didn't add up for me.
The entire second half of the book is ridiculous, with people behaving just about as badly as you can behave. Suddenly the sister goes from someone we care about and want to protect to a supposed monster that the entire family reviles. But the motivations didn't work for me. Yeah the sister makes a few mistakes, some of them rather large, but her subsequent punishment is so far out of proportion to her “crimes” that I kind of gave up on the book.
Which is not to say I didn't finish reading it. I did and the ending was the worst part. As an Amazon reviewer notes, the boys in this family are catered to in every way while girls are considered disposable and neglected to the point of no return. The novel was one of the March Kindle options that are free to Amazon Prime members. I have read three of them so far and didn't even bother getting one for April. I couldn't even finish January's choice. February was okay but nothing to write home about and March was the fireflies book.
While I am ending on a downer note next week will be more positive as I am tearing through a stack of library books at a frantic pace and already have a couple of fun ones to discuss with you. Until then!
If you choose to purchase the Light of the Fireflies using this Amazon affiliate link I will receive a finder's fee, which helps keep this site running. My thanks if you do.
The Light of the Fireflies
This week's bonus treat is an interesting idea. Called Radiooooo, it's a site that allows you to listen to different types of music from all over the world, through the ages. Pick a country and pick a decade and you are good to go. http://radiooooo.com/
I'm reading a bunch of kind of depressing books, trying to power through them and get them out of the way. If I read a chapter a day I'll get through them eventually, right? I hope. (History of Rome in 35 books anyone? I don't think I've ready anything so violent and rapey since I last read the bible. Also a Journal of the Plague Year about the black death in London in 1665 and yet another book about the French Revolution. All clear indications I've lost my mind.) Anyway, when Net Galley offered me an ARC (free advance review copy) of a romance novel called Reserved, by Tracy Ewens, I jumped at the chance. I definitely needed a nice palate cleanser. Reserved is a very sweet, charming romance set in a restaurant backdrop.
Makenna is a single mother who works for two family businesses; a farm and the restaurant, called the Yard. (It used to be a lumberyard.) She does the “noncreative” things like the paperwork and the scheduling while her brother and his friend Travis come up with interesting new food combinations. They have all been working together for a few years and all is going smoothly, until Kenna has a dream that places Travis smack into her kitchen, wearing pajama bottoms and nothing else.
Now she can't look him in the face, and is spending way too much looking at his various luscious body parts. He notices the new awkwardness and asks about it. When he discovers the reason, his longtime low grade crush on Kenna kicks up into a higher gear. Naturally this leads to complications and conflict.
Both Travis and Kenna are damaged; but in very different ways. Kenna is still scarred by her husband's sudden death and is afraid to do anything that will upset the balance of her new, carefully formulated life while Travis comes from a family of awful people, who wrote him off when an injury prevented him from devoting his life to sports. They don't see his delicious, delicious cooking as anything other than running away from his family and his destiny.
I liked how sweet this story is and the tender relationships between Kenna's daughter Paige and the other characters. She lost her father when she was only five weeks old, (she is now almost six) but she has a very loving relationship with her grandpa and her two uncles. Her friendship with “My Travis” as she calls him is also warming up, with her relying on him as a father figure more and more. (She enlists him in her culinary war with a fellow student, a girl called Sierra who she classifies as a “predator.”)
There were only a couple of little things that interfered with my enjoyment of Reserved. I was a little weirded by some of the insistence on “manliness.” One character puts the kibosh on a potential date because his favorite movie is Princess Bride, which isn't manly enough. Come on, it has swordfighting, pirates, revenge; what could be more manly than that? Not to mention that Jon Huertas, who plays Esposito on Castle, is a big Princess Bride fan. You really can't get any manlier than Jon Huertas. The other thing that bugged me, albeit only a little bit? Call me morbid but I wanted to know how Kenna's husband died. He was fine when the baby was born and then dead five weeks later. An accident? Some godawful fast moving illness? I'll never know.
But those were minor quibbles; easily overlooked in the sheer fun of this story. I was pretty psyched to see that Sage, Kenna's dear friend, is going to be the star of her own book, called Stirred, in the near future. I'm definitely going to look for the rest of the books in this series, especially while I an bogged down in heavy historical tomes.
You can find an excerpt here, if you scroll down a bit. http://tracyewens.com/book/reserved-a-love-story/
This week's bonus treat is something to play with while you are out enjoying the sunshine (assuming you have that where you live) and the breezes. It's a pdf for a paper airplane called the Dragonfly and it's pretty sweet. Enjoy! http://funpaperairplanes.com/pdf/Dragonfly_sample.pdf There are some very specific printing instructions at the bottom of this page, along with several other design styles. http://funpaperairplanes.com/
At some point Vicki Peterson's new book Swerve must have caught my attention because I requested it from my library. But I don't remember how or why. I just know it sat on my hold list for weeks. When I got it I still didn't remember why I ordered it. But I dove into it and found that it is an exciting, slightly gruesome, thriller.
Kristine Rush is a physician's assistant who has sworn to do no harm. She is hiding from a dark past and is determined to stay in the light for the rest of her life. But when she stops at a disgusting, deserted rest stop while driving through the Mojave Desert she encounters the personification of darkness. (Not literally.)
As she is changing out of her scrubs and into a fancy cashmere/shorts outfit someone enters the restroom and assaults her. When she comes to, her fiance is missing and so is his phone. Then she gets a call from her own phone, which starts a macabre treasure hunt through the desert and into her past.
She essentially has 24 hours to do a lot of bizarre, despicable, or confusing deeds at various specific locations. Each time she goes to her next destination she is given another one. One thing that really works in this book is the intense pressure she is under. She never has time to stop, think, or really plan. Unfortunately the reader has plenty of time and will likely find some parts of the novel very hard to believe.
When I finished the book I handed it to my middle son, who read 100 pages or so and gave it back. He said he couldn't believe much of what was happening, or the theoretical motivation behind the characters' behavior. As Stephen King says in Danse Macabre, the disbelief we have to suspend to really get into a story is not an easy thing to lift. It's more of a lead balloon than a helium balloon. (That is a very loose paraphrase.) With my son being unable to do the heavy lifting, the book was more of a chore and an annoyance than anything else. So take that into consideration when you decide if you want to read Swerve or not.
I definitely agreed with him on some points. Kristine is on a trip to a fancy party at her very upscale future mother-in-law's house when she stops to change her clothes. She is putting on a very nice, if casual, outfit. Would she really do that in a filthy public restroom that reeks of “human waste”? I can't imagine that she would. If she absolutely had to change at that very moment, I would think she would feel more comfortable doing it behind the building. And that is just the first of a series of actions that seem untrue to the character.
That being said, Swerve is a fast-paced story with a lot, and I mean a lot, going on. As with most thrillers it's fairly easy to figure out who the bad guy is. It's not a mystery where you put on your deducting hat; it's a thrill ride where you hang onto your hat and hope you're still in one piece when it's over.
You can read an excerpt here, but it is a Google Books excerpt, which means random pages can't be accessed. It makes for some disjointed reading, but should still give you a feel for the novel. http://books.simonandschuster.com/Swerve/Vicki-Pettersson/9781476798578/...
This week's bonus treat is a little more hands on than the usual fare. As you probably already know, around a third of the food we eat is made possible by little critters called pollinators. The most popular/known of these is the bee. Unfortunately as humanity takes over more and more land the pollinators have to travel further to find food, which in turn creates food for us.
To help combat this citizens can grow their own spaces for pollinators. They don't have to be large and a new website in support of tiny spaces has launched. It goes through the steps necessary to build a window box to attract and nourish pollinators. You can find out more here: http://www.pollinator.org/windowbox
Continuing last week's theme of getting outside, we're going to look at some possible things to do at our National Parks. We'll start with Easter related activities and then move on. Of course the grand slam of Easter activities on public land, namely the White House Easter Egg Roll, is booked up, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty to do.
Nothing says Easter quite like Death Valley, am I right? The Furnace Creek Resort is offering several Easter options, including golf for those too dedicatedly adult to want to look for eggs. There is egg decorating Saturday at three and an egg hunt Sunday at 10:30 AM at the Oasis Gardens. Golf commences at 1. http://www.furnacecreekresort.com/Easter_at_Furnace_Creek
If fish sounds good and you are in the Ohio area why not head over to camp Manatoc for a fish fry? Event will be held between 5 and 7 today, Good Friday. Ten dollars for adults and six dollars for children aged five to twelve. http://www.nps.gov/findapark/event-listing.htm?eventID=2622
The Spicy Lamb farm in Ohio is hosting an egg hunt and brunch on Saturday. From what I can tell the eggs will be out in the fields with the sheep. Presumably no rams? https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/event-listing.htm?eventID=31755
Sunday the Kiwanis are hosting an Easter sunrise service. This tradition has been taking place at Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego. While you are there you can also visit the wildflower exhibit and look at sixteenth century arms and armor in the visitor's center. http://www.nps.gov/findapark/event-listing.htm?eventID=31676
There will be an Easter Morning Tower Tour at Fire Island National Seashore Fire Island Lighthouse in New York on Sunday. The idea is to climb to the top of the lighthouse and watch the sun come up. Bring a flashlight and wear comfortable shoes. A light breakfast will be served. (I think they are trying for a joke, with the light breakfast at the lighthouse.) https://www.nps.gov/event/event-details.htm?eventID=5041225
Moving on to non Easter related activities, the Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico is home to more than 20,000 petroglyphs. This rock art comes in a dizzying array of styles and sizes. You can see some nice images at the Petroglyph National Monument Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/Petroglyph-National-Monument-147007951983967/ In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service photographer Mark Bohrer will be leading groups of ten to Piedras Marcadas Canyon to photograph petroglyphs. The website advises:
Soldiers, Dogs and Pigeons of War is a weekly lecture series running on Thursdays through the 31st. While the series is free, you do have to take the ferry to Ship Island, which does cost kind of a lot. Details can be found on the website http://www.msshipisland.com/. On the plus side you can see dolphins while you are on the ferry. The terrain of Cat Island, in Mississippi, was perfect for tactical training during World War II. http://www.nps.gov/findapark/event-listing.htm?eventID=32189
At the other end of the country, at Point Reyes Lighthouse in Marin County, California, you can watch gray whales as they migrate. This is such a popular event that a shuttle bus is available to ease parking congestion. In March the whales are migrating back to Alaska, after heading south to breed in Mexican waters. You may also be able to spot elephant seals, which come to the lighthouse to mate. http://www.nps.gov/findapark/event-listing.htm?eventID=9588
Saguaro National Park near Tuscon is hosting an event called Lizards are Hot, Lizards are cool. Unfortunately the National Park Service website crashed as I was finishing this article, so I can't provide anything beyond this link. Sorry. http://www.nps.gov/findapark/event-listing.htm?eventID=29979
This week's bonus treat is from Paper Thin Personas, a lovely website devoted the creation of paper dolls and fashion. This particular grouping is set in the 1860s and comes in two styles; colored and color it yourself. I love the colors in the ready to go style. http://paperthinpersonas.com/2013/01/14/marisole-monday-in-the-mid-1860s... http://paperthinpersonas.com/2013/01/07/marisole-monday-in-the-mid-1860s...
I don't know about where you live, but where I am we had a very weird winter. A warm December and then a record snow fall at the end of January. Sixty and seventy degree temperatures this month and now I hear a snowstorm is heading our way in the next couple of days. Very confusing to the plants. (Although the squirrels seem to be reveling in the weather. I have never seen them so fat this time of year.) So if the snow holds off this is a great time to visit the outdoor activities that have been off limits in the colder climes.
The spring babies are arriving at the zoos and are ready for your perusal. The Indianapolis Zoo has the mammal voted “looks most like a dinosaur”; the reticulated giraffe. Born on January 9th, Mshangao (which is Swahili for “surprise” or “amazement”) is already chowing down on tree trimmings.
Meanwhile at the Denver Zoo a little lady named Whimsie Adepa (Adepa means good thing in Akan) was born February 25th. She is a western lowland gorilla, a critically endangered species. She can be seen hanging out with her family on this video.
The San Diego Zoo (my favorite zoo when I was a kid) is celebrating its centennial this year. You can watch its new Sumatran tiger called Suka on their tiger cam. http://sdzsafaripark.org/tiger-cam Or at least you can try to watch him. I didn't have much luck. Suka's mother didn't care for him when he was born so he was bottle fed, then had to be hospitalized with a severe UTI that damaged his kidneys. He's doing better now, as can be seen on this video.
Washington DC's National Zoo welcomed a baby swamp monkey the night of March ninth. Mom Layla, dad Nub Armstrong, and baby can be seen at the Zoo's Think Tank's mixed species exhibit. This little monkey has some amazing ears.
The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens are celebrating a plethora of babies, including some endangered giant river otters. Otters are some of the most fun animals around and are always a blast. (The Baltimore zoo recently welcomed a one year old otter who transferred from Louisiana!) Koalas and piranhas are some of the other interesting babies you can visit. While there don't forget to enter the name the baby joey contents. More details can be seen at this commercial for the zoo:
Moving away from babies, especially furry babies, we turn our attention to a ton of web cams featuring aquatic and other animals. The Monteray Bay Aquarium alone has about a quadrillion web cams, showing everything from the open ocean to sea nettles to an aviary cam. When I looked at the aviary cam it was mostly some birds standing around watching a bloke take their picture. http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals-and-experiences/live-web-cams...
The open sea exhibit was pretty impressive. I saw a hammerhead shark and a bait ball, but the bait ball concerned me. It's my understanding that fish only school like that when they are convinced they are about to be eaten. Shouldn’t every denizen of an exhibit feel safe and happy? http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals-and-experiences/live-web-cams...
The Seattle Aquarium has a giant Pacific octopus cam, but I mostly just saw the feet of visitors, and a few cameras. Try at noon and four pm when the octopus are fed. (Or if you have a foot fetish, you'll be in heaven, so long as you don't also have a cephlapodphobia.) These guys can grow up to 150 pounds (the size of some black bears!) with a twenty foot arm span. Pretty impressive. http://www.seattleaquarium.org/octopus-cam
The Aquarium of the Pacific has a great cam of the weedy, or common, seadragon, a fish related to the seahorse. Have high blood pressure? This cam should relax you. These guys are native to Australia’s coastal waters, so a bit of a hike for me. http://www.aquariumofpacific.org/exhibits/tropical_pacific_gallery/webca...
The Aquarium of the Pacific also has a great cam showcasing their tropical reef habitat, which is designed after the Blue Corner off the coast of Palua. This thing is bursting with life. While most of the fish I saw looked as though they were the same species, I also what looked like a pink striped fish, and two sharks with very long tails. http://www.aquariumofpacific.org/exhibits/tropical_pacific_gallery/webca...
For those who enjoy this sort of thing, here is an Aquarium of the Pacific web cam of the shark lagoon. Frankly being a shark in this tank looks horrifically dull. There are a couple of rays to liven things up but going around and around and around day in day out must be awful. http://www.aquariumofpacific.org/exhibits/shark_lagoon/webcam_shark_lago...
The final cam at the Aquarium of the Pacific that we will discuss features two types of fish; anthias and wrasses. These fish are special because when they need to they can change sex, with the lady fish becoming gentleman fish if something happens to the male of the flock. (Or is it herd?) (I know they are really called schools.) I also saw what looked to be a brain coral, and a yellow fish that looked as though it has buckteeth? Is that a thing? http://www.aquariumofpacific.org/exhibits/tropical_pacific_gallery/webca...
Blacktip Reef at the Baltimore National Aquarium looks much more interesting to the inhabitants and the viewers. Featuring sharks called wobbegongs, aka carpet sharks, blacktip reef sharks, honeycomb stingrays, a green sea turtle, spotted unicornfish, a reticulated whiptail ray, harlequin tuskfish and many more, this webcam is fascinating. A trip to the aquarium itself is also a fascinating, albeit expensive, experience.
This week's bonus treat falls in the better safe than sorry category for those who are planning to travel, especially for spring break. Yes, it's kind of depressing. But better to take precautions than get sick, especially given the devastating effects that Zika virus can bring. The CDC has a special travel page set up where you can answer a couple of questions and get specific information regarding your destination. For instance I pretended I was going to the Bahamas as an immunocompromsed, chronically ill person and was informed I should think about getting a typhoid inoculation! That was a bit of a surprise. Also I should not get a yellow fever vaccine and I should NOT wrestle any bats. You can get information for yourself here: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/
Every single time I go see my family doctor she has a time out to discuss a vegan/plant-based diet. She's kind of obsessed. And every time I'm all like but what about cheese? And every time she's all like but what about your health? And I'm like but what about cheeeeeeeese????
On the one hand I feel like becoming a vegan shouldn't be that difficult. After all there are plenty of cultures that don't eat dairy at all and only eat meat rarely. There should be loads of recipes out there for delicious, delicious plant based meals. Unfortunately when I start looking I always end up finding all these recipes that call for seitan (made from wheat), tempeh, tofu or other types of soybean-based ingredients. I personally cannot tolerate any type of fermented food and I'm not supposed to eat soy because of my ridiculous propensity to develop blood clots. I don't want meat substitutes. I just want delicious plant-based food.
Anyway what all this is leading up to is that I'm always excited to find a recipe book that includes plant-based meals that eschew processed meat alternatives. So when I was offered the opportunity to get an e-ARC from Net Galley for a vegan cookbook called Dining With the Ravens I was quite excited. But when I started looking through it my spirits sank. The recipes looked so complicated. And they call for equipment that I just don't have. On the other hand they look amazing. What a quandary.
Dining at the Ravens features 150 vegan recipes from the Stanford Inn, a world-class resort in California. One of the only, or perhaps even the only, vegan resorts around, the Inn features a restaurant called the Ravens. The menus change constantly to reflect the produce available in the resort's substantial, organic garden. Using sustainable methods, the Inn raises the majority of their food, sourcing the rest of it from ethical, organic, sustainable sources.
So what does that all mean? It means that the food is made from the freshest of ingredients. Which also means that it's about as tasty as food can be. Eating at the Ravens is a somewhat expensive experience, with reviewers stating that meals run in the $30 to $60 range. But for you to recreate them on your own will be significantly less expensive, presuming that you have the proper kitchen implements. The authors strongly suggest you have a Vitamix or a Blendtec so you can prepare things like cashew crème, which is an ingredient in quite a few of the recipes. (There is a “Tips for Cooking Success” section of the cookbook that discusses this.)
Like most cookbooks the book is divided up into types of meals. Desserts, breakfasts (called morning foods), breads and baked goods, sauces, dips and spreads, appetizers and sides, salads and dressings, soups, entrees etc. But there are also some foods sort of hidden away where you wouldn't expect to find them, for instance the Mexican rice and refried pinto beans, two staples for some of my favorite meals. These are not found under side dishes or entrees; instead they are listed under pantry basics.
You can find a couple of sample recipes at the Green Vegan Living site; one for Potato Leek Soup with Drunken Leeks and one for Sour Creme, which I imagine would come in handy for many a dish not in this book, especially if you are an omnivore trying to cut back on cholesterol, etc. http://www.greenveganliving.com/2016/02/dining-at-ravens-cookbook-review...
The text is a bit repetitious but maybe they didn't expect anyone to read every word of the text? There's quite a bit about the philosophy behind the resort, the reasons the owners became vegan, thoughts behind the importance of sustainability in organic farming. This is where the repetition comes in. But you can always skip the parts that you already know.
If you are even thinking about trying vegan cuisine, give this book a shot. If nothing else it will expand your notion of what is available. And the pictures are pretty. Be sure to give the crabless crab cakes a try, especially if you, like me, are allergic to shellfish.
One last thought regarding the Inn; the owners carry their animal friendly philosophy throughout the resort, which means you can find plenty of animals on site, including donkeys and llamas. But that's not all; they also welcome your pets with open arms. In fact you can ask to have your meals served in the lobby so your furry, feathered or scaly friends can sit with you while you eat. More info about the pet policies can be found here: http://www.stanfordinn.com/mendocino-bed-breakfast-hotel-lodging-rooms/p...
This week's bonus treat is only good for this week. Longtime readers of this column know that I am a big fan of writer Joe Hill. The title story of his collection 20th Century Ghosts is available for free this week. In addition it comes with an excerpt from his brand new book which will be out in May called The Fireman. You can find it here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001QIGZQS/
Many of the things my shop, Alley 53, has for sale come from estate sales, which generally means they are old and some of them are a little unusual. For instance I have weird little girl with one arm, playing the violin. She is made out of shells and came with a silver vanity tray and some other odds and ends. I have a copy of a book which has an inscription from one sister to another, along with a rose that was apparently pressed in 1968. I had no idea dried flowers lasted so long. This week I was going through a bunch of books from the sixties through the eighties which included an obsolete encyclopedia, out of date cookbooks, elementary schoolbooks written by nuns, mysteries and, best of all, Gothic novels. I still have a soft spot for these often ridiculous stories. I set aside a book called Wild Cat by Laura Black thinking it would be good for a laugh.
It's not your usual Gothic and the cover doesn't feature a woman in front of a brooding manor wearing a diaphanous nightgown, but it does have a very common trope found in romance; that of a woman disguised as a boy. Cat is the pampered daughter of a spendthrift inventor father and an ailing bubbled headed mother. When she is still a child her father spends all of their money and they have to move into a series of more and more rundown homes. As their circumstances worsen Cat becomes angry, jealous and bitter. She takes to hiding from her former friends, too proud to let them see her in shabby clothing, doing the shopping when she used to have tons of gorgeous clothes and useful servants.
So when she is a teen and meets a dashing, handsome, charming and rich, rich, rich, neighbor, she is delighted when he pays court to her. Too late she discovers that he is a sadist who has complete legal control over her. She flees from him, wearing his wedding clothes, but has nowhere to go. While trying to survive and come up with a plan she becomes a witness to a murder and now has another kind of monster after her. The leader of a gang of thieves and killers knows he will hang if she can tell anyone what she knows.
I thought this book was going to be pretty silly and dull but to my surprise it was suspenseful and I read it all in one sitting. Ms. Black pulls the reader into Cat's world and her descriptions of Cat's dangers and actions are compelling. Much of the book consists of play by play descriptions of Cat's desperate escape ploys and it was easy to visualize the sequences.
As I was looking for an excerpt online, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Laura Black is a pseudonym for a gentleman called Roger Erskine Longrigg, who also wrote under the name Ivor Drummond. I absolutely loved his novels about three friends, Lady Jennifer, Sandro and Colly, who solve mysteries. (I know it sounds kind of Nancy Drewish, but no, they are all grown up.) I particularly remember that Colly had the ability to throw up on command, which got him out of hot water at least once. No wonder I enjoyed Wild Cat so much; I already had an affinity for the writer's work. Anyway, I am planning to try and find some more books by Mr. Longrigg, under his various names. Apparently he wrote 55 in total! I love it when I stumble upon authors with a gigantic back list. I won't run out of books for quite some time.
Meanwhile I am still rereading Stephen King's novels, in order of publication, which means I am on Cujo. This is one of two books that I never reread. (I am a big rereader and have read some books so many times I practically have them memorized.) Cujo and Needful Things are both so sad that I haven't had the heart to look at them more than once. I read Cujo when it first came out and it crushed me. I don't know if I was so aware at the time, but this time around I feel absolutely awful for the poor dog, as he wants desperately to be a good boy. His illness is not his fault and his descent into madness, misery and carnage is horribly upsetting.
In other news, I just got my hands on a cookbook that came out last month called Dining at the Ravens. It consists of super fancy vegan recipes and I hope to try some of them this upcoming week so I can talk about them next week.
This week's bonus treat is a fairly new story from tor.com. Called recalled to service and written by Alter S. Reiss, it's a deeply detailed story that takes place in a post revolutionary community. It's a little dry, a little hard to get into, but stick with it and you'll find yourself immersed in a details, nuanced science fiction / fantasy story that you will want to tell your friends about. Oh and it has necromancy! Terrorism! War heroes! And a deep, abiding love.