Seance on a Wet Afternoon
This great, under-rated 1964 movie stars Kim Stanley as an unbalanced woman who holds seances in her home and concocts a plot to gain celebrity with her so-called "powers". With the help of her husband, she plans to kidnap the daughter of a wealthy couple, then use her "powers" to reveal the girl's whereabouts.
What's most interesting about the plot is that very little attention is paid to the kidnapped girl and her fate. Rather, it's the twisted, deluded couple (Richard Attenborough plays the role of Stanley's beaten down husband with understated beauty) that is at the center of the film. Stanley is oblivious to the fact that her "idea" is a train wreck and has no hope of working but her husband, being emotionally dependent on her, doesn't have the courage to dissent (even though it is obvious he knows the eventual outcome.)
Stanley really steals the show here but there are so many other elements that make this movie so great. The gliding camera-work is simply amazing, the music choices fit the action perfectly, and the the film features the most believable money hand-off sequence I've ever seen, done without any dialogue.
April 2006 Archives
Seance on a Wet Afternoon
The Constant Gardener
The waiting list for this one is long, but definitely worth it. This is a wonderful thriller set in Africa, where a diplomat is trying to get behind the culprits who murdered his wife, much to the chagrin of his employers at the British High Commission. Intrigue abounds, and you're kept in suspense throughout the movie. The acting is low key, but effective. The cinematography is quite beautiful - the African landscape as well as Ralph Fiennes (sigh).
Born into Brothels
I was really moved by this DVD that I saw quite a while ago but think about every so often. It's a documentary about a photographer that went to an area of Calcutta to film a documentary about women's lives in these brothels. She ends up teaching the children who live there to take photographs and it totally changes their lives. Instead of being stuck in this lifestyle they are able to go to school and have decent lives. It was very inspiring and creatively filmed. You really felt like you were there and got to know the kids because it follows their progress over time. I also like the music in it.
You've Stolen My Heart: Songs from R. D. Burman's Bollywood,
by Kronos Quartet
I know, the whole Bollywood thing is so over now, but I couldn't resist this one. I love the Kronos Quartet's take on pop music, so I was really looking forward to this disc. They have taken the music of Bollywood films, sung by Asha Bosle herself, and put their own spin on it. For those who need an introduction, Asha Bosle is the actual female singer in most Bollywood musicals. She was also immortalized in song by the Anglo-Indian band Cornershop with the song "Brimful of Asha (on the 45.)" Though known as a classical group, this disc isn't what most people would think of as classical music. It's got more of a dance beat to it. I found it thoroughly enjoyable.
Seven Steps to Mercy, by Iarla O'Lionaird
In Seven Steps to Mercy, Irish singer Iarla O'Lionaird's haunting voice and traditional sean-nos singing style are set off by atmospheric (but not obtrusive) background samples or instrumentals. The music is straightforward, heartfelt and beautiful. Just try listening to the song "Lament at Calvary", and you'll be hooked. O'Lionaird also has become noted for his collaboration in the "Afro-Celt Sound System", blending African and Celtic music to great effect, but this remains his most spectacular album.
The Disposable American: Layoffs and their Consequences,
by Louis Uchitelle
The heart wrenching title captures the thread of the compelling human stories within the covers of this book. One can't even begin to calculate the costs of the throwaway society in which we live. The subject matter is so harrowing to those of us young enough to be a part of the global economy and old enough to remember a seemingly more stable era, that this should be a difficult read. Fortunately, Uchitelle is an excellent writer and his prose will give you hope.
Talk to the Hand,
by Lynn Truss
If you want to read or to hear some British English in action, read or listen to Talk to the Hand by Lynn Truss of Eats, Shoots and Leaves fame. As she tells you up front, there is absolutely no need for a book on manners, so she hasn't written one. She also adds that there may not be a need for a book on a world awash in rudeness, but she has written one. You will laugh out loud at her witty rants. So, once again Enjoy!
Divided by a Common Language: A Guide to British and American English,
by Christopher Davies
This is a must read for anyone who travels to the UK or watches way too much BBC. This book delves into the divergent paths that English has taken to describe such everyday things as electrical outlets and water closets. It gets one out of a mental rut to suddenly realize that there are millions of people who think it reasonable to call a "windshield" and "windscreen." And why couldn't we all use the same name for "mimosas"? We all know that sneakers are trainers, but who knew that snaps were "press-studs"? So enjoy! (Which by the way is a curious American English expression that waiters say after giving you your meal.)
Building Greenwich: architecture and design, 1640 to the present,
by Rachel Carley
Holy Granite on High Ground, by Ralph E. Ahlberg
Greenwich Library has added two new books to its collection, each offering a unique view of Greenwich history from a new perspective:
Building Greenwich: Architecture and Design, 1640 to Present (Konecky; 2005) by Rachel Carley, and commissioned by The Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich, provides an analysis of architectural styles which changed as Greenwich changed. Significant historical events become important footnotes as prominent structures are described in great detail. Ms. Carley shows how Greenwich Avenue changed over time, and she takes great care to describe the modern architecture predominant in back country. Color photographs, postcards, sketches and artwork complement the informative text. This book helps to bring the local history of Greenwich up-to-date.
Holy Granite on High Ground (Greenwich Publishing; 2005) by Ralph E. Ahlberg was commissioned by the Second Congregational Church to commemorate its 300th anniversary. It documents how the church (and town) changed from its founding until today. Reverend Ahleberg describes key figures associated with the church, and provides a useful timeline. The book is beautifully illustrated with colorful photographs, sketches and artwork. It is not at all "preachy", but tells the story of the church and town in a surprisingly objective manner. This is another great resource for local history research.
Number Our Days,
by Barbara Meyerhoff
Anthropologists generally produce their insights by studying distant and exotic cultures. In Number Our Days, anthropologist Barbara Meyerhoff tells of her work studying a group closer, yet still distinct. She did this fieldwork during the 1970s in a Jewish senior community center in Southern California. Its members are "twice survivors", having first survived pogroms and the Holocaust by emigrating, and then survived most of their generation by outliving them. Meyerhoff discovers great vitality, variety, warmth, and courage. Her anthropological insights - and there are many - are overshadowed by the intense humanity of her experience. This is a heartwarming story. The title comes from the prayer, "Teach us to number our days, that we may get us a heart of wisdom."
Texas Hold 'Em,
by Kinky Friedman
Want to read a great book that will expand your mind with quirky information and useless trivia? Texas Hold 'Em, by Kinky Friedman does just that! This hilarious peek into the life of camp counselor, former country music star, and Texas Monthly columnist is quite a switch from your average read. Nicknamed the "High Priest of the Prairie", Kinky dispenses words of wisdom about the great State of Texas, Willie Nelson, and how a happy childhood is the worst possible preparation for real life. Kinky is actually able to rationalize how Texas Hold 'Em, like life, is more than just a card game; it's how to play a poor hand well. With chapters entitled "Tex my Ride", "You Know You're From Texas If...", or "If the 10 Commandments were written by a Texan" poke fun at the residents of the Lone Star State, and explain why Willy Nelson calls Kinky Friedman the "Mother Teresa of Literature". The personal stories that Kinky relates from his journey through life are riveting, with just the right dose of humor. Just when you think Kinky has done it all, he now has thrown his hat into the ring and is running for Governor of Texas. In a chapter called "See Kinky Run", you read about Kinky's campaign slogan (Why the Hell not!), and his fight to stop the "wussification" of Texas. Kinky sees himself as a phoenix that will rise and shine, and bring back the glory of Texas! An interesting book about a quirky individual!
by Robert Alexander
Most people who know me know that I am utterly obsessed with all things Russian. So, it should come as no surprise that I would recommend this book. This is not just a lame novel that poorly incorporates the Russian Revolution into some hackneyed story. This is a fictionalized account of Rasputin's last months from the point of view of his oldest daughter, Varvara. Mr. Alexander has done his research well and incorporates parts of Varvara's biography of her father, as well as her autobiography (Yes, she was a real person!) If you liked Mr. Alexander's previous work, The Kitchen Boy, about the execution of the Romanovs and a fictional escape by the Tsarevich Alexei, you will love this one. My one gripe - that the picture on the cover is of Grand Duchess Tatiana - but that's pretty minor.
What Remains: A Memoir of Fate, Friendship, and Love,
by Carole Radziwill
While some might consider this book overly melodramatic, this reviewer found it a touching and intimate recounting of the author's marriage to Anthony Radziwill. Growing up in Suffern, New York, Radziwill breaks into the news reporting business and eventually becomes associated with Emmy award-winning pieces. While working in broadcasting, she meets and marries Anthony Radziwill, nephew of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and cousin of John F. Kennedy, Jr. Unfortunately, after their marriage, he suffers a recurrence of cancer, which results in their life becoming consumed by the disease. Much of the book details his emotional and medical efforts to fight his cancer. Radziwill has a clear, concise "reporting" style of writing that makes this a sad, but compelling, reading experience.
The Helix and the Sword, by John C. McLoughlin
A fascinating and quite believable story of a far-future civilization. Earth is long abandoned to radioactivity, but the solar system is home to numerous groups, many living in bio-engineered, living space stations - in fact, a main character in the book is the space habitat Catuvel. Despite the scientific speculation, the novel is literate and graceful (how could you say otherwise when the characters celebrate the story's conclusion by listening to Beethoven's Sixth Symphony?). McLoughlin is noted for interesting books about the past history of life, and here shows that he can extrapolate to life's future, and produce a good novel, at the same time.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,
by Lisa See
A novel depicting 19th century China and the lives of Lily and Snow Flower--two young girls selected to be lao tangs (old sames), a contracted lifetime friendship. The novel reminded me of The Red Tent in the sense that you are invited into a faraway time and place to experience the culture of women in a man's world.In Snow Flower, the "tent" is the upstairs women's chamber where foot binding, embroidery, secret writing, arranged marriages and historical customs of the time bring the women together and provide the historical backdrop for the powerful stories of mothers and daughters, family and women friendships.
Already Dead: A Joe Pitt Casebook, by Charlie Huston
You can really sink your teeth into this mystery. Rogue Private Investigator Joe Pitt has a vampyre problem--and Manhattan has so many vampyres they are divided into warring clans around the city. His case is to find a missing rich teen who may have runaway to this gothic underground and gotten in over her head. While on the trail for the girl, Pitt also encounters zombies that seem to be spreading in numbers around the city. Great depiction of a NYC vampyre world whose power goes beyond the Night. Oh yeah, and Pitt is a vampyre too.
The Last Kingdom,
by Bernard Cornwell
The much-admired historical novelist Bernard Cornwell's saga The Last Kingdom goes back in time and place to Anglo Saxon Britain. As a page turner it's just right. The year is A.D. 866 Northumbria. Uhtred, just a boy, is captured by Danish chieftain Earl Ragnar, who raises him as his own. Viking life agrees with Uhtred. As he grows into manhood he struggles with divided loyalties-the warrior mentor he loves like a father, and the pious and learned Alfred, King of Wessex. Alfred is struggling to reclaim the kingdoms of Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia, all held by the Danes, and reunite them with the lands under his control in the south. In the end of course, we don't call Alfred "great" for nothing. He charged back from the last outpost of Anglo-Saxon culture to best the ferocious Vikings -- both in battle and with keen diplomacy. He accomplishes all this with Uhtred, returned to the fold, by his side. The Last Kingdom is steeped in drama, gory battles, and historical consequence and is a great visit to ninth century Brittain.
Eat The Document,
by Dana Spiotta
In the book, Eat The Document, Dana Spiotta has written a compelling tale about living with the consequences of past decisions, and the inexorable path of growing up and living with your mistakes. Bobby DeSoto and Mary Whittaker participate in a radical protest in 1970 which goes terribly wrong. They must disappear, never seeing each other and assume new identities. Fast forward to Seattle in the 1990's where the yuppie culture is abounding, and Mary, now known as Caroline, is raising her 15 year old son who has an uncanny obsession with the music and culture of the 1970's. Bobby runs a left-wing bookstore and is struggling with relationships and turning 50. Spiotta weaves the culture of the two decades together and makes one believe that things don't really change, they just change names.
The Camel Club,
by David Baldacci
David Baldacci is the master of the political thriller with such books as Absolute Power and Hour Game. This is a book that Oliver Stone could have written and ironically the main character's name is "Oliver Stone" although obviously a pen name, and here's a hint: he is other than he appears to be. He is one of a group of marginalized vagrants, called "The Camel Club", who live around and near the White House and either protest or promote various causes while discussing conspiracy theories. When some of them witness a murder they are unsure what to do with this information until a sympathetic Secret Service agent wins their trust and joins them in this nerve racking suspenseful adventure through Washington, D.C.
The Last Templar,
by Raymond Khoury
Raymond Khoury's The Last Templar grabs your imagination from the first pages where four horsemen dressed in the medieval costume of the Knights Templar ride their horses up the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and ransack the "Treasures of the Vatican" exhibit. They steal many of the artifacts including a crude de-coding device and disappear into Central Park. Tess Chaykin is an archaeologist attending the event who witnesses up close one of the horsemen who utters a Latin phrase. She joins forces with FBI investigator Sean Reilly to follow the clues linking the reign of the Templars with the present day robbery. This is a very satisfying read employing history, theology, conspiracy theory and church politics with something for everyone and a great plot.
A Meal to Die For, by Joseph R. Cannascoli and Allen C. Kupfer
A Meal to Die For is a culinary crime caper by Joseph R. Cannascoli (Current actor on the hit TV Show "The Sopranos") and Allen C. Kupfer. Follow the exploits of chef Benny Lacoco, aspiring chef, restaurateur, and food fence from Brooklyn as he cooks up the "last supper" for his fellow mob associates. Sumptuous recipes are provided throughout the book, and the chapters are presented like a 10 course meal. Entertaining fiction from the kitchen!
The Virgin's Lover,
by Philippa Gregory
The third in a trilogy about the Tudors (The Other Boleyn Girl and The Queen's Fool being the first two books), this book will delight and entertain as the others have. Set in the first part of Elizabeth I's reign, The Virgin's Lover concerns Elizabeth's moves to consolidate her power as Queen and head of the Church of England. Personally, she has embarked on an affair with Robet Dudley. This is a doomed relationship since Dudley is married and his wife Amy Robsart Dudley will not divorce her husband. As Amy wanders from being the guest as various homes in England, Robert carries out his affair with Elizabeth. The detail is wonderfully plentiful as the reader gets an intimate view of Elizabeth's court and its political and personal intrigues. Gregory is a fine writer and creates the Elizabethan Tudor world with vigor and a thoroughly enjoyable style. This is highly recommended with the added advice of reading this series in historical order - The Other Boleyn Girl and then The Queen's Fool before The Virgin's Lover
by Lisa Fugard
It is always a true pleasure for an avid reader to discover a first book that is terrifically written and thoroughly engrossing. Such is the case with Skinner's Drift by Lisa Fugard. It is the story of Eva van Rensberg's return to South Africa in 1997 after a ten year absence. With her mother deceased and an estrangement with her father, she must deal with reconciling herself to her dying father and her emotionally painful past growing up on a farm in northeastern South Africa. Fugard's writing creates the vividly interesting world of north-eastern South Africa by the Limpopo River filled with gorgeous landscapes, wild animals and exotic flora and fauna. Through her mother's diaries, Eva discovers much about her early years in South Africa and her family. Those years were also times of changing dynamics within South African society and the reader is given "an insider's" view of the last years of apartheid. This is a compelling family story with the bonus of learning a great deal about the land and society of South Africa in the last days of its divided society.
Prayers for the Dead, by Faye Kellerman
This reviewer has finally read a Faye Kellerman book and this title is a very pleasurable reading experience. First published in the late 1990's, Prayers for the Dead features the LAPD detective Peter Decker and his wife Rena Lazarus, who are a very interesting couple. Decker becomes involved with a gristly murder in a parking lot of a restaurant - the victim being a very prominent Los Angeles doctor. From there, Kellerman builds a twisting tale involving the victim's family - many of whom have good reason to wish the doctor dead. At the center are Decker and his wife, who, oddly enough, has a direct relationship with this family. For readers who enjoy a good murder mystery with many possible suspects, this is a lively story that keeps moving along. Rena herself is an interesting character - a devoutly Jewish woman who has direct experience with a son of the victim. And, her observations play a key role in the solving of this mystery. This highly recommended books will entice readers to read more of Faye Kellerman.