April 2008 Archives

The Hellbenders

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Click for availability and more information The Hellbenders

After years of floating around in lousy, pan and scanned public domain video copies, Anchor Bay Entertainment has finally released a pristine, letterboxed edition (in bright color!) of Sergio Corbucci's 1967 Italian/Spanish western, The Hellbenders. This unrelentingly grim, yet exciting and violent (keep the kiddies away from this one) action thriller takes place after the end of the Civil War and centers around former Confederate Army Colonel Jonas (Joseph Cotton) and his three sons as they roam the southwest transporting a stolen million dollars in a deluded effort to revive the Confederacy. But Things Go Wrong (encounters with Indians, double crossing allies, bandits, misguided acts of kindness, etc,), resulting in one of the most downbeat and cruel endings that invokes the memory of Kubrick's The Killing in spirit. The film is nevertheless exhilarating in its pacing and situations despite it's cynical tone so you won't be bored! With "spaghetti western" cast veterans Julian Matcos, Gino Pernice and Angel Aranda as Jonas' sons, plus Norma Bengall and from the 1966 Sergio Leone classic, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (also recommended), Al Mulock and Aldo Sambrell.
-Ed

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Click for availability and more information Captain Beefheart: Under Review (an independent critical analysis)

The music of Captain Beefheart (ne Don Van Vliet) is an acquired taste, albeit one well worth acquiring. Perhaps no one in popular music embodies the phrase "cult artist" better. Regrettably, he has not recorded an album since 1982's Ice Cream for Crow. Nowadays, Beefheart paints and sculpts and his works in these media have achieved considerable acclaim, although multiple sclerosis has seriously diminished his output of late. The rather imposing title of this DVD might lead you to believe you were taking home a relatively scholarly assessment of the Good Captain's oeuvre. At 115 minutes in length, it does go into quite a lot of detail about each of CB's albums, but it does so in the context of interviews with various members of various Magic Bands, which provide all kinds of interesting insights regarding Beefheart's musical modus operandi and personal idiosyncrasies. Only a modest amount of live footage of Beefheart performances is included, but if you care for his music, you'll find this DVD fascinating.
-David

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Ratatouille

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Click for availability and more information Ratatouille

Although it's an animated film, anyone who hasn't seen this masterful work should and if possible bring along the kids. The eighth of the Pixar films, it tells the story of a rat (Remy) who has an uncanny sense of smell and a distaste for his family's lifestyle of stealing human garbage. This inclination leads him to learn to cook from watching Chef Gusteau (perhaps a friendly French version of Dom Delouise) on the television set of the house that his rat colony inhabits, a chef whose motto is "anyone can cook." When the colony is discovered and subsequently uprooted Remy is left behind and after floating down a river into the sewers, finds himself alone in Paris, led by chance to Gusteau's restaurant. He there meets Linguini, a hapless garbage boy working in the famous restaurant, and the two forge a bond and friendship that propels them into the fast-paced, high-pressure, often terrible world of haute cuisine. The movie is touching, amusing, insightful, and beautiful in a way that I've seldom seen in the world of animation. Where many animated films these days are geared towards young children and remain mired in the realm of trite unrealism, Ratatouille tells a great story with a good moral, is peopled by fairly realistic characters and carries a humor throughout it that is truly touching and lingers well after the film's end. It also delves into the relationship between the rat and his human friend, between son and father, and between the chef and the critic, and as Remy finds himself more and more attracted to the human world he finds that he must balance this attraction with his family's fear and loathing of the race that generally (especially in dining circles) despises and exterminates rodents. For anyone who has ever worked in the restaurant industry or just enjoys the fine dining experience, the film is a must-see. The animation is the best that Pixar has done yet, blending the hand-drawn with the computer-generated in the inimitable way that the studio has mastered. And for those who have ever yearned to go or return to Paris, Ratatouille also manages to beautifully recreate life along the Seine near the Ile de Paris, Notre-Dame, and Pont-Neuf. One of my favorites.
-Barbu

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God Grew Tired of Us

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Click for availability and more information God Grew Tired of Us

I saw a movie recently that really touched me. It's God Grew Tired of Us. It's a documentary about a group of young men called the "Lost Boys" who were part of a group of approx. 67,000 orphaned children, mostly boys from babies to teenagers who were forced to flee their homeland of Sudan and "grow up" in refugee camps with basically each other as surrogate family members. A few of them were lucky enough to be able to resettle in America but often missed their friends and family and found that adjusting to the new culture in America was difficult. It was inspiring to see what people in unimaginable circumstances can survive and even rise above. It also made me wish as a country we had and would do more.
-Stephanie

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12 Crass Songs

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Click for availability and more information 12 Crass Songs, Jeffrey Lewis

Crass were a politically strident anarchist punk band. Active in the late '70's until the mid 1980's, the band popularized the seminal peace punk movement and advocated direct action, animal rights, and environmentalism. The band's message was accompanied by loud, poorly recorded guitar, bass and drums. They were one of punk rock's forebears. Jeffrey Lewis is a folk singer and songwriter (film buffs will recognize his voice from his work with the band The Moldy Peaches, who are featured prominently on the soundtrack to the movie Juno.) Lewis has taken 12 songs written by and originally performed by Crass and re-worked them in a way that allows the listener to hear those angry and incendiary lyrics in an entirely different context. What's striking is how the messages contained in many of these songs are still pertinent in today's political climate. Just replace Crass's targets, Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands War with George Bush and Iraq War and the songs retain certain pertinence. One listen to the song "Securicor", which was released over twenty years ago, makes you conjure up images of Blackwater and the rest of the hired armies in Iraq. Where Crass delivered these songs with angst ridden earnestness, Lewis takes the band's message and offers it up with a voice full of mild-mannered wit as his acoustic guitar, toy piano; cello and accordion carry the rage in a different musical tone.
-Stephen

Click for availability and more information Don't Press Your Luck! The In Sounds of 60's Connecticut, Various Artists

In the mid-1960s, the state of Connecticut actually did have popular garage rock bands on the radio. Local groups influenced by such bands as The Beatles, The Byrds, The Rascals, Them and others, ruled, for a brief time, the Connecticut airwaves. Now, Sundazed Music has put together a nice CD collection of these bands, Don't Press Your Luck! The In Sounds of 60's Connecticut. The album features choice cuts from 1966-68 of such bands as The Shags, the Bram Rigg Set, the Wildweeds (who formed the foundation for the later NRBQ) and the Lively Ones. All these groups' singles were local hits heard between New Haven and Hartford, and beyond. Despite some rough production, the CD provides a good showcase for these bands that never were able to break through nationally but became, for a brief time, local heroes to the kids. The performers themselves were mostly high school and college kids, whose bands broke up due to outside realities, like school/college graduation and the draft, among other factors. But the sense of fun and enthusiasm these guys had in their prime becomes totally infectious with each listen.
-Ed

Ghosts I-IV

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Click for availability and more information Ghosts I-IV, Nine Inch Nails

Like other die-hard fans of Nine Inch Nails, I was both surprised and delighted when Trent Reznor recently announced the release of his newest, and hitherto unannounced work, Ghosts I-IV. Ghosts is something of a departure from the "usual" Nine Inch Nails catalog, relying less on structured hooks, beats and lyrics, and instead drawing its brilliance from a more improvisational format. Trent describes it thusly: "Nine Inch Nails presents Ghosts I-IV, a brand new 36 track instrumental collection available right now. Almost two hours of new music composed and recorded over an intense ten week period last fall, Ghosts I-IV sprawls Nine Inch Nails across a variety of new terrain. I've been considering and wanting to make this kind of record for years, but by its very nature it wouldn't have made sense until this point. This collection of music is the result of working from a very visual perspective - dressing imagined locations and scenarios with sound and texture; a soundtrack for daydreams. I'm very pleased with the result and the ability to present it directly to you without interference. I hope you enjoy the first four volumes of Ghosts." It's worth noting that until recently Nine Inch Nails had been, like most other commercial bands, beholden to its record label. But no longer. And now Mr. Reznor, et al, are free from constraint to offer up whatever music they believe their fans might want to hear without having a middleman second-guess the "commercial viability" of such new offerings, and to do so in whatever venues and formats they choose (i.e. direct download). After listening to these first four volumes of Ghosts (more volumes are expected), I'm sure you'll agree that less middleman interference is a good thing.
-Will

Click for availability and more information Like, Love, Lust and the Open Halls of the Soul, Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter

This is easily my favorite album of 2007, indeed one of the top ten of the last decade. Jesse's haunting, beautiful, incredibly variable voice takes us through an ecstatic journey on her latest album, expressing a style that has been described as religious grunge, spirituo-country-grunge-folk, and other names which don't quite capture the true essence of this amazing phenomenon. The band has been praised from coast to coast and indeed, they sound as if they are (rightly) enraptured with their lead singer, providing perfect harmonies, slashing guitar solos and crescendos that take seven minutes or more to build and peak, culminating in something that is as moving as it is intellectually and emotionally engaging. When I first bought this album, I listened to it over fifty times in the first month. I simply couldn't believe that someone could sing the way Jesse Sykes does, that anyone could have this kind of inflection, passion, and depth to her voice and lyrics. And with each listening, I became more and more amazed by the backup band's perfect job of bolstering her and truly lifting her up with their own vocal and instrumental perfection. A must have for anyone that claims to really like pared-down, genuine music that has not been over-produced or pop-culture-sylized.
-Barbu

Ethiopiques. 22: more vintage

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Click for availability and more information Ethiopiques. 22: more vintage, featuring Alemayehu Eshete

MORE VINTAGE!, volume 22 in the brilliant ETHIOPIQUES series, collects recordings from Ethiopian pop superstar Alemayehu Eshete made during the early 1970s. Eshete has earned many nicknames based on his funky ethnic R&B over the years. These included "the Ethiopian James Brown" and the "Abyssinian Elvis" The pompadour he's sporting on the cover of this CD certainly helps him earn those monikers. It's his rhythmic distinctive voice however, that brought him his notoriety. In addition to showcasing Alemayehu, this set shines a light on one of the key behind-the-scenes figures in Ethiopian pop, organist and arranger Girma Beyene. Something of Booker T. to Alemayehu's Otis Redding, it's Girma who provides the tight-as-a-drum funk and jazz grooves over which Alemayehu lets his stunning vocals glide. Although this is text-book Ethiopian pop from the golden era, listeners will hear the obvious influences of American soul and R&B.
-Stephen

The Ghost of Fossil Glen

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Click for availability and more information The Ghost of Fossil Glen, by Cynthia DeFelice

Sixth grader Allie escapes a close call after nearly falling from a steep cliff. She is guided down the cliff by a voice who she thinks might be a ghost. When a mysterious journal appears in her mailbox, Allie begins to follow a trail the ghost is leading her on to solve the mystery of another sixth grader's death years ago. Grades 4 to 6.
-Deirdre

Blood on the River: Jamestown 1607

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Click for availability and more information Blood on the River: Jamestown 1607, by Elisa Lynn Carbone

Join 12 year old Samuel Collier, an orphan who has been selected to be a page to Captain John Smith for the new settlement of Jamestown. Told from Samuel's perspective, readers experience the life of the settlers, their relationships with the Native Americans, and the cruel winters of starvation that threaten to destroy the settlement. Grades 4 and up.
-Deirdre

DK Eye Know

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Click for availability and more information DK Eye Know, by Penelope Arlon

Children are big fans of the oversize DK Eyewitness books. The DK Eye Know series for younger children takes one word...color, water, space and plant and provides enjoyment in photos, fun with flaps, and peepholes. For children as young as preschool age this is a great series.
-Deirdre

Oliver Who would Not Sleep

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Click for availability and more information Oliver Who would Not Sleep, by Mara Bergman

Why is it that Oliver would not go to sleep? Children will agree with Oliver that it's not that they are scared; it's just that there is too much to do!! Painting, drawing, reading, racing his cars, flying his rocket ship to outer space, Oliver has a lot more to do when his parents tuck him into bed. A fun bedtime story for preschool to young elementary school age.
-Deirdre

The London Eye Mystery

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Click for availability and more information The London Eye Mystery, by Siobhan Dowd

Twelve year-old Ted and his older sister Kat watch their cousin Salim enter the London Eye sightseeing attraction, "the largest observation wheel ever built." But, after a half hour, when his pod returns, everyone troops off- except Salim. Where is he? How could he disappear from a locked glass-and-steel capsule? Feeling guilty because they urged Salim to accept a free ticket from a stranger, the brother and sister, despite their thorny relationship, join together and follow a trail of clues across London. Ted, who narrates the story, has a funny brain that runs on a "different operating system," giving him encyclopedic knowledge but also a literal view of the world. Ultimately his powers of deduction lead them to solve the mystery that even the police have been unable to crack. Test your skills and see if you can stay one step ahead of Ted and Kate in their desperate race to find Salim. This fast-paced thriller will grab you from the beginning. A real page-turner.
-Alice S

Click for availability and more information Big Book of Play and Find out Science Projects, by Janice VanCleave

Big Book of Play and Find out Science Projects by Janice VanCleave is another interactive way to introduce younger children to science. Looking to answer questions our curious kids ask such as why does my shadow change size? Why do balls bounce? How does a compass work? Why do fireflies light up? VanCleave provides easy projects for parent and child to explore and have fun answering those questions.
-Deirdre

Bunny Fun

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Click for availability and more information Bunny Fun, by Sarah Weeks

Bunny Fun, by Sarah Weeks is the answer to those rainy Spring days. Follow bunny and his mouse friend as they find so many fun things to do around the house on a rainy day. The rhyme and colorful illustrations are sure to please the toddler and preschool set, who will no doubt be shouting "bunny fun" right along with the story.
-Deirdre

Click for availability and more information The Shocking World of Electricity with Max Axiom, by Liam O'Donnell

Science can be shocking! From Graphic Library comes The Shocking World of Electricity with Max Axiom by Liam O'Donnell. Part of the "Max Axiom" series, where science is presented in graphic novel format. We have several in the series explaining topics such as sound, global warming and forces in motion. Max Axiom is a fun character, and in this format it is a great way to introduce a young elementary school age child to nonfiction science concepts.
-Deirdre

Go To Bed, Monster

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Click for availability and more information Go To Bed, Monster, by Natasha Wing

Lucy doesn't want to go to sleep, preferring to draw and color. When the friendly monster she draws comes to life, Lucy and the monster have such fun playing together...until Lucy is tired and the monster just won't go to bed. Cute illustrations and preschool and young elementary school age children will enjoy this bedtime book.
-Deirdre

Click for availability and more information Go Green, Live Rich: 50 Simple Ways to Save the Earth and Get Rich Trying, by David Bach, with Hillary Rosner

Go Green, Live Rich provides the reader with fifty simple ways to become a more eco-friendly world citizen. He offers small money-saving tips that include unplugging unused appliances, switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, recycling wrapping paper, eating less meat and growing your own vegetables, to larger money-saving ideas that include using recyclable energy, trading in your current car for a more fuel-efficient model. In the "Finish Rich" section of the book, Bach details how "being green will make you green", by taking the money saved, and making it pay off for you by investing in eco-friendly businesses. To me, the most surprising point of the book is how taking even small steps can create a huge impact on the environment, and pay off in a global way.
-Debbie O

Kirby: King of Comics

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Click for availability and more information Kirby: King of Comics, by Mark Evainer

Mark Evainer's long-awaited Kirby: King of Comics (Abrams; 2008) is a loving and heartfelt appreciation of the comic book work of Jack Kirby (1917-1994), the artist/storyteller who created or co-created such enduring characters as Captain America, The Boy Commandos, Fighting American, the Fantastic Four, X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, The Silver Surfer, The New Gods, Mister Miracle, Kamandi ("The Last Boy on Earth"), The Eternals and Captain Victory, to name just a few. Evainer chronicles the life of Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg) as he made his way up and out of New York City's "Hell's Kitchen", his attempts to break into the animation and newspaper comic strip fields (the latter including a brief stint on the original Blue Beetle in 1940)and his long association with writer/artist Joe Simon, which lasted from the late 30s to the mid 50s. With Simon, Kirby ran a small "shop" that packaged original stories and art for various publishers in the fledging comic book field of the 1940s. They developed characters and books for Timely (later Marvel Comics Group), for whom they created Captain America Comics; DC (Boy Commandos, revamped versions of Sandman and Manhunter), Fawcett (the very first issue of Captain Marvel Adventures) and Harvey (The Boy Explorers; Stuntman; Captain 3-D; Boys' Ranch ). The advent of Congressional crackdowns on the comics publishers in the mid-50s (when comics were blamed for kids committing crimes and standing up against parental and social authority) resulted in many comic companies shutting down. Simon and Kirby, now without clients or employers,ended their professional partnership (although they stayed friends) and Kirby, a child of the Depression who had a wife and family to feed (and feared being unable to provide for them), sought out work elsewhere. After briefly finding work at DC again (where he created Challengers of the Unknown and revamped Green Arrow), a horrible lawsuit over the Sky Masters comic strip with one of DC's editors led Kirby to be blackballed at the company in 1958. A brief reunion with Simon on Archie Comics' The Fly eventually led Kirby to Marvel Comics in the late 50s, where he toiled on the company's horror and western comics. But in 1961, with writer/editor Stan Lee, Kirby began a new era in comics: the larger-than-life superheroes who, like the readers, had problems that weren't always solved overnight. Beginning with the first issue of Fantastic Four (cover dated November, 1961), Lee and Kirby started a whole new line of characters that revolutionized the field. Comics suddently weren't for kids anymore, as readers young and old identified with the Marvel characters developed by Lee and Kirby (the books became especially popular on college campuses). Though the books became popular, Kirby felt ignored and marginalized by Marvel's owners and left the company in 1970 to work at DC (which lifted their "no-hire" policy toward him; by this time Kirby also wasn't happy with Stan Lee getting all the creative credit for their work together). As artist AND writer/editor, he developed the Fourth World series of interlocking titles (The Forever People; The New Gods; Mister Miracle), tying them in with regular DC continunity (via Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen - I kid you not!), but sales were low and the books were cancelled (except Olsen, which Kirby had already left). Five years later Kirby returns to Marvel, only to be crushed and denigrated by younger colleagues as "Jack the Hack" (in part due to deteriorating eyesight, though Kirby didn't dare tell anyone about that at the time). Despite the hostile atmosphere, Kirby does exciting (if short-lived) work on Captain America, The Black Panther and a new creation, The Eternals. An eventual switch to Saturday Morning Animation in 1978 (where Kirby actually got Health Benefits for the first time in 40 years from an employer!) and freelance work for DC and smaller publishers rounded out his professional life until his death. Overall, despite reading how horrible Kirby was treated by his various employers (DC, at least, tried and succeeded in getting Kirby some merchandising profits from toys and cartoons based on his New Gods characters in the mid-80s), Kirby: King of Comics is a Kirby lover's treasure trove. There's so much here (yes, there are reproductions of covers and original penciled art) that one reading alone isn't enough.
-Ed

You: Staying Young

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Click for availability and more information You: Staying Young, by Mehmet C. Oz and Michael F. Roizen with Ted Spiker, Craig Wynett, Lisa Oz, and Mark A Rudberg

A book that caught my eye recently is You: Staying Young (2007) by Drs. Oz and Roizen. This book takes a close, if not hilarious look at the aging processes in your body. It likens the body to a city with highways, buildings, utilities, etc. Then it discusses the causes for breakdown of the various systems. Each breakdown, by itself, may not necessarily be dangerous; but if several breakdowns start occurring at once, conditions may be right to speed up aging and even cause death. Your immune system seems to be the key to the whole process since your body starts producing fewer antibodies as you grow older. That's because we experience a lot of infection at an early age, and build up immunity to many diseases, so our body produces fewer antibodies as we age. The doctors say it's never too late to slow down the aging process, and focus on diet, exercise and mental acuity to keep you young "internally", regardless of your true physical age. It's very easy to read since the authors avoid a lot of technical jargon. The diagrams are entertaining. There's a slight resemblance to the 'dummies' book format. You're never too young (or old) to learn about age reversal!
-Carl

My Life in France

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My Life in France, by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme

What a terrifically entertaining book My Life in France is! Alex Prud'homme is Paul Child's (Julia's husband) great nephew and he collaborated with Julia to write her story of living in France and learning, as her first and greatly successful book was about, how to master the art of French cooking. Using letters written between Julia, Paul and other family members, the early days of their life in France during the 1950's are detailed when Paul worked as a member of the United States State Department delegation in Paris and Julia determined that her life's goal was to learn about French cooking and be able to teach those culinary techniques. Her ability to make food preparation so interesting is great, fun reading as are the many adventures Julia and Paul had while living in France. Anyone who is interested in food, particularly French food, France or reading a wonderful story about two vibrantly interesting people will enjoy My Life in France.
-Roy

Click for availability and more information The Simple Feeling of Being: Embracing Your True Nature, by Ken Wilber

For those of you unfamiliar with Wilber's Integral writings and theories, this compilation offers a perfect entry point. Wilber is a philosopher, theist, scholar, and practitioner of the mystical arts and one of the world's leading authorities on mystical religious traditions. His editors put together this book to offer people an introduction to one of the world's great spiritual minds. It takes the reader through his more essential insights and theses such as the heart and practice of non-dual awareness, integral thinking (the melding of eastern and western traditions into what is essential and common to both), and the genesis of the search for the Divine within ourselves. Wilber has deeply inquired into many of the world's mystical spiritual traditions and over the years published 19 books dealing with their essential commonalities and practices. Both intellectual and spiritual, his approach is passionate and available to everyone. Essentially, he's done the homework so you don't have to. Delve into this book and prepare to have your mind and heart opened.
-Barbu

How Can You Defend Those People?

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Click for availability and more information How Can You Defend Those People?, by Mickey Sherman

If you are looking for a funny and thought provoking read, try How Can You Defend Those People? by Mickey Sherman. Sherman is the famous local defense attorney who was Michael Skakel's attorney (one of his few losses). Sherman takes you into the world of law and makes you see just how he can defend some clients. From his days as the "class clown" in elementary school in Greenwich to his television career he is insightful and amusing. This book was a surprise read for me and I could not put it down.
-Leslie

Magic Moments Yankees

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Click for availability and more information Magic Moments Yankees, by Phil Pepe

Since Yankee Stadium is being torn down at the end of this season, you might want to relive some of the great, and not so great, moments associated with "the house that Ruth built". In his book Magic Moments Yankees (2008), Phil Pepe recounts many of the famous events that took place in Yankee history. Even though I'm a big Red Sox fan, I enjoyed reliving Don Larsen's no-hitter, Reggie Jackson's 3 homeruns in game six of the 1977 World Series, and Bucky Dent's homerun in 1978, which knocked my beloved Red Sox out of the playoffs. There were also some not-so-great moments such as the death of Thurman Munson in a plane crash, and Billy Martin fight in the Copocabana. Yet, this book is still a tribute to the greatest baseball team in the 20th century. My only objection is that the photos were all black and white. I hope they have to publish a similar book for my Red Sox in the 21st century!
-Carl

Click for availability and more information Beatific Souls: Jack Kerouac's On The Road

Beatific Souls is a meticulously researched and obvious labor of love from Isaac Gewirtz, who details the creative processes that Beat author Kerouac went through in the 40's and 50's to produce his literary masterpiece On The Road (1957). Dr. Gewirtz, curator of the Berg Collection of English and American Literature at the NY Public Library, (and who recently oversaw an exhibition at the NYPL on Kerouac, which he previewed here at Greenwich Library in March, 2007) used previously unseen journal entries, first draft pages, photos and original art by Kerouac to give the reader a sense of what the author went through in constantly rewriting and revising his seminal work. Also included are insights into Kerouac's involvement with Buddhism, his attempt to meld the style and tone of Jazz music in his writing style, how art and literature were seen as connected to the creative force of the writer and artist, and much more. For an examination of an artist's creative odyssey, the roadblocks and frustrations encountered, and to fully appreciate the work that goes into producing any great literature or art, Beatific Soul makes a perfect vehicle for the audience.
-Ed

What Can I Bring Cookbook

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Click for availability and more information What Can I Bring Cookbook, by Anne Byrn

Looking for great-tasting, easy-to-make, easy-to-carry recipes for picnics and parties? Getting together with family and friends has never been easier with the What Can I Bring Cookbook by Anne Byrn. From casual picnics and barbecues, to sit down dinners and holiday meals, this book offers over 200 dishes, including 30 appetizers, 34 salads, hot and cold soups, sensational side dishes, main courses, desserts, all designed with ease of travel in mind. Helpful hints throughout the book include "Tote Notes" on how to bring homemade goodies to parties, along with recipe reminders, helpful hints, and sample menus. In addition to all of the great recipes, there is also a chapter on gifts from the kitchen. Great book for the busy cook!
-Debbie O

Click for availability and more information This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, by Drew Gilpin Faust

This Republic of Suffering is totally fascinating reading on many levels. For those Civil War devotees, this is a must read for it details the gristly horrors the Civil War brought to the United States with its astoundingly high death toll of 620,000 Americans killed in action. Drew Gilpin Faust also digs deeper below the statistics as she writes about how the soldiers felt about killing their enemies, who were their fellow citizens. The readers are placed alongside soldiers as they face death by injury, disease and possible wounding and worse in approaching battles as Faust quotes from dozens of letters written by the combatants. The huge emotional damage done to families and friends of those killed is brilliantly related by Faust's use of primary sources from the war years. Perhaps one of the most interesting sections of the book is concerned with the very-real task of identifying burying the dead before and after battles. This process took years in some cases and led to the rise of predominantly female organizations in the South dedicated to ensuring Confederate soldiers received a burial that was deemed proper for a fallen hero of the Confederacy. This is a wonderfully written and brilliantly researched book by a noted scholar of the Civil War. Reading this book is a very moving experience and made this reviewer want to read other books written by this wonderfully interesting author...
-Roy

The Messenger

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Click for availability and more information The Messenger, by Daniel Silva

In his ninth novel and sixth in his series featuring Gabriel Allon, Silva shows that he is still writing top-notch political thrillers that can easily engross the reader. In The Messenger, an attack by a Saudi-backed terrorist group on the Vatican not only causes hundreds of civilian deaths, but gravely injures the Pope. Gabriel Allon, the art restorer who also happens to serve the Israeli government as an assassin, is recruited to find the perpetrators of this terrorist action. Interestingly enough, Allon's art expertise becomes a key resource in finding the person that was the mastermind of this crime. What makes Silva's books so intriguing is his timeliness of topics and the absolutely realistic style of writing. Allon's searching out and eliminating this threat to world stability echoes the headlines from current newspapers and well as current events. The Messenger is highly recommended for those who have enjoyed Silva's other books as well as an introduction to the world of Gabriel Allon for those who have not read any of Daniel Silva's books.
-Roy

Childhood's End

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Click for availability and more information Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke

Although everybody keeps bringing up 2001: A Space Odyssey and its various sequels, I much prefer science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke's earlier 1953 novel, Childhood's End, which shares with the previous books the common theme of Earth's first encounter with aliens far more advanced than ourselves. Clarke's writing is much more imaginative and striking than in his later works, and the idea that we can progress and evolve into a higher form of life (albeit with help from aliens from other, more advanced, planets) is powerful and compelling. Clarke returns to the theme--but with a twist that I won't give away!- in the 1973 novel Rendezvous With Rama (which, like 2001, was spun off into a series of artistically uneven sequels) that is also thought provoking in its tone. Both Childhood's End and Rendezvous With Rama transcend their "space opera" settings with a more intellectual agenda than the average reader might think.
-Ed

Whatever Makes You Happy

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Click for availability and more information Whatever Makes You Happy, by William Sutcliffe

Who would have thought you can have the perfect novel for thirty-something slacker wannabes and sixty-somethings who only want to be grannies and meddling mothers-in-law? Three mothers, tired of being ignored, or worse, patronized, decide to show up uninvited on their sons' door steps. They give themselves one week to reconnect with their sons and find out just who their sons are. The two worlds converge in a way that is both funny and sad. By the time you reach the denouement, you are hoping there is a sequel in the wings, or at least, a movie.
-Marcia

Dark Tide

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Click for availability and more information Dark Tide, by Andrew Gross

Andrew Gross has successfully co-authored several books with James Patterson, but his second solo suspense thriller, Dark Tide, places him at the top of the list of the mystery thriller genre. Charles and Karen Friedman of Old Greenwich are living the perfect life. Charles, an investment banker in New York, his wife Karen and two children enjoy their life in Old Greenwich, a ski cabin in Vermont and Caribbean vacations until the morning that Charles is taking the train to New York and a terrorist bomb goes off killing hundreds of commuters. While still in shock and mourning her loss, Karen is visited by two men wanting to know where 250 million dollars of missing money from Charles' investment firm is located. In a seemingly unrelated hit and run on Putnam Ave in Greenwich on the same day as the train bombing, Greenwich Chief Detective Ty Hauck finds Charles Friedman's name and phone number in the victim's pocket. While Ty investigates the connection, Karen finds more disturbing revelations about her husband and his business dealings. This is a compelling and thrilling read to keep you on the edge of your seat.
-Kathy C

Sweet Revenge

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Click for availability and more information Sweet Revenge, by Diane Mott Davidson

This is the 14th "culinary suspense" novel highlighting the misadventures of caterer Goldy Schulz. The saga begins with a murder in the local library, where Goldy is setting up for the employees holiday brunch. A library patron is found murdered and Goldy winds up in the middle of investigation, which centers on finding out who has been stealing high-end maps from libraries all across the United States. In between her amateur detective work and numerous catering jobs, Goldy also has encounters with people from her past, quirky Colorado residents and extremely dangerous characters that seem determined eliminate her. Some of Goldy's delicious recipes are included as an added bonus to the reader!
-Debbie O

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

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Click for availability and more information The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami

In his best work, Japanese author Haruki Murakami treads the finest of lines between reality and dream, myth and metaphor, detective novel and heroic saga in an incomparably beautiful and at times terrifying way, blending the non-fiction of the Manchukuo episode of World War II with the mundane, modern-day life of an unemployed man living in Tokyo. The protagonist's (Toru Okada) cat disappears at the beginning of the book and his simple, rather drab life is turned completely upside-down by his quest to regain the lost animal and the "something" that he lost along the path of his none-too-aware life. Along the way he meets an array of fantastic characters who help and hinder his efforts, and these people appear as archetypes, both familiar and outrageous. I found this book by accident and have to say that it changed the way I look at fiction, non-fiction, and the blending of the two. Murakami, whose work I have thoroughly delved into after reading "Wind-up Bird," won the Yoimuri Literary Award for this 600+ page work, receiving it from the Japanese literary giant Kenzaburo Oe. The novel deals extensively with the realm of dream and its relation to everyday waking life, issues of sex and power, politics and the abuse of media, history, animism, childhood, and modern-day Japanese society. At times hysterically funny, terrifying, insightful, grotesque, and visionary, I consider one of the top ten books written in the last 20 years. A must read for all fiction lovers.
-Barbu

Anarchy and Old Dogs

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Click for availability and more information Anarchy and Old Dogs, by Colin Cotterill

Anarchy and Old Dogs is a great find for dedicated mystery readers. It is the fourth in Colin Cotterill's series featuring the exploits of a truly different detective character - Dr. Siri Paiboun, the sole coroner in the country of Laos. Paiboun is confronted with solving the mysterious death of a blind dentist, who was killed by a bus as he crossed the street. He was carrying a seemingly blank piece of mail he had just received at the local post office. After discovering an invisible code on the letter, Paiboun must find the true meaning of the coded message. Cotterill has placed his story in the Laos of 1977 and one of the book's true strengths is the skill with which Cotterill makes that setting come alive. Adding very colorful characters who are key to helping Paiboun solve this mystery is another delightful aspect of Cotterill's writing. Cotterill resides in Chiang Mai and, clearly, he has a terrifically effective ability to write very absorbingly of Laos and the surrounding area.
-Roy

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