Friday, November 30, 2012
While we do have TV shows these days that openly cater to the musical loving crowd such as Glee,Nashville and even The Voice,some of the best fun to be found in this area comes right out of the blue.
Not that I mind a nice musical themed episode there but when all of a sudden,the regular cast on a drama or sitcom surprises us by bursting into song,that's a true sweet treat for the soul.
Here are a handful of special singalong sequences from the small screen that I've selected for your viewing pleasure:
HOT BLOODED,INDEED: One of the early indicators that the leading lady and man on the forensic detective series Bones would become a couple was their mutual enjoyment of Foreigner's "Hot Blooded."
While Dr. Brennan was a little reluctant to confess her love of that song,Agent Booth made that choice of rocking tune very acceptable,to the point where the two of them performed it together in public:
SING US A SONG,YOU'RE THE CASTLE MAN: During the third season of Castle, Rick and Detective Beckett were wrapping up the last of a case that allowed him to cage a rare bottle of Scotch hidden beneath a legendary bar.
With everyone in a good mood together,an impromptu rendition of "Piano Man" started up that was so inviting that even the stoic Kate Beckett joined right in. Quite a good way to cap off any show,if you ask me:
DOWNTON ABBEY DUET: The on again/off again romance of Mary and Matthew on the second season of Downton Abbey grew even more intense,as WWI divided the couple nearly for good.
Both of them were also involved with new partners,so each was willing to give the other one up out of a sense of honor. However,when Matthew went missing on the battlefield,Mary found it hard to keep a stiff upper lip. As she entertained the troops during a charity event,Matthew's return was a most welcome surprise and a very romantic accompaniment to her song " If I were the Only Girl in the World":
BIG BOLLYWOOD THEORY: A running gag on The Big Bang Theory a couple of seasons ago was Raj's crush on his best friend Howard's girlfriend Bernadette. This lead to one episode where he kept having vivid daydreams about winning her heart without upsetting his friends.
At one point,Bernadette confronted him about his standoffish behavior in the real world which lead to a Bollywood dance number where they declared to be each other's heart and universe. Eventually,Rai got over his longing for Bernadette but that magical music moment was worth it:
With any luck,more surprise song and dance outbreaks will crop up on TV as time goes on. Granted,these things can be easily overdone and become all too predictable but when it's timed just right,those sudden musical moments become ones to treasure:
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Top Chef Seattle does some tasty time travel,a TAR team's moment of truth and less than brotherly love on The Vampire Diaries
This week's installment of Top Chef Seattle began where they left off last time,with John starting up trouble in the break room by bad mouthing Kuniko(who was sent home for under cooking potatoes)as soon as she left to pack up her knives.
CJ and Joshua in particular were mad at him and I do have to agree that it's not necessary to kick someone when they're down like that.
However,the next day lead to a new Quickfire Challenge,to be judged by former TC Masters contender Naomi Pomeroy. Two sides of beef were on display for butchering,with each chef allowed an hour to select and cook their cut of meat.
Much to the annoyance of others,John won this round for his braised oxtail with potato gnocchi. His reward was immunity but the stakes turned out to be greater for the Elimination Challenge,with the winner getting ten grand and two chefs on the chopping block.
Yup,a double elim already,there! This wouldn't have anything to do with Last Chance Kitchen,now would it,guys? Yes,they're doing that again,which is a good thing for this crew.
For this challenge,the chefs had to recreate the original menu of Canlis,a well known restaurant in the area that started up in 1950. The place is now under the management of the grandsons of the first owner,who value their family food legacy quite a bit.
More than one chef was allowed to help out with certain dishes and it was the complete menu from soup to nuts.
John was in charge of expediting,since he had immunity but he did make one entree,a clam Bordelaise,that the judges liked.
They also adored Lizzie's marinated herring,served with saltines. It got her a spot in the Top Four for this challenge,much to her surprise.
Judge Tom joked about how back in the day,the crackers would have come in those mini packages and praised Lizzie for her bold choice.
Stefan's calf's liver was a big hit as well,especially with the fried onions on top that were made by Kristen.
Those two seemed to be getting rather flirty with each other and I wonder if that's going to be a long term thing or what here.
He did appear to be really happy that Kristen won the challenge,not only for her onions but the mushrooms she made,too.
I think this may be the first time that someone's won for making a couple of side dishes. Pretty sweet deal there and a nice way to earn ten thousand on top of that!
Things were not so sweet for Joshua,who landed on the Bottom for his French onion soup that was incredibly salty. The soup arrived cold for many of the judges,which he blamed on John's mismanagement of the kitchen.
Be that as it may,it wasn't John's fault that it was too salty to eat. Plus,the crouton was so huge that one of the Canlis owners felt as if it required a knife and fork to eat with.
CJ was next to him,for the lamb shish kebob that turned out to be very mealy. He choose to sous vide the meat,a method that definitely was not used in the fifties and it affected the entire flavor outcome.
However,it was ladies day for going home. Carla had to pack her knives,due to her squab being over and under cooked at different times. She had no idea how to prep and cook the bird properly,paying little attention to the complaints from folks who sent several servings back to the kitchen.
Her attitude stunned both Padma and Judge Tom,who were amazed that she only tasted
her food towards the end of service. Even if you have someone else making your dish,it's your job to make sure they're doing it right and she completely dropped the ball on this one.
Chrissy had to leave as well,sadly for a salad. It was the house specialty salad and her dressing drenched the entire thing. One of the problems might have been using canola oil,where as corn or veg or perhaps olive might have been a more prudent choice.
Well,the two of them will be joining Kuniko and Jeffrey in Last Chance Kitchen. Good luck to all and hopefully,a second shot at the TC brass ring will go to the best chef.
A Double U-Turn was in play for this leg of The Amazing Race in Amsterdam and the plan was for the first team to reach it to turn Abbie and Ryan,then the next team to turn the previous couple in order to shut it down for anyone else.
This plot was cooked up by Team Twinnie,who took the Fast Forward option that allowed them not to do their own dirty work.
Team Chippendale(James and Jaymes)wound up having to make that choice and they did hesitate for a minute but ultimately went along with the plan. I can't fault them for making a legitimate game decision but wish they hadn't followed in concert with the Twinnies(plus,Trey and Lexi):
This was a rough blow for Abbie and Ryan,who had been running a really bad leg once again. They had a couple of plane delays,which slowed them down and were back of the pack with Team Beekman,who wanted to stay with them all the way.
That wasn't possible this time around and worse,Abbie and Ryan had to do their last Detour in the cold rain. Luckily,a nice lady helped them out so they didn't have to stand outside and soak for long but they went home,nonetheless. Still waiting for the bad karma to kick in for the Twinnies and Trey and Lexi,but that might come towards the end of the race. In the meantime, Abbie and Ryan losing out on two million dollars was doubly sad to see:
The Vampire Diaries return tonight,with plots to find the possible vampire cure for Elena before Klaus does under way. The Salvatore brothers are at odds yet again,however,over Elena.
She's been less than happy with the way Stefan insists that she can adjust to alternate feeding with a little more effort and Damon's support in that department is bringing those two a lot closer.
Fellas,you're both beyond old enough to not do this and Stefan,you know better than to give into despair on the romantic front. Give Damon some slack and do a little brother bonding(maybe without the sorority girls)because you know that you're going to need his help before this season's over with:
THE NEXT IRON CHEF: The ladies are still in play here but one of the Top Chef contenders is not. Spike had to go up against Marcel in the Secret Ingredient Showdown and he lost out to his good friend. Well, at least Spike managed to stay in the game longer than he did the last time:
Monday, November 26, 2012
One of the movies out in limited release this holiday weekend was the biopic Hitchcock,starring Anthony Hopkins as the renowned director,with Helen Mirren as his wife Alma and focusing on the making of his classic horror 1960 film Psycho. It received a mixed bag of critical reception,most of it being positive.
Amongst the negative write-ups of the film,I noticed a particular pair of themes running them through them. One,that too much time was devoted to depicting the marriage of Hitch and Alma and second,that Hitchcock's inappropriate overtures towards his blonde leading ladies was focused on too much as well:
While I haven't seen this film,I did see the recent HBO film,The Girl,which was often mentioned in the bad reviews as another example of what was seen as disrespect to Hitchcock's legacy. Both of these movies arriving around the same time does tend to lend themselves to compare and contrast,but in this case I think this is being done for the wrong reasons.
Since I haven't seen the big screen version,critiques regarding how this material was handled may be legitimate but to object to certain things that were true about Hitchcock just because they don't cast him in the best light isn't a proper criticism to me. It's no secret that Alfred Hitchcock idealized blonde women in many of his movies and could at times be cruel to his leading ladies during production,as some of them attested to years later:
It's also no secret that Alma Hitchcock was her husband's creative partner. Many of Hitch's biographers such as Donald Spoto and Patrick McGilligan have covered that waterfront and given the lady her just due in encouraging Hitchcock's vision to come to life on film. By the way,saying that Helen Mirren is "too glamorous" to play Alma is an insult to both women,in my opinion.
Downplaying her importance to getting Psycho off the ground in the film would be wildly inaccurate,since the book by Stephen Rebello that's it is based on does showcase Alma's contributions.
Not to mention that Hitchcock had difficulty in getting the studio to finance Psycho,so he had to mortgage the family home to pay for the production costs,which would put a strain on any marriage. The fact that these two managed to stay together as long as they did,through personal and professional woes,is amazing especially in Hollywood and a integral part of the story worth telling:
To me,the qualms that some of these critics seem to have about these subjects comes from an undue adherence to the "auteur" theory of film making (in that the director is the sole source of creative quality)and sheer reluctance to seeing a noted creative genius' flaws.
While the notion of the "crazy and/or emotionally immature artist" has been overdone in the media,there is some ring of truth to it in certain cases. Many exceptionally talented folk have personality quirks and downright terrible dispositions that made them great achievers in their fields but horrible to live or work with.
Take Charles Dickens,for example. An amazing writer who did many charitable deeds during his lifetime and rightly seen as one of the best authors in the world both during and long after his lifetime.
However,he was also a bad husband and an indifferent father who in his later years kept a secret mistress,which some still insist that he never slept with(in my opinion,he most certainly did). Does that mean his books are worth any the less because of his personal misbehavior? No. Does his genius excuse that behavior? No,not at all.
What it does mean is that a mature look at the life and times of any artist involves taking in the bad as well as the good. If you're truly interested in seeing the full scope of that person's mindset and accepting the fact that he or she was a regular human being who made mistakes just like the rest of us. That this person was capable of creating such beauty for all to enjoy while struggling with such grievous faults makes their work all the more exceptional:
Perhaps I may feel differently whenever I do get a chance to see Hitchcock,but I suspect not. Playing fast and loose with the facts in a biopic has become a norm over the years and while some tweaks are seen as creative license,others are not tolerated by diehard devotees.
Granted, Alfred Hitchcock didn't have any chats with Ed Gein in real life(as is shown in this film)but Ed Wood never had a sit down with Orson Welles either and no one had much of a problem with Tim Burton when he did that for his cinematic portrait of the infamous director.
If you take a look at the bigger picture here,the best thing about both Hitchcock and The Girl is that they bring some fresh attention to the brilliant work of Alfred Hitchcock for a new generation of film fans and enthusiasts. That doesn't mean sloppy depictions should be acceptable(as many TV viewers found out with Lifetime's Liz and Dick movie the other night)but even a film that doesn't worship an artist unquestioningly is a good opportunity for his works to be appreciated.
So,let's be happy that Hitchcock is having a moment in the pop culture spotlight and take this opportunity to let one of our best sinister showmen strut his stuff:
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
The Next Iron Chef offers some savory simplicity,a TAR Team is robbed and some Downton Abbey previews
Since Thanksgiving is tomorrow,my regular TV Thursday coverage is being presented today(and happy Turkey Day to one and all!),so let's get this show on the road with The Next Iron Chef.
This week's theme was Simplicity and the first thing that the chefs did for this challenge was to have photo portraits taken at a local Farmer's Market. Then back at the studio,Alton Brown announced that they would be divided into teams of two and each person was to create a one bite dish that reflected their teammate's personality.
Chef Mehta,as the winner of the last round,was allowed to select the pair-ups and he chose Spike for himself. That went well for Mehta but the bacon wrapped shrimp that Spike made as a portrait of him didn't sit well with the judges.
However,it was Mehta who wound up in the Bottom Four this time,along with Marcel,Eric Greenspan and Elizabeth Falkner(she lands in the bottom too often here,not good!). Their Secret Ingredient Showdown gave them breakfast cereal to work with and they had to use both cereal,Raisin Bran and Rice Krispies.
Personally,I don't think that either one of those cereals was so bad to have as the secret ingredient but then again,I'm not a chef. Greenspan was the one to go home,due to his tuna not being able to hold up well. I'm just glad that we still have three ladies in the game and still rooting for Chef Alex to take it home:
When we last left James and Abba(Team Rockers) on The Amazing Race,they were still in need of a passport to complete their run.
Since they were the last ones at the Pit Stop,Phil informed them that this was a non-elimination leg and they could continue the race but had to track down or get a new passport in order to move on to the next country.
As the other teams went off to do their tasks in Moscow,Team Rockers did all that they could to get a hold of either the cab that took off with their stuff or get a new passport. Dealing with the bureaucracy was harder than running the race but they did what they were able to do before going back out to finish the leg:
Sadly,James and Abba came in last again and were eliminated from the race. I'm sure that they made it back to the States safe and sound but it was such a shame to see them go like this.
Granted,it was foolish of them to leave their backpacks in the cab yet that is the sort of thing that can happen to anybody and on top of their money being swiped by Team Twinnie(with help from Trey and Lexi),this was a rotten cherry to be placed on their bad luck sundae.
Sorry,guys but you at least have your honor and dignity as a true reward,unlike some of your former competitors. It would have good of the powers that be on TAR to have penalized the twins for their misdeed but perhaps,karma will be delivering some serious payback on them(and Trey and Lexi,too!)soon:
This upcoming Sunday,PBS will be airing a behind the scenes special about Downton Abbey,where fans can learn more of what goes into recreating a manor house and it's occupants. The show is also a kick-off to a replay of Season Two in order to whet our appetites for the third season which begins in January of 2013.
This should be fun,as both the cast and crew have a lot to share about the technical details of the series as well as the highs and lows of the characters. Not to mention how exhausting it is to pretend to eat freshly prepared food over and over again:
If you miss the special on Sunday,it is bound to turn up later on next week on a PBS station near you. *sigh* If only January could arrive faster!:
THE VAMPIRE DIARIES: The Salvatores are taking Turkey Day off but will be back on November 29 to continue their love feud over Elena. Seems as if the ball is truly in Damon's court this time around and about time,I say!:
Monday, November 19, 2012
The big draw to movie-houses this past weekend has been the final film in the Twilight Saga,Breaking Dawn Part 2,which has earned about 141 million to date and so far,has turned out to be a real audience pleaser. Even those who are not fans of this series have (grudgingly) admitted to enjoying this last chapter,mainly due to the surprise twist towards the end of the story.
I won't give anything away,but the folks in the theater that I saw BD2 in on Friday night were clapping and cheering their heads,I can tell you that. I went to the show with my sister(a non-fan who liked the unexpected plot tweak quite a bit) and a couple of friends,with a good time had by all.
The story line for Breaking Dawn Part Two picks up where they left off,as Bella awakens from her maternal death bed as a new born vampire. Much to her surprise,she is quickly capable of controlling her blood thirst and adjusting to the new range of abilities that come with her eternal status.
There are a few flies in the ointment,as Bella is not thrilled to learn about Jacob's new attachment to her daughter Renesemee or having to let her father think that she's dead. Jacob decides on his own to spill the beans on that front,mainly by showing Charlie his transformation into werewolf form(a humorous done scene).
Bella then has the chance to let her dad into her new life,so to speak,but has to also leave him in the dark about certain things. That includes acting as human as possible,bringing back some of Bella's former physical awkwardness that we remember so well from earlier in the series:
Those problems become minor league all too soon as the Volturi learn of the new addition to the Cullen clan and readily assume that Renesmee is a vampire child prone to slaughter,so they gather up their forces to wipe the Cullens out.
Their first solution is to seek out other vampire allies to appear as "witnesses" to talk the Volturi out of destroying them and while a rather formidable array of new and old friends does show up,Edward is convinced that Aro,in particular,wants to take possession of the more powerful Cullens and eliminate the rest no matter what anyone says:
As I said early on here,T:BD is meant to please the ardent fans of the books and it does that job admiringly well. The performances are what we've all come to expect from the actors and actresses involved but a real stand-out amidst this crowd is Micheal Sheen's depiction of Volturi leader Aro. He seems to love playing over the top villains whenever he gets the chance to do so and does it with such fabulous flair that you're begging for more.
There are some people who are beyond happy to see the Twilight movies end and while I do have a sense of humor about my fandom,it is little disconcerting to see comments that suggest that all Twilight fans are stupid and could do the world a favor by leaving it for good.
Mellow out,folks,seriously! You have your pop culture pleasures and we have ours,so instead of trying to dance on the grave of the last Twilight film,tend to your own garden of guilty delights. To my fellow fans,let's be happy that this saga ended as well as it did and allow yourself to have a laugh or two about some of the Twilight tropes that we all know and love:
All in all,Breaking Dawn Part 2 was as satisfying as a Snickers bar for my vampire movie hunger and even when it gets nominated for the Razzies(you know it will)next year,I regret nothing about seeing it at all. Plus,I am the proud owner of a T:BD2 popcorn bucket and how cool is that?
As to those who are gleefully cackling about seeing the last of Stephanie Meyer in pop culture,think again gang. In March of 2013,the film adaptation of her sci-fi novel The Host will be arriving in theaters.
Starring Saoirse Ronan(Atonement, The Lovely Bones)with a screenplay by Andrew Niccol who also directs,this tale of a love triangle between two humans and an alien being should bring back the Twi-hards in droves,perhaps even converting a few of you into checking this out,maybe? Time will tell,I suppose. In the meantime,congrats to Stephanie Meyer for such giddy genre fun and thanks for having more to offer:
Friday, November 16, 2012
With Turkey Day less than a week away,it's good to take the time to reflect on the main event of this holiday(which is not bargain shopping,by the way!).
Thanksgiving is all about the meal and whether you're sticking to tradition or trying out something new, things can get a less stressful especially if you're having relatives over for dinner.
To serve up a little savory schadenfreude,here's a look at how some TV characters struggle with the prep work for Thanksgiving to whet your entertainment appetite:
GETTING EVERYTHING PERFECTLY RIGHT AND WRONG: The traditions of Thanksgiving can appear to be pretty chaotic to outsiders,as the undercover space alien clan on Third Rock From the Sun found out when it was their first time at it.
Once they realized that the end of the world wasn't at hand,more panic ensued as Sally had to figure out cooking and Harry had to not get upset over eating a turkey while Dick and Tommy got into a huge fight which actually made their holiday experience very authentic:
TURKEY TENSION: Cooking when you're angry is never a good option,yet that often happened in the Barone household on Everybody Loves Raymond,particularly at Thanksgiving when the food feuds between Debra and Marie were at their worst.
However,it was Debra's side of the family that stirred things up one year,when Raymond discovered that his in-laws were having a bit of marital trouble which his wife wanted desperately to deny.
Discussing the situation was a healthy thing to do but not helpful when you're trying to get a turkey into the oven or off the floor:
AN IMPROMPTU POPCORN DINNER: One of the most memorable holiday meals is the festive feast served for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,when Peppermint Patty invited herself and a few friends over for dinner.
Following Linus' advice,Charlie Brown whipped up what he knew how to cook best and frankly,I would like to see any batch of chefs on Chopped make a better meal out of buttered toast,pretzel sticks,jelly beans and popcorn than Snoopy can:
THE TROUBLE WITH TRIFLE: Desserts on Thanksgiving can vary from the usual array of pies but trying out a new recipe can be risky,as Rachel on Friends learned the hard way when she attempted a "traditional" English trifle.
Due to some of her recipe pages sticking together, what she made instead was a horrible tasting hybrid of trifle and Shepard's pie. It was a dish that her company was too kind to complain about and only the strange palate of Joey could appreciate:
Whatever you eat on Thanksgiving,the important thing is to enjoy the day with friends and family. Letting the stress get to you before dinner is no way to induce your appetite for the day. The smart thing to do is to handle everything with care,in order to save your strength for the clean-up,as well as the leftovers:
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Top Chef Seattle kicked off their new season officially by giving the culinary contenders their first Quickfire Challenge,which was judged by a trio of former TC chefs:CJ(Season 3),Josie(Season 2) and Stefan(Season 5).
The task was to make a fish dish using local seafood,with everyone being divided up into five teams of three.
The winning team was made up of Sheldon,Kiniko and John Tesar,who loves to tell people how he was dubbed "the most hated chef in Dallas"(not something I would want to brag about there). They put out a geoduck sashimi with apples and most of that success was due to Kiniko's excellent knife skills.
However,they did a now traditional TC knife pull to determine who would get immunity and John wound up with the lucky blade.
After that win and before the announcement of what the Elimination challenge would be, Padma revealed to all assembled that their judges were now going to be their fellow competitors.
That was certainly a surprise! I do like Josie and glad to see her get a second chance but Stefan was a creep the first time around and so far,doesn't seem to have changed all that much.
The Elim kept everyone in teams(which meant the TC veterans had to cook together) and sent them to the restaurant atop of the Space Needle,where each group had forty seven minutes of cooking time to make a regional dish for Judge Tom and the other TC judges,along with famed Seattle chef Tom Douglas.
Only one team was up for the win and once again,it was John,Sheldon and Kiniko. They made a cod poached with chili oil that held the right balance of heat(a fortunate thing,since Kiniko had to remake the chili oil after her first attempt burned up)and served it with dashi and a spot pawn sabu sabu.
This time,Kiniko got the credit she deserved and was deemed the top winner. She's going to be one to watch from now on,since many a chef who won the first Elimination challenge also became the ultimate TC winner by the end of the season. Good luck,Kiniko!
Two teams were on the bottom and one of them was the former TC players. They decided to make a quail plate at the last minute,which wasn't a bad idea for setting themselves apart from the pack of fish plates put out by the rest of the chefs.
However,the quail was overcooked and Stefan's whining about how small the birds were was quickly getting on the judges' nerves. Also,the cherries didn't turn out very well, despite Josie doing a last moment fix on them for CJ.
The other team consisted of Bret and Brooke,who argued over their different styles of cooking( she's a bit little country,he's a quite lot of classic French)and Jeffrey,who sadly overcooked the halibut.
The judges weren't happy about the wheat beer with herb sabayon that tasted bland but enjoyed the sides of English pea and mushrooms. That wasn't enough to save poor Jeffrey from being sent off to pack his knives. Such a shame,he appeared to be a really nice guy.
Next week is a Thanksgiving theme,with judges Tom and Emeril joining in the foodie fun. Sounds like a meal that anyone would be thankful for:
The Amazing Race sent the teams to Moscow this past leg,where a change of scene did nothing to change the luck of Team Rocker(James and Abba). During a Road Block,the guys asked their cab to wait for them and as soon as they received their clue,they went back to the car.
Unfortunately,the driver had already taken off and both of their backpacks,plus James' passport was long gone:
When they reached the Pit Stop,Phil asked about their passports and told them that they needed to retrieve them before moving on. Personally,I don't think that's quite fair. After all,they did ask the cab to wait for them and it's a thing that could happen to anybody.
This was a "to be continued" episode,so I hope that Team Rocker was able to get the go-ahead or at least find that cab with their stuff. *sigh* If it wasn't for bad luck,these guys wouldn't have any luck at all at this point:
Speaking of bad luck,last week on The Vampire Diaries,Elena made her first kill as a vampire. Her chosen target wasn't a smart choice,since it was the vampire hunter anointed as one of the Five which means that Jeremy is next in line to be tapped for that position(due to him being the only one able to see the tattoo map).
Since Klaus is eager to get that cure which would allow Elena's supply of doppelganger blood to be replenished for his hybrid schemes,both of them are going to be in another world of trouble with the Originals again. Also,Elena is starting to have scary visions which appear to be psychic punishment for any vampire who takes down a member of the Five. The hits just keep on coming,don't they,folks?
All of this means that the Salvatore brothers have to work with Klaus to save Elena. Just another peaceful time in Mystic Falls and I wouldn't have it any other way:
NEXT IRON CHEF: So far,my favorite contender,Chef Alex,is doing well here but I do want the rest of the ladies to stay in the game as long as possible. With one gal gone,stakes are getting higher for a new female IC to take it home:
Monday, November 12, 2012
Since it's only November,it may seem a little soon to post a Best Books of the year list. However, with the holiday rush(which is even more rushed than usual)coming upon us all too soon,this list might be helpful for your gift giving needs or just put in mind a few good reads to look for paperback next year.
Granted,most of the book talk in 2012 has been taken up by the whole 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon and while I enjoy a good sexy saga every now and then,taking a breather from the hot and heavy page turning there gives you an opportunity to explore other strange new worlds of literature,not to mention a few familiar ones along the way:
TURNING BACK TIME
One of the greatest pleasures I had this year was reading The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani,a steadfast saga story that was based upon the romance between her grandparents.
The lives of Enza and Ciro seemed destined to entwine,despite the numerous separations that fate set in their path. From their first meeting in the Italian Alps to their unexpected reunion in America,where Enza pursues her dreams of being a seamstress at the Metropolitan Opera House and Ciro works towards being a master shoemaker,the beauty of their developing relationship is as charming as a fairy tale.
Trigiani has written plenty of wonderful,heart warming novels but this one is clearly her masterpiece as well as a loving tribute to her family lore:
I was lucky enough to receive several good books from Library Thing's Early Reviewers program and one of them was Lois Leveen's debut novel,The Secrets of Mary Bowser. Also based on a true story,Mary was born a slave but was later freed by the daughter of the family she and her mother worked for and even sent to school in Philadelphia just before the outbreak of the Civil War.
Mary wound up returning to her home state of Virginia in order to become a spy for the Union,posing as a maid in the household of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. This tale of one of the unknown heroines of the Civil War is engaging and inspiring,with much to think and rejoice about:
Louise Erdrich's The Round House has it's Native American narrator recall the spring and summer of 1988,when his mother was sexually attacked and the search for justice was made more difficult by the legalities between tribal and state law.
The author initially sought to address an ongoing injustice within the Native American community towards women and violent crimes but it become a look into a corner of society that connects very deeply to the rest of the world with it's emotional scars and sorrows. The Round House is currently up for a National Book Award and for it not to win would be a real crime against art:
A group of female friends in modern day India seek to reunite in The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar,mainly to say a final goodbye to the one who started a new life in America. These women were close as sisters during the turbulent times in Bombay in the late seventies but have mostly gone their separate ways since then.
This chance to see each other again causes not only reflections upon the past and present for themselves but also for the men in their lives as well. Umrigar was a journalist before she started writing novels and while I'm sure she did excellent work in that field,we are all the better for her switch in literary careers:
MUSIC,MOVIES AND LOVE
I had heard a lot of great things about Jess Walter but until I read Beautiful Ruins, I wasn't sure what all the fuss was about. Now,I am happy to know why many find his work so pleasing.
In this book alone,his characters go back and forth through time and countries,with the strong plot thread beginning on a small island inn in a remote corner of Italy where a young actress is hiding out and the wistful young inn keeper falls hopelessly in love with her.
Decades later,that inn keeper travels to Hollywood to find her and runs into quite a few fishy folk,including a desperate to stay on top film producer,his one step away from quitting assistant and a would be screenwriter eager to turn the story of the Donner party into a big budget extravaganza.
Brilliantly meta,darkly humorous and at times,rather touching,Beautiful Ruins is a delight for all seasons:
Another great book that I got from Library Thing was Emily Arsenault's Miss Me When I'm Gone,that has a pregnant woman looking into the mysterious death of an old friend.
Her former college roommate made a name for herself with Tammyland, a memoir that used country music divas as it's theme and while researching a sequel,stumbled onto a few family secrets that may have lead to her demise. In seeking answers to those questions,more than one life is put in jeopardy.
Plenty of country music lore is mixed in with the plot and it creates an emotional soundtrack to this tale of lost chances,misunderstandings and regret that is just as stirring as a Tammy Wynette song:
Speaking of songs,the leading man in Jonathan Tropper's One Last Thing Before I Go has quite a sad one to sing. His big moment of glory was as the drummer of a one hit wonder band that fell apart when the lead singer broke away from them.
Now,living in a apartment complex full of fellow divorcees with his former wife about to marry a successful doctor and his teen daughter unexpectedly pregnant,he doesn't see much to live for and refuses to have heart surgery that could save his life.
This may sound like a depressing book but give it a chance and you'll see the solid silver story telling lining that this likable sad sack discovers along the way towards making a steady decision about his future:
MAKE MINE MARVEL
In Marvel Comics:The Untold Story,Sean Howe chronicles the rise and mixed fortunes of a comic book empire that is still growing by leaps and bounds to this day.
From in-house feuds to the bizarre notions put forth by new management over the years and numerous battles to keep in touch with the trends of the times,the behind the scenes adventures at Marvel are about as compelling as those faced by the likes of Spiderman or the Fantastic Four.
Even if you're just a fan of the movies made from Marvel Comics,this book gives you real insight into what makes this creative realm tick and that it's not just a grown up version of child's play:
There are many other wonderful books that came out this year and now with the election over with,we should be able to enjoy them more thoroughly. As for 50 Shades of Grey,one good thing about that sexy series of books hitting the mainstream is that people are realizing that they don't have to hide their guilty pleasure reading in public anymore:
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