Thursday, December 31, 2015

The 2015 Read Harder Challenge

I found this Read Harder Challenge at the beginning of the year and decided I'd try it. There are types of books on the list I either don't read at all any more or that I have never been much attracted to. I thought the challenge might encourage me to branch out some. Wherever possible, I chose works available online. Here are links to the books I read for this challenge:

A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25:
Queen Mab, by Percy Bysshe Shelley

A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65:
The Marienbad Elegy, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A collection of short stories (either by one person or an anthology by many people):
The Garden Party and Other Stories, by Katherine Mansfield

A book published by an indie press
I've found this a horribly perverse category. When I look for indie publishers, they are mixed in with other publishers. Finding a book I want to read that also is published by an indie publisher took more effort than I was willing to devote to the task. I have yet to find a usable list, much less a consistent list across sources. I decided to count The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow, from TokyoPop.

A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ
Vathek, by William Beckford

A book by a person whose gender is different from your own
Kiss of the Spider Woman, by Manuel Puig

A book that takes place in Asia
The Silent Cry, by Kenzaburo Oe

A book by an author from Africa
The Tale of the Two Brothers

A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native Americans, Aboriginals, etc.)
The Life of Joaquin Marieta

A microhistory
I didn't read a microhistory

A YA novel
Waverley, by Sir Walter Scott

A sci-fi novel
Probability Moon, by Nancy Kress

A romance novel
The Black Moth, by Georgette Heyer

A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade
I didn't read any this year that were from the last decade.

A book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairytale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.)
I've read such things and do not care for them. I love the originals. Let people get their own ideas.

An audiobook
I listened to some stories and poems but not many. I don't care for audiobooks.

A collection of poetry
The Children of the Night: A Book of Poems by Edwin Arlington Robinson

A book that someone else has recommended to you
I have so many books I haven't read that are on my shelf waiting that I tend to ignore other people's recommendations.

A book that was originally published in another language
Fountain and Tomb

A graphic novel, a graphic memoir or a collection of comics of any kind (Hi, have you met Panels?)
Girl Genius

A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure (Read, and then realize that good entertainment is nothing to feel guilty over)
I don't understand the concept of "guilty pleasure" where books are concerned.

A book published before 1850
Tirant Io Blanc

A book published this year
I don't remember having read anything published during 2015. That's odd, because last year I read a few published in 2014. I was surprised at not having accomplished this.

A self-improvement book (can be traditionally or non-traditionally considered “self-improvement”)
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Closely Watched Trains

Closely Watched Trains is a 1966 film, a Czechoslovak coming of age story about a young man who begins work at a train station in German-occupied Czechoslovakia during World War II. Jiri Menzel directs. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. Coming of age films aren't a favorite for me, and I only watched it because I found it on several lists of must-see foreign language films, but I enjoyed this one. It's sweet, but not too sweet. It's dark, but with humor.

part 1:

part 2:

Senses of Cinema calls it "strikingly understated film with its bitter-sweet humour, its earthy imagery, and its unassuming heroism." Bright Lights Film Journal says, "director Jiri Menzel has not been called the Czech Woody Allen for nothing". It's included in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. concludes,
In the 1960s, this picture was one of the most successful Czech films, both at home and abroad. This is demonstrated by many honors at both domestic and international festivals. It remains in the repertory of Czech movie theaters and still has not lost its audience.
The Guardian says,
the triumph of the film is to show us that our petty destinies are inextricably linked to bigger events outside our lives and that we can never escape them. That he does this with such tenderness, charm and guile, as well as producing an extremely funny film, is a measure of the longevity of its appeal.
DVD Talk says, "the majority of the film did provide strong characters, dialogue and beautiful cinematography". Entertainment Weekly gives it an A- and says, "Menzel's generosity of spirit toward his characters lends the film a sweetness that is accomplished and rare." Roger Ebert gives it 3 1/2 out of 4 stars and calls it "a quiet, charming, very, human film." Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 100%.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Sword is the 2014 sequel to the science fiction novel Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. I was afraid this would be a disappointment. I couldn't imagine it would be as good as the first one, and yet it was. The characters are brought to life so that you care about them. The plot draws you in and carries you steadily through to the end. The ending is satisfying, not a cliff-hanger, and yet it leaves you wanting that 3rd book to come out already. I can highly recommend this series (so far). I am loving it!

You can read the first chapter of this book online at the publisher's site here.

These books should definitely be read in publication order.

Because the action has connections with rich tea plantations, and the serving of tea is an integral part of the book, I'm linking this post to the T(ea) Tuesday gathering at Bleubeard and Elizabeth's blog, where Elizabeth is looking over T Tuesday posts from the past year.

As the author explains on her website:
I’ve been asked if Radchaai “tea” is really tea, or if it’s perhaps just a convenient term for some sort of Space Caffeine. In fact, it’s tea. As in made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis. We sometimes call nearly any sort of vegetable matter steeped in hot water “tea” but technically speaking, if it’s not Camellia sinensis, it’s not tea. It’s probably a tisane. Many of which are quite nice! But they’re not quite, you know, tea.
and Leckie recommends a particular tea to go with the book:
There’s a named tea in Ancillary Sword: it’s called Daughter of Fishes, and best I can tell you is, it’s something like a really good oolong. So try some Ti Kuan Yin.
Leckie suggests using loose tea and provides instructions for its preparations, but concludes, "Or, you know, not, if that’s too fussy for you. The important thing is to end up with a cup of tea that you enjoy, so whatever works." I like her attitude.

from the back of the book:
Breq is a soldier who used to be a warship. Once a weapon of conquest controlling thousands of minds, now she has only a single body and serves the emperor.

With a new ship and a troublesome crew, Breq is ordered to go to the only place in the galaxy she would a agree to go: to Athoek Station to protect the family of a lieutenant she once knew -a lieutenant she murdered in cold blood.

NPR has a positive review. The Book Smugglers says, "I bet everybody is thinking: will the sequel be as good as the first novel? Well, the answer is a resounding HELL YES." Eyrie calls it "an amazing book," says both books are "some of the best science fiction I've read" and rates it 9 out of 10.

Staffer's Book Review says it's "a worthy follow-up to the widely praised Ancillary Justice." Kirkus Reviews opens a positive review with this: "Leckie proves she’s no mere flash in the pan with this follow-up to her multiaward-winning debut space opera, Ancillary Justice (2013)." SF Signal closes by saying, "Ann Leckie has shown herself more than capable, and I trust that she will enthrall and amaze to round out the trilogy."

Entertainment Weekly concludes, "fans of space operas will feast on its richly textured, gorgeously rendered world-building." There are many reviews at Youtube here.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Sound of the Mountain

The Sound of the Mountain, a novel by by Yasunari Kawabata, was originally published in serial installments between 1949 and 1954. This translation has a 1970 copyright date.

from the back of the book:
By day, Ogata Shingo, an elderly Tokyo businessman, is troubled by small failures of memory. At night he associates the distant rumble he hears from the nearby mountain with the sounds of death. In between are the complex relationships that were once the foundations of Shingo’s life: his trying wife; his philandering son; and his beautiful daughter-in-law, who inspires in him both pity and the stirrings of desire. Out of this translucent web of attachments, Kawabata has crafted a novel that is a powerful, serenely observed meditation on the relentless march of time.
favorite quote:
[at the funeral of Toriyama] There were no longer many people who knew about Toriyama and his wife. Even though a few might survive, the relationship had been lost. It had been left to the wife, to remember as she pleased. There were no third parties to look back upon it intently. (p.68)
I was particularly struck by the passage describing the painting A Stubborn Crow in the Dawn: the Rains of June by Watanabe Kazan. I can't find that art work online, but I think it may have looked a little like this:

The Sound of the Mountain was adapted for film in 1954. The film is lovely, a delight to watch. I've also read Snow Country by this author and enjoyed it.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Jupiter Ascending

Jupiter Ascending is a 2015 space opera, an American/Australian production directed by The Wachowskis and starring Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, the great Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Terry Gilliam. This film is a delight! A couple of hours of great, playful fun, and the most gorgeous space ships you'll ever want to see. If you'd like deep philosophy or intricate plotting and character development then move on along. But I'll be keeping this one around to watch again.


Moria says, "Of all The Wachowskis’ films to date, Jupiter Ascending ranks as the most unpretentiously enjoyable, the least concerned with the epic meaning of it all and just a determination to create a rollicking good adventure." The Mary Sue loved every second and says, "Jupiter Ascending Is The Worst Movie Ever Go See It Immediately."

io9 opens with this:
Jupiter Ascending has some of the most stunning visuals we've ever seen in a space opera. The movie's spaceships are just stunning, and unlike anything else in movies or elsewhere.

Roger Ebert's site gives it 2 stars. Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 26%, and I can't believe they could watch the same film I did and score it this low..

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow

I'm using this to meet the 2015 Read Harder Challenge under the Indie Press category. I had a lot of trouble discerning what was and was not a small/indie press but saw TokyoPop referred to as such on some web sites. That's good enough for me. I came across this used, and it's currently out of print. It's available for as little as $2.50 on, and I'd have definitely sought this series out when my kids were of an appropriate age.

Sea of Shadow is the 1st volume of The Twelve Kingdoms, a series written by Fuyumi Ono and illustrated by Akihiro Yamada. I find in distinctly young-adulty, but I enjoyed it even so. I'd definitely recommend it for young people who like adventure stories that feature magic and other worlds, especially for females seeking a female protagonist. It's a quick, easy read with striking black and white full-page illustrations. Here's a sample picture:

from the back of the book:
More than just a fantasy story filled with horrific monsters, half-beasts, and magicians, The Twelve Kingdoms centers around a world reminiscent of Chinese mythology and rife with political and civil upheaval. Sea of Shadow, the first volume of this ongoing seven-volume epic, takes you on a wild ride that leaves you questioning the bounds of reality and fantasy.
Wikipedia has this plot synopsis:
Yoko Nakajima's life had been fairly ordinary until Keiki, a young man with golden hair, tells her that she is his master, and must return to their kingdom. With the help of a magic sword and a magic stone she fights against the demons on her trail. Yoko begins her quest for both survival and self-discovery in her new land.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Open House


Consider this a virtual Open House, and if you'd like to hang around and visit in the comments please feel free. Turn on some Christmas music to help the mood. I have a lot of cds, but I also listen to Christmas music at Spotify. Please feel free to use our selfie prop station idea. (See it in the basket under the tree?) We're getting a kick out of it. If you're in the mood for a Christmas movie, check out my list here. Some of them -especially the older ones and the shorts- are freely available online. There are seasonal books, too, including this copy of Clarence Moore's A Visit from St. Nicholas, which is the copy my Daddy used to read to us on Christmas Eve when I was little:

Perry Como will read the story to you here (with illustrations from a different book):

There are a lot of Christmas stories you can read online if you're in the mood for seasonal reading. I have a list of books that take place during the Christmas season, but few of them are available to read online. Here's a list from of links to stories online by famous authors from Hans Christian Andersen, Leo Tolstoy, The Brothers Grimm, L. Frank Baum, Willa Cather, Henry Van Dyke, Dylan Thomas, Washington Irving, Mark Twain, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anton Chekhov, Louisa May Alcott, and others.

I have some decorations:

new and old, religious and secular.

The stockings are hung by the stairs in our house:

We have refreshments on offer, with your choice of hot beverage (coffee, varieties of teas, spiced cider, mocha...) and Christmas-themed cups:

Or perhaps you'd prefer something cold? Boiled custard or ginger ale?

We have a couple of breakfast casseroles, plenty to share:

plus fruit (grapes, oranges, pears, bananas, orange juice), nuts, and sweet rolls (store-bought, I'm afraid). If you come by later in the day, we'll have turkey breast and dressing, baked ham, green bean casserole, and various other dishes. We're being informal today, so we can serve anytime folks happen by.

Merry Christmas! and may you enjoy the season. We're just getting started and will be celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas and then Epiphany. There's some sadness mixed in with the joy on any special occasion as we acknowledge our losses, but spending some time in person or "virtually" with friends and family helps me recognize my blessings.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Talking God

Talking God (1989) is 9th in Tony Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee Navajo Tribal Plice series. I enjoyed the book as a mystery, but I prefer the ones in this series that take place on tribal lands. This one has some action early on that takes place in Navajo territory, but the bulk of the book centers in Washington, D.C. Not that the Smithsonian isn't interesting, not at all, it's just that I like the Western setting better for these characters. There's a healthy-sized stack at the foot of my bed, and I'm working my way happily through all of the Leaphorn/Chee books.

from the back of the book:
A grave robber and a corpse reunite Navajo Police Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee. As Leaphorn seeks the identity of a murder victim, Chee is arresting Smithsonian conservator Henry Highhawk for ransacking the sacred bones of his ancestors. As the layers of each case are peeled away, it becomes shockingly clear that they are connected, that there are mysterious others pursuing Highhawk, and that Leaphorn and Chee have entered into the dangerous arena of superstition, ancient ceremony, and living gods.
The L.A. Times calls Hillerman "one of America's best storytellers" and says, "Tony Hillerman's new novel takes the reader through a crescendo of characters, locations, plots and subplots." Kirkus Reviews calls it "far-above-average crime fiction: vividly peopled, forcefully told."

I've read the following:

Dance Hall of the Dead (1973)
The Jim Chee Mysteries, which includes:
  • People of Darkness (1980)
  • The Dark Wind (1982)
  • The Ghostway (1984)
Skinwalkers (1986)
The Sinister Pig (2003)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Smilla's Sense of Snow

Smilla's Sense of Snow (or Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow) is a 1992 Danish mystery novel. I have mixed feelings about this one. I liked the main character and the ones most closely related to her, but the other characters all ran together for me. I also found it dragged, and for me the part of the plot that took place on the ship seemed interminable. I was tempted to skip entire pages when I noticed that she was still on that ship and that effectively the plot hadn't advanced at all. I didn't. But I was sorely tempted. When it was finally over, I didn't even care any more.

It was adapted for film in 1997. I hadn't even heard of the movie until I started reading about the book.

from the back of the book:
She thinks more highly of snow and ice than she does of love. She lives in a world of numbers, science and memories -a dark, exotic stranger in a strange land. And now Smilla Jaspersen is convinced she has uncovered a shattering crime....

It happened in the Copenhagen snow. A six-year-old boy, a Greenlander like Smilla, fell to his death from the top of his apartment building. While the boy's body is still warm, the police pronounce his death an accident. But Smilla knows her young neighbor didn't fall from the roof on his own. Soon she is following a path of clues as clear to her as footsteps in the snow. For her dead neighbor, and for herself, she must embark on a harrowing journey of lies, revelation and violence that will take her back to the world of ice and snow from which she comes, where an explosive secret waits beneath the ice....
favorite quotes:
I feel the same way about solitude as some people feel about the blessing of the church. It's the light of grace for me. I never close my door behind me without the awareness that I'm carrying out an act of mercy towards myself.
There's a widespread notion that children are open, that the truth about their nner selves just seeps out of them. That's all wrong. No one is more covert than a child, and no one has a greater need to be that way. It's a response to a world that's always using a can opener to open them up to see what's inside, wondering whether it ought to be replaced with a more useful sort of preserves.
The knives in my apartment are only sharp enough to open envelopes with. Cutting a slice of course bread is on the borderline of their ability. I don't need anything sharper. Otherwise, on bad days, it might easily occur to me that I could always go stand in the bathroom in front of the mirror and slit my throat. On such occasions it's nice to have the added security of needing to go downstairs and boror a decent knife from a neighbor.
I'm not crying about anything or anyone specific. The life I live I created for myself, and I wouldn't want it any different. I cry because in the universe there is something as beautiful as Kremer playing the Brahms violin concerto.

People hold their lives together by means of the clock. If you make a slight change, something interesting nearly always happens.
Nothing in life should simply be a passage from one place to another. Each walk should be taken as if it is the only thing you have left.
What complicates life is having to make choices. The person who is pushed forward lives simply.
Nothing was more reassuring to me than the knowledge that I would die. In these moments of clarity -and you see yourself clearly only when you see yourself as a stranger- all despair, all gaiety, all depression vanish and are replaced by calm. For me death was not something scary or a state of being or an event that would happen to me. It was a focusing on the now, an aid, an ally in the effort to be mentally present.

The NYT says, "If "Smilla's Sense of Snow" is an indication of what Peter Hoeg has in store for us, he may yet be offered a provisional chair in the corner of literary heaven reserved for great suspense novelists". Kirkus Reviews has a positive review.

Literary Traveler says,
Smilla’s Sense of Snow is an incredibly entertaining novel, and I’m sure anyone who is a fan of mysteries would enjoy it. But for me, the best part was learning about the history and culture of Greenland. Hoeg deftly explores the many problems of the colonization of the island nation, weaving social critique and historical context into his text in a masterful way.
Mystery Scene says it "dramatically explores alienation, the loss of identity, cultural diversity, exploitation of the environment, science and the intricacies of love." Publishers Weekly calls it "A dark, taut, compelling story, it's a real find."

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Quiet Hour

The Quiet Hour:

is a 1913 painting by Albert Chevallier Tayler, who was born on April 5, 1862, and died on December 20, 1925. This painting brings together the table setting with a cup of something hot, fresh flowers, and a woman reading, which adds up to such a pleasant domestic scene. I'm drawn in. I think I'd like to sit there.

You can see more of his work online at The Athenaeum.

I'll share my own quiet hour featuring our Christmas tree:

Oh, and by the way... If you have any fond memories of the original trilogy and you haven't seen the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie yet, get out there! Tonight! And see it before some pagan spoils it for you. I saw it yesterday afternoon and can't praise it highly enough.

Bleubeard and Elizabeth host a lovely gathering every week at the Altered Book blog. Please join us, and share a drink.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Art Exhibits at the Dixon Gallery

photo from

The Dixon Gallery is beautifully decorated for Christmas, but I don't take photos inside where I run the risk of attracting the ire of staff. The photo above came from the Dixon web site. The Husband and I went to see the Scenic Impressions: Southern Interpretations from the Johnson Collection exhibit. The Dixon web site description:
The Johnson Collection is a private art collection based in Spartanburg, South Carolina that boasts an extensive survey of artistic activity in the American South from the late eighteenth century to the present day. This unique collection illuminates the rich history and diverse cultures of the region. Scenic Impressions: Southern Interpretations from the Johnson Collection will highlight the influence of the Impressionist movement on art in the American South through landscapes and genre scenes created between 1880 and 1940.
When the kids were little it was our practice to choose a favorite from exhibits we saw, and I still find myself doing that. My favorite here was Winter in the Forest of Fontainebleau (c. 1905) by George Charles Aid.:

Another exhibit on view was Painting American Progress: Selections from the Kattner Collection and More, and this was an interesting complement to Scenic Impressions. Here's the label on the back of a promotional piece from that exhibit:

While we were there we found an exhibit by local artist Martha Kelly.

image from

My favorite of her pieces was Poplar Grove, 2015. They had a card available which I tried to picture in a way that avoided copyright infringement:

The print is available for sale for $145, listed at her web site. Kelly is an active urban sketcher, and some of her notebooks were part of the display. There is a section of her site devoted to sketch journalism, and she shares some of her work there. You can see some of her sketches of Memphis here.

This was my first time back in the building following their recent renovation. To be honest, I couldn't tell much difference. It always looks beautiful to me.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Untouchable

The Untouchable is a novel by award-winning author John Banville. I read and loved The Sea and picked up this book on the strength of that experience. The writing is as wonderful as I expected. I'm not as taken by the subject, which is a fictionalized account of the Cambridge spy ring as told in retrospect by one of the major players.

from the back of the book:
One of the most dazzling and inventive writers now working in English takes on the enigma of the Cambridge spies in a novel of exquisite menace, biting social comedy, and vertiginous moral complexity. The narrator is the elderly Victor Masakell, formerly of British intelligence, for many years art expert to the Queen. Now he has been unmasked as a Russian agent and subjected to a disgrace that is almost a kind of death. But at whose instigation?

As Maskell retraces his torturous path from his recruitment at Cambridge to the airless upper regions of the establishment, we discover a figure of manifold doubleness: Irishman and Englishman; husband, father, and lover of men; betrayer and dupe. Beautifully written, filled with convincing fictional portraits of Maskell's co-conspirators, and vibrant with the mysteries of loyalty and identity, The Untouchables places John Banville in the select company of both Conrad and le Carre.
The Guardian explains the roman-à-clef genre, saying,
It is a genre that has long offered readers the pleasure of trying to identify its personages, of being in the know. It originated at the beginning of the 18th century with so-called "secret histories": scandalous narratives of the doings of courtiers. The disguising of identities appeared tactful but was actually provocative. In the 19th century the genre kept a tincture of the forbidden. Lady Caroline Lamb titillated a Regency readership with a fictionalised version of her entanglement with Byron, Glenarvon (1816) (the title is the "disguised" name of the poet). Benjamin Disraeli also turned Byron's exciting life into fiction in Venetia (1837), and then wrote a political roman-à-clef, Coningsby (1844), which prompted the publication of "keys" to its characters.

A sense of revealing what has been secret, of broaching the forbidden, still attaches to the roman-à-clef.
The NYT closes their glowing review with this:
There is much, much more to celebrate in this extraordinary book: prose of a glorious verve and originality, in the service of a richly painted portrait of a man and a period and a society and a political order -- the whole governed by an exquisite thematic design. Contemporary fiction gets no better than this.
Publishers Weekly says, "It is seldom one encounters as keen a literary intelligence as Banville's embarked upon as compulsively entertaining--and thought-provoking--a tale as this." Kirkus Reviews calls it "An icy, detailed portrait of a traitor, and a precise meditation on the nature of belief and betrayal."

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Journey to Italy

Journey to Italy is a 1954 French/Italian English-language film directed by Roberto Rossellini and starring Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders. Just soak in that combination for a moment. How can you go wrong? This is the story of a wealthy businessman and his wife on a trip to Italy to arrange the sale of property left to them when an uncle died. That their marriage is in trouble becomes clear fairly soon, and how they deal with their problems is the focus of the film. Well worth watching.

via Youtube:

Senses of Cinema says,
Voyage to Italy succeeds on every level because it is itself a voyage of discovery, in which Rossellini is trying to capture the actual dynamics between his two leading actors, and to follow them as they attempt to make a connection with each other, and with the Italian countryside as well. calls it "a graceful, understated portrait on the dissolution of marriage". The Guardian begins its review with this: "In terms of cinema history, Roberto Rossellini's Journey To Italy (1954) is one of the most important films you've never seen." Slant Magazine focuses on Bergman.

The Village Voice says, "Voyage to Italy is close to watching actual strangers suffer loneliness despite being together." DVD Talk says, "It has been described as a Michelangelo Antonioni-style glimpse into the existential void." Time Out calls it "A founding influence on the French New Wave and adored by Martin Scorsese".

Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 95%.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Bat

The Bat is a 1997 detective mystery by Jo Nesbo. the first in the Harry Hole series. The plot is a bit twisty, the characters are people you can care about, and the writing is straightforward without the awkwardness I sometimes see in translated works. The setting grants some insight into foreign culture and history. I've already picked up books 2 and 3 and will eventually read them all.

from the back of the book:
The electrifying first appearance of Jo Nesbo's detective, Harry Hole.

Inspector Harry Hole of the Oslo Crime Squad is dispatched to Sydney to observe a murder case. Harry is free to offer assistance, but he has firm instructions to stay out of trouble. The victim is a twenty-three-year-old Norwegian woman, a minor celebrity back home. Never one to sit on the sidelines, Harry befriends one of the lead detectives, and one of the witnesses, as he is drawn deeper into the case. Together, they discover that this is only the latest in a string of unsolved murders, and the pattern points towards a psychopath working his way across the country. As they circle closer and closer to the killer, Harry begins to fear that no one is safe, least of all those investigating the case.
Later books in the series were published here years ago, with this initial book being offered only recently. I'm thinking that explains the lack of truly descriptive reviews. The focus seems to be on the later, more familiar works, reviewed as they are released. I'm glad I discovered the detective as the author intended to introduce him. There's an overview at

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Light Fantastic

The Light Fantastic is the 2nd in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. It is a direct sequel to the 1st book and is the only direct sequel in the long-running series. I'm not reading these in order, instead reading them as I come cross them in the book store. This one is the first of Pratchett's books to disappoint me. It has Rincewind and The Luggage, which ought to guarantee my enjoyment. Oddly, it was so forgettable that I discovered as I was writing this post that I'd already read this back in 2008. I seem to have enjoyed it back then, but I still have no memory at all of having read it before. *sigh* My memory isn't that bad, honest. Maybe the series is wearing thin for me.

from the back of the book:
.... only one individual can save the world from a disastrous collision. Unfortunately, the hero happens to be the singularly inept wizard Rincewind, who was last seen falling off the edge of the world....
favorite quotes:
... such questions take time and could be more trouble that they are worth. For example, it is said that someone at a party once asked the famous philosopher Ly Tin Weedle "Why are you here?" and the reply took three years.
Rincewind had been generally reckoned by his tutors to be a natural wizard in the same way that fish are natural mountaineers.
"I always say home is where you hang your hat."

"Um, no," said Twoflower, always anxious to enlighten. "Where you hang your hat is a hatstand..."
"... The important thing about having lots of things to remember is that you've got to go somewhere afterward where you can remember them, you see? You've got to stop. You haven't really been anywhere until you've got back home. I think that's what I mean."

Rincewind ran the sentence across his mind again. It didn't seem any better second time around.

I've read the following books from the series:
1) The Color of Magic
2) The Light Fantastic
3) Equal Rites
4) Mort
5) Sourcery
6) Wyrd Sisters
7) Pyramids
8) Guards! Guards!
18) Masquerade
21) Jingo
33) Going Postal
36) Making Money

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

X-Files 42

Unexplained phenomena, indeed. Someone should have told Scully and Mulder that the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything was right there all along.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Let's Have Another Cup of Coffee

Let's Have Another Cup of Coffee:

a 1932 song by Irving Berlin, performed in this video by The Glenn Miller Orchestra. Glen Miller was missing in action on this date in 1944. Wikipedia says,
On December 15, 1944, Miller was to fly from the United Kingdom to Paris, France, to play for the soldiers there. His plane, a single-engined UC-64 Norseman, USAAF serial 44-70285, departed from RAF Twinwood Farm in Clapham, on the outskirts of Bedford and disappeared while flying over the English Channel. There were two others on board the plane: Lt. Col. Norman Baessell and pilot John Morgan.

A 2014 article in the Chicago Tribune reported that, despite many theories that had been proposed, Miller's plane crashed because it had a faulty carburetor. The plane's engine had a type of carburetor that was known to be defective in cold weather and had a history of causing crashes in other aircraft by icing up.
Lyrics excerpt:
Just around the corner
There's a rainbow in the sky
So let's have another cup o' coffee
And let's have another piece o' pie!
Please share your drink at Bleubeard and Elizabeth's weekly T party.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Plague Dogs

The Plague Dogs is a 1982 British feature-length animated adaptation of the Richard Adams book by the same name. The two main characters are dogs that have escaped from a research facility. One of them is voiced by John Hurt.

opening scene:

You can watch the full film online at this link.

Moria gives it 5 out of 5 stars and calls it an "unsung masterpiece". Den of Geek says, "The eye to detail extends beyond just eye-catching visuals."

The NYT praises the visual style and says it's "distinguished by its unusually lifelike animation." Rotten Tomatoes has a 90% audience rating.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


L'Atalante is a 1934 Jean Vigo film about a barge captain who marries a small-town girl and moves her onto the barge with him and his 2-man crew. I think this is a sweet, touching love story that avoids the sappiness and melodrama and cuteness and all other faults often found in love stories.

It's worth noting that the director was only 29 years old and died of TB before this -his only feature film- was released. Let's take a moment and mourn what we lost.


Slant Magazine says the film "stands as one of the most beautiful and rich celebrations of human connection in the history of cinema." Senses of Cinema says it is "a film that can barely contain its passion and anarchistic fervour." Empire Online says, "it has a genuinely weird feel, combining dingy realism with an almost magical eroticism. It has improved with age".

The New Yorker says, "It’s no exaggeration to call “L’Atalante” one of the greatest films in the history of cinema." Time Out gives it 5 out of 5 stars and says, "See it and swoon." It's listed in the book 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.

Roger Ebert lists it as a Great Movie and closes his review by saying, "This is the kind of movie you return to like a favorite song, remembering where you were and how it made you feel, and how its feet smelled." Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 100%.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Taste of Cherry

Taste of Cherry is a 1997 Iranian film, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. This is a deliberate, slowly-paced story about a man who drives around the countryside trying to hire a man to do a delicate task for him. I honestly loved this film and will re-watch it. I found it revelatory.

via Youtube:

Senses of Cinema begins its consideration with this:
[Director] Abbas Kiarostami’s cinema has long been a ‘humanitarian’ one, but not in the often condescending, conventional sense of the word. His cinema carries the utmost respect for an audience as a collection of thinking, intellectualizing individuals: never does he resort to devices intended to blatantly arouse the audience’s emotions, edit didactically to make a political point, or instruct via an obvious narrative structure. His sparse narrative economy comprised of spaces and ellipsis thread together episodes and present experiences that require the audience to make a leap of imagination or understanding. says, Taste of Cherry, [director] Kiarostami's eloquent meditation on life and death, is a sublime masterpiece." EW gives it an A and calls it "outstanding".

Roger Ebert gives it one pitiful, lonely star and an unfavorable review. Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 83%.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Tai Chi

I've been interested in Tai Chi for years. I've bought DVDs and tried Youtube videos and looked at diagrams, but none of them have worked for me. Here's what Tai Chi looks like if you know what you're doing:

I've recently discovered that a local senior center offers Tai Chi classes 3 days a week. I've signed up and begun attending. They offer a lot more there (art, dancing, yoga...), and I'll probably look into some of the other classes. The building is adjacent to a park with a walking track, and I took these photos last week:

I'm finding the Tai Chi class interesting. The women in the class are friendly and talkative, and the teacher shows concern that we enjoy and understand the process. I'm hoping to learn the forms well enough so that I can practice at home using a DVD.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Jim Chee Mysteries

The Jim Chee Mysteries is a collection of 3 novels featuring Officer Jim Chee written by Tony Hillerman. Included are People of Darkness (1980), The Dark Wind (1982), and The Ghostway (1984). I enjoy Hillerman's writing and like reading about Jim Chee.

People of Darkness is Jim Chee's first appearance. You can read a thorough plot summary at Wikipedia.

The Dark Wind was adapted as a 1991 film by the same name starring Lou Diamond Phillips as Chee. That film might be a good intro to the world of Jim Chee if you don't want to commit to a book, but you'll be hunting down the books once you've watched it. Here's the movie trailer:

The trailer is dated, certainly, but the film itself has held up well.

Kirkus Reviews calls The Ghostway "one of Hillerman's best Navajo mysteries--keeping suspense, Indian lore, and character in stately yet compelling balance." Together, these 3 books are a great way to dive into Hillerman's Navajo creation. I think the entire series is worth looking for. I've read quite a few so far, including Dance Hall of the Dead (1973), Skinwalkers (1986), and The Sinister Pig (2003).

Tony Hillerman died of pulmonary failure in 2008 at the age of 83, so it's nice that the books he wrote are re-readable. His daughter is continuing the series with books based on Chee's wife (Chee is not married in the 3 books in this volume), but I'm going to skip those.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

In Bruges

In Bruges (2008) is either the saddest comedy or the funniest tragedy I've ever seen, but I'm going with tragedy. Wikipedia describes it as a neo-noir black comedy crime film. It stars Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes

Words really fail me in expressing how I feel after having seen this film. And it happens at Christmas-time. I definitely recommend it, and I'll be seeing this one again.


DVD Talk concludes,
In Bruges gets better with repeated viewings. This character-driven gangster flick wrings humor and pathos from situations that would have been formulaic in less-competent hands. As it is, writer-director Martin McDonaugh -with the help of some exceptional actors- has fashioned a knockout of a movie.

Roger Ebert gives it 4 out of 4 stars and says,
... it is not only ingenious but almost inevitable the way the screenplay brings all of these destinies together at one place and time. Along the way, there are times of great sadness and poignancy, times of abandon, times of goofiness, and that kind of humor that is really funny because it grows out of character and close observation.
Rolling Stone calls it "literate, lively cinema". Rotten Tomatoes has a critics rating of 84%.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Saying Good-bye to Autumn

We had Thanksgiving dinner with The Newlyweds at their home, and they served me hot cider in that adorable little bluebird cup pictured above. We had ham and turkey and all the trimmings gathered around the coffee table (because they don't have dining room furniture yet) and it was a treat to see them happily nesting in their new space. I didn't get photos of my plate -too anxious to dig in maybe?- but here's my dessert:

After we ate, The Husband and I took their fur-kid Obi:

on a walk to a nearby park:

There are several benches to sit on, including some backless ones:

My mother died on Thanksgiving Day 2 years ago, and I hosted the family gathering last year but found this year's preparations to be filled with sadness for some reason. The Newlyweds' invitation was a God-send. As we say good-bye to the fall season and dig deep into our anticipation of Christmas, I'm trying to be mindful of everything I have to be thankful for. I need to release the sadness and embrace the joy. It's just so much harder than it sounds.

Please join the goings-on at Bluebeard and Elizabeth's T Tuesday gathering. Share your drink of choice and enjoy the fellowship.