Friday, December 30, 2016

The Candlemaker

The Candlemaker is a 1957 animated short film. The narration begins with this:
Many years ago, before there were any automobiles and before we had electricity or even gas lighting and when people used horses if they wanted to go out for a ride and oil lamps and candles if they needed a light, there lived in a small country town, yes, a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick-maker. With just over a week to go before Christmas, the townspeople were busy indeed and none more so than the candlemaker and his young son Tom. For in those days, quite small boys were expected to behave like grown men.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Winter of the Wolf Moon

Winter of the Wolf Moon is the 2nd book in the Alex McNight mystery series by Steve Hamilton. This is a perfect winter read, taking place during the coldest months of the year in a town called Paradise in Michigan's Upper Peninsula near the Canadian border. Brrrrr..... I like the main character and his relationships with friends and co-workers and am picking up these books as I find them, trying to read them in order.

from the back of the book:
Steve Hamilton's novels starring ex-cop and sometime-P.I. Alex McNight have won multiple awards and appeared on bestseller lists nationwide. And when you start reading Winter of the Wolf Moon, you will instantly understand why....

When a young woman from the Ojibwa tribe asks McNight for shelter from her violent boyfriend, McNight agrees. But after letting her stay in one of his cabins, he finds her gone the next morning. His search for her brings on a host of suspects, bruising encounters, and a thickening web of crime, all obscured by the relentless whiplash of brutal snowstorms. From the secret world of the Ojibwa reservation to the Canadian border and deep into the silent woods, someone is out to kill -and McNight is heading right into the line of fire.
The New York Times has a positive review. Publishers Weekly describes it as " a fast mystery brimming with insight into both the politics of U.S./Canadian border crimes and the relations between Native Americans and their white neighbors."

Kirkus Reviews concludes with this:
In his second outing, Hamilton continues to show promise. His protagonist is likable as well as durable, his raffish cast sharply observed and entertaining. Moreover, he knows how to pace a story, something of a lost art in recent crime fiction.
I have also read the 1st in this series, A Cold Day in Paradise (1998).

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a 2010 award-winning Finnish movie, a dark fantasy/horror film described by Wikipedia as being "about people living near the Korvatunturi mountain who discover the secret behind Santa Claus". This is fascinating! You can watch it free on Tubi.


The New York Times says this movie is "as black as anything the Brothers Grimm could have dreamed up" and says, "adults will enjoy the exuberantly pagan images and deadpan humor." The Guardian concludes, "Intriguing fun and very resourceful."

Empire Online says, "this offers very black humour and a strange mix of revisionist mythology, gruesome horror and authentic Christmas spirit." io9 calls it, "the most disturbingly awesome Christmas movie ever".

Roger Ebert gives it 3.5 out of 4 stars. Rotten Tomatoes has a critics rating of 89%.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Paddington Movie

The Paddington Movie is a 2014 film based on the characters in the long-running children's book series by Michael Bond. This is true to the spirit of the books, though not a faithful scene-by-scene adaptation of any of them. Sequels are planned, and I'm looking forward to them. This movie is a real delight, and I recommend it especially to people who love Paddington Bear.

There's a scene towards the end with a Christmas tree, so I'm including this film in my list of Christmas movies.


Rotten Tomatoes has a 98% critics score.

Monday, December 26, 2016

In Evil Hour

In Evil Hour is a 1962 novel by Gabriel García Márquez. I've read 2 other books by this author (that I remember): One Hundred Years of Solitude and Chronicle of a Death Foretold. I like his writing, but I do prefer his shorter works like this one.

from the back of the book:
IN EVIL HOUR is the eerie, magical story of a small Colombian village suddenly haunted by mysterious lampoons -incendiary posters spreading monstrous rumors about the town's most respected citizens. Overnight, the rainy tranquility of the village becomes a smoldering chaos of scandal, deceit, and murder.

Full of the imaginative marvels, comic exaggerations, and exotic dreams that made ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE a world-wide legend, IN EVIL HOUR combines the real and the fantastic, as Gabriel Garcis Marquez conjures up a dreamy Latin American village that discovers, in its very midst, the many faces of evil.
The NYT has a positive review but criticizes the translation. Kirkus Reviews concludes by saying it's "Not major work but... a pleasing glimpse of a fanciful, vivid imagination at its most unforbidding."

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Music

We love listening to Christmas music around here. We have a kajillion CDs, I have a Christmas playlist on Spotify, and I've been surprised to see how much Christmas music there is on Youtube. Here's a playlist that lasts almost 12 hours:

and there are plenty more videos on Youtube of varying lengths.

Since I don't actually watch the videos for the Christmas music playlists, I looked for some audio-only options online and found, a Christmas station at Pandora, AccuRadio, Live365, and many more.

May I offer you a warm beverage?

I trust you're enjoying your day, and I hope you find joy in this season and peace throughout the coming year.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Christmas Carol (1923)

This 1923 adaptation of A Christmas Carol is a 27-minute British production. I found it online at this page but couldn't figure out any way to embed it in this post.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost

Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost is a 1901 adaptation, directed by Walter R. Booth. According to Wikipedia: "The actor who played Scrooge in the film has never been identified."

via Youtube:

Thursday, December 22, 2016


Echo (2010), by Jack McDevitt, is the 5th book in the ongoing Alex Benedict series. More than one reviewer describes the series as "cozy" science fiction, and I like that. I felt like there was a bit of a cop-out at the end, but I almost felt like the author liked one of the characters too much to do that to her, so I sympathized with the decision. I generally liked this one. But still... That decision made some of the earlier parts of the book less comprehensible to me. I do like the characters, and the books are an easy read in a world I enjoy. You wouldn't have to read them in order, but I found the 2nd book the weakest link, so don't start there.

from the back of the book:
During eight thousand years of star travel, humans have encountered only one alien species. Sunset Tuttle spent a lifetime looking for others in vain.

Twenty-five years after Tuttle's death, Alex Benedict makes an astonishing discovery: a stone tablet inscribed with cryptic symbols, now in the possession of Tuttle's one-time lover Rachel Bannister is determined to decipher its secret -one Bannister doesn't want revealed. Could it be that Tuttle's obsessive quest was successful? If so, why is the woman hiding the truth? Stranger still, why did Tuttle never admit to his findings?

Now Benedict and his assistant, Chase Kolpath, embark on their own voyage of discovery -for answers as startling as they are infinitely dangerous.
Eyrie says,
It's tempting to describe McDevitt as cozy science fiction. There's a bit of danger, a bit of suspense, but one is fairly certain that everything will work out in the end and the reader will leave the book knowing the solutions to most of the mysteries raised without having to work very hard at understanding the society or the puzzle.
SF Site says, "When McDevitt brings out his final revelation, it seems almost anticlimactic, but it doesn’t really matter. By that point, McDevitt has drawn the reader with with his storytelling and characters". Locus Online concludes with this: "perhaps the biggest surprise is how McDevitt manages to make the odd coupling of the cozy and the cosmic into effective and moving SF."

I've read the series so far:
  1. A Talent for War
  2. Polaris
  3. Seeker
  4. The Devil's Eye

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Christmas Carol (1997)

A Christmas Carol (1997) is a musical animated adaptation voiced by Tim Curry, Whoopi Goldberg, Ed Asner, and Michael York. With so many options for watching this story, I can't think of a single reason to choose this one. With the voice talent here it seems a shame, but this is very missable.

via Youtube:

Rotten Tomatoes doesn't have enough critic scores to get a rating, but the audience score is 39%.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Sear Shack and Shopping

The Sear Shack is a new burger place in town, and we decided to check them out.

You order at the counter:

I had the single burger with lettuce, tomato, and pickle, a coke, and an order of fries:

We liked the food and will go back, I'm sure. You can see the menu here.

We went window shopping, which is a tradition for us so we can see the Christmas decorations, first at the local mall:

We got a kick out of this sign:

We also went to Spin Street, where it's impossible to leave without buying things. They were decked out, celebrating the season:

And, of course, a trip to the local independent bookstore:

with their seasonal book displays:

I came away with 4 books from there: 2 fiction and 2 science fiction, and I've already finished one of the fiction books. I'll write it up soon and schedule a post on it. I'm trying to increase my stock of science fiction books, so I'll have plenty on hand for winter reading. All suggestions are welcome. I prefer science fiction to fantasy, I particularly like space opera, and I don't at all care for alternative history. My plan had been to pick up the latest book in the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, but they didn't have that one.

I hope your preparations for Christmas are filled with joy and that your days are lacking any stress. A season of peace be yours!

Please join us over at Bleubeard and Elizabeth's weekly T Tuesday gathering. Share a drink with us.

Shovel Ready

Shovel Ready, Adam Sternbergh's 2014 debut novel, is first in a series about a near-future hitman in a post-nuclear disaster New York. You can read an excerpt via the author's web site. It was a bit terse in style for my liking, though it's also nice to have something to read that's in a different style. I enjoyed the way the main character was written, and will read the next in the series (there are only the two books so far) when I come across it. There is a planned film starring Denzel Washington, which appears to be in development hell.

From early in the book:
A reporter buddy once told me that in newspapers, when you leave out some important piece of information at the beginning of the story, they call it burying the lede.

So I just want to make sure I don't bury the lede.

Though it wouldn't be the first thing I've buried.
from the back of the book:
Spademan used to be a garbageman. That was before the dirty bomb hit Times Square, before hs wife was killed, and before the city became a blown-out shell of its former self.

Now he's a hit man.

In a near-future New York City split between those who are wealthy enough to "tap in" to a sophisticated virtual reality and those who are left to fend for themselves in the ravaged streets, Spademan chose the streets. When his latest client hires him to kill the daughter of a powerful evangelist, he must navigate between these two worlds -the wasteland reality and the slick fantasy- to finish his job, clear his conscience, and make sure he's not the one who winds up in the ground.
The Guardian calls it "as lean and muscular a noir thriller as I have read in a long while". The LA Times has an interview with the author. The Atlantic describes it as a "propulsive, aggressively paced novel" and shares an interview with The Wire.

UR Chicago has a negative review, complaining about the dressing up of a tired story with gimmicks. Slate has an interview with Sternbergh.

Kirkus Reviews concludes, "Telegraphic in style, this book is tough, sordid and definitely not for every taste." Publishers Weekly describes it as "a low-rent Raymond Chandler noir told in the style of very late James Ellroy." Entertainment Weekly says, "You finish this book ready for more of his scared new world."

SF Book closes by saying it "is different enough to warrant attention, an unusual protagonist and a story that manages to avoid cliche helps, as does the quality of the writing. Recommended." io9 has some criticisms of the writing but concludes:
The good news is, the character of Spademan and his snarky observations do carry you forward, and there are enough revelations towards the end that feel both shocking and supported by the story, that Shovel Ready still winds up feeling like a great read, and its world still manages to hold you in its dirty clutches until the violent, fascinating conclusion.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Christmas Carol (2009)

This Disney adaptation of A Christmas Carol is a computer animated motion-capture film from 2009. Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, and Colin Firth star. This is fascinating to watch. It's far from cheerful, though, and I think it's one of the darkest and grimmest.

You can watch it here with ads:

Video Production
The NYT calls it "a big, noisy and sometimes terrifying version," "in the midst of obeying the rules of modern-day spectacle, it sticks close to some of the sturdy virtues of the source material," and regrets the attempt to "juice up the third act with action-movie thrills". The Guardian says, "It's a faithful adaptation, and if you're taking little kids to see it, well, watch out –there are some scary moments ... But there is a weird lack of passion here, almost condescension..."

Roger Ebert gives it 4 out of 4 stars. Rotten Tomatoes has a critics rating of 54%.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

42 Art

image from Every Inchie Monday

Earlier this month, Chrissie from Jumbled Crafts, one of the T Tuesday participants, posted a challenge that was part of Every Inchie Monday, a site that describes itself this way:
Open to everyone: A weekly challenge that will leave you with 52 square inches of pure creativity! This is a great exercise for those that don't have a minute to spare. Imagine the end of the year....what will you create with your inchies??? How will you interpret the Inchie Word of the Week? Create one square inch of art with anything, post it on your blog and Flickr then leave a comment here with a link to your INCHIE. An inch a week is all we ask...
The particular challenge that was posted that week was for 42s. I was so excited to see other folks interested in all things 42!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Blackadder's Christmas Carol

Blackadder's Christmas Carol (1988) is a parody of the story rather than an adaptation. It stars Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Robbie Coltrane, Miranda Richardson, Miriam Margolyes, and Jim Broadbent. This is a lot of fun.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Christmas Carol (1977)

This is a BBC adaptation of the classic tale A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It stars Sir Michael Hordern, who is Marley's Ghost in two other versions, as Scrooge. Anything he is in is worth watching, and he's well cast here. Zoë Wanamaker is Belle, Paul Copley is Fred, Clive Merrison is Bob Cratchit, and Carol MacReady is Mrs. Cratchit. I find Marley the weak link in this one -a bit lifeless even for a ghost.

BFI Screen Online has some praise for the Marley actor, and says of this version of the story, "This compact adaptation stays very close to the original, reproducing much of the dialogue verbatim" and highlights Hordern's performance:
What anchors this adaptation, however, is Michael Hordern's Scrooge. He completely dominates the production, equally convincing as a cynical curmudgeon in the opening scenes and, later, as a panic-stricken old man terrified by the vision of his own dismal death. His final redemption and re-birth as a kinder and more generous human being is appropriately joyous and heart-warming.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Chiron Beta Prime

Chiron Beta Prime:

by Jonathan Coulton. Hard as it may be to believe, this -yes, this- is my very favorite Christmas song. Go ahead and judge me. I'm used to it.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Coffee at the Peabody

The Peabody Hotel is a storied Memphis treasure, and during Christmas-time they pull out all the stops. The Daughter and I went there for coffee and people-watching and to enjoy the decorations and music.

Can you see the player grand piano in the background of the photo above? It plays Christmas music this time of the year. Delightful!

The ducks were swimming in the fountain:

When they aren't there, they have stately quarters up on the roof:

Here was the view from the roof:

and the elevators to take us back down to the lobby:

Downstairs just off the main lobby area were more decorations:

It looks so elegant, but you feel right at home even casually-dressed. They understand the meaning of the word "hospitality". Y'all come back now, ya hear?

Share a drink with the T Tuesday group, a weekly blog gathering hosted by Bleubeard and Elizabeth.

Ancillary Mercy

Ancillary Mercy is the third book in Ann Leckie's "Imperial Radch" trilogy. These really must be read in order, as they are a clear and straight narrative from the beginning of the first book to end of the last. Mercy won the Locus Best Novel award. Science Fiction is my favorite genre, and space opera is my favorite sub-genre. This series fits the bill beautifully, but it's not your father's space opera. I thoroughly enjoyed it, with its unusual characters, and have passed it along with my high recommendation to The Younger Son.

from the back of the book:
Ancillary Mercy is the stunning conclusion to
the trilogy that began with Ancillary Justice,
the only novel ever to win the Hugo, Nebula,
and Arthur C. Clarke awards.
For a moment, things seemed to be under control for Breq, the soldier who used to be a warship. Then a search of Athoek Station's slums turns up someone who shouldn't exist, and a messenger from the mysterious Presger empire arrives, as does Breq's old enemy, the divided, heavily armed, and possibly insane Anaander Mianaai -ruler of an empire at war with itself.
NPR closes by saying that this book "earns the credit it's received: As a capstone to a series that shook genre expectations, as our closing installment of an immersively realized world, and as the poignant story of a ship that learned to sing." Kirkus Reviews gives it a positive review and says, " Leckie creates a grand backdrop to tell an intimate, cerebral story about identity and empowerment. She devotes as much attention to the characters’ personal relationships and their mental and emotional difficulties as she does to the wider conflict." Publishers Weekly opens with this: "The breathtaking conclusion to Leckie’s much-lauded Imperial Radch trilogy (Ancillary Justice; Ancillary Sword) lives up to the promise and expectations of the earlier books."

Slate says
There’s perhaps no science-fiction series as descriptive of our current political and cultural moment or as insistent that we open our eyes to it as Ann Leckie’s Hugo- and Nebula-winning Imperial Radch trilogy. In Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and the newly published Ancillary Mercy, Leckie imagines a space opera thousands of years in the future and thousands of light years away—a perfect vantage point from which to consider how we humans imagine ourselves right now.
SF Signal calls it "Emotionally Complex, Compelling". The Eyrie gives it a positive review, a 10 out of 10 rating, and concludes, "This is simply the best SF series I've read in a long time."

I've also read:
  1. Ancillary Justice
  2. Ancillary Sword

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Jacob Marley's Chain

Jacob Marley's Chain:

by Aimee Mann.

Lyrics excerpt:
Well, today a friend told me this sorry tale
As he stood there trembling and turning pale
He said each day's harder to get on the scale
Sort of like Jacob Marley's chain

But it's not like life's such a vale of tears
It's just full of thoughts that act as souvenirs
For those tiny blunders made in yesteryear
That comprise Jacob Marley's chain

Saturday, December 10, 2016

A Christmas Carol (1969, animated)

This adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol is an Australian made-for-TV version directed by Zoran Janjic. It was one of the early episodes in the Famous Classic Tales series.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Christmas Books

I keep a list of adult fiction books that take place during the Christmas season here. It ranges from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to mysteries from more recent years. I'm always looking for suggestions. There are many on the list I haven't read yet, but I'm hoping to read Gravity's Rainbow this month.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Depressing Christmas Songs

My personal choice for winner of Most Depressing Christmas Song Ever is Christmas Shoes by NewSong:

A more dreary, sad, and depressing Christmas song cannot possibly exist.

But gave it a go, coming up with a list of unintentionally depressing ones. They go into some detail about the recordings at that link, but I'm excerpting just a bit to give the flavor of why these were selected.

Frank Sinatra's The Christmas Song, about which they say, "Classics like “The Christmas Song,” and “I’ll be Home for Christmas” took on a heartbreaking tone after Frank phoned them in for this 1957 recording. Sinatra was going through a messy divorce and simultaneously making a holiday album in the triple-digit heat of Los Angeles summer."

Lightnin’ Hopkins' Merry Christmas, and Salon describes it as "the sound of a man alone on Christmas".

Low's Blue Christmas. Salon says, "After a couple of minutes listening to Mimi Parker and company you suddenly get the sense of what it must be like to wake up Christmas morning to find you have been robbed of everything but the tinsel."

Vince Guaraldi's Christmas Time Is Here. Salon says the piano-only version "has always seemed like the soundtrack to crying in your old bedroom".

My Morning Jacket's Xmas Time Is Here Again. Salon says the vocals "evoke the most disheveled group of carolers to ever find your door."

Red Red Meat's There’s Always Tomorrow. Salon says they turn the Claymation Rudolph song "a big pile of ashes and antlers."

Eurythmics' Winter Wonderland. Salon says they "sounded more alien or robotic".

Now if all that isn't depressing enough, read Salon's exploration of why Baby, It's Cold Outside is about date rape. And yes, yes it is. There is no saving that song.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The House of Mirth

The House of Mirth, a 1905 novel by Edith Wharton, is a book I thought I had read long since but had never actually read. Odd, how some books seem familiar somehow. Better late than never, I've come to it wishing I had read it sooner. It's a sad story of a woman whose life doesn't turn out well. You can't help but see how much of it is her own fault, but she had plenty of "help" from friends, family, and society to ensure her success on any terms would be difficult.

from the back of the book:
Lily Bart knows that she must marry -her expensive tastes and mounting debts demand it- and, at twenty-nine, she has every artful wile at her disposal to secure that end. But attached as she is to that social world of her wealthy suitors, something in her rebels against the insipid men whom circumstances compel her to charm.

"Why must a girl pay so dearly for her least escape," Lily muses as she contemplates the prospect of being bored all afternoon by Percy Grice, dull but undeniably rich, "on the bare chance that he might ultimately do her the honor of boring her for life?" Lily is distracted from her prey by the arrival of Lawrence Selden, handsome, quick-witted, and penniless. A runaway bestseller on publication in 1905, The House of Mirth is a brilliant romantic novel of manners, the book that established Edith Wharton as one of America's greatest novelists.
You can read it online at Project Gutenberg (divided into separately-linked chapters here),, and Online Literature (also with separately-linked chapters) among other sites. You can listen to it at Youtube (LibriVox recording).

The Guardian says, "The novel was serialised in Scribner's Magazine in 1905 and aspects of it now seem old fashioned but its depiction of social mores and their influence gives it universal resonance." NPR calls it a "rich, tragic tale". The New York Review of Books calls it Wharton's "triumph".

Monday, December 05, 2016

Interior: The Orange Blind

Interior: The Orange Blind:

by Francis Cadell, a Scottish Colourist painter, best known for his depictions of the elegant New Town interiors of his native Edinburgh, and for his work on Iona. He died on this date in 1937 in poverty at the age of 54. I had a silver tea service similar to that at one time, but I never used it and gave it to my sister during one of my moves.

Please join the T Tuesday gathering hosted by Bleubeard and Elizabeth. Share the drink of your choice and warm yourself in the blogosphere companionship.

Hip Exercises

These are the hip-specific exercises I've chosen in my effort to improve my fitness. has hip-strengthening exercises here and here.

The rest of these are videos. This one is a series of floor exercises from Michelle Kenway, a Physiotherapist:

These are done seated and standing in the beginning before moving to the floor:

This video -like the one above- is a set of exercises from Doctor Jo for hip arthritis:

These are Doctor Jo's exercises for osteoporosis, but focus on the hip:

These physical therapists demonstrate three hip-strengthening exercises:

It's sometimes hard to divide these exercises into categories, because some of the videos I use are more generally for lower body strength, but these do target the hips.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Empire's 100 Best British Films

Empire has a list of 100 Best British Films. These are the top 10:
1. Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)
2. Monty Python's Life Of Brian (1979)
3. The Red Shoes (1948)
4. Don't Look Now (1973)
5. Brief Encounter (1945)
6. Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
7. Kind Hearts And Coronets (1948)
8. Trainspotting (1996)
9. Local Hero (1983)
10. Withnail & I (1987)
I've seen the ones in bold, 6 of them and all the pre-70s films in the top 10. You can take an online quiz here at List Challenges to see how many you've seen. I've seen 48 of the 100 on this list. I haven't even heard of some of them.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Christmas Music

Every year I delete some pieces from my Spotify Christmas music playlist, and I add others. It gets longer every year. I like a variety of types of music, so my playlist is eclectic, but there are also many traditional tracks. You can listen to it here:

Friday, December 02, 2016


Scandal is a 1950 Akira Kurosawa film starring Toshirō Mifune (one of our favorites) and Takashi Shimura (another of our favorites). Since the director and both lead actors are can't-miss attractions in my book, this movie is a must-see.

There is a scene that takes place during the Christmas season that includes a Christmas tree and a singing of Silent Night:


I watched it when Hulu offered it free. They aren't that friendly anymore.

The New York Times concludes, "Like all Kurosawa films, ''Scandal'' is motivated by considerations of humanity and justice, but rarely has the director been so witty or even as subversive as the movie must have seemed to thinking Japanese in 1950." Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 83%.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Now the first of December was covered with snow

Sweet Baby James:

by James Taylor

Lyrics excerpt:
Now the First of December was covered with snow
And so was the Turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston
Lord, the Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frostin'
With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go