Tuesday, June 27, 2017

TV Tuesday: Food Network Star

So, you may have noticed that after several years and many dozens of TV Tuesdays, I have not reviewed a single reality show. That's unusual, given how much of what is on TV now is reality TV. There's a simple reason for that: I really don't watch reality TV. I prefer scripted dramas or comedies and watch a very wide range of those, but there are only two reality shows I watch.

One is The Amazing Race, which is still - well, amazing after all these years. We used to watch it with our sons and loved cheering the teams on together, but I'm the only one left in my family who still watches it. The other reality show I watch is Food Network Star - I love to cook, I love to eat good food, and I enjoy this reality show that focuses on improving skills in the kitchen and on camera. The bonus: my son who rarely watches TV will sit and watch it with me if I turn it on during lunch!

The concept of Food Network Star is quite simple (and obvious from the title!) - it is a competition to find a chef who will be given their own show on Food Network. Pretty cool. The really cool part is that not all of the contestants are professional chefs (though many are) - some are caterers or chefs-in-training or even just people who cook for their families. There are usually 12 contestants in all, and each week presents them with different cooking challenges. Sometimes they work in teams and sometimes they are solo. Challenges almost always include some sort of presentation at the end, with the contestants learning how to handle appearing on camera. Usually one person (sometimes two) is eliminated each week, based on the appearance and taste of their food and the quality of their presentation. At the end, three finalists record pilots for their own shows, and one person is chosen as the winner and goes on to have his or her own Food Network show.

I enjoy watching the challenges, the cooking, and the presentations, but it is also fun to watch the relationships that develop over the course of the show. One reason I like this show and not other reality TV is that I really don't enjoy watching people be mean to each other! The contestants here are generally supportive of each other, and the judges - lately, Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis - are also kind and supportive, often giving someone who messes up but seems to have potential another chance.

The show is now in its 13th season (episode 4 just aired). I think this is the 3rd or 4th season I have watched. It's fun to see one of the contestants on Food Network later, or even - occasionally - making it big. I just discovered in researching this post that Guy Fieri - renowned now for Guy's Big Bites and Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (one of our faves) - was the winner of season 2!

Season 13 is now available On Demand through cable providers. My own On Demand doesn't list the episodes in order (for some strange reason), so I refer to this episode list to figure out which one comes next - the show really doesn't make sense if you watch it out of order! You can also watch full episodes of the current season for free on the Food Network website. The current season - and most past seasons - are also available on Amazon for $1.99 an episode or a full season starting at $9.99 (some are longer than others) - see links below. And if you are interested in the history of the show and past winners, I found the Food Network Star Wikipedia page very interesting.

Do you watch any reality shows? Have you seen Food Network Star yet?



         



Monday, June 26, 2017

Movie Monday: Wonder Woman

During our recent vacation camping in Vermont, my husband and I had one cold, rainy day to contend with, so we left the campground to go into town. We met old friends for lunch, did some shopping, and then decided to just make a full day of it, with dinner and a movie in Morrisville, VT. The tiny movie theater there was showing the brand-new Wonder Woman movie, so we decided to see what all the fuss was about. We enjoyed this action-packed adventure very much.

I grew up in the 70's with the Superfriends cartoons and Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman on prime time, so I am well-acquainted with the famed female superhero. This new look at Wonder Woman, in the wake of dozens of comic book superhero movies in the past decade, finally gives her her due.

Israeli actress Gal Gadot stars in this new Wonder Woman film as Diana, Princess of the Amazons, later known as just Diana Prince. The movie opens on the secret island of the Amazon women, where they live and train together in a peaceful society. Connie Nielson plays Diana's mother, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and Robin Wright stars as Antiope, Diana's aunt and the fiercest warrior among this race of warrior women. Lilly Aspell is wonderful (and adorable) as the young Diana, eager to learn to fight, against her mother's wishes.

The Amazons' peaceful life is shattered when a WWI pilot crashes into the sea near their island, somehow getting through their protective barrier, followed closely by a German ship that is chasing him. After the Amazons defeat the German invaders, Steve Trevor, the downed pilot and spy who is played by Chris Pine, explains to Diana about the war that is tearing apart the human world. Diana, now a courageous young woman, feels a strong and compassionate need to help stop the war and leaves the island with Steve, despite her mother's pleas to stay.

Once in London, Steve and Diana try to deliver Steve's urgent intelligence about a new German chemical weapon to the British leaders, but they are unsuccessful in convincing them to act on this knowledge. Steve gathers a few friends, and their ragtag group heads off for the front to try to disrupt the German plan on their own. Along the way, though the men are mostly accustomed to the ravages of war, Diana is appalled by the suffering she sees and refuses to leave needy people unassisted. She gradually discovers powers that she didn't know she possessed.

As you would expect from any superhero movie, Wonder Woman is packed with action and suspense. Its battle scenes often incorporate slow-motion action so you can see Diana's moves up close. Given the subject matter, there is also the underlying spy movie plot, pitting good against evil, complete with mad scientists. What makes or breaks a superhero movie for me is the presence of humor, and there is plenty here, mostly through the motley crew Steve has assembled and some fish-out-of-water stuff when Diana visits London. There is also a hint of romance, as Diana and Steve are clearly attracted to each other.

The cast of the movie - both the Amazons in the beginning and the main characters in the war sequences - are excellent, and Gal Gadot seems like the perfect Wonder Woman (no offense, Lynda Carter). We both thoroughly enjoyed this suspenseful and entertaining movie. I'm not a huge fan of superhero movies, but I liked the humor and compassion in Wonder Woman, and I looking forward to its sequels.

Wonder Woman is currently in theaters. The DVD release is estimated for sometime in August, and you can pre-order both the DVD and the streaming version on Amazon now (links below).



    

It's Monday 6/26! What Are You Reading?

Happy Monday! Did you miss me?? I missed two What Are You Reading Mondays, so it's been awhile. My husband and I took a week-long trip to Vermont with our camper, while our sons went to the Firefly music festival here in Delaware. We had a wonderful vacation - peaceful and fun. You can check out photos from our trip and the natural beauty in Vermont, my picks for great food in Manchester, VT (more posts coming with other restaurants elsewhere in VT), and a recap of 3 independent bookstores we visited in Vermont - the state has a lot of them!
One section of the fabulous Northshire Bookstore in Vermont
Back home, last week was a crazy whirlwind of activity, with everyone home. I helped get our sons ready for another trip, restocked food, took my father-in-law to the doctor, ran errands, had everyone over for dinner, and with my son, ran dozens of loads of laundry! Now, though, the flurry of activity has passed and I am here in the quiet house all ALONE. Our sons are away for two weeks on their grandparents' sailboat, and my husband is traveling for work this week. Ahhh...the quiet solitude is lovely after the exhausting activity last week. Now, I hope to finally get caught up from vacation, with e-mails (still over 200 unread ones left!), writing, blog posts...and of course, what we've been reading! Here's the recap from the past three weeks:
  • I finished The Atlas of Forgotten Places by Jenny D. Williams, a review book for Shelf Awareness (you can check out my first Shelf Awareness review here). It was an amazing novel that I recommended to my editor for their Top 10 Books of 2017 list. It takes place in war-torn Uganda in 2008 (during the height of Joseph Kony's reign), where a young American aid worker who left on a 3-week vacation in the area goes missing. Her aunt, who also worked for an aid organization in Uganda, comes from Germany to look for her. It's full of action, suspense, moral questions, and intrigue, and the setting was fascinating to me, since I knew nothing at all about Uganda or its culture or history.
  • I finished my first Big Book of the Summer, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, a teen/YA novel. Although I didn't love this novel as much as Stiefvater's others, her amazing writing, unforgettable characters, and suspense pulled me in as always, and I did end up enjoying it.
  • I also finished my my second Big Book of the Summer, Shift by Hugh Howey, book 2 in the Wool series. The first book, Wool, just blew my husband and I away, and book 2 was just as good. I gobbled up its 570 pages on our vacation. Now I am dying to read book 3, Dust, while the events of the first two books are still fresh in my mind, so I may sub that in for one of my other Big Books this summer. You must read this series!
  • Next, I read a quick novel for my neighborhood book group this week: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. This was an entirely different kind of story - quiet, gentle, and warm - but just as compelling. It's about a 70-year old widow who asks her widowed neighbor if he will spend the nights with her (platonically) because she is so lonely. The two of them gradually get to know each other and become closer, with both of their lives deeply enriched. I absolutely loved this book!
  • Now, I have gone back to a book of short stories that I started for Booktopia last month, The World to Come by Jim Shepherd. His stories take a unique approach. They are historical fiction, often focusing on some horrible disaster that occurred in real life, but he adds fictional characters and delves into their feelings, thoughts, and states of mind. They are very good so far, though - as you might imagine from the subject matter - some of them are devastating.
  • On audio, I finished listening to Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart. It's a middle-grade novel about a boy sent to a creepy reform school set on a rocky island by itself and what happens when all the adults on the island are gone. I really enjoyed Gemeinhart's Some Kind of Courage and especially The Honest Truth. Scar Island grew on me, and I ended up enjoying it, too.
  • On our trip, my husband and I started listening to Exo by Fonda Lee, a teen/YA sci fi novel. It takes place about 100 years after an alien race has colonized Earth, Some people were selected to work alongside the aliens and help them, while others have resisted the alien invasion and continue to fight against them. It's very good so far, and we are both enjoying it. I guess we will have to finish it on our next road trip, in a few weeks!
  • Back at home, this weekend, I started listening to The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson, a middle-grade novel about a 12-year old boy, Matthew, with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder who is housebound (and often won't even leave his own bedroom). He spends hours at his window, watching the neighbors on his street. When a toddler goes missing from next door, Matthew may be the only one who can piece together what happened to him. It's an issue-driven novel, delving into Matthew's OCD, crossed with a mystery. I've been hooked right from the start!
  • My husband. Ken, finished his first Big Book of the Summer, Paul of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. This is a kind of spin-off novel from the classic Dune series, written by the original author's son and a co-writer. Dune is one my husband's favorite novels, so he enjoyed this novel and has now passed it on to our son.
  • Next, Ken read a novel we bought at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT, The Fold by Peter Clines. We were supposed to be picking out books for our son's birthday, but we saw this one and couldn't resist it for ourselves! It's a sci fi thriller about the development of a device that allows "folding" of dimensions, making teleportation a reality. Ken said it was just as good as it sounded - I can't wait to read this one, too!
  • Now, Ken is reading In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware, another novel purchased at Northshire Bookstore! I bought this one when I was there for Booktopia and gave it to Ken on Father's Day during our trip. This is a psychological thriller by the author of The Woman in Cabin 10.
  • Jamie, 22, finished re-reading the Tunnels middle-grade series by Roderick Gordon, and also finished reading the last book (#6) of the series, Terminal.  He really enjoyed revisiting this old favorite series and finally finishing it!
  • Now, Jamie is reading Dune by Frank Herbert, the classic sci fi novel, inspired by his dad! Jamie read Dune once before, but he was very young (about middle-school age) so he is enjoying re-reading it. Next, he will read Paul of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson, which his dad just lent him.
Whew, quite an update! Here are my blog posts from before and after my vacation:
TV Tuesday: Anne with an E - wonderful adaptation of Anne of Green Gables

Nonfiction Review: The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History by Joseph M. Marshall III

Fiction Review: How To Be Human by Paula Cocozza - reviewed for Shelf Awareness

Fiction Review: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery - I finally read this classic!

TV Tuesday: The Fall - dark & creepy Irish thriller series

3 Bookstores in Vermont - we visited 3 of VT's 20 independent bookstores!

Saturday Snapshot: Vermont State Parks - some highlights of VT's natural beauty

Weekend Cooking: Great Restaurants in Manchester, Vermont - so much good food!

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

What are you and your family reading this week?  

You can also follow me on Twitter at @SueBookByBook or on Facebook on my blog's page


Remember to sign up for my Big Book Summer Challenge! You have plenty of time (until September) to read just 1 book (more if you want) with 400+ pages. Everyone has a chunkster like this (or dozens of them, like me!) on their shelves or TBR list. I hope you'll join the fun! (you don't need a blog to sign up - see the challenge page for details)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Weekend Cooking: Great Restaurants in Manchester, Vermont

If you've been reading my blog this week, you know I am just back from a lovely week spent in Vermont with my husband. You can check out my recap of three VT bookstores we visited and my photos of the natural beauty in Vermont. So, here, on Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads, I am starting a series on all the great restaurants we visited in Vermont! Vermont is known for its focus on local, independent, and hand-crafted. There are very few chain stores or restaurants in the state outside of larger cities and almost no fast food. Instead, everywhere you go, you find craft beers, super-fresh local ingredients, and even craft coffee! Even restaurants that serve fairly traditional food often list on their menu the local farms where they get their ingredients. The result? Amazing, fresh, creative food everywhere you go! Here are some favorites from Manchester, VT, which I have visited twice for Booktopia, in addition to this recent trip with my husband.

Up for Breakfast
Up for Breakfast
Any visit to Manchester, VT, must start at this unique and creative breakfast place on Main Street. Its name is literal, as you have to climb a flight of stairs to get to the tiny second-floor restaurant. Once there, you are surrounded by bright, cheerful decor in a cozy but not overcrowded place filled with both locals and visitors (you may have a short wait for a table on a busy weekend). Each day, they offer a different flavored coffee, in addition to regular coffee and decaf. My husband thoroughly enjoyed his chocolate hazelnut coffee!

The real star here is the creative menu which is filled with unique and tasty breakfasts. They have delicious (and huge) pancake varieties plus French toast, often made from non-standard breads. And those who think that eggs are boring will be amazed by the variety of unique kinds of omelets, frittatas, hashes, and Eggs Benedict. In addition to the varied selections on the regular menu, each day brings a new batch of daily specials that will blow your mind.  On our recent visit, my husband and I both chose one of the specials, a Cuban version of Eggs Benedict, with flavorful roast pork, sauteed leeks and purple cabbage, eggs and adobo hollandaise sauce, all served on top of cheesy polenta discs. It was full of flavor and sooo good! When I was there for Booktopia in May, I ate at Up for Breakfast three times and enjoyed three very different breakfasts, all full of flavor, including their own version of corned beef hash, with a stone ground mustard hollandaise. Wild turkey hash is one of their specialties, as well.
Cuban Eggs Benedict - creative & delicious!

Spiral Press Cafe
You can walk off that big meal from Up for Breakfast at the Northshire Bookstore, a large and fabulous independent bookstore where Booktopia is held each year in May. Or, if a small breakfast is more your style, pick up a coffee and delicious baked good or breakfast sandwich at Spiral Press Cafe, which is attached to the bookstore. Enjoy your light breakfast at a table in the large WiFi-equipped area before going up or down a few stairs to browse in the bookstore. I like to eat lunch at Spiral Press Cafe in between Booktopia events. Their lunch menu features soups, salads, sandwiches, and paninis, all made with fresh ingredients. My favorite is their Curried Chicken Salad, served on top of the House Salad. Indulge in a delicious homemade dessert before continuing your bookstore explorations!


Poncé Bistro
Poncé Bistro
Another option in Manchester that offers both breakfast and lunch is the little Poncé Bistro on Route 7A (they also serve dinner Thursday through Saturday). We stopped there for lunch after some outlet shopping (had to work off that Up for Breakfast meal!). You can sit inside the cozy shop in an old house, at tables with fireplaces nearby, or on nice days, out on the patio. Breakfast is coffee or tea and the usual assortment of fresh-baked pastries, muffins, scones, etc. or a breakfast sandwich. They also offer quiche, omelets, French toast, and many varieties of crepes. We opted for the patio at lunchtime on a gorgeous summer day, and out mouths watered perusing the choice of soups, sandwiches, and salads (many of them Spanish-influenced). It was a tough choice, but my husband had the delicious North Country Turkey sandwich, with dill havarti cheese, apple slices, and a homemade dressing. I opted for the Asian Chicken Salad, which was tasty but could have used a bit more Asian flavor. The dinner menu features a variety of both creative and traditional dishes - we'll have to go back!
Lunch on the patio at Poncé Bistro


The Depot Cafe, inside Depot62 furniture store!
Depot Cafe
We read about this one in our Roadfood book, which is our constant companion on road trips. It described the Depot Cafe as a restaurant inside a furniture store (Depot62), specializing in Turkish food on Depot Street. Yup, that's exactly what it is! You can see some of the furniture in the background of my photo below, behind my husband. The store offers some really cool, eclectic stuff, and the cafe menu includes a variety of flatbread pizzas made with pita bread in their brick oven, as well as some traditional Turkish dishes, like kebabs (also roasted in the oven). I ordered roasted salmon with mixed salad greens, which was good, though a bit bland. My husband ordered a flatbread pizza with ground lamb that was delicious, along with one of those wonderful local Vermont craft beers. We were disappointed to find they had no baklava on the Monday evening when we visited, but it is normally on the menu (and they offered us tiramisu).

Thai Basil
While at Booktopia this year, my mom and I ate dinner Saturday night at Thai Basil, right on Main Street, across the street from Up for Breakfast. It's open for lunch and dinner and offers a variety of both traditional and creative Thai dishes. We ordered several different dishes to share, and everything was delicious and super-fresh. We tried their Signature Basil Rolls, Larb Salad, and Thai Basil Red Snapper. It was all very flavorful. We were in a rush that night, to get back to Northshire Bookstore for the final Booktopia event, but service was fast and friendly.
Seasons Restaurant
When we went to Booktopia in 2015, my mom and I ate dinner Saturday evening at Seasons Restaurant, on Route 7A. We sat outdoors on their pleasant patio. My mom isn't a fan of eating dinner early (again, we needed to get back to Northshire for the final Booktopia event), so she just ordered the Asian Noodle Salad, but it turned out to be a good-sized meal and full of flavor - she loved it! I ordered the Seven Seed Crusted Salmon which was delicious, with fresh vegetables on the side. We both enjoyed our meal very much. I wanted to go back on this recent visit with my husband, but there just wasn't enough time to fit in all the good food in town!

As you can see, Manchester, VT, is filled with amazing food options. Its many restaurants feature a wide variety of creative dishes from different cultures, made with fresh ingredients. I haven't had a bad meal there in three visits! So, go for the food...and of course, the amazing bookstore!

Come back for more great Vermont restaurants on upcoming Weekend Cooking posts. And if you love food and/or cooking, stop by the Weekend Cooking page for more blog posts to enjoy.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Saturday Snapshot: Vermont State Parks


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda at West Metro Mommy Reads.

Last week, my husband and I enjoyed a lovely week camping in Vermont at three different state parks and visiting three quaint little towns (all towns in Vermont are quaint little towns!). You can check out my post on 3 Vermont Bookstores for a bookish recap, and watch for upcoming Weekend Cooking posts on the wonderful food we ate in Vermont.

But here are some highlights of the natural beauty we saw in Vermont state parks last week - the whole state is filled with gorgeous lakes, surrounded by forests and mountains, plus rivers and waterfalls. We went to Emerald Lake State Park, near Manchester, VT; Elmore State Park, near Stowe, VT (where I met up with an old college friend); and Coolidge State Park near Woodstock, VT. It's really a beautiful place!

Trees reflected in the water at Emerald Lake State Park, VT

Hiking around Emerald Lake

View of lovely lake at Emerald Lake State Park, VT

Sun through the green leaves at Emerald Lake State Park, VT
Me kayaking on Emerald Lake

From the beach at Elmore State Park (near Stowe, VT)

Geese parents & 3 goslings on Elmore Lake

Kayaking on Elmore Lake on a perfect summer day in VT
Tinker Brook Gorge, near Coolidge State Park, VT

Close-up of the falls at Tinker Brook Gorge

Our very quiet site at Coolidge State Park, VT - campground was empty!

Hope you are enjoying a wonderful weekend wherever you are!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

3 Bookstores in Vermont

Ready to kayak on Elmore Lake in Vermont
Last week, my husband and I enjoyed a lovely week in Vermont, escaping the extreme heat here in Delaware for the comfortable kind of summer weather I remember growing up in western New York. We camped, hiked, kayaked, and spent some time exploring three wonderful little Vermont towns: Manchester, Stowe, and Woodstock. Each of the towns had an independent bookstore, which is not unusual. Tiny Vermont has 20 independent bookstores in all! (you can check out a list and locations at the link). This is a great state for book lovers!

One of many well-lit, pleasant aisles filled with books at Northshire
The largest and most impressive of the bookstores we visited was Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT, which hosts the annual Booktopia event (that you are probably sick of hearing me talk about!). You can read about my attendance at Booktopia 2017 here. Northshire is a wonderful bookstore with a huge selection, covering several floors, including used books and an amazing children's area. It also has an excellent cafe and coffee shop attached, along with a big room full of tables and WiFi. It would be easy to spend a whole day just wandering the aisles of Northshire! I was just there in May for Booktopia (and bought a big stack of books for Father's Day gifts), but I wanted to show my husband, so we spent a couple of hours there on our trip. One of the great things at Northshire is the many shelf talkers to point you to the staff favorites. We picked out some books for our son's birthday, plus other gifts, and some books and journals for ourselves. If you live anywhere near southern Vermont, a trip to Northshire is a must! We camped at nearby beautiful Emerald Lake State Park.

Bear Pond Books in the Old Depot in Stowe, VT
We were camped near Stowe, VT, at Elmore State Park on the only rainy day of our trip. It worked out fine because we had plans to meet an old college friend of mine and her husband for lunch in Stowe, so we headed into town early to escape the cold and rain. We enjoyed browsing through the Stowe Mercantile, with a wide array of unusual handmade items, gifts, and more. Then, we took our time meandering through Bear Pond Books next door (on Main Street inside the Old Depot). This was a much smaller bookstore than Northshire but with a well-curated collection and pleasant open shelving that is perfect for browsing. They have a nice selection of Vermont-based books, a great children's section, and cards and gifts as well. Even though we didn't NEED any more books, we bought another book for our son and a few more items.

Where did everyone go? Woodstock with The Yankee Bookshop on the right.
Finally, our last stop was the town of Woodstock, where we stayed at nearby Coolidge State Park. We went hiking early in the day and planned to stroll around Woodstock, go in the shops, and have dinner in the evening. The only problem? The entire town of Woodstock shut down at 5 pm! Every single shop in town was closed when we got into town at 5:15. We did enjoy a nice dinner in Woodstock that night, but our shopping was relegated to literal window shopping. The Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock claims to be Vermont's oldest independent bookstore. Though we didn't get to browse its aisles, we did spend some time peeking in its windows! It looks like a small-ish shop, though it may have gone back further than we could see from the front windows. The shelves we could see looked like a nicely curated selection, including some Vermont-specific books. We'll have to check it out more closely next time.

Vermont is definitely a great destination for book lovers! Its quaint small towns are filled with independent bookstores...and good food, too! Vermont is also known for its focus on local, fresh food, so we had some wonderful meals there - look for upcoming Weekend Cooking features here on some of our favorite Vermont restaurants.



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

TV Tuesday: The Fall

I am just back from a week in Vermont with my husband - camping, enjoying Vermont's quaint towns, visiting bookstores, great food, and of course, lots of down time for reading! Since our sons left for college, and my husband and I are now often traveling on our own, we have established a new habit when camping. In the evening, we watch a TV episode on DVD on my laptop in our pop-up camper (before we go to bed for reading time). We've been working our way through Dexter, since we have all the seasons of that show on DVD (we gave them to my son years ago). You can read my review of the show at the link. We are now up to season 3.

Back here at home, in between the spring and summer network TV seasons, we've been enjoying some streaming shows, most recently The Fall, a very dark and creepy Irish detective show.

Gillian Anderson (of X-Files fame) stars as Stella Gibson, a cold-seeming Detective Superintendent who's been sent to Belfast to review a case involving the murder of a young woman whose father is a prominent businessman in the community. While she's there, another murder occurs, and Stella realizes there is a serial killer on the loose. Stella works the cases along with the local detectives, and in the first episode, we see a very different side of Stella as she boldly invites another detective back to her hotel room for a passionate night.

Meanwhile, viewers also see things from the perspective of the serial killer, Paul Spector, a seemingly normal family man who lives with his wife, a nurse who works in the NICU, and two small children. He's an affectionate father at home but goes out at night and murders women in cold-blood, often posing their dead bodies in intimate ways. As Stella and the police force collect clues and get closer to Paul, his very controlled life starts to get more and more unbalanced, as his two lives threaten to collide.

This is a dark and compelling show, with a seriously high creep factor! To see Paul murder a woman and then, hours later, hug his little girl and tuck her into bed is absolutely chilling. Stella becomes more and more obsessed with the case, and Paul begins to pay attention to her as well. This show is unusual for a detective show, in that it involves a single case spread over time, rather than a new case in each episode (reminding me a bit of The Missing). The tension builds as Stella gets closer to identifying Paul, and Paul becomes more desperate to fulfill his sick needs and stay away from the police. The cast is all excellent, especially Gillian Anderson, with her cool exterior hiding a passionate center and Jamie Dornan as the super-creepy Paul. We also enjoyed seeing Archie Panjabi (aka Kalinda from The Good Wife) as the medical examiner.

As is typical with shows from the UK and Ireland, the seasons are short (just 5 episodes in the first season). We are into the second season now and are totally hooked...though we often watch The Fall first and then something a bit lighter before bed! All three seasons are available on Netflix or you can get the first two seasons on Amazon streaming for $1.99 an episode or $8.99 a season or on DVD (links below).

Have you seen The Fall yet?  Which detective shows do you enjoy?



    

Friday, June 09, 2017

Fiction Review: The Little Prince


Can you believe I have never read the classic The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery? Not in school nor in all my 52 years. I was moved to finally read it after reading a chapter about it in Books for Living by Will Schwalbe, a wonderful book where each chapter features a book and a lesson learned from it (this one was titled, appropriately, Finding Friends). I wasn't sure how to title this review (children's? classic?) and settled on simply “fiction,” for this small but powerful tale of an alien and a pilot that has been inspiring both children and adult readers for decades.

In case you, like me, have somehow missed this ubiquitous classic, it is a unique story of a pilot stranded in the Sahara Desert who encounters a little prince who turns out to be from another planet. The two gradually become friends as they talk and get to know each other over the course of a week. The little prince asks the pilot to draw him pictures and also asks him questions, though he rarely answers questions himself. Gradually, the pilot comes to understand that the little prince is from a tiny planet, that he has planted and nurtured a very special flower there, and that he is interested in bringing a very small sheep back with him, though he is concerned that the sheep may eat the flower.

The little prince made several stops on other planets and asteroids before arriving on Earth. He encountered an authoritative king of a very small planet, a vain man who insisted on constant admiration, a drunkard, a businessman who was so caught up in his daily tasks that he'd lost sight of the bigger picture, and a geographer who had never explored his own planet. The little prince learns something from each of these people, though his overarching lesson seems to be that grownups are strange.

Yes, this is a very bizarre plot for a story! I had no idea at all that The Little Prince was about an alien visitor. Of course, the story is about much more than its plot, and the slim book is filled with insightful quotations that have become well-known since its publication in 1943, accompanied by delightful illustrations. It is about friendship, beauty, the difference between children and adults, and nothing less than the meaning of life.
The little prince meets the fox - original illustration by the author


Here, the little prince tells the pilot about meeting a fox that was looking for a friend:
“The only things you learn are the things you tame,” said the fox. “People haven’t time to learn anything. They buy things ready-made in stores. But since there are no stores where you can buy friends, people no longer have friends. If you want a friend, tame me!”

Of course, taming him requires time and patience, but the little prince follows his instructions, and they become friends. When they part, the fox says:
“Here is my secret. It’s quite simple: One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”

This little book is filled with astute passages like that. The lessons here are just as applicable to life today as they were in 1943 (perhaps more so, in this new digital world we live in). It took me 50 years to finally read it, but I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the little prince and learning from him, alongside the pilot narrator. I wish I’d known about this charming little novel sooner so I could have read it aloud to my sons when they were young. I thank Will Schwalbe for introducing me to it now.

83 pages, Harcourt, Inc.
(this was the version translated by Richard Howard, with original art by the author)

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Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint ExuperyTrade Paperback
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Thursday, June 08, 2017

Fiction Review: How To Be Human

Another of my reviews for Shelf Awareness has just been published: How To Be Human by Paula Cocozza. You can read my full review at that link (and sign up for the Shelf Awareness newsletter in the upper-right corner of that page).

So, a quick background and bit of intro on this novel and its review. I have to admit, this is a weird one! But it grew on me.

It's about a woman in London who falls in love with a fox that visits her backyard (aka garden). Yup, you read that correctly. Like I said, it's a weird one, and at first I struggled with it a bit. This fox does all kinds of bizarre things, though sometimes you're not sure whether the fox really did something or whether the main character is just losing it (which she definitely is, to some extent, after a bad breakup). Ultimately, though, I ended up liking the novel. Shelf Awareness only publishes recommendations, so I had to decide whether I enjoyed it enough to review it, and I did. You can check out the review for more on the plot and what I thought of it.

Interestingly, one problem I had at first was that I thought it wasn't believable. We have LOTS of foxes in our backyard and the woods behind our house, and I've never seen one get that close to the house - or come in the house - or do any of the other things the one in the novel does. Again, I assumed that at least some of that was the main character's overactive imagination and state of distress. But when I typed "fox london" into a search engine, this article from the LA Times came up (don't ask me why the LA Times is reporting on foxes in London). It explains how foxes are all over urban London. They've been spotted on the subway, on a high floor of a skyscraper under construction, and yes, have even come into people's homes, with two reports of foxes dragging babies out of cribs! (which may or may not have happened in the novel).

So, it seems that the novel is actually realistic from that perspective, in addition to being a captivating story about human nature and healing.

Photo from L.A. Times

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Nonfiction Review: The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History

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My neighborhood book group’s selection for last month was a nonfiction book, The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History by Joseph M. Marshall III, a descendant of the same Lakota community as Crazy Horse. It was fascinating and eye-opening, though also quite depressing, as I knew from the beginning how it ends.

Most of us have heard of Crazy Horse as a part of U.S. history in relation to General Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn, but here Marshall delves into a fuller history of the man behind the legend, based on oral histories passed down within his tribe. He spent a lot of time talking with the elders in the Lakota community and hearing the stories that their grandparents told them, as well as doing extensive research of a more typical kind. He tells Crazy Horse’s story, beginning with his childhood and moving through his coming-of-age and his leadership within the Lakota to his early death.

Born to Crazy Horse and Rattling Blanket Woman, the small baby who would later receive his father’s esteemed name was first called The Light-Haired One (or just Light Hair, for short) because of his unusual brown hair. He was raised as any Lakota child was, nurtured by his mother, grandmothers, and other female tribe members in his early years and then gradually taught life skills by his father, grandfathers, and other male members after the age of five. Lakota boys were taught that men’s roles were to provide for (hunt) and to protect the rest of the tribe. Light Hair was quiet and introspective, with a few very close friends, and was well liked by most in the community.

The story of Crazy Horse is also the story of the Lakota people, and it is told here in fascinating detail. Marshall describes the homes, food, and culture of his people at that time. He delves into Lakota customs, from celebrations to courting to hunting rituals, as well as the relationships between Crazy Horse and others in his community.

Of course, at this time, in the 1840’s – 1850’s, Lakota life was changing drastically and irreversibly due to the new presence of white people in their territory. The U.S. set up military forts on and near Lakota (and other tribes’) lands, and a steady, growing stream of people passed through this area on what the whites called the Oregon Trail, in covered wagons. Where there had once been a narrow trail along the North Platte River shared by bison and humans, this new, different kind of human left in its wake a wide, rutted road, littered with dead carcasses, shallow graves, and discarded metal and wood parts. As dismayed as the Lakota were by this destruction, it became life-threatening when the bison, the lifeblood of the community, began to move away from the area.

As we all know from standard history lessons, things escalated horribly from there. Whites not only scared away the bison, they also hunted them: shooting them with powerful guns, a hundred or more at a time, stripping their furs, and leaving the carcasses behind to rot. They moved further and further into Lakota territory, in spite of treaties signed with the Indians (which they barely understood). These territorial incursions and threats to the Lakota way of life eventually resulted in battles between whites and Indians. When the Indians saw that the whites even fought differently than they did, with a goal to kill as many as possible and often leaving maimed bodies of women and children in their wake, the Lakota had to defend their lives and their livelihood.

We all know how it ended, but the battles that occurred in between are described here very differently than what we all learned in history classes. In fact, I didn’t even recognize the Battle of Little Bighorn (which the Lakota called The Greasy Grass Fight, after the river where it occurred) when I read about it. Custer is barely mentioned.

My entire book group felt that this book was interesting and informative. We all felt it was a very different perspective than what we’d known before, an important one to learn. We even saw parallels with events occurring in the world today. Unfortunately, some in my group didn’t finish reading it. Though the subject matter was thought provoking, the writing was sometimes sluggish and repetitive. Ratings ranged from 3 to 9 (I think I gave it a 7). I’m not typically a nonfiction reader, so it was perhaps even slower reading for me, but I was only about two-thirds of the way through the book when we discussed it, and I did decide to finish it.

I learned so much from this book. It was especially interesting to me because we often visit and vacation in this region, the Black Hills of South Dakota. We have family there and also love the area for its natural beauty and many amazing parks. It’s easy to see why the Lakota considered it a sacred place. We have been in the Pine Ridge Reservation, one of the places where the author conducted his interviews. It may have taken me a while, but I am glad that I finished reading this book. It was a fascinating and enlightening side of history that I had never heard before.

298 pages, Viking


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The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History
by Marshall, Joseph M.Trade Paperback
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