Books

index

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

This extraordinary debut novel takes place during the Chechen conflict of the late 1990s. It’s a story of the power of love and sacrifice during a brutal war. This brilliant and haunting book is one of my favorite books of 2013.

–Daina

Read More
fortune cookie chronicles

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee

if you enjoy reading about food and how people eat almost as much as eating (or cooking), give this book a shot. The author uses her search for the origins of fortune cookies as a jumping-off point to explore various facets of the history of Chinese food in America (and beyond). Some of the stories she tells are by now pretty familiar (the genealogy of General Tso’s chicken, for instance, has appeared elsewhere), but others are still fresh. It’s not just about food, either–discussions of immigration patterns and a tragic family drama are also part of this book. This is a fascinating, quick read full of a surprising variety of stories all related to one (spoiler alert!) Japanese cookie.

–Gabe

Read More

The Care and Management of Lies: A Novel of the Great War by Jacqueline Winspear

This is a stand alone novel by the author of the Maisie Dobbs mystery series, once again the setting is rural England during World War I,  it was published to coincide with the centennial of the Great War which we are now commemorating.

It is the tale of two best friends, Thea Brissendon and Kezia Marchant, both teachers by profession, Kezia marries Thea’s brother, Tom and becomes a farmer’s wife. Thea becomes passionate about the women’s suffrage and pacifist movements. Tom soon enlists and joins his fellow villagers in the trenches.

This sad and poignant story brings home the enormity of war by letting the reader view it through the shared experiences of  the main characters. It’s a great read, if you haven’t read the Maisie Dobbs series that’s worth reading as well.

-Daina

Read More
long lost

Long Lost by Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben has a number of great books.  He writes with a style that keeps the reader engaged and wondering and then surprised.

Long Lost is among his best books with all those elements in place.  This journey takes Myron Bolitar on a journey to Paris to help a long ago friend, Teresa.  The plot twists, turns, and captures the reader to know more.  Along with the suspense, Harlan Coben is great at adding humor and sarcasm to the story.

In grave danger from unknown assailants in a country where nothing is as it seems, Myron and Terese race to stay a step ahead of Homeland Security, Interpol, and Mossad. Soon they are working at breakneck pace not only to learn what really happened to Terese’s long-lost little girl—but to uncover a sinister plot with shocking global implications.

–Sharon

Read More
Silver

Silver

YA book. This would be so easy to miss, I took it just to give it a try not expecting much and wow great writer. At the end of each chapter he makes you want to see “why those lights went out” or “who was that behind the door”?

Without warning, a horrifying infection will spread across the school grounds, and a group of students with little in common will find themselves barricaded in a classroom, fighting for their lives. Some will live. Some will die. And then it will get even worse.

Fast-paced and frightening, Silver is a tale set on the fringes of science and horror – a story about the struggle to survive in the face of impossible odds.

Very good read.

–Sharon

Read More
queen

Queen of the Air: a True Story of Love and Tragedy at the Circus by Dean Jensen

This is the story of two of the circus world’s most famous aerialists, Lillian Leitzel and Alfredo Codona.  Both came from poverty, but hungered for fame and fortune.  Their desire to be the best ultimately led to tragedy.

I found this story fascinating.  The author’s writing style makes the story flow.  Although he takes some liberties with the thoughts and conversations of his subjects, the material is well researched.  You get a glimpse of circus life from small dog and pony shows to the gargantuan Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey empire.

You don’t need to be a circus fan to enjoy this book.

Kate

Read More

Music

Modern Love

Modern Love by Matt Nathanson

This is Matt Nathanson’s 8th album, but I’ve just found his music. He is a talented songwriter and has a great voice. This CD is filled with upbeat songs and heartfelt ballads. Each time I listen I come away with a new favorite.

Read More
Songs without Words

Songs without Words: Classical Music from The War A Ken Burns Film

This CD features a number of interesting excerpts, including a lovely movement from a trio by the modern composer Gyorgy Ligeti and Edward Elgar’s impossibly gorgeous “Nimrod,” from the Enigma Variations (ask me the story behind that sometime; it’s fun). But the big winner on the disc might be the excerpt from Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, which was written while the composer was a prisoner in a Nazi camp. It’s a beautiful piece, and if you enjoy the bit on this CD, you might just want to seek out a recording of the whole thing.

–Gabe

Read More
Throwing Copper

Throwing Copper by Live

One of the first CDs I put on my iPod was “Throwing Copper” by Live. It’s one of my favorites. It’s not new (1994), but I think it’s good rock music. I especially like the hidden track at the end, which is a little different than the rest of the CD.

-Debbie Z.

Read More

Movies

The Bay

The Bay

Creepy-crawlies? Check. Moderately disgusting “special makeup effects”? Check. Things popping out of nowhere, loudly? Check. A relevant environmental message? Check?! This movie is a sort of weird hybrid of found-footage horror (think Paranormal Activity-style, or, if you’re an old like me, Blair Witch-style) and what I lovingly refer to as feel-bad activist documentary (King Corn, Food, Inc., etc.). The only previous entry in this hybrid genre, to the best of my recollection, is The Cove (note the similar title, even!), the one about how some people just can’t stop eating delicious, delicious dolphin meat, but it turns out that was actually just straight documentary. If you’re a fan of silly horror movies, as I am, and maybe give a hoot about the state of our planet, this movie will offer you a good time. And it’s short, so even if you’re not the biggest fan of it, it’ll be over before you know it. Except in your creepy-crawly-infested nightmares, of course!

–Gabe

Read More
The Master

The Master

A lot has been written about The Master and it certainly inspired an interesting discussion at our most recent Film Discussion Group. I was particularly taken with the film because I like movies that are open to interpretation. And, boy, is this one ever open to all sorts of readings! One of the reasons I like it so much has nothing to do with its story or theme or anything like that, but rather has to do with its aesthetic qualities. It was filmed in 70mm, which is uncommon these days, and was clearly composed to be seen on a big screen (though it looks good on a smaller one as well). This, coupled with its interesting score, makes it a movie that is a pleasure to simply watch. Of course, one shouldn’t disregard the great performances or the thematic content! The Master is one of the best, most endlessly fascinating, and most beautiful movies of 2012.

–Gabe

Read More
Battleship

Battleship

I know what you’re thinking: Battleship?! That movie is supposed to be awful! Surprisingly enough, it’s a good deal less terrible than you might expect. It’s dumber than a bag of really stupid hammers, for sure, but it easily surpasses its obvious inspiration (the Transformers movies) with coherent action sequences, a plot that is relatively easy to follow, and a third act that is absurdly hilarious. Also, it manages to pay homage to the original board game in a couple of small ways, one of which is at least slightly clever. I’m not saying that this is a masterpiece or anything, but if you ever want to turn off your brain and watch some stuff get blowed up real good, you could do a whole lot worse. On a scale of 1-4 stars, I give it: “Big dumb fun.”

–Gabe

Read More
Seven Psychopaths

Seven Psychopaths

This pitch-black comedy, from writer-director-playwright Martin McDonagh (director of the criminally underseen In Bruges, which I should probably also be reviewing, so: go see it!), stars Colin Ferrell as an aspiring screenwriter trying to write a movie called, weirdly, Seven Psychopaths. Pretty soon, he finds himself entangled with all manner of psychopaths: some real, some imagined, some Christopher Walken, and many complications and much lavish violence ensues. For all the copious bloodletting, the movie ends up coming off in a pretty genial manner. It’s a hilarious good time for all the non-squeamish adults in the family!

-Gabe

Read More
Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom

From Wes Anderson, director of Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and more, comes a storybook tale of two slightly iconoclastic kids who fall in love and run away together. It features an all-star cast (Bruce Willis! Bill Murray! Bob Balaban!?!); meticulously detailed costumes, props, and sets (Khaki Scout merit badges!); and more whimsy than you can shake two sticks at (though if you’re familiar with Anderson’s films, you probably already figured that out). This is one of the sweetest movies of recent times, and was my favorite movie released in 2012. (It might even be my favorite movie by Wes Anderson, but don’t let Rushmore know!)

-Gabe

Read More
The Raid: Redemption

The Raid: Redemption

This Indonesian film, about a police team tasked with, yes, raiding an apartment block housing a drug lord and about a thousand of his lackeys, features some of the butt-kickingest martial arts action in years! Roger Ebert hated it, but if you like movies like Die Hard or Hard Boiled and enjoy watching specially trained men pretend to kick, punch, and stab each other in inventive, athletic ways, this kinetic flick might be for you.

-Gabe

Read More