The Curse of Jacob Tracy by Holly Messinger

51uTzSLdKwL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Book – Trace sees spirits. They’re kind of everywhere, but he doesn’t dare tell anyone he knows about what he can see, because every time he does they wind up dead. Even his partner Boz doesn’t know – until they’re hired by a rich old English lady to retrieve some property for her, and it turns out that she doesn’t need Trace’s skills as a trapper and guide so much as for what he can see that so few others can.

This is a terrifically fun Weird West story, with all the trappings – cowboys, werewolves, ghosts and sorcerers. Messinger does a good job with the diversity of the West, too: Boz is black, and the ghosts of Chinese rail-workers play a role in Trace’s difficulties. The overall plot isn’t too unique (and it’s clearly set up as the beginning of an ongoing series), but the unique twist on monsters and magicians, as well as Boz and Trace’s relationship, make for compelling reading. I’m interested to see where this series goes from here.

Groot by Jeff Loveness

51jARlMoeUL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_Book: “I am Groot.” Groot, a huge hulking tree and a Guardian of the Galaxy, may be only able to verbalize three words, but he really does have a lot to say. Jeff Loveness’ graphic novel Groot is the story of Groot (duh) and Rocket the Racoon traveling together to Terrian (aka Earth). The two pals’ trip is not going as planned because apparently Groot wanted to take the scenic route. They also run into the problem of no longer having a spaceship. This leads the best friends to literally hitchhike across the galaxy. Much hilarity ensues as the pair encounter different alien species and trials on their journey. The contrast of Groot’s simple nature with Rocket’s impatience and lack of compassion leads great conversations and adventures.

Of the graphic novels that I have read, this one is by far my favorite. The story line is so much fun to read. It gives background knowledge to Groot and his friendship with Rocket. It shows a new side to both of these characters. If you loved the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, then you will love this graphic novel. If you want to try reading graphic novels for the first time, Groot is an excellent place to start. It’s a complete story from beginning to end and the art work is beautiful.

Beachside/Stormy Day Reads

Books – Whether the sun is finally shining bright, or you’re cooped up inside because of the restless weather, these two reads are perfect for relaxing indoors and out.  Save one for the beach, and one for the rain!

good in bedGood In Bed: A Novel by Jennifer Weiner

Meet Cannie Shapiro, a quirky young  woman navigating through her twenties.  A talented reporter for the Philadelphia Examiner, Cannie has made a good life for herself, and her adorable pup, Nifkin.   Things might not be perfect, but that’s life, right? Until her ex-boyfriend Bruce humiliated her by publishing an article about her, titled: “Loving a Larger Woman.”  Somehow, the article manages to catapult miserable Cannie into the best time of her life.  With surprises around every corner, could Bruce’s article actually be the best thing to ever happen to Cannie?

copygirl Copygirl by Anna Mitchael and Michelle Sassa 

Described as “Mad Men meets The Devil Wears Prada,” this book was obviously at the top of my list.  Kay works at a prestigious ad agency in New York City, an incredible opportunity.  But it’s hard being a girl in a sea of frat-boy office bros. At least she has her work partner Ben, a close friend from college who she’s also secretly in love with.  While the guys are off living the glamorous life of partying and girls, Kay is working hard to dream up the perfect pitches.  Lately though, her work just hasn’t been paying off, and her boss is breathing down her neck with threats of replacing her.  The last thing Kay wants is to be a copygirl, but things are going downhill fast.  Does she have what it takes to make it to the top?

 

 

Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling by Tony Cliff

delilah dirkBook – It’s hard to believe that Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling is a graphic novel rather than a film, when any suitably enthusiastic description of it sounds like a collection of exclamations cribbed from a movie poster. Thrills!  Adventure!  Swash and buckle!  Flying boats!  Dastardly nemeses!  Really big hair!

(Seriously, though, where is my Delilah Dirk movie?)

Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling is the second volume of a series set in an only slightly fantasy-tinged version of the early 1800s.  The first book, Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, introduces our two title characters to one another as well as to us, as the rip-roaring, fearless adventuress Delilah gains an unlikely sidekick in the well-mannered but initially cowardly Mr. Selim.  It’s a fantastic, rollicking ride, but without the necessity of scene-setting to slow down the action, the second book is even better. In that volume, Delilah and Mr. Selim face down problems both prosaic and epic as they simultaneously resist the social mores of their day and an old and deadly enemy.

What’s so great about the Delilah Dirk series is that it feels the better parts both of modern and old-fashioned.  The action sequences have all the joyous, laugh-in-the-face-of-danger lightness of Hollywood’s golden age, but we know we’re in 2016 because our daring protagonists are a woman and a man of color, and, moreover, a male-female pair who are allowed to be friends, colleagues and equals but without a hint of romantic tension. The gloriously rich art style is a not insignificant cherry on top, but what it comes down to in the end is this: reading Delilah Dirk is fun.  How much more can you ask of a book than that?

 

Spillover by David Quammen

cover-david-quammen-spillover-bookBook – What do AIDS, malaria, the Spanish Flu, and Ebola all have in common? Aside from being some of the scariest diseases humanity has to face, they all originated in animals. In Spillover, David Quammen explores how diseases cross over from animals into humans, how researchers figure out where those diseases come from, and what that means for the future of human disease.

That sounds like a combination of boring and terrifying, but really, the book is neither – Quammen’s writing is incredibly clear and easy to follow. He doesn’t assume you know anything about biology, nevermind viral microbiology, and both his own explanations and his conversations with experts make the whole topic seem reasonable and comprehensible. I felt smarter after reading this book. And safer, too – as the conclusion describes, one of the biggest factors in how diseases spread is how infected hosts react to being sick, and as humans, with intelligence and forethought, we can do a lot from preventing the Next Big One from being as big as we fear.

This is a little outdated; published (to great acclaim) in 2012, the most recent epidemic it covers is SARS, missing the most recent Ebola outbreak and the Zika virus. (Although there is a lengthy chapter on Ebola, in which he clarifies that it does not actually liquefy its victims, Richard Preston notwithstanding.) But it’s thorough enough to show light on those situations anyway. Pick this one up now, before next flu season comes around.

Poldark (2015)

poldarkTV Series – Family, friends, and servants assumed that Captain Ross Poldark did not survive fighting in the American Revolutionary War, but after a 3 year absence he returns to Cornwall and instead of a hero’s welcome he is faced with heartbreak and ruin.  His father has died, his beloved is engaged to his cousin, and his family estate is in severe neglect, the house squatted in by “faithful” servants.

The division and tension of the classes is even more apparent after the war. Ross has to make a living and needs means to restore the family estate, so he decides to open his father’s old copper mine.  He is no longer interested in his role as a gentleman and works side by side with the workers he employs. This surprisingly creates much resentment from his peers who would relish in his failure.  Poldark maintains his integrity and he is fiercely loyal to those devoted to him.

This superb historical drama could well fill the void for Downton Abbey fans.  It gives a strong sense of time and place – the beauty of Cornwall – and is rich in character development. Aidan Turner is wonderfully cast as Poldark and is complete eye candy too!

Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

indexBook – Arthur lost his wife, Miriam, a year ago and copes with his grief by clinging to his old routines. He takes tea at the same time every day, wears the same stiff collared shirts and uncomfortable pants and waters his fern, Frederica. He hides from the food-laden visits of his neighbor, Bernadette, and has infrequent contact with his two adult children, Lucy and Dan. But, when Arthur decides to clean out Miriam’s closet, he finds a charm bracelet that he’s never seen before. As he examines it, he impulsively dials a phone number engraved on one of the charms and is launched on a journey to learn the truth about his wife. Along the way, he learns truths about himself and his relationships. He discovers new friends and learns about their hardships and joys. This book is a cozy tale about life’s surprising twists and savoring what is in the present.

Free to Fall by Lauren Miller

18602289Book – In a society obsessed with the newest Apple gadget, it’s not hard to imagine what the future holds for us in technology. Apple watches and Google Glass are slowly starting to emerge while our smartphones grow bigger and bigger each year. Soon, perhaps everyone will be carrying around an 8-in tablet to fit their every need, with cellphones obsolete. Once the watches and glasses really take flight,  will the next big thing be completely virtual devices? Something implanted in our skin that monitors our health as well as fulfilling all our tech needs with some sort of virtual projection?  Oh what fun the future holds!

The technology we find in Free to Fall doesn’t seem so fantastical considering how dependent we have become on our smartphones and millions of apps. The events of this novel take place in the near future. Apple has become obsolete, replaced by Gnosis and its life-changing technology called Lux. Lux is a high-powered personal decision-making app that guides you towards the best decisions. Following Lux’s recommendations will lead you to a happy, and fulfilling life.

Like everyone else, teen Rory Vaughn does not stray from the guidance of Lux, consulting the app for every choice she makes in her daily life. When she is accepted to a prestigious boarding school, Rory can’t wait for the happy future she’s been promised. Yet something feels off once she arrives at the elite academy. After meeting a local outsider named North who refuses to use Lux, Rory begins to question everything she’s ever known.

Smoke by Dan Vyleta

51hNZ0nGxXL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Book – Imagine that every time you do something wrong – tell a lie, steal something, think an uncharitable thought – everyone can see it, in the form of a little puff of smoke that comes up from your body. It leaves soot on your clothes, your pillowcases, your furniture. You must be perfectly good at all times, or clean everything constantly, or both. And if not – everyone will know.

That’s the world of Smoke, a tremendous new literary fantasy by Dan Vyleta. In Victorian England, the aristocracy are trained from childhood to never Smoke, to repress all their baser instincts to demonstrate their inherent superiority over the lower classes. But what if it doesn’t really work that way? What if Smoke isn’t sin, but something else? Thomas and Charlie, two boys at an elite boarding school in the countryside, begin to question what they’ve been told after a trip to Smoke-filled London, and before long their whole world is unraveling.

I loved this book and its incredible explorations of good and evil, sin and repression. In addition to telling the story of Smoke, it’s also full of all the things that make Victorian novels great – family secrets, corrupt leaders, criminals with a heart of gold, murder, disguise, horse chases, and romance.

Caution: may cause hunger pains (Part I)

Movies – I enjoy a good film about cooking, food adventures, and or anything that features cooking. Food and movies go hand in hand. Here are couple of films without fail always make me hungry.

onesheetThe first one always makes me crave brie with pears, and fried egg sandwiches with a good beer. Spanglish, star Adam Sandler as a chef of a small restaurant. The movie is about boundaries and relationships, where they should start and end. Cultural and family dynamic differences are the major cause of drama in the movie. But it’s his fried egg sandwich that gets me every time.

chefNext on the list is Chef. It stars Jon Favreau as a chef who loses it after a bad review and his rant goes viral causing him to rethink his career and family responsibilities. This sends him from LA to Miami with his ex-wife and son, and into a new venture, the food truck business. While driving the truck back to LA, various stops are made and include beignets from New Orleans and brisket from Austin.  Brisket looks amazing and this film makes me want tostones (pressed fried plantains with garlic sauce) and yuca with garlic and vinegar! Mmm!!!

91XUvt3NWxL._SL1500_Tortilla Soup stars Hector Elizondo as a chef and father of three women. Hector has lost his taste and needs others to taste the food as he preps. The food shots of the films are gorgeous and tempting. His red snapper and nopales (cactus) make me crave breakfast by the ocean in Puerto Vallarta, MX. It also reminds me of my aunt in Mexico making fresh flour tortillas and huevos con chorizo (eggs and sausage). It always takes me back to when I was a kid!

chocolatFor dessert I give you Chocolat starring Juliette Binoche. A movie about a wandering women and her young daughter who come to a small French village to open up a chocolate shop on the eve of lent. Her hot chocolate drink is rich and thick the way it is traditional made in Spain. She uses her chocolate to change the lives of the citizens of this small village. It is only right for them to change hers as well. She also makes a chocolate with a kick from chili peppers. It’s a good thing I know a place that sells chocolate jalapeno ice cream. Hope I didn’t make you too hungry.