Movie – Constitution USA is a new PBS four-part series about America’s ever-disputed founding document, directed by Ken Burns and hosted by NPR’s Peter Sagal of Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! It attempts to bring light and understanding to the nearly 4,500-word document, its history and important moments in its development. Peter Sagal (who is from Oak Park, IL) buys a motorcycle in Villa Park and rides all around the USA, from New England to the Hoover Dam to the Golden Gate Bridge to Little Rock, Ark., Montana and Texas. He interviews scholars, lawyers, pundits and ordinary people about the relevance of the Constitution in the 21st Century. Without being overly technical or dumbed-down it shows the role the Constitution plays in our everyday life. It has four segments: A More Perfect Union (federal, state and local questions), It’s a Free Country (the Bill of Rights and controversies surrounding it), Created Equal (about the Fourteenth Amendment and equal protection for individuals and groups) and finally Built to Last (the vitality and staying-power of the Constitution). All four segments have a very nice balance of commentary from scholars and regular folks, and Sagal provides a lot of wit and humor along the way. There are many fascinating stories touching on free speech in the digital age, same-sex marriage, voting rights, separation of church and state, and presidential power in the post-9/11 world. Each one-hour episode of Constitution USA vividly illuminates a central theme essential to the Constitution.
Book – Whatever assumptions you might have about fantasy novels, you can put them aside when reading something by Elizabeth Bear, because she will certainly do something different. Bone and Jewel Creatures packs a whole lot of different into a very few pages. The story revolves around Bijou the Artificer, an old, tired wizard who is ready to retire when she is given a feral child who has been poisoned by a mysterious agent. In healing the child, Bijou begins to unravel a plot rooted deep in her own past that threatens her home, the City of Jackals.
At only 136 pages, Bone and Jewel Creatures is slim, but not slight. Bijou and the feral child are both wonderfully realized characters with whom it’s a delight to spend an afternoon. My favorite part of the story, though, are Bijou’s artifices – creatures made up of bits and pieces, metal and bone and gemstones, to serve some purpose and then kept around long after their original use. There’s definitely a steampunk aesthetic, but it’s an unusual one. This is an engrossing short novel that offers a tantalizing glimpse of a unique world. The prequel, Book of Iron, was published in September, and both novellas are also set in the same universe as her Eternal Sky trilogy, which begins with Range of Ghosts.
Book – A large part of the appeal of King’s award winning historical mystery series is the unique relationship of the two central characters. In Arthur Conan Doyle’s works Sherlock Holmes was a confirmed bachelor. Yet, in the memoirs of Mary Russell, which have mysteriously arrived on the author’s doorstep, a more intimate portrait of London’s most famous detective is revealed. This initial text is set in 1915, over a decade after Sir Conan Doyle had finished his accounts, and Holmes “weary of interrogating men” has retired and is quietly engaged in the study of honeybees in the English countryside. Well into his fifties, he meets our narrator, the young Miss Russell on the Sussex Downs. Scientific observation and references to theories of the progressive thinkers of the day are interspersed within their verbal sparring as it is soon revealed that unlike Holmes’s previous biographer, Conan Doyle, Mary Russell possesses an intellect and an ego that equals Sherlock Holmes. Therefore Russell writes about the detective as a peer as well as a mentor. There is a poignant moment when the mature Holmes upon realizing that a like-minded individual has finally entered his life murmurs to himself “twenty years ago, even ten, but here, now?” Russell begins a unique routine of tutelage with Holmes. She quickly deduces that Holmes is not entirely retired and their first case to track down a kidnapped American senator’s daughter brings danger. Who is the cunning adversary that is so intent on brutally ending them and their fledgling partnership?
Book – Fifty-year-old Alice Howland is an accomplished Harvard psychology professor. A published author, traveling lecturer and beloved teacher, she is content with her life and work. But she begins to worry about her forgetfulness. She loses things, forgets words and then, one day when she’s out for a run, she doesn’t know where she is or how to get home. A visit to the doctor results in a devastating diagnosis: Alice has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Alice, her husband and three grown children must cope with the ravages of the disease. This book is told from Alice’s perspective and gave me a sense of her growing confusion, panic and sadness as the disease progressed. She tries to live in the moment, but also recognizes and mourns the loss of the life and memories that meant so much to her. Still Alice also deals with the varying reactions of her family, friends and colleagues as they struggle to address and accept the changes in Alice.
Book – The Taste of Home Contest Winning Annual Recipes 2013 cookbook is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. The book features the best of the best contest winning recipes and all the entries have easy to follow step by step directions and are accompanied by a beautiful photograph of the finished product. The book features over 350 recipes and tips. There are recipes for everything from snacks & appetizers to a variety of desserts and everything in between, plus soups, salads, sides and main entrees including vegetarian dishes. There are also recipes for holidays and special occasions and different cooking methods are also featured such as using a slow cooker or grilling.
Some of my favorites from the book include: Chicken Stew with Gnocchi, Tiramisu Cheesecake Dessert, and Tomato Cucumber Mozzarella Salad. Are you hungry yet?
It’s a delicious treat!
Movie – Hemingway and Gellhorn is HBO’s prestige movie featuring the tempestuous relationship between the two great writers Ernest Hemingway and Martha (“Marty”) Gellhorn. Hemingway wrote 25 books and won the Nobel Prize, as well as a Pulitzer Prize. Marty Gellhorn is known as America’s greatest war correspondent, male or female. The movie is really about her and her amazing career. She liked to say “I do not see myself as a footnote to someone else’s life.” In the late 1930s, she met Hemingway and the two of them traveled to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War, and the movie uses black and while film to depict war scenes from that time. She and Hemingway lived together for four years (they were married in 1940; she was Ernest’s 3rd wife). Nicole Kidman is absolutely brilliant as Martha Gellhorn, but to me Clive Owen was not very convincing as Hemingway. The movie features a lot of sex, drinking and violence, but does not delve very deeply into the writing. However, Hemingway’s most famous book, For Whom the Bell Tolls, was inspired by Gellhorn. Hemingway and Gellhorn is set against a backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, and homes in Key West, Florida, the Finca Vigia in Cuba, and Ketchum, Idaho.
Book – Johannes Cabal has a problem with his soul. Namely, he doesn’t have it – he sold it to Satan some time ago in exchange for the secrets of necromancy. He’s decided that it was a bad deal, and he wants his soul back. Satan, of course, isn’t letting any souls go that easily, so he proposes a challenge: if Cabal can acquire 100 souls within a year, he can have his soul back. The Devil will even throw in a diabolical carnival to help. It’s not a great deal, but it’s the only one on offer, so Cabal enlists the help of his estranged brother and sets out across the countryside, carnival in tow, to race against the clock. Er, hourglass.
For the first fifty pages or so I kept trying to figure out what time period and what country this book was set in; eventually I realized that it just doesn’t matter, and I settled back to enjoy the ride. Johannes Cabal is delightfully deadpan and almost entirely unconcerned with the fates of other people. It’s the almost that makes it great: he shows flashes of humanity at the most inopportune times. This is the first in a series; the latest, Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute, was published in October.
Book – I truly enjoyed revisiting numerous forgotten details about the 1980’s with the teenage protagonist of this novel. It begins as fourteen-year-old June is losing her only friend, her uncle Finn, to the then little-known illness AIDS. While it begins with a story of loss it transforms into a narrative about a quirky and intriguing friendship when June meets someone else Finn has left behind. This novel also paints a sensitive and believable picture of the complexity of family relationships, especially the relationships between siblings. The story kept me interested as secrets that were withheld from June, as well as the knowledge that comes with aging, transformed her perception of the world and of her understanding of the lives of those around her. The audiobook is read by Amy Rubinate. Her calm, youthful, but never saccharine, tone is pleasant and appropriate for the main character. Print and digital copies of this title are also available from the library.
Book – After living happily in the city as a newly married couple, Mark Falanga and his wife relocate to the suburbs to raise their young family. The Suburban You: Reports from the Home Front is a compilation of stories about suburban life in the North Shore of Chicago. I laughed out loud at Falanga’s descriptions of neighborhood block parties, Halloween costumes, family Christmas cards and father-son outings. His stories gently poke fun at the hierarchies and unwritten rules governing life in the suburbs. He also tackles issues in commuting to work and being married with kids with deadpan humor. Although this book was written in 2004, it’s still a relevant and entertaining trip into the suburbs, even if you live in the city.
Music – The Best of Burt Bacharach: anyone who had a heart is a two CD-set of 40 hit pop songs; all of them composed by Burt Bacharach, with lyrics by Hal David. Each selection is sung by a famous singer, including: Dionne Warwick, Neil Diamond, Tom Jones, Barbara Streisand, and many others. Bacharach’s music is characterized by deeply felt emotions. His arrangements evoke strong feelings of love, joy, sorrow, yearning and loss. The music has unusual chord progressions, striking syncopated rhythmic patterns, irregular phrasing, frequent modulation and odd, changing meters. He has composed 73 Top 40 hits, won six Grammys and three Academy awards. He is one of the most important composers of popular music in the 20th century, almost equal to George Gershwin, or Irving Berlin. I like all of these songs, but especially “One Less Bell to Answer,” “This Guy’s in Love with You,” “A House is not a Home,” “Arthur’s Theme (Best that You can Do).” The album coincides with the publication of Burt’s memoir titled Anyone Who Had a Heart: my life and music by Burt Bacharach.