Book – Top Chef meets Pirates of the Caribbean. Cinnamon and Gunpowder is a fun adventurous seafaring tale that mainly takes place on a pirate ship called the Flying Rose in 1819. Owen Wedgwood is the renowned personal chef to Lord Ramsey, the wealthy owner of the Pendleton Trading Company. The ruthless pirate is Captain Mad Hannah Mabbot, who murders Owen’s employer and has her right hand man Mr. Apples kidnap the chef. Though the ship has a cook, Hannah feels that she deserves a gourmet meal once a week and tells Owen that she will spare him his life as long as he obliges her. Though his culinary skills are extensive, even Owen is challenged to create edible fare with the limited supplies on board, such as gruel, rat meat, and moldy potatoes. Though a prisoner, Owen dines with Hannah weekly and learns that her mercenary pursuit of another rogue pirate, the Brass Fox, might be for noble reasons. As time goes on his cooking skills evolve with the help of provisions picked up along the journey and the reader’s mouth will water with the delicacies he creates. This swashbuckling read is a pure delight!
Book – What did 19 year old Maya from Berkley, California do to make her a fugitive from the FBI and drug lords and hide out in Chiloé, an isolated island on the coast of Chile? Her heartbreaking story is told as Maya records the torrid period of her life in a notebook that her grandmother, Nini has given her. Her grandparents raised her after her mother deserted her after her birth and her pilot father was rarely home due to his career. Maya’s troubles soon began after the death of her beloved grandfather, an astronomer and Nini’s husband. Maya begins hanging out with the wrong crowd, starts doing drugs, and eventually runs away to Las Vegas. Her grief is so intense that she spirals into a world of addiction, crime, homelessness, prostitution, and near death. Nini arranges Maya’s exile with an old friend, an anthropologist named Manuel. As expected, Maya’s life on Chiloé is very different. Eventually the natives warm up to her and Maya once again enjoys the simplicities of life. But she might not be totally safe . . Allende paints a rich picture of the healing of Maya and the culture, superstitions, and natural beauty of the island and its people. Though different from the author’s other novels, because it is contemporary instead of historical fiction, it is just as moving as her other books.
Book – “… that her notions about who she is and how she ought to conduct herself are far less stable than she supposes, given that a few short months are all it will take to make a killer out of her.” So begins the gripping story of The Silent Wife. Jodi and Todd have been together for 20 years. Jodi is very content working as a psychotherapist part-time and filling the rest of her time with cooking, walking the dog, taking classes, and enjoying their expensive Chicago lake front condo. She even overlooks the fact that Todd strays once in a while, as he always comes back. Jodi never confronts him about it, since she is convinced that he is drawn back to their tranquil life together and her gourmet meals. Regardless, she feels that they make a great couple. Todd begins a relationship with the daughter of one of his friends. But something happens and he doesn’t come back. His new girlfriend gives Todd an ultimatum and suddenly he is moving out with threats of divorce and the prospect of being a father. Jodi’s illusion of the perfect relationship is shattered. Initially she is broken, but a “well meaning” friend advices her as to what she should be entitled to and encourages her on a course of revenge. This is a page turning psychological thriller that would probably appeal to fans of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, and The Good Girl.
A movie based on the book is currently in production and will be starring Nicole Kidman.
Music CD – Honeymoon by Lana Del Rey is a treat for her fans as well as those who like smoky, deep, lounge singer vocals. Her music has been labeled as alternative rock, hip hop, and indie. Her lyrics, many of which are written by her, are haunting and full of emotion. This CD contains 14 tracks. And I like all of them. Some of my favorite songs are: “High by the Beach”, “Terrence Loves You”, “Religion”, and “Salvatore”. Del Rey possesses an expansive contralto vocal range which spans more than three octaves. Ranging from high to low jazzy notes. She at times sounds like an angel, but don’t let her voice fool you, some of her lyrics can be quite gritty and explicit.
Some of her most popular songs include “Summertime Sadness” from the CD Born to Die and “Young and Beautiful” from the movie The Great Gatsby. Some of Lana’s favorite artists include Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, Jeff Buckley, and Leonard Cohen. Adele is a fan of Lana Del Rey. For total entertainment, check out some of her music videos on YouTube.
Book – Chris Bohjalian pays homage to his Armenian roots in Sandcastle Girls, by telling the story of “The Slaughter You Know Next to Nothing About”. The genocide of over ½ million people by the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The account is relayed through Laura Petrosian, the great granddaughter of Elizabeth, an American from Boston and Armen from Armenia. While researching her genealogy for a book, Laura comes across letters and photographs of her great grandparents that help her piece together her family history.
Elizabeth and Armen meet in Aleppo Syria in 1915. Elizabeth, is a nurse recently graduated from college who accompanies her father on a mission to provide humanitarian aid to Armenian Refugees. Armen is an engineer working for the Germans who is desperately looking for his missing wife and baby who were lost during the deportations and mass murders. The two soon become very fond of each other. They are separated when Armen leaves to fight for the British Army. Elizabeth and Armen’s love flourishes in spite of continuing genocide and war, as they write letters to each other.
This is an enduring love story that also gives us heartbreakingly gritty details about the atrocities of the horrific events. It was a bit difficult to get through due to the subject matter, but definitely worthwhile.
Book – One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd is a fascinating account of the “Brides for Indians” program, which was a treaty between Ulysses S. Grant and Cheyenne India Chief Little Wolf in 1875. May records the adventures of herself and the other 999 brides- to-be. This is her ticket out of the insane asylum, where she was incarcerated for having an affair. All of the women were prostitutes, prisoners, mental patients, or indigents that were offered full pardons. The agreement being that they would be indentured to the Cheyenne for two years, would have to bear them children, and then would have the option to leave. The U.S. government felt that, the women would be able to tame the savages and that in turn the Indians would take on the white ways once they were given children that were half breeds.
May’s personal journals are full of humor, love, and respect for the other women. She thoughtfully reflects on the beauty and wilderness of the land as they journey across the west to meet their husbands. Her accounts also detail the culture and lifestyle of the tribe, as she becomes one of Little Wolf’s wives.
TV Series – I am hooked on political TV series such as The West Wing, House of Cards, and Scandal. Therefore, I was thrilled when Madam Secretary came out starring Tea Leoni. Elizabeth McCord is suddenly asked to serve as Secretary of State, when the current one is killed in a plane crash. She has a unique relationship with the President of the United States, since he recruited her right out of college for the CIA. Years later she left the CIA, because she morally disagreed with some of their interrogation tactics. In her new position as Secretary of State she is a fish out of water, since she is not a politician, nor does she have political aspirations and she is very sympathetic. Upon taking Office she inherits most of her own staff and needless to say, there is a big adjustment for all. The only one she hired on her own is Blake, her office assistant, who is fiercely loyal to Elizabeth. She even butts heads with some of the White House staff, especially the President’s Chief of Staff.
Her former assignments with the CIA have given Elizabeth the national and international experience essential to the Office. Her husband, Henry, a religious scholar is not threatened by her job and power and he is able to offer insight of world politics, since many conflicts have religious roots. She also has 3 children who she involved in the decision making on whether she should take the job.
One of the creators of this show is Morgan Freeman who found it interesting that the 3 former Secretaries of State were all women, though he made it very clear that Elizabeth McCord is no Hillary Clinton. This is a very interesting show that gives viewers insight into the daily life of the Secretary of State and gives us an intelligent character that works hard to balance her job, family, and morals.
Book – I am always thrilled when I discover a good mystery series that I haven’t read yet. Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey is the first book of the Inspector Darko Dawson mysteries. Darko (love the name) is a detective inspector in Ghana who is summoned to the remote village of Ketanu to look into the suspicious death of Gladys, a medical student and dedicated AIDS worker. It is an emotional assignment, since this is the same place that Darko’s mother went to when he was a boy to visit her sister and family and she disappeared and the case is still unsolved. Could these two women somehow be connected? Darko’s investigation clashes with local law enforcement and unsettling customs – having young daughters marry local priests with multiple wives, as a penance for family sins. The author gives a wonderful sense of place and plenty of interesting characters and suspects that keeps the reader interested until the very end. We have all the books in this series for you to enjoy!
Fans of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels may enjoy this series also set in Africa. However, the situations are grittier in the Darko Dawson mysteries and whereas Precious Ramotswe likes relaxing with a cup of bush tea and is a gentle soul, Darko Dawson prefers smoking pot and has anger management issues.
Book – Jess always tries to view all of life situations with an incredible amount of optimism, which is actually quite difficult in her circumstances, being a single mother and working two jobs – cleaning houses by day and serving at a pub at night. She also cares for Tanzie, her math genius daughter; Nicky, her bullied teenage Goth stepson; and Norman, their 80 pound slobbering dog.
When the opportunity arises for Tanzie to compete in a math contest that could win her a scholarship into a prestigious school, Jess realizes that her only chance to travel from the England to Scotland is to enlist the help of Ed. Ed has his own problems. He is under investigation for inside training and possibly losing his company and fortune. Ed and Jess barely know each other. She occasionally cleaned his house and got him home safe when he got drunk at her pub. Unlike Jess, he is a half glass empty kind of person. But being at loose ends and feeling he owed Jess a favor after the night at the pub, Jess, her kids, and even the dog cram into the car with him.
Things get tense as the journey reveals the economic gap between Jess and Ed and dealing with all of the travelers idiosyncrasies. The story is humorous and at the same time heartbreaking. Readers will want to go along on this road trip and experience the stops and find out the results from the ultimate destination – if Tanzie is awarded a scholarship.
Book – Mia is the “good girl” in this page turning novel of psychological suspense. She is an art teacher at an alternative high school and somewhat of a disappointment to her high profile Chicago judge father, since his other daughter and Mia’s sister is an attorney and following in his footsteps. Her family connection results in Mia being kidnapped. The man who abducts her, Colin, is being paid off to lure her on the pretense of a one night stand and deliver her to another party that will demand a ransom. But for some reason Colin decides not to turn her over and hides out with Mia in a remote cabin in Minnesota. Eventually Mia is saved, but is suffering from amnesia, having blocked the incident from her mind. There is a lot going on in this story. It is told from the perspective of 4 characters: Mia, Colin, Mia’s mother – Eve, and Gabe – the detective assigned to the case. It also jumps back and forth in time chronicling events during the incident and the aftermath. But readers will not be disappointed while trying to find out what really did happen and why, which is not revealed until the very end.
This book would probably appeal to fans of Gone Girl, but is less violent and graphic.