Movie – China’s Great Wall is a great documentary using rare aerial shots, and lavish reenactments in high definition. It reveals the myths, legends and technological marvels behind the massive structure, exploring construction techniques, and its history, featuring interviews with archaeologists, scientists and scholars. In 1907, Aurel Stein a British explorer and adventurer, making his way through the Taklimakan desert discovered the Jade Gate, the westernmost point of a more than 2,000-year-old fortification system. The walls, there are more than one, actually stretch for over 13,000 miles. They were built to defend the Emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty and his people from the barbarians (Mongolians) living in the steppes to the north (around 130 BC). Other dynasties and other emperors continued work on the Great Wall and branches of it, for thousands of years, using forced labor. The purposes of the Great Wall have included border patrols, imposition of duties on goods transported along the Silk Road, and regulation of trade and immigration. The Wall includes watch towers, troop barracks, garrison stations and signaling capabilities (using smoke or fire). The main Great Wall stretches from Shanhaiguan in the east to Lop Lake in the West, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of inner Mongolia. Before bricks, the Wall was mainly built from rammed earth, stones and wood. I found this documentary fascinating as well as educational. Of course, some areas of the Wall, near tourist centers, have been preserved and renovated, but in many locations it is in disrepair.
TV Show – If you like action thrillers packed with spies then you should watch the TV series Missing. The series follows Rebecca “Becca” Winstone, a florist, widow, and mother of 18-year-old son, Michael. Michael has been accepted to a summer architecture program in Rome, Italy and Becca hesitant about letting him go, consents knowing what a wonderful opportunity it is for her son. Mother and son stay in touch on a regular basis, but when she doesn’t have any communication from him for over a week and is informed by the school that Michael has vacated his dorm room, Becca is alarmed and heads to Rome to find him. As a mother, she will go to any lengths and will not let anyone or anything stand in her way to find out what has happened to her child and to get him back. And this may work to her advantage or against her, but we find out that she is a former deadly and relentless CIA agent. Her husband Paul, also CIA, was killed in a car bombing witnessed by their son. Becca finds herself in the middle of an international conspiracy involving the CIA and Interpol and doesn’t know who she can trust. Intense action and drama and beautiful scenery from Italy, Russia, Turkey, Austria, etc. will keep viewers riveted. Becca is wonderfully portrayed by Ashley Judd, who was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie. Sadly, there is only one season, since ABC decided to cancel the show.
Book – This Pulitzer prize-winning story has been likened to a number of classic coming-of-age tales from Charles Dickens. The central character in this novel, Theodore Decker, loses his mother during a tragedy that he himself survives at a New York art museum. The traumatic event, told from Theodore’s perspective, provides a compelling start for the book.
The audiobook for this title is narrated by David Pittu. His narration is exceptional as his voice conveys the pathos of young Theo and the psychic burden that overlays his life. Theo and his mother had been estranged from his father, and after the events in the museum Theo is housed for a time in a beautiful Manhattan apartment with the wealthy family of a socially-inept schoolmate. His appreciation for the art and antiques in the apartment touches upon on-going themes in the book: the immortality of masterpieces, the messages they convey through the ages, and the profound attachments individuals form with these pieces.
I was especially glad to be listening to the audiobook version of this story when Theo, as a teenager, develops a friendship with Boris, a boy from Ukraine. Both author and narrator played delightfully with the Slavic dialect. Boris is a wonderful character because he brought levity and perspective to the story, and David Pittu’s Boris was very likable.
Book – After reading this book, I wanted to buy a can of paint and get started on some of my decorating projects. Blogger Myquillyn Smith has lived in more than a dozen homes, most of them rentals. A self-taught decorator with limited funds, she shares her creative approach to reallocating her furnishings and painting and refurbishing thrift store finds. She stresses that good enough is better than doing nothing. This book is not a “how-to” book, although she does offer some DIY advice. It centers more on the author’s philosophy that people get stuck on seeking perfection, and that creating a home you love is more about finding your dwelling’s uniqueness and your own personal taste and celebrating it. Myquillyn is married and the mother of three boys and stresses to the reader that when you think about decorating a room, you need to consider the purposes of the room. The book ends with a page of decorating blogs that may be of interest to the reader. The Nesting Place is an inspiring, fun and approachable decorating book with tips that can be applied to any home.
Book – Breq is only a fragment of what she used to be – quite literally, in this case. Years ago she was Justice of Toren, the artificial intelligence of a starship of the Radch Empire. Back then she had hundreds of bodies, from the starship itself to her many ancillary soldiers, captured human enemies who were joined together as part of her vast intelligence, in the service of a high-status Lieutenant. But Justice of Toren was betrayed, although she isn’t quite sure how, by the many-bodied ruler of the Radch Empire, Anaander Mianaai, and Breq has a plan for revenge.
I picked up Ancillary Justice when it became apparent that it was going to be nominated for every major SF award this year. (Sure enough, it’s already won the Nebula and is on the Hugo ballot.) It deserves it. Breq is an unusual character, but a compelling one, and her world is utterly fascinating. In the scenes from the point of view of many-bodied Justice of Toren, Leckie does a great job of portraying the ship’s simultaneous multiple points of view without getting confusing; likewise the Radch’s complete disregard of gender is an interesting twist on a far-future society. I loved it, and I can’t wait for the sequel, Ancillary Sword, out in October.
Book – Inferno by Dan Brown. Fans of the DaVinci Code won’t be disappointed by Dan Brown’s latest book in the series, The Inferno. Harvard University professor and symbologist Robert Langdon wakes up in a hospital in Florence, Italy with no recollection of the past few days including leaving the campus. He finds a mysterious cylinder housed in a titanium tube with a biometric seal, stamped with a biohazard symbol in his jacket pocket. One of the doctors, Sienna Brooks, drags Robert from the hospital when an attempt is made on his life. Sienna becomes Robert’s ally and they soon learn by following clues related to passages of Dante’s Inferno that there is a villain who has taken it upon himself to control what he feels is an overpopulated world by unleashing his own modern day version of the Black Plague. And so the scavenger hunt begins to save the world! Robert and Sienna race against time to find a mad man while being pursued by an assassin through secret passages in this page turning thriller. As with his other novels in this series, this book is packed with luscious historical, architectural and artistic details as the reader tours Florence, Venice, and Istanbul. I read and thoroughly enjoyed Angels and Demons and The DaVinci Code, and enjoyed the movie versions, but I must admit that I never read The Lost Symbol.
Music – In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores by Hilary Hahn, violin, is Hahn’s brilliant new 2-CD recording of 27 short pieces (“encores”) by contemporary composers. She is accompanied by pianist Cory Smythe. The album topped the Billboard classical charts and will likely win Hilary her third Grammy Award (she already has two). The individual pieces of new music have never been recorded before, and it’s likely you’ve never heard of the composers. The album ranges from romantic to post-modern, from jazzy Hollywood film noir to the rural, folksy and obscure, from the purely abstract to the objective. I liked the post-romantic “Whispering” by Einojuhani Rautavaara, and the meditative “Blue Curve of the Earth” by Tina Davidson, as well as the frenetic “Angry Birds of Kauai” by Jeff Myers. All of the pieces struck me as intellectual, thoughtful, technically challenging “art” pieces. Hahn started her career as a soloist at age 16, and to date she has recorded 14 albums, three DVDs, an Oscar-nominated soundtrack and an award winning album for children. She is known as the foremost American classical musician in promoting new post-modern music. She performs worldwide, and as of June 2014 is completing a tour of 50 cities in 14 countries throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Her violin is an 1864 copy of Paganini’s Cannone made by Vuillaume. (She never lets it out of her sight!) The violin case comments on her life on Twitter at @violincase. By the way, Hahn’s recording of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto was used extensively in The Deep Blue Sea starring Rachel Weisz.
Book – Dee Williams lived in Portland in a 1927 three-bedroom bungalow she spent six years restoring. She began to reflect that most of her time was consumed with commuting, working as a State Hazardous Waste Inspector and maintaining her home and property. She didn’t have time to relax and do the things she enjoyed and she worried about juggling bills for her home, utilities, taxes and various other needs and wants. She was always tired and then, suddenly, she found herself confronted with a health issue. Waiting in the doctor’s office, she read an article featuring a man who’d built a tiny house on wheels and moved from his 1200 square foot home to live in it. She was drawn to the concept of planning and building her own tiny house and to live with only the essentials. She pursued her dream and, in this book, shares the process, her successes, her worries and the daily practicalities of living in a small dwelling. I was amazed by how resourceful and determined she was. She was passionate about her vision. She hauled lumber, learned (often by reading library books) how to analyze building codes, install electrical wires and plumbing and how to manage other projects related to building her home. She and her dog RooDee moved into her 84 square foot house in 2004. Its effect on her life was profound and she now writes and conducts workshops about small house living, green building and community design. This was an interesting book, written with candor and humor, about establishing your own priorities and lifestyle and I enjoyed and was inspired by her journey.
Book – Patricia Cowen is confused. “Very confused,” it says on her medical chart most days. She forgets things. But she remembers things, too. She remembers Michael telling her “It’s now or never” and saying “Now” and getting married and having his four children. She remembers Michael telling her “It’s now or never” and saying “Never” and traveling in Florence and raising three children with Bee. She isn’t sure which one of them is right, or if both of them are, but she’s sure it means something.
My Real Children is one of those novels that could only be written by Jo Walton. It’s science fiction insofar as it’s about one woman and two different lives she could have had, both of them in worlds that are not exactly our own. (The split occurs sometime in the early fifties, and history progresses in sometimes surprising ways.) But the real story, the point of the story, is about Patricia – Trish in one lifetime, Pat in the other – and her life and her family. It’s a little bit about might-have-beens, but more about the small choices that you make that make big differences, both to yourself and to other people. I loved it, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Graphic Novel - In this graphic novel memoir, we follow Ellen Forney, an artist, free spirit and stoner who gets diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Readers experience her journey of manic episodes and severe depression, all the while, with the help of her psychiatrist, she struggles to find the right cocktail of medication to control her mood swings.
This is more than just a story about finding oneself. It’s a journey to discover one’s creativity, where it comes from, and if it can be suppressed. Forney constantly worries about losing her creative spark because of her mood stabilizing drugs, and persistently battles with the idea of being a crazy artist, which she admits is kind of romantic.
This novel will appeal to not only graphic novel fans, but also anyone who struggles with a personality disorder or anyone who is a creative soul. Forney is a very likeable character, readers will enter her psyche and experience a world that is often very hush-hush.