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.
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.
The 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.
Next 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!!!
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!
For 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.
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- Set in 17th-century Edo (now called Tokyo), this mystery series follows the career of Sano Ichiro, a samurai investigator who rises from an ordinary policeman to the Shogun’s Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People. This position does not come without some attendant danger. In addition to the obvious dangers of police work, Sano must navigate the viper-pit of nobles, courtesans, and hangers-on that wield the weak-willed shogun’s power for him and who view Sano as a threat. The primary conflicts in the series derive from Sano’s strong idealized moral consciousness and samurai principles clashing with the actual degradation and corruption of the Tokugawa shogunate that he serves.
The series includes tons of fascinating historical details and personages and paints such a strong visual image that, despite the uncommon setting, it is not hard to picture Sano’s world. These novels will appeal to fans of other mystery series with a strong sense of place, such as Anne Perry’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mystery series. Sano Ichiro’s adventures are finished, clocking in at 18 volumes altogether, so there’s no agonizing wait for a sequel. Start with Shinju and see if you like it!
Book – Agnes Magnúsdóttir has been convicted of murder, and in the spring, she will be executed. The governor has decided that it’s too expensive to send her to the seat of government in Denmark, so she’s been sent to the farm of District Officer Jon Jonsson, to live there with his family until the execution date can be set.
Between scattered documents – real translations; this is based on the true story of the last woman executed in Iceland for murder – detailing the problems the government is having in getting an execution set for Agnes and her two co-defendants, we learn more about the family hosting her and about Agnes’s own life. She grew up practically an orphan, working for her keep in a variety of small farms, before falling in love with Natan – the man she’s been convicted of murdering.
This was a moving story, stark and bleak but beautifully told, of a woman who is famous but not very sympathetic in her home country. Hannah Kent helps us to understand Agnes, who has been so terribly isolated for much of her life, who fell in love with the wrong kind of man, who lost a life she had never been very successful at in the first place.
Book – The Lufthansa Heist reveals the details of one the biggest heists in history. It tells the story of how a group of thieves stole over $6 million from the Lufthansa air hanger vault at Kennedy Airport without anyone ever being charged for the crime until 2013. Henry Hill a known criminal who associated with New York Mafia figures tells the story of how it all happened. Most readers will remember him as the character Ray Liotta portrayed in the movie Goodfellas. In fact the heist is a major part of the movie and eventually leads to the downfall of Hill.
In the book Hill gives the reader a more in depth look into how the heist happened and its aftermath. There schemes included college basketball point shaving, drug trafficking, assault, robberies, and murders galore. The story is fast paced and will keep readers intrigued even though most will know the outcome, assuming they have seen Goodfellas. This book will give you what the movie mulled over for lack of time.
Listening to the audiobook made things a little difficult however. The narrator has a heavy New York accent which made it difficult to keep up. This is because the story is being told from various perspectives. Even with the difficulty keeping the characters straight, due to the heavy accent, I enjoyed the book immensely. He does a good job at keeping a fast pace as I feel one would have if they were reading the book. The book is for anyone who enjoys true crime, mafia stories, and are fans of Goodfellas and mob movies.
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: One does not forget their childhood best friend. Especially if their childhood best friend was kidnapped. Emmy will never forget Oliver, her next door neighbor and best friend. She will also never forget the day Oliver’s father took him out for a day of fun and never returned him. The whole town remembers. Emmy’s parents remember and responded by keeping her close, afraid that something similar would happen to her.
10 years later, Emmy is a high school senior, with a secret she is keeping from her over-protective parents. 10 years later, Oliver is finally found and comes home. How do you react when your childhood best friend returns home after being missing for 10 years? What should you say? What can you do? Can you go back to how things were before? These are the questions that plague Emmy’s mind as Oliver returns to the house next door.
As Emmy and Oliver reconnect, they realize that their friendship and their connection did not diminished over the last 10 years. Robin Benway is a fantastic writer as she weaves this adorable story together along with the mystery of what happened to Oliver all those years ago.
Emmy and Oliver is a romance, mystery, coming-of-age story. It is about family. Its about growing up. Its about love, lost and found.
Book – It’s been a long time–possibly the year-and-a-half since Counting By 7s, another book featuring an unforgettably brilliant young character–since I’ve encountered a novel as tempting to recommend and hard to put down as Be Frank With Me.
Practical, responsible Alice Whitley, twenty-four, accepted the position of assistant to an affable New York publisher as a way to stave off the inevitable day when she would put her accountancy degree to its logical use. She wasn’t expecting to be dispatched to L.A. as chief cook and bottle washer to caustic author M.M. Banning, real name Mimi Gillespie, who wrote one classic as a teenager and hasn’t published a word since. Now in her fifties, Mimi has recently been swindled out of her fortune and needs to write another book, fast–not so much for her own sake as to provide for her son, Frank.
Frank Banning is the beating heart of Johnson’s book, as the title suggests. A miniature genius eccentric, this nine-year-old powerhouse dresses and talks like a jazz-age tycoon, rushes through the world like a disaster-prone human hurricane, has a seemingly bottomless well of facts at his command, and alternates between social ineptitude and piercing emotional insightfulness. Alice’s new role as Frank’s caretaker and companion shapes her relationships with Mimi, whose resentment sours her underlying gratitude, and with Frank’s “itinerant male role model,” the gorgeous handyman Xander, who bonds with Alice over their shared inside-outside place in the Gillespies’ world. But it is Alice’s growing friendship with Frank, often undemonstrative but deeply affectionate nonetheless, that makes Be Frank With Me so irresistible, as we fall in love with Frank–in all his glory–through Alice’s eyes.
Movie– I watched this emotional drama during my “Alexander Skarsgård” phase, following my seven season binge on True Blood.
What Maisie Knew is the heartbreaking story of a young girl subject to the wrath of her parents’ divorce. Hungry with greed, Maisie’s parents (played by Julianne Moore & Steve Coogan) force their daughter into the midst of a heated custody battle. Thrown from house to house, parent to parent, Maisie is repeatedly neglected and forgotten, with no sense of stability in her life.
Her mother, a hot-headed rockstar and her father, a distant art dealer, are too wrapped up in their own little worlds to provide a supportable life for their young daughter. Living in environments subject to drug addiction and neglect, Maisie is often left in the care of her longtime nanny, and the mother’s boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgård).
I didn’t expect to get so emotionally wrapped up in the sorrowful and whirlwind life of Maisie. The acting was spot on in this film–I adore Julianne Moore, and obviously Alexander Skarsgård. Maisie is played by newcomer Onata Aprile, who I thought did a fantastic job capturing the complexity of the character. All I wanted was for someone to give her the love and care she deserved. Heartbreakingly mesmerizing, grab some tissues, just in case.