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.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown

13158378BookTop Chef meets Pirates of the CaribbeanCinnamon 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!

Sano Ichiro series by Laura Joh Rowland

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indexBook- 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!

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

17333319Book – 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.