Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

indexBook – Tara Abernathy is a contract lawyer. Wait, no, don’t run away – I swear this is a fantasy novel, and a really good one, too. In Gladstone’s post-war fantasy world, contracts regulate and control the use of magic, called Craft. In recent history, Craftsmen (and women) overthrew the gods, shifting control of magical power into mortal hands. But remnants of the old religions still exist. And the old gods do, too – so long as they abide by their contracts.

That’s what Tara and her boss are investigating: Kos Everburning, a god of the city of Alt Coulomb, has died and defaulted on his contract. In order to keep the power on, and to forestall political upheaval, they have to prove that Kos was murdered.

Three Parts Dead isn’t always the easiest book to read (Gladstone subscribes to the “throw them in the deep end and see if they can swim” school of worldbuilding), but it’s never boring. This is the first in Gladstone’s ongoing Craft series. The sequel, Two Serpents Rise, features an entirely different cast of characters in a city halfway around the world from Alt Coulomb, but as the series goes on, the storylines begin to converge. It’s deep, fascinating, twisty stuff, and totally worth the effort it can sometimes take.

Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer

indexBook – There are various times in one’s life where the discussion of death, and God, and the afterlife happen. When love ones pass, health issues arise, or in lectures with professors. In Calculating God the story centers on Thomas Jericho, a paleontologist from Toronto who is dying from lung cancer.

Two alien species from different planets, Forhilnors and Wreeds, have come to Earth to speak with paleontologists about evolution, science, and religion. Tom, being a scientist does not believe in God and is surprised both alien species firmly believe in a God. This makes for interesting dialogue between all parties. On the one hand there are aliens on Earth and want to learn about the evolution of our planet and species; but on the other hand both alien species believe in what we call God. Tom has a hard time grasping this even knowing his fate.

The writing is a little slower in pace and gives the reader points where reflection of one’s life may happen. There is a plot line that includes creationists and I did not understand why it was being included until it climaxed. Science fiction readers or anyone who may want to reflect on why illness happens or question if a higher power exists may find this book interesting. Readers who enjoy a book with minimal, but more developed characters will also like this book.

It took me two years to finish this book. This does not speak of the quality of writing, because Robert Sawyer does a great job of keeping the reader intrigued. I am a firm believer of the notion that sometimes you are not ready for a book. At the time I started it, I was not ready for it. I found it again and was bolstered by the ending.

The Vlad Taltos series by Steven Brust

49281Books – Vlad is an Easterner (a human, to us), but he’s lived his whole life in the strictly regimented, caste-based Dragaeran Empire, among Dragaerans (whom his grandfather calls Elves). Most Dragaeran Houses are a matter of birth, but Vlad’s father bought his family into the House of the Jhereg, best known for putting the “organized” into organized crime. He lives a little in both worlds, rising in the ranks of the Jhereg while learning Eastern witchcraft from his grandfather – which is how he came by his long-time companion Loiosh, who is also a jhereg. All the Dragaeran Houses are named after animals, you see – a jhereg is a small flying lizard, about the size of a housecat. No, they don’t breathe fire. They’re not usually telepathic, either, but Loiosh is a witch’s familiar, after all.

The Vlad Taltos series – part of Steven Brust’s larger Dragaeran universe, which also includes a five-book trilogy and a stand-alone novel set in the East – is really something different; I don’t know of any other fantasy novels like them. They’re all narrated by Vlad in the first person, and Vlad’s voice is one of the most delightful things about them. Think something of a cross between Sam Spade and Strider (who becomes Aragorn). And each book is also about a different Dragaeran House and what that House stands for in Dragaeran society – Jhereg, the first in the series, is about Vlad’s life in the Organization; Dragon, another good starting point, is about war. You learn a little more about the universe with every book. There are fourteen books so far, with five (and lots of questions) left to go.

The Curse of Jacob Tracy by Holly Messinger

51uTzSLdKwL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Book – Trace sees spirits. They’re kind of everywhere, but he doesn’t dare tell anyone he knows about what he can see, because every time he does they wind up dead. Even his partner Boz doesn’t know – until they’re hired by a rich old English lady to retrieve some property for her, and it turns out that she doesn’t need Trace’s skills as a trapper and guide so much as for what he can see that so few others can.

This is a terrifically fun Weird West story, with all the trappings – cowboys, werewolves, ghosts and sorcerers. Messinger does a good job with the diversity of the West, too: Boz is black, and the ghosts of Chinese rail-workers play a role in Trace’s difficulties. The overall plot isn’t too unique (and it’s clearly set up as the beginning of an ongoing series), but the unique twist on monsters and magicians, as well as Boz and Trace’s relationship, make for compelling reading. I’m interested to see where this series goes from here.

Groot by Jeff Loveness

51jARlMoeUL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_Book: “I am Groot.” Groot, a huge hulking tree and a Guardian of the Galaxy, may be only able to verbalize three words, but he really does have a lot to say. Jeff Loveness’ graphic novel Groot is the story of Groot (duh) and Rocket the Racoon traveling together to Terrian (aka Earth). The two pals’ trip is not going as planned because apparently Groot wanted to take the scenic route. They also run into the problem of no longer having a spaceship. This leads the best friends to literally hitchhike across the galaxy. Much hilarity ensues as the pair encounter different alien species and trials on their journey. The contrast of Groot’s simple nature with Rocket’s impatience and lack of compassion leads great conversations and adventures.

Of the graphic novels that I have read, this one is by far my favorite. The story line is so much fun to read. It gives background knowledge to Groot and his friendship with Rocket. It shows a new side to both of these characters. If you loved the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, then you will love this graphic novel. If you want to try reading graphic novels for the first time, Groot is an excellent place to start. It’s a complete story from beginning to end and the art work is beautiful.

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?

 

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.

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.