Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What We're Watching: Laurie

Persona written and directed by Ingmar Bergman. Starring Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann, and Margaretha Krook.

This story unfolds as actress Elisabeth Vogler (Ullmann) finds herself in the hospital after freezing onstage during a performance. The cause of Vogler's suffering is unknown and she refuses to speak to anyone. Vogler does not seem to be making any progress after being placed under the care of an inexperienced nurse named Alma (Andersson). As hard as Alma tries she cannot get Elisabeth to communicate with her, and Alma ends up sharing intimate secrets with the mute actress while her personality ultimately submerges into Elisabeth's persona. In Swedish with English subtitles.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What We're Listening To: Cathy

The Charming Quirks of Others by Alexander McCall Smith

This is the newest installment in the Isabel Dalhousie series. She is asked to look into the backgrounds of 3 candidates for a school's headmastership. The school has received an anonymous letter saying that one of the candidates has something to hide. Which one is it and who wrote the letter and why? Isabel must also deal with a woman who is in the orchestra with Jamie who is trying to steal him away using very underhanded tactics. The Journal of Applied Ethics brings her into contact again with Professors Dove and Lettuce who cause her trouble without even actually being there. Everything eventually works out although maybe not in the way you had thought. And when are Isabel and Jamie going to get married already?

What We're Reading: Tracy

Weird & Wonderful: Discoveries from the Mysterious World of Forgotten Children's Books, by Welleran Poltarnees.

The subtitle of this little book gives an idea of the intriguing contents within: "Including But Not Limited to Zany Pictures, Baffling Visions, Weird Thoughts, Puzzling Situations, and Things That Are Truly Bizarre." As the author states in his introduction, "Children's books excel in the wonderfully unexpected. It is a realm where dream and imagination can run riot, and it attracts creators with riotous fancy," like Lewis Carroll, creator of Alice in Wonderland's mad adventures. The passage of time adds another layer of potential weirdness to children's books, as historical images lose their reference points, becoming unintelligible or unpalatable to today's readers. Struwwelpeter (Shaggy Peter), an early German "cautionary" book for children detailing good behavior (and the horrific consequences of bad), is an example of such an old classic that modern tastes find grotesque.
Lusciously illustrated with images from the author's archival collection and annotated throughout with dryly humorous comments, Weird & Wonderful is a bibliophile's treat. Take a peek inside and discover such odd kiddie lit characters as a "Hippopotamustard;" explore a "rendering of the emotions of a family of blackberries;" and read a poem about "Obliging Mr. Hammer." Today's children's books will seem dull by comparison with these strange bits of publishing history.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What We're Reading: Edward

Paris Vendetta: a novel
by Steve Berry
Cotton Malone was a Justice Department operative. Now he runs an antiquarian bookstore in Copenhagen. A late night visitor to his newly rebuilt bookstore has it damaged again. Cotton and a younger Justice Department operative are now on the run. Danish billionaire, Henrik Thorvalsen, has discovered who ordered the death of his only son. The British aristocrat behind the murder is now involved in a plan to destabilize the world economy. Cotton was there when Henrik's son was killed and he killed the murderer. With Henrik's help Cotton is able to stop the destruction of the Eiffel Tower. But now both sides are in the hunt for a treasure hidden by Napoleon. Are the clues to the treasure hidden on Saint Helena? Or are they hidden in a book in the Napoleon exhibit at Les Invalides? The final battle between the two forces takes place in another French treasure just outside Paris. Will Cotton and Henrik both survive?

Monday, November 15, 2010

What We're Watching: Jan

America: The Story of Us.
Narrated by Liev Schreiber. Produced by the History Channel.

“We are pioneers and trailblazers. We fight for freedom. We transform our dreams into the truth. Our struggles will become a nation.” These words begin the three discs of this series about the creation of America. The set is not a rigid chronological timeline but rather a study of how courage, curiosity and determination built our nation. The pilgrim's voyage and their start in the new land laid the groundwork for all future exploration. The revolution against the British, the Civil War, and the Underground Railroad showed grit that would symbolize the American fighting spirit. Immigrants were called upon to build the Erie Canal and Transcontinental Railroad, both dangerous endeavors and costing hundreds of lives. Invention and innovation created technologies that spurred progress. The cotton gin, telegraph, space travel and the computer are, of course, highlights. Darker parts of U.S. history are covered too such as slavery, racial inequality and the plight of the American Indian. ‘America’ is not a dull history lesson, but rather an engaging overview. It is done with reenactments and animation and is visually appealing. It is loaded with statistics and facts, some of which are reminders of what we learned in school and some of which are new and astonishing. The series doesn’t cover every incident in detail, and has historians as well as celebrities commenting on events. Overall, it is an examination of our country’s struggles and it’s “can-do” attitude during the past 400 years.

What We're Listening To: Abby

The Rule of Nine: A Paul Madriani Novel by
Steve Martini. Unabridged audiobook read by
Dan Woren.

This book picks up shortly after Martini's previous book, Guardian of Lies, ends. The only person to survive the carnage in the last book is the notorious bad guy called "The Mexicutioner". He has a vendetta against Madriani and is once again working for someone who wants Madriani dead. There is a very involved plot hatched by a dying senator that could change the entire look of the supreme court. Madriani helps foil the elaborate plans but once again the ending is a cliffhanger and the Mexicutioner is on the loose intent on murdering Madriani's daughter. Stay tuned....

What We're Reading: Edward

Nemesis: a Marcus Didius Falco Mystery

by Lindsey Davis

In Nemesis, Falco suffers two heavy blows, the deaths of his father and his newly born son. He sets fire to their funeral pyre and gets on with his work. As the oldest surviving son, Falco is responsible for his father's estate. Family, friends, and business associates question Falco about the distribution of the estate. Meanwhile, one of his father's suppliers goes missing. Falco is loath to miss a chance at making a great deal of money with statues for a Roman monument. The missing supplier is traced to the swampy area South of Rome. The area is well known for its robbers. Attempts by local officials to clean up the area were thwarted by an unknown Roman official. Falco and his friends take a trip to the area. They are unable to take care of the robbers. Back in Rome, Falco tries to use the Imperial Roman bureaucracy to get to the bottom of the case. He is frustrated with his lack of progress.Is his nemesis, Anacrites, at the heart of this matter? Falco solves the problem is his usual unusual way.

Friday, November 12, 2010

What We're Reading: Rita

To Fetch a Thief: A Chet and Bernie Mystery

Spencer Quinn

This is the third title in the Chet and Bernie series, all narrated by Chet. Bernie is Bernie Little of the Little Detective Agency, and Chet, his partner, is a dog. Not just any dog, but a highly trained canine professional, even if he didn't make it all the way through K-9 school (something about an incident with a squirrel during the final exam). This time out, when Chet and Bernie take Bernie's son Charlie to the Drummond Family Traveling Circus, they discover that the show has been cancelled because the star of the show, Peanuts the elephant, has disappeared. Police later discover that Peanut's trainer has also gone missing, but are reluctant to pursue the matter. Charlie, who has a thing for elephants, begs Bernie to investigate, and when Popo the clown officially hires the Little Detective Agency, Chet and Bernie are off on another case. The series is well written and the plots have plenty of mystery, with a little emphasis on some serious social issues - in this case, animal rights. Chet is the true star, however, and sees more than his fair share of action. Additionally, his insights on humans and their behavior (perps and good guys alike) are amusing but insightful.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What We're Watching: Laurie

Bored To Death. Written and created by Jonathan Ames. Starring Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson, Zach Galifianakis, Heather Burns and Olivia Thirlby.

Jonathan Ames (Schwartzman), a young novelist and writer for a New York magazine, is experiencing heartbreak as his live-in girlfriend Suzanne (Thirlby) has recently moved out of their Brooklyn apartment. Ames lists himself as an unlicensed private detective on Craigslist which he hopes will help distract him from the emotional pain of losing Suzanne as well as supplement his income while he is working on his second novel. Jonathan winds up involved in many sticky situations as he takes on new cases. Hilarious, quirky, smart and well written. Great chemistry between the actors. Schwartzman at his best.