Book Review: Jerusalem by Gonçalo Tavares


Around the World for a Good Book Selection for Portugal
Author: Gonçalo Tavares
Title:Jerusalem
Translator: Anna Kushner
Publication Info: Champaign [Ill.] : Dalkey Archive Press, c2009
ISBN: 9781564785558
Summary/Review:

This novel brings together several characters in one place for one event and then jumps back to show vignettes of each character’s life, building up to what all brought them there.  It is a well-written and structured work, but also very complex, and I admit that I don’t totally “get” it.  Themes of troubled relationships, mental illness, and the nature of evil.  If you’re interested in provocative fiction, you may like this.

Recommended booksThe Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder.
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis


AuthorAyana Mathis
TitleThe Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Narrators: Adam Lazarre-White, Bahni Turpin, and Adenrele Ojo
Publication Info: Books on Tape, 2012
Summary/Review: This somber novel tells the stories of a woman named Hattie who migrates from Georgia to Philadelphia in the 1920s, and her subsequent life and that of her children.  The novel is a series of connected stories, each focusing on a different child from dates ranging from the 1920s to 1980s.  The family perseveres against poverty, racism, mental illness and internal strife.  I found it a well-written story that approaches family life and the African-American experience from different angles.  The audiobook is also well-performed with different narrators reading stories from the different children’s perspectives.

Recommended booksBailey’s Cafe by Gloria Naylor, Strivers Row by Kevin Baker, and Jazz by Toni Morrison
Rating: ***

Song of the Week: “Masten Lake Lagoon” by The Pharmacy


I’ve been posting a lot of dance tracks lately, so here’s a rocker with lots of guitar riffs to mix things up.  “Masten Lake Lagoon” is the first single off of Washington state band The Pharmacy’s new album Spells, which will also be their last since the band announced their break-up.  More about the  band and the song avaialable from KEXP Seattle’s Song of the Day page.

Book Review: The Castle of Whispers by Carole Martinez


Around the World for a Good Book Selection for France
Author: Carole Martinez
TitleThe Castle of Whispers
Translator: Howard Curtis
Publication Info: Europa Editions, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-60945-182-0
Summary/Review:

In 12th-century France, a 15-year-old  girl from a noble family named Esclarmonde escapes an arranged marriage by offering herself to God.  The form she takes is an anchoress, imprisoned in the walls of a chapel where she is to pray for the people of her town and the many pilgrims who are soon drawn too her.  Shortly before being walled-up, Esclarmonde is raped and impregnated.  The birth of her son is seen as a miracle by the local religious leaders who prefer not to ask the questions that would get to the truth of the matter.

The novel takes a lot of liberty with historical accuracy and plausibility, but I find it works.  It’s an interesting exploration of the manner in which a woman could gain power in 12th-century Europe, as Esclarmonde is seen advising the local bishop (and the pope by proxy) as well as sending men off to fight in the Crusades.  It also is a study of motherhood as Esclaramonde raises her son in her cell for three years until he grows to big to fit between the bars and is sent off to an adoptive family.  Finally, it investigates the idea of faith with the suggestion that God may not exist, but the belief and rituals still have a positive function in their society.

Recommended booksCompany of Liars by Karen Maitland  and Memoirs Of A Medieval Woman: The Life And Times Of Margery Kempe by Louise Collis
Rating: ***1/2

Beer Review: Ballast Point Sculpin IPA


Beer: Sculpin IPA
Brewer: Ballast Point Brewing Company
Source: 12 fl. oz. can
Rating: ** (6.6 of 10)
Comments: Poured from a can into a jam jar (not your usual presentation), this beer appears cloudy orange with a thick, big bubble head.  The aroma is a musty apricot, with apricot, mango, peach and other fruit flavors balancing out the typical IPA bitterness.  A nice, well-rounded beer

Beer Review: Harpoon Pilot Coconut Porter


Beer: Pilot Coconut Porter
Brewer: Harpoon Brewery
Source: Draft
Rating: ** (6.2 of 10)
Comments:  This special Pilot beer, allegedly only available at the Harpoon Brewery, was on tap at the Granary Tavern in Boston.  It seemed like it would be a unique beer, and it certainly was.  As expected for a porter, it was a deep dark brown, although surprisingly my pint had no head and actually the beer seemed very flat (perhaps a bad pour?).  I could only smell a faint hint of coconut, but it was definitely in the flavor along with a bitter dark chocolate taste and a velvety mouthfeel.  The porter seemed to be strong in alcohol and more like a strange cocktail than a beer in many ways.  An interesting beer experience, but not one that will go down as a favorite.

Song of the Week: “Hot & Cold” by Ex Hex


Ex Hex, the latest band formed by Mary Timony (of Helium and Wild Flag fame, among others) has a terrific new album called Rips. “Hot & Cold” is the first video from the album, but check out the rest of the songs as well.

And while we’re on the topic of Mary Timony, here’s a bonus video of “Honeycomb” by Helium from back in 1995 which was filmed in Jamaica Plain.

Book Review: Be there now : travel stories from around the world


Editor: Mike O’Mary
Title:Be there now : travel stories from around the world
Publication Info: Dream of Things, 2012
Summary/Review:

This book collects very brief essays that capture a moment of a travel experience.  It’s interesting idea but a lot of the stories come out vapid and are not at all transcendent.  It’s a quick read, though, and a handful of stories stand out such as: volunteers helping sea turtles lay their eggs in Costa Rica ( A Trembling Voice by Frank Izaguirr), a blind man visiting mountain gorillas in Rwanda (In the Footsteps of Fossey by Irene Morse), and a writer exploring the world through Google Maps (Virtual Travel by Trendle Ellwood).  The book kind of feels the first part of a contest in which the authors of the top stories should be awarded with a chance to publish longer stories of their experiences.

Recommended booksThere’s No Toilet Paper on the Road Less Traveled: The Best of Travel Humor and Misadventure by Doug Lansky
Rating: **