Book Review: Roll with the Punches by Amy Gettinger


Author: Amy Gettinger
TitleRoll with the Punches
Publication Info: Raucous Eucalyptus Press (2015)
Summary/Review:

I read this book as an attempt to read something I wouldn’t usually read after seeing it in a Kindle deals email and thinking “I’ve never read a romance novel based around roller derby.”  Turns out that this novel is actually about an aspiring author, Rhonda, who has discovered that her novel was stolen and published by a popular novelist and she is now being accused of plagiarism.  Also, her mother is in the hospital and she has to take care of her father who is suffering from dementia.  And there are two men in her life with whom she has romantic feelings: James, a handsome young tech geek from her writers’ group, and Dal, a former student of her fathers.  Also, Dal is Native American so there are a lot of uncomfortable Indian joke.  And there is a roller derby plot squished in there although it doesn’t seem to fit in with everything going especially since the roller derby team also doubles as another writer’s support group.  Whew!  I was curious about the mystery of who stole the manuscript so I read to the end, but ultimately was disappointed by the increasingly ludicrous situations, the two-dimensional nature of most of the supporting characters, and the unlikely way all these different things overlapped in Rhonda’s life.

Recommended booksFurther Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
Rating: **

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TV Review: Doctor Who (2017)


Title: Doctor Who
Release Dates: 2017
Season: 10
Number of Episodes: 12
Summary/Review:

The 10th series of Doctor Who includes several landmarks.  First, it is Peter Capaldi’s third and final series as The Doctor.  I’ve grown to love his performance and wish he could stick around for one more series.  Of course, I thought that about previous Doctors too, but Capaldi has joined the ranks of my favorite Doctors of all time.  Second, this is the sixth and final series for Steven Moffat as showrunner.  Moffat has been an innovator and changed Doctor Who for the future.  He does have a habit of repeating himself in his themes and ideas, though, so it may have been better if he’d finished a little earlier.  He apparently intended to leave after series 9 but was asked to do one more series, but oh wouldn’t Hell Bent been a story to go out on.   Nevertheless, series 10 shows that Moffat had a few more good story ideas left.  Third, the series sees the return of Matt Lucas as a full-time companion Nardole, a decision that seemed odd at first, but paid off across the season. Finally, this series introduced Pearl Mackie as the new companion, Bill.  As a young, working class woman of color and a lesbian, Bill is a unique character in Doctor Who history, and Mackie shined with her humor, intelligence, and clear chemistry with Capaldi.

Moffat stated that the season was a jumping on point for new viewers and the first four episodes followed a familiar pattern for new companions: meeting the Doctor in the first episode, traveling to the future in the second episode, an historical adventure in the third episode, and the supernatural intruding into the companion’s everyday life in contemporary times in the fourth episode.  All of this is undergirded by the mystery of what The Doctor is keeping in a vault underneath the university.  The middle four episodes took a huge left turn and were more reminiscent of highly experimental style of series 9.  First there was Oxygen, one of the standout episodes of the series that is a caustic critique of capitalism, and features a grave threat to Bill and The Doctor making a sacrifice.  This is followed by three episodes linked together as “The Monks Trilogy,” although each episode features a different screenwriter and director.  Moffat introduces a major new villain in the Monks but unfortunately they’re too reminiscent of previous villains the Silence and the Headless Monks.  The trilogy starts off well with Extremis which could easily be edited to make a stand alone episode, but there are diminishing returns in the ensuing two episodes.  There are good parts to each story, although I don’t know if it would be possible to pare it down to just one or two episodes instead of three. The final four episodes feature a couple of more episodes that fit more into the theme of Bill discovering the thrills of travel in time and space, while also incorporating Michelle Gomez Missy into the Tardis team (spoiler: she’s what was hidden in the vault).  The concluding two-part story World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls is a tour-de-force that explores Missy’s efforts to try to be “good,” the return of John Simm as an earlier incarnation of the Master, and some extreme body horror in the form of the Mondasian Cybermen.  Capaldi, Gomez, Simm, and Mackie all put in a remarkable performance in a mindblowing and heartbreaking story.

The mid-season “Monks Trilogy” derail makes it hard to give the series as a whole top marks, but for the most part it’s some excellent television and a fitting finale to the Capaldi era.  Now Christmas needs to get here so we can say farewell to these characters and meet our first woman Doctor!

Below are links to my reviews of each episode from my Doctor Who sideblog on Tumblr:

  1.  The Pilot (7 of 10)
  2.  Smile (5 of 10)
  3.  Thin Ice (8 of 10)
  4.  Knock Knock (6 of 10)
  5. Oxygen (8 of 10)
  6. Extremis (8 of 10)
  7. The Pyramid at the End of the World (6 of 10)
  8. The Lie of the Land (5 of 10)
  9. The Empress of Mars (7 of 10)
  10.  Eaters of Light (8 of 10)
  11. 12. World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls (8 of 10)

A note on ratings:  A score of 5 is the baseline for a decent story from end to end with 10 being an all-time classic and 0 being an utter stinker.  Basically, any story rated 8-10 is a great story, 5-7 is good and worth watching, 2-4 has its moments but can be passed, and 0-1 is only for the Doctor Who completionist.

Album Review: Cost of Living by Downtown Boys


AlbumCost of Living
Artist: Downtown Boys
Release Date: August 11, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “A Wall,” “Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas), “Lips that Bite” and “Clara Rancia.”

Thoughts: The Providence-based, bilingual punk band is back with an energetic new album filled with hard riffs and pointed lyrics.  I particularly like it when the horns kick in.  This is the music for our fraught political times, filled with anger but leavened with hope.
Rating: ****

Album Review: Prophets of Rage


AlbumProphets of Rage
Artist: Prophets of Rage
Release Date: September 15, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Unfuck the World”
Thoughts: Back in the 80s, Public Enemy’s Chuck D said “rap is CNN for black people,” reflecting on the urgency of rap music to spread the word through the community.  The idea of message spreading is central to the new album from Prophets of Rage, the rock rap supergroup Chuck D formed with Rage Against the Machine’s Tim Commerford, Tom Morello, and Brad Wilk, Cypress Hill’s B-Real, and DJ Lord of Public Enemy. And yet message seems to be all they’ve got, while the nearly 30-year-old It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back still stands up musically.  At it’s best, Prophets of Rage reminds me of great collaborations of rap and hard rock like Public Enemy with Anthrax or Rage Against the Machine at their best, but unfortunately most of the album reminds me of the dreck that was late-90s rap-metal, and not worthy of the talent involved in its creation.
Rating: **

Book Review: Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean


AuthorNancy MacLean
TitleDemocracy in Chains
Narrator: Bernadette Dunne
Publication Info: Penguin Audio, 2017
Summary/Review:

This book documents the history of the political and economic ideology that has come to dominate the Republican party today. A lot of the familiar figures are here from Friedrich Hayek to Milton Friedman to Charles and David Koch.  But the central figure of this narrative is James Buchanan, founder of the “Virginia school” of political economy – teaching and training economists at University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and George Mason University – and a major figure in the Mont Pelerin Society and Cato Institute.  Buchanan put forward the public choice theory which introduced many familiar ideas of limited government, anti-regulation, anti-taxation, and rewarding the “job creators” into the public debate. He also came up with long-term strategies of eroding the public’s trust in the government and using the proximity to Washington, DC to keep close ties with right wing leaders while economists trained in his methods went through a revolving door between academia, lobbying, and government positions. MacLean’s writing is obviously biased and I doubt that many of her most conspiratorial implications are 100% accurate.  Nevertheless it is clear that this particular form of right-wing/libertarian ideology has taken hold of at least one major party and the wealthy individuals and corporations who support it, and that it is due to a many decade effort to influence hearts and minds by Buchanan and his cohort.

Recommended booksFree Lunch by David Cay Johnston, The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, and The Price of Inequality by Joseph E. Stiglitz
Rating: ***

Book Review: Dreaming the Beatles by Rob Sheffield 


AuthorRob Sheffield 
Title: Dreaming the Beatles
Narrator:  Rob Sheffield
Publication Info: HarperCollins Publishers, 2017
Previously Read by This Author Love is a Mix Tape, Talking to Girls About Duran Duran
Summary/Review:

Even the author wonders what anyone could possibly say about the Beatles. Sheffield’s approach is to look at the Beatles story through the lens of how they’ve remained beloved icons to this day appealing to people who discover them long after they broke up (the author and myself included).  Sheffield has a funny way of retelling famous Beatles stories as well as poking holes in a lot of accepted wisdom.  One essay on the song “Dear Prudence” contains a lot of the factors in Sheffield’s approach.  First he notes that Paul plays the drums because it was recorded at a time when Ringo quit the band and ponders what they may have been thinking or feeling not knowing if Ringo would ever return.  Second, he talks about a common theme he sees in many Beatles song lyrics, that while they are putatively written addressing a girl, that they were often a means in which the Beatles could talk to one another.  Finally,  the actual subject of the song, Prudence Farrow, is famous for needing to be “rescued” from meditating too long in her tent, but Sheffield points out that she was just fine and didn’t need rescuing by a bunch of bored rock stars. Sheffield writes with a lot of humor and joy as he attempts to unravel the continuing appeal of the Beatles.

Recommended books: How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll by Elijah Wald
Rating: ****

Album Review: The Underside of Power by Algiers


AlbumThe Underside of Power
Artist: Algiers
Release Date: June 23, 2017
Favorite Tracks: “Walk Like a Panther,”  “Cry of the Martyrs,” “The Underside of Power,”  “Death March,” and “Cleveland”
Thoughts:

This may be the most important album of 2017, and one that will certainly be on my year end best of ’17 list.  The politically-charged lyrics of the Atlanta-based band offer hope in times of chaos and despair.  Algiers sound is remarkable as it is indescribable, kind of a mix of gospel, with psychedelic soul (such as late-60s Temptations or Funkadelic at their most political), and punk rock all echoed in a wall of sound.  This is definitely an album you should put on your list to check out.
Rating: ****1/2

 

Movie Review: Rogue One (2016)


Title: Rogue One
Release Date: December 16, 2016
Director: Gareth Edwards
Production Company: Lucasfilm Ltd., Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Summary/Review:

This Star Wars spinoff tells the story of the events that happened immediately before the original 1977 Star Wars film, showing a ragtag band of Rebels stealing the plans for the Death Star.  While the main Star Wars saga details the experiences of generals, princesses, and Jedi knights, this movie offer more of a “working class” perspective of the Star Wars universe.  The film is full of references and special treats for fans of Star Wars and they could be accused of overdoing it, but ultimately I don’t think it detracts from Rogue One as a standalone film.  Like the best Star Wars films, the focus is on quickly developing and making the audience care about this group of characters. Standout characters include Alan Tudyk as the sarcastic droid K-2SO and Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe, a blind warrior-monk with a strong faith in the Force.  At the head of the Rogue One team is Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso who doesn’t shout commands or make wisecracks, but leads with a quiet confidence.  I appreciate Jones’ performance not only as representation for women as leaders but also for introverts.  It’s unfortunate that this group will only appear in this one movie as I’d love to see more of them.  Nevertheless, I found this an interesting expansion of the Star Wars universe, both beautifully-filmed and character driven.

Rating: ****

Related Posts:

Book Review: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders


AuthorGeorge Saunders
TitleLincoln in the Bardo 
Narrator: Cast of Thousands
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2017)
Summary/Review:

This is a curious, experimental novel that is built upon the true story of President Abraham Lincoln making several visits to a crypt to hold the body of his recently deceased son Willie.  The “bardo” is a Tibetan Buddhist concept that of an intermediate state where a person doesn’t know if they’r alive or dead. The author gives voice to dozens of deceased people who comment Lincoln & Willie but also tell their own stories and interact with one another.  A third element to this novel are sections which are merely collages of writing, newspapers clippings, and historical works about Lincoln and his times. The novel is an oddly abstract attempt at understanding grief and coming terms to death, both on Lincoln’s personal level and the large scale trauma of the Civil War.  The audiobook is particularly interesting since each character is read by a different actor, several of them quite famous, lending it the quality of an audio play.

Recommended booksThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust  and Severance: Stories by Robert Olen Butler

Rating: ***

2017 Major League Baseball Postseason Preferences & Predictions


It’s that exciting time of the year again, the MLB playoffs and World Series!  As I did in 2014, 2015, and 2016, I’m going to lay out what teams I’d like to succeed in the postseason and predict what teams will actually win.

NATIONAL LEAGUE PREFERENCES

The Washington Nationals are a team that as a Mets fan you’d expect me to dislike the Nationals, but I’ve never been able to muster strong feelings against them.  The Nationals success since 2012 hasn’t really come at the Mets expense since the Mets generally are their own worst enemy (except in 2015, of course,when the Mets miraculously knocked the Nats out of postseason contention).  The Nationals have not only never won a pennant, they have never won a postseason series (when the franchise played in Montreal they won a single post-season series).  The Cubs are okay in my book, but since they won it all last year, I have no urgency to see them repeat.  I’m indifferent to the Diamondbacks and Rockies. At the other end of the spectrum, the Dodgers are one of the teams (along with the Cardinals and Yankees) that I absolutely loathe.  So I’ll be supporting the underdog Nationals to finally win a pennant this season, and for the Dodgers to lose, lose, lose.

Wild Card Game: Rockies beat Diamondbacks

NLDS: Rockies beat Dodgers, Nationals beat Cubs

NLCS: Nationals beat Rockies

NATIONAL LEAGUE PREDICTIONS:

Wild Card Game: Really no idea, so I flipped a coin and it came up Rockies

NLDS: Dodgers beat Rockies, Nationals beat Cubs

NLCS: Nationals beat Rockies

AMERICAN LEAGUE PREFERENCES

The Red Sox are my home town team, my favorite American League team, and my second favorite team of all.  I’ve seen them win three World Series in recent years, but I wouldn’t mind seeing them win another.  Obviously, Cleveland is probably the biggest underdog in the AL, not winning a title since 1954, but they should change their nickname first before the win a World Series.  I have no strong feelings on the Astros other than that they should be a National League team.  I like the Twins and hope they do well, starting by clobbering the Yankees (this will never happen because the Twins always lose to the Yankees in a big game.

Wild Card Game: Twins beat Yankees

ALDS: Red Sox beat Astros, Twins beat Indians

ALCS: Red Sox beat Twins

AMERICAN LEAGUE PREDICTIONS

Wild Card Game: Yankees beat Twins

ALDS: Red Sox beat Astros, Indians beat Yankees

ALCS: Indians beat Red Sox :(

WORLD SERIES PREFERENCE: Red Sox beat Nationals

WORLD SERIES PREDICTION: Indians beat Nationals

What are your preferences and predictions?  Let me know in the comments.

Tito Jackson for Mayor of Boston


If you’re reading this and live in the city of Boston, I implore you to vote in the City of Boston Preliminary Election on September 26th, 2017.  Preliminary elections are notorious for low turnout meaning a handful of people get to decide who will represent our city, and they usually don’t reflect the full range of ideology within the city.  There are four candidates running for mayor of Boston, and the two who receive the most votes will advance to the general election in November.  If you live in Districts 1, 2, 7, & 9, you will also have a preliminary election for City Council, again with the top two vote recipients advancing to November’s general election.  Please commit yourself to voting on Tuesday and encourage your family, friends, and colleagues to vote as well.  You can find your polling location online at http://www.sec.state.ma.us/WhereDoIVoteMA/bal/MyElectionInfo.aspx.

Okay, if I’ve convinced you to vote, you may be wondering who you should vote for.  I’d like to encourage you to vote for Tito Jackson for Mayor of Boston.  Tito is a lifelong resident of Boston’s Grove Hall neighborhood and since 2011 he has served on the City Council as the representative of District 7 (all of Roxbury, parts of the South End, Dorchester, and Fenway neighborhoods).  I’ve come to know him in recent years primarily through being active with Boston Public School parents and students to defend against three consecutive years of severe budget cuts from the Walsh administration and the threats of corporate education reform organizations, and advance a just and equitable model of public education.  As Chair of the Boston City Council’s Committee on Education, Tito frequently meets and works with parents and students of Boston Public Schools.  He recognizes the good work that BPS teachers and students are already doing, at a time when it is fashionable to attack public education as failing.  He understands that schools will get better only if every school and every student receive equitable resources and we address problems due to poverty, inequality, and physical and mental health.

As you might imagine, education is one of the key issues on Tito’s platform.  But he is also very concerned with housing.  If you’ve tried to rent or buy a home in Boston in the past couple of decades you know it’s an extremely competitive housing market where an increasing demand for a static supply of housing stock has forced rents and mortgages through the roof.  Members of Boston’s working and middle classes are finding it increasingly difficult to afford to live in the city.  And when new housing is built, developers inevitably target it to high-end buyers.  Tito is committed to making housing economically viable for all by increasing the number of truly affordable housing units.

Of course it’s easy to make promise that look great on a webpage, but there’s something about Tito that sets him apart from other candidates: he is truly a representative of the people who listens to them and works to resolve their problems.  A couple of years ago, Boston was selected as a candidate to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games.  I had mixed feelings on the issue myself.  On the one hand I enjoy the Olympics and it would be a treat to have it in our great city, but on the other hand I know that the cost of the Olympics can be economically devastating to the host city.  Although the supporters of the bid promised that no public funding would be used for the Olympics, many citizens were concerned about the lack of transparency around the contents of the actual bid documents.  Tito was initially supportive of Boston 2024 but listened to the growing concern of his constituents and filed a subpoena forcing the Boston 2024 organizers to release the full, unredacted bid.  As feared, the bid put Boston on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in public money, and that was before any inevitable cost overruns.  This is just one instance of Tito listening to his constituents, acting on their concerns, and working toward greater transparency and equity in Boston government.

If you’re still not convinced to vote for Tito, perhaps you just really like Marty Walsh and see no reason to change mayors, I’m going to ask you to still go ahead and vote for Tito Jackson in the preliminary election on Tuesday.  I honestly think that Marty Walsh will be a better mayor if he faces a strong challenge from Tito, and has to defend his past decisions and plans for the future, and learns to be a better leader by listening to what Tito and his supporters have to say.  If after six weeks of intense campaigning and debates, you’re still not convinced that Tito would make a better mayor, go ahead and vote for Walsh in November.  But I think the more that people get to see and hear Tito Jackson and how he is speaking for the everyday people of Boston, the more you’re going to want to vote for him.

Resistance Mixtape: Immigrant Songs


We are a nation of immigrants, although some like to act like we’re not, but our musical heritage is rich in songs of the travails and contributions of immigrants.
“Thousands Are Sailing” by The Pogues tells the first person stories of generations of Irish arrivals on American shores.
“America” by Neil Diamond is a cheerful ode to the ideal that’s not always realized.
“Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins)” by Shad is a Canadian hip-hop exploration of the same theme.
“Paper Planes” by M.I.A documents the red tape and paperwork needed to cross borders today.
“Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” by Cisco Houston reminds us that not everyone who makes it here is allowed to stay, and often human live are treated as disposable
“Esta Tierra Es Tuya” by Sones de Mexico Ensemble. But, all the same, “This Land is Your Land,” no matter what language you sing it in.
There are hundreds of songs I could share here, so please let me know some good ones I left out in the comments.
Previous mixtapes

Book Review: Granite, fire, and fog : the natural and cultural history of Acadia by Tom Wessels


Author: Tom Wessels
TitleGranite, fire, and fog : the natural and cultural history of Acadia
Publication Info: Hanover : University Press of New England, 2017.
Summary/Review:

This book integrates the natural and cultural history of Acadia National Park in an intriguing way.  Wessels describes the geological processes that created Mount Desert Island’s unique formations and how the location of the island brings together fauna and flora not found together anywhere else.  For a short book, it can be quite detailed, as almost an entire chapter is dedicated to the different types of lichen that grow on the island’s rocks (don’t step on them!) and nearly as much as space to how fogs provide hydration and nutrients to the island’s plants.  The Fire of 1947 is also described as a cataclysmic event that unexpectedly shaped the national park that we know today.  This is a fascinating introduction to the wonders of Acadia, and a good field guide for visitors there.

Rating: ****

Book Reviews: Acadia: The Complete Guide: Acadia National Park & Mount Desert Island by James Kaiser


Author: James Kaiser
TitleAcadia: The Complete Guide: Acadia National Park & Mount Desert Island
Publication Info: Destination Press (2016), Edition: Fourth edition
Summary/Review:

This is a spectacular guidebook to one of my favorite places.  You’re not going to find much about hotels or restaurants here but you will find detailed descriptions of the geology, ecology, history, and culture of Mount Desert Island.  Also there are in-depth descriptions of wildlife, local foods, notable persons, and popular hikes.  And all of it is richly-illustrated with glossy photographs.  This is a travel guide you can read cover-to-cover like an ordinary book.

Rating: ****

Book Review: The Humans Who Went Extinct by Clive Finlayson


Author: Clive Finlayson
TitleThe humans who went extinct : why Neanderthals died out and we survived
Publication Info: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2009.
Summary/Review:

Finlayson is a paleontologist from Gibraltar who writes in this book about Neanderthals as a species of human that evolved parallel to the ancestors of homo sapiens.  Finlayson challenges common beliefs such as the “Out of Africa” theory, noting that ancestral humans and proto-humans could move freely back and forth between Africa and the Eurasian landmass, especially when the ocean levels were much lower than they are now.  He also theorizes that the fossil record of a many early human communities that lived by the shore have been lost to ocean levels rising.  The role of climate plays a large part in Finlayson’s model of human evolution, and attributes homo sapiens adaptation to the climactic changes that made the Neanderthals go extinct more to luck than the superiority of our species.  Despite the title, Neanderthals are not the main focus of this book, which is disappointing. His defensiveness about how his view contrast with the common wisdom make me wonder if he’s a renegade that cannot be trusted.  While writing on a fascinating topic, Finlayson’s writing is a bit dry and repetitive so the book is less engaging than I would’ve hoped.

Rating: ***

Book Review: I Was Told to Come Alone by Souad Mekhennet 


Author: Souad Mekhennet
TitleI Was Told to Come Alone
Narrator:  Kirsten Potter
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2017)
Summary/Review:

Note: I received a free copy of the audiobook for this work through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

This is the memoir of Souad Mekhennet, a journalist raised in Germany but whose parents are from Turkey and Morocco.  Inspired by All the President’s Men, Mekhennet goes to journalism school and enters into the business just as the September 11th attacks change the way a woman of Islamic heritage will be received in Europe and the United States.  She covers the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the rise of Al Qaeda and Isis, and the major terrorist attacks in Germany, France, and England.  She gains unique access to meet jihadists face to face for interviews, goes into war-torn Iraq, visits the Islamic communities in European cities where the attacks on Paris were planned, and helps people mistakenly captured by the CIA.  It’s an interesting life story and offers a unique perspective of the past 20 years from someone is both western and Muslim.

Recommended booksBaghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia by Tony Horwitz
Rating: ***

Movie Review: Minions (2015)


TitleMinions
Release Date: June 10, 2015
Director: Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda
Production Company: Universal Pictures, Illumination Entertainment
Summary/Review:

The Minions – the lovable, mischievous, and yellow sidekicks from the the Despicable Me franchise – get the full origin story in this film.  The movie begins with the Minions evolving as a species that longs to serve biggest, meanest creature around.  After a montage of numerous instances where the Minions enthusiasm inadvertently leads them to kill their masters, they end up in exile in an Arctic cave. After decades of a the community suffering collective depression over having no evil master to serve, three Minions -Kevin, Stuart, and Bob – set off on a journey to find a new leader.  Their travels take them to 1960s New York City, then to pre-themepark Orlando for a supervillains convention, and finally to swinging London where they try out for the supervillain Scarlet Overkill.  Hijinks ensue, and the Minions can be disarmingly funny, especially Bob. I feel like the movie is often trying too hard to be clever and lacks the heart of Despicable Me.  Are the Minions really able to carry a movie on their own? I say no, but my kids disagree, and I suspect it succeeds as some enjoyable fluff for the younger ones.
Rating: **

Related PostMovie Review: Despicable Me (2010)

Book Review: We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler


Author: Daniel Handler
TitleWe Are Pirates
Publication Info: New York : Bloomsbury, 2015.
Summary/Review:

This is an “adult” novel written under Handler’s real name instead of his more famous pseudonym, Lemony Snicket.  Set in contemporary San Francisco, the story details the lives of a dysfunctional family living beyond their means in an Embarcadero condo.  The storylines alternate between Phil Needle, a radio producer looking to exploit the legacy of an African American blues musician, and his 14 y.o. daughter Gwen, who has grown disaffected by the upper middle class life and eventually puts together a crew to steal a boat and run amok on the San Francisco Bay (the “pirates” of the title).  Snicket-like touches are there such as the unreliable and mysterious narrator who begins as a guest at the Needles’ party but then locks themselves in the bathroom to begin telling the story of their hosts.  And the story of Gwen and her youthful companions (plus her grandfather with Alzheimer’s) is far more engaging that Phil’s story. Ultimately, this novel felt a bit drab and I ended up finishing reading it more out of courtesy than interest.

Favorite Passages:

Phil Needle wasn’t a good person, in a what-a-good-person-you-are sort of way, but he was good, somehow, surely. He was merciful. He stepped on wounded bees. He did good, and when he did bad it wasn’t his fault. It was a mistake. He was so sorry, behind the bumper sticker, for whatever and everything it was he had done.

Rating: **

Resistance Mixtape: Labor Songs


This is a week late, but every day is Labor Day as far as I’m concerned. So here are some songs celebrating the working people.

Bread and Roses” by Judy Collins

“Gonna Be An Engineer” by Peggy Seeger

“Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes

“I Guess I Planted” by Billy Bragg & Wilco

“Joe Hill” by Paul Robeson

“More Than a Paycheck” by Sweet Honey in the Rock

“9 to 5” by Dolly Parton

“Talking Union” by The Almanac Singers

“Working Class Hero” by John Lennon

I’m trying to make this a more regular feature, but until that time, enjoy some earlier Resistance Mixtapes:

Book Review: River of Doubt by Candice Millard


AuthorCandice Millard
TitleRiver of Doubt
Narrator: Paul Michael
Publication Info: Books on Tape (2005)
Summary/Review:

The River of Doubt, or Rio da Dúvida, was the actual, dramatic name of a river in Brazil’s Amazon region that is now called the Roosevelt River.  Fresh off his failed attempt to return to the Presidency as the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party candidate, Theodore Roosevelt conducted a scientific expedition for the American Museum of Natural History to explore this remote river in 1913-14.   Brazil’s greatest explorer Cândido Rondon joined Roosevelt as  leader and were accompanied as Roosevelt’s son Kermit, a naturalist, and 15 porters.  This book describes the adventure along the river that was plagued by waterfalls and rapids that required frequent portages, disease, loss of food and supplies, and the threat of the indigenous peoples, the Cinta Larga, tracking the expedition.  One member of the party drowned, one was murdered, and the murderer was abandoned by the party in the jungle.  Roosevelt himself suffered injuries and illness that brought him close to death and expressed the wish to be left behind.  It’s a harrowing story that despite happening in modern times seems to be from a more distant era.

Rating: ***1/2