MARTIANS ABOARD By Carrie Vaughn


Carl V. Anderson raved about Martians Abroad on his blog. Here’s his review. Like Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine, Martians Abroad follows the tradition of Heinlein’s juvenile SF novels and Andre Norton’s early SF novels. Polly Newton is a feisty teenager born and raised on Mars. Polly wants to be a starship pilot. Her twin brother, Charles, is a genius at computers and strategy. Both Polly and Charles are shocked when their mother, Director of the Mars Colony, tells them she has enrolled them in the prestigious Galileo Academy…on Earth! Polly rebels at leaving the planet she loves, but in the end both kids are shipped off to Earth. Plenty of problems vex Polly and her brother. First, they have to adjust to dealing with three times the gravity of Mars. Earth teenagers can be mean and nasty. When “field trips” occur, surprising events happen and Polly shows how a true Martian reacts to adversity. If you like books like Podkayne of Mars you’ll enjoy Martians Abroad. Carl’s review is spot on about the thrills in this book! GRADE: B+

SOUTH AND WEST (From a Notebook) By Joan Didion

“In New Orleans in June the air is heavy with sex and death, not violent death but death by decay, overripeness, rotting, death by drowning, suffocation, fever of unknown etiology.” (p. 5) Deb will have to weigh in on the accuracy of the first line of Joan Didion’s first fragment, “South.” South and West are pieces Didion started but never finished. “South” is based on a road trip Joan Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunne took in June 1970. As with much of Didion’s work, you get a lot about her as well as whatever topic she’s writing about.

“As it happens I was taught to cook by someone from Louisiana, where an avid preoccupation with recipes and food among men was not unfamiliar to me. We lived together for some years, and I think we must fully under each other when once I tried to kill him with a kitchen knife.” (p. 8) Didion and her husband meander across the South aimlessly, making observations as they travel around. Didion interviews a white owner of a Black music radio station. “South” is 107 pages of this 126 page book.

That means that “West” is about 10 pages long. Didion told Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone that she wanted to cover the Patter Hearst trial in 1976. But once Didion got to San Francisco, a number of memories got triggered. Didion recalls her first airplane flight from New York City to San Francisco. She remembers the first time she walked across the Golden Gate Bridge. And…then the book ends. As much as I admire Joan Didion’s work, I found this book of fragments unsatisfying. If you want to read the Good Stuff Joan Didion has written, I highly recommend We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live. You can safely skip South and West. GRADE: C

THE FLASH: DUET [CW]


Yes, the impact of LA LA LAND can be seen in this musical episode of The Flash (Grant Gustin). This is one of those “cross-over” episodes with Supergirl (Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers). The episode features a musical crossover with Supergirl and reunites Grant Gustin and Melissa Benoist with their former Glee co-star Darren Criss, who portrays the Music Meister, the Villain of the Week. The story will begin at the end of the Supergirl episode “Star-Crossed” on March 20, 2017, which sees Kara being comatose by Music Meister and Mon-El and J’onn J’onzz / Martian Manhunter bringing her to Earth-1 in hope that Team Flash can save her. Trust me, you don’t have to know the backstory to enjoy the dancing and the music in this episode.

Benji Pasek and Justin Paul, winners of the Academy Award for Best Original Song for providing the lyrics for “City of Stars” in LA LA LAND, wrote another original song, titled “Runnin’ Home to You”, which will be performed by Gustin in this episode. If you’re a fan of singing and dancing, this episode of The Flash should be a fun experience!

Simple: The Easiest Cookbook in the World by Jean-Francois Mallet


Jean-Francois Mallet has a best seller on his hands with Simple: The Easiest Cookbook in the World. The concept is…well, simple. None of the 200 recipes in this cookbook has more than four steps or more than six ingredients! And, this is one of the best designed cookbooks I’ve ever seen! Gorgeous photos of mouth-watering food! But…there’s more! AMAZON has this beautiful hardcover cookbook for the Bargain price of $10! Incredible! I liked “Macaroni Gratin,” “Bow Tie Pasta with Green Vegetables,” and “Fried Rice with Shrimp and Pork.” And there are still a dozen more recipes I want to try. If you’re looking for a no-nonsense cookbook with delicious recopies, give Simple: The Easiest Cookbook in the World a try. Check out the sample recipes below. GRADE: A

A MALGUDI OMNIBUS By R. K. Narayan


Generous Atanu sent me a copy of R. K. Narayan’s A Malgudi Omnibus. R. K. Narayan is one of India’s greatest novelists. This omnibus includes Swami and Friends (1935), The Bachelor of Arts (1937), and The English Teacher (1945). Narayan creates a world of Malgudi very much like Anthony Trollope did with his Chronicles of Barsetshire and William Faulkner did with Yoknapatawpha County. Within Narayan’s Malgudi, the entire culture of India exists to be explored. In Swami and Friends, friends–Somu, Sankar, Mani, and the Pea–find their relationship upset by Rajam, who is the son of Malgudi’s new police superintendent. Swaminathan joins a mob protesting the recent arrest of a prominent Indian politician in Malgudi, The mob’s nationalist fervor causes Swaminathan to shatter the windows of his headmaster’s office by throwing a rock. Swaminathan’s action causes a change of schools which changes his friendship with Rajam. Swami and Friends delves into the nature of friendship and change.

In The Bachelor of Arts a young man named Chandran falls in love with Malathi but Chandren is rejected by Malathi’s parents. Distraught, Chandren lives on the streets and finally undertakes a journey to flee from his rejection and pain. I liked the ending Narayan concocts.

My favorite novel in A Malgudi Omnibus is The English Teacher. An English teacher and lecturer at Albert Mission College, Krishna is confronted by a personal tragedy. How he copes with his tragedy and the decisions he makes brought me to tears. I found The English Teacher a very moving novel. If you’re looking for first-class fiction, I recommend R. K. Narayan’s work. A Malgudi Omnibus would be a good place to start. Thanks again, Atanu! GRADES: Swami and Friends: B, The Bachelor of Arts: B+, The English Teacher: A

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST


It’ hard to believe it’s been 25 years since the Disney animated version of Beauty and the Beast burst on the scene in 1991. Patrick, Katie, Diane, and I all loved it. The music was fun. A few years later, we all went to Toronto to see the musical version of Beauty and the Beast on the stage. Again, very entertaining! So I approached this live-action movie version with some trepidation. The original animated version was 84 minutes. This live-action movie is 129 minutes. Would it just be filler?

The answer is yes…and no. The movie provides some backstory to Belle and her family as well as an explanation of the Beast’s troubled past. Some of the musical numbers go on a little too long for my taste. And the Beast’s castle is a little too dark. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what’s going on in the shadows. But Emma Watson is fine as Belle. Dan Stevens (who I really like in LEGION) transforms into a marvelous, cantankerous Beast. Luke Evans plays a narcissistic, brutish Gaston to perfection. And, behind the CGI characters there are the voices of Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts), Ewan McGregor (Lumière), and Ian McKellen (Cogsworth). This movie includes three new songs (mostly forgettable) and a scary scene with wolves that might frighten younger children. All in all, I can recommend this new live-action movie of Beauty and the Beast. There’s enough newish story here to hold your interest. GRADE: B+

FORGOTTEN BOOKS #415: POLICE AT THE STATION AND THEY DON’T LOOK FRIENDLY By Adrian McKinty


Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I thought I’d celebrate by reviewing Adrian McKinty’s new Sean Duffy mystery, Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly. Sean Duffy is a police detective in Belfast. It’s 1988 and Duffy is investigating the bizarre murder of a drug dealer who is shot by crossbow. The drug dealer’s Bulgarian wife disappears and Duffy’s leads dry up. But when the IRA try to execute Duffy, the story really gets cranked up. Duffy has some relationship problems with his girl friend, Beth. The shifting alliances within the police establishment come into play, too. I’ve enjoyed the Sean Duffy series with Rain Dogs (with its impossible crime motif) as my favorite. My other reviews of the Sean Duffy mysteries are  here,  here,  here, and here. GRADE: B+
THE SEAN DUFFY SERIES:
The Cold Cold Ground (2012)
I Hear the Sirens in the Street (2013)
In the Morning I’ll Be Gone (2014)
Gun Street Girl (2015)
Rain Dogs (2016)
Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly (2017)

ARABELLA OF MARS By David D. Levine


I’m not a big fan of steam-punk SF, but I’d read enough positive reviews of David D. Levine’s Arabella of Mars to order a copy (plus I liked the cover artwork by Stephan Martiniere). Levine creates a Mars of 1812. There is a British colony on Mars. Arabella, her older brother Michael, her father and mother, and her two younger sisters live in an uneasy association with Martian tribes. After an incident where Arabella is hurt, her mother (who hates Mars) insists on returning to London with her children. Arabellas’s father, knowing his wife’s dislike of the red planet, agrees but negotiates to keep Michael on Mars to help him operate the family plantation. His wife agrees and leaves for Earth. Yes, the scenes of “sailing” through Space in wooden ships seems a bit wacky (I found Levine’s explanations unconvincing). But if you suspend your skepticism, Arabella of Mars accelerates into an entertaining adventure novel. Arabella decides she has to return to Mars so she disguises herself as a teenage boy. The mysterious Captain of a Mars Trading Company ship, Diana, hires Arabella because of her skill with clockwork mechanisms. Yes, sometimes the action feels like C. S. Forester’s Hornblower books (or Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin seafaring novels). Only set in Space between Earth and Mars. If you’re in the mood for a fun adventure, Arabella in Mars will take you on one. GRADE: B

JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK [Blu-ray]


An R-Rated DC animated feature? That’s what Justice League Dark delivers. Plenty of spooky stuff brings the Justice League into the action. But they’re confounded by events like a series of mysterious deaths. Bruce Wayne receives a message to contact John Constantine, the abrasive practitioner of mystical arts. Constantine, his former lover Zatanna, and Jason Blood also known as the demon Etrigan join Bat-man on a quest to discover which Dark Magic mage is behind the series of deaths. If you’re in the mood for a very different kind of Justice League adventure, you’ll fine Justice League Dark an entertaining change of pace. GRADE: A-