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
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
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+
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)
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
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-
Siddhartha Mukherjee’s astonishing The Gene: An Intimate History provides fascinating history as well as the science behind the greatest scientific breakthrough in biology. I found the story of Mendel’s peas completely astonishing. Who would have guessed the extent of the impact of Darwin’s The Origin of the Species would have on science and social movements? But the story of the gene really gets moving when American biologist James Watson and English physicist Francis Crick discover the DNA double helix. Sequencing the human genome, learning how to manipulate genes, possible genetic cures for cancer and other diseases, and the prospect of illegal genetic abuse by terrorists and rogue nations are all part of story of The Gene. Siddhartha Mukherjee’s writing style is clear and concise. He explains complex ideas and procedures with jargon-free language. The Gene: An Intimate History is one of the best books on Science that I’ve ever read. Highly recommended! GRADE: A+
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Prologue: Families 1
Part One: The “Missing Science of Heredity” 1865-1935 15
Part Two: “In the Sum of the Parts There Are Only the Parts” 1930-1970 87
Part Three: “The Dreams of Geneticists” 1970-2001 201
Part Four: “The Proper Study of Mankind Is Man” 1970-2005 253
Part Five: Through the Looking Glass 2001-2015 327
Part Six: PostGenome 2015– 415
Epilogue: Bheda Abheda 485
Selected Bibliography 551
A couple weeks ago Diane and I saw The Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. Cap’n Bob, Deb, and others pointed out the plot of The Gentileman’s Guide to Love and Murder sounded a lot like Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). I saw Kind Hearts and Coronets back in the Sixties and had completely forgotten about it. So I picked up this deluxe Criterion Collection edition and watched it. Yes, The Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder follows the basic plot of Kind Hearts and Coronets with some significant changes. The comedy of dispatching the family members standing between our “hero” and the Dukedom is much funnier. And, of course, The Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is a musical. And, the ending of Kind Hearts and Coronets is NOT the conclusion of A Gentileman’s Guide to Love and Murder.
The Criterion Collection includes extras like the American Ending to Kind Hearts and Coronets, the Original theatrical trailer, a feature-length BBC documentary on the history of Ealing Studios, and a rare, 70-minute talk-show appearance by Alec Guinness from 1977. Very nice box set! GRADE: A
I set the bar fairly low for Kong: Skull Island. But I was pleasantly surprised by Tom Hiddleston (as a SAS tracker) and Brie Lrson (as an award-winning photo-journalist) getting into some serious monkey business in this movie. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts cranks up the suspense and the explosions as his movie amps up. John Goodman’s character persuades a U. S. Senator (Richard Jenkins) that the Government needed to explore a mysterious island in the Pacific “before the Russians do.” It’s 1973 and the Vietnam War is winding down. Samuel L. Jackson plays Preston Packard, a bitter Lieutenant Colonel who tells Brie Larson, “We weren’t defeated in Vietnam, we just gave up.” Well, he’s not giving up on Skull Island when Kong wrecks havoc on the expedition. There are plenty of gruesome creatures to churn your stomach like the “skull crawlers.” The battle scenes are eye-popping! If you’re looking for an entertaining popcorn movie, Kong: Skull Island is the best one around right now. GRADE: B+