Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #47: Calico Palace by Gwen Bristow

After reading all those very heavy non-fiction war books, I felt like I could use a little break. I needed something fluffy and simple to relax my poor over-extended brain, so I picked up Calico Palace by Gwen Bristow. It's an historical fiction romance, much like Bristow's other book, The Jubilee Trail (one of my favorite no-brainer romances.)

In the Calico Palace, young Kendra ends up on the west coast of the USA during the mid-nineteenth century, just in time to be involved in the 1849 gold rush. This is the story of her and her friends (including Marny, an independent woman who runs a gambling parlor) and their struggle to thrive in the newly settled wilderness as gold fever takes hold. The characters are met by a variety of obstacles, including abandonment, disease, weather, fire, and human nature. They all manage to overcome and end up more or less happily ever after.

To be honest, it's almost the same basic plot and character types as The Jubilee Trail, though I found it a little less enchanting. On the whole, it's a very sweet book with some interesting historical context.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer TV: 2010

It's that time of year again, when I tell you what's great to watch if you are a couch potato like me. The summer shows are surprisingly good this year, and I have also found that reality TV is playing almost no part in my summer. Which is good--I think supporting scripted television is totally the way to go.

Rizzoli & Isles (TNT Mondays 10pm): This isn't anything particularly special, but it's a competent procedural, and it's nice to see a show with females as the leads in this genre. I always liked Angie Harmon when she was on Law & Order, and Sasha Alexander was great during her stint on NCIS. The two of them are believable as friends, though they're only a few episodes in to the series and are still finding the characters' rhythm. I'm pleased to see Donnie Wahlberg working, since I think he is the less attractive but more talented of the Wahlberg brothers. Main distraction: every time Bruce McGill comes on screen I find myself squealing "D-Day!"

Memphis Beat (TNT Tuesdays 10pm): I'm still not sold on this one yet, but I'm giving it a chance. I like Jason Lee (despite the fact that he's a scientologist) and Alfre Woodard (remember when they played a couple in Mumford?). The cases are not particularly complicated, but they're enough to keep me watching. The side characters are funny, but I think may of them are under-utilized. Also, while I get the whole "Memphis" emphasis, sometimes the constant music cues get to be a little much. I'm not sure if this one is going to improve, since it could very well become extremely monotonous. It's not a "can't miss" but it's serviceable.

White Collar (USA Tuesdays 9pm): Con-man extraordinaire Neal Caffrey is back, and he is just as charming as ever. This season, the mystery of the music box continues, as well as Neal and Peter trying to figure out who killed Kate at the end of season one. The weekly cases are interesting and clever. Matt Bomer is really excellent in the role, and the interplay between him and Tim McKay (as FBI agent Peter Burke) continues to improve. Willie Garson is also still very funny as Neal's underworld friend Mozzie. I give this one a definite thumbs up.

Warehouse 13 (SyFy Tuesdays 9pm): Warehouse agents Myka and Pete are back, trying to keep society safe from the mysterious artifacts that belong in the Warehouse (think the place where the Ark of the Covenant went at the end of Indiana Jones...) Eccentric boss Artie, the mysterious Mrs. Frederic, and computer genius Claudia track artifacts all over the world. It's hard to explain, but for those who are into sci-fi, it's a fun little show. Not a "can't miss" but totally watchable. I just hope the show ends before they finally hook up Myka and Pete, since their current relationship is great to watch.

Psych (USA Wednesdays 10pm): This show has probably "jumped the shark" but I still watch it for the characters. The cases are really sort of lame, but as long as you acknowledge that they're just excuses for the characters to be doing things, they're all right. James Roday--who has written, directed, and produced a surprising number of episodes--and Dule Hill (as "psychic" Shawn and his sidekick, nervous and uptight Gus) make me laugh every single episode. The screenwriters may be struggling for plots, but their dialogue never fails me. Carlton Omundson as the tightly-wound Detective Lassiter is also a treat. As long as you don't expect too much from this, it can be a highly entertaining hour of TV.

Hot in Cleveland (TVLand Wednesdays 10pm): This is an old-school sitcom, "Taped in front of a live studio audience" and all. It has all the typical sitcom cliches, but I have really been enjoying it. Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, and Wendie Malick star as three women from L.A. who decide to move to Cleveland on a whim. They rent a house that comes with a cantankerous caretaker (Betty White.) They suffer the usual travails of single women in their late 30s-early 40s as well as making the cultural adjustment from Hollywood to the Midwest. The women have good chemistry, and as cheesy as the situations are (blind dates, visiting parents, fashion disasters) it's still fun. Sort of Golden Girls for the new millennium.

Burn Notice (USA Thursdays 9pm): Burn Notice is back once again. This is another show that isn't nearly as innovative as it was in its early seasons, but it's still worth watching, if only for the performances of Jeffrey Donovan (whom I saw throw out the first pitch at a Red Sox game! Whoo!) and Bruce Campbell. Anything Bruce Campbell does is okay with me, really. This season, Michael is trying to chase down another giant dangerous conspiracy, with the help of Fiona and young spy Jesse (Coby Bell) whom--unbeknownst to him--Michael accidentally got burned. The question of course being how long Michael can keep his secret from Jesse while ostensibly helping him get his revenge. There hasn't been nearly enough of Sharon Gless as Michael's mother this season, but hopefully that will change.

Royal Pains (USA Thursdays 10pm): I am not sure why I watch this 'private doctor in the Hamptons serving quirky rich people' show, to be honest. I am generally not a fan of medical shows, but for some reason I enjoy this one. I think--as with most USA shows--I'm a fan of the characters, despite the slightly stupid situations they're often subjected to. USA really takes seriously their "Characters Welcome" slogan. While the plots of their shows aren't the greatest, I think as a channel the characters on their original programming are very enticing.

Project Runway (Lifetime Thursdays 8pm): Project Runway starts this Thursday and I am really excited, though not sure that expanding the episodes to 1.5 hours is a good idea. While I like to think we'll get more discussion of the process of designing and watching the designers struggle in the workroom with making their ideas into reality, then defending them on the runway, I have a sneaking suspicion it just means more time for cattiness and crying. They can long as they cut and cry.

Haven (SyFy Fridays 10pm): This one is not really very good. It's supposedly based on Stephen King's novel The Colorado Kid except it seems to have very little if anything to do with the book as I remember it. FBI agent Audrey Parker comes to small town of Haven for an investigation and decides to stay once she sees a photograph of a mysterious woman who could be her mother. Haven is a weird place full of very quirky locals where people can control the weather and music can drive sane people crazy and crazy people sane, and Audrey kind of digs the weird. She joins the local police force and is partnered with native son Nathan (son of the sheriff) who has a medical condition that doesn't allow him to feel pain. The two of them run around investigating weird happenings (according to locals, it's the return of "The Troubles") while Audrey tries to find out about her past. To be honest, I kind of only watch this for Eric Balfour--who plays town bad boy Duke Crocker--because as it turns out, at some point he got insanely skankiliciously hot. (When did that happen? Last I remember he was gawky and his head was too big and he sort of reminded me of Lurch with a bad goatee.) Anyway, it's another show that people who like sci-fi might like. Or people who like hot guys--Lucas Bryant, who plays Nathan, is fairly attractive as well--might like it too.


We also watch a rather stunning number of cooking shows--particularly Diners, Drive-ins, and & Dives (shout out to Minnesota Missy, who works on the show) and really anything else Guy Fieri is on, and several considerably nerdier cooking shows on PBS. Plus there's an endless parade of sports, plus new Futuramas.

On the whole, it's not a bad summer for TV. I'll be excited to see what's new in the fall but I'm not suffering any withdrawal so far!

Monday, July 26, 2010

"The streets are not like the ER. There's no walls, no controls." - Bringing Out the Dead

I know it's not cool, but anyone who knows me (or has read this blog at least twice) knows I have a totally irrational love for Nicolas Cage. I don't know what it is--his insanely rolling eyes, his slightly over-large teeth, his totally inexplicable and rapidly-worsening hair? Maybe it's the sense that he's probably a douchebag in real life...but one of those hilariously entertaining douchebags, the kind who are just self-aware enough to to be in on the joke of their douchebaggery. I really don't know, but I find him irresistible. Bringing Out the Dead is Nicolas Cage as I love him best--with echoes of the style of The Weatherman or Lord of War--a character who is calmly voicing-over totally chaotic events as they unravel around him, despite the fact that somewhere along the line he himself has gone mad.

In Bringing Out the Dead, he plays EMT Frank Pierce in events that span the course of three nights. Pierce is living in a strange nightmare life--existing on alcohol and coffee, almost never sleeping, literally haunted by the ghosts of people he couldn't save. He works at night with a variety of partners (played with gleeful abandon by John Goodman, Ving Rhames, and Tom Sizemore) who all have different ideas about "the job" and how to handle it. Frank's world is New York at night--all neon signs and traffic lights and tail-lights reflecting off wet pavement and going by too fast to distinguish--and the people he meets are all night people. However, at the beginning of the film (on the first night) he and his partner arrive to revive an elderly man who's had a heart attack, and Frank meets the man's daughter, Mary (played by Patricia Arquette with that hard-edged fragility that she's so good at [side note: she and Cage were married at the time this was made]). He keeps returning to her throughout the film as her father lies dying in the hospital and the world keeps unraveling around him.

It's definitely one of Cage's niche movies. It is not a "plot" movie; things happen, but it's not a "From A to B to get to C" kind of film. It's more a series of episodes, tied together by Frank's exhaustion and guilt stemming from a patient he lost and Mary's quiet strength. There's a lot of humor and also several very depressing parts. There's commentary on the inner-city health system, but but also the acknowledgement that everyone is doing the best they can (whatever that may be.)

I don't think I will ever want to watch Bringing Out the Dead again, but I'm glad that I watched it--it's an entertaining and thought provoking movie with some really excellent performances from a surprisingly star-studded cast. I do intend to get Joe Connelly's book (upon which the film is based) and will let you know how that is.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #46: We Were Soldiers Once...And Young by Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway

The full title of this book is We Were Soldiers Once...And Young: Ia Drang - The Battle That Changed the War in Vietnam. It's a true story, written by two men who were there--Col. Moore, who was the commanding officer of the first part of the battle of Ia Drang, and Joseph Galloway, who was there as what we'd now refer to as an "embedded" reporter.

The battle of Ia Drang, which happened in November of 1965, was one of the first real battles of Vietnam. It was the first time the Americans had met the North Vietnamese on a real battlefield, and was also the first time that helicopters were used in battle. Col. Moore was in charge of the newly formed 7th Cavalry division (a division that hadn't existed in the US Army since Custer's 7th cavalry were slaughtered at Little Big Horn) which was the first "air mobile" unit in the army. The idea was to use the helicopters to move men quickly on and off the battlefield. In this particular engagement, orders were to land the men, find the enemy, and attack. Unfortunately, information was spotty and Col. Moore and his 450 men (many of whom were relatively new to both the division and leadership) were dropped into a position that was surrounded by approximately 2000 PAVN troops. The battle that broke out at Landing Zone X-Ray would last for several days and cost many lives on both sides. A few days later, a second army attempt in the same area would result in an ambush that caused even more casualties.

Col. Moore tells most of the story from his point of view on the battlefield, and includes the accounts of several men who were also there. It is a relatively straightforward book, though it can become somewhat dry and confusing during his long descriptions of troop movements and command structure. His memories of the battle itself, and his descriptions of the heroism of his men, however, were riveting.

After reading books on the Pacific theater of WW2, Vietnam, and Gulf War 2 in a row, it's amazing to see how the same mistakes are still being made sixty years later. Young Americans are still being dropped into situations they are fundamentally unprepared for, in countries where they are completely ignorant of the culture, language, and character of the native people, with inadequate supplies, poor information, and leaders who are often incapable of taking charge. Of course, I'm sure if you looked back through history this would be true all the way back to the first two groups of cave dwellers attacking each other. It's just amazing how--while technology has changed in ways unimaginable in 1944--the day-to-day operations of being at war and the character and reactions of the humans involved don't seem to change much.

I'd recommend the book, with the warning that it is not a page-turner, and will require a certain amount of effort to wade through.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Give him a hand, folks!

Just a quick post to let you know that The Boyfriend now has his own blog, The Frugal Bostonian. He's going to be posting about two of our favorite things -- cooking and eating! (Okay, well admittedly, cooking is not one of my favorite things, but I do love eating the things he cooks, so I think that should count.) From now on, my BorkBorkBork posts will be going up over there, and since we now own a camera, I'll be able to take photos of my culinary efforts so you'll know how they're supposed to look...or rather how they look when I make them, anyway. Mind you, there probably won't be any cooking posts from me any time soon, since it's been approximately a million degrees here lately, which makes me lose all motivation to do...anything, really. However, I'm told that someday it WILL cool down, so there you have something to look forward to.

For those of you who are local (I'm not sure any of you readers are local, but who knows, you might visit!) we'll also be writing about local restaurants we go to.

I look forward to seeing you over there!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 # 45: Helmet For My Pillow by Robert Leckie

Helmet For My Pillow is another of the three books upon which the HBO miniseries The Pacific was based, and as far as the miniseries goes, Robert Leckie was by far my favorite character. His book begins with him joining the Marines, follows him through training camp, and into his first several battles in the pacific theater.

It's hard not to compare this book to E.B. Sledge's With the Old Breed. While both books are very similar in some ways--they are both men who are in the same places at approximately the same time enduring the same circumstances--there are some marked differences. The first and most obvious is style. Sledge's memoir is much more "Just the facts." He is quite direct in his descriptions, while Leckie's past as a newspaper writer shows in his more "literary" style of writing. Another difference is that Sledge was a mortar operator, while Leckie began as a rifleman and eventually ended up working in intelligence, so they got very different views of the battles that were going on. The final difference is their attitudes; Sledge comes in as a naive boy, and while his innocence is definitely shattered, he tries not to get too "What does it all mean?" about it. He suffers both physically and mentally, but mostly just puts his head down and carries on. Leckie, on the other hand, arrives as a slightly more sophisticated and cynical person (possibly because he is older when he joins), but also seems to be more seriously mentally effected. In fact, Leckie suffers a minor breakdown and is evacuated to a hospital for a time during the war. He seems to want to view the "bigger picture" while Sledge's memoir was more of a "Here's where I was and here's what I did and here's what I thought of it at the time" type of story.

This book was really very good, and I got through it very quickly -- I couldn't put it down, really. the author's descriptions and wry wit make for a book that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. On the whole, I highly recommend it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Poetry Corner #1

In a rather lazy attempt to class up the joint, I decided to begin a poetry corner. People like poems, right? Okay, well I like poems and guess what? It's my blog and if I want to post poems I will! So there!

I figured I'd start with one I particularly like. I actually wrote a paper on this one years ago for some class. The paper is long gone, but I still like the poem. If any of you out there have poem suggestions, please feel free to leave them. (Also, if you're nice to me I may try to locate some of my really appalling high school poetry, which is always good for a laugh.)

The British Museum
by Miroslav Holub

To the tune of "Bolero,"
any ark
will be ruined
once, the trilingual
Rosetta Stone will be broken, steles of Hallcarnassus
will turn to dust, sandstone Assyrian spirits
with eagle heads will shyly take off,
the carved man-head lions of Ashursirpolis will croak,
the last red-granite hand of the Colussus of Thebes
will drop off, the Indian supergod Harikaru
will cover his onyx eyes, the Rhind mathematical
will catch fire, the suspended Zen poems will
and the green hellish judge from the Ming dynasty
will whine.

For the time of stone is meted out
and so is the time of myth.

Only genes are eternal,
from body to body,
from one breed to another breed,
on Southampton Row
in fact
you will find walking genetic codes of Egyptian mummies,
deoxyribonucleic acid of the man from Lindow,
whose bodily receptacle, cut in half by a bulldozer,
successfully swells under a glass bell,
in Bloomsbury, in fact, you find
all the eternity of the world rushing around
buying black flowers
for the Last Judgment, less Last
than a midnight hotdog.

So the British Museum is not to be found
in the British Museum

The British Museum is in us,
quite in the middle,
quite at the bottom.

Cannonball Read 2 #44: Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

I had not read any of Jon Krakauer's books up until this point, because the two I'd heard of frankly didn't interest me that much (I am particularly uninterested in the story of some idiotic trust-fund baby who wanders out into the woods and freezes to death.) However, this story sounded interesting so I ordered the book.

Under the Banner of Heaven was described almost as a true crime novel, however, once I actually started reading I discovered it was more a history of Mormonism. It's definitely not an objective view -- Krakauer is quick to point out the history of lies, violence, oppression, and struggles for power within the Mormon organization, and also the destruction caused by its numerous splinter groups.

It is slightly out of date, as some of the figures named in the books as persons of power withing the splinter movement have had changes of fortune (i.e. Warren Jeffs who was arrested and charged with several sex crimes related to his taking of multiple young wives and forcing other teenage girls into unwanted sexual relationships with men in his group.) However, it's definitely still mostly relevant.

The book itself is somewhat scattered and poorly organized IMO. He starts off talking about the murder of a woman and her child, and returns to that event periodically, but it seems haphazardly thrown in to all the history and explanations of Mormon theology.

I'm not sure I'd recommend this book, as it's really a little bit disturbing. However, for those interested in the subject matter, it's certainly worth reading.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

BorkBorkBork#4: Mexican Lime Pie

I found this recipe on a site called That's My Home! while trying to find a dessert for a Mexican-themed dinner I was making (perhaps my next BorkBorkBork entry will be the recipe for my oh-so-gooey and unhealthy creamy chicken enchiladas...then again, perhaps I should keep that a secret...). This is ridiculously easy to make, and it is so wonderfully refreshing when the weather is hot and muggy.

Lime Pie La Lechera

1 prepared 9-inch graham cracker crust

1 can Nestle La Lechera Sweetened Condensed Milk

1/2 C. (about 3 fresh limes worth) lime juice

1 tsp. grated lime zest

2 c. frozen non dairy whipped topping, thawed

1. Beat sweetened condensed milk and lime juice in small mixer bowl until combined; stir in lime peel.

2. Pour into crust, spread with whipped topping.

3. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until set.

This is extremely delicious -- you could probably substitute real whipped cream for the Cool Whip, but you'd need to add sugar because the pie is a little tart and benefits from the sweetness of the topping. I would never use real whipped cream because--to be honest--I don't like it. However, you COULD if you wanted to.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #43: Generation Kill by Evan Wright

Evan Wright was a reporter embedded with the First Recon Platoon, the first Marines to enter Iraq during Gulf War II. Wright travels with them, getting to know the twenty-six men and their commanders, and experiencing modern warfare from the enlisted man's point of view.

The platoon is the first to enter Iraq, and it doesn't seem that the plan of attack is very well organized or explained. The men basically drive around Iraq, drawing fire and eliminating enemy targets. They spend a great deal of time lost, confused, exhausted, and hungry. Their equipment doesn't function properly, they don't have enough food, and their vehicles are uniquely unsuited for the task at hand--in fact, the specialized training they received as a recon platoon is uniquely unsuited for this assignment. They are engaging in a mission that doesn't make sense to them and that they were not really trained for. It's a constant barrage of stress, never knowing if the people they see by the side of the road are villagers waving to welcome them or operatives waiting to trigger an ambush or detonate a bomb. They have commanders that are terrific and leaders like "Captain America" who lead poorly and cause more problems than they solve.

The men in the platoon are all distinct, and it doesn't take too many pages to recognize each one. The author clearly connected with the men and worked hard to bring out their personalities quickly. He makes it clear that these are average young men, all between 18 and 30 years old (most in the 19 - 25 range) who have been trained thoroughly and specifically, only to be thrown into a circumstance they don't understand, in a culture they can't fathom, where no one even speaks their language. They are both funny and human and chilling and destructive, sometimes both within the same paragraph. Wright doesn't seem to have any particular political leaning -- he is just reporting on the circumstances as he sees them. He is as objective as he can be, but doesn't try to take himself out of the story entirely. He compares his experiences and his reactions to those of the men around him, almost using himself as a foil.

Although Wright never brings this up, the book definitely made me better understand why some of the horrible civilian tragedies have happened in Iraq and Afghanistan; these young men have been moulded by the US military into effective killing machines. Then they've been taken into circumstances where they get almost no sleep (many are hopped up on No-Doz-type substances), are living on crappy food (when they have any at all -- many days the men had one K-rations meal per day), have equipment that isn't up to speed (the universally disliked supply officer didn't bring the oil needed to keep the roof-mounted machine guns working), can't speak the language and don't have enough interpreters available, have the rules of engagement changed on them nearly every day, and--most importantly--the enemy looks (intentionally) exactly like the civilians. If that isn't the recipe for bloody disaster, I don't know what is. It's not that I condone some of the things that have happened, but I definitely understand how some of those things COULD happen.

This is a great book, though not for those who have delicate constitutions. This is the story of a group of men who are bonded together by the Marines, and who who live and die for one another. I definitely recommend it, and am looking forward to getting the HBO miniseries based on the book from Netflix.

CBR11 #4:Pretending to Care - The Pretenders (Cemetery Girl #1) by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden

I wanted to like this, but...I just didn't. I don't know if it was too short, or whether it would have more appeal for a YA audience...