A good year [videorecording DVD]

From:  Jackie Cantwell

Title:   A good year [videorecording DVD]

This is a true romantic comedy. It’s been so long since I’ve seen a movie that just made me smile, and  feel good. This movie was released in 2006. I’ve seen Russell Crowe in so many dramas, so it is a revelation to see him as a romantic lead. He plays a stock broker, Max Skinner, in London, who inherits his uncle’s vineyard in Provence. Max is a big shot who lives and breathes his work. He goes to the vineyard with the intent to sell it. Will he cash in, or does life on the estate agree with him? There are terrific comedic turns by Archie Panjabi and Tom Hollander, who play Max’s assistant and best friend, respectively. Didier Bourdon and Isabelle Candelier play Monsieur and Madame Duflot, the caretakers of the property.  Mr. Duflot is so attached to the vineyard that he refers to it as “my vines” while his sensuous wife cooks and cleans with flair. Marion Cotillard is (to quote Max) “a vision”; I imagine the audience falling in love with her.  Most audiences would find this film inoffensive as there is no violence and no graphic sexual content. This film is a tad predictable but in no way does that detract from its charm.

1989 [sound recording CD]

From  Jackie Cantwell

Author:  Taylor Swift

Title:  1989 [sound recording CD] 

This is Taylor Swift’s first pure pop album. And it is nearly pop perfection. Even if you’re not the expected demographic listener for this CD, like me, you may find yourself humming these songs. Not only do I have a deeper respect for Swift’s songwriting abilities, I admire her collaborators such as Jack Antonoff, who co-wrote “Out of the Woods” and “I Wish You Would”. Antonoff plays acoustic, electric and bass guitar as well as drums and keyboards on these tracks. The strongest track is probably the first that was released, and that is “Shake It Off”.  “Bad Blood” has evocative imagery and reminds me of Avril LaVigne. “Blank Space” and “All You Had to Do Was Stay” also remind me of Avril LaVigne songs which shouldn’t be a surprise, as they both collaborated with Max Martin, the Swedish producing marvel. The tone of the album seems to be nostalgia for lost love, but at the same time, it’s fun to listen to. Harry Styles is rumored to be the subject of “Style” and “Out Of the Woods”. “Welcome to New York” is another strong track which is about re-inventing oneself and taking on the challenge of a new city (or identity).  “This Love” was written entirely by Swift and it’s a beautiful, dreamy song. “I Know Places” seems to warn lovers that the paparazzi will try to find them but she can hide: “They are the hunters, we are the foxes and we run.”  “Clean”, co-written with Imogen Heap,likens the end of a relationship with going sober. Some songs repeat these phrases: wildest dreams, Oh my God, mad love, sink (or sinking) ships; while other songs repeat references to the words: ghosts, lips, cheeks, and insane. I love you, Taylor, but I hope you got a thesaurus for Christmas! Grade: A-.

From the bottom up : one man’s crusade to clean America’s rivers

From Jackie Cantwell

Author:  Chad Pregracke

Title:   From the bottom up : one man’s crusade to clean America’s rivers

This is probably the most inspiring “call to action” book I’ve ever read. Chad was a teenager in East Moline, Illinois whose backyard was the Mississippi River. He and his family spent much time on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Chad and his brother worked as commercial shell divers and fishermen. Chad could not believe the amount of trash he found, including refrigerators, barrels, and cars. He began to call government agencies to see whose responsibility it was to clean up the rivers. He realized no one was going to do it, so he did it. Eventually he founded Living Lands and Waters, a non-profit foundation whose mission is to clean up rivers and to educate the public and schoolchildren about them. He organizes clean-ups that involve volunteers and corporate sponsors.  His passion, enthusiasm and charisma practically jump off the page! He’s been bestowed with many prestigious honors for his work, but all that seems to matter to him is to restore and protect our natural resources.  Chad says, “River cleanup could possibly be one of the most rewarding jobs in the world—for a few reasons: first and foremost, you get to live and work out on the river; second, you get to see the results of your work; and third, there’s not a day that someone doesn’t thank you for your hard work.” Read it, and be inspired!

 

Taste of Home recipes across America : 735 of the best recipes from across the nation

From Jackie Cantwell
Author:  Taste of Home Books
Title:  Taste of Home recipes across America : 735 of the best recipes from across the nation
This is a fun cookbook to read. The recipes were submitted by readers of Taste of Home magazine. The book features glossy color photos of most, but not all of the recipes. It is divided into these sections: Northeast, Southwest, Midwest, West, and South. You’ll find recipes for soups, breads, entrees, desserts, appetizers, drinks, and side dishes. There are classics such as Yankee Pot roast, Philly cheesesteak, and Texas sheet cake. The recipes are not daunting and are suitable for the novice to the experienced cook. Most recipes have ingredients you’ll find in your pantry or at the local grocery store. There are no calorie counts or nutritional information for the recipes; some of them do seem to be high in fat. I tried the Chili Artichoke Dip which was very easy to make and was delicious. I liked the interesting food facts and histories, as well as photos of the towns and cities from which the recipes hail. They even mention food festivals.

Why we took the car

From Jackie Cantwell
Author:  Wolfgang  Herrndorf
Title:  Why we took the car 
Destined to become a YA classic, this story features a 14 year-old boy, Mike Klingenberg, who could be Holden Caulfield?s German cousin. The book was translated from the German by Tim Mohr, and nothing was lost in the translation. Mike has a serious crush on pretty and popular Tatiana, and he’s awaiting an invitation to her birthday party that summer. Mike is just another disaffected Berlin youth, until he meets the mysterious Andre Tschichatschow (Tschick), a Russian immigrant, who comes to class drunk and disheveled.  When Tschick steals a car, Mike joins him without hesitation, to escape his unraveling family life. Mike considers himself boring, but Tshick disagrees, “You just have to do something to make yourself stand out.” Adults will like this book as much as teens. I still think about the characters, long after finishing the book. Enjoy the ride!

Trouble with the curve [videorecording DVD]

From  Jackie Cantwell
Author:  Randy Brown
Title:  Trouble with the curve [videorecording DVD] 
We’ve all seen Clint Eastwood play a crusty old codger before. He does it well. In this case he is Gus, an aging baseball scout with the Atlanta Braves, whose lawyer daughter, Mickey (played by Amy Adams), joins him on a scouting trip to North Carolina. She hopes to heal the strained relationship she has with her father. Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a former pitcher and scout with the Boston Red Sox, makes the moves on Mickey.  I didn’t buy the chemistry between them. They are attractive people, yet the lighting, cinematography and wardrobe didn’t do them any justice. All the colors seem washed out. The music is intrusive; it’s cued at the precise moment we’re supposed to feel something in case we missed it from the stilted performances. For instance, the song lyrics “Do you feel the way I do?” are pumped up at the moment Johnny and Mickey go out together. The actors at times seem like they’re merely reading their lines; there’s no emotion. The best performance just might be by John Goodman, who plays Pete, Gus’s boss and friend. The villain, (Phillip, another scout, played by Matthew Lillard,) is a caricature, as are most of the other characters. Subtlety is lacking. The plot is contrived; the ending is so tidy that it borders on the preposterous. This movie wanted to be a baseball story, but it feels like a chick-flick.

A big Manhattan year : tales of competitive birding

From Jackie Cantwell
Author: David Barrett
Title: A big Manhattan year : tales of competitive birding
Most of us call the act of identifying birds in their natural environment “bird watching”. But the more serious refer to it as “birding”. And those who take birding very seriously sometimes compete with each other to have a “big year” or a “big day”, which is to spy the most birds in a given area in a certain amount of time. So the author, an Upper East Side Manhattan resident, attempted a Manhattan big year in 2012 after birding for only one year. He combined his love of training for competitive running races with his birding. Although there’s no prize awarded to the winner, one can see the totals on ebird.com. He details the preparation that goes into such a feat. First of all, one must buy a good pair of binoculars! One must study the physical appearances of many species and subspecies of birds, along with the bird calls they make, and how they look in flight. He partakes in guided birding walks through Central Park as well as consulting numerous websites, books, and signs up for text alerts of rare bird sightings. Migration patterns and Hurricane Sandy impacted his year greatly. His tone is conversational, and I learned about the different areas within Central Park, as well as Randall’s Island and northern Manhattan. He explains how technology such as the smartphone has aided birders tremendously. He says for the most part, birders are generous in wanting to share their knowledge and their finds. This is a truly unique glimpse into a world most of us never knew about. I dare you not to appreciate birds more after this read!

Insane city [sound recording CD] : [a novel]

From Jackie Cantwell
Author:  Dave Barry
Title:  Insane city [sound recording CD] : [a novel]
This laugh-out-loud romp could only be brought to you by Dave Barry. We meet our protagonist, Seth, as he’s heading to his eco-friendly wedding at the Ritz Carlton in Key Biscayne.  He’s set to marry Tina, a beautiful, Harvard lawyer from a wealthy family, who really should be out of his league.  The zany characters include strippers, an escaped orangutan, angry cops, angry pimps, an Albino python, Haitian refugees, etc. Hilarious situations include a hijacked pirate ship, a misplaced batch of marijuana brownies, and a billionaire whose wish is to join a secret society. This is a real page turner (or disc turner) as the reader wonders “Will the ‘groom posse’ rescue Seth from himself?” and “Will the wedding go off as planned”?

Savage Summit: the true stories of the first five women who climbed K2, the world’s most feared mountain

From Jackie Cantwell
Author:  Jennifer Jordan
Savage Summit: the true stories of the first five women who climbed K2, the world’s most feared mountain
This is a well-written group biography of the women who climbed the world’s second tallest mountain: Wanda Rutkiewicz (a Pole); Liliane Barrard and Chantal Mauduit (both of France); and Julie Tullis and Alison Hargreaves (both British). This book covers the climbers’ early lives as well as the years 1986 to 1995 which encompasses the summits.

The women climbers faced sexism, infighting, abandonment by fellow climbers, sabotage of their encampments, etc.. Hargreaves got flak for being a mother and risking her life climbing. Mauduit is accused of using her sex appeal to get men to prepare the ascent w/ fixed lines, and that porters (or sherpas) did most of the work and heavy lifting. Some even accused her of not summiting, if she could not produce photographic evidence. Barrard was accused of being passive and dependent on her husband, Maurice. Similar criticism was aimed at Tullis and her male climbing partner. Rutkiewicz suffered the accusations of not summiting the mountains she really did summit as well as fellow climbers abandoning her on the mountain. She had to become a climbing “free agent” of sorts, because her strong and opinionated personality alienated many.

This is a very suspenseful account that rivals Jon Krakauer’s classic “Into thin air”. The author’s research included interviewing scores of acquaintances, family members and friends of the women. My problem with the book is that Ms. Jordan attributed thoughts and feelings to the subjects, which she couldn’t possibly know, no matter how much research she conducted.

A glossary of climbing terms and a timeline would have been helpful.

Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley?

From Jackie Cantwell
Author:  Mark Fuhrman
Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley?
This is the true crime account of the murder of 15 year old Martha Moxley on her own property in the exclusive area of Belle Haven, Greenwich, CT. on October 30, 1975. Her neighbors were the Skakels, who are related to the Kennedys. From the beginning, many people suspected that someone from the Skakel household must have committed the crime, as the murder weapon was a golf club matching a set found in the house. Thomas Skakel, the 17 year old son of the widowed Rushton Skakel, emerged early as a suspect, since he was the last known person to see her alive. Ken Littleton, the 23 year old tutor who moved in that day, was a suspect for many years. Not only was the police investigation incompetent, but they tiptoed around the wealthy Skakels. It seemed the only way the crime would be solved would be a confession, because the police weren’t about to uncover anything useful themselves! Not until the existence of “the Sutton file” (a report by a private investigation firm, paid for by Rushton to clear Thomas’s name) became known did Michael Skakel (15 y/o at the time of the murder) become a suspect.

I like how Fuhrman explained how a murder investigation is supposed to be conducted, as he is a former detective with LAPD, most notable for being associated w/ the O.J. Simpson trial. A cast of characters would have been useful.