2015 in review

Random Musings

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,700 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Some Thoughts on Sidney Moore’s “Dinner Thieves”

Book Reviews

Who knew Portsmouth, VA was such a dangerous place in 1995?

In Dinner Thieves, author Sidney Moore examines Portsmouth’s infamous reputation as being the “Heroin Capital of the East Coast”. That is not a title a city would ever wish to be bestowed.

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Set amongst the tumult plaguing the city in the mid-nineties, Dinner Thieves assembles the unfortunately named Leak and his friends upon their attempts to avoid falling into the pitfalls of drugs and crime. However, in a bid to make some quick cash, into the pitfall they go and begin to sell heroin to the residents in the housing projects. Unfortunately, this attempt at making some fast money is also the intent of other dealers who descend upon Portsmouth and its reputation.

As a result, Leak and his friends delve deep into a life of thievery and stealing. I had never heard of the term “Dinner Thief” before, and I don’t know if it’s just something that the author cooked up, but it’s a propos of the gumption behind Leak et al’s actions.

Dinner Thieves is an entertaining, visceral take on a city that is amidst mayhem but still desperate to erase the crime that lives within it.

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Spiralling Out with James Gilmartin’s “The Spiral Effect: The Collector”

Book Reviews

I haven’t read a good sci-fi novel in a while. James Gilmartin’s glossy yet profound The Spiral Effect: The Collector is a juicy read that while borrowing from the sci-fi genre, it manages to tell a human story about saving lives.

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It’s apocalyptic but contemporary. The story find a strange disease wiping out scores of the Earth’s populations. It’s origins, and more important, its cure, is unknown.  Gilmartin presents a world where most people have ESP, allowing the protagonist here to flex his skills at saving the world.

He’s the Collector. He’s immune to this rampant virus, therefore he naturally decides to embark on a journey to find information on how to find a cure before the Earth is completely decimated. Using his special telekinesis skills, he ventures into the minds of those he comes upon, trying to piece together facts or some semblance of action to combat the evil sickness.

The messaging about the savagery of humanity does not go unnoticed. Nor does the immediate embracing of a life of violence that people will take to save themselves and their loved ones. It’s a bit Dawn of the Dead-y but so much more. The Collector carefully takes his time and watches his steps carefully as no one is to be trusted around him.

It’s a fairly dark and heavy read, but Gilmartin manages to present hope in subtle ways. His knack at depicting a world that is at the mercy of science and those immune few who hold their salvation in their hands. It’s a good one – check it out.

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Connecting with Gary Beck’s “Flawed Connections”

Book Reviews

Reading Gary Beck’s Flawed Connections gave me some serious St. Elmo’s Fire vibes – minus the self-deprecation. In his novel, Beck handily crafts four intertwining tales of coming of age, life experiences, and incessant hope that comes with being young.

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Here we have four extremely connected friends: Ted, Phillipe, Kevin, and Lys. Each of the above represent concurrent themes that abound in Flawed Connections, from redemption to self-sabotage to finding the good in a sometimes menacing world.  Ted, the son of a former activist, must grapple a life where everything is not a confrontation or a situation waiting to be fixed. Then we have Phillipe, who is a bi-racial kid who has no idea what he’s in for.

Then we have the more classic and familiar Kevin, who was born out of money and doesn’t think much of how to actually attain it. We close the group with Lyn, who, because of her lifestyle choices, has been forced out of her family and left to fend for herself in the world.

They are also all incredibly talented kids who happen to start up a computer business. The author crafts a story of what happens to kids who come into a serious sum of money for being creative, as well as the downfall that is certain to befall them. By the end of the novel, you feel as though these four kids are indeed your friends. They’re naive and funny, and ultimately wish to be loved. Money isn’t everything, and Gary Beck brings that message right home with his lovely Flawed Connections.

 

The one-cent coffee stands for poor New Yorkers

Random Musings

Ephemeral New York

StAndrewsonecentcoffee1933The first booth opened on Ann Street off Broadway in 1887, close to City Hall and the high-octane newspaper offices of Park Row.

Called St. Andrew’s One Cent Coffee Stand, it served a half-pint of coffee (plus milk, sugar, and a slice of bread) for a penny.

Within months, four more one-cent coffee stands appeared on busy downtown intersections.

The menu included hearty fare like beef soup, pork and beans, fish cakes, and fish chowder—with no item costing more than a cent.

The concept sounds like a 19th century version of today’s sidewalk coffee and donut cart. But St. Andrew’s wasn’t catering to busy commuters.

StAndrewscoffeejacobriisThe clientele was the city’s down and out—the “newsboys, emigrants, poor families, and street waifs,” as one writer put it inFrank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine.

Founded by Clementine Lamadrid, the stands helped feed struggling residents who might be too proud to accept free meals.

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A New Year’s night in a wintry Gilded Age city

Random Musings

Ephemeral New York

Frederick Childe Hassam painted his lovely and mysterious “New Year’s Nocturne” in 1892. He gives us a young urban couple bathed in brilliant light in the dark winter night.

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He’s dressed to the nines in top hat and tails, and she looks elegant in winter white and furs. They’re part of the in crowd, the smart set. Maybe they’re returning from the theater. Perhaps they are on their way to a New Year’s party.

In the shadows, other couples go on their way. Meanwhile, these two have stopped in front of a shop window display. If only we could ask Hassam, one of the great painters of New York’s Gilded Age, what has given them pause.

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5 Literary Hotels for Book Lovers

Random Musings

TIME

Whether you’re reading on the beach or passing time on a train, books are the perfect travel companions. But some hotels take this love of literature a bit further, offering guests book-themed rooms, well-stocked libraries, and other bibliophile-friendly features.

Here are twelve hotels sure to appeal to wandering bookworms:

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Finding Joy in “Joy”

Best of 2015, Film, Movie Reviews, Random Musings

First of all, I just don’t get why there exists any kind of vitriol for David O’Russell clever and heartful film Joy. Why there continues to be a polarizing response to the film baffles me. I found the film to be a class in master acting and a clever soundtrack to the difficulties that abound with familial relations, especially with the introduction of money.

The story is a simple one. It’s essentially a rags to riches story of Joy Mangano, the inventor of The Miracle Mop. The film chronicles the many trials and tribulations of her journey to getting the mop to be a success. Along the way, we are introduced to many characters, some of which propel the story forward, some whom are nothing more than background (Sorry, Dascha Polanco).

Jennifer Lawrence commandeers every single scene she is in. She’s radiant and powerful, unlike the women around her. A barely recognizable Virginia Madsen and the ever-shrill Isabella Rossellini are mere foils to what Joy will never be.  The male co-stars are mainly supporting Joy on her quest to wealth.

I found the film to be quick-paced, full of well-written dialogue, and above all else, funny. Jennifer Lawrence can really do no wrong. She’s fierce, funny, vulnerable and resplendent all rolled into one. Check it out.

 

 

 

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Reading “Famous After Death” By Brian Bandell

Book Reviews

I love me a good commentary on today’s society and the inherent desire for fame. This is precisely why I was very pleased with Brian Bandell’s poignant Famous After Death.

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The novel is a thriller and a mystery, but above all else, it’s a statement piece on today’s world and the unquenchable thirst to be on a magazine cover. In his book, Bandell tells the tale of three teens in Miami who have embarked on a journey to fame by posting videos of pranks online. All seems to go according to plan until a police officer is killed. Strangely enough, this foil to their masterplan only motivates them more towards depravity and callousness.

There’s an inverse relationship towards their postings. The teens soon discover that the more gruesome and media-worthy the murder, the more hits they get online. Doesn’t that just sicken you? What makes it more cringe-worthy is that despite being labelled as fiction, one couldn’t really help but imagine how plausible it would be in real life.

Chris, Jorge, and Kelso – the aforementioned teens – get a thrill of being concealed but having their victims gain fame after they’ve met their ultimate demise.

Bandell does not focus on one particular mindset or formula in his book. In fact, he effectively portrays his characters with an air of indifference and observation. Clearly, the morals of the reader will enable a like or dislike for particular characters, but Bandell does not commandeer the plot in that way. Instead, he brings characters to the forefront, including the stoic police officer Clyde Deauville, each of which provide the story with additional layers of wit, commentary, and depth.

It’s a pulsating read. Incredibly detailed and creative in plot structure and dialogue alike, Famous After Death is a thrilling addition to the popular fiction canon.

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Mashed Up: Zooming Through “Ebenezer Scrooge: Ghost Hunter”

Book Reviews
It couldn’t be more of an instance of perfect timing. Jaqueline Kyle’s hilariously inventive Ebenezer Scrooge: Ghost Hunter just so happened to be next in my review queue.
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The term ‘mash-up’ is really just a synonym for post-modernism. Borrowing elements from other pieces of art is a concept that’s been around since the concept of art was created. In this book, Kyle broadens Charles Dickens’ classic and adds some unsavoury, entertaining characters that add a whole other dimension of the text.
Taking place years after his partner Marley’s death, Ebenezer finds himself visited by three, very different ghosts who have very specific agendas. It is with these visits that Ebenezer embarks on a journey towards self-redemption and self-exploration, travelling in a world that while full of monsters, is not so unlike today’s modern societal mayhem. In order to become a better person, Ebenezer has to reconcile the events and experiences that have formed his current state, in all of its guts and glory.
A fun, captivating read, Ebenezer Scrooge: Ghost Hunter is a fun, quick-paced piece that brings the idea of self-development to the forefront of a story that is often mirred in regret.