Saturday, May 21, 2016

Review of the Netflix series Zoo

Zoo, 13 forty-minute episodes CBS/Netflix, based on the novel by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

I'm posting this now because a second season of Zoo is due the summer of 2016

Confession one: I tend to harbor ill will towards what I perceive to be false advertisement. Even when the false perception was primarily my fault. I was hoping to see humans living hiding out from marauding wild-eyed vengeful lions. Therefore I had to shake off my annoyance that this book turned out to be more spy-medical-thriller than sci-fi.

Confession two: One of the effects of watching Korean dramas is that whenever I return to American storytelling tropes, I feel just a might underwhelmed.  So, yes: I had to get my mind sorted out.

The first thing I noticed was that Zoo presents viewers with a cosmopolitan multicultural world. I never know what to do with this sort of thing. Should I praise the writers for doing the quota thing? Or should I cringe because it’s so dang aggressive and yet --no matter how hard it tries-- it is so rooted in ya know...whiteness?

But -- my qualms and uneasiness aside-- let us move on: Meet Jackson Oz a (white) zoologist who lives in Botswana and is pretty chill. His best friend is a happy, philosophical, stocky (aren’t we all happy and philosophical, though?) African safari guide named Abraham. Not that we see a lot of friendshippy moments between these two but hey, the friendship is established. So the plot can move along. Jackson’s dad went mad while developing a radical-enough-to-knock-him-out-of-responsible-academia theory of animal uprising. “A manifesto, of sorts.” But, yeah, you know how it is with prophets -- or the prophetic trope: no one paid attention to him.

Then there is Jamie, a blogger with a passionate axe to grind against Big Food/Big Corporation Reiden Global. You know this kind of axe; if the sun doesn’t set, Jamie would find a way to blame Reiden Global. Then there are the mysterious Chloe and animal pathologist, Mitch. And a whole bunch of other people.

The plot begins when some lions escape from the Los Angeles zoo and go on a murder spree. Wouldn’t you know? Some African lions are doing the same thing. Then there are missing cats in LA, dogs, rats, and birds. Ah, yes, birds. See, this brings me back to where this drama lost me. I was hoping something more was going on. Ya know...like a natural “reset.” Heck, I’ll say it. I was hoping for a kind of Walking Dead with zombies replaced by animals. But no, this epidemic is man-made and greed-caused. Which is cool, I guess. After all, that’s how many zombie apocalypses begin. But my heart sank when the hordes of terrified fleeing humans didn’t really materialize and the story took a detour into medical investigation.

Something else bothered me. The tropes. Tropes galore. The story felt like screenwriting by the American cultural book. There are gun-toting rednecks, Black men who will say wise insightful philosophical paternal stuff one minute then make piropos at non-Black women the next, a young scientific-minded African boy, a possibly-shifty FBI operative, a sick dying little girl who speaks like no real sick girl but like all the sick dying kids ever in Hollywood movies, a gang, a Charles Manson type (complete with southern accent and Bible), a rich Asian safari-hunter and many others. The drama had a kitchen sink feel and if the writers hadn’t aimed to shoehorn all these tropes/beats into one story, I would’ve been more interested. But in their rush to hit all the templates, none of these sub-plots touched the heart.  

Okay, so did I like it? Once you accept the tropes, the rushing about from country to country, the convenient-to-the-point-of-ridiculousness-plot, the iffy CGI, and the dang slow mystery, it’s really an okay show. Writers will be ticked off by the stereotypical beats, even more stereotypical people, and cringey dialog but kids and non-writers might like it. It’s pretty safe. No major sex scenes. I will also say that James Wolk, who plays Jackson Oz is seriously hot and boy-next-door hotness does wonders to keep this female viewer watching even after she realizes a story isn’t going the way she wants it. So yeah, good for teens who like medical thrillers. And hey --a multicultural cast and a Black person helping to save the world. Aggressive multiculturalism covers a multitude of bad plotting.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Review: Shatterworld by Lelia Rose Foreman


This is the first Christian fiction book I’ve read in ages; the first I’ve really actually liked, and the first where I’m actually tempted to read the sequels to. This surprises the heck out of me, because usually I find reading contemporary Christian fiction (and non-fiction for that matter) a hard row to hoe. Christian though I am, whenever I read Christian books, I usually peeve, complain, and quarrel with every other sentence.

That’s not to say I didn’t find myself groaning a few times, because seriously, reading Christian fiction requires a certain mindset, especially because the rules for Christian fiction are a little different than the rules for general fiction. But even then, Lelia Rose Foreman plays with those rules quite well and also quite humourously.

Shatterworld is primarily a young adult book. Therefore it has all the required tropes such as teenaged rebellion, generational gap issues, preachy parents who –because they don’t want to upset their kids-- aren’t telling their kids the “entire” family story.

But Shatterworld is also speculative fiction, and this is where it excels an even surpasses most Christian speculative fiction. The novel recounts the voyage of the Star Flower and its settling of New Earth by spiritual pilgrims who fled their oppressive country. The comparisons between the settling of the Americas and the settling of New Earth goes even further. But, there are subtle differences. For instance, the star-traveling pilgrims are very respectful of the aboriginal sea-dwelling hexacrab natives of New Earth. They struggle to understand each other’s phyla/species/order/kingdom and grow to understand each other’s linguistics, culture, history, and fears. Our Pilgrims are very careful about bringing theology into their conversation and so far – the book is part of a trilogy—have not set about attempt to save any hexacrab souls. The settlers are respectful and as curious about hexacrab history as the hexacrab are. There is no notion that the hexacrabs are the Hivites/Perrizites/Jebusites etc who must be overthrown in order for God’s people to have their manifest destiny. There is sharing of resources and goodwill between the pioneers and the hexacrabs who are seen as perhaps members of The Creator’s Other Folds.

At least that’s what it seems like so far. The new settlers are of all races – a multicultural Christian community a bit like the Amish or Mennonites,  so they are respectful of sentient life wherever they find it and however it has evolved or been created by the Creator. It’s a rigid, (some might say over-disciplined) community. And perhaps they had to be all those years of warp travel, but some youngsters-- like Rejoice, our main protagonist—chafes under it. There is the basic truth that they have to farm and terraform the new world, but there is also the age-old rural vs urban /agrarian vs industry /utilitarian vs heart’s desire issues.    Rejoice wants to be an astronomer but, like every other Christian teen, has more than her share of rules to obey and has to endure parental spiritual speeches all meant to challenge what they believe is her selfishness.

So I liked this book a lot and I’m even interested in discovering more of this community, and learning more about hexacrab communities, and wondering how the two worlds will grow together. I also liked the “puritanical” names. Very funny.

As for what I don’t like: The book is a bit light on description. I would’ve loved to see the world better.  There are many characters and many times there are scenes where the author throws many characters at the reader so that we can get the communal overview. But still, there could’ve been a less crowded way of doing that. In the end, many secondary characters are reduced to their job description or their personality. It makes the book read faster because we know what each character is like. But still. Certain sections feel rushed: The growth of the friendship between the hexacrabs and the humans. The ending  of the book. But all in all, it was a fun quick read.

The book comes with a study guide at the end.

I received this book free of charge in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Review: The Whole Coconut Cookbook

The Whole Coconut Cookbook
by Nathalie Fraise
  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press (January 26, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1607748053
  • ISBN-13: 978-1607748052
Since I started trying to be gluten-free, I've been experimenting with chickpea flour and coconut flour. Plus I can't really drink milk either. Plus coconut oil is good for massages. Plus I'm Jamaican. So all this comes together to make me want to reacquaint myself with coconut again.

Hence this book. It's one of a few coconut cookbooks out there so it looks as if coconuts are making a comeback. The good thing about the coconut is that it can be used in many forms; the other good thing is that it's a staple of many cultures. So it's in different kinds of cuisines: Thai, West Indian, etc.

So: the good thing about this book: the recipes are easy and healthy.

The good (but also possibly bad) thing about this book is that it's made for a foodie generation. I was hoping for a lot of  Southeastern, African, West Indian, etc dishes. No such luck. The recipes here are the kind of recipes one would find in a healthfood store. Tasty but healthy and seemingly created by the author or  I guess that's okay because Americanized taste buds may not connect to anything too exotic-tasting or too full of fat, meat, wheat etc. So that's good.

Coconuts, in all their forms, are present in all the dishes...whether it's flour, sugar, "aminos," milk, vinegar, kefir, water, nectar. Sometimes the coconut is a large portion of the meal, sometimes it is merely present as coconut milk or coconut oil (which might feel like a bit of a cheat but I guess the taste of coconut does go a long way.) The chard chip recipe, for instance, consists of chard, sea salt, and coconut oil.

The book's chapters consist of the following:
Introduction
A guide to coconut ingredients
Cooking with coconut
Breakfast dishes
Main Courses (which includes mostly vegetarian dishes)
Salads and sides
Snacks
Drinks
Desserts
Resources
Acknowledgments
About the Author
Index.

It's a small book and for those who generally don't eat coconut or veggie meals, this is a good introduction. It's a good-enough book, I think. Not bad, but not great.

I received this book free in exchange for a fair and honest review.

 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Review: Koreatown: A Cookbook

Koreatown: A Cookbook



Hardcover
Published by Clarkson Potter
Feb 16, 2016 | 272 Pages | 8 x 10 | ISBN 9780804186131


I love this book! This is yet another recipe book that I will actually use.

Unlike most recipe books, this recipe has little anecdotes about how and why certain (famous) folks became Korean food-lovers Which is odd, right? Most recipe books don't deal with the cachet of why the author is doing a book on ethnic cuisine. I guess part of the reason is because the book is also trying to show the culture of Korea and Korean foods in addition to give us the recipes.

The authors are a chef of a famous Korea restaurant and a food writer who has lots of food cred. So yeah, this is not just a regular recipe book. There's a lot of fame, style, cred, "hauteness" ;-) in this book.

The book  is divided into the following chapters:
Introduction
Ingredients & Equipment
Kimchi & Banchan
Rice, Noodles & Dumplings
Barbecue: Grilled, Smoked & Fired
Drinking Food: Pojangmacha
Soups, Stews & Braises
Respect: Guest Recipes
Drinks
Sweets & Desserts
Acknowledgments
Index

As in all good books on ethnic cuisine, one learns a lot about the culture's cooking style, food, and people. And of course one learns a lot about many Koreatowns across the nation.

There are full-colored pictures of the dishes and of food-workers and food eaters and drawings of the guests whose anecdotal histories with food are included. I'll say that the important people who are included to tell us about their love of Korean food was a bit off-putting. This book is great without famous people telling us about themselves. But some readers might like that. And mercifully these folks -- food critics, actors, etc-- don't take up more than two pages each.

The photos are amazing. The description of each recipe and the layout of each recipe is accessible and helpful to all readers.

Highly recommended.

I received this book free of charge in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

CURE: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body

CURE: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body by Jo Marchant.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (January 19, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385348150
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385348157

  • I set out to read this book with an open mind. Actually, I was very happy to read it because since I battle certain so-called incurable illnesses and since my son is diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum I figured I would read a book to give me faith in the human body and spirit. And hey, it’d be a scientific book so that would be better!

    But the book pretty quickly got on my last nerves. First there was the introduction where she pretty much disses anything (and anyone) who might be “unscientific.” It wasn’t even her idea about homeopathy, which really to me is pretty much the precursor of vaccines. They both deal with something being diluted and “like curing like,” after all? It was her insistence on how science validates the flaky stuff New Ager types have been saying. Yes, I thought to myself (although I’m not a New Ager), here we are dealing with someone who looks down on any kind of knowledge or tradition which isn’t rooted in the Western Scientific medical tradition. Nevertheless, I soldiered on. Cause I want to believe, and all that. After all, the book is written by a science journalist who was going to –in a small way—affirm some of the stuff flakes like me believe. She was, after all, on our side. Kinda.

    So the first chapter: Marchant discusses the secretin trials and how it had seemed as if secretin would be a cure for autism because a young boy suddenly improved. But then in subsequent trials – between secretin and a saline solution—it was shown that people of both the secretin group and the saline group had some improvements. Hence, she hints, there is a placebo effect. (The first chapter is called “Faking it” by the way.)

    While I do believe in the so-called “placebo effect,” I really had to groan at this particular scientific methodology of supporting the mind over matter placebo effect. Why? Because from the first chapter I began to see the narrow-mindedness of the scientific mind. I expected Marchant to discuss other trials that did not include the saline solution. Why? Because perhaps saline is not really a placebo. And in a science trial –or a book about a scientific trial--, shouldn’t a scientist or writer step back to see if an assumption is being made. But that is the point, the scientific mind doesn’t realize its assumptions. An example, there are countless studies and papers detailing the fact that people on the autism spectrum are often dehydrated, and often their mothers were dehydrated during their pregnancy. Shouldn’t a science writer be aware of this and include a chapter to help build her case? In addition, what happens to people who go to hospitals? They are usually put on a saline drip? There are scientific reasons for that. And in hospitals in Asia, going to the hospital to get hydrated is common. Doesn’t this science reporter know this? Shouldn’t a writer know how to build her case for science?

    And that was just the FIRST three pages of the first chapter. This kind of thing goes on throughout the book! If one has eyes to see it, one can see clearly how scientific types don’t seem to understand their assumptions.

    Once one accepts that the trials Marchant espouses often miss out on some  aspect because the scientists and scientific journalists don’t even see, then reading the book becomes a kind of perverse search for What Is Missing. I swear! It was just plain infuriating.

    And i did laugh when I read on page 212: "Carol feels that the doctors ignored factors such as her caffeine addiction and how anxious the tests were making her." Cosmic moment: Because I (Carole) had been spending the book thinking, "These scientists and their trials are ignoring factors." I love serendipity and weirdness like that.

    I’m not saying this book is bad. It’s actually quite good in some places. The “Looking for God” chapter was quite good, for instance. It wasn’t as sneery as I expected it to be. But for those who already believe in the power of the mind this book is old news. Buy this book as yet another book to put beside all those other self-help health books that encourage and inspire you. Or buy it for someone who thinks he’s scientific who won’t see through ignored factors (the assumptions and unexplored holes) in these examples and trials.  I suppose I should recommend this book. It’s flimsy, definitely (or perhaps it is only the scientific methodology of scientific trials that are flimsy) because it says nothing new. But it might be able to help those who are afflicted with stress-related illnesses, or illnesses rising from the feeling of being unloved.

    Of course, religion has already told us all that.
    Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23

    Jesus did say:
    But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. -- Matthew 15:18-19

    I received this book for free in exchange for a fair and honest review.

    Saturday, January 30, 2016

    Film Review: 11 am


    11 a.m. South Korea 2013 CJ entertainment. Written by Lee Seung-hwan. Directed by Kim Hyun-Seok.

    It’s no secret that I am a lover of time travel movies. After dwindling down the choices from the many time travel flicks I’ve seen this month, the remaining contenders were Time Lapse and 11 a.m. So, the first: 11 a.m. because I like Korean (and non-US) speculative fiction.

    The story is pretty basic. Our hero Woo-seok is leading a time travel research project called Trotsky -- so named because it concerns the past and alternate timelines and because Trotsky would’ve been the great Soviet leader instead of Stalin had if time had turned out differently. I need not tell you that Team Leader  Woo-seok has a past he wants to change, do I? We pretty much know that all Mad Scientists have some horrible event that happened in the past from which their passion came. So, yes, this passion for time travel originated in the death of our hero’s beloved wife. Ah, if he could only go back in time and fix things.

    But her death happened waaaaaaaay back when. And so far the Trotsky team have only been able to (theoretically) go back in time for 24 hours. Not a bad start! But apparently not good enough for the Russians who have been backing this project and who now are on the verge of shutting it down.

    Disappointed but valiant --and (as I’ve already stated) led by a somewhat obsessed Team Leader, our scientists decide to try to send Trotsky into the future. “For real, this time.” No more theories or transporting non-humans into the future. Woo-seok and Young-eun are sent a day ahead. At exactly 11: a.m. But when they arrive there, they find much amiss. The station’s ablaze, some crazy guy is attempting to murder Woo-seok folks have died, the CCTV tapes are scrambled and the walls are crumbling.  Dear me! What do these things mean? How did matters come to this pass? Have the Russians been doing shady things? Or has knowing the future caused this bad future to happen?

    This is a fun flick. It’s fast-paced and it comes together well. I didn’t find any plot holes -- which is what one looks for in time travel flicks-- but it’s possible I was so caught up in the story I missed them. This film is streaming on the web.

    Time Lapse 104 minutes  USA 2014  Written by Bradley D King and BP Cooper. Veritas Production

    Time Lapse is not exactly a time travel pic. It’s more of a fortune-telling advanced infomation pic. And it turns out to be the perfect complement to our Korean time travel piece, 11 a.m. We have three best buds -- consisting of Callie, Finn, and Jasper. Finn and Callie are dating and Jasper is well, hovering around them as best friends who are in love with their friend’s girl often do.

    A neighbor goes missing. In their search for him, they discover a camera that takes pictures of coming events. Exactly 24 hours in the future. Dear me! What a difference a day makes! Well, for one, it can make a difference between winning a lot of money on gambling and winning a little. It can prevent -- or cause?-- murders. And if one or two of the main characters are obsessed with greed or lust or passion, well, who knows what will happen?

    The funny thing about the course of events is that yet again knowing the future creates the future. In 11 a.m., the characters try to fight against what seems inevitable. In Time Lapse, the hipster ever-so-sure-of-themselves friends believe that since a future scene appears in a photograph, they are obligated to recreate what they see in the picture. But like the scrambled CCTV tapes in 11 a.m., these folks are working with incomplete information. I definitely recommend this movie. This film is available on DVD and is streaming online and on Netflix.


    Friday, January 15, 2016

    Review: Art Students League of New York on Painting

     Art Students League of New York on Painting
    Lessons and Meditations on Mediums, Styles, and Methods
    James L. McElhinney and the Instructors of The Art Students League of New York.
    • Hardcover: 304 pages
    • Publisher: Watson-Guptill (November 10, 2015)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0385345437
    • ISBN-13: 978-0385345439

    Back in the day, I used to paint. And play the violin. And play the piano. And do calligraphy. But I've kinda let those arts and crafts fall to the side as I focused on my writing and my fabric designs. But this book is seriously inspiring.

    If you've seen art books, they tend to fall into the following categories: art how to's, art history, art culture, memoirs by art professionals. This book is a little of all those categories. First of all, it's a book with really great paintings. In this day of photoshop and illustrator, one generally doesn't see acrylic, oil, etc paintings unless one visits galleries and museums. And realistic paintings are often done by cameras. This book reminds the reader of the craft of painting. Simply speaking, it's not a book that one has to read. But I would recommend reading it.

    Cause these artists have some important stuff they want to say.

    I've run into this before where people have been resentful because of the way critics and teachers of modern art have derided realism as passe and unimportant. So yeah, there is a whole lot of that. But hey, they're telling the truth and they're speaking their art. With the advent of people like Lucien Freud and Philip Pearlstein and others, realism with an emphasis on figure realism has come back into vogue in many quarters of critical opinion.

    The commentary and personal histories of the artists will definitely help many modern artists understand the paths and pitfalls of the art life and will also give information on the state of contemporary realistic painting to future artists. This is a great book to give to any artist interested in realistic painting. I will add though that there are a lot of nude paintings. I don't really mind it. (I was a model for painters in college but I was one of those models who never removed her clothing. Imagine then me being dressed and my partner being fully nude! Ah, those days!) But some folks who have a problem with seeing the nude human body --even in a painting-- might be perturbed.

    Founded in 1875, the venerable Art Students League of New York still instructs some 2500 students each month. In this copiously illustrated  book on painting, we get an in-depth look into the methods and inspirations of contemporary artists teaching at the League. The book is divided into three parts: Lessons and Demos, Advice and Philosophies, and Interviews. Some of the artists  in Part One include Henry Finkelstein (On Painting, with a Critique); Thomas Torak (A Contemporary Approach to Classical Painting); Naomi Campbell (Working Large in Watercolor); and Costa Vavagiakis (The Evolution of a Concept).
     
        Part Two features, among others, William Scharf (Knowing that Miracles Happen), Peter Homitzky (inventing from Observation), and Deborah Winiarski (Painting and Encaustic).
        Part Three features three interviews: Frank O'Cain (Abstraction from Nature); Ronnie Landfield (On Learning and Teaching); Knox Martin (Learning From Old  and Modern Masters).
     
        Most of the art is representational, with emphasis on the human figure. After every chapter there is a student gallery which reproduces recent paintings from the students.
        There are lots of good tips in the illustrated demos that would profit an  experienced artist as well as the beginner. I received this book free of charge in exchange for a honest review.
       

     


     

    Blog Archive