Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Gentleman in Moscow

My Favourite Book of 2016

A Gentleman in Moscow

Rules of Civility was Amor Towles' awesome debut novel. This time Towles has really surpassed himself with A Gentleman in Moscow. As a now-definite Amor Towles fan, I heartily encourage you to read this stand-alone novel. (Then go back and read Rules of Civility)

Set in the Metropol Hotel in central Moscow, and taking place between 1922 and 1954, through the years of the Depression, the second World War and the Cold War, A Gentleman in Moscow tells the story of former (fictional) aristocrat, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov who has been sentenced by a Bolshevik tribunal to house arrest in the hotel where he has been living, a grand hotel in the style of those great hotels of world-class cities. Demoted from his suite of rooms to a closet-sized room in an attic space he makes a life for himself with considerable aplomb and surprisingly good humour, for the next 32 years. 

Towles' writing is skilled and impeccable, although in a slightly formal style befitting the period of which he's writing. It is by turns charming, erudite and suspenseful. The characters inhabiting the hotel and the novel with the Count contribute to the action in a way that makes this a hard book to put down. 

Looking for a good book to read? A Gentleman in Moscow. Yes!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Destination: Asheville, North Carolina

Here's a great destination: lots to do, with a vibrant arts and culture community, fantastic Blue Mountain scenery, great outdoor activities such as hiking, zip-lining, and kayaking, and a ton of great places to eat in all price brackets with an emphasis on locally grown food. Asheville has that southern charm but with a liberal slant. The folks at Lonely Planet agree:

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Monday, December 26, 2016

Child Prodigy

I was browsing YouTube and just discovered 5-year old Evan Le from California. He posted this on his YouTube channel on Dec. 20, 2016. He also has a website where you can watch him perform the Mozart Concerto #8 in C Major (with cadenza) with a full orchestra. It comes as no surprise to learn that Evan is already winning competitions in the 12 and under category.

I cut and pasted the following from his website because it's so amazing: 


Evan Le (officially Evan Duy Quoc Le) was born on May 31, 2011 in Torrance, California.
Born to Vietnamese parents who do not have any background in music, Evan’s musical journey was not initiated.
It just so happened that Evan’s older brother, Brandon — who was around five at the time — wanted to buy a toy keyboard and was granted his wish. When the boys opened the toy to play Brandon pressed the keys randomly and loudly. To the contrary, Evan — who was two and a half years old — pressed the keys one by one with pauses in between, and listened intently to the sounds coming from the toy. He then pressed the keys again, but this time he turned to his dad and asked “What do you call this?” after pressing each key.
When Evan’s love for music became too apparent, the toy keyboard was replaced by an electric piano. Almost immediately he became obsessed with the piano and spent much time playing it. By the time Evan was three, he was able to listen to simple nursery rhymes and play very similar tunes on the piano, at first with one hand and then with both.
In December of 2014 Evan received his first piano lesson at VRMA from Ms. Tuong Van Nguyen. He is currently under the tutelage of Miss Claudia Yun Xi (La Palma, CA, USA).
Besides having perfect pitch, Evan reads and memorizes music pieces incredibly fast. In addition, his ability to compose has amazed his teachers.
Evan likes to go to local parks, theme parks, and children’s museums. His hobbies include playing chess and building with Lego blocks.
His favorite subject is Math. It’s a common occurrence for Evan to thank his mom/dad when they give him a packet of math problems to solve; Evan is always eager and ready to learn.
Above all else, Evan loves to compose. Even before he started piano lessons, he would come to the piano many times during the day and play his own tunes with both hands. Whenever he wanted to show his piano skills to others he always insisted on playing his own music rather than music pieces he’s learned. This passion to create continues to this day!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Nutshell and Behind Closed Doors

Nutshell  29437949

Since this unlikely pair of books both revolve around murder plots and I just happened to read them back-to-back, I'm reviewing them together. There are some interesting likenesses and differences.

The main similarity is that both are murder plots. In Nutshell there is an observer of the planning. In Behind Closed Doors, the prospective murderer plots alone.

The main protagonist of Nutshell is an unnamed fetus with remarkably adult observations and thoughts about the intrigue around him/her. 

The main character of Behind Closed Doors is a young woman who finds herself in a terrifying situation with the man who has tricked her into marriage and she has to find a way to save both herself and her mentally challenged younger sister. The author, B.A. Paris has a blockbuster of a first novel. You might read this book in one sitting - it's that good.

Both storylines are riveting - I could hardly put either book down. Behind Closed Doors is what you would call a quick read - all about the desperate housewife and whether she will find a way to safety. Nutshell, on the other hand, is more of a book to savour. The writing is clever, the words are carefully chosen and the syntax is intricate. Multiple award-winning English author, Ian McEwan is an experienced master craftsman. Nutshell is a treat to read, but take your time and enjoy the subtleties. 

Do the murders come to fruition? Aha....that would be telling!

Final similarities: 

Neither book is believable. It IS fiction. 

Both enjoyable reading? Absolutely!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Jesse not only has his own YouTube channel, but also his own Instagram and Facebook accounts. The modern dog!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches

A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches

A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches is another of those quirky cookbooks that seem to be becoming more common - i.e. cookbook writers are using clever writing and intriguing titles to attract potential readers/buyers. 

The author, Tyler Kord, is the chef-owner of No. 7 Sub Shops in NYC. No surprise that I had never heard of this sandwich shop, but if I ever visit the Big Apple, I'll surely look for one, just to taste some of this creativity.

The recipes in this book are all unusual - not your basic Club Sandwich, that's for sure. For example, the book randomly fell open at this page: 

Sandwiches Fall Apart makes 4 precious sandwiches using curry chicken salad, avocado, iceberg lettuce, fried squid and lime segments. 

Sound interesting? 

Other sandwiches feature Roast Beef (Don't Cry for Me Argentina), Sausages (The Empire Strikes Back), Meatloaf, (Hot Patootie), Cauliflower, Asparagus and Seafood. 

Chef Kord is a self-confessed broccoli fanatic and he doesn't disappoint in this cookbook. We are invited to try Broccoli Classic, using roasted broccoli, ricotta salata, lychee muchim, pine nuts and fried shallots to create 4 large subs.  The photograph looks awesome. 

How about Sympathy for the Devil, a stinky but beautiful veggie burger with avocado blue cheese and roasted onions.

The cookbook also helpfully supplies recipes for many sandwich extras, things like Pickled Red Onions, Roasted Onions, Grape and Celery Salad, Pho Mayo, Jicama SaladPico de Lettuce, Fried Squid, Fried Tofu and so on. 

Two other interesting things about A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches:
  1. The foreword has been written by Emma Straub, a relatively well-known author (The Vacationers) who has crafted a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Chef Kord. 
  2. There are a series of illustrations, one at the beginning of each chapter by William Wegman, an artist and photographer who is otherwise very well-known for his series of Weimaraner photographs. 
So....lots of reasons to bring this book home from the library or sneak a peek at it in the bookstore. You might even be inspired to create a fantastic sandwich.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

On Trails, An Exploration

On Trails

On Trails, An Exploration, Robert Moor

This non-fiction book jumped out at me as I was walking past the “New Books” Shelf at the library one morning. On Trails, An Exploration seemed like a no-brainer borrow for somebody who loves walking and who considers and appreciates walking as a metaphor for life. I grabbed it and signed it out.

Disclaimer: I am more of a walker than a hiker. I do not stay overnight on a trail. I do not carry vast pounds of supplies – tent, sleeping mat and bag, or food other than snacks or lunch. No shovels or axes. I do not claim to be one of the fraternity of hikers of the sort that relish in months-long end-to-end experiences or who give each other nicknames by which they are identified on the trail. I guess I am for the most part in my daily life, a road walker and on holidays, a day-hiker. But I’m still interested in wilderness hiking: I really enjoyed Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, her account of her walk on the Pacific Coast Trail. I suppose if I could start life over, wilderness hiking might become part of that second life.   

The author of On Trails, journalist Robert Moor, nickname Spaceman is an avid hiker. He has hiked all over the world – USA, Morocco, Argentina, Mexico, Burma, Newfoundland and other parts of Canada etc., but it was during an early-in-life end-to-end hike of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine and beyond to Newfoundland that he had the epiphany that a book about trails would be interesting to pursue as a hiker, as a thinker and writer and for a reader.

I really loved this book. It’s interesting to wonder how Moor decided to organize the chapters – he could have organized it around geographic locations or chronologically, or according to his hiking experience, or even by degree of difficulty or length or elevation. What he chose to do was to organize by smallest to largest which, at the same time, ended up being from earliest- to most recently-built trails.

So the first chapter is devoted to the minute fossil trails, from almost microscopic to the size of a pencil that were created by some of the earliest creatures that existed in pre-history, ocean-dwelling molluscs that left minuscule trails barely observable and found now in of all places, the rocky coasts of southeastern Newfoundland, Canada.

From there, the chapters graduate in turn to trails created by increasingly larger creatures and moving along in pre-history to modern times. There are ant trails and caterpillar trails, each with unique characteristics, then, trails followed for centuries by grazing species such as gnus, oryxes, kudus, waterbucks, rhinos and elephants. There are trails created, followed, maintained and improved by early indigenous peoples, long before the arrival of Europeans. Eventually, we arrive at modern trails, often a result of joining up earlier trails with newly created sections. Moor volunteered on a trail-building team and is able to give us some insight into just how much planning goes into creating a trail in the 21st century such that it will look like it has always existed while, at the same time, preserving habitat and allowing hikers a reasonable route that they will not feel moved to improve upon.

Robert Moor has done his research and his book is filled with interesting facts along with personal hiking anecdotes. He introduces us to the experts, from scientists to hikers themselves. The writing is superb. I was blown away just by insights in the prologue. Early in Moor recognizes the paradox around hiking trails. One relishes the freedom of setting out on a trail, the whole day in front, a marvellous feeling. At the same time, the hiker’s options are limited (freedom thereby limited) to following a single pathway in order to arrive at the selected destination.

Though we may set off on a trail alone, at our own pace, to our own schedule, we are dependent on others who have walked the same way before, imagining, planning, building and maintaining the trail.

“A trail sleekens to its end. An explorer finds a worthwhile destination; then every walker who follows that trail makes it a little better.”

Hikers and walkers will enjoy this book.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Pis Saro, Tattoo Artist

Pis Saro is a Ukrainian tattoo artist with an interesting name who creates stunning botanical tattoos, both temporary and permanent.

A few examples of her work: all photographs by Pis Saro. Wouldn't they be lovely for a special occasion?

Pissaro, tattoo artist - the vandallist (12)




Thursday, December 1, 2016

Hold a Baby in the Palm of Your Hand

Camille Allen is a Canadian artist specializing in baby sculptures: surprisingly lifelike miniature newborn babies. 

These tiny works of art are painstakingly crafted from polymer clay and resin and are available for sale on the sculptor's website: Camille Allen