Television: Parade's End (Episode 1/5)

It's no secret I like Benedict Cumberbatch. Or I did like him once. I can't decide now whether I still do.

I also like Tom Stoppard, for what it's worth. I'm not so familiar with Ford Madox Ford's work, but I looked him up and was happy to see he and I have the same birthday (though not the same year, as you might guess, because I am not old and dead).

Anyway, I usually also enjoy period pieces. Not war stories so much, but this first installment of Parade's End does not yet feature the beginning of World War I. And still, despite the lovely art direction, I found my attention wandering here. I mostly had the sense they'd given Cumberbatch a bit too much to carry, and the whole of the thing might have done better to spread its weight over other characters. Benny's lovely to look at (aside from a weak chin), but I'm starting to have the feeling he does a lot of the same kind of thing, plays a lot of the same kind of character(s) across many movies and shows. It does make me curious about Star Trek, though. Maybe that will be different.

Too, I'm beginning to notice a lot of his acting is done via a specific set of facial expressions. And that most of these are made by his moving his mouth in certain ways.

The problem is, once you see these things, you can't not see them and they become distracting. I suppose I could try to trick myself into believing it was all in my head and attempt to view the next installment with a fresh eye. I do intend to watch more in any case. I'm sort of hoping I'm wrong and that my first impression is off the mark. But I don't have the knack for simply liking something (or someone) because I want to like it (him/her). I can't help but think honestly and critically (something many fans lack the ability to do). Maybe it's the years of film school, but really I think I was always this way.

To sum up, I'd say it's a mediocre start. But I'll stick it out in hopes it gets better.


Best Restaurant Meals

I was trying to remember all the best meals I've eaten at various restaurants through the ages. I don't think I could hope to rank them discreetly, so I'm going to list them chronologically.

  1. [Texas Biergarten] - I don't know the name of this place because I was taken there as a child. It was a long drive out into the country of Central Texas, to a place in the middle of nowhere that was owned by a family. I had the best chicken fried steak of my life in that place.
  2. [Greek Ferry] - I was crossing from Brindisi to Corfu, and of all the places to have a great meal, I had one on this overnight ferry. Spaghetti and some kind of wine made by monks.
  3. Cafe Maddelena (Rome) - I had tortellini in a sort of tomato cream sauce, and I paid for my meal with a kiss. Really.
  4. Lala Rokh (Boston, MA) - Persian food. I don't even know what I ate, but I remember it was all fantastic.
  5. Gumbo Shop (New Orleans, LA) - This is a tourist stop, sure, but the locals also love it. I had catfish over a bed of seasoned spinach, and it was to die for. And of course they make wonderful bread pudding, too.
  6. Xcaret (Mexico) - I don't know which of the restaurants this was, but it was some of the best steak I've ever eaten. Plus, our server Guillermo was awesome.
  7. Spire (Boston, MA) - A fabulous meal, though the dessert—a sort of champagne parfait—was the real show stopper.
  8. Wall's (Savannah, GA) - Best barbecue, though almost impossible to find.
  9. Taranta (North End, Boston, MA) - A wonderful Italian meal, though what really made the night was the great wine (Planeta) that came with it.
  10. California Grill (Disney World, Orlando, FL) - The perfect blend of great food, great service, and a great view; our server even gave us a special hint so that we could go out and enjoy the fireworks without having to deal with the crowds.
  11. L'Andana (Burlington, MA) - More great Tuscan food and good wine.
  12. Tallulah on Thames (Newport, RI) - The best fresh butter and bread I've ever had, as well as great service in a charming setting.
  13. Acquerello (San Francisco, CA) - Wow. And then wow again. Some of the best service I've ever experienced, as well as some of the best food.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Pierre Maspero's (New Orleans, LA) - I go here every time I go back to New Orleans. Solid food that never fails.
  • Delta Grill (New York, NY) - Yummy homemade mac 'n' cheese and bread pudding.
  • Angelina Cafe (New York, NY) - Because they always treat me right.
  • Cafe George V (Paris) - I go here for the chocolate chaud.
  • Cafe Erato (Athens) - A beautiful courtyard hung with ivy and featuring canaries in gilded cages. Oh, and the food was good, too.
  • Thai Stick (Millbrae, CA) - Really good Thai food.
  • Pho & I (Boston, MA) - Best drunken noodles and pad thai.
  • Hula Hut (Austin, TX) - More for the atmosphere and experience than the food, however.
  • Voodoo BBQ (New Orleans, LA) - My favorite barbecue in NO.
  • Soho South Cafe (Savannah, GA) - More than "just a sandwich." Their motto is: "Where Food is an Art," and they mean it.

Hmm. From this list you'd think I like Italian/Tuscan food more than I really do. It's not the kind of thing that usually tops my list, but when I do go for this kind of cuisine, I aim high. I also really like Asian. And then steak and comfort foods.

The concentration of restaurants and meals in Boston and on the East Coast probably has much to do with the fact that I lived there so long. I'm sure I'll compile as impressive a list in California over time.

What I haven't included on these lists are the regular favorites that I have frequented and/or did frequent. Maybe I'll make up another list at a later time.


Books: Fearless by Christine Rains

There is something somewhat Buffyesque about the protagonist (Abby) in this novella. She is one of the Fearless and has the supernatural power of helping small children defeat their (very real) monsters. In a unique turn, Rains has given Abby a stuffed hippo named Tawa as a spirit guide. (That explains the cover.)

Things get complicated when Abby rescues a handsome fae who in turn dedicates himself to paying back his blood debt . . . Mostly by getting in Abby's way when she's trying to work, and by occupying her thoughts when she should be trying to figure out why the number of monsters seems to be multiplying. The answer is an amusing stab at pop lit culture.

Fearless is a fun, quick read and I hope to see more of Rains' work in the future.


Books: Star Signs Operating Manual by Calletta

This book is a little something different from my usual. It's "nonfiction" (if astrology counts as nonfiction) . . . And kind of a novelty. Basically, it's a collection of articles about the twelve zodiac signs and how to work and/or live with each personality type. The book is only available via Amazon Kindle at the moment, but depending on demand, it may roll out to other formats and devices at a later date.


Book Review: Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch

Ben Aaronovitch
Del Rey, 2012

Here, in the third installment of the Peter Grant series, Aaronovitch hits his stride. While I've really enjoyed all the books (Rivers of London (aka Midnight Riot) and Moon Over Soho coming before this one), I've enjoyed this one most.

For those unfamiliar with the series, Peter Grant is a police constable in London who has been assigned to the Folly—a branch designed to investigate and deal with the un- and supernatural. Which means that Peter is also a magician's apprentice. Hey, it takes fire to fight fire, so to speak.

Aaronovitch does a nice job building the mythology over the course of the books, though readers unfamiliar with London might do well to keep a map of the city next to their reading chairs. Regular references to Harry Potter, Tolkien, Doctor Who (for which Aaronovitch has written), Star Trek, and the like are nice touches of geek infusion. Aaronovitch does have a bad habit of telegraphing his plot twists, at least to anyone paying real attention. He does it less in Whispers than in the previous two books, however, and the whole of the story comes across as more organic overall.

I have an American Amazon/Kindle account, so I do wonder at the description and whether the book was heftily edited for American readers, since there was no play of FBI Agent Reynolds' religious beliefs in the version I read. Could it be they thought the whole born-again Christian thing might offend? (It wouldn't. And anyway, most really zealous Christians wouldn't be reading these books anyway. Not that that's ever stopped them from raising a ruckus.)

All in all, these books are my new favorite series and Aaronovitch can't write them fast enough to suit me. Also: when can we make this a television series?