Monday, July 28, 2008

Texas Ghost Tracking

A lifelong Texan and San Antonio resident, Docia Schultz-Williams is a member of the Texas Poetry Society as well as the co-creator of The Spirits of San Antonio tour. Included within her many books, poems and essays are insights into paranormal phenomenon surrounding Texas folklore and legend.

Ghosts Along The Texas Coast

Who could've guessed that the Texas Gulf Coast was such a haven for the mysterious? Yet the region has (is) been rampant with ghostly apparitions of shipwrecked pirates, lovers lost at sea, wayfaring explorers and noble savages deprived of their native lands, all concealed by the veneer of conceptual reality. In this intensely researched work, an adventurous Docia Schultz Williams and some eager ghost hunters delve deeper into the Texas region's phantom past...and present.


Best Tales of Texas Ghosts

Texas has more than its fair share of 'ghosts on the range', exhibited in Williams detailed analog of her investigations into the paranormal realm of phantoms, poltergeists, hauntings and other 'spectral' sightings in and around the Lone Star state. Intriguing mysteries abound such as La Marque resident Catherine Polk's haunted portrait of her ancestor, strange occurrences at The Alamo, even a battleship in Corpus Christi seemingly possessed with a life of its own. Williams does a good job to objectively state facts rather than sensationalize myths, going to great lengths in verifying various claims of paranormal activity.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Breakfast of Champions / by Kurt Vonnegut

The late Kurt Vonnegut was one of twentieth century America’s greatest authors. A veteran of World War II and survivor of the allied firebombing of Dresden, his war novel Slaughterhouse Five was—and remains—a widely-read classic. Published in 1973, the brilliantly sarcastic Breakfast of Champions pokes fun at everything.

"This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast. . ." (p. 7)

Author Kilgore Trout doesn’t have doodley-squat. The little money his fledgling Sci-Fi stories earn is so meager that he can't really consider himself a writer. In fact in order to pay the rent on his basement apartment, he installs windows for a construction company. On account of his writings rarely being published, Kilgore Trout doesn't have too many readers. In his entire life, he’s only received one piece of fan mail until the day a letter arrives inviting him to speak at a convention in Midland City. Meanwhile Dwayne Hoover, a resident of Midland City, is “fabulously well-to-do”. He lives in a dream house on four acres of land with his dog Sparky and, despite his steadily creeping insanity, keeps getting richer owning and managing his chain of car dealerships. Dwayne is going crazy because of bad chemicals in his brain; bad chemicals and bad ideas. His bad ideas are notions that the stories he’s read by Kilgore Trout are the truth.

Kilgore Trout is so poor that he has to hitchhike his way to Midland City. On the way he's attacked by some bandits calling themselves the Pluto Gang, after which he has to stay in the hospital a few days. Meanwhile Dwayne stays busy maintaining his routine affairs including a liason he keeps with his secretary Patty Keene who hopes that sleeping with Dwayne will make her troubles disappear. Kilgore and Dwayne are destined to meet at the bar of the Holiday Inn in Midland City where, coincidentally, Dwayne’s son George (a.k.a. “Bunny”) plays the piano. The author Kurt Vonnegut happens to be in attendance and is at the same bar when Dwayne and Kilgore meet, ordering martinis from a cocktail waitress whose toast--"Breakfast of Champions"--is served up with each drink.

So comprises the insidiously wacky world of Kurt Vonnegut and his caustically pessimistic wit in this off-the-wall novel strewn with characteristic anomalies. It's irregularity that makes this book a classic, an irreverent flouting of all literary parameters. Even the title, Breakfast of Champions, is itself a mocking epithet of the copyrighted General Mills logo. It's not a normal--proper--novel, or even dimensionally-correct (Vonnegut as both author and character simultaneously) but that's the whole point. What's going on? It's not terribly important. The mode of expression is the intention; the reflected conscious of the story what the author aims at rather than anything to do with the plot. Stylistically almost mirroring the ramblings of a lunatic, the book's blunt subtleties, interweaving characters and quirky sequence of events all affect its disposition as a satirically dark undermining of societal conventions. (FIC VONNEGUT)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Texas in Pictures: Natural Photography of the Lone Star State


Texas Heartland: a Hill Country Year / by Jim Bones & John Graves
A native of the hill country, photographer Jim Bones has illuminated his heritage in this wonderful collection of natural images, detailing some of the Texas region’s most endearing landscapes along with several of its lesser-known but notable photogenic niches. If you’re looking to travel semi-locally this year, this book of well-preserved landscapes and wildlife may narrow your options. Author and journalist John Graves annotates each impression by providing a backdrop for Bones’ choice representations.

Deep East Texas / by David H. Gibson
East Texas may not evoke that woodsy tranquility so often associated with New England, Yellowstone or the Redwoods, but noted photographer David Gibson (not a Texan) captures this mental portrait with his sparkling renditions of the region’s natural beauty. In his numerous images—all shaded in grayscale black and white—of the state’s less glamourized territory, Gibson displays the locales of Nacogdoches, Jacksonville, Tyler, and San Augustine with a transcendent pastoral splendor seldom glanced along its many roadways and thoroughfares.

Chronicles of the Big Bend: a Photographic Memoir of Life on the Border / by W.D. Smithers
Mountains in Texas? If there’s one place Gulf Coast Texans are most unfamiliar with concerning their Lone Star heritage, it’s Big Bend. Not so much for the territory’s legacy as the state’s only national park as for its uncharacteristic—and yet breathtakingly beautiful—diversity of landscapes. With the eye of a naturalist, Smithers removes any remaining secrets about this corner of the state where river, desert, forest, plains and mountains converge to complete one of Texas’ most renowned outdoorsy-type hotspots (even if it is, admittedly, waaayyy ‘off the beaten path’).

Wish Me a Rainbow: a Pictorial / by Jesse Ponce
Who knew that Texas City, a locale known most prominently for its industrial prowess, possessed such elegance? Local photographer and author Jesse Ponce invites those who may take for granted their town’s organic beauty to chance another look at all that this coastal locale has to offer. Images of both flora and fauna (Texas City is quite a well-kept secret among ornithologists who annually monitor scores of bird species in and around the region) wonderfully preserve the city’s lesser-known but all the more essential natural features.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

In The Woods / by Tana French


"Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film set in small-town 1950's . . ." (p. 1)

Rob Ryan has a past to fit his profession. 20 years ago, in a harrowing event marking him for life, the homicide detective was witness to two child murders in a wood near his boyhood home. Now another case of uncanny resemblance has found its way to Ryan and partner Cassie Maddox. The victim, Katie Devlin, was a 12-year-old aspiring ballet dancer, already accepted to the Royal Academy, when she went missing one day in August. The impending search would end soon, however; her body discovered at an archaeological site only days following the disappearance. It's with eerie irony that Ryan must confront these circumstances as he and Cassie erect an investigation; himself having found remnants of the two children—Peter and Jaime—in the exact same location (more or less) only decades before.

Mirroring the now cold case from his past, Ryan’s current assignment is anything but open-shut, even as a more-than-normal collection of leads and motives intersect in the murky, beneath-the-surface exploration into Katie’s world. There’s her family for one, a visibly normal but quirky set with more than their share of ambiguities. For while its apparent that her loving--if tenacious--father cared deeply for his daughter, unselfishly supporting Katie's dancing ambitions alongside his reserved wife, it's also evident that various confidentialities are concealed behind both parents' curious demeanor. Then there's the sisters--the older Rosalind and Katie's twin, Jessica; their very manner and appearance bespeaking of deeper issues within the home. Other factors play into the drama. Not least among them is the archaeological dig itself and the political uproar aroused over the new expressway set to bypass it (tax dollars footing the bill).

In the Woods won the 2008 Edgar Award for best mystery novel but the book recommends itself. A psychological thriller of the old school, it will gratify those enjoying suspense as much as the more sinewy world of crime and detective fiction. Genreflecting aside, the writing is the real hook, a willowy style of revelation branded with a practiced air of authenticity. Irish author French must've done quite a bit of her own 'digging around' in researching for this exquisitely articulated work.

Monday, July 14, 2008

And Then There Were None (Ten Little Indians) / by Agatha Christie

One Little, Two Little, Three Little Indians . . .

Of the ten individuals invited for a weekend getaway on the island, one--at least--has be a real murderer; else who's responsible for the grisly, methodical killing off of each [remaining] guest as the hours tick by? The obvious suspect was, initially, the 'man' responsible for the whole event--owner of the island and host Mr. U.N. Owen who, in addition to being absent at his own party, is in fact 'unknown' to all ten guests. The invitations (hinting of feduciary compensation) could've been a way of luring his would-be victims, himself hiding out somewhere as the killer. But the small, featureless island would be hard place for a mouse to hide much less a man, to say nothing of the nearly vacant house that's been searched clean through. If it weren't for an impromptu broadcast over the phonograph accusing every guest of their own subverted murderessness, he might as well not exist at all. So if not Owen, then who? And how's 'he', the killer, going about all this?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bulworth (DVD) 1998 / w/ Warren Beatty & Halle Berry

"Isn't that obvious?"

On a dismal day in the nation's capitol, a distressed US politician calmly goes about plotting his own assassination. No there's no mistake as the person in question, California Senator Jay Bulworth, is decidedly suicidal. Overcome with despair amid perceived failures, he feels he's just being practical, wanting things to wrap up nicely for his family's sake and all (a lofty insurance policy having been taken out previously). Everything finally in place, an unburdened Senator Bulworth returns home for a routine campaign weekend where, now rid of obligations to party agendas and protocol, The Man can start telling it straight.

Obviously, not everyone's feeling the same vibe as the "new" congressman; evident after a speech bloated with some shamelessly 'frank' remarks stirs the ire of several party loyalists. Lobbyists, campaign managers and groupies all do their best to spin-doctor what they percieve as flagrant political blunders, albeit lacking cooperation from their re-invented figurehead who's now apparently adopted a hip-hop mode of reaching voters. But the seemingly witless Jay Bulworth is as coherent as ever, now intimate with several of his remotest constituents (Halle Berry and her urban cohorts) and having the time of his life, all while remaining oblivious to any criticism--constructive or otherwise. But with his new found fulfillment in "keeping it real" comes the paranoia of his impending mortality, a quandary now seemingly no one can undo.

Say what you will about Warren Beatty's projects (Dick Tracy???), Bulworth may be his life's crowning achievement. Probably too brazen as a 'funny ha-ha' type of film, the movie is none the less a laugh-out-loud-er brimming with attitude and crass improprieties, not to mention satire to rival Swift or Twain. Yet Beatty along with a not-so-ho-hum cast including Berry, Oliver Platt and Don Cheadle manage to balance the humor with a socio-political authenticity not often glanced through the big screen medium. More importantly--and very relevant now a decade later--the film provides a much needed forum for the too often missed trickle-down effect of bi-partisan politics in America today. (DVD BULWORTH)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

House rules by Mike Lawson

Joe DeMarco, the “fix-it” specialist for Speaker of the House John Mahoney, is thrown head-first into a seemingly impossible situation. A series of unsuccessful terrorist acts and a strong political movement to restrict the rights of Muslim Americans sends Joe undercover into the twisted worlds of the Mafia, drug traffickers, spies and political powerbrokers. Personal issues, vacation plans and love interests all take a back seat to Mahoney’s demand for the real truth behind the attacks, but Joe is determined to solve the puzzle, satisfy his boss, and hang on to a personal life.

Authentic and likeable characters, a page-turning plot, and a realistic recreation of public sentiment in America today make this book a special read. This is the third Joe DeMarco thriller and I highly recommend them!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama

When Barack was elected the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review while in law school, he was approached regarding the idea of writing about race relations in America. After graduating he started work on the book which ended up as an autobiographical work, covering his grandparents and parents background, and ending with a journey to Kenya to connect with his father’s family there. The book was published in 1995, when Barack first decided to enter politics and run for the Illinois State Senate. It’s a fascinating story of a black American boy who is more sheltered than other blacks from the reality of race discrimination. His mother was white and his black father absent, and Barack’s early childhood is spent in Hawaii and Indonesia, where racial distinctions exist but impinge less on a child’s universe.

The book is still a treatise on race, however, since Barack early on realizes the inequality inherent in our society, even as he attends a private school for the more privileged in Hawaii, back living with his mother’s parents. The title of the book reflects the image he grew up with of his student father from Kenya, a forceful and charismatic figure whom Barack only met once, but whose story impacts Barack’s own struggle to make sense of who he is and what he is meant to do with his life. This is an important book to read if you want to understand Obama.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Nonsectarian Vegetarian: Meatless Meals and More

The New Vegetarian Epicure: Menus—with 325 All-new Recipes—for Family and Friends / by Anna Thomas
‘The New Vegetarian Epicure’ is the first sequel to the renowned original by Anna Thomas, a book contributing to a surging vegetarian movement several decades previous. The first ‘Epicure’ provided legions of vegetarians with innovative ways of preparing and eating various meat-free dishes and the new book is virtually an addendum to the original, cataloging dozens of main course meals, appetizers, sides and snacks all in a reader-friendly fashion.

Entertaining for a Veggie Planet: 250 Down-to-Earth Recipes / by Didi Emmons
Who hasn’t run into the problem of planning a get-together only to realize that several invited guests--who just happen to be vegetarians--won’t be able to eat half of what’s being served? Emmons book has every solution you’ll ever need to not only feed those other guests, but to impress your entire party with the hip, catchy plates of things like Portobello redhead pizza, Chinese noodles in chile oil, or soft polenta with tomato-spinach ragout.

All-American Vegetarian: A Regional Harvest of Low-Fat Recipes / by Barbara Grunes and Virginia Van Vynckt
Let’s face it. If you want to eat vegetarian, a majority of major ingredients to choose from are foreign? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, it may have more to do with American cuisine being
geared towards McDonald’s and Chucky Cheese rather than Foie Gras or Tofu. With over 250 recipes from all corners of the USA, Grunes and partner Van Vynckt have served up some tasty vegetarian goodies that even Betty Crocker would love.

La Cucina Italiana Vegetarian Dishes: The Best of Modern Italian Cuisine / vegetarian recipes from La Cucina Italiana magazine
Just like the little emblem next to Olive Garden vegetarian specialities, the recipes from this bestselling gourmet magazine will wet your appetite without dampening the flavor associated with some of your favorite Italian cuisine. Everything from the spices to the pasta and cheeses with pictures of dishes are included in this book full of several of the most delicious selections from the Amalfi coast. Desserts too!

The Occasional Vegetarian: More Than 200 Robust Dishes to Satisfy Both Full- and Part-time Vegetarians / by Karen Lee
Lee along with co-writer Diane Porter understand that not everyone can undergo the immediate transformation of regular carnivorous meat-eating to total veganism overnight (if at all). So they've put together a well-balanced set of tasty dishes to accommodate both the strict vegetarian and those wishing to maintain a limited portion of meat within their daily diet.

101 Reasons Why I'm a Vegetarian / by Pamela Rice
Rice, founder of the non-profit VivaVegie Society and editor for VivaVine magazine, declares--more than once--her support and justification for the alternative diet/lifestyle of Vegetarianism. Without going into too much detail, Rice backs up the standard 'unethical treatment of animals' bit with more human problems like disease and budget (carnivores apparently spend 30% more at the grocer's) along with more widespread issues like heightened health insurance and economic overhead involved in land and deed regulations (tax breaks for cattle ranchers).
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