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Showing posts from 2016

Snapshots - #13

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TV shows...
Outlander (♦♦♦♦): in Season 1, volume 2, just as Claire is about to return to 1945, she realizes she loves Jamie and stays put. Both flee to Lallybroch, home to the Fraser clan, of which Jamie is laird. As bad luck would have it, Jamie and Jack Randall, the captain of the British troops, cross paths again, and, as always, Jamie will be in the lose end.
Season 1, volume 2 feels like a transitional set of episodes that bring volume 1 episodes to their head. In volume 2, Claire realizes that she loves Jamie Fraser and shares the secret of her provenance with him. A chain of events test their commitment to each other and their vows, mostly in the last two episodes, which get overwhelmingly brutal on account of torture.
The great acting, the wry humor, the incandescent chemistry between Jamie and Claire, as well as the spectacular Scottish landscape are still signature elements of the series in volume 2 of Season 1, all marvelous reasons to keep watching this series.
The movies...
C…

My Reading Year 2016 in Retrospect

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I only finished 12 books this year, though I started several more which I abandoned—even at the 300 pages mark—to read at a later time. However, I can’t complain about the quality of the books I finished, I rated the majority of them four stars or higher.
Books read:             Fiction: 11                 Non-Fiction: 1                      Re-reads:  1
Genres: (some of these may overlap)
Historical Fiction: 3                           Popular Science: 1
Mystery/Suspense: 2
Contemporary Literature: 4            Thrillers/Espionage: 4
Jessica @ Bookworm Chronicles adapted some of these questions that I borrowed because I found them fun and revealing; I added other categories as I saw fit.
Best book of the year (I couldn’t possibly pick just one): Best Books I Read in 2016
Favorite cover: A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley
Favorite new authors (to me): Thomas Hager; Melanie Benjamin
Most thrilling (unputdownable): The Fist of God by Frederick Forsyth
The juiciest: The Swans of Fifth Avenue b…

The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer (♦♦♦)

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Milo Weaver has a complex personal history that he has hidden from everyone—his immediate family and his employer, the CIA. Milo is the American son of a former KGB colonel and of an anarchist mother with serious terrorist tendencies. His loyalty could be challenged if the CIA were to know that, you see?
Despite his complicated upbringing Milo is a good tourist, famed even. When a friend’s loyalty is questioned—a former tourist who has risen in the Paris’ desk—Milo intercedes and gets hints of a case he has followed for years, but his friend is killed and Milo is under suspicion…Strong suspicion…
On the run and with no one to trust, Milo travels to Europe to follow his late friend’s findings, but he soon realizes he is not closer to the answers he seeks. Apparently someone on the inside is feeding him false intelligence, but with what purpose?
The Tourist, the first installment in a trilogy detailing the adventures and misfortunes of spy Milo Weaver, is the second novel I have read by Ol…

Best Books I Read in 2016

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I hadn’t realized until I was compiling this list that out of the unimpressive 12 books I managed to finish this year, only two I rated below four stars. That says a great deal about the quality of the books I finished. The following is a compilation of the books I liked best in 2016.

The Fist of God by Frederick Forsyth (♦♦♦♦): is not a crash course, but a full immersion in the 1st Gulf War complete with army acronyms, rogue hero pilots, and top notch espionage. Taut, dense, and brimming with useful (and likely) insider's information, it took me ages to absorb it all, and what a ride that was.
The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin (♦♦♦♦): reads like those appetizing stories in contemporary celebrity magazines like Star and Us Weekly that few people confess to reading, or liking. I read them and like them, so I enjoyed The Swans... a great deal.
Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley (♦♦♦♦): I had a great time reading this book. In it, Susanna Kearsley weaves Celtic legends …

Snapshots - #12

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TV shows...
Outlander (♦♦♦♦): Claire Beauchamp, a British combat nurse in WWII, is in the Scottish Highlands, six months after the end of the war, on a second honeymoon with husband Frank Randall. Frank is researching his genealogy, and this trip proves an excuse to find out more about one of his ancestors.
The night of Samhain, Claire and Frank witness a druid ritual in the site of an ancient circle of stones rumored to have magical powers. The morning after, Claire touches the large stone at the center of the circle, and is transported to the year 1743, when Scottish Highlanders are organizing the second Jacobite rebellion to depose King George II of England and replace him with Prince Charles, son of James Stuart, rightful heir to the throne of England.
Among the Highlanders, Claire is seen with a mixture of admiration and suspicion, the former due to her skills as a healer, the latter mostly because she cannot truly explain her purpose among them. When she makes a powerful enemy in t…

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (♦♦♦♦)

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Steve Rogers (a.k.a., Captain America) leads a rescue mission of hostages, taken by pirates, aboard a S.H.I.E.L.D.'s carrier. Natasha Romanoff (a.k.a., Black Widow) backups the content of the master computer aboard the vessel, which, as it turns out, not even S.H.I.E.L.D.'s director Nick Fury can access.
Furthermore, there is an attempt on the life of director Fury. Captain America and agent Romanoff team up to uncover the truth behind the premeditated targeting of their leader. At every step they meet assassins with huge firepower intent on stopping them. Unsure of whom to trust, they enlist the help of outsider paratrooper Sam Wilson (a.k.a., The Falcon) to expose a secret arm inside S.H.I.E.L.D., an arm whose beginning dates back to WWII and whose most lethal enforcer is a ghost, someone known only as The Winter Soldier.
I liked this movie very much. While The First Avenger was all about establishing Captain America as a historical character, with the corresponding appeal of …

Snapshots - #11

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TV shows...
Poldark (♦♦♦♦♦): this week I watched Season 1 of this co-production between the BBC and PBS. I watched the first two episodes back-to-back, and I got so fascinated that I binge watched the remaining episodes the following night. Yes, it's that good!
Poldark is a British period drama starring Aidan Turner (the gorgeous dwarf Kili of The Hobbit fame) in the leading role. Ross Poldark, the title character, is an aristocrat with a reckless past left behind thanks to having taken part in the American Revolutionary War in which he rose to the rank of captain.
Three years after being taken for dead, Poldark returns to his native Cornwall to find his beloved Elizabeth engaged to marry his cousin Francis. With his father dead, and his inherited estate in ruin, Ross must work hard to regain a fortune, meanwhile avoiding the pitfalls of someone in dire financial need.
Poldark is amazingly acted, with gorgeous cinematography and photography that take ample advantage of the luscious Co…

Snapshots - #10

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The movies...
The Jungle Book (♦♦♦♦): Mowgli is a man-cub who has been raised by a pack of wolves. Despite working hard to assimilate the law of the jungle, he realizes that he is a liability to his adopted family when a disgruntled tiger sets its sight on him. Little does Mowgli know that he will have to tap into his resourcefulness and intelligence to survive in a world determined to turn its back on him.
The Jungle Book is a Disney production directed by Jon Favreau (of Iron Man fame). The dynamic camera work reveals the superhero roots of its director; the sweetness—without being too overtly sugary—, the playing mood with lighting effects, the happy ending, and catchy, danceable songs are Disney studios trademark. The combination of great cinematography, special effects, and a stellar cast lending their voices to mesmerizing animals—cons and villains alike—make this film a must-see for the whole family.
Demolition (♦♦♦♦): Financier Davis Mitchell loses his wife in a car accident from…

The Alchemy of Air by Thomas Hager (♦♦♦♦♦)

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A Jewish Genius, A Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery that Fed the World, but Fueled the Rise of Hitler
Ancient farmers discovered the advantages of composting human, animal, and botanical wastes to fertilize their lands. The ancient Chinese perfected the system of crop rotations to maximize land productivity. By the nineteenth century, however, most people were migrating to the cities as consequence of the Industrial Revolution. Suddenly there were fewer farmers to feed the ever increasing world population. In addition to that, available arable land was ever limited. What would happen when farms could no longer produce crops due to the land losing its productivity? It was clear that something had to be done.
Between 1840 and 1860, Peru exported the bird guano from the Chinchas Islands, thus becoming one of the richest nations on earth because it was the most powerful fertilizer that nature could offer. Solely in the 1850, the import of guano by the United States, Britain, and …

Snapshots - #9

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TV shows...
Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman (♦♦♦♦♦): in Season 1 (2010) ofthis utterly addictive series from the Science Channel, the latest theories and discoveries in science are explained in layman's terms. We are explained about the nature of Black Holes, if time travel is possible, if there is a creator and the nature of belief, what lies in the darkness of the universe, etc. Wonderfully explained by scientists in every branch of scientific knowledge, Through the Wormhole is a condensed way to attend college lectures without the stress of preparing for exams and making it to classes on time.
The movies...
Fathers and Daughters (♦♦♦♦): Pulitzer-winning author Jake Davis loses his wife in the car accident in which he receives brain trauma. Struggling with a deteriorating mental illness, he checks in for treatment at a hospital for seven months, leaving his daughter Katie in the care of his sister-in-law's family. Only after Jake comes back to pick up Katie, their exte…

Snapshots - #8

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The movies...
I have been on a roll lately revisiting movies I have rated three stars and I now like very much, thus, I decided to give Deadpool another try.
Deadpool (♦♦♦♦): I heard two movie critics on television agree that Deadpool was among the best films of 2016 thus far, and that made me think that perhaps I had missed something. Apparently I did.

The problem the first time was that I was expecting a traditional superhero movie, but Deadpool is more spoof than standard superhero fare, and a very good one at that. It is surprisingly and acutely funny, courtesy of a very smartly written screenplay. And Ryan Reynolds...he rocks in this role, so my apologies to him for not giving him enough credit the first time around. I keep my fingers crossed for a sequel as witty as this one.
If you think most superhero movies are alike, you may want to give this one a try.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (♦♦♦♦♦): pure adrenaline ride in the tradition of Black Hawk Down is this Michael Bay&…