It’s International Cake Day!

July 20th is International Cake Day! Here’s a low-calorie way to celebrate the day.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Being able to taste people’s emotions in food may at first be horrifying. But young, unassuming Rose Edelstein grows up learning to harness her gift as she becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.

 

 

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlin
In this irresistible memoir, the #1 “New York Times” bestselling author writes about her life and the lives of women today, looking back and ahead–and celebrating it all–as she considers marriage, girlfriends, our mothers, faith, loss, all that stuff in our closets, and more.

 

Wedding Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke
Hannah is marrying Ross Barton, her college crush, but not before she can solve the murder case of nasty celebrity chef Alain Duquesne found stabbed to death in the Lake Eden Inn’s walk-in cooler.

 

 

Eat Cake: A Novel by Jeanne Ray
Ruth draws on her talent for concocting delectable cakes and desserts when her family begins to disintegrate around her–her husband loses his job, her mother moves in, and her long-estranged father shows up at the door with no place to go.

 

 

Have Your Cake and Kill Him, Too by Nancy Martin
When the tycoon owner of a spectacularly tacky sports bar is killed, Nora Blackbird suspects a secretive politician, a shady former rock star doubling as a pastry chef, and a dangerous aristo-brat on the verge of stardom.

 

Brief Histories of Everyday Objects

Brief Histories of Everyday Objects by Andy Warner is a hilarious non-fiction graphic novel that describes how many of the items that we take for granted have interesting, unusual, and sometimes downright silly origins. The author guessed when it came down to deciding what people looked like and what they said (unless they were quoted), but the facts are all true! Once you read this book, you will never look at the things you use on a daily basis in the same way again. The next time you go to a party, you’ll be able to tell people about the story behind the pull tabs on their soda cans.

Did you know that the woman who invented flat-bottomed paper grocery bags had to fight for her right to the patent when a man tried to steal it? She became the first woman to win a patent lawsuit.

Did you know that Earl Tupper invented Tupperware, but Brownie Wise made it sell? In fact, she was so successful that she became the face of the product. This greatly angered Mr. Tupper, so he fired her, sold the company, and purchased an island where he lived for the rest of his life.

Did you know that postcards were the results of an elaborate prank?

Did you know that roller skates were first invented in 1760 when John Joseph Merlin, a prolific inventor, built a pair so he could show off at a masquerade?

Genre: Non-fiction graphic novel

Setting: All over the world, throughout different times

Is this good for a book club? Only if the book club is interested in discussing previously unknown facts regarding everyday things.

How long is the book? 206 pages

Objectionable content? Barely. There are some references to bathing, bras, excrement, and violence, but there is nothing explicit. There are some illustrations of women wearing sports bras.

Can children read this? The humor and information are enjoyable for all ages, as long as they have a good vocabulary.

Who would like this? Anyone with a good sense of humor and a good appreciation for learning about how everyday objects were created.

Rating: Five stars

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Cloning Around

Cloning seems new, but it’s technically been around longer than man – identical twins can be considered clones, splitting a single fertilized egg into two or even four genetically identical individuals from that one egg. Modern cloning, wherein cells are taken from a living donor and a primitive cell is induced to become an organism traces back to just 1996, when Dolly the Sheep was cloned from a mammary cell of another sheep, the first time a body cell was used instead of a sex cell – an egg or sperm.

The success of Dolly induced a rush to clone everything. Companies still offer to clone your pet, so that when it dies you can have an exact replica. Zoos and conservationists tried vainly to clone endangered species. And, due to the discovery of some well preserved remains of extinct creatures such as the mammoth and Otzi, the ancient hunter, biologists, paleoarchaeologists, and dreamers leaped at the chance to resurrect ancient animals, or possibly even a Neanderthal (if you believe they are truly extinct. It’s been found that modern people of European descent may have as much as 5% Neanderthal DNA .

Is this even possible? Jurassic Park resurrected the dinosaurs, and outside of making a tidy sum for their producers (four films have brought in more than 3.6 billion dollars. Billion with a B, not counting book sales), we understand the havoc that created, substituting frog DNA for missing strands of dinosaur.

Two recent books discuss this possibility in thoughtful detail.

Resurrection Science, by M.R. O’Connor, is philosophical and easy to read. She discusses reasonable ethics regarding several endangered species, but leaves the questions open for the reader to decide. Should millions of people be denied electricity because a mere handful of frogs live only in six square feet of mist of one waterfall deep in the jungle? Should we be captive-breeding the Florida panther, only to release them into a concrete jungle so they can be hit by cars and shot by people freaking out when they see them? Species have been going extinct for millions of years; should we be trying to save them if we’ve destroyed the very environment that made them what they are? And by the time you artificially recreate animals, hand-rear them (because the parents are extinct), and then set four of them free – are they really the animal you were trying to save? Because they were artificially created, they don’t know what to do, how to attract mates, what or how to forage and eat, and can starve to death.

How to Clone a Mammoth, by biologist Beth Shapiro, is still easy to read, but contains a chapter on the hard-core dynamics involved in splicing and replicating DNA material. While Shapiro is among those who would love to see mammoths cloned, she’s deep in the know and admits it’s not feasible. Not only has not a single complete strand of viable DNA been recovered, no study takes into account the near impossibility of actually making the goal: in trying to resurrect the recently extinct Bucardo (a type of Spanish Ibex), using frozen cells taken from a then-living animal (not a 20,000 year old dried out one), 780 cells were transplanted to eggs, but only 407 developed into embryos. Two hundred eight were implanted into hosts, of which only seven became pregnancies (an efficacy rate of 3%). Of these, just ONE made it to term (0.4%). That one animal had a lung defect so severe it lived less than ten minutes. Cloning, depending on specie, has a terrible rate of success, with animals frequently dying of defects or cancers. Shapiro discusses the ethical concerns of what to do with a mammoth if you do create one – no one knows its behaviors. The MAMMOTH won’t even know how to act like a mammoth. Are they solitary or social? Will it pine in loneliness? What does it eat? Does that diet still exist? Where will you keep it? We’re bringing alive an animal we have no data on whatsoever. Is this fair to the animal? If not a mammoth, should we try to resurrect something else recently extinct whose absence IS having a deleterious effect on the environment? Shapiro paints a harsher ethical – and realistic – picture.

Technology is closer than ever to reaching de-extinction goals, and with increasing earth temperatures melting permafrost and releasing better-preserved specimens every year, the chance of finding usable DNA grows ever closer. Both of these books present a balanced side to the argument. Of course we WANT to bring back mammoths. The question remains: should we?

Quick Read: Mozart: A Life

Mozart: A Life by Paul Johnson is a short and simple biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It is only five chapters long! However, don’t let that fool you into thinking that it doesn’t provide a decent account of his life and music. It describes Mozart in a way that is easy to understand by all. The author also gives the reader new insights into information about his life, and a good understanding both of what his music is about and just how prolific a writer he was. I would have preferred it if this book had been longer and more detailed, but it works well with its simple approach.

Did you know that Mozart wrote over 600 pieces of music in his lifetime? This is especially impressive since he only lived for 35 years.

Did you know that Mozart had a brief a relationship with his wife’s sister?

Did you know that Mozart was literally kicked in the rear by one of his employers when he was fired?

Genre: Biography

Setting: Different parts of Europe from 1756-1791

Is this good for a book club? Yes, if the book club is interested in biographies, music, or just a quick read.

Objectionable content? Yes, but it is not detailed. Religion, sex, violence, incest, and death are referenced, but nothing is explicitly described.

Can children read this? Yes, if they have interest in Mozart and a good vocabulary regarding history and music. Teenagers would be the most likely to be interested.

Who would like this? Anyone who is interested in Mozart and his music. It is also good for people who like quick and interesting reads.

Number of pages: 164

Rating: Four stars

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Fast and (Not Always) Furious

I don’t “watch” TV. The last series I actually watched was the last season or two of NYPD Blue, back in the early ‘00’s. My life was just too complicated to worry about being home to catch a program, because nine times out of ten, it just wasn’t going to happen. And my life was so much better for it! Free time I never had before.

But, thanks to the availability of On-Demand programming, whether streaming Hulu or Amazon or Netflix or Hoopla, I do get to see some shows – on my time, when I’m able, and it’s no crime if today’s not one of those days. If it’s a television show, we’ll watch one episode during dinner – everyone around the table, talking and watching. That’s how I got through six seasons of Sons of Anarchy, two fabulous seasons of Penny Dreadful, a full 12-season recap of NYPD Blue, and now my husband has me watching Blue Bloods, a mild police drama starring Tom Selleck, though I still think of him as Magnum, P.I., and the original Sweeney Todd himself, Len Cariou, whom I adore in anything.

Blue Bloods is okay. It’s got good actors, it’s entertaining, but it’s not deep. Each episode is self-contained, bright and polished like an old Quinn-Martin production, and none of the gritty realism and continued drama of NYPD Blue. It’s very clean and family oriented, but the writing is not always the greatest, with occasional weak scripts and clichéd lines. Because each episode wraps up on its own, nothing can get too much meat to it.

The last episode I watched had to do with insurance fraud over a valuable car – the car allegedly from the Steve McQueen movie Bullitt, which they touted as one of the greatest car chase scenes ever.

So of course we had to watch it.

My dad’s favorite sport was cars – race cars – not the NASCAR stock stuff, but the elegant turns of the Monaco Gran Prix, the high-speed chase of Formula One, or the Holy Car Holiday in our house, The Indy 500. I thought Jackie Stewart was the greatest announcer in history. And I learned to drive stick on my parents’ automatics just by the engine sounds my dad would make when he pretended he was driving a race car – when I finally did learn stick, it was effortless because I could tell when to shift by the sound of the engine.  So I don’t mind a bit if I have to watch a car-chase movie. And I guess I’ve watched a lot of them.

Bullitt, as a movie, is typical of the late-60’s-early-70’s dark genre: a slow movie where actors must have been paid by the line, because nobody says anything unless they absolutely have to, all the actors are deadpan, and the sound quality is horrible because they really did just take a cheap microphone out onto the street, with little soundtrack, and there’s no great conclusion, they just sort of end with a “Life Stinks” blackout. What was strange was realizing not only there was Zero airport security, but no paramedics yet (1968; paramedics weren’t even an idea until 1971), rotary phones – not even push button, glass IV bottles, and no gloves during surgery. San Francisco lends itself to many great film chases (such as the comedy What’s Up Doc?), and this one does not disappoint, pitting a 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT against a 1968 Dodge Charger 440 Magnum. That they manage to hold those corners is impressive.

Fandango listed their account of the ten best car-chase movies (a bad thing to think about as summer approaches and pavement is dry and the weather begs you to take a long drive) as:

  1. Bullitt
  2. Max Mad: The Road Warrior (still my favorite movie of all time)
  3. To Live and Die in LA
  4. Deathproof
  5. The Blues Brothers
  6. Ronin (I think this should be number 2 myself – it’s truly awesome)
  7. Smokey and the Bandit (How can you not love this one?)
  8. Gone in 60 Seconds (the 1974 original, though I like the remake better as a film)
  9. The French Connection (more famous than Bullitt, but the same era of filmmaking)
  10. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

For myself, I’d add Batman: The Dark Knight (anyone who can flip a tractor trailer end over end ranks high in my book), and the new Bourne movie, Jason Bourne, which opens with a wicked car chase through Las Vegas that got me from the first go.

Even if you don’t like car movies or car chases, I highly recommend the movie Ronin, as well as French Connection, Jason Bourne, and even Bullitt, movies where the storyline takes precedence and the chase is inconsequential and there’s no harsh screeching music track – like the Fast and Furious films, the thinking person’s car chase films; a little something for everyone.