Women in the Material World Book Review



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Review:

A companion book to Material World: A Global Family Portrait that is just as eye-opening and thought-provoking as the original! In Women in the Material World, Peter Menzel and his partner Faith D’Aluisio returned to many of the same families visited in the original book to focus on the lives of the women, with more extensive interviews about their lives.

As in the first book, the similarities between the different women’s hopes and dreams is beautiful and inspirational, but the differences in their day-to-day lives is frequently shocking. This book was my first introduction to the practice of bride kidnapping, for example, a horrific but common practice in Ethiopia in which a man literally kidnaps and rapes the woman he wants to marry in order to force her family to acquiesce to the marriage, regardless of her own wishes. (For more about this practice – and some hopeful progress towards ending it – see this excellent article: Kidnapped. Raped. Married. The extraordinary rebellion of Ethiopia’s abducted wives.)

Most of the interviews are incredibly honest and revealing as the different women share struggles including unplanned pregnancy, loveless marriages, sudden widowhood, the death of a child, past abortions, raising a disabled child, single parenthood, and more. At the same time, there are also stories of success and inspiration, including beautiful portraits of family happiness and love even in the most trying circumstances. The affection that the photographers developed for many of the women and families that they interviewed also comes through loud and clear.

Highly recommended.

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My rating: (5 / 5)

Material World: A Global Family Portrait Book Review



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Review:

One of the coolest and most eye-opening coffee table books ever! Photographer Peter Menzel and his team found a statistically average family in 30 different countries around the world, including Ethiopia, China, Thailand, Brazil, United States, Mexico, Haiti, Germany, Spain, India, and Israel, and photographed them in front of their home with all their possessions around them. The photographers also lived with each family for a week and interviewed them to learn more about their lives, possessions, hopes, and dreams.

Some of the contrasts are pretty shocking. In Mali, for example, a family of 11 (husband, two wives, and eight children) lives in a mud-walled house with little more than a radio, a bicycle, some blankets, and a bunch of cooking utensils, while a family of 5 in Kuwait has, among other things, four cars, two antique Chinese urns, a Tiffany lamp, and a 45 foot long sofa. But there are also many similarities across cultures, especially in each family’s list of hopes for the future.

Because the book was originally published in 1994, some of the information about the countries is now out of date. However, because it was made when it was made, Material World is also able to present a fascinating picture of lives in upheaval in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the USSR and the war in Bosnia, plus portraits of life in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

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My rating: (5 / 5)

Arcadia Review



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Review:

I had a terrible time finding a copy of this play at the library and finally gave in and bought it, a decision I have never regretted. It is one of the funniest and most intelligent plays I have ever read and has now been one of my favorites for many years.

As a non-math person (not completely hopeless, but definitely not gifted either), Arcadia can be a fairly challenging read. Once, I understood it all once, in a flash of blinding light of the sort that probably accompanies religious conversion, but alas, the revelation didn’t choose to stick around. The rest of the time I have to be satisfied with sorta understanding the fractal stuff and being happy that I do get the literary bits.

Along with being intellectually invigorating, the play is also full of wit and heartbreak: it is the play, as one critic wrote, that definitively proved that Stoppard “knows enough about hearts to break them.” My own heart broke several times, especially over Thomasina and Septimus. It’s funny, because their relationship ought to be about as squicky as they come. Not only is she 13 (later almost 17) to his 22 years, he is her tutor, and student/teacher relationships are something I’ve always looked askance at. But somehow in Arcadia, it works, perhaps because of the fundamental innocence and playfulness of their relationship, and it does break your heart to know that it’s ultimately doomed.

I’ve never seen the play on stage (though I’d have given a great deal to see the original London production, with Rufus Sewell in the role of Septimus Hodge) but I hope to some day.

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My rating: (5 / 5)

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The Phantom of the Opera: Original London Cast Albums Review

When I was a child, there was a Carol Burnett/Julie Andrews skit that I thought was absolutely hilarious called “The Phantom of the Opry”:

Inspired, my parents gave me the “Highlights from The Phantom of the Opera: Original London Cast” album for my 8th birthday and I’ve been a huge “phan” ever since.

To this day, more than 25 years after the musical opened on London’s West End, the original London cast is considered the best by many phans. Though I enjoyed the 25th Anniversary Concert and the three touring productions I’ve seen of the stage musical, I have to agree. Sarah Brightman’s acting skills apparently left something to be desired on stage (see the music video below for evidence), but her high, pure soprano was perfect for the role of Christine and comes across beautifully in the cast albums, while Michael Crawford’s vocals – by turns hypnotically beautiful and threatening – epitomized angel, phantom, and ultimately, man.

Which original London cast album is right for you?

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Phantom, by Susan Kay Book Review



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Review:

Don’t be mislead by the terrible cover!

Gaston Leroux’s classic horror novel The Phantom of the Opera has received many adaptations in many different forms, the most famous of which include the 1925 silent film starring Lon Chaney and the Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. There have also been many literary adaptations, including retellings, “sequels,” and more. Phantom, by Susan Kay, is by far the best of these.

Leroux gave his readers some tantalizing hints of Erik’s life before he took up residence in the basement of the Paris opera house and became the dreaded “Opera Ghost,” but his novel covered only the last few months leading up to Erik’s death. Kay’s novel takes those scant hints and spins them into a rich backstory full of adventure and tragedy alike. She makes good use of several different narrators, including Erik’s mother, the Persian, Raoul, Christine, and Erik himself, to flesh out his story and bring it to life from birth til death, and beyond. Though I’m a diehard Erik/Christine shipper, my favorite aspect of the book may have been the relationship between Erik and the Persian (here named Nadir). It was wonderful to see it fleshed out and their interactions produced some of the book’s best moments and lines of dialogue.

Phantom is beautifully written and intensely emotional. I’m admittedly soft-hearted, but I cried multiple times reading this novel and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. Most phans will adore Phantom, and it’s also an excellent introduction to the story for non-fans and casual fans, as it’s written in a more modern style than the original novel.

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My rating: (5 / 5)

Pasta al Cavolfiore Recipe Review

pasta-al-cavolfioreIngredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp basil
  • 1 cauliflower, broken into florets
  • salt and black pepper
  • 2 cups tomato puree
  • 1 lb pasta
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 cups mixed grated Parmesan and cheddar cheese

For instructions, please check out the Moosewood Cookbook:

The New Moosewood Cookbook (Mollie Katzen's Classic Cooking) (Paperback)
by Mollie Katzen

Price: $36.71
136 used & new available from $2.02
4.5 out of 5 stars (195 customer reviews)

Recipe Notes:

This recipe is pretty forgiving of substitutions. I rarely have tomato puree on hand, so I almost always use crushed tomatoes or even diced tomatoes. Still good. I often omit the butter in favor of additional olive oil. Still good. I almost always reduce the cheese. Still good. I usually use spaghetti, but sometimes mix it up with shells (as shown here), bowties, or other types of pasta. Still good.

Recipe Review:

This recipe has been a family favorite for as long as I remember. It’s one of my dad’s favorite meals, and since getting married and starting my own family, it’s been in our regular rotation as well. It’s easy, healthy, and delicious. Though it does take a little longer than boiling some noodles and opening a jar of Prego (or jarred sauce of choice), it’s more filling, and has the additional advantage of filling you up mostly on low calorie cauliflower instead of high calorie pasta.

My rating: (5 / 5)

Lego Duplo Deluxe Train Set (10508)



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Review:

With 20 pieces of curved track, 5 pieces of straight track, a bridge, a working crane, and more, this was a great addition to our son’s first Duplo train set that substantially improved its play value (which was already more than enough to keep him happy for a couple hours a day). While his first set included just enough track to make a circle, this set allows him to build much larger and more diverse tracks, including much larger circles, ovals, figure eights, and more. It also has a different style engine, and different cars, including a coal car, which adds more variety to the train itself. He likes to give his Duplo zoo animals rides in the coal car.

My rating: (5 / 5)

Buttermilk Blueberry Breakfast Cake Recipe Review

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 7/8 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • ½ cup buttermilk

For directions, please visit Alexandra Cooks.

Recipe Review:

As soon as I saw this, I knew my daughter would love it, and she did. It was a big hit with the rest of the family, too, and my parents even asked for the recipe after I cooked it for them. It has now entered their regular breakfast repertoire as well, especially when my daughter is visiting. 🙂 As the blogger says, buttermilk seems to make everything moist and delicious.

My rating: (5 / 5)

Maverick Movie Review



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Review:

Based on the popular TV show starring James Garner, the film Maverick stars Mel Gibson as fast-talking gambler Bret Maverick, who’s trying to get together $25,000 to enter a big poker competition, Garner as lawman Zane Cooper (Bret’s dad), and Jodi Foster as fellow gambler and con artist Mrs. Annabelle Bransford. Wacky hijinks and hilarious misadventures ensue.

I don’t think of myself as being a big fan of Westerns in general, but Maverick is one of my all-time favorite films. Funnily enough, another of my all-time favorite films, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, happens to be a Western penned by the same screenwriter, William Goldman. Goldman brings his signature style of witty and memorable dialogue (also on full display in the classic fantasy The Princess Bride) to the Wild West, and the combination is magic.

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The Descent of Woman Book Review



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Review:

I read The Descent of Woman for the first time during my brief but intense trashy novel phase when I was about 13, mainly because it talked so much about sex. 

Needless to say, it’s not a trashy novel, but rather a fascinating study of human evolution. As an adult, I’ve looked more into the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis, and from what I’ve found, it seems to be mostly bunk. However, The Descent of Woman is such a well written, entertaining (often laugh-out-loud funny), and thought-provoking book that it’s remained one of my favorites despite its dubious scientific credentials. 

Additionally, I think that even if the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis itself is wrong, there is value in Morgan’s absolute evisceration of the sexism that pervaded popular scientific discussion of human evolution at the time, and which unfortunately still rears its ugly head from time to time today.

My rating: (5 / 5)