Book review: Letters from Skye

By , October 31, 2013


Letters from Skye

By Jessica Brockmole


This is a story of love, loss, two world wars and family secrets all told through a series of letters.


American David Graham first wrote to Scottish poet Elspeth Dunn in 1912, a fan letter that would start a correspondence that would change their lives.


It is also the story of Elspeth’s daughter Margaret, who in 1940 discovers an old letter and realizes that her Mother had a secret life that she knew nothing about and she becomes determined to find the truth.


Letters from Skye is the story of mothers and daughters, secrets and redemption and of 10,000 days of hope.  This is author, Jessica Brockmole’s first novel.






DVD review: Doctor Zhivago

By , October 24, 2013

Doctor Zhivago


I have been recommending this superb Masterpiece Theatre remake of Doctor Zhivago to everyone. Like the original film, this mini-series is long at 3 hours and 46 minutes and it is worth every minute.


Keira Knightley plays the beautiful Lara and Hans Matheson stars as Doctor Zhivago, the physician torn between love and duty. Sam Neil puts in a stellar performance as the cruel and powerful Victor Komarovsky.


The Russian Revolution provides the breathtaking backdrop for the story. The attention to detail in this movie is amazing. The costumes are mouthwatering, the set design is incredible and the cinematography is excellent.


This new version of Doctor Zhivago was nominated for Best Costume Design, Best Mini-Series and Best Director at the 2003 BAFTA TV Awards.


Don’t let the so-so reviews for Knightley’s Anna Karenina turn you off from seeing Doctor Zhivago.  This mini-series is outstanding and Keira Knightley is at her best.





Book list: Contemporary Dystopias

By , October 21, 2013

A dystopia is an imaginary world based on how you don’t want society to be. You can always tell a lot about what a real life society fears by surveying its dystopian fiction. I’ve noticed some common threads in contemporary dystopian novels: sexual freedom in the extreme, gun control in the extreme, complete lack of privacy, privatized military and police, extreme gap between rich and poor, genetic manipulation of plants and animals, and unstoppable viruses. Without further ado, our nightmares:

Oryx and CrakeOryx and Crake
by Margaret Atwood
Atwood threw down the gauntlet with this one. Published before the rest on this list, the others are in debt to it. Oryx and Crake led to two sequels, last of which, MaddAddam was just released. Keep an ear out for November’s upcoming Popmatic Podcast when I go all nerdy over this series.

The Windup GirlThe Windup Girl
by Paulo Bacigalupi
The library has a Book Club in a Bag of this award winning title. Learn about it, and other great book clubs selections, here.

Tenth of December
by George Saunders
The melancholia rules the day in this collection of short stories. Perhaps this book is the creepiest because its world is the one closest to our own. This book earned Saunders a National Book Award nomination. The winners will be announced November 20th.

Super Sad True Love StorySuper Sad True Love Story
by Gary Shteyngart
Can to people find love in a world with all elements mentioned above? Two people try in Super Sad True Love Story. It is actually a comedy until the last half. It gets pretty heavy after that. Do you like funny books with an edge? Here’s a whole list of them.

Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell
It feels real stupid to say it, but this book is a masterpiece. Check out Jesse’s original review here.

Special shout out to the 2nd Wednesday Book Club. It’s through them I got turned on to many of these great books.

- Bryan

Do I Dare? Night Film read-a-likes and watch-a-likes

By , October 14, 2013

Marisha Pessl’s Night Film features a cult film director whose creepy movies give you nightmares and maybe even drive you mad. If you liked Night Film, here are some books and movies that might tickle your cult-film-cybertext-twisted-mystery fancy.

Chronic City
by Jonathan Lethem
When ex-child actor Chase Insteadman befriends aging New York underground film critic Perkus Tooth, the line between fantasy and reality becomes increasingly blurred. Tooth’s grip on sanity becomes looser as Insteadman’s circle of NYC weirdos smoke more and more hash. Loneliness is abated but morals are compromised. And what did happen to Insteadman’s wife after all?

Pattern Recognition
by William Gibson
Cayce Pollard is a psychic that has intuitions about which logos and brands will catch fire. Her talents demand high fees in the corporate world. The catch is that her unique talent has rendered her allergic to most mediocre corporate logos. She enjoys lurking in message boards dedicated to a mysterious, anonymous online film series. When creepy millionaire Hubertus Bigend wants her to track down the films’ creators, Pollard reluctantly agrees.

Syndrome E
by Franck Thrilliez
Lucie’s Henebelle’s goes blind after watching a 1950s cult film. Could the film’s horrible subliminal messages be the cause?. With the help of Paris police Inspector Franck Shako,  Lucie discovers the film’s true power.

Room 237
One can’t help but think of Stanley Kubrick when reading about the obsessive, reclusive Stanislas Cordova. Much like the fictional Cordova, the real life Kubrick has a devoted cult of fans that read very deeply into his films. Room 237 chronicles five fans’ theories about “real” meaning of Kubrick’s icy masterpiece The Shining.

The Ring
American remake of the Japanese contemporary classic. You see the movie and you die. You get it? DON’T WATCH THE MOVIE!!! I mean the movie in the movie. Oh, you know what I mean.

- Bryan

Book review: The Longest Road

By , October 12, 2013

The Longest Road
By: Philip Caputo

Ya know…sometimes the world just works out. Like when you drop a jar of peanut butter onto your chocolate bar or it starts raining right AFTER you put the top up on your car. Or when you listen to an audio book about driving from Key West, FL to Dead Horse, AK while fighting the daily traffic grind to get to work.

Because that’s what I’ve been doing this past week and a half or so. You can’t beat driving in a car listening to an audio book about a guy driving in a car. Long-time Off the Shelf readers will remember that I’ve mentioned the Ice Road Truckers in the past and several of us have commented about Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. This book is kind of a combination of both of these.

Caputo is a former Marine and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who decided to take this trek on something of a whim. He figured most folks who drive across the country do so from east to west or vice versa. His idea was to drive from the most southern spot in Key West to the most northern one (able to be reached by roads) at Dead Horse.

It was interesting to learn about various Midwestern towns that Caputo & his wife drove through on his travels. Having grown up in a small Midwestern town myself, I can identify with some, but others of these Population 247 towns would have creeped me out. Not even to see the World’s Largest Ball of Twine would I have detoured.

I think my favorite part of the book was Philip and his wife reaching the Dalton Highway – THE road for driving through Alaska. It was less fun without the ice though.

This is the perfect book if you’re going on a road trip…or if you’re like me and have a decent commute each morning. The reader isn’t super great, but he does sound like what I think the author would if he would have read his book.

Happy listening…

:) Amanda

Popmatic Podcast October 2013: Hispanic Heritage Month

By , October 7, 2013

There is still one more week of Hispanic Heritage Month to go! Luckily, the books, movies, and music we recommend are good all year round. What’s tickling our fancy? Cool stuff. Artober and cool stuff.


La Mission

Pati’s Mexican Table


Goth is a universal language.


Sound Opinions Episode 396: World Tour Mexico

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone by Hunter S. Thompson

Oscar Zeta Acosta

Battlestar Galactica starring Edward James Olmos

LOCAS: The Maggie and Hopey Stories by Jaime Hernandez

Y Tu Mamá También

Junot Diaz

Dagoberto Gilb

Lorraine Lopez

Rudolfo Anaya

Roberto Bolaño

El Librotraficante

Raul Julia

José Ferrer


Red’s Classic Barber Shop

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Haunted by Poe

Red Bull Music Academy Radio’s Fireside Chat with Tim Hecker

Red Bull Music Academy Radio’s Headphone Highlights with The Haxan Cloak


Music review: Sara Bareilles

By , October 5, 2013

The Beautiful Unrest
By Sara Bareilles

I’ve got the eye of the tiger, a fighter. Dancing through the fire, cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me…

Wait. That’s not right.

Isn’t that Katy Perry with her latest #1 song that is NOT (boo) downloadable from freegal?

Sorry I meant to do this one:

Say what you wanna say. And let the words fall out. Honestly, I wanna see you be…

Yeah. That’s better. That’s the popular Sara Bareilles’ single that IS (yay) downloadable from freegal!

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, Katy Perry’s “Roar” sounds quite a bit like Sara Bareilles’ “Brave.” If you’re a fan of either song, you need to hear the other to compare and contrast. Personally, I like both of them. Also, how classy was Bareilles not to drag Perry to copyright court for “stealing her song”?

Admittedly, I did like “Brave” prior to “Roar” coming out, but I haven’t really explored the Sara Bareilles oeuvre before. She actually reminds me more of Sarah McLaughlin (must be something in the name) than Katy Perry. She’s more songstress than pop star. “Brave” is just one solid track on her latest album, The Beautiful Unrest. I’m completely addicted to “Eden” and “Chasing the Sun” is good too.

My only complaint is that Bareilles, like McLaughlin, can lean a little towards the dark and morbid. But sometimes you need a little emotion in your life. Sing a song with your eyes closed and live a little.

Also, I want someone to do a really good mashup. These guys tried, but they’re kinda annoying, even if they did get the singing with your eyes closed thing down.

Happy Brave Roaring….er listening…

:) Amanda



Book review: Jane, the fox and me

By , October 4, 2013

Jane, the fox and me
Written by Fanny Britt and Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

If precocious children’s books bore you, if you preferred the company of Harriet the Spy and her notebooks to say, Nancy Drew and her matching sweater sets, here is a book for you.

The tale of Helene, her bullied self, her mortified being, her escape in books, her harried mother, her skinny brothers all told in muted tones with sleepy shading UNTIL, page 16 where we are treated to a wash of coral over the double page spread and then AGAIN on page 19 with washes of greens and blues. It is a full 10 more pages before color slips back in but in those 10 pages we peek into the  magnified details of Helene’s home life, laundry basket, record player, sewing machine…muted yes, but the mundane becomes universal in the hands of this talented writing and  illustrating team from Quebec.

The beauty of the book lies in its approachable appeal to young writers and illustrators. Nothing is too overwrought, overwritten or over illustrated. The text is simple, straightforward and true allowing the story to hit its mark with both young readers and adults, the illustrations stark and still beguiling.

I won’t give up any more details, but to say that you could do a lot worse than to spend half an hour lost in these pages.  And any child in your world will be happy to have stumbled across this book.

“There’s so much more to a book than just the reading.”
Maurice Sendak

Book review: Hell on Two Wheels

By , October 3, 2013

 Hell on Two Wheels  by Amy Snyder

Great book!  Amy Snyder definitely gives a sense of what a huge, complex, maddening, psychologically and physically challenging undertaking the RAAM really is. This covers the main contenders of the 2009 race and is full of detail, with building  suspense and surprises along the way.
I had been looking for a more detailed account of what these riders go through after watching the excellent dvd Bicycle Dreams and this book more than accomplished this and actually did “read like a suspense novel” (albeit on a predetermined route!).
I appreciated the time she took really getting into this race, her notes on sources and also the post race followup interviews she conducted. Great pictures too!
Anyone who rides a bike – as a commuter or for fitness or who loves getting the insight into the ultimate event for top caliber ultra distance cyclists will be thoroughly engrossed.
Thanks Amy!
- Phil

Movie review: The Loneliest Planet

By , October 1, 2013

The Loneliest Planet
Written and directed by Julia Loktev

There were two reasons I decided to watch this film: one – it features a couple on a backpacking trip, and two -  Gael Garcia Bernal has a starring role.   Hoping for a romantic melodrama,  I investigated no further than the striking image on the movie poster… Little did I know how profoundly I would be moved by this deep and powerful film.

Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg) set out on a backpacking adventure in the Caucasus Mountains in the country of Georgia,  the summer before they are to be married.   After hiring a local guide named Dato, they embark on their journey.

By all appearances Alex and Nica seem to be a happy, free-spirited,  madly in love young couple.  During one scene they declare a head stand competition, and the viewer witnesses the competition in a cinematic long shot, as they count the seconds to see who will fall first.   This is gorgeous land they cross, and little dialogue is needed nor used to convey the hikers’ feelings of elation and freedom and pure joy of being on this trek.  Then, a potential tragedy is barely avoided, and immediately the dynamics of the trio change.

I’d never seen a Julia Loktev film, but wow – I’m still thinking about this movie!  Although her script is based on the Tom Bissell short story “Expensive Trips Nowhere“, Julia was also  inspired by her own trip with an ex-boyfriend through the country of Georgia.

And if you’ve read my review thus far, allow me the honor of encouraging you to take a hike of your own this fall through our gorgeous Tennessee back country…

Off the Shelf is powered by WordPress. Panorama Theme by Themocracy