After the January we’ve had, I think we could all do with a little positivity. A generous dollop of fun in your fancy coffee to ward off the winter blahs. A sprinkle of the old pop culture fairy dust, if you will. Periodically on this blog, I like to trumpet a few of my latest obsessions. Some I may end up loving and leaving in a few weeks, some I’ll be happily ever after with. All are best enjoyed with a steaming cuppa, under a fleece blanket, with a cozy (or furry) someone by your side.
Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May mysteries
With the Peculiar Crimes Unit, it’s all there in the name. The eccentric septuagenarian British police detectives Arthur Bryant and John May, along with their equally lovable support team, investigate crimes that are, well, peculiar, and always involve an occult/mythical aspect. Their superiors may always be trying to shut them down, but no one else can solve these gripping cases with as much bumbling panache as Bryant and May. Whether it’s a highwayman terrorizing the city’s museums, a disappearing pub, or a murderous elk creature stalking the streets (or the famous Leicester Square vampire), Fowler always finds a way to tie the fantastical to contemporary issues. He knows more about the hidden history of London than some leading historians, but also how to write endearingly flawed characters and terrifyingly vivid villains. I would recommend all of his books; he only started writing this series when he was around twelve books into his career and is also a master of the short story. But on a chilly winter’s night, I personally love nothing better than to tuck in with my friends at the Peculiar Crimes Unit and see what mad clues they are chasing down this time. You truly never know what strange places they will lead you.
There are so many treasures in the current trove of excellent television that some gems are bound to get overlooked. Manhattan is one of those. Possibly because it’s about two competing groups of scientists racing to invent the atomic bomb before the Germans do in the midst of WWII. If a top-secret military outpost in the middle of the Nevada desert doesn’t exactly strike you as an exciting place to set a TV series, well, you would be wrong. Wherever big egos clash, drama is sure to spark, and Manhattan doesn’t just follow the intellectual battles and spy-vs-spy intrigue of the narcissistic scientists, but adds in military men with their own twisted agendas, lethal and covert CIA operatives, and the innocent but not clueless wives fighting for lives of their own, not to mention the ethics of this whole ‘building a nuclear weapon’ thing. Best of all, this series promotes intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, and humanitarianism. Its “heroes” are complicated people confronting the biggest questions of human existence/nature, and the result is just plain riveting. Don’t let its lack of sparkle fool you–this series is gold.
Made redundant by his long-time employers, estranged from his wife and son, with a specialized skill that new technology has made obsolete, submarine captain Robinson doesn’t just need a hail Mary, he needs help from the father, son, and the holy ghost. When he hears about a downed Nazi submarine containing $40 million in gold at the bottom of the Black Sea, he hears a choir of angels. Assembling a half-Russian, half-British crew of fellow laid-off technicians, they convince a rich dude to bankroll a rickety old sub for a cut of the treasure they mean to salvage. A gang of surly, desperate men, only one Russian translator, and a vessel that’s seen better days cruising under the Russian militia–what can go wrong? Finding out is half the fun. With a quorum of great performances, mostly from Jude Law as the captain and Ben Mendelsohn as, duh, the dodgy one, this masterfully suspenseful thriller from director Kevin Macdonald will have you clutching to your cocoa (and vowing to stay on dry land). Serious fun on a frosty Sunday night.
Ryan Adams’ 1989
I’m not proud of this one, but if I’m honest, I really enjoy this record. I’ve never been a fan of Taylor Swift. I respect that she’s a female artist basically owning the world right now, one who writes all her own music and is the boss of her career; I just don’t like her stuff. I’m not a huge pop music fan in general, and… well, I should probably stop there. But my sister played me Adams’ version of her latest record, with completely different production and tempo to the songs, without telling me what it was, daring me to guess. Once she made the big reveal–because there’s no way I ever would have figured it out on my own–I couldn’t believe it. Same songs, but completely different aesthetic–more indie, more moody, definitely more my thing. I’ve had it on rotation ever since, and the songs just get richer the more I listen to it. A credit to both Swift and Adams, IMHO. Consider this my mea culpa, Taylor… though I won’t be buying the original 1989 anytime soon.
Hello, my name is Selina, and I’m a chocoholic. Not being able to drink tea or coffee, my winter poison of choice is hot chocolate, and there is no better chocolate on the market than Valrhona. Don’t believe me? You’ll find that the pastry chefs of the best fine dining restaurants all use this brand of chocolate to make their delectable creations. But thanks to an expanded product line, it’s not out of the reach of regular consumers. If you’re going to splurge–because this is a luxury item–the hot chocolate should be top of your list this time of year. More like a cup of melted chocolate than its milkier cousins, if you like chocolate like I do–and when I indulge, I indulge in the best–you have to sample some of this liquid heaven. Valrhona is also a great baking chocolate and is available in large bars at reduced rates, if you hunt around. So, cheers to you all!
Hit me up in the comments with some of your lately obsessions, and enjoy the season!