If you liked the movie Secretariat and have  been following Zenyatta’s career as an undefeated filly (up till her last race),  you may want to check out more horse movies and books.

Seabiscuit stars another underdog, so-to-speak, who becomes an incredible crowd-pleaser.  The movie is based on a book by Laura Hillenbrand. This true, Depression-era story stars  Toby Maguire as the teenage jockey whose destitute parents left him with a horse trainer.  Jeff Bridges is the owner whose son is killed in a car accident, and  Chris Cooper as a homeless, former cowboy. He  discovers Seabiscuit and becomes his trainer.  They all form a unique team, as Seabiscuit becomes a celebrated winner, giving hope to a nation of down-and-outers.

Like Secretariat,  both horses are dismissed early on as losers, but they loved nothing so much as to come from behind and win races in a nail-biting, dramatic fashion.

In the searing debut novel The Lotus Eaters, author Tatjana Soli captures the devastation of war-torn Vietnam from 1963-1975, but also beautifully balances it with complex relationships and passionate romance.

Helen Adams has dropped out of college to come to Vietnam to work as a freelance photographer and to find answers about her brother’s death.  She soon falls in love with a charismatic Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer, who takes her under his wing.  As a female covering combat in this age of new-found womens liberation, Helen’s gender draws as much attention as does her cover-quality work.  But Helen,  just like the lotus eaters in Homer’s Odyssey, finds herself unwilling or unable to leave, even in the final chaotic days of the U.S. military’s evacuation from the conflict.

There’s romance (with two very different men) —  there’s danger (with every mine-filled step) and there’s that anxious tension that keeps you hoping for their survival right up to the very end.  The book is thoroughly researched (it includes a lengthy bibliography) with a perspective that only 40 plus years of history could provide.

As a big fan of Arrested Development and actress Portia de Rossi, I had to be first to check out her new book, Unbearable Lightness.  Though de Rossi is a very talented comedic actress, this book is a truly sad story:  it details the eating disorder she suffered from since the age of 12 when she began her modeling career.  Starting with a yo-yo diet that included binging and purging before photo shoots and acting jobs, de Rossi eventually became severely anorexic, eating less than 300 calories a day in order to lose weight and maintain her career.    Despite the protests of her family and the fact that she at one time weighed only 82 pounds, de Rossi only saw herself as a chubby girl with big thighs and rolls on her stomach.

This book was extremely shocking and really opens your eyes to what the mindset of an anorexic person is really like. De Rossi does a great job of letting the reader really get inside her head to understand why she treated her body the way she did.  The pressures of staying thin in order to get jobs and being a closeted lesbian in an industry that didn’t accept gay actors really exacerbated her condition and forced her into a downward spiral of self-loathing.  This book is also incredibly eye-opening into Hollywood life.  Knowing how common the pressures de Rossi faced are, I can’t say I ever want to look at another fashion magazine again.  Though she came out of this ordeal alive and has a very happy life with wife Ellen Degeneres, this isn’t the case for everyone who goes through anorexia and bulimia.  Not only is this book very informative, it’s also an emotional and inspirational story about overcoming your personal demons, and  I highly recommend it to anyone.

Before World War II fades from living memory and thereafter resides exclusively in the history books, take a few moments to appreciate those who actually lived it. After all, the history books can only tell us statistics and names, the locations of battlefields and the number who died there. Only the people who were actually there can tell you the personal stories – sleeping in cow pastures, spending time with your buddies in a war zone, seeing the planes of D-Day flying overhead, the pain of watching your best friend die. The Last Good War: the Faces and Voices of World War II with photos by Thomas Sanders, shines the spotlight on some of these last remaining veterans through a series of affecting portraits and reminiscences. Proud, solemn, spirited, these men and women once again show us what made them “the greatest generation.”

If you’ve caught the recent series on PBS, you may want to go back to the first dvd series of Wallander. Kenneth Branagh inhabits the morose Swedish Inspector Kurt Wallander. He feels the pain and suffering of the world to the extent that it interferes with his relationships with his daughter, father and ex-wife. Always close to burnout, Kurt repeatedly puts his job before whatever is left of his home life, and they are very much aware of that.

The tv series is based on the Henning Mankell mysteries set  near Ystad in Southern Sweden. The tones are bleached out; the Swedish countryside comes off as pale and tired – as if all  vibrant hues  have been drained out out of the world. It sounds incredibly depressing but there’s something about  Wallander’s character and Branagh’s portrayal of him that makes this very complex man impossible not to watch and root for.  Optimism and hope seem misguided if not futile, but Wallander keeps hanging in there.

Those looking for nonstop spectacular violence and pounding background music will be disappointed but if you enjoy complex characters, intricate plots and incredible acting, you won’t be disappointed.

What is it about Americans and cars? Maybe it’s the sheer size of our country, or our heritage from our pioneer ancestors who were forever exploring the open road, but most of us have a real attachment to our cars. While plane travel and gas prices have made some difference in vacation plans, the tradition of seeing the country from the road remains strong. Start planning your next road trip with these two new books.

Drives of a Lifetime from National Geographic. This coffee-table-worthy book covers 500 trips world-wide, from spectacular scenery to sophisticated cities. Divided by types of trips (including mountains, sea, rivers, villages, urban, historic and gourmet) you’ll find the famous (the Grand Canyon, Mt Fuji, the Cotswolds of England) to the less traveled (the coast of Newfoundland in Canada, Cuban byways or the Okavango Delta in Botswana) Scattered throughout are quick “top ten” drives by subject (Wilderness Drives, Untamed Roads, African River Drives, Music Drives, Spectacular Bridges) and several “ultimate road trips” with more detail (Australia’s Great Ocean Road, Arches and Canyons of Utah, Sunset Boulevard in California) As you would expect from National Geographic, the photographs are outstanding.

USA’s Best Trips from Lonely Planet. No photos but lots more detail, this title concentrates on just the US with 99 itineraries with something for everyone including lists by theme (city, historic, culinary, etc) Most range in length from 2 to 5 days and are arranged geographically so it’d be easy to string two or more together. Some of the most fun are the longer, iconic cross-country trips – Route 66, Massachusetts to Miami, the Lincoln Highway, the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great River Road, the Great Divide (Rocky Mountains) and the Pacific Coast Highway. You’ll never be short of ideas for the your next great American road trip.

Dorothy Gilman’s series about a senior  spy begins with The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax. The 60-something Emily Pollifax decides that she needs to do something more meaningful with her life, and begins by walking into the CIA to volunteer her services.

Published in 1966, some of the sentiments seem dated; women in their sixties today would be less likely to be have as their primary identity being a frail-looking grandmother who has never been part of the workforce. What is interesting is the Cold War attitudes and alliances. It’s one thing to set a book in the sixties, it’s another to read one written with those assumptions.

I decided to read this one after hearing Nancy Pearl’s recommendations on NPR; they were part of a list of books that featured travel. Mrs. Pollifax does get around; in this book she starts out in Mexico (acting as a courier), and ends up in Albania.  Along the way, she proves herself resourceful, tenacious and very, very tough – even by current standards. Her innocence leads her to trust others more easily than a professional spy would, but it allows her to develop relationships that will come in handy later. If you want to make a quick visit to a world gone by, and to meet a slightly eccentric but very successful spy, give these a try.

Awww, my stomach. Just rehearsing. But normally that’s the morning-after lament of the serially psychotic that go after doorbuster sales. In case you’ve been a devotee of online bargains using great portals like fatwallet.com, you’ll notice there was a steep uptick in the amount of great posted deals starting a couple weeks ago. The reason for this being, retailers depend heavily on this time of year to bring their ledgers into the black and have a strong 4th quarter. They need more time. As far as they’re concerned, it started the day after Halloween.

Here is an excellent write-up the Argus did, hitting all of the key points with a few tips.

So if they’re bumping Black Friday up, does that mean we can engorge our stomachs a month early as well?

Much more than a collection of recipes (although a fine selection is included), Edible: a Celebration of Local Foods is just as much a love letter to the farmers, ranchers, fishers and cooks that produce and create with the bounty found in this country (and southern Canada). If this book doesn’t send you straight to the Farmer’s Market (or your own backyard garden), nothing will.

Divided into six regions (Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, California and the West, Pacific Northwest and Midwest) Edible starts with a series of thoughtful, often humorous, always enlightening articles and essays about the difficulties and rewards of producing local, organic sustainable food. Farmers, chefs and organizations are highlighted for each region including a listing at the end of each chapter of things that are unique to that area (Muscatine melons for Iowa for instance, or razor clams in Seattle) that make this worth checking out before your next road trip.

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory, begins a new series, The Cousin’s War, in which each book focuses on an important woman who had a pivital role in England’s War of the Roses.

The White Queen tells the story of Elizabeth Woodville, a recent widow with young children, who catches the eye of the young Kind Edward IV.  Elizabeth then marries him in a secret ceremony and becomes queen.  Soon thereafter, the King leaves to fight a battle against his brother, in which the winner will be declared the rightful King of England.

Years later, Elizabeth is caught in the middle of the long standing war and makes drastic decisions as a mother and as a queen.  Her most difficult decision concerned her two sons whose fate as the “princes in the tower,” has baffled historians for centuries.  Philippa Gregory’s book seamlessly weaves historical fact with a fictional but personable account of medieval life in the first person. This fascinating book portrays the epic battles for power, treason, humanity and the dynamics of a royal family.