One for the books

Looking back on 2023

By Michael Witthaus

2023 was an eventful year for the state’s music and comedy scene. Here’s a look back, and a taste of what’s coming in the new year for live entertainment.

For one moment in May, the Granite State was at the center of the music world, as Foo Fighters performed at Bank of NH Pavilion in Gilford, their first full band appearance since Taylor Hawkins died in Colombia in 2022. Dave Grohl did “Cold Day in the Sun” on acoustic guitar in tribute to the late drummer. “Taylor wrote this song; we used to sing it together,” Grohl said. “I’m going to do it for him tonight.”

April Cushman had a banner year, winning her second consecutive Country Act of the Year plaque at the New England Music Awards. The same night, Manchester’s Sepsiss took home its fourth Hard Rock/Metal Act of the Year award of the last five years. New Hampshire was shut out the rest of the evening; even its Rising Star winner was a band from Hudson that’s played only two shows in the state since forming in 2019.

Nashua’s Center for the Arts bowed, welcoming a steady stream of national talent, beginning with American Idol alums Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken on April 13 and Suzanne Vega performing solo on April 15. The venue’s grand opening “Celebration of the Arts” showcased local artists like rapper Fee the Evolutionist, singer-songwriter Wyn Doran and Ian Ethan Case, along with theatrical performances.

In January, Doran brilliantly debuted her new trio Wyn & the White Light to a small crowd at Bank of NH Stage in Concord, opening for Billy Wylder. The group began trickling out songs from a new album due for release next spring in late October. Moody tracks like “Heal Me” and “Places Unknown” show incredible promise from the chamber rockers.

Other standout releases from area musicians this year include No More Blue Tomorrows’ eponymous first album, which ranged from lush pop rock a la “Iris”-era Goo Goo Dolls to punkier songs like “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” and “Lonely.” Low Lily’s rootsy Angels in the Wreckage was another standout.

Dust Prophet, Otto Kinzel’s latest project, released its debut album in January. Eyeball Planet from Mother Iguana — Mac Holmes and a long list of collaborators — was another highlight. Brad Myrick and Nicola Cipriani completed their Covid-interrupted Silver Lining instrumental guitar album and took it on a world tour

The summer concert season suffered from bad weather, as a big chunk of gazebo shows were moved indoors from May through July. Bands like Beatles tribute act Studio Two pared down their schedules to guard against last-minute no-pay cancellations, while more than a few “rain or shine” events had to throw in a wet towel.

It was another good year for comedy, with the last vestiges of pandemic Zoom shows in the rearview.

“I don’t know if we’re exactly back where we were,” Jim Roach, who books the Palace and Rex theaters and others, said in August, “but we’re very close and I think it’s going to continue to grow over the next couple of years.”

The handoff of comedy at Manchester’s Shaskeen Pub was smooth, with Wednesday shows continuing apace. The event’s new manager, Geneva Gonzales, helped extend indie comedy’s regional reach through an ongoing series of pop-up shows dubbed Don’t Tell Comedy.

Perhaps the local comedy scene’s biggest success this year came when Drew Dunn sold out the Nashua Center for the Arts. A Nashua native, Dunn began at the Shaskeen and has grown into a nationally touring rising star. “The show … was really special,” he wrote on Facebook and Instagram. “To have almost 600 people come to see me in my hometown was truly an unforgettable night.”

Featured photo: Wyn and the White Light. Photo by Mike Doran.

SoCal stalwarts

Dawes returns to New Hampshire

By Michael Witthaus

When Dawes steps on the Music Hall stage Dec.30, it will be only their fourth appearance in the Granite State, and their first in almost five years. Taylor Goldsmith, Dawes guitarist, lead singer and main songwriter, hopes the night-before-New Year’s Eve scheduling will add to the impetus for locals to check them out.

“I’m very excited for that; I mean, obviously, it’s good to get back to anywhere we haven’t been for a while,” Goldsmith said by phone from his home in Altadena, California. “I feel like everything is kind of shut down that week, and no one ever has anything to do. So I’m kind of eager to see how that feels.”

Goldsmith is a creature of the road.

“When I’m standing still, I seem to disappear,” he wrote over a decade ago in “Time Spent in Los Angeles,” but these days that notion is tempered by new fatherhood. With his wife, This Is Us actress Mandy Moore, he has two sons; Gus, born February 2021, and Ozzie, who arrived in October of last year.

“Back in the day it was, ‘How do we stay on tour, how do we not keep a house at home?,’ and now it’s, ‘How do I make these tours as fast as possible?’” he said. “I definitely feel like an essential part of myself … only comes to life on stages [and] I’ve never had the inclination of, ‘maybe I’d like to step away from this’ — I just need to be a little more strategic. Because when I’m away from the guys, even the first hour hurts really bad.”

The change has impacted his songwriting — up to a point.

“My world is so much smaller, and that is cool; I think it’s something to be embraced rather than rejected,” he said, while noting that he’s not keen on writing an entire album about being a dad. “Even though that’s very much what I think about and deal with on a minute-to-minute basis, I definitely have to make sure that I’m thinking outside of that.”

That said, his worldview has shifted.

“When I was young … those Jackson Browne songs about heartache were all I wanted to hear,” he said. “That’s not my experience now, and it’s a little harder for me to jump into that place. Now I want to hear observations on culture, politics … the existential crisis that goes beyond romance.”

With fewer and longer songs, Dawes’ most recent album, Misadventures of Doomscroller, was a departure. Musically adventurous, it was recorded following a tour backing Grateful Dead bass player Phil Lesh. More than a few likened it to so-called jam bands, but for Goldsmith it really wasn’t that at all.

“We went in with an objective and more or less accomplished it,” he said, adding that it was different from past albums where plans for a certain mood — more ballads, a softer sound for instance — were waylaid. “I like that the record tells us what it is rather than the other way around, more or less. But with Misadventures, it was like, let’s go for one of those five or six songs, yet 45-minute, albums, like so many rock ’n’ roll bands that we love.”

Goldsmith shrugged off the label given to them by some critics. “There are bands that deserve the moniker but don’t have it,” like Pink Floyd and Dire Straits, he said. “I don’t see us as a jam band in the same way that I see the Grateful Dead…. I almost feel like that’s more of a cultural observation [that] has more to do with who shows up than what we’re doing on stage.”

Missing from the upcoming show will be founding member Wylie Gelber, who left the band last year to focus on his handmade guitar company, and keyboard player Lee Pardini, who announced his departure earlier this month.

“Things change, and I’m excited in a way about embracing this newer identity,” Goldsmith said.

It’s an interesting response from someone who wrote, “I hope all your favorite bands stay together” a while back.

“Well, people have said that to me before … so much for that,” he replied. “That song is more about the REMs and the Replacements, bands that truly are not playing shows … there’s heartbreak there. Dawes is on tour … I’m singing these songs, Griffin’s playing the drums. We were there on Day 1, and we’re still here. I think that is still the thing worth celebrating that that song tries to speak to.”

Featured photo: Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 23/12/28

Local music news & events

Alchemistic: Randy Roos leads the free jazz Hall of Mirrors for an early evening show at a Lakes Region winery’s restaurant. The group — Roos playing guitar, pianist Steve Hunt, multi-instrumentalist/percussionist Dave Kobrenski, Tim Gilmore on drums and bassist Mike Rossi — begins with a minimal musical structure and build. The result is what’s been termed “spontaneous composition.” Thursday, Dec. 28, 6 p.m., Hermit Woods Winery, 72 Main St., Meredith, $15 to $25 at

Elevating music: After Sublime With Rome ends next year, Badfish will remain the last act carrying on the SoCal ska punk band that existed only briefly in the mid-’90s. Thursday, Dec. 28, 8 pm., Wally’s Pub, 144 Ashworth Ave., Hampton Beach, $22.50 at

Doppeljämmers: Paying tribute to J. Geils Band is a tall order, but Whammer Jammer rises to the occasion. Back in the 1970s the Boston rock powerhouse became headliners by becoming impossible to follow. Later they ruled MTV with hits like “Love Stinks” and “Centerfold.” The band’s namesake passed in 2017, ending chances for a reunion and leaving it to acts like this one to carry the memory. Friday, Dec. 29, 7:30 p.m., Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester, $35 at

Minutiae man: Citing standups like Demetri Martin as inspiration, Andrew Mayer proves why introverts often make the best comedians. Mayer brilliantly breaks down his anxiety in social situations; he also has a hilarious preoccupation with pets. One of his best bits deals with the idea that if every animal were taught about how doors work, dogs would be the only creatures who wouldn’t use them. Saturday, Dec. 30, 8 p.m., Murphy’s Taproom, 494 Elm St., Manchester. See

Bangin’ band: A totally throwback Eve of New Year’s Eve bash has All That 90s playing hits from the Tamagotchi decade. It’s the perfect event for anyone who understands the joke, “I dropped my cell phone, now I’m going to have to get a new floor.” The quartet cycles through everything from “Ice Ice Baby” to “Tubthumping” while also hitting the era’s several boy bands and pop rockers. Saturday, Dec. 30, 8 p.m., Stumble Inn, 20 Rockingham Road, Londonderry. See

Mojo dojo casa Slotherhouse

Considering the many facets of the cinematic landscape in 2023

Barbie is my favorite movie of 2023.

Why pretend otherwise? It’s solid gold (solid pink gold) all the way to its core, with excellent performances, writing, casting, camera work, production design and use of music. It has great details happening in every shot. It excellently captures the toy element of the Barbie world, from the way people move (that Margot Robie sideways flop when she sits down despondently is perfect) to how extremely secondary Ken is in kid Barbie play. I rewatched Barbie recently (it’s available for rent and purchase and streaming on Max) and caught little moments that I don’t think I did the first time. I also gained a new appreciation for the absolutely knockout performance by Ryan Gosling; if ever Oscar wants to award a comedic (at least, on the surface) performance, this would be the one. Watch it — watch it and be impressed that Greta Gerwig could get this all done and put so much of her own sensibility in a toy tie-in movie.

As much as 2023 is the year of Barbie and as much as a Barbie is a movie I’m certain I’ll watch again, probably before we even make it to this March’s Oscar ceremony, which better have some serious Barbie representation among the nominees, that wasn’t the only delightful, gleeful memorable movie watching experience I had this year. I speak, of course, of Slotherhouse, a Hulu movie about a killer sloth. No, let me back up, Slotherhouse is a mostly (at least for its first two-thirds) played-straight movie about sorority house drama where some of the sorority sisters mysteriously disappear and also a sloth adopted by one of the girls is giddily murderous. I described the sloth, named Alpha, in my review thusly: “Alpha is a little shy of standard teddy bear size and has a ‘sloth puppet stretched over Teddy Ruxpin frame’ look.” This movie perfectly balances tone and it is an absolute blast.

What else is worth a mention from 2023?

Movie is absolutely, wonderfully, as advertised: Part of what is great about Slotherhouse is that it is exactly what you think it is and it does that — that being sorority-sister-murdering sloth — perfectly. And, I will take that over half-assed execution of Serious Film That Wants to Say Something any day. (Is it unfair to put Oppenheimer, now available for rent or purchase, in that latter category? You watch and decide; I thought it was well-made but also, just, sigh, eyeroll, OK, movie, calm down.)Other movies that do well with a goofy, as-stated concept include Plane (rent or purchase and streaming on Starz), the Gerard Butler movie about action on and related to an airplane. Sometimes Butler is doing “plane” (he says stuff like “thrust” and “landing gear”), and sometimes he is off the plane fighting bad guys in order to save the plane passengers. Sink into this dumb movie like a comfortable chair and enjoy how little thought it requires of you.

Also in this category: Cocaine Bear (rent, purchase and on Prime Video). As is stated by Alden Ehrenreich’s character in the trailer “the bear, it did cocaine.” Elizabeth Banks masterfully directs this movie where, yeah, there are some side plots about drug dealers and a cop and forest rangers and some kids cutting school, but mostly a bear does cocaine and chases people. Adults like the late Ray Liotta and Margo Martindale and Keri Russell show up and have an absolute blast.

Horror and comedy — two great tastes that taste great together: That you might hurt yourself laughing is the scariest element of nominal horror movie Slotherhouse. But several movies this year proved that comedy and horror work great together. The Blackening (rent, purchase and streaming on Starz) features a group of friends spending Juneteenth weekend together and finding themselves the target of both systematic racism and a murderous psycho. Leave the World Behind (Netflix) is not as big in its comedy but you can’t convince me that comedy isn’t largely what it’s doing in this seemingly cool psychological thriller about, maybe, the end of the world? Totally Killer (Prime Video) takes a modern teenager (played by Kiernan Shipka) back to 1987 to the Halloween when her mother’s high school friends were murdered — and back to her mother as a teenage Heathers-esque jerk. From the Gen Z shock at the “Hooters waitress”-like gym uniforms to the perfect fringed white jacket Shipka wears, the movie is a hoot. Of course, the blend of absurdity and horror this year truly belongs to M3gan (rent, purchase and on Prime Video), the early-year release about a kid-sized robot doll and the horrors of same. This movie seems to hate technology and have no redeemable characters and I enjoyed both of those aspects. As I said in my review: “When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I probably thought something like ‘ugh, what ridiculous nonsense.’ After seeing it, though, my reaction is ‘What ridiculous nonsense! 10 out of 10! Four stars! No notes!’”

The freshest popcorn: It was not a banner year for sequels, in my opinion. I left movies like Magic Mike’s Last Dance (rent, purchase, Hulu and Max) andCreed III (rent, purchase, Prime Video, Sling, Philo and, ha, MGM+) feeling like they were fine, a notch above OK, but not quite up to the standards of their predecessors. I had warmer feelings toward John Wick: Chapter 4 (rent, purchase and Starz), The Equalizer 3 (rent or purchase) and Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One (rent or purchase), both of which deliver rollercoaster fun even if they aren’t the standouts of their series. My favorite of the sequel-franchise outings from this year is probably The Marvels (still in theaters; the internet predicts February as when it will land on Disney+). The Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel-focused series Ms. Marvel is the only one of those Disney+ Marvel TV shows I’ve been able to bring myself to watch all episodes of and I loved it. Though this movie, a sequel to the story of Capt. Marvel/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) and a movie introduction to adult Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), didn’t have as much Kamala and the Khans as the show, we do still get her excellent mother Muneeba (Zenobia Shroff) and we get these three women working together and learning how to be part of a team. Carol and Kamala also have some of that Tony Stark and Peter Parker mentor/mentee energy, which is cute. And there are some nice weird moments that make this feel like more than just another interlocking piece of the MCU (unlike this year’s Ant Man and Guardians of the Galaxy movies, which I found to be a slog — they’re both on Disney+ if you want to see for yourself).

• “I am the fury”: The hands down best action-packed, save-the-day movie I saw this year was not part of a major franchise but it was part of what I think of as the Nida Manzoor cinematic universe. Manzoor is the creator of the excellent TV show We Are Lady Parts (worth the price of a month of Peacock, where you can find all six episodes of the so-far sole season; it is also available for purchase). She also wrote and directed this year’s Polite Society (rent, purchase and Prime Video). Would-be stuntwoman teenage Ria (Priya Kansara) is horrified when her big sister Lena (Ritu Arya) seems to be putting aside her art to settle for a marriage to a too-perfect Salim (Akshay Khanna), son of the suspicious (but awesome in her evilness!) Raheela (Nimra Bucha).

• “Let me be normal and regular like everybody else”: There is a spectacular triple feature to be had in Barbie, Polite Society and, to kick it off, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (rent, purchase and Starz). This excellent adaptation of the Judy Blume classic features three strong performances in three stories of characters finding their way — Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson) dealing with being 12 in a new school and the horrors of “your changing body” along with big questions about religion; her mom Barbara (Rachel McAdams) trying to figure out her place as the mom of an older kid and as a newly stay-at-home mom, and Margaret’s grandma/Barbara’s mother-in-law Sylvia (Kathy Bates), whose family is no longer in the city and who has to reconstruct her life for herself. Strong work all the way around, from the acting to the story adaptation.

• “You are so not invited…”: Honorable mention in the “taking tween/young teen girls and their feelings seriously” category goes toYou Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah(Netflix), starring Adam Sandler and his real-life daughters Sadie and Sunny. The way this comedy portrays the highs and lows of 13-year-old girl friendships is smart and funny and — triggering? Let’s just say it left me very happy to be decades away from 13.

Animated: When I made my Vulture Movie Fantasy League picks (; Joe Reid of This Had Oscar Buzz runs it and it’s great fun), I found myself struggling to limit my animated films. I personally loved Nimona (Netflix), a plucky adventure with a sophisticated heart about what makes a hero and what makes a monster. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (rent, purchase and Paramount+) and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse(rent, purchase and Netflix) both feature solid storytelling and eye-catching animation that play with the visuals of their respective comic book origins. My kids loved Trolls Band Together (in theaters and available for purchase) because they love all loud, bright Trolls content and they cracked up at Leo (Netflix), the Adam Sandler-starring/co-written weird but sweet animated tale of a classroom pet lizard.

Big Important Movies: There are a fair number of Big Important Movies from the end-of-the-year rush that I haven’t caught up with yet, either because I haven’t had the nearly three hours (looking at you, Napoleon, which is still in theaters but, honestly, I’m waiting for its Apple TV+ debut in the hopefully near future) or because they only recently became available locally (Wonka, Poor Things, The Color Purple, Ferrari, ha Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom — all in theaters now) or on streaming (Maestro and Nyad on Netflix). But, if you’re looking for some serious fil-uhm, may I recommendThe Holdovers (in theaters and available for purchase), a bittersweet Alexander Payne-directed dramady starring Paul Giamatti as a seemingly unlikeable professor at a boys prep school in 1970s New England. Da’Vine Joy Randolph gives an excellent performance as a grieving mother in this “found family at Christmas” tale. Asteroid City(rent, purchase and Prime Video) is an extremely Wes Anderson Wes Anderson movie, all typewriters and rotary dial phones, that folds a stage play into a teleplay into, I don’t know, a music box of melancholy. The more I think about Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla(rent or purchase) the more impressed I am about what she’s saying about the 14-year-old girl who is pulled into Elvis Presley’s orbit. Flora and Son(Apple TV+), another movie from Once and Begin Again writer-director John Carney, is a delightful movie about a mom and teenage son working through their own life stuff and their difficult relationship with each other by making music (it is way less corny than that sounds).

My favorite of the Big Deal movies in 2023 — after Barbie, which I’d put up against auteur production — might be Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon (rent and purchase). This is not a perfect movie; it has its issues in structure, in focus and in how it tries to compensate for the struggle between the most compelling character (Lily Gladstone’s Molly) and the central characters (played by screen charisma runner-ups Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro). But Gladstone’s performance is one of the year’s best and when she’s on the screen the movie holds your attention absolutely.

2024, maybe, at the movies
With all the usual caveats about movie schedules being as unsettled as weather predictions at this point, here are some of the 2024 films I’m excited about:

Mean Girls (Jan. 12) The film adaptation of the stage musical adapted from the 2004 movie was “meh” to me until I saw the trailer; now I’m excited (and for the return of Tim Meadows and Tina Fey in their original parts, along with the addition of gym teacher Jon Hamm).
Lisa Frankenstein (Feb. 9) It’s a new Diablo Cody-penned movie!
Dune: Part Two (March 1) I guess I’ll be seeing this one — which is hopefully as visually dazzling as the Part One — on the big screen.
Kung Fu Panda 4 (March 8) Always good to have a reliable kid movie during the cabin fever part of winter.
Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire (April 12) These movies have thus far been fun.

Featured photo: Barbie.

Best books of 2023

Books that earned “A”s from Hippo reviewers in 2023


Life on Delay, by John Hendrickson

Hendrickson writes movingly of the small indignities of stuttering which stem from things that most people take for granted — the ability to place an order at a restaurant, to record a voicemail, or even introduce yourself to another person. … although the narrative is encased in difficulties which relatively few people experience, its broader theme is more universal: healing from childhood and family dysfunction.

Life on Delay … opens a window beautifully into human struggles that often go unseen. It is the rare sort of book with the potential to make us better human beings. —Jennifer Graham

Maame, by Jessica George

Maame covers all the bases of growing up with cultural barriers, without being heavy-handed or preachy. … [Maddie’s] story is often funny, and always heartfelt and engaging. —Meghan Siegler

I Have Some Questions for You, by Rebecca Makkai

When the protagonist of Rebecca Makkai’s gripping new novel is a teen, she arrives at a boarding school in New Hampshire knowing little about the school or the region.

… It would be reductive to call I Have Some Questions For You a thriller or a whodunit, although it has many components of both. … While it’s a page-turner … there are frequent mentions of real women who had violent, premature deaths, and the men responsible.

… Look for this one when the lists of the best books of 2023 emerge later this year. —J.G.

The Promise of a Normal Life, by Kaiser Gibson

The Promise of a Normal Life … is a quietly revealing character study that wields power in lyricism and detail. —J.G.

The Society of Shame, by Jane Roper

… it’s hard to imagine that there will be a smarter, sassier takedown of social media this year than The Society of Shame, Jane Roper’s merrily caustic novel about cancel culture.

… Roper is a gifted comic writer, who knows how to throw a punchline and to sustain a running gag, or two or 20. … But it is the social media cameos that make the novel so hilarious, the ever-changing, irreverent hashtags… —J.G.

After the Funeral and Other Stories, by Tessa Hadley

The 12 stories in this collection are achingly beautiful at times, and painful in places. … But women, in particular, will recognize the family dynamics for sure. —J.G.

The Last Ranger, by Peter Heller

As a writer, Heller has copious gifts of description. … But Heller’s novels are reliably gripping because they thrum quietly with tension, while slowly revealing the essence of characters who will stay with you for years. The Last Ranger … is an excellent companion for the dog days of summer, especially for anyone who is more comfortable outside than in. —J.G.

Save What’s Left, by Elizabeth Castellano

This is not a tragedy … but pure comedy, a book-length stand-up routine with a punchline every few minutes.

… Castellano set out to write an anti-beach read, meaning one that slyly makes fun of typical beach reads while exaggerating the foibles of beach town life. She does this spectacularly. She also is a master of hilarious apropos-of-nothing asides….

Save What’s Left is a romp in the sun and sand…. It’s all fun, especially if you’ve ever loved a beach town, or thought about moving to one. —J.G.

Happiness Falls, by Angie Kim

A less skilled writer could have taken the bare bones of this story and turned out a Hollywood thriller. But Kim makes it next-level by incorporating research on happiness…. And the novel is deeply researched on the subject of people who are unable to speak, because of severe autism or other disorders.

Happiness Falls is both an engrossing mystery and a family drama with multiple layers of complexity.

Happiness Falls delivers, maybe not happiness, but a novel you can get lost in…. —J.G.

Mr. Texas, by Lawrence Wright

A Dallas native who lives in Austin, Wright has said he come up with the character of Sonny Lamb more than two decades ago, and what is now Mr. Texas had earlier lives as a failed screenplay, a failed HBO pilot and even a failed musical. Which is fine, because it’s now a first-rate novel.

This is no Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the classic 1939 film starring Jimmy Stewart, but it’s a version for our time, at least in book form. —J.G.

The Good Part, by Sophie Cousens

The Good Part is the perfect combination of thought-provoking and funny, and the characters are loveable and real. It’s a stellar example of what women’s fiction has the potential to be. —M.S.


Dinner with the President, by Alex Prud’homme

… Prud’homme has figured out how to make American history fascinating: tell stories connecting it to food. If my old high school history textbook, The American Pageant, is still in use, Dinner with the President should replace it immediately. —J.G.

Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma, by Claire Dederer

The question of what we should do with the art of problematic people has come up regularly in recent years, and nobody seems to have a good answer. Dederer … attempts to craft one in Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma…. … Dederer is like a dinner guest you don’t want to stop talking because she’s so well-read and interesting … and her writing is delightful and fresh. —J.G.

All the Beauty in the World, by Patrick Bringley

In conversations with visitors to the [Metropolitan Museum of Art], and with his coworkers, he brings us fully into the job [as a guard] with him, letting us see through the eyes of first-time and regular visitors the effect that the ancient art has on them. —J.G.

How to Survive History, by Cody Cassidy

It’s fanciful, of course, and a tad silly, but Cassidy comes to the task with a surprising gravitas and the right mix of ‘yes, this is kind of crazy’ but also ‘this is serious stuff, pay attention.’

… Cassidy owns ‘humor history’ and it’s top-notch for the genre. —J.G.

Better Living Through Birding, by Christian Cooper

Fame that erupts on social media is often fleeting and unearned. Christian Cooper is the rare exception–his is a story worth telling, and in this memoir he does so exceptionally well. —J.G.

The Heat Will Kill You First, by Jeff Goodell

… there’s no disputing that Goodell is an engaging writer at the top of his game. He’s like the love child of Ed Yong and James Patterson, with a little bit of Rachel Carson thrown in, which is to say he writes science-based, dystopian thrillers.

Goodell, a longtime writer for Rolling Stone, is a pro at the dialogue-rich narrative style that keeps readers turning pages. —J.G.

Elon Musk, by Walter Isaacson

Whether you admire or loathe him, Musk is one of the most consequential people on the planet, and Walter Isaacson, formerly head of Time and CNN, does a masterful job explaining why in his exhaustive new biography.

Isaacson’s prose is sparse; he lets his subjects and interviewees do the talking, and they all had plenty to say. —J.G.

Class, by Stephanie Land

Class, by Stephanie Land (Atria, 272 pages)

Stephanie Land’s dream of becoming a writer came through in a big way in 2019 when she published Maid, a memoir about working as a house cleaner for people who were clearly some of the worst human beings on the planet. The book landed at a time of increasing concern about income inequality, and the single mother’s stories about scrubbing other people’s toilets to pay the bills struck a chord; it was a New York Times bestseller, was adapted for a Netflix series and praised by former President Barack Obama as one of the best books of the year.

Land is now back with Class, subtitled “a memoir of motherhood, hunger and higher education.” Because of the success of Maid, it was immediately chosen for the Good Morning America book club and will no doubt enjoy commercial success. Unfortunately, it’s an Eeyore of a book, gloomy and resentful, which detracts from the social messages that Land wants to convey.

She begins in familiar territory, which can best be described as “He done me wrong.” The predominant “he” in this case is the father of her child, Jamie, who readers of Maid will remember had little interest in being a husband or father, and who, according to Land, is the cause of many of her struggles. At the beginning of the book, he has, for example, abruptly said that he will not be able to take their daughter, Emilia, for the summer, as had been arranged. This left Land scrambling to find the vast amounts of child care that she needs because (a) she has to work, fair enough, but also (b) she is enrolled in college, a longtime dream that is contributing to her financial problems in a big way: She will soon graduate $50,000 in debt.

On top of that, she’s planning on getting a master of fine arts. “Writing,” she says, “the real writing that mattered, was meant to be done without cartoons blaring in the background and someone asking for pancakes.”
There’s nothing wrong with ambition, except for the fact that Land’s young daughter seems to be standing in the way of everything her mother wants to do. She’s 5 and is the most sympathetic character in this book. She has a father who’s constantly canceling on her — saying he can’t see her because he has to work — and a mother who keeps leaving her with babysitters or because she has to work. Children tend to love their parents no matter what, and so Emilia is not resentful like her mother, even as she gets sent to detention for being late to school, and has people fail to pick her up when Land forgets it’s an early release day.

Meanwhile, Land has many bones to pick here, not just the grievances she has with her ex, starting with her family. Her mother, she writes, resigned from parenting when Land was 21, moving to Europe to be with a new love. Her father, Land says, was not helpful at all when she called him to say she needed help paying for child care, asking if he would ask his sister to pay or contribute. The aunt is another Bad Person. “In my early twenties, she got upset over people not being grateful enough for the gifts she bought for Christmas,” Land writes. “Ever since, we received a few pairs of socks from her instead. In her defense, they were nice socks.”

Ouch. It is that kind of zinger that makes us want to put Land at arm’s length as she continues with her story of woe, lest she find something bad about us to write in her next memoir. In Land’s world, most everyone is unhelpful and unpleasant, from the guidance counselor at the University of Montana-Missoula to the judge who considers her request for a child support modification and deems her “voluntarily underemployed.”

As in Maid, Land seeks to roll back the assorted indignations of the working poor, those who, for whatever reason, are at the mercy of student loans and credit card payments, with every dollar allotted, and then some, and little more than peanut butter and grape jam in the pantry. Along the way, she wants to take away the stigma of single mothers not being “enough” for their children without a partner. And she writes movingly of trying to date with a child: “Having a kid and trying to date felt equivalent to hanging a wedding dress in my closet and bringing it out to show a person when they picked me up for the first time. Men no longer saw me as a lighthearted dating prospect. They looked at me and I could almost see the reflection of white picket fences and family dinners at five thirty in their eyes.”

But as Land rolls through her days of struggling to take care of her daughter while working and going to school (and at this point, she’s starting to shop around stories that would eventually comprise Maid), it can be difficult to sustain sympathy for her as she gets pregnant again (without being able to identify the father) and applies for another credit card. The people close to her who dare to question her choices get knifed. When one woman, who is giving Land a ride home because her car has died, says, “I’m worried you’re not making good decisions here,” Land writes about “concern trolling,” which she said wasn’t actual concern but “an opportunity to act as if they knew better than me.”

At one point, Emilia, whose tender heart has been broken by her father multiple times, says to her occasional male babysitter and her mother’s roommate, “Are you going to be my new dad?” The answer is no, but she will learn that she’s going to be a big sister, right about the time her mom learns that she’s no longer eligible for food stamps because Emilia has turned 6 (the SNAP formula says Land was able to work full-time then even though the school day was six hours). Not surprisingly, the child asks who the father of her soon-to-be little sister is. Land replies, “There’s no dad, or he’s not around anyway. The baby is just ours.”

That’s a sweet sentiment, which seems to set the little family up for happiness in the future. And despite the ongoing fight with her ex over child support, which seems to be the primary conflict the book is built around, we know how this story ends, or at least we do if we follow Land on social media. No longer a victim of men and circumstance, she is hailed as a voice of the underclass, a champion of those who are being trampled on by late-stage capitalism and predatory colleges and lenders. Nothing wrong with that — but the question remains: is this book, and her writing generally, substantially better for her $50,000 college debt? We’ll never know, nor are we allowed to ask. B-

Album Reviews 23/12/28

Morbid Saint, Swallowed By Hell (HR Records)

Still a lot of metal in the pipeline, folks, so let’s look at some of it, specifically from this Wisconsin band. This one comes to us “more than 30 years after their second LP, ‘Destruction System,’ was recorded but not finished, only to be officially published recently.” And so they’ve been very not-busy of late, these fellas, but the only thing that resulted from their hilariously long hiatus is that, well darn, they’ve gotten pretty good, to be honest. If you’ve ever really loved Slayer you’ll like this for sure; singer Pat Lind is still on board, tabling Tom Araya dead-ringer soundalike bellowing. The title track is rooted in Aughts-era black metal, which I’m sure you’ll want playing in your baby’s nursery; “Bloody Floors” is power metal, and such and so. They’ve got a great sound if you like this kind of thing. A

Mary Tominy, Untame The Tiger (Merge Records)

This Washington, D.C., lady has been a fixture in the indie-rawk world for 30 years, playing with such bands as garage-pop power trio Ex Hex and post-punk troupe Autoclave. Although her voice is still a bit awkward, she’s refined her style to a really noticeable degree; if you stick with album opener “No Thirds,” you’ll encounter some really stunning symphonics that put her in the same ballpark as Natalie Merchant. It’s jangly, vaguely hopeful and easily accessible. “Summer” comes off like a Versus A-side, which means it has no commercial hope whatsoever, not that that’s a bad thing of course, but in the meantime she does add something of a Sheryl Crow break to it. “Looking For The Sun” is pretty trippy, for sure; imagine Chrissie Hynde going through a ’70s Donovan phase, is how I’d put it. Overall she’s aging like a fine wine that won’t appeal to all palates, not that she cares about that by now, I’m sure. A


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Yay, groan, New Year’s Eve is on the way, one of my least favorite days of the year, when my Grinch heart has to endure people looking all happy awaiting the mass amateur drinking contest that is the reason for the season, and we marrieds stay up until midnight, pretending to be relevant for whatever reason, watching all the Dua Lipas and Ricky Martins as they honk their Who-Flonkas and bash their Who-Bombas, and then they’ll sing and sing and sing, and then comes the thing I hate worst of all, watching Ryan Seacrest and Anderson Cooper doing their potted houseplant imitations while wearing actual ties in order to “check in” on concerts from Poppy and Taylor Swift and the Beibs or whatnot, which is of course your kids’ cue to run to their rooms in order to avoid catching a bad case of “Responsible Adult Cooties,” where they’ll listen to death metal and crunk and text their little friends about things you really don’t want to know about. I have no idea why we celebrate New Year’s Day; I mean, it’s the last gasp of the holidays that started on Halloween with everyone dressing up as sexytime monsters and rolls of paper towels or whatever they do, so really, what’s to celebrate? It’s just going to be freezing and slushy for the next few months, and all that New Year’s alcohol will be long worn-off by February. But let’s put that aside for a second while I take a look at the (I’m so sure) tons of new albums coming out on Dec. 29. If there are two I’ll be lucky to get through this column, maybe by riffing on a few other things, like the fact that I couldn’t find actual candy canes for my HannuKwanzzMas tree literally anywhere for a day or so. Right, right, what do we have here, literally no albums except for stompy German band Lord Of The Lost, whose stupidly titled covers album, Weapons Of Mass Seduction, is on its way! These goth-metal frauds like to dress up like the glittery, certifiably crazy dude in The Cell, and in this one they cover songs from Billy Idol, Bronski Beat, Judas Priest and — well, you know, Sia, because those bands always have to do stuff like that. The teaser single is a Rammstein-ized version of Cutting Crew’s “I Just Died In Your Arms” that’s just as bad as you’re imagining it, like they have a girl singer who has all the nuance and originality of a McDonald’s french fry, and the male singer just sings the same nonsense an octave lower than her, and there are ’80s synths in there. Ack, let’s move on, if there’s any place to move on to.

• Ack, ack, it’s another metal band, called Dominum, with their new one, Hey Living People, but you know who’ll want to know about this is famous local author and friend of the Hippo Dan Szczesny, because the leader of this euro-trash band used to be in the symphonic-metal band Visions of Atlantis. This band’s trip is sort of like a zombie-centric version of Abney Park, with zombie stuff instead of steampunk stuff. “Patient Zero” is awesome if you like bad acting and (actually good) sympho-metal.

• Ten years ago Irish indie-folkie Ciaran Lavery didn’t get enough attention for his album Not Nearly Dark, so he has re-rubbed the whole thing under the title Not Nearly Dark (10 Years Later). It’s stupid that the Bonnaroo crowd didn’t get into him, he’s like a cross between Jeff Buckley and Rod Stewart, so snooze on him this time, that’d be great.

• We’ll end the last column of 2023 (good riddance, am I right?) with Mexican oi band Malcría! This one is tough and loud and punkish, and it’s titled Fantasías Histéricas, which even I could roughly translate.

West 75th

New Year’s Eve is supposed to be a romantic holiday. In my experience, it’s a little over-hyped. The best New Year’s Eve I ever had was when I was 8 years old. I was being babysat by an older cousin. At midnight we went outside and honked the horn of my uncle’s car, then went back inside and ate buttered noodles.

I might be jaded about New Year’s, because I’ve never been invited to a swanky party.

Be that as it may, when it comes to romance, nothing holds a candle to NASA.

The Mars rover Opportunity was launched in June 1993 and landed on the surface of Mars seven months later. It was one of a pair of rovers sent on that mission; its twin, Spirit, was sent to the opposite side of the planet. The two rovers took geological samples and surveys, made measurements and took photographs.

The mission was supposed to last 90 days, but through a combination of superb engineering and mind-bogglingly good luck the two probes kept working long past the point anyone had dreamed they could. After five years Spirit got mired in dust and couldn’t move anymore, but Opportunity kept going month after month, for a staggering 14 years.

Eventually, after operating for 57 times its designed lifespan, Opportunity wound down. Before the ground team at NASA ended its mission in 2018, they broadcast one final message to Opportunity.

They played Billie Holiday’s 1944 recording of “I’ll Be Seeing You”.

It’s the most romantic damn thing I’ve ever heard of. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it.

Does this have anything to do with New Year’s Eve?

Not particularly, except that much like Opportunity, most of us have lasted much longer than we’ve had any right to expect. And as we look back over the past year and wonder if we’ve accomplished anything or not, the mere fact that we are still here is a little miracle, and if we’re very lucky, some of us have someone to play Billie Holiday for us.

And whether we’re at a swanky party or eating buttered noodles, it’s a good occasion for a fancy New Year’s cocktail.

West 75th Cocktail

  • 1 ounce apple brandy – I like Laird’s Applejack
  • ½ ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • ½ ounce Chambord raspberry liqueur
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • 3 ounces Lambrusco, chilled – Lambrusco is a sparkling Italian red or blush wine. It’s a little sweet, so many wine enthusiasts can be a bit sniffy about it, but I like it, and it was made for this cocktail

Combine the brandy, Chambord, lemon juice and bitters with ice in a cocktail shaker. Swirl and shake to chill.

Strain into a Champagne flute.

Top with Lambrusco.

If you are alone, sip, while listening to “I’ll Be Seeing You.” It’s OK to cry. If you are at a party, sip, while playing “Tiny Bubbles” by Don Ho. The other guests will be confused but incredibly impressed when you sing the chorus in Hawaiian.

Lambrusco leans toward the fruity side of sparkling wine, which pairs well with the apple brandy. The apple brandy might make this drink a little too boozy-tasting, but the Chambord pulls it back to berry notes. That might make it a tiny bit too sweet, but the lemon juice and bitters pull everything back into line. This cocktail is a balancing act that succeeds like a pretty girl on a tightrope juggling knives.\

It’s a very small miracle, like Billie Holiday, buttered noodles, or a happy, sleeping space robot.

Featured photo: West 75th. Photo by John Fladd.

New year, new meals

The Culinary Playground offers new cooking classes

Looking to eat healthier, save money by eating out less, or just pick up a new hobby in the new year? The Culinary Playground, a recreational cooking school in Derry, teaches the essential skill of cooking through classes, camps and parties on everything from bread making to cake decorating, making homemade pasta and more with new classes coming in the new year.

“We offer classes from 3 years old all the way through adulthood,” said Kristen Chinosi, the owner of the business. “It is still very relevant [and] very popular. Everyone recognizes that cooking is an essential skill for … well-being and I think any struggles that we had during the pandemic actually helped to reinforce the importance of knowing how to sustain yourself when you can’t go out to restaurants or maybe you don’t have the ingredients that you need at the grocery store.”

The Culinary Playground offers group classes, private classes, couples classes, and single or series classes that take place over multiple weeks. One such class is the artisan bread series that will run for three Sundays starting Jan. 28, 2024. Students will learn and practice the fundamentals and techniques of bread making and baking through the crafting of a wheat sandwich loaf, a boule, an olive rosemary loaf, a cranberry walnut loaf and lastly a sourdough.

“We’re really excited to offer this new class,” Chinosi said. “What’s great about [it] is it makes it very accessible. There’s a lot of variations ….”

For all of the breads, aside from sourdough in the final class, participants will start entirely from scratch. Since sourdough takes a long time to make, the dough will be made prior and ready at the start of class for students to score and bake, and students will begin a starter to take home and finish later.

“What we pride ourselves on and differentiates us from some other cooking schools is that we are very hands-on,” Chionsi said. “Each student is seeing the process from start to finish. We don’t often have ingredients premeasured or premixed for them; they’re getting their hands involved from Step 1.”

The same is true for the mini chefs class, where children are encouraged to work independently, with the help of parents when needed, counting, sorting, measuring ingredients and cutting them with scissors.

“The parents are always pretty astounded by what their kid is capable of,” Chinosi said. “Obviously we’re in the kitchen, so safety is top priority.”

Returning in the new year is the Intro to Mediterranean Diet, a popular single-day class for adults led by a registered dietitian with dates on Sundays, Jan. 14 and Feb. 18. Another well-liked class that is set to return after slowing down during Covid is a meal prep class.

“We’ve been excited to get it back on the calendar because people are very interested in that with the busy work life schedule,” Chinosi said. “The biggest deterrent to eating healthy is convenience … so a key to the success of more healthy eating is to be prepared.”

The Culinary Playground
Where: 16 Manning St., Suite 105, Derry

Tasty treats and comfort eats

A look back at the dishes of 2023

We asked some local food experts to talk about their year in food.

While she has been baking all her life, 2023 marked two years in the bakery business for Lindsey Bangs of I Whisked It, specializing in custom cakes, cupcakes and cake jars as well as hot chocolate bombs with homemade marshmallows for the winter season. Here’s how the year went for her.

What was the most delicious thing you made in 2023?

That has to be my apple cider doughnut cake! [This was] the biggest experiment/surprise of the year for me. It is an apple cider doughnut flavored cake, coated in cinnamon sugar with layers of apple filling and cinnamon buttercream. I knew it would be good but I had no idea how good! It’s everything I love about cider doughnuts in the fall but in flavor-packed cake form.

What was the most delicious dish or meal you had from another New Hampshire food business in 2023?

The Kang Luang from Daw Kun Thai in Manchester, which is a chicken curry dish with pineapple. It is always so fresh, filling without being heavy and is the perfect blend of sweet and spicy for me!

What are you most looking forward to in 2024?

My husband and I are planning a vacation for 2024 and I’m looking forward to trying new meals and desserts. Whenever we travel I always find inspiration to bring home and incorporate into my cakes.

Ann Marie Baril of Pastry Dream cooks up individual-size pastries with flavors like ginger spice cake, lemon raspberry, chocolate peanut butter, cheesecake and more. Here’s what Baril has been up to this year and what plans she has for the new year.

What was the most delicious thing you made in 2023?

We transformed our original Chocolate Dream by topping with chopped pecans and coconut. Really yummy.

What was the most delicious dish or meal you had from another New Hampshire food business in 2023?

My delicious meal was at the Sea Ketch in Hampton. The view is spectacular and the clam chowder, scallops and clams were perfect for a birthday dinner.

What are you most looking forward to in 2024?

We are looking forward to working with local caterers to provide our delicious desserts for functions, parties and special events.

With an ever-changing menu, Kerry Fay isalways cooking up something new in Kerry’s Culinary Creations & Curb Appeal Meals Food Truck — with tacos, paninis and sliders being staples — and 2023 was no exception.

What was the most delicious thing you made in 2023?

The one most delicious thing I made is a hard choice. I guess my favorites were probably the items that weren’t as common on my regular menu. Most people in the kitchen will tell you that eating the same things, no matter how delicious they are, will get boring after a while. So my tops for this past year, in no particular order, [are] falafel taco made young green chickpeas, tahini sauce [and] Asian coleslaw; chili lime butter shrimp taco with avocado sauce, cotija cheese and slaw; and gnocchi stuffed with Asiago cheese in a cream sauce with roasted shallots, roasted butternut squash topped with bacon and shaved Parmesan.

What was the most delicious dish or meal you had from another New Hampshire food business in 2023?

The most delicious thing I had from another food place is also difficult, as I have several places [and] things I love. [One is] brisket from Up in Your Grill food truck. [It’s] tender and dry-rubbed [and] yummy! [I] hate it when it’s still chewy or when it completely disintegrates, [and] this stuff is spot on. [I] also love the bibimbap from Street in Portsmouth. This is such a satisfying meal with your choice of protein and all the perfectly cooked veggies, and their house-made gochujang sauce is outstanding. Kume sushi in Seabrook, Kashmir Indian in Salem, pretzel bread and delicious burger at Sawbelly in Exeter, wings and beer at Smuttynose in Hampton [are] also my go-to places.

What are you most looking forward to in 2024?

What I’m looking forward to most in 2024 is slowing down a little bit and having more time outdoors and with friends and family.

In 2022 Abbey Morrison transitioned her meal prep business into Fresh Chef Press, a cafe on Canal Street in Manchester, along with her friend Shauri Gilo-Oquendo, with the intention of making food that is as nutritious as it is delicious. Here’s what Morrison had to say about Fresh Chef Press’s second year in business.

What was the most delicious thing you made in 2023?

Our Cherry Garcia smoothie we had launched in February as our monthly special was hands down the best thing we created this year. The special was planned to end March 1; however, customers loved the smoothie so much they ordered it all the way into May until we finally put a stop to it, allowing our other monthly specials to shine. The Cherry Garcia smoothie was eye-appealing, nutritious, flavorful and nostalgic all in one sip.

What was the most delicious dish or meal you had from another New Hampshire food business in 2023?

The best meal we had from another New Hampshire food business in 2023 came from Campo Enoteca. Their Pistachio Pesto entree with local cream and homemade tagliatelle is to die for. We love that the dish is made farm to table (similar to what we represent). The dish provides a mouth-watering effect, leaving you wanting more with each bite. We haven’t come across anything else like it!

What are you most looking forward to in 2024?

In 2024 we are looking forward to expanding our menu and opening our consumers’ palates, providing both a nutritious and delicious experience.

Food in 2024
Here are some events to look out for in early 2024.

Winemaker’s dinner
When: Friday, Jan. 19, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Zorvino Vineyards, 226 Main St., Sandown
Cost: $85

Willy Wonka Wine Pairing Dinner
When: Saturday, Jan. 27, 6:30 to 9 p.m.
Where: LaBelle Winery, 14 Route 111, Derry
Cost: $85

Cookie decorating
When: Tuesday, Jan. 23, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Where: Station 101, 193 Union Square, Milford
Cost: $70

17th annual Chocolate Madness Wine Pairing Dinner
When: Thursday, Feb. 1, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Zorvino Vineyards, 226 Main St., Sandown
Cost: $85

Ice bar
When: launches on Friday, Feb. 26
Where: The Wentworth, 1 Carter Notch Road, Jackson Village

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