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My affinity for the written word is no secret. I’ve been reviewing books in these pages for coming up on 15 years now, and I was a voracious reader even before it became part of my job.

I have my favorites, of course – who doesn’t? Anyone who spends significant time turning pages has authors whose work they find particularly appealing. And it’s always exciting when one of your favorites has a new book coming out.

But there’s something even more exciting than that – when TWO of your favorites EACH have a new book coming out.

Such is the case for me here in mid-May, when two authors whose work I very much enjoy have new novels dropping within a week of one another.

On May 10, Chris Bohjalian’s newest book “The Lioness” was published by Doubleday. It’s a sharp and propulsive work of historical fiction revolving around mid-century Hollywood types and a safari gone horribly wrong, with each chapter moving from character perspective to character perspective and featuring Bohjalian’s trademark meticulousness of research. It’s a real adventure of a read.

On May 17, literary clown prince Christopher Moore’s latest “Razzmatazz” dropped courtesy of William Morrow. A sequel to Moore’s excellent 2018 novel “Noir,” this one is also set in the past – post-WWII San Francisco, where we get to enjoy the continuing adventures of Sammy Tiffin, bartender and reluctant hero, as he tries to solve a mystery and save himself and his friends. Weird and laugh-out-loud funny.

(Our full reviews of "The Lioness" and "Razzmatazz" are available.)

Now, this isn’t the first time that I’ve had two authors I admire release works so close together. So what makes this instance so special – special enough that I’ve chosen to make it our cover story for this week?

BELFAST – A beloved keystone of Maine’s musical landscape is back.

The All Roads Music Festival is making its return to Belfast, bringing together scores of Maine musicians in celebration of the state’s vibrant music scene. The festival takes place over two days – May 20 and 21 – and features some of the very best that Maine has to offer. Unfolding across four different venues, All Roads promises to be a great time for any music lover. Tickets and more information can be obtained at the festival’s website at www.allroadsmusicfest.org.

The previous All Roads – the fifth in all – took place back in 2019. The circumstances of the pandemic meant that both the 2020 and 2021 incarnations of the festival were cancelled. Now, we’re just days away from the return here in 2022.

And as per usual, it’s a hell of a bill.

There are bands and artists familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of Maine’s current scene. We’re talking Lady Lamb, The Mallett Brothers Band, Dave Gutter, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers – talented, inventive musicians bringing their immense gifts together as part of the full-on sonic celebration that is All Roads.

There will be music from across all genres – whatever you like, you’re almost certainly going to be able to find it on one festival stage or another. In addition, All Roads is playing host to the always-wildly-successful Maine Songwriters Circle, where a group of talented songwriters get together and share a little of their collected collective wisdom.

Now, this isn’t to say that EVERY act is from Maine – there are some outliers here and there – but the reality is that even those that are “from away” are very much in keeping with the spirit of camaraderie that marks this event. It’s a spirit that is even more apparent in the can-do attitude of getting back to business after two years.

That’s right – it’s that time again!

Now, you might well be thinking “A summer movie preview? But it’s only the beginning of May!” And that’s totally understandable because, well … it’s only the beginning of May.

However, there’s no disputing that the theatrical release calendar has shifted significantly in recent years. We’ve been seeing more traditional “summer” movies get their release in May (and there are a bunch of those this year) and fewer in the mid-to-late August release dates. This means that we have a lot more May movies to talk about (but we will get to a handful of August offerings as well).

What this means is that summer movie previews have become very much an early May phenomenon – one which I am wholeheartedly embracing.

As for why this specific week, it’s simple – there’s an MCU movie hitting that first weekend, and honestly, Marvel’s late spring/early summer entry has become the de facto start of blockbuster season. Just one more way in which Kevin Feige and company have essentially taken command of the industry writ large.

So here we are – 22 movies for the summer of 2022. Now, it should be noted that there are plenty of eagerly anticipated offerings coming to us by way of the various streaming services as well. However, while many of those films match the studio movies in scope, ambition and cost, I’ll be focusing on theatrical releases here (though when there is a day-and-date streaming release as well, I will be sure to note it).

And with that – let’s go to the movies!

For many of us, puzzles are a part of our daily lives.

Every day, millions of people dedicate time and energy to solving puzzles. Whether we’re talking about word-based puzzles like crosswords and cryptics or mechanical puzzles like Rubik’s Cubes and Japanese puzzle boxes, there are people out there devoting their leisure to finding solutions. Chess problems and riddles and jigsaw puzzles – the list goes on and on. If you’re so inclined, there’s a type of puzzle out there for just about everyone.

And A.J. Jacobs decided to try just as many as he could.

Those attempts have resulted in a new book, titled “The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life” (Crown, $28) and currently available wherever books are sold. It’s an effort to delve into not just his own deep, lifelong connection to puzzles, but also to the world in which puzzlers operate; he runs the gamut of genres, all to explore just what it is that attracts us to puzzles and the value that that attraction can add to other aspects of our lives.

It's the latest work of participatory nonfiction from Jacobs, who has previously penned such books as “The Year of Living Biblically” and “Thanks a Thousand.” He spent years traveling the world, engaging with elite puzzlers – makers and solvers alike – to help bring to light the low-key obsession that so many people share, the ongoing quest for that “aha” moment that is in many ways unique to puzzling.

(You can find our full review of "The Puzzler" here.)

Jacobs was kind enough to carve out some time from his busy schedule to join me over Zoom for a freewheeling conversation about the book, about puzzles and about why so many people are enamored with a hobby built upon the struggles inherent to our participation in it.

It’s almost that time of year when intrepid music lovers everywhere line up outside their favorite indie music store to be among the first to gain access to some of the hundreds of specially prepared releases for Record Store Day. The 15th edition of the special event, which started in Maine and has spread to 1,400 independent music stores around the world, is set for Saturday, April 23. A second drop of goodies is scheduled for June 18.

The concept for Record Store Day originated with Chris Brown, CFO for Bull Moose Music’s eight Maine locations and three in New Hampshire.

Record Store Day was designed from the outset as a fan-focused event by offering a vast selection of limited-edition releases and allowing each store to build their own events around the day, including live in-store performances.

Ten-time Grammy winner Bonnie Raitt is scheduled to appear at a Q&A event at Bull Moose in Scarborough on Record Store Day, in advance of her sold-out concert that evening at Merrill Auditorium with special guests NRBQ. The event will be streamed live on Facebook.

Because in-person space will be limited for the Bonnie Raitt event, Bull Moose is using a lottery system. More information can be found on the Bull Moose website and social media pages.

In January, Record Store Day announced mega-selling artist Taylor Swift as the event’s first global ambassador. Swift has been a longtime supporter of independent music stores. She sent boxes of signed copies of her CD “Folklore” to indie stores around the country during the pandemic which were soon snapped up by fans as word spread.

“The places where we go to browse and explore and discover music new and old have always been sacred to me,” Swift said in a press release. “Record stores are so important because they help to perpetuate and foster music-loving as a passion.”

Coinciding with the 15th edition of RSD is the publication of “Record Store Day: The Most Improbable Comeback of the 21st Century,” a new book by Larry Jaffee containing the complete history of RSD with input from Chris Brown and other RSD figureheads and musicians, not to mention members of the record store community.

“The book gives you the story of Record Store Day, what I was thinking when I thought of it, how it grew and who the people are behind the scenes who made it happen,” Brown said.

A special 12x12 version of the book comes with a vinyl album (limited to 1,100 copies) containing songs recorded at record stores by Paul McCartney, Pearl Jam, Metallica and Imagine Dragons among others – including one recorded by Regina Spektor at Bull Moose in Scarborough in 2005.

Brown, the book’s author and a couple of other RSD bigwigs all signed the deluxe edition of the book.

In recent years Brown produced a number of very popular Record Store Day-themed videos called “Record Time with Chris,” where he would discuss various releases from the RSD list while also showing their cover art.

Brown is now putting that energy toward a new radio show for Portland station 102.9 WBLM that will premiere Saturday from 9-11 a.m. with a Record Store Day theme.

Brown’s first show will feature an interview with John Densmore, former drummer for The Doors. Densmore, a longtime supporter of Record Store Day, conducted an in-store autograph signing at Bull Moose in Scarborough during Record Store Day in 2013.

Monday, 11 April 2022 13:58

A tale of two (very different) reality shows

Written by Mike Dow

Reality TV fans have no shortage of options at the present and when it comes to first run drama, laughs, tears, food, true crime, animals, history, sci-fi or travel, the team at Discovery+ has some particularly entertaining unscripted viewing vying for your attention.

The Discovery+ streaming service is a one-stop viewing behemoth containing first run programs and entire multi-season libraries for shows appearing on Discovery, Animal Planet, Food Network, History, TLC, Travel Channel, HGTV, ID, OWN, Magnolia Network, A&E, Lifetime, The Dodo, and more.

This story focuses on two very different reality series currently underway with new seasons on Discovery+. What do they have in common? Juicy drama, mud-flinging, and lots of laughter and tears.

Monday, 04 April 2022 15:29

Play ball! A 2022 MLB season preview

Written by Allen Adams

Believe it or not, Opening Day is almost upon us.

In just a few days, Major League Baseball will hit the field for the start of the 2022 season. Sure, it’s a little later than it might have been, thanks to the still-inexplicable lockout that resulted in an offseason packed with uncertainty only to land on a meet-in-the-middle compromise that probably should have been reached back in December, but whatever. We’re getting baseball!

The bat will still crack. The glove will still pop. Blazing fastballs and towering home runs will be abundant. Familiar faces will display their usual excellence and unknowns will display unexpected transcendence. And for the more data-driven – the numbers will continue to tell you the truth. The joy of that part of baseball is that there will ALWAYS be more numbers.

We all love it for different reasons.

So we’ll see if the Atlanta Braves can become the first back-to-back World Series winners in a generation. We’ll see what two-way talent Shohei Ohtani does to follow up on an MVP year. Can Bryce Harper win his second MVP in a row and third overall? What about Cy Young winners Robbie Ray and Corbin Burnes? We’ll find out which young phenoms are the real deal and which are fool’s gold, which long-timers are out of gas or still have a little left in the tank.

And so, in my ongoing futile quest to look ahead at what is to come, here is one man’s opinion on how the upcoming season might play out. One thing is for certain: there will be some surprises. There always are. Baseball is back, folks – better late than never.

Play ball!

(Division winners = x; Wild Card = y)

Monday, 28 March 2022 15:06

Bangor’s Renaissance dog!

Written by Allen Adams

BANGOR – My dog Stella is a good girl. The best girl, really.

And this isn’t just because she is an adorable little Carolina dog – although she is that. It isn’t because she’s friendly and loving and more than a little weird – although she is those things as well.

No, it’s because over the past few years, Stella has reached for the stars in ways that few (if any) non-animated dogs ever have. Over the course of the past handful (pawful?) of years, she has achieved greatness in a variety of seemingly unrelated fields. She has shined with a bright intellectual excellence that is unmatched by any of her fellow canines.

I’ve shared Stella’s accomplishments in these pages many times over the years. Granted, my initial efforts were disguised in an effort to maintain some degree of privacy – and besides, there are some stories that you know will prove difficult to believe even as you tell them – but I have still chronicled a number of her stellar doings in print and online.

I’ve decided that the time has finally come for me – us – to lay it all on the table. It is time for us to lay out the tremendous talents of this singular canine once and for all, for all the world to see.

It is time for me to officially introduce you to Bangor’s Renaissance dog.

We’ll start with the ongoing project with which you’re all likely the most familiar.

The time has come once more for Hollywood to celebrate the best and brightest of the cinematic year.

The timeline is still a bit wonky, due to the ever-shifting circumstances of the ongoing pandemic. This year’s awards – set to take place on March 27 – are happening about a month later than they traditionally have (though they’re a month earlier than what we got in 2021).

And as always, I’m here to offer up my thoughts.

This is the 94th edition of Hollywood’s favorite awards show. It’s also the 15th time I’ve offered up my Oscars predictions, if you can believe that. You might think that after 15 years, I know what I’m doing. And maybe I do. Well, to an extent anyway. I’ve gotten pretty good at working out who is going to win. But the real joy of these awards is that there are always going to be some surprises. You just never know … and that’s a big part of the fun.

Here are my picks. I’ve gone in-depth on the big-ticket categories and included winners for all the others (including the categories that have been removed – shamefully so, I might add – from the live broadcast).

As always, here’s my disclaimer: these are my predictions as to who WILL win, as opposed to my feelings about who SHOULD win. There will always be a degree of disconnect, though that degree varies from year to year.

Let’s hit the red carpet.

BANGOR – One of our region’s most wonderful and unique offerings is making a return after a two-year hiatus.

That’s right – the Maine Science Festival is back, baby!

Too often, we view “science” in narrow and otherwise reductive ways. We get too specific about what we believe qualifies and don’t allow ourselves to really widen the scope of what science actually is. Because that’s the thing – science is EVERYWHERE. Science plays an active part in so many aspects of our lives; no matter where you look, science is present.

And the MSF is here to help you broaden your horizons.

This year’s MSF takes place from March 16-20 at various locations in the area. Scores of events devoted to celebrating science will be happening all over, and while some will explore topics that fall into our more traditional categorizations of science, others will really take flight and illustrate just how deeply science is integrated into our lives.

It’s going to be so much fun, you guys.

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