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Greg Peters, executive chef of Georgia James, will host his longtime mentor, famed Snackbar chef Vishwesh Bhatt, for a four-course dinner event in celebration of Bhatt’s first cookbook, I Am From Here: Stories and Recipes from a Southern Chef. Diners will enjoy recipes cooked by Bhatt from his book.

Fort Bend County Libraries presents Book Fest

Fort Bend County Libraries’ Book Fest will feature several workshops designed to encourage aspiring writers of all ages and genres, from prose and poetry to comics. Creative and inspiring programs are planned for child and teen writers, as well as adults. Participants may attend the whole day, or they can choose which individual session(s) they would like to attend.

Dr. Stephen Klineberg, Rice University professor and author of the urban biography Prophetic City: Houston on the Cusp of a Changing America, joins the festival as the keynote speaker.

Houston Writing Guild will present a workshop on publishing and marketing one’s book. A session on “The Secret History of Gaming” will share the secret educational skills behind games such as Magic: the Gathering and Pokémon Trading Card Game.

Local author Liara Tamani will share her experiences as a YA (Young Adult) author and BIPOC creator. Children’s author Valerie Sweeten will lead a writing workshop for children who would like to become writers.

Tabitha Voight, who coordinates the Story Spinners Writing Club and NaNoWriMo events at George Memorial Library, will lead a writing workshop for all ages on how to take an idea from the beginning stages to a book draft. She will also moderate a “Writers Showcase,” where amateur and professional authors can share excerpts of their works.

Photo courtesy of Inprint

Inprint presents Edmundo Paz Soldán: Escritores en la casa reading

Edmundo Paz Soldán is the author of 11 novels and winner of the Bolivian National Book Award. He'll make an appearance at Inprint House to share his new novel, La Mirada de las Plantas, followed by a conversation with University of Houston faculty member Rodrigo Hasbún.

This reading will launch Inprint's 2022-2023 Escritores en la casa series, which is conducted completely in Spanish and hosts intimate gatherings with leading Latin American writers.

Inprint Cool Brains! Series presents Tae Keller

The 2022/2023 Inprint Cool Brains! Series presents 2021 Newbery Medal winner of When You Trap a Tiger, Tae Keller, sharing her new middle-grade novel, Mihi Ever After.

There will be free copies of Mihi Ever After for the first 100 families, a presentation and Q&A by Keller, a meet the author event, book sale, and signing.

Photo courtesy of Evelyn Rubinstein JCC Houston

Ann and Stephen Kaufman Jewish Book & Arts Festival

The Ann and Stephen Kaufman Jewish Book & Arts Festival celebrates its 50th year as one of Houston's leading cultural and literary events and one of the nation’s largest Jewish Book & Arts Festivals.

The festival annually delivers a variety of opportunities for the community to learn and experience Jewish literary, culture, and performing arts.

Programs will take place at various locations around Houston; go to the festival website for a full schedule of events.

The Progressive Forum presents Douglas Brinkley

New York Times best-selling author and acclaimed historian Douglas Brinkley will discuss his upcoming book, Silent Spring Revolution: John F. Kennedy, Rachel Carson, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and the Great Environmental Awakening.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' BBQ joint's Katy outpost closure leads week's top stories

this week's hot headlines

Editor's note: It's time to recap the top stories on CultureMap from this past week.

1. Iconic Texas 'cowboy-style' barbecue joint's Katy location quietly closes. Sadly, the local outpost couldn't replicate the magic of the original in Llano.

2. Ken Hoffman urges Houston travelers to keep calm and enjoy the trip at the new-look Bush IAH. Our columnist explains why travelers might be in "for a big, pleasant surprise at Houston’s Bush-Intercontinental Airport."

3. Houston's most spectacular winter light shows and events dazzle for the holidays. We rounded up where to see dazzling lights with family, friends, and visitors.

4. Disgraced Theranos CEO and former Houstonian Elizabeth Holmes sentenced to 11 years for fraud. Additionally, Holmes faces a fine of $400 million.

5. Houston's NASA leaders 'giddy' after historic Artemis 1 moon flyby. The spacecraft cruised just 81 miles above the lunar surface.

Disney's Strange World is a visual stunner with too many story ideas

Movie Review

For a studio whose entire reason for being seems to rely on creating and sustaining familiar characters, Walt Disney Animation takes its fair share of risks. In the last 10 years, it has released nine films, seven of which were not based on pre-existing properties (the other two were sequels for two of those seven). That’s a lot of new stuff, most of which has succeeded mightily for the perennially-popular leaders in animation.

They’re at it again with Strange World, which takes place in an unknown country/world known as Avalonia, where Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid) is a famous explorer whose only desire is to find a way over, around, or through the imposing mountains surrounding the land. His son, Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), doesn’t share his enthusiasm, and an early discovery by Searcher of a unique energy source leads to a rift between father and son. Jaeger continues onwards, while Searcher returns home with a plant they call Pando that creates harmony throughout the land.

Years later, when the plant shows signs of failure, Searcher is recruited by Avalonia leader Callisto Mal (Lucy Liu) to help in an expedition to find the source of whatever is attacking Pando. What they and others – including Searcher’s wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) and son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) – find in their travels certainly lives up to the title.

Co-directed by Don Hall and Qui Nguyen and written by Nguyen, the film is a visual stunner. The quality of animation in Disney movies rarely fails to impress, and Strange World is the latest and greatest example. Whether it’s the humans, the landscape, or the innumerable weird creatures that populate the film, there is almost nothing that doesn’t deserve to be stared at and admired.

It’s odd, then, that the story does not come close to matching the graphics. There are a variety of reasons for this failure. Nguyen is the sole credited writer, and he stuffs the film full of big and small ideas, probably too many for this type of project. Searcher’s family and the world of Avalonia and beyond are diverse in multiple ways, to the point that it feels like Nguyen was trying to include everything he could think of in case he never got another shot.

The bigger sin, though, is how quickly the film advances through its plot, often bringing up new things out of nowhere. While Searcher and his family make for an interesting group, the side characters never make an impact. There are also multiple instances where the story takes a turn that makes no sense, either in the world of the film or a storytelling manner.

This includes the final act of the film, which features a significant twist that is presented and accepted in a way that doesn’t fit with the rest of the film. It adds on yet another message in a movie that contains a lot of them, but in a way that even those inclined to believe in what it’s trying to say may wonder why that part is there at all.

The science fiction element of Strange World is a bonanza for the filmmakers and animators to go as wild as they wanted in the visual department. But all that splendor is in service of a story that just doesn’t measure up, making it one of Disney’s less successful offerings in recent years.

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Strange World is now playing in theaters.

Photo courtesy of Disney

Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal), Jaeger (Dennis Quaid), and Ethan Clade (Jaboukie Young-White) in Strange World

Affluent Houston suburb leads region for highest holiday spending budgets in U.S.

Santa Baby

As the most wonderful time of the year approaches, holiday shopping budgets are in the spotlight, and a study from WalletHub lists Sugar Land as one of the top cities where Santa doesn't need a whole lot of help.

According to the personal finance website, the average holiday budget in Sugar Land is $2,793 per person, the 15th highest in the nation. As CultureMap previously reported, Sugar Land residents here make an average of $123,261; the average home price is $337,600.

Fittingly, Fort Bend, home to Sugar Land, was recently named the second-richest county in Texas.

As for Greater Houston, Santa's bag could be a mixed bag, with three suburbs in the top 100, but the urban center falling far behind:

  • Sugar Land, No. 15, $2,793
  • Pearland, No. 36, $2,172
  • The Woodlands, No. 71, $1,733
  • Houston, No. 366, $890

Each year, WalletHub calculates the maximum holiday budget for over 550 U.S. cities "to help consumers avoid post-holiday regret," the website says. The study factors in income, age of the population, and other financial indicators such as debt-to-income ratio, monthly-income-to monthly-expenses ratio and savings-to-monthly-expenses ratio.

Despite nationwide focus on inflation strains, holiday spending is expected to be healthy, and higher than last year.

"The seeming social upheaval in recent times may lead households to spend more in an attempt to take some control of the environment which they can control," says Robert Wright, University of Illinois, Springfield professor emeritus who was among five experts consulted for advice about holiday shopping.

Elsewhere in Texas, 10 North Texas cities landed in this year's top 100 heftiest holiday budgets:

  • Flower Mound, No. 3, $3,531 (The only Texas city in the top 10)
  • Allen, No. 17 , $2,670
  • Frisco, No. 37, $2,150
  • McKinney, No. 45, $2,070
  • Plano, No. 50, $1,999
  • Carrollton, No. 55, $1,837
  • Richardson, No. 58, $1,823
  • North Richland Hills, No. 81, $1,658
  • Lewisville, No. 90, $1,630
  • Fort Worth, No. 366, $890
  • Dallas, No. 401, $845

Spending in the Austin area won't be ho-hum with the Capitol City's budget of $1,705 ranked at No. 78. Two Austin suburbs, Cedar Park (budget $2,855) and League City (budget $2,541) ranked 14 and 20, respectively.

Things don't look too jolly for San Antonio, ranked at No. 431 with an average budget of $803 or Pharr, which was the lowest ranked city in Texas.

At No. 553 with a budget of $487, the Rio Grande Valley city came in just a few spots ahead of last place Hartford, CT with a budget of only $211.