Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Movie – If you like movies that are weird, but in a good way, and reminiscent of Pulp Fiction, then you will enjoy Bad Times at the El Royale. Set in 1969 near Lake Tahoe, the El Royale motor lodge used to be grand in its day. Unique that it is on the border of California and Nevada, the once austere lobby of the hotel has a line going down its center separating the two states. Something very bad happened there a decade ago and the seven strangers that randomly gather will be affected by those events.

A vacuum cleaner salesman, a Catholic priest, a Motown singer, and a hippie chick enter the lobby that appears to be deserted. After banging on an office door Miles, who is the manager and lone employee, emerges and assigns rooms based on the guest preferences – if they want to be in California or Nevada. (California rooms cost a little more.) When the priest requests a room, the hotel manager tries to discourage him by saying, “Father, this is no place for a priest.” Regardless, Father Daniel Flynn needs a place to spend the night. We already have a feeling that there is something sinister and creepy. As each guest begins settling into their room we begin learning their secrets and there is plenty of mystery. So far, I mentioned five characters. Who are the other two? You will have to find out for yourself. The film is very atmospheric and you feel like you have been transported back to the late ‘60s. There is also lots of great music from that era, including some Motown tunes which are belted out by the singer. This is a hard boiled thriller with lots of twists and turns. The storyline and stellar cast make for a fun viewing experience.

I also really enjoyed music, so I was very pleased that Hoopla has a soundtrack from the film.

The Toll by Cherie Priest

Book – Titus and Melanie are on their honeymoon, driving out to a cabin in the middle of the Okefenokee Swamp where neither of them really want to be, when they cross a bridge that shouldn’t be there. When Titus wakes up, Melanie is gone, and so is the bridge. The locals in the nearby town of Staywater offer to put him up while he looks for his wife, but none of them seem to believe she’ll be found. Especially not Claire and Daisy, two little old ladies who know entirely too much about that bridge and what it demands of those who cross it.

Creepy small towns, ominous and mysterious wilderness, unknowable monsters and terrifyingly competent little old ladies – The Toll has everything you could want in a horror-adventure novel. While the atmosphere is tense and ghosts abound (both literal and metaphorical), I didn’t find this novel frightening as much as enjoyably spooky. Many of the characters are more annoying than sympathetic, but that’s all right, it means you don’t mind as much when bad things happen to them. Claire and Daisy, on the other hand, deserve a sequel of their own. If you like monster movies and Southern gothic, you’ll appreciate Cherie Priest’s newest novel.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Okinyan Braithwaite

Cover image for My sister, the serial killer : a novelBook – Author Oyinkan Braithwaite’s short and dark comedy features two sisters, Ayoola and Korede. The former can’t help but kill off boyfriends with her father’s 8-inch blade, while the latter helps clean up crime scenes and dispose of the bodies. Korede, the troubled narrator, is the head nurse at St. Peter’s Hospital, the elder and keeper of her younger, dispassionate and talented sister. Life in Lagos, Nigeria is especially difficult for women, and less so for men like the sisters’ father, who may or may not have been killed by Ayoola’s hand.

Braithwaite’s prose is unlike those of conventional whodunnits, and therefore may not appeal to mystery lovers and likely challenge those looking to lose one’s self in a book. My Sister, the Serial Killer is driven by vivid portraits of strong, female characters and brilliant storytelling. This is Braithwaite’s first novel, which readers can easily imagine crafted into a feature film.

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

BookPixar have made their fortunes by providing an easy shorthand, a brand identity built on children’s movies that adults will actually enjoy on their own merits. Children’s books that pull off the same trick can be more difficult to find. Even as adults reading YA lit has become a commonplace, it’s unusual to consider the adult appeal of books in the children’s section. Which is a shame, because the best children’s novels can be every bit as entertaining to older readers, hidden gems that are too often left on the shelf.

Three Times Lucky, the first in the four-book Mo and Dale Mysteries series and one of the most transportively atmospheric books I’ve read all year. Three Times Lucky is chock-full of charmingly eccentric characters drawn with marvelous literary efficiency, especially the narrator, eleven-year-old Moses ‘Mo’ LoBeau. A literary cousin to Scout of To Kill a Mockingbird, Mo is a believable mix of precocious and naive, scrappy but allowed to be scared in situations too big for a child, a smart-aleck and a schemer with buckets of charisma and bottomless loyalty. The mystery and adventure plots of Three Times Lucky are a little too much to be wholly believable (a decades-old bank robbery and a dark and stormy night are involved), but to mind about that would be missing the point. There’s too much to love about Mo, her adoptive family, her friends, and their tiny town of Tupelo Landing, N.C.

It may sound strange to compare a PG-rated children’s book to the dark, heavy, adult subject matter of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects–especially the excellent miniseries version–but actually, it’s surprisingly apt. In both cases, the perfectly-rendered atmosphere of a small southern town, and the outsized characters living there, make for stories that will linger in your consciousness long after their conclusions. While the perhaps more obvious comparison would be to Flavia de Luce (and any Flavia fans should absolutely seek Mo out), I would also recommend Three Times Lucky to anyone who enjoys stories driven by eccentric characters like those in Maria Semple‘s books, or who loves a book with a palpable sense of place.

Propagation Station: Books to Help You Grow More Plants

Books– Houseplants are addictive and with such a variety of different species, colors and looks, it’s hard to pick just one.  To help manage my plant addiction, I’ve started to experiment with propagating my current houseplants.  This way, I still get more plants, but my wallet is a bit happier.  I’ve taken stem and leaf clippings from a healthy “mother” plant and use various methods to help them grow roots and turn into new plants.  The following books provide great introductions to the joys and challenges of plant propagation.  Welcome to the Propagation Station!

Root, Nurture, Grow : The Essential Guide to Propagating and Sharing Houseplants by Caro Langton

The photographs in Root, Nurture, Grow are beautiful and definitely Instagram-worthy.  I appreciated the very informative “Indoor Plant Propagation Table” which showcases the most common types of plants and instructs on the best propagation method to use for each one. This book also discusses grafting, a process I find quite intimidating.  This is commonly seen on cacti that possess brightly colored tops on a green base–two different plants cut and  grafted together that create a whole new work of art.

Plant Parenting : Easy Ways to Make More Houseplants, Vegetables, and Flowers by Leslie F. Halleck

I love the term “plant parent.”  I like this book because it covers so many varieties of plants, including vegetables and flowers.  I was in awe of the plethora of different methods that can be used to propagate plants and grow your garden, from planting seeds to water rotting, to stem and leaf cuttings.  Each method included detailed instructions with plenty of photos.  This is the perfect read for anyone starting out with plant propagation.

 

Escape Plan: The Extractors (2019)

DVD –  When security expert Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) is hired to retrieve a Chinese business tycoon’s daughter, unbeknownst to Breslin, his previous partner’s son is hell bent on revenge. To assure Breslin’s involvement, the villain also abducts his girlfriend. Will he make it in time to rescue both women and still come out alive?

The Escape Plan: The Extractors is the third installment of the franchise and I must admit, it was bad. The plot line is overly simplified and the music score, seemed off. The first movie, Escape Plan, however, was awesome! In The Extractors, Breslin is not even escaping OUT of a prison, using any fancy tools, or high tech gadgets. I’m not sure what the producers were thinking when deciding on Round 3 for this series, but it was a fail for me. Nevertheless, the fight scenes are outstanding, and you get to see Curtis “50 cent” Jackson for all of 5 minutes. If you are looking for a movie for background noise while doing something else and does not require much time, energy, or focus, this works. If you want a serious action adventure – keep looking.

Shout and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Book – Author Laurie Halse Anderson first gained notoriety in 1999 for her novel Speak, which won numerous awards and honors and is rightfully considered a modern classic in Young Adult literature. In Speak high school freshman Melinda deals with great personal trauma all the while being ostracized by her peers. I highly recommend reading the original novel, if you haven’t already.

In 2018, the Graphic Novel Speak illustrated by Emily Carroll received strong reviews owing to its meaningful remake for established fans and introducing new readers to the story.

20 years after the publication of Speak, Anderson releases Shout – a powerful memoir in free verse. Here, she shares deeply of her complicated relationship with her parents, personal experiences with sexual assault and sexual harassment, and the reactions shared by readers over the years. Shout comes on the heels of last year’s #metoo and #timesup movements promoting awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault. Anderson is not a new voice in this conversation. Since the publication of Speak, she has advocated for open conversations about sexual assault.

Shout is a quick and powerful read and will interest fans who want to see how Anderson’s experiences found their ways into her books and learn more about her life as an author. Those interested in delving into the issues of sexual assault and harassment, will find jumping off points for thoughts and discussions.

We carry a variety of Anderson’s other books in our physical and digital collections, in addition to the DVD Speak starring Kristen Stewart (Twilight films).

Crazy Plant Lady by Isabel Serna

Book – I’m so glad we added the adorable, simple, feel-good book for plant addicts, Crazy Plant Lady by Isabel Serna to our library collection. As a Crazy Cactus Lady, I 100% relate to, and appreciate, the comics and characterization of the obsessive gardener.

Serna defines “Crazy Plant Lady” as:

  1. A woman who has an insane, almost addictive love for plants.
  2. A woman who has 10 or more plants and gives them names, talks to them,  and thinks of them as her children.
  3. A woman who finds pure happiness in her plants.

To which I would respond:

  1. Yes, I have been called a crazy plant lady (which is really more of a compliment).
  2. Currently, I have more than 25 succulents and cacti. My big ole’ spiky Golden Barrel Cactus is named Chunk. I’ve read that plants respond well to positivity and encouragement (I think Ikea experimented being kind vs. mean to plants).  They are my little fuzzy, spiky, leafy family.
  3. There’s nothing like watching your plants grow, propagate their leaves and watch their babies start anew. I love to spread the joy and often coerce my family to come and see the newest little fuzzball propagate on my “Bunny Ear” Cactus.

The illustrations in this book are so bright and colorful, each page detailing new insight into the life and habits of a crazy plant lady, a page-turner for every plant lover.

 

The River by Peter Heller

Book- The River is the latest from Peter Heller, author of the bestselling novels The Dog Stars and Celine. The River follows Jack and Wynn, two college friends on a canoe trip in northern Canada. Both are outdoorsmen, but different in many respects. Jack, stoic with a realistic worldview, grew up in a ranching family. Wynn, while nearly as well versed in the great outdoors, is more optimistic and romantic. Although the two young men seem more than prepared for an extended trip through the wilds of Canada, a sense of foreboding looms from the beginning. A fast-approaching forest fire rages miles behind them, and is not the only unexpected challenge the two friends face. As Jack and Wynn distance themselves from the fire and toward civilization, they encounter obstacles that test their survival skills and friendship.

Other reviews summarize the plot in greater detail, but I recommend avoiding them, to fully grasp the suspense of this novel. The River is equal parts thriller, character study, and outdoor adventure, which is tightly plotted and beautifully written. Nothing feels extraneous. Peter Heller’s extensive knowledge of the outdoors lends itself to the authenticity of the novel.

Help Me!: One Woman’s Quest to Find Out If Self-Help Really Can Change Your Life by Marianne Power

Book – I love self-help books and so does Marianne Power, author of Help Me!: One Woman’s Quest to Find Out If Self-Help Really Can Change Your Life. There’s something to say about finding a self-help book that truly speaks to you. Even if the book doesn’t necessarily “help” you achieve the goal you’re hoping for, it is nevertheless cathartic reading.

I can especially relate to the following:

So why did I read self-help if it didn’t, well help?  Like eating chocolate cake or watching old episodes of Friends, I read self-help for comfort.  These books acknowledge the insecurities and anxieties I felt but was always too ashamed to talk about. They made my personal angst seem like a normal part of being human. Reading them made me feel less alone. 

After the “worst hangover ever,” and realizing she is desperately unhappy, Marianne embarks on the ultimate journey of self-discovery: she will read one self-help book per month for an entire year and each month follow the author’s advice to a “T”.  From facing her fears (skydiving and posing nude for an art class) to using Rejection Therapy to face her social anxieties, she hopes to find happiness and fulfillment. Unprepared for the stress and depression that accompany her journey, she is determined to see the project through. With humor and honesty, Marianne shares a deeply intimate and emotional examination of her life, which is therapeutic and relatable.

Marianne read a variety of self-help books along with other resources, including The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.