Raw (2016)

Movie–Justine, lifelong vegetarian, comes from a family tradition of vegetarian veterinarians (try saying that 3 times fast). The movie follows her first days at her new school with her upperclassman older sister and her new roommate, the brutal hazing she and the other freshman endure, and the bloody consequences that ensue. The freshman class is drenched in animal blood à la Carrie and made to eat rabbit liver. Justine is pressured into eating it by her sister, despite their vegetarianism. This proves to be a terrible mistake. Justine finds herself with an sudden and insatiable craving for living tissue: hair, raw chicken cutlets, and even human flesh… The nightmarishly oppressive and clinical atmosphere of her school provides the ghastly backdrop for Justine’s struggle, and inevitable failure, to control her urges.

When this movie was screened at the Toronto film festival, some of the viewers fainted, and it’s not hard to see why. One scene in particular that takes place after a bikini waxing gone wrong is very hard to watch. Also, be aware that this movie is in French with English subtitles in case that’s not your thing. If you like Raw, you might also enjoy the cerebral cannibalism found in Hannibal seasons 1-3.

The Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters

Books – I’ve said before that I don’t particularly care for cozy mysteries, but that’s not really true. When summer hits, when it’s too hot to think and I miss those lazy student summers when I didn’t have to do anything, when I wish for a simpler life than the one I have now, I reach for the Cadfael Chronicles.

Technically they’re mystery novels – usually someone dies, sometimes something is stolen, and Brother Cadfael, who was a Crusader before he became a monk, solves the mystery. He also gets the besotted young people together, or at least removes any impediments to their marriage; acts as godfather to his best friend’s son; trains apprentices to work in his gardens; and makes silent disparaging remarks about Brother Jerome, who desperately wants to be better than everyone else. Like modern cozies, the Cadfael series is about wish fulfillment, but instead of the dream of owning a bakery or a tea shop, it’s the dream of living a quiet, well-regulated life in a monastery.

Peters chose an interesting historical period for the series, too – the Anarchy, a civil war in England and Normandy in the mid-twelfth century resulting from a crisis of succession. It’s pretty obscure, as history goes, which puts most of us in the same position as the characters, unsure about what’s going to happen next and exactly how the war is going. But the war is a background feature, for the most part, compared to the small details of medieval life – not just in the cloister, but in the surrounding town.

 

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

Book – Helen Russell is a magazine journalist, living in London with her husband. Their days are filled with commuting and long hours at work. Their evenings are packed with social engagements and alcohol. They have been trying unsuccessfully to conceive for a couple of years. Helen dreams of retirement at the age of 33. Then, Helen’s husband gets an unexpected offer to work for Lego in Jutland.

Helen begins to research the country of five and a half million people, and discovers that they pay high taxes, get free healthcare, free education and subsidized daycare. Danes average a 34 hour workweek. And, according to the UN World Happiness Report, Denmark is the happiest country on earth. Helen and her husband decide to move to Denmark and this book documents their first year of living in their adopted country.

Helen’s chatty writing style and witty observations entertained me. She shares her experiences with food, relationships, religious traditions and the many unwritten “rules” she encounters. The Year of Living Danishly was an enjoyable exploration of a different culture and a lifestyle change. If you like this book, you may also want to read Happy as a Dane or the Little Book of Hygge.

Troubled Waters by Susan May Warren

Book- This is the fourth book in the Montana Rescue Series, and they are all amazing! It starts out with a forest fire that sends the PEAK rescue team into action. Through some unfortunate events, the chopper gets damaged and a team member needs the help of an old peak member to save her life. Back at headquarters, Sierra needs to find a way to raise money to save the chopper and ultimately her “family” of PEAK Rescue. If this group dissolves, which it will without the unique ability to fly in and rescue, she has no where to go, no one to be with. She convinces the teams old owner, billionair Ian Shaw, to allow her to run a fundraising junket on his yacht. The Montana Rose has never actually been sailed, so this is the first trip and it is built with all the luxuries one would expect on a millionaire budget.  Things are going great, Sierra is sure she will raise the money needed to save PEAK with Ians friends all pitching in, when a series of rogue waves takes the ship down and tosses everyone overboard. How will they survive? Who will survive? What will they do with this new lease on life? Will they take everything they have ever wanted and realize life can really be too short for petty issues?

Susan May Warren strikes again with a winner. I found this one a little more churchy than the others, but its still a very compelling story. I found myself chilled to the bone when the crew went overboard. She has quite the way with words that makes you feel like you are actually there experiencing every single thing the characters are. I am eagerly awaiting the next book in this series, Storm Front, due in June.

The Creeps: A Deep Dark Fears Collection by Fran Krause

Comic Strips – Do you still pull all the blankets tight around you at night to keep the monsters out? Does a comment someone made years ago still haunt you at inopportune moments? Have you ever wondered exactly why your pets are so good to you (is it because you’re dying and they know it)? We all have a few irrational fears, and it’s surprisingly fun to read about other people’s, even if you run headlong into a few of your own at the same time.

The Creeps is a collection of Krause’s Internet project “Deep Dark Fears,” in which he solicits fears and paranoias from his audience and illustrates them. It’s weirdly compelling reading, seeing what other people are afraid of, what horrifying thoughts cross their minds at perfectly innocent moments. You’re bound to find something in here that makes you cringe, something that makes you laugh, and something that makes you nod your head in sympathetic understanding.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

Books–When Ms. Bixby’s cancer progresses faster than anticipated and she has to leave school before her Going Away party, three of her sixth-grade students—Topher, Brand, and Steve—hatch a plan to skip school, go to her hospital, and provide her with her Perfect Day. They face a steady stream of entertaining obstacles during their quest, but the true depth of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson is in the flashbacks that fill in how the boys became such good friends and why they each individually bonded so strongly with Ms. Bixby.

Chapters are told from the characters’ varying viewpoints. Topher is overly imaginative, Steve is extremely book smart, and Brand is the one with common sense. It’s fun to see how the boys get out of each of the sticky situations they get into during their day—What will they do when they bump into a teacher? How will they stretch their money far enough to buy all the things they want for Ms. Bixby’s Perfect Day? Who will be brave enough to use a toilet painted like a shark?

I listened to this book on Hoopla, and I highly recommend it either in audio or book format. It’s a great “boy book” for upper elementary students, but this grown up girl really enjoyed it too. Its themes of friendship, kindness, appreciation, and grief and really for everyone.
Other Juvenile Fiction books by John David Anderson include Posted, Insert Coin to Continue, The Dungeoneers, Minion, and Sidekicked.

Cover Me: The Stories Behind the Greatest Cover Songs of All Time by Ray Padgett

Book – The phrase ‘book of essays’ always suggests to me something stodgy, solemn and old-fashioned–until I remember that every Buzzfeed article is an essay by another name. Cover Me actually started as a series of posts on the author’s blog, and that pedigree shows, in a good way.  It’s a compilation of nineteen bite-sized nuggets of popular music history, exactly the kind of irresistible stories that can keep a reader clicking through to the next page until the small hours of the morning.

Author Padgett is a music producer as well as a writer, and his industry knowledge informs and enriches these impeccably-written essays.  Even after many years of blogging on the subject of cover songs (songs re-recorded by a different artist than the original) he was hesitant to delve into the subject in book form, because cover songs are not exactly a unifying theme.  They belong to no one particular era, genre or movement–but that fact in itself makes them an ideal vehicle for a macro-view of popular music as a whole, at least the past 65-ish years of English-language popular songs.  “Every major change in the music industry since the advent of rock and roll finds some expression in the world of cover songs,” Padgett writes, and he does an admirable job of delving into those larger connections and significances to make each song tell a larger story.  Moreover, he writes history the way it should be written: as a series of human stories, emotional and compelling as well as informative.

As a casual music history fan, I was nervous that Cover Me would be a music snob’s book for experts only, but was pleasantly surprised.  I already not only knew, but knew the words to, almost every song discussed, including all-time greats like Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” and the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout.”  This is definitely a book to enjoy with YouTube on hand, to listen (or, in the case of Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” and the accompanying music video, watch) along to every variation of the featured songs.  Revisiting classics in this rich new way was a genuine joy, and I would recommend it to every teen and adult reader with even a slight interest in popular music or music history.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life: Essays by Samantha Irby

Book – It’s pretty much a guarantee; if you put a kitten on a book’s cover I’m at least going to pick it up for a closer look. And although Samantha Irby’s cat (Helen Keller, the world’s angriest rescue) is largely a secondary character in We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, I was definitely not disappointed.

Irby’s writing is in turn hilarious, sexually explicit, vulgar, moving, emotional, and definitely not for the faint of heart. Irby, who also blogs under the title ‘bitches gotta eat’ explores both the anecdotal and the deeply personal, always with refreshing candor and wit. Essays in her second book cover everything from her Bachelorette application (she’s 35 but could pass for 60 if she stays up all night) to growing up with an alcoholic parent (who once punched her in the face for doing the dishes wrong). It’s also wryly—and sometimes laugh out loud—funny and feels more like conversing with a dear friend than reading a stranger’s inner thoughts.

Irby grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, so local readers will find much of her experiences familiar and relatable. Her essays are loosely interconnected, making this an easy book to pick up and put down at your leisure. Anyone looking for a funny and emotional memoir that is nevertheless easy to read should look no further.

Secrets of Hoopla: Small Presses

If you usually browse Hoopla using the app, you’re missing out on some neat tricks you can do using the website. Hoopla offers ebooks from a wide range of small, specialty publishers, from Arcadia Publishing’s local history collections to Dreamspinner Press’s romance and erotica to ChiZine’s horror and weird fiction and Open Road Media’s ebook editions of classic science fiction, fantasy, and mystery novels. Unfortunately Hoopla doesn’t offer a good way to browse publishers directly, but there’s a way around that.

If you know the name of the publisher, you can search for it directly in the in the main search box. But if you don’t know the publisher’s name, or you’ve stumbled across a book that looks good, you can click on the publisher’s name in the top left corner of the item detail window and see everything from that publisher that’s available on Hoopla.

Obviously this isn’t as interesting with large publishers like Macmillan or Harper Collins, who offer a little bit of everything, but finding a good small press that matches your interests is like finding a well-read friend (or librarian!) who’s read dozens of things you’ve never heard of. Take the time to browse a little bit and see what new treasures you can discover!

The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles that Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better Too) by Gretchen Rubin

Book— If you like personality tests and putting people into categories, you might enjoy The Four Tendencies, Rubin’s newest pop psychology book about human personalities and how to work with your (and other’s people’s) native propensities to achieve your goals. In short, Rubin proposes that you can sort all of humanity into four categories based on one key trait: their response to internal and external expectations. Upholders respond readily to all expectations; Questioners follow inner but resist outer expectations; Obligers fulfill external obligations but neglect inner ones (the commonest category); and finally, Rebels instinctively reject all expectations. Rubin is quite hyperbolic about the import of her “discovery,” pompously comparing it to the Fibonacci sequence or the double helix pattern of DNA. The book’s organization is reminiscent of an astrology book, wherein each tendency is explored in detail with a zodiac sign-like profile, then elaborated on in chapters like “The Obliger Employee” or “The Upholder Child.” Despite the allure of sorting people into little boxes, I came away from the book thinking that Rubin’s system had little more merit than sorting people based on blood type, or favorite color, or skull shape, or any of the other too-neat heuristics people have used to pigeonhole themselves and each other.

Rubin would expect me to say all this, of course: I got sorted into the Rebel category when I took her included 4 Tendencies quiz. Despite me giving Rubin a hard time, I genuinely did enjoy this book. Not, mind you, as a meaningful psychological tool, but as a fun diversion akin to taking the Sorting Hat Test on Pottermore and gleaning what insight one may, no matter how specious. Definitely pick this one up if you enjoyed Rubin’s other books or if this particular personality test speaks to you.