Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Book–Oliver Ryan, famous children’s book writer, and his loyal wife Alice, who illustrates his books, have a seemingly happy life until one night, after a very good dinner, he hits her, leaves, then comes back to beat her into a coma. The rest of the book is like peeling the layers of an onion. Nugent jumps around in chronology and in viewpoint, each character giving their take on Oliver, their past with him, and why he did it. From his harsh upbringing in a Catholic boarding school, to a fateful summer in France, to his current success, the reader gets more insight into Oliver’s character and motivations with every chapter. By the end, the reader should understand why he did it. Whether you find him sympathetic or a monster is up to you.

Like many books with this structure, it can get a little repetitive. We read tellings of the same scene from so many viewpoints that the details can wear thin by the second character’s take. Also, the story is full of too-convenient coincidences that stretch belief. Nevertheless, I read it in one sitting and found myself sucked in to Unraveling Oliver the way the best domestic thrillers suck you in. While I still found him absolutely monstrous at the end, I could see a different reader coming around to find him at least pitiable, if not sympathetic. This should appeal to people who like the recent spate of compelling Girl novels (Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, etc). If you’re looking for your next read, try B. A. Paris’ Behind Closed Doors, or, in fact, any of B. A. Paris‘ domestic thriller novels.

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass

Book – The Selection Series by Kiera Cass is my #1 guilty pleasure reading. It’s “The Bachelor” (Dating competition) meets The Hunger Games (Caste system). America Singer lives in a society divided by castes. Each member of the kingdom is assigned a number based on their relatives. A One can afford all the luxuries and never have to worry about lack of shelter, food, or money. Eights are the lowest, the handicapped, drug users, those who have nothing.  It’s rare for someone to rise about their status to a higher number. America is lucky to be a Five, meaning she and her family are artists who make money by performing for others, though they still struggle to support themselves.

Enter “The Selection.” Thirty-five girls are chosen to compete for the hand of the prince. All the young women of age are invited to apply. It’s a fairytale, the chance of finding true love with the prince. Participants also receive financial support for their families during their time in the competition. America has already found the (secret) love of her life, but reluctantly submits her application and is chosen. On arrival to the royal castle, America finds that Prince Maxon is not at all what she expected. As she forms friendships with the other applicants, America struggles to decide what she really wants. Will America stay true to her love back home? Will life in the royal castle change that stubborn, proud girl who first entered it’s gates? With the additional threat of rebels attacking the castle, will America be able to find what her heart desires?

I really love the character of America; she fights for what she believes in no matter the consequences and is fiercely loyal. We have the entire series in print at the library, as well as in Ebook on a pre-loaded Kindle available for 2-week Checkout. Visit Goodreads for a complete list of the series order.

Durrells in Corfu (2016)

Movies & TV – What a great time to escape winter dreariness and cold with the Durrells in Corfu. Set in 1935 on this picturesque Greek island, recently widowed Louisa moves here with her children hoping to escape their financial hardships in England. All is not as idyllic as they hoped, as their affordable rental house has no plumbing or electricity. Fortunately, their taxi driver Spiros immediately takes a liking to the eccentric family and becomes their protector and navigator through the customs and idiosyncrasies of the locals.

The Durrell family is made up of unique characters. The children from youngest to oldest – Gerry 11 is in his element at his new home with all the wildlife nearby. Never agreeable to traditional education, he goes through a stream of tutors while setting up a zoo and teaching himself about conservation efforts. Margo 16 is totally boy crazy and attempts working at different jobs and even contemplates becoming a nun. Leslie 18 is very impulsive and obsessed with guns.  He shoots and skins rabbits and fancies himself as somewhat of a survivalist. Larry 23, really an adult, wants to become a famous novelist and moves with the family hoping that his new surroundings will inspire his writing. Louisa has many challenges ahead of her trying to make a better life for her unconventional brood, but tries to be optimistic and even sees herself as still being young enough to hopefully find love again.

Another delightful Masterpiece production, this is a heartwarming show about family love and acceptance.  It is based on the true stories of Gerald (Gerry) Durrell.

Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems 1960-2010 by Ursula K. Le Guin

Book – I think it’s impossible to overstate the influence that Ursula K. Le Guin had on modern literature. She wrote books that broke open ideas of what science fiction could be, and she did it so well, with such grace and compassion and beauty, that people couldn’t keep dismissing it as “just” science fiction any more. The daughter of legendary anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, she understood on a bone-deep level the ways that our culture and society shape us, and she used that understanding to dream of better worlds, and the problems that those worlds had, and possible solutions to those problems. She was a champion of women and minority writers in science fiction, a fierce believer that the future can only be better if it includes all of us. And every time you thought she was done, she came out with something new.

After her death in January I returned to her book of poetry to remember her. If her novels are complex webs of character, plot, ideas, and language, her poems are beads of dew on that spiderweb, delicately magnifying her skill and her brilliance. Oh, and they’re gorgeous, too. If you don’t have time to re-read The Dispossessed (although you should, it gets better every year), you’d do worse than to pick up a poem or two.

Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki

Book–If your primary complaint about Marie Kondo’s best-selling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is that it just isn’t hardcore-minimalist enough for you, Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye, Things will be just your speed. Sasaki recounts his journey toward minimalism that stemmed from his dissatisfaction with his life. He was, in his own words, “an unmarried adult with not much money to speak of.” Interestingly, after embracing minimalism, he is still in the same boat, but is now happy with his life. He owns an air mattress, wallet, keys, iPhone, a few dishes, multipurpose liquid soap, and a hand towel. Sasaki makes some decent points with regards to owning possessions to appear a certain way to others (DVDs to seem like a movie buff, books to appear cultured) and suggests minimalism as a way to strip away pretense, but I personally think he takes his obsession with minimalism a bit far. For instance, he mentions how much happiness he derives from using full-size bath towels when he travels in hotels as opposed to the scratchy hand towel he uses at home and recommends routinely denying yourself so that things you used to take for granted become sources of happiness.

I might sound like I’m ragging on this book, but the fact is I quite liked it. While I think Sasaki’s brand of minimalism sounds like torture, he has an interesting writing style and I enjoyed my glimpse into his life which is so different from mine. If you enjoy reading about minimalism, I recommend The 100 Thing Challenge; if you just like keeping up on popular lifestyle trends whatever they are (hey, me too), I recommend How to Hygge.

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets (2017)

Movie – As Valerian and Lauraline are a team of special agents to help keep order and piece throughout the human territories in space. They are sent to Alpha, the city of a thousand planets, on a mission to locate and diffuse the evil plans someone or something has in store for the planet as well as the universe.

This movie takes place far in the future, and has several different species. On Alpha the species all come together to learn from each other about their cultures and knowledge to build the big amazing city. The way they all come together and work fluidly together without race being an issue is such a strong impact in this film.

I choose to watch this one based solely on the previews. I liked the colors, animation, and overall creativity of the creatures in the previews. I had no idea honestly what this one was about. I was sucked in by all the creativity, and the story was surprisingly pretty good too. I’d definitely recommend giving this one a shot!

Colossal (2017)

Movie – After coming home so-late-it’s-early and hungover one too many times, Gloria’s boyfriend kicks her out of their New York apartment, and since she’s also out of work, she has no choice but to move back to her parents’ empty house in the town where she grew up. She gets a job tending bar for a guy she knew when they were kids, and shortly after, everyone is glued to the news, watching footage of the giant monster that mysteriously appeared in Seoul, South Korea, tromped through downtown, and disappeared again. When it happens again, Gloria recognizes something in its gestures — and realizes that she is in control of the monster. Sharing her revelation with her new-old friends, however, has unexpected and momentous consequences.

I saw a trailer for this movie that made it look like “rom-com plus Godzilla,” which meant that of course I had to see it, but it turns out it’s even better than that – Gloria’s growth and development does not revolve around her finding the right guy to date. She’s dealing with alcohol problems, an unhealthy relationship with her boss, and mysteriously wielding an unusual amount of supernatural power. It’s an unusual genre mash-up, but if you like stories about women taking control of their lives and also giant monsters, you’ll love it as much as I did.

47 Meters Down (2017)

Movie – As someone who’s claustrophobic and terrified of drowning, this movie made me tense.  However, I always love a good shark film. In 47 Meters Down, we meet Lisa and Kate, two best friends on holiday in Mexico. Lisa just broke up with her cheating boyfriend and they’re hoping to escape it all.  Then two handsome gents invite the friends to go cage diving with the sharks, promising the experience of a lifetime. From the get go, things seem a little shady, but Lisa and Kate know this is a one time opportunity. The red flags are there every step of the way, yet as in any creature feature/sharky shark film, all logic must be ignored.

I enjoyed all the scenes featuring our great white friends, though there weren’t nearly enough, in my opinion. The psychological aspect of the film was unexpected and added yet another layer of uncomfortable tension, but was really well done.

The whole situation is terrifying to me: a limited air supply with a very real risk of getting the bends swimming to safety. Swim to the surface too fast, and the pressure increase will be too much for your body to handle. Definitely not a good predicament to find yourself in when there are sharks circling hungrily nearby. This definitely solidified my desire to never tank dive–not that I was so determined to do so anyway. A good film, not enough sharks.  There really are never enough sharks.

For another shark escape adventure, check out The Shallows, with actress Blake Lively.

 

The Deepest Secret by Carla Buckley

Book – How far would you go to protect a family member?  “The Deepest Secret” explores that loyalty on various levels.  Tyler would like nothing more than just be a normal teenager, but unfortunately he suffers from Xeroderma pigmentosa (XP).  This is a rare condition that makes sunlight and artificial UV light fatal.  He can only leave his house at night and only go to those areas where neighbors have complied with requests to use special light bulbs.  His mom, Eve, is understandably over-protective to the point that her concerns annoy some neighbors and Tyler’s teachers. By being confined indoors during the day, Tyler wants to observe how normal people live. So under cover of darkness he spies on his neighbors through their windows and takes photos of them.  Tyler’s sister, who is slightly older than him is rebellious and feels neglected and his Dad only comes home for the weekends commuting from a job to help cover all the medical expenses.

When the 11 year olf daughter of Eve’s best friend in the neighborhood disappears and is found dead, distrust flows freely among the neighbors.  It seems that the resident families have many secrets and aren’t above false accusations and cover ups.

This is a psychological thriller high in family drama. The story would make a great choice for a book club.  This would appeal to fans of Jodi Picoult, Lisa Scottoline, and the book Defending Jacob.

Crash Override by Zoë Quinn

Book – If you are a person who lives on the Internet, you probably know who Zoë Quinn is – or at least you know the movement that sprung up after her ex-boyfriend posted a long, defamatory screed about her online, and then grew into an online harassment machine. Even if you don’t, though, you’ve seen some of its effects in the rise of online hatred, the never-ending stream of YouTube-star scandals, and the recent death of a man in Kansas by “swatting” – the practice of calling in a fake report to a police department that will result in a SWAT team being sent out.

Quinn’s book is part memoir, part guide to this environment of a new kind of harassment, one that disproportionately targets women, people of color, and other minorities, and which police and the legal system are woefully unprepared to cope with. She describes how she survived the initial onslaught, and the barrage of harassment and privacy violations she continues to struggle with, and how she founded an organization to help other victims do the same. She also offers some valuable information on how to protect yourself from a similar harassment campaign (without “just getting offline”). But even if you’re not concerned about attacks from the Internet, this is a valuable book to read. Internet culture is a part of our culture now, and we all should be aware of the ways it can go horribly wrong. (Also, Quinn has a great sense of humor. Seriously, just read the chapter titles.)