Speaking of Summer by Kalisha Buckhanon

Book – Speaking of Summer is the character driven story by Kalisha Buckhanon told from Cover image for Speaking of SummerAutumn Spencer’s perspective of her missing twin sister, Summer. Autumn embarks on a lonely, determined, and obsessive journey to discover the truth of what happened. We learn of the sisters’ upbringing in small town Illinois and their eventual journey to New York and the unsettling reality of what happens and doesn’t happen, to missing women.

When news of a serial killer who once lived in her Harlem neighborhood surfaces, Autumn delves deeper into whether Summer was one of his victims, or if she fled, wanting to leave love and loss behind her forever. Broken up into four seasons, Speaking of Summer goes by quickly if you are not paying attention. Who survives and how, are a few of the questions revealed in this intriguing tale. Despite minor and easily forgettable literary lapses, Buckhanon writes a beautiful, compelling and poignant story.

Tired of Winter? Check out Speaking of Summer on Hoopla.

 

 

The Spirit of Christmas (2015)

Movie Perfect for the holidays and anytime you need a feel-good pick-me-up, The Spirit of Christmas is a keeper. It’s time for the holidays and why not?  I LOVE this movie! Slow romance, attractive leads, Christmas music, and a GHOST – what more can a viewer want? Actors Jen Lilly and Thomas Beaudoin are a match made in heaven, and star in other Hallmark/love stories–definitely worth the watch!

Kate is a bustling lawyer, a workaholic who never takes off for the holidays. This holiday season she has 3 weeks to appraise and sell the charming Hollysgrove Inn. It’s a time crunch, but Kate is up for the task. The only problem? The inn is haunted!  Luckily for Kate, she doesn’t believe in the paranormal, until she meets the ghastly Daniel Forsythe, a spirit who will stop at nothing to scare away appraisers who try to sell his home. Cursed to haunt the inn every Christmas, Daniel has never solved the mystery of his death, nor the reason for the curse befallen on him. The pair make a deal:  if, together they can solve the mystery of Daniels death and release him from his curse, Kate is free to finish her job and sell the inn.

Can this unlikely match  break the curse and set Daniel free before it’s too late? What else is at stake as Kate and Daniel grow closer?

1000 Books to Read Before You Die by James Mustich

Book – As a compulsive maker of to-read lists (you too?), I’ve always been dubious about letting anybody else choose my books for me. Sure, I wanted guidance about great titles I might otherwise have missed, longing for both a roadmap to self-education and advice on what to read for entertainment, but many book lists seemed one-note. Usually such lists contained only dense adult fiction classics, often heavy and depressing, almost universally written by English-speaking Westerners, the vast majority of them men.  Most annoyingly, none of the compilers seemed to remember that reading ought to be fun.

If I doubted that anyone would ever write the to-read list I’d been waiting for, I was delighted to be proven wrong.1000 Books to Read Before You Die is, despite the title, gloriously unpretentious, utterly inclusive and instantly convinced me to trust the author’s taste. Sure, about a dozen Shakespeare plays abound, and includes Waiting for Godot and the Confessions of St. Augustine, but they jostle elbows with Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of her dysfunctional family, multiple picture books by Margaret Wise Brown, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, and even The Da Vinci Code. Mustich’s selections run the gamut from: fiction and nonfiction; children’s, YA and adult; ancient and brand-new; popular entertainment to serious philosophy and everything in-between. From a memoir of the moon landing to the greatest of all children’s novels,  to an anthropologist’s look at Australian Aboriginal culture, a prototypical hardboiled noir to a firsthand examination of race in present-day America--and that’s just among authors whose names start with C. Mustich offers a book for every taste, interest and mood.

My only complaint: it should really be titled:  one thousand and one books. 1000 Books to Read is surprisingly devourable. Mustich’s essays on his book selections are charming, thought-provoking and incisive–that you’ll want to read it cover to cover.

Favorite Children’s and Young Adult Books of 2019

Books – The weather outside is frightful, but reading a new book over winter break can be delightful!  Here are some of my favorite Children’s and Young Adult books published in 2019.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman (YA Fiction)

I don’t usually read much science fiction, but this space-based story caught my attention right away with its compelling characters and adventurous plotline.

Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord (Juvenile Fiction)

A shorter chapter book about the impacts of true friendship–even the friendship of a rabbit!

The Big Book of Monsters by Hal Johnson (Juvenile Non-Fiction)

For fans of the scariest of creatures.

Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir (YA Graphic Novel)

I am a huge fan of fractured fairy tales, so this book was right up my alley!  What happens when Alice, Dorothy and Wendy meet and their fantasy worlds collide?

Daniel’s Good Day by Micha Archer (Picture Book)

Daniel explores what makes a “good day” for the people around him.

Dear Justice League by Michael Northrup (Juvenile Graphic Novel)

Even superheroes are not perfect.

Sparkly New Friends by Heather Burnell (Beginning Reader)

A unicorn and a yeti become best friends who both love sparkly things.  What is not to love?

The Line Tender by Kate Allen (Juvenile Fiction)

This beautiful, unique story of grief and connection to nature’s mysteries had me sobbing.

Strange Birds by Celia C. Pérez (Juvenile Fiction)

Four unlikely friends team up to protest a revered feathered hat connected to town history.  A story of friendship, civic engagement, and bird facts!

Stargazing by Jen Wang (Juvenile Graphic Novel)

For fans of Raina Telgemeier’s books.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei (YA Non-Fiction Graphic Novel)

A powerful and important account of Japanese internment camps during World War 2.

 

 

 

Over The Hedge (2006)

Cover image for Over the hedgeDVD – What happens when an urban animal family hibernates for the winter in a big log surrounded by their lush and well-stocked forest, then wakes up to find this huge green monstrosity running down the middle of the forest as far as the eye can see? Pure panic ensues when they need to figure out what this thing is, why is it there, and how will they gather food because their forest has largely been torn down. Enter RJ the raccoon. He owes a big black bear a huge cart of human food and thinks he can get a gang to help him steal it all from the inhabitants of the new subdivision. Will they help him, will he make the deadline, will he learn and grow to know what it means to be part of a family?

I absolutely love Over The Hedge. Although it is animated (hello young ones!), there is plenty of adult humor throughout to make it entertaining for all. The animation, graphics, and insight of the natural behaviors of the animals is spot on. A superb cast of actors lend their voices to the film. Wanda Sykes as a skunk? This alone should make you want to watch this!

Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream by Jashua Davis

Book – Joshua Davis’ Spare Parts, expands on his 2005 WIRED article “La Vida Robot” to delve deeper into the lives of four undocumented immigrants whose ingenuity led them to a surprising victory at the prestigious MATE 2004 robotics competition. These four young bright students, Lorenzo Santillan, Oscar Vazquez, Cristian Arcega, and Luis Aranda found acceptance and encouragement from two dedicated teachers, Allan Cameron and Fredi Lajvardi.

Davis does an excellent job describing how the boys assemble their underwater robot “Stinky” out of spare parts, junk, humble in all respects, in the middle of a desert and without access to a pool. He also describes the daily struggles in the lives of the teens, how they lived in constant fear of violence and deportation. The book’s bittersweet ending shows the reality of being a bright yet undocumented student. Despite these young men’s incredible potential, their future is stagnated in poverty as their undocumented status bars them from access to engineering programs, academic funding and military service. However you might feel about the current political discussion on immigration you can’t deny that these young men, and others like them, can teach us something worthwhile about resilience and the American dream.

The film Spare Parts, is based on award winning Carl Hayden robotics team, stars George Lopez and Jaime Lee Curtis. The film isn’t bad, it’s great in fact. My only issues are the predictable, feel-good happy ending, that George Lopez’s character is an amalgamation of Allan Cameron and Fredi Lajvardi and that the more poignant events following the boys’ success at the robotics competition covered in Davis’ book, is ignored.

Spare Parts is available on OverDrive for digital download on Kindle and other electronic devices.

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch

Book – There are two kinds of language: the formal, official language of grammar guides and English classes, and the way people actually write and talk and communicate. And what better way to see that than on the Internet, where billions of people write everything from formal blog posts to casual tweets to friends on a daily basis? Of course, writing isn’t speaking, which is why Internet users have developed things like the ~sarcastic tilde~ emphasis or the convention that typing in ALL CAPS is the equivalent of SHOUTING (I genuinely couldn’t bring myself to put more than a couple of words together in all caps; it feels so rude).

Gretchen McCulloch is a linguist who studies these things, everything from the differences in Twitter styles between different demographics to the grammatical structure of memes (it’s more rigid than you might think). I first heard of her when she was the Resident Linguist of the now-defunct website The Toast, but her work circulates in Internet circles on a regular basis. Her book is just as funny, insightful, and fascinating as her blog posts and podcast episodes. Anyone who’s interested in language and the way people adapt it to their needs will find Because Internet fascinating; anyone who’s ever sneered at chatspeak or Internet slang may find themselves a little more sympathetic after reading this book.

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.