Life by Gwyneth Jones

519EMKTM55L._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_Book – Anna Senoz is, somewhat secretly, an ambitious scientist. When she was in college she wanted to change the world, but doesn’t everyone? Since then she’s gone through a lot – a miscarriage, a marriage, a child; several career dead-ends, a revolution, a discovery – and learned a lot, and she still wants to do is her piece of the work. The work, it turns out, is Transferred Y, a discovery about the evolution of human sex chromosomes that might change the world after all.

Life is a quiet, meditative story, part of that peculiar sub-genre of science fiction that is really more about people doing science than about any particular discovery. It is, as Jones has described it, “a fairytale about how change, real change in the world comes about,” through struggles and frustrations and the constant struggle of choosing to do something revolutionary or choosing to continue to feed your family.

It’s also very much a feminist story, in that Anna has to face a lot of issues her male colleagues never consider. Her friend and shadow-self, Ramone Hollyrood, becomes a famous feminist writer; Anna is never a feminist herself, but she wants to be treated as a person, which she finds is nearly impossible sometimes. She’s a tremendously real character, full of flaws and inconsistencies, but after finishing the book I find that I miss spending time with her.

Astray by Emma Donoghue

Book- This collection is comprised of fourteen stories revolving around themes of immigration, travel, and drifting throughout North America. As an immigrant herself from the UK to Canada, Donoghue has a particular emotional insight into these topics. Emma Donoghue’s short stories (and, in fact, her novels) often stem from a small historical detail, such as the 1864 murder of a slave master by his slave and mistress, which becomes a fleshed out story, as in “Last Supper at Brown’s” in this collection. Particularly strong stories in Astray include “Man and Boy,” which chronicles the relationship between a zookeeper and his elephant, “The Hunt,” where the topic of war crimes during the Revolutionary War is explored, and, my favorite, “Snowblind,” which details the harsh first winter of two gold mining partners in the 1890s.

The audiobook version of Astray is a real treat, with several different narrators throughout to suit the disparate characters, and a part at the end narrated by Donoghue herself sharing the process by which she developed each story. I found that on audiobook, the stories were a perfect length for a shorter drives so you don’t have to keep jumping in and out of the plot as you would with a novel. These stories will appeal to fans of other historical fiction with keenly observed details, such as The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich.

Day Four by Sarah Lotz

imagesBook – The first three days of the Beautiful Dreamer‘s cruise are perfectly normal. It’s a budget cruise line, so sure, there are some problems, but nothing to draw anyone’s attention. And then, on the fourth day, things start to go wrong. A usually cantankerous psychic becomes generous and welcoming, even to people who haven’t paid her fees. Security covers up the fact that they’ve found a young woman dead in her cabin; the man who’s killed her tries desperately to pretend that everything is normal. A housekeeper sees a boy who couldn’t possibly be there. A fire breaks out in the engine room, stranding the ship at sea.

And then things get weird.

I absolutely adored Lotz’s debut solo novel, The Three, so I shouldn’t have been so surprised that Day Four was so good, but I was. A good horror novel can be hard to find, but Lotz has a deft touch with atmosphere and she never lets the plot slow down. She doesn’t let you get too attached to the characters, though – which can be a good thing in a story like this, where you almost wish she’d start killing people off just to relieve the tension.

Day Four is technically a sequel to The Three, but the connections are thin; you wouldn’t miss much if you haven’t read the first one. (You should read it anyway, of course, it’s excellent.) If you’re looking for a good, disturbing, plot-driven horror novel, give Day Four a try. But if you’ve got a summer cruise planned… maybe wait until you come home.

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

1096390Book -If you meet any of the following criteria, The Uncommon Reader may be the book for you:

  • You’re a Downton Abbey fan in need of your next Britfix.
  • You’re as likely as I am to coo over pictures of Prince George and Princess Charlotte on magazine covers in the supermarket.
  • You’d enjoy a novel (a novella, really) that feels a bit like historical fiction, but isn’t.
  • Books about the act of reading are your cup of tea, especially ones bursting with wry humor.
  • You’re looking for a book the exact right length to consume in one sitting with a handy mug of something warm.

The premise of The Uncommon Reader is unusual but simple: the Queen of England (the current one, Elizabeth II) has a fortuitous encounter with the local bookmobile and, after sixty-odd years of viewing reading as more a duty than a pleasure, unexpectedly finds literature taking over her life.  It’s hard to avoid the word ‘charming’ in describing this book, but even harder not to mention ‘funny.’  The Uncommon Reader describes a life that would, for most of us, be unimaginable, yet on the page it’s perfectly imagined.  Bennett’s fictionalized portrait of the queen is psychologically astute, believable and real, foreign from everyday experience and not sugar-coated but still sympathetic.  In fact, sympathy is a central theme of the book: our growing sympathy for the character we’re reading, even as she, through her own reading, expands her sympathy for everyone else–that is to say, us.

That mirroring between character and audience is not only clever, it’s emotionally satisfying.  Reading about personal growth through the act of reading means feeling just plain good about yourself when the story is over–which is the best reason I can think of to give The Uncommon Reader a look.

 

The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone

51-+74IGcjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book- Broke and unemployed Dahlia is pleased if rather confused when a handsome stranger at her roommate’s party offers her a dubious gig– to retrieve his spear (not a real spear, but a spear from fictional Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game Zoth).  Naturally, the promise of a $2000 payout after 12+ months of unemployment is too much to resist. However, nothing ever works out as well as it seems it should. Dahlia is quickly embroiled in at least one potential romantic entanglement, the interpersonal dynamics of her employer’s in-game guild, and, oh yeah, a real-life murder. The real pleasure of The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss is the narrator’s unique voice. Dahlia is steeped in nerd culture and has an acerbic, self-deprecating style that either the reader will love or hate.

This book (which I would not be surprised to see become a series) straddles the line between young adult and new adult and will appeal to fans of both chick lit novels and cozy mysteries. Set in St. Louis, I found that the novel had a surprisingly strong sense of place that I appreciated. My spouse is from St. Louis, and I recognized many of the places and streets mentioned as ones I’ve been to when visiting my in-laws. If you can get behind a novel where the detective wears a Jigglypuff toboggan hat instead of a deerstalker cap, this is the book for you.

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004)

Movie – A self-described scaredy-cat, I’m definitely not one for horror flicks.  Unfortunately, I have many a times been forced against my will to endure hours of Halloween (all 10 films, remakes included), Freddy (Nightmare on Elm Street), Jason (Friday the 13th), Cabin in the Woods, The Conjuring…the list goes on and on.

For those, like me, who experience severe paranoia following the late-night viewing of these  films, remember, that’s why man invented creature features!  Creature films are my guilty pleasure, from giant spiders, deep sea creatures, Godzilla and the like; I love them.  Sure, a good many of them still manage to make me jump, but who cares when you get to see wonderfully CGI monsters!

But, one film tops my list, my love: Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid.  Picture this, a team of scientists headed to the dense jungles of Borneo, searching for a flower that could hold the key to immortality. The Blood Orchid is only in bloom for a limited time, so there’s not a second to lose, even when the adventurers become shipwrecked in the jungle.  They soon discover that they are not alone… And that’s where the incredibly awful CGI anacondas come in!  The film only gets better once the travelers encounter the hunting serpents, and as they are slowly picked off, one..by..one.

With a collection of funny, yet foolish characters (some better than others), that darn bad guy who’s got a gun, and a surprise romance (snakes AND humans alike), I absolutely adore watching this film over and over, again and again.

 

We Believe the Children by Richard Beck

41hLd81ByvL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Book – In the mid-1980s, dozens of childcare providers were tried, and some convicted and imprisoned, for sexual abuse of children on an unprecedented scale. While in some cases abuse really occurred, the charges were massively inflated, the product of accusations made by children who had been through hours and hours of aggressive interrogation and “therapy” designed to help them recover memories they had suppressed. Into the 90s, adult women were coming forward with allegations of abuse, often connected to Satanic cults, that they had not known about before the memories had been “recovered” in therapy. And by the year 2000, almost all of the charges and convictions resulting from these kinds of allegations had been dropped or rescinded.

Beck does more describing the situation than explaining it in his book, covering the groundbreaking McMartin trial (one of the longest and most expensive in American history) in great detail, but also drawing connections with other, similar cases going on around the country. Beck puts the whole thing down to a growing cultural discomfort with the disintegration of the nuclear family and the development of new therapeutic techniques that turned out to be more damaging than helpful.

The McMartin case broke six months before I was born, but I remember reading about it as a teenager in connection with the West Memphis Three, a group of teenagers who were convicted as part of the “Satanic panic” and only released in 2011. I’ve always been amazed – and a little scared – at how huge the whole thing got before anyone was willing to step up and say, This is ridiculous, this cannot possibly be real. The destruction of one accused family is chronicled in Andrew Jaerecki’s documentary Capturing the Friedmans, which Beck mentions in the book.

Honeymoon by Lana Del Rey

honeymoonMusic CDHoneymoon by Lana Del Rey is a treat for her fans as well as those who like smoky, deep, lounge singer vocals. Her music has been labeled as alternative rock, hip hop, and indie. Her lyrics, many of which are written by her, are haunting and full of emotion. This CD contains 14 tracks. And I like all of them. Some of my favorite songs are: “High by the Beach”, “Terrence Loves You”, “Religion”, and “Salvatore”. Del Rey possesses an expansive contralto vocal range which spans more than three octaves. Ranging from high to low jazzy notes. She at times sounds like an angel, but don’t let her voice fool you, some of her lyrics can be quite gritty and explicit.

Some of her most popular songs include “Summertime Sadness” from the CD Born to Die and “Young and Beautiful” from the movie The Great Gatsby. Some of Lana’s favorite artists include Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, Jeff Buckley, and Leonard Cohen. Adele is a fan of Lana Del Rey. For total entertainment, check out some of her music videos on YouTube.

Parenthood (2010)

TV Series – After reaching the end of my favorite television series, Parks and Recreation, I was in dire need of finding a new show to fill my void.  Parenthood turned out to be that show.12760510

Parenthood is like Modern Family, in that both shows have a strong focus on family dynamics and relationships.  Parenthood, however, concentrates on more serious content, things that test the bonds that hold a family together.  The show follows the day to day trials and tribulations of the Braverman family.  Zeek and Camille have raised four children, who are now grown with their own families.  Crosby is a carefree guy who lives on a houseboat, enjoying his limitless freedom.  Julia is partner at a prestigious law firm, trying to juggle work while raising a young daughter with her husband.  Sarah wants to make a fresh start, taking her teenage kids and moving back into her childhood home with her parents.  And finally, Adam, the eldest of the  Braverman children, and caretaker to everyone, including his wife and two children.

What makes this series special are the intense bonds shared by the members of the Braverman clan.  Together, this family endures everything that life throws their way.  I would strongly recommend Parenthood to anyone who loves realistic family dramas.  I was completely invested in each of the main characters, and though fictional, their stories often left me tearful.      

10/10 would recommend to friend.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

41VTPDCAq5L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Book–Mare Barrow lives in a world in which your status in life is determined by the color of blood that flows through your veins. If you have Red blood then you are poor and you are forced to fight the Silver’s battles. If you have Silver blood, it means you were born with different gifts (aka super powers) like telepathy and fire. Mare and her family are Reds and struggle everyday to survive. As all of Mare’s older brothers are sent off to fight, Mare supports her family by stealing from the wealthy.

Everything changes after she accepts a job working at the royal palace. During a major dinner, a freak accident causes Mare to revel powers she did not know she even had, after all Reds do not have powers. The royal court, in order to safe face, take her, claim her as the lost princess, and betroth her to Prince Maven. Mare is unable to do anything if she wishes to keep her family and herself safe. So she does what they ask while learning to master her powers and secretly work with the Scarlet Guard, who are preparing to take down the Silvers.

Red Queen is an amazing ride. There is romance, mystery, adventure, action, powers, and more. The sequel, Glass Sword, just came out and the last book in the series will be out next year! It is a must-read for any lover of young adult literature. You will not regret it.