Alyssa

About Alyssa

I’m an Adult Services Assistant here at the Warrenville Public Library. I will read anything shiny that my eye lands upon, but I tend to find that young adult, fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, classic, and chick-lit books are my favorites. Books and shows I love tend to have strong character-driven plots, well-drawn female characters, and clever turns of phrase. When not reading, I can usually be found playing Zelda, cooking and baking, and assiduously avoiding the outdoors.

Penguins of the World by Wayne Lynch

9780713687118Book–Covering all 17 penguin species over multiple continents, nature writer and photographer Wayne Lynch covers penguins from birth to mating to death in interesting prose paired with well-chosen photographs. Topics covered include penguin anatomy (did you know they have spines on their tongues to help move prey into their mouths?), penguin predators, species differences, and environmental threats. Lynch’s writing is lively and infused with a genuine love for the penguins he studies. This is especially apparent when he chronicles mishaps befalling penguins, such as getting eaten by seals or predator birds called skuas or baby penguins getting abandoned by their parents, and the self-control he had to exercise to not interrupt and stop nature’s course in its tracks.

If I had any complaints about this volume, it would be that I think it could have stood to include even more gorgeous pictures. While I enjoyed learning more about penguins, I think a good coffee table book like this one can never have enough full-color picture spreads. Penguins of the World will appeal to all fans of these adorable creatures as well as to adults who wish those slim, brightly colored, non-fiction books about animals written for kids came in adult-aimed versions as well.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

920x920Book–Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond immersed himself in the lives of 8 poverty-stricken Milwaukee families and constructed this book out of hours of recorded conversations. His account takes place in both a mostly white run-down trailer park and in a mostly black set of tenements; he also spoke to the two landlords that own these properties. Desmond argues that there is one common thread that destabilizes the lives of all the people he spoke to: eviction. The old well-known advice says that one should spend no more than 1/3 of one’s income on housing. However, when subsisting on government benefits and food stamps, one has no choice but to drop 80%+ of one’s meager income on housing, and, as Desmond puts it, “if you’re spending 80 percent of your income on rent, eviction is much more of an inevitability than an irresponsibility.”

For the most part, this book is a litany of sad stories, depressing outcomes, poor choices, and petty injustices. I found it to be somewhat repetitive after a while. However, the repetitiveness proves Desmond’s point. Even when these families get a lucky break, be a it a tax refund, benefits coming through, or a win at gambling, the precariousness of their situation and their predatory landlords keep them locked in a cycle of poverty where they owe their landlord more than they can pay, until they are evicted and need to start their Sisyphean journey toward stability in a new, often more squalid, place. If Evicted caught your attention, I would also recommend White Trash by Nancy Isenberg and Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

The Last Adventure of Constance Verity By A. Lee Martinez

indexBook–This skewering of the adventure genre follows Constance Verity, an adventurer since childhood who was blessed (or cursed, if you ask Constance) by a fairy godmother at birth to live an exciting life full of adventure and die a glorious death. Similar to how Poirot stumbles on murder mysteries even while on vacation, Constance’s life is never far from adventure. Her job interviewer turns out to be a member of a strange cult, her biology teacher is part of a vast conspiracy, and since adventure is par for the course of her life, Constance is perpetually exhausted, trusts no one, and suspects everyone of hidden motives. When your whole life is adrenaline and excitement, monotony and ordinariness become sacred. In a quest for an ordinary life, Constance and her best friend Tia set off, ironically, on an adventure, with the goal of murdering her fairy godmother and thus hopefully shedding her blessing/curse.

Part of the fun of this book is all of the crazy adventures that Tia and Constance refer to in their dialog and the loving way that Martinez sends up the classics of adventure.  This book is the start of a series, so it’s probably actually NOT the “last adventure” of Constance Verity.

Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate by Spencer Raskoff and Stan Humphries

61UkBBTtC-L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Book— CEO Raskoff and Chief Analytics Officer Humphries have combined statistics gleaned from their popular real estate site Zillow with an eye for storytelling to create Zillow Talk, an entertaining, anecdote-filled journey through the land of house-buying and selling. With fewer people choosing to buy over rent after the housing crisis, the real estate market looks very different: as the authors put it, homeownership has been “decoupled” from the American dream. However, there are still many great reasons to buy a home, and the authors give us some tips for home buying and listing. For instance, like in department stores where prices always end in “.99,” calling a house price, say $199,900 instead of $200,000 has the same psychological effect of leading you to believe the price is significantly cheaper. Using the vast quantity of data that Zillow has generated, the authors have noticed such patterns among such minor factors as street names, walkability, and listing time significantly affecting the price a home eventually sells for.

Zillow Talk is a fun read even if you never plan to buy a house. It will appeal to fans of the Freakonomics books, which also tease out interesting facts from raw statistics and economics to tell a story.

Man Up (2015)

Man-Up-2015-movie-posterMovie— Cynical thirty-something Nancy (Lake Bell) is single and does not want to be. When a chance encounter on the train leads to her being mistaken as Jack’s (Simon Pegg) blind date Jessica, she decides to roll with it and go on a date with Jack. Naturally, Jack and Nancy hit it off right away, having a whole montage sequence worth of a cute date until circumstances and an obsessed former classmate of Nancy’s conspire to reveal her identity. Once Nancy’s identity as not the twenty-four year old triathlete Jessica is revealed, Jack and Nancy turn on each other, but it transpires that Jack’s motives for arranging a date with Jessica were more mercenary than he admitted to initially. When the real Jessica contacts Jack and asks for a do-over of their date, Jack must decide if he wants to meet the actual Jessica or explore his new connection with Nancy.

Man Up is a great feel-good, date night type movie with some genuinely funny parts. I especially appreciated that it was less raunchy than some modern romantic comedies (though still a bit raunchy). As a devotee of Meg Ryan-era rom-coms, I’m always pleased when modern rom-coms fall on the tamer side of things. If you like this one, I would also suggest Run, Fatboy, Run (also stars Simon Pegg) and My Best Friend’s Wedding (also has a cynical protagonist).

We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to to Covergirl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement by Andi Zeisler

indexBook–Andi Zeisler, co-founder of feminist nonprofit Bitch Media, has spent her career examining popular culture through a feminist lens. Zeisler argues that lately feminist has become a coveted ‘cool’ label. In contrast to the 1980s retrenchment of conservative values that repudiated feminism, now it’s a label that everyone wants to claim. Popular celebrities regularly affirm that they are feminist, brands like Dove are embracing body positivity as a marketing technique, and even innocuous products like underwear are being marketed using empowerment jargon. According to Zeisler, if everything is suddenly feminist, than it’s as if nothing is feminist. Using feminism to categorize everything from pop music to sanitary pads dilutes the meaning of the word and sidesteps the systemic inequalites that feminism should rightly address. Because people face an unequal range of opportunities, feminism is not as simple as people just making the choices they would have made anyway then calling themselves feminist for it. Zeisler calls this “Marketplace Feminism,” though others have called it choice feminism.

While I did enjoy this book, I thought it suffered from too many examples and observations and not enough solutions and conclusions. Any reader who frequents the feminist blogosphere will be more than familiar with most of the examples that Zeisler uses to illustrate her points. We Were Feminists Once would be a great read for someone just getting interested in feminism or who just wants a brief overview of the quasi-feminist listicle-generating culture that Zeisler critiques.

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins

51N8TdfrZ6L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Book–Looking for a light, frothy read over the holidays? My True Love Gave to Me is the collection for you. Including stories from some of the biggest authors in the young adult literature world, these stories will appeal equally to young adults and adults looking for a clean read. I enjoyed all of the stories in this collection, but some of my favorites were “Midnights” by Rainbow Rowell, where we follow two best friends over a series of New Years Eves until they fall in love, “Your Temporary Santa” by David Levithan, where the main character’s boyfriend dresses up as Santa to surprise the main character’s sibling, and ” Angels in the Snow” by Matthew De La Pena, about a lonely young man who is stuck cat-sitting far away from his family over Christmas. This collection spans genres from realistic fiction to fantasy, so there should be a story here for everyone.

If  you enjoyed this collection, you’ll be pleased to know that there is also a version to entertain you this summer: Summer Days and Summer Nights, also edited by Perkins, brings 12 more stories by twelve different authors with a similar seasonal theme. Not only that, but if you really liked any of the stories, consider checking out the authors’ novels!  We have plenty of them here at the Library.

Finding the Right Words for the Holidays: Festive Phrases to Personalize Your Holiday Greetings and Newsletters by J. Beverly Daniel

16170561Book–I love sending out holiday cards. Picking out the card design, gathering my addresses (fortunately, I have a small family), and sending out the cards is always a fun part of the holiday ritual. Where I fall down and get stuck is on what the heck to write in the card. I inevitably end up with something trite, or I get the cards with a pre-printed message and just sign my name to them. When I stumbled on this small book tucked away in the 800s, it was quite a relief. Finally, I have more than enough holiday phrases to write, and won’t let writer’s block stick me with a bunch of blank unsent cards (yes, this actually happened last year).

Finding the Right Words for the Holidays includes messages for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the New Year, plus phrases to tuck into charmingly smug holiday family newsletters. With messages ranging from sincere to flippant, you should be able to find something with the correct tone for your friends, family, and others. I hope you can benefit from this little book as much as I did and, as the book says, “May your holidays be filled with many treasures and surprises.”

 

Before I Go by Colleen Oakley

indexBook–  Daisy is crushed when, on the anniversary of three years free of cancer, she receives a surprise stage four diagnosis, with a life expectancy of 4 months. This is especially galling for Daisy because she did everything ‘right’– ate healthy, cancer-fighting foods, got all of her scheduled follow-ups, and exercised regularly. Rather than dwelling on her own mortality, Daisy is worried about her husband Jack. Jack is a brilliant airhead who relies on Daisy to take care of him.

Oakley does a great job at characterizing both Jack and Daisy:  we get a clear picture of Daisy the type A, detail-oriented organizer and list-maker and her partnership with Jack, the big-picture, charming, dreamer type. Daisy comes to the conclusion that she should spend her last few months finding Jack a new wife/caretaker. With the help of her best friend, she frequents dog parks and coffee shops looking for her replacement, even making a dating website profile for Jack. However, once one of the prospects she’s scouted for seems to be getting too close to Jack for Daisy’s liking, and she begins to re-evaluate how she’s planned to spend the final months of her life.

This book has a definite downer ending, but that’s what you expect reading a book about terminal cancer. I especially liked that, even while near death, Oakley did not make Daisy become a  caricature of the brave cancer patient:  she retained her personality, flaws and all. This is the author’s first novel, and it will be interesting to see what she writes next.

 

The Forest (2016)

9149Movie–Identical twin sisters Sara and Jess have always been very close, brought together by their parents’ death when they were children. Sara is nothing but supportive when Jess, who has struggled with suicidal thoughts in the past, decides to go teach English in Japan to get a fresh start. Sara is stunned, though, when she receives  a call from Japanese authorities that her sister is missing and was last seen entering Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji. Aokigahara Forest, as the characters in the movie love telling Sara in as spooky a manner as possible, is a popular destination for those contemplating suicide and is full of yuurei, vengeful Japanese spirits that try to get you to stray from the forest path and give you hallucinations to prompt dark thoughts. Naturally, Sara decides to plunge right into the forest to find Jess, whom Sara is sure has not yet succumbed to yuurei. Accompanied by a guide and a new acquaintance, Sara is making headway towards finding Jess when she makes the predictably terrible, horror-movie-protagonist decision to stay in the forest overnight.

This movie excels in its first two thirds at building suspense. It has a lot of well-composed shots that will stick in my memory and makes the audience care about Jess’ fate through Sara’s eyes. However, as is often the case with horror movies, the last third is a bit of a muddle. The protagonist makes a series of seriously poor decisions and the money shots of vengeful yuurei are a bit too direct and silly-looking to inspire real terror. The unique setting and great first two-thirds, however, are enough to make the movie worth a watch.