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

Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

20821288Book – Lizzie lives alone with her invalid sister Emma in Maplecroft, a big old house in Fall River, Massachusetts. Everybody knows what she did. (You know what she did.) But what they don’t know is the reason why, the thing that keeps Lizzie up at nights, the thing that her sister writes to a scholar at Arkham University about, the thing that they don’t know about because Lizzie has been protecting them: There are monsters coming up out of the sea. And there is, so far as she can tell, very little that can stop them.

Fortunately, Lizzie is still very good with an axe.

This is a tremendous mashup of the real-life Lizzie Borden and the Lovecraftian mythos, and Priest doesn’t stint on either the historical flourishes (from Emma’s illness to the precarious social position that puts the two spinster sisters in) or the horror (lots of creepy-crawlies, monstrous fish-people, and the slow corruption of intellectuals studying things that Man Was Not Meant To Know). While this novel has its scares, it’s also got an action-movie quality about it. Or maybe it’s just so darn fun to imagine Lizzie Borden sinking her infamous axe into a Lovecraftian fish-monster. You have to admit, that’s a great image, and it happens plenty in this book.

Maplecroft has a sequel, Chapelwood, about a Lovecraftian cult in the rural Deep South. Or, if you prefer modern horror, try Priest’s new standalone horror novel, The Family Plot, about a salvage crew that runs afoul of an old ghost.

 

Sing Street (2016)

51Sl6kdAoyLMovie – Have you ever watched a movie and after, had to research to see whose life was just depicted? Only to find out that it was 100% original! Sing Street tells the story of teenage life in Dublin, Ireland in the mid 80’s.

Connor aka Cosmo is a teenager in a new school, where he is trying to fit in. He meets a girl, Raphina, as do all fifteen-year old boys, and changes his mind on fitting in. Cosmo forms a band with other misfits in the school and they start filming music videos for their new band Sing Street. This being the height of MTV culture, the video is key to making the girl want to hang out with the band. Cosmo asks Raphina to be in the bands video. Only problem is they have no music and are doing covers. Enter Brendan, the older guiding brother. Brendan tells Cosmo to write original songs. This is the only way to get noticed, make it big, and getting out of Dublin. Brendan loves Cosmo and schools him on the latest bands. Brendan wants Cosmo to make it and leave Dublin behind. Brendan knows Cosmo can do this, with his help of course.

The Sing Street band make writing, composing, and recording music look easy. John Carney, the director, does an excellent job of showing how easy music can be created. Cosmo writes the lyrics, sometimes with the help of Eamon, the bands musical genius. Cosmo and Eamon work together to compose the music to make sure it’s right for the lyrics. After all the work is done they practice and record both tapes and videos.

As I watched I kept wondering who the film was based on, because I did not know the songs the band was playing. After some research I found out the songs by Sing Street are all original! They all have that 80’s feel and would fool any die hard 80’s New Wave loving fan. Though some may see this a coming of age story, I see it more as a love story. Not between Cosmo and Raphina, but as a love story between two brothers and their love for music. If you like 80’s New Wave, Irish accents and kids having some fun, definitely check this one out.

Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson

51B1YJR9Y8L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book – What kind of pot is best for slow cooking on an electric stove? How often should you rotate your linens? What kind of fabric should you get on a couch to make sure it lasts as long as possible? How often do you need to dust, sweep, wash, and deep-clean? What kind of lighting should you have in which rooms? What kind of insurance should you have on your home, and how do you buy it? These are all things that go into making a house a home, and most of us know a little bit about some of them, but I’d venture to say that most of us don’t know a lot about all of them. Which is only fair: keeping house used to be a full-time job, after all, and now most of us work outside the home, so we don’t have the deep knowledge of someone who’s made it their career. Cheryl Mendelson brings a perfectionist’s eye for detail to homemaking.

This isn’t a high-color guide to Easy Tips For Your Home: it’s an in-depth examination of every single part of keeping a house. Mendelson is forgiving – she doesn’t scold you for not learning how to do things properly, nor does she insist that you need to have, for example, fine china that’s difficult to care for. She only insists that if you do have fine china, you treat it well. This book can certainly seem overwhelming at times, but it’s more of a reference book than the kind of thing you read cover-to-cover: pick it up when you have a question about the best way to do something, and you can be confident that you will at least know where you’re cutting corners.

Nerve (2016)

10768Movie –  A new game has hit the internet. Its a game like truth or dare, but without the truth option. If you want to participate in this came you become one of two positions. A Player or a Watcher. A player is given dares. If the dare is completed with self photographic/video graphic proof then they win money and move on to another dare more intense than the last. If you are a watcher- you watch others doing dares, and can suggest to the creator what the next dare should be for specific Players. The more watchers a player has the higher up in the ranks you move, therefor the more money you can make.

Venus (Emma Roberts) is a safe boring high school girl who has a “popular” best friend that is at the top of the leaderboard. After its made abundantly clear Venus is super lame, she decides to become a Player in the game of Nerve herself. She finds herself paired up with Ian (James Franco) per the watchers request. The dares get more and more extreme as she tries to prove to everyone that she really does have what it takes to be cool.

I found this teen thriller mildly predictable in the overall story line. It was certainly entertaining, fun, and intense. The dares that are in this movie are all natural things that would/could really be dared by someone. I was nervous that it would be blown way out of proportion, but I am happy to report that is not the case. I am sure everyone can relate to at least one person in this high school drama movie. I found the ending brilliant and suspenseful. The colors and graphics are outstanding. It really shows how this game is played in real life.

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.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

indexBook – The opening of the book sets the tone of A Reliable Wife. Widower Ralph Truitt waits on a train platform in bitter cold blizzardy conditions in rural Wisconsin.  It is 1907 and the wealthy business man awaits his future bride, Catherine from Chicago, whom he chose from numerous responses to his newspaper ad seeking a “reliable wife”.  He is shocked to find that the photograph that she had sent him represented her as a plain looking woman versus the stunning beauty before him and it makes him wonder what other secrets she may be keeping from him.  Despite his suspicions, he marries her anyway due to his loneliness and his own ulterior motives. Catherine, haunted by a tragic past is motivated by greed and plans to eventually leave Wisconsin as a wealthy widow.

After the wedding Catherine and Ralph treat each other amicably. Catherine tries to be cheerful, though she feels trapped, because of the cold and snow. She also misses her fast-paced life in the city.  Sensing her restlessness Ralph reveals to her a splendid house on the property filled with treasures.  He had built it for his wife, Emilia and had not gone in it since her death.  Ralph also wants to find his estranged son to atone for the abuse that he had stowed upon him. So when some detectives have a lead that he is in St. Louis, Catherine jumps at the chance to go kick up her heels in the city under the pretext that she would try to coax Andy to come home to his father.

Things become more twisted when Andy becomes part of the plot. The gothic tone of this suspenseful story will keep the reader engrossed and the pages turning. If Hitchcock would have been alive, I’m sure he would have made a movie out of this. This book reminded me of Steinbeck’s East of Eden and Du Maurier’s Rebecca.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

ParableOfTheSower(1stEd)Book – Lauren has hyperempathy, a disorder born from a drug her mother took while she was pregnant; it means that Lauren feels other people’s pain like it’s her own. When she was a kid, her brothers would cut themselves to watch her bleed. It’s a tough disorder to live with in a world like hers, where everyone lives close to the edge all the time. Her dad tells stories about the good old days, when his professor’s salary was enough to live well, when people didn’t live in walled neighborhoods just to keep the looters out, when you could buy your food at the grocery store instead of growing and trading for what you need to survive – but Lauren knows better than to listen too close to those stories, because she’s pretty sure it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Which means that when, one day, it does, she’s one of the only people from her old neighborhood who’s prepared for what comes next.

This is one of those books that people have been telling me to read for years, and I only just got around to it. It’s a classic of science fiction, and for good reason: Lauren is one of the most real characters I’ve ever seen. She’s afraid, she’s hurt, she’s brave, she’s stubborn, she’s uncertain, she’s a leader not because she knows better than anyone else but because she’s thoughtful, and has thought about things that most people are too afraid to consider. This is a quieter dystopia than most of the current run of dystopian fiction. There’s no Hunger Games here, just people fighting for their own survival. But it’s even more inspiring because of that, because while we can’t all be Katniss, it’s much easier to imagine ourselves being Lauren — someone who, when faced with the loss of everything she’s ever known and loved, does her best to help others build a future.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

the-princess-diaristBook – I read The Princess Diarist on Christmas Day, just after the news of Carrie Fisher’s heart attack.  Like so many Princess Leia fans around the world, I was heartbroken by Fisher’s death two days later.  In addition to her acting career, she was an outspoken advocate for mental health awareness (she suffered from bipolar disorder) and a writer of novels, memoirs and screenplays.  If you know her only through her performances, you’re missing out on the larger-than-life personality she revealed, with sometimes brutal candor, on the pages of her books.

The Princess Diarist is Fisher’s third (and presumably final, bar any posthumous manuscripts) memoir, following Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic.  While I personally believe that Wishful Drinking was better-written and more consistent as a book, The Princess Diarist will probably be more intriguing to most Fisher fans because it focuses mainly on the period during which the first Star Wars film was shot.  The headline revelation that Fisher and co-star Harrison Ford had an affair during the filming is by far the book’s juiciest bombshell, but also its biggest weakness–Fisher includes a sheaf of her diary entries from the period which read as the overwrought melodramatic sighs of a teenager in love (often in verse, no less) because that’s exactly what they are.  In the rest of the book, however, adult-Fisher’s needle-sharp black humor and unmistakable voice shine, more than justifying the price of admission for fans of her work in any medium.  Skip the titular diary, set aside an afternoon to spend with the rest of The Princess Diarist, and you’ll have yourself a fitting tribute to a cultural icon lost to us before her time.

The Mirror Sisters by V. C. Andrews

29430815Book – From the author of Flowers in the Attic, comes a new disturbing tale of twins, appropriately titled The Mirror Sisters by V.C. Andrews.

I should have known what to expect from this creepy, chilling novel centered on identical twins, Haylee Blossom Fitzgerald and Kaylee Blossom Fitzgerald.  With a manic and controlling mother, the sisters received a truly identical upbringing, and were taught to view themselves as a single perfect being.

As children, their mother ensured that each twin received exactly the same treatment and experiences.  If one twin received a new dress, the other must also have an exact duplicate.  Likewise, if one child happened to cut her finger on a broken shard of glass, the other must be pricked in the exact same spot of the exact same finger.  Differences in behavior and thought were frowned upon and punishable.  Though centered on the relationship between the two girls, I enjoyed that this story also had a strong focus on all relationships within the Fitzgerald family.  The obsessed mother.  A troubled father.  It was cool to see those unique family dynamics.

The story as a whole left me frustrated, and stayed with me long after reading.  I applaud V.C. Andrews for composing a complexly disturbed narrative I simply couldn’t put down.  Definitely not a feel good story in any respect, but well worth the read.