Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat? by Lisa Scottoline & Francesca Serritella

Book – Lisa Scottoline and her daughter Francesca share their witty observations and musings about the joys and trials of everyday modern life. They take on topics such as college reunions, leather loungers at the movie theater, diets, working out, family relationships, mice in the house, auctions, men and, as the title suggests, eating on the beach.

The collection of short essays kept me laughing out loud, but was also heartwarming and endearingly honest. I felt like the authors were sitting across the table from me, sharing their stories. Francesca writes “I feel like I’m the last of my friends to try two things: online dating and therapy. I think I need both. Or more specifically, I think I need one for the other. I’m just not sure in which order.” as she expounds on the challenges of being newly single. Lisa shares “I joke about getting older, but the truth is, I don’t feel old. On the contrary, at age fifty-nine, I feel as if I’m entering my prime. So I’m either delusional or insightful. I’ll leave the choice to you. But let me make my case.” in discussing the evolution of our lives.

The mother-daughter duo have written five other humor memoirs in this series. Lisa Scottoline is also the author of twenty-four novels, including her latest best-seller, Every Fifteen Minutes.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Book – Dr. John Montague, eager to find incontrovertible proof of the supernatural, has invited a few guests to stay with him in the notorious Hill House for the summer. Luke, heir to the property, owns it but has never lived there; Theodora, the professor’s assistant, expects the whole thing to be a nice vacation. And Eleanor Vance, who has spent the past eleven years nursing her ailing mother, is finally free and hoping for some kind of adventure. She was not expecting the kind of adventure that Hill House has to offer.

The Haunting of Hill House is, quite simply, the best haunted house story ever written. (That’s not just my opinion – it’s been adapted twice to film, excellently in 1963 and somewhat less well in 1999, and Stephen King cites it as influential on The Shining.) The horror is subtle and omnipresent, but it never comes out into the light for you to see clearly (and be disappointed by). The characters are certainly of their time, contemporary with the book’s publication date of 1959, but they’re all fascinating, well-rounded people. Well – well-rounded characters, certainly, but Eleanor at least is not a particularly stable person. It’s her insecurities, combined with the house’s malevolent influence, that make this book so unforgettably chilling.

Children of the Corn (1984)

Movie – When I think of horror movies, I picture monsters, deformed killers out for revenge (Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers…), and those awful moments where you know somebody’s going to jump and freak the living daylights out of you.  Of course, there’s the occasional demonic force taking over a doll, a child, or a loving mother too.  Yet I feel the film Children of the Corn is in a category all its own.

A nice young couple finds themselves lost and stranded in a rural, seemingly abandoned town.  But then they hit a child with their car, who they appear to have killed.  Of course.  However, as it happens they are not responsible for his death. And as it goes in horror films, they find it necessary to load the body in their car and find the nearest policeman to explain what happened.  (This is reminiscent of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, where picking up a terrified suicidal stranger ends up backfiring big time).  The couple soon discovers that they are being hunted by the only residents of the town–children.  As they uncover the mystery of what happened to all the adults, the couple must fight to survive the worst road trip of their lives.  Creepy and filled with evil children, this cult classic is one everyone should watch at least once.

Watching this film as a child, my eldest brother assured me I wouldn’t be scared because instead of monsters, the villains of this film are children.  Because I was also a child, there was nothing to fear.  Luckily, it was actually the vast fields of corn where the children hunted their prey that really freaked me out.  I shivered in fear at the thought of being lost in an endless maze of tall corn stalks, with no hope of escape.

If you want a good scare this Halloween without the special effects and CGI monsters, check out this film, and be forever terrified of corn mazes, and possibly children.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Book – Dr. Faraday is a respectable country physician, but he keeps his childhood a secret – his mother was a maid at Hundreds Hall, home of the ancient and established Ayres family. And now that the new maid of the household is his patient, he’s even more reluctant to let it be known where he came from. But the Ayreses – widowed Mrs. Ayres, her spinster daughter Caroline, and her son Roderick – have much more to worry about than their friend the doctor’s history. Strange things are happening at Hundreds Hall, things that are putting a strain on the well-being of the family. Dr. Faraday is convinced that it’s only the effects of living in an old and decrepit house, but the family is sure there’s something more sinister going on.

The Little Stranger takes its time getting where it’s going; this is no fast-paced thriller. Rather, you have plenty of time to get to know Dr. Faraday, Mrs. Ayres, Caroline, Roddy, and Hundreds Hall itself. It’s the kind of haunted house story where you’re never quite sure who’s right and what’s really happening – although it helps to remember that the narrator, Dr. Farraday, has his own biases that may be getting in his way and ours. This is the perfect novel for a cup of tea and a gloomy October afternoon.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

bccf75d26f52209597a6c2b5567444341587343Book – In a lilac wood lives a unicorn who has heard a rumor that she is the last of her kind. Although unicorns are solitary creatures, she does not like the thought of being the last, so she sets off on a quest to find the rest of them. Along the way she meets a witch running a questionable carnival, a slightly (but not entirely) inept magician, a band of outlaws and their long-suffering cook, and (of course) a prince.

Reading The Last Unicorn is like reading your favorite fairy tale for the first time. It’s a tremendously deep, rich fantasy story that is nothing at all like Tolkien, but contains all of those things that made you like fantasy stories when you were small – talking animals, wizards, an evil king, true love, and, of course, unicorns. When I was a kid, I wore out the local video store’s VHS copy of the movie, which is not only gorgeously animated but is a remarkably faithful adaptation. (The singing, well, the less said about Mia Farrow’s duet with Jeff Bridges, the better.) This is the book I always turn to when I want to feel good about the world.

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr.

2873d4688a8572a593231496241444341587343Book – Alice Sheldon was one of the most remarkable science fiction writers of the sixties and seventies. Uninterested in once again being The Woman in a man’s world, she wrote under the pen name of James Tiptree, Jr. entirely anonymously until 1977, at which point several people who had praised the masculinity of her writing were very embarrassed.

Personally, I don’t see how people couldn’t see she was a woman. “The Women Men Don’t See” is a story that could be comfortably classified as women’s fiction, even with the aliens, and “The Screwfly Solution” is a science-fictional horror story of women’s fears. “Houston, Houston, Do You Read” is a response to the feminist utopia novels popular at the time.

Every story in this collection (admittedly a best-of collection, but it represents a huge proportion of her short fiction overall) is outstanding. Many of them will linger on in your memory, cropping up in conversation when you’re talking to people who’ve never heard of Tiptree before. That’s all right – you’ll get to introduce them.

Home is Where the Bark Is by Kandy Shepherd

0425234290.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Book – I love a good romance, but I want more than just lust and passion.  My favorite love stories are those that come with a side fluffbe it puppies, cats, horsesthe furry (and un-furry) creatures that so often bring people together in real life.  This novel has all that, and more.

Home Is Where The Bark Is brings us former model Serena Oakley.  Tired of being in the spotlight, Serena has worked hard to put the past behind her by disguising her looks and opening her own business, a doggy daycare called Paws-A-While.  Everything is going great until Undercover Private Investigator Nick Whalen enters her shop with a tiny pup in tow.  Serena knows something is up; this muscular, unsmiling man just doesn’t seem the type to have a precious Yorki-poodle mix.

However, Nick is there investigating the Paws-A-While owner over a series of identity frauds and he’s certain Serena has something to hide.  Slowly, despite their mutual insecurities with one another the pair begins to bond over a helpless dog, and that just might be enough to bring them together.

This is one of my guilty pleasures of romance novels.  Not your typical sexy posed woman draped across the cover type of books.  A cute one that make you go “Awwww’ because there are puppies involved.  Would recommend to anyone who loves a good romance of opposites attract and of course any animal lover. A perfect mix of puppy dog tales and love stories.

The Possibilities by Kaui Hart Hemmings

PossibilitiesBook – It’s been three months since Sarah’s 22 year old son, Cully was killed in an avalanche while snowboarding and she decides that it is finally time to pull herself together and go to work. She has also decided that it is time to go through Cully’s belongings and enlists the aid of her best friend, Suzanne. Sarah is shaken when they discover evidence that her son may have been involved in dealing pot. She also struggles that her idealized memories of her son may not be deserving and questions whether she could have been a better parent.

Soon after, a girl named Kit shows up on Sarah’s doorstep offering to shovel snow. Sarah’s father, Lyle, forms a comfortable bond with Kit and she soon reveals to them that she and Cully had a relationship. Sarah, still heavily grieving can’t believe that Cully kept this relationship a secret and she invites Kit into her home as a connection to Cully and to possibly learn more about her son. A memorial service planned for Cully brings together Cully’s mother, father, grandfather, Suzanne, and Kit. Kit makes an astounding revelation concerning Cully that could make a drastic impact.

This is a story of loss and heartache and how each character tries to find peace and come to terms with Cully’s death. This book has received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Review. Kaui Hart Hemmings is also the author of The Descendants, which was made into a movie starring George Clooney which was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture.

The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

the_gods_of_gotham-1Book – If you have any interest in mystery, historical fiction, New York City, Holmesiana or just plain well-written human drama, Lyndsay Faye is the author you never knew you needed in your life.  Unless you did, in which case well done you.

Timothy Wilde is a New York City bartender in 1845, lending an ear to the world’s problems and working up the courage to confess his love for his childhood sweetheart, Mercy.  When a fire does away with his job and his life savings, however, he stumbles his way (pushed by his brother, the larger-than-life, twice as troublesome and three times as irresistible Val) into the work he never wanted but always should’ve had: as a ‘copper star,’ a member of New York’s brand-new police force.  A chance encounter with a ten-year-old girl in a blood-covered nightgown puts him on the trail that ends in the bodies of twenty children and sends the entire city into a flurry of tension along racial, ethnic and especially religious lines.  And while his determination to find the truth will make an investigator of Tim, it will also challenge his preconceptions about the people he loves.

Written in rich period language (a glossary is included), The Gods of Gotham is a fast-paced and atmospheric thriller that stands on its own merits as both a mystery and a piece of historical fiction.  But what makes it exceptional are Faye’s writing style and command of human nature.  Her prose is insightful, incisive and deeply felt, and her characters memorable and well-rounded.  New devotees will be pleased to hear that Tim’s adventures continue in Seven for a Secret and the recent conclusion to the trilogy, The Fatal Flame.



Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

1451666179.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Book – I don’t know what it is about Allie Brosh’s style that is so deeply hilarious. Is it the choppy storytelling, half-illustrated and half in prose? Is it the expressions on the faces of her MSPaint-drawn characters? Is it the stories themselves? Or is it a combination of all three that so regularly leaves me giggling helplessly for minutes at a time?

I first discovered Hyperbole and a Half as a webcomic in 2010, when it was still being updated semi-regularly. Then Brosh took a long hiatus due to a bad bout of depression, and then she came back with two outstanding comics about it (both of which are included in the book). There are a few other extras in the book as well, stories that were never published on the website, so ideally you should read both: once you’ve polished off Hyperoble and a Half, head over to the website and work your way through the archives. It’ll be fun, I promise.