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.

 

100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

51OY+Ih8XLL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Book – Allan Karlsson is turning 100 and minutes before his birthday party at the nursing home, he makes a last-minute getaway through his bedroom window. He wanders to the nearby train station and purchases a train ticket to take him to a destination as far away as possible. While waiting for the train, an uncouth young man asks him to watch his suitcase while he “takes a dump.” Allan agrees and then is forced to make a quick decision when the train arrives before the young man returns. As Allan is discovered missing, it seems like everyone is looking for him while he meanders his way through villages, adventures and mishaps. Along the way, he meets other characters, including a lifetime scholar turned hot-dog vendor, a self-declared thief, a beauty with a colorful vocabulary, a gangster boss and a lonely policeman. During his journey, Allan reflects on his past, which in Forrest Gump fashion, led him to encounters with famous people including Mao Tse-Tung, President Truman and Stalin. This lively accounting of Allan’s life made me reflect on historical events. While Allan was entertaining, he was not a particularly appealing character to me. He was resourceful, but somehow left a lot of dead people behind, which didn’t seem to trouble him at all. The DVD (same title) is also available for check-out at the Library.

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.

Redwood & Wildfire by Andrea Hairston

imagesBook – Redwood is a girl with music in her bones and magic in her fingers, a born performer with a gift for hoodoo and witchcraft. She was never going to be the kind of girl who stayed home on the farm, but rural Georgia in the early 20th century is a dangerous place for a black girl in love with an Irish-Seminole man. So she and her lover Aidan strike out for the big city to get into the movies — Chicago, the birthplace of American filmmaking.

This is a poetic kind of book, full of enchanting twists and turns, beautiful vignettes of what life was and could have been like for people usually ignored by history, although it’s not strong on plot; if you want a strong story to carry you through, you might want to skip this one. But like a mosaic, the scenes in Redwood & Wildfire add up to more than the sum of their parts. If you love magic, romance, Blues music, movies, Chicago, and glimpses of joy that emerge from the struggle for survival, give this book a try, I think you’ll like it. (And if you do, don’t miss its science-fiction sequel, Will Do Magic for Small Change.)

Bessie (2015)

bessieMovie – Bessie Smith was one of the greatest jazz singers of the 1920s and 30s, a major influence on other jazz musicians, and as such one of the originators of all modern popular music. She was born in poverty in Chattanooga, toured with the legendary Ma Rainey, and after signing a record deal with Columbia, became the highest-paid Black entertainer of her time. They called her the Empress of the Blues, and you can still hear why in her recordings — Bessie Smith could rock. Really, the only surprise about her biopic is that it took them until 2015 to make one.

My favorite part of the movie they made of Chicago was Queen Latifah’s single number as the women’s prison warden, so I was thrilled to see her cast as Bessie Smith. She’s outstanding in it, not just in the musical numbers (which look like such a great time) but in portraying the drama of Bessie’s life – a bisexual woman, one who worked hard and partied hard, who struggled with her upbringing and her desire to build a family, who loved being on stage and loved her career. Other standouts in the cast include Michael Kenneth Williams (of Boardwalk Empire fame) as Jack Gee, Bessie’s volatile husband, and Mo’Nique as Ma Rainey, Bessie’s mentor.

If you’re fond of movies from the 1920s and 30s, be aware that this is not sanitized Hollywood fare; there’s plenty of drinking, fighting, sex, and the kind of raunchy music the Hayes Code would never permit (including one of Ma Rainey’s famous drag numbers). But this is a terrific look at what the 20s and 30s were really like, and a wonderful portrait of an amazing Black woman who deserves more recognition than she gets.

 

The World From the Side of the Moon by Phillip Phillips

phillipphillips-album-cover-400x400Music – Country to me has always been a difficult genre to nail down, with music ranging from classic country legends, to rock pairings, and ventures into the pop scene with just a twang of country accent.  I’ve even heard country rap!  It seems there is something for every music lover in this ever evolving genre.

For a minimum of two months at least, The World From the Side of the Moon by Phillip Phillip’s was my sole music provider.  I’m the kind of person that will listen a CD to death until I can’t bear another track, and Phillip Phillips was a great contender.  He has a folky, almost rock tone.  As a whole, I think this album is a great listen from start to finish.  The live tracks at the end of the album were also a nice bonus.  Having first heard Phillip Phillips as a contestant on American Idol, I was impressed with his solo voice outside of studio recordings, and his premier album did not disappoint.

The World From the Side of the Moon is a simple collection of songs that share a similar tone and rhythm.  It’s easy to pass through the whole album without really noticing how many songs have really gone by.  While some may find the album to be a bit monotonous, I enjoyed the constancy of the CD as a whole, which is great for as both background and avid-listening music.

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).

My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

Rosa_HC-REV-678x1024Book – Che has a short list of things he wants. He wants to stop following his parents around the world and go back home to Sydney. He wants to spar, the step his trainers say he needs to take his boxing to the next level, which he promised his parents he wouldn’t do. He wants a girlfriend. But first, most of all, he wants to keep his ten-year-old sister Rosa under control. Rosa isn’t a normal kid; she’s a psychopath, and Che’s parents refuse to believe it. But he’s seen her kill pets, and he’s sure she’s going to do it again, and worse, if he doesn’t keep both eyes on her at all times. And even that might not be enough.

This might technically be a YA book, but if you love psychological thrillers like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, you do not want to miss this. This book is full of terrific characters and relationships, but the relationship between Che and Rosa, where he sets boundaries and she pushes them, he tries to teach her how to have empathy and she tries to see how well she can fake it, is heartwrenchingly real. The last pages broke my heart and left me reeling. This modern-day variation on The Bad Seed is one of the best books I read in 2016.

The Intern (2015)

8756Movie – In The Intern, Jules Osten (Anne Hathaway) is the CEO of About the Fit, a new women’s clothing site. She at taken the site from her kitchen table to a company of over 200 employees in over a year.  Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) is her new intern. He is a 70-year old widower who was looking to do more in his old age than sit around.

Ben is old school. He is a gentleman, loyal, and quiet person. His co-workers and fellow interns enjoy this about him. He somehow becomes the cool uncle type. Ben gives dating, attire, and living advice to some of the man-children that work at About the Fit. Ben even lets one of them move in while he finds an apartment. Cool uncle stuff!

The only one who is not to fond of Ben is Jules. It is never really addressed why Jules does not like Ben and I felt had no bearing in the film. It was an issue at one point, and then it wasn’t.  This took away from the story a bit. Jules is overworked and her marriage is becoming strained. Her job has taken a toll on her husband. Without saying too much, things happen in the marriage but then there okay. Kind of like the whole Jules not liking Ben thing. The movie is good but leaves you with a feeling of not having finished things.

If you want to see De Niro in a wholesome comedy this one is okay. There is a scene where the guys all work together to help out Jules that is pretty good. Overall it’s an okay film.