The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

Book – Samuel Hawley and his daughter, Loo, are always on the move. Each time they settle into a new place, Hawley sets up a shrine in their bathroom to honor to his late wife, who drowned when Loo was a baby. Finally, when Loo is a teenager, Hawley decides to try to give her a normal life at his wife’s seaside hometown in Massachusetts. When Hawley competes in the local Greasy Pole Contest, he takes off his shirt to reveal a body riddled with scars from bullet holes. As Hawley and Loo’s latest stop becomes “home,” Hawley reflects on his past and the incidents that led to his scars. Loo begins to reach out to a few of the people in the town and as she matures, she learns about the secrets that bind her and her father. This book is a unique look at family bonds, guilt, sacrifice and the impact of our decisions and how they can ripple through generations.

Trolls (2017)

Movie – Growing up I was never a big fan of trolls.  The odd little dolls just gave me the heebie jeebies with their creepy, smiling faces.  However, the 2017 movie, Trolls is a whole different story. I adore this film; it’s fun, musical, and just so colorful.  I’ve already watched it three times. Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake belt out the lyrics as main characters Poppy and Branch which is a real treat to listen to. I definitely recommend checking out the soundtrack after you watch the film.

Welcome to a world full of never-ending happiness, music, and love! The Trolls are the most joyful creatures who love throwing parties, breaking into song, and most of all, hugs!  Poppy is their beloved ruler, and the very best party thrower. However, these lively beings have a dark past. Years ago, the trolls were attacked by a miserable beastly species called the Bergens.  Since their escape, there have been no Bergen sightings for a long time. When the Bergens suddenly return and kidnap a bunch of trolls, it is up to Poppy to rescue them.  Poppy pairs up with Branch, an intolerable, grumpy troll, and they set off to save their friends. It’s an adventure featuring with unlikely duo, unexpected twists and turns, and fantastic musical numbers.

Everything about this movie makes me happy. The setting is so vibrant and colorful, and I love, love, love all of the trolls and their individual personalities. It’s a quirky, fun story that makes you want to get up and dance! By far one of my favorite films this year, and the best kid’s movie I’ve seen in awhile.

 

Dark Angel (2016)

TV – Do you remember beloved and loyal Anna from Downton Abbey?  This time Joanne Froggart plays a very different character. Mary Ann Cotton was one of Britain’s most notorious and prolific serial killers, believed to have murdered over 20 people in Victorian England. Mary Ann, who became known as the ‘Dark Angel”, just wanted to get ahead of life, escaping the poverty of the coal fields and the hardships of a miner’s family. She did back breaking work, but never earned enough to enjoy the fruits of her labor.  Desperate, she discovered the benefits of life insurance and the effects of arsenic, especially when dispensed in a “nice cup of tea”. She became an expert at poisoning by mimicking the ailments of that time, such as cholera and typhoid fever.  Despite her pre-meditated planning, it’s hard for the viewer not to empathize with her situation – she was abused, hungry, lived in filthy and dangerous environments. She gave birth to 13 children and had four husbands of which it was believed that she murdered 11 0f her children and four of her husbands. In 1873, she was arrested, tried, and hanged for poisoning her stepson. She never admitted to any of the murders.

This is a fascinating Masterpiece Theater Production of a woman whose victims outnumbered even the notorious Jack the Ripper.

Lady Killers by Tori Telfer

Book – It’s hard to find a good true crime book about murderous women. There’s a way in which female killers are often treated less seriously than male killers, as though their femininity makes them somehow cute or trivial even though they’ve killed people. From the title, I was expecting Lady Killers to be something like that. I was pleasantly surprised when what I got instead was a chronicle of the way the contemporary media, and then history, treats women murderers. There are some big names in here (Countess Bathory, obviously; the Bloody Benders) but also a few I’d never heard of, and some I only knew a little about. They aren’t just stories from America and the UK, either – we’ve got murderers here from Egypt, Hungary, Russia, and Ireland. In each story, Telfer picks apart the ways these women are dehumanized (many of them were described as animalistic) or their crimes minimized by making them sexy (bathing in the blood of virgins!) or purely mercenary (killing one husband for the insurance money is one thing, but five?). And then, once they’ve been executed or died in prison, we forget all about them. Aileen Wurnos is far from the first female serial killer, but that was exactly what she was called in the press. In the end, Telfer’s thesis is simple: women are people, and sometimes people are horrible. Fans of Harold Schechter and Skip Hollandsworth should enjoy this very much.

A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor

Book-– Written by former director Neil MacGregor of the National Gallery in London, A History of the World in 100 Objects uses artifacts in the museum to tell the story of the world from our prehistoric origins all the way through to today. MacGregor refreshingly focuses about equally on objects from the Orient as well as the Occident, including such disparate artifacts as a Korean roof tile and a modern-day credit card. The joy of this 700+ page tome comes from how completely knowledgeable and intelligent MacGregor is; I felt MacGregor struck a nice balance between the breadth of topics he covered and the depth he delved into for each topic. I learned more about history, and had more fun doing it, from this book than I ever did in school. If you prefer a listening experience over a reading one, you can also download the entire collection, divided into 100 episodes, from the BBC’s website for free.

If you enjoy this book, you might also like others that take a concrete, artifact-based view of historical events, such as The Civil War in 50 Objects. If you were more intrigued by this book’s birds-eye, macro view of history, try A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (has a science bent) or Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.

The Book of Life (2014)

Movie – When the rulers of the lands of the dead make a wager one can only image what will happen to the living. This sounds like the start of a gory horror movie, but it not. It is the premise for an animated-film about the Mexican holiday: Día de Los Muertos. In The Book of Life, La Muerte, the ruler of the Land of the Remembered makes a bet with Xibalba, the rules of the Land of the Forgotten. The wager involves three childhood friends and love.

Xibalba bets that Maria will end up with Joaquín, while La Muerte believes Maria and Manolo are destined to fall in love. Xibalba hedges his bet by presenting Joaquín with a pin that will protect him and makes him the town hero. With no protection, Manolo dies and Xibalba wins the bet. Manolo is transported to the Land of the Remembered where he meets all of his deceased family. He discovers Xibalba’s tricks and vows to travel to the Land of the Forgotten to tell La Muerte so he can get back to Maria.

The animation is colorful and imaginative. The characters were modeled after wooden childrens’ toys. The scenery for the Land of the Remembered depicts some of the most traditional images of Día de Los Muertos. There are colorful sugar skull shapes all over this land. The dead have faces like that of sugar skulls. In addition, there are scenes from the cemeteries where the families have set up offerings and alters with pictures, traditional flowers, candles, favorite foods, and pan de muertos (day of the dead sweet bread).

If you like colorful images, great animation, a cute storyline, and a fiercely independent lead female character, watch this. Also, if you ever wondered about this Mexican holiday, watch The Book of Life to get a small taste of what this holiday means to Mexicans. It is not about worshiping the dead. It is about understanding death is a part of life and this is how you get to celebrate the life of those who have passed on. By showing them how much you love them.

Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due

Book – Tananarive Due is the hidden secret of modern horror fiction. Sick of sparkly vampires? Bored with ghosts? Tired of the same old gothic secrets and bloody horrors and frankly offended by the level of sexual assault? You need to be reading Tananarive Due. One of the luminaries of the Afrofuturism movement (speculative fiction with a focus on Africa and the African diaspora), Due’s characters are gut-wrenchingly real, and her stories, even when horrific, are mesmerizing.

Take, for instance, “The Knowing,” the story of a ten-year-old boy and his mother who knows the date everyone she meets will die. Or “Free Jim’s Mine,” a classic deal-with-the-devil story told from the point of view of a relative, rather than the one who makes the deal, who is trying to escape via the Underground Railroad. Or the title story, “Ghost Summer,” an award-winning novella that expertly brings together backyard ghosts and the ghosts of history and family, all from the viewpoint of young ghost hunter Davie Stephens, who just wanted to be YouTube-famous and got way more than he bargained for. Even readers who aren’t big horror fans would enjoy her work, I think – it’s not graphic, but powerfully emotional, in sometimes heartbreaking but always insightful ways.

Memories…Do Not Open by The Chainsmokers

MusicThe Chainsmokers just renewed their debut studio album, Memories…Do Not Open.  Their previously recorded EP’s include Bouquet and Collage. I’ve recently become obsessed with The Chainsmokers, ever since I heard “Something Just Like This” playing on the radio. The DJing/Production duo consists of Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall. They have an intense electro-pop dance vibe that adds another dimension to their music. Primarily a DJ group, a lot of their music doesn’t feature their own vocals, which has its pros and cons. It’s great to explore the different sounds of other artists, but I also enjoy the moments where you can experience the vocals of Andrew Taggart, like in “The One.”

I love the majority of the tracks in this album, which is pretty rare for me. I think that’s mainly due to the variety of themes/moods and main vocalists. The Chainsmokers frequently feature other artists, while providing the electronics-pop acoustics. This is definitely one of my favorite things about the group because I get great music recommendations.

For a calming influence, I always default to “The One”, and “Bloodstream.”  When I’m looking for some pumped-up beats, I turn to the last four tracks of the album: “Honest,” “Wake Up Alone,” “Young,” and “Last Day Alive.” The “Last day Alive” to me feels a bit reminiscent of “715 CR∑∑KS” by Bon Iver and “Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap. Both of these artists use synthesizers to alter their music, creating a very unique electronic sound that give their voices an almost robotic resonance. It reminds me of the voice-changer that is used to protect someone’s identities in a criminal investigation. A lot of the Chainsmoker’s music possesses this style; I’m eager to see how that transfers over to their live performances.

 

 

Beast by Brie Spangler

Book--Ever since the 6th grade, Dylan has been larger than other boys. Now at over 6 ft. tall, improbably hairy, and still growing, 15-year-old Dylan (called Beast by his peers) hides his face under hats and feels trapped in a body that doesn’t match his insides. When his school bans hats, Dylan walks off the edge of the school building and breaks his leg. He claims it was an accident. His orthopedist and his mother don’t agree. They send him to counseling for teenagers with self-harming tendencies, where he meets Jamie. Jamie is beautiful, smart, and funny, just the kind of girl that would impress Dylan’s friends. Because this is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, Dylan starts to shed some of his shallowness and misogyny as he falls in love with her, and begins to let go of his anger at the world. However, when Dylan learns that Jamie is transgender (a fact that she told him when they first met, had he been listening), he freaks out and pulls away from her. Will Dylan be able to get over his knee-jerk transphobia and apologize to Jamie? Will she be able to forgive him? Will they get back together?

Of course they will. But reading about how is the whole fun of it. I really enjoyed reading about Dylan’s journey from crass and callow teenage boy to sensitive young man. Despite being a fairy tale retelling, Beast stands on its own. If you enjoy this one, you may also enjoy other LBGT classic story retellings aimed at young adults (yes, this is a whole genre) such as Ash by Malinda Lo (retells Cinderella), Great by Sara Benincasa (retells The Great Gatsby), and As I Descended (retells Macbeth).

Boss Baby (2017)

Movie- DreamWorks is at it again with this movie. Alec Baldwin is voice of Boss Baby- an Armani suit wearing, briefcase carrying infant who is out to learn why most of the world’s love is going to puppies and not babies. Tim is the older brother (like 8 I think) who is absolutely not impressed with the new baby that’s living with them. He has a feeling something is up with this baby and tries desperately to get his parents to see that something is wrong. After a comical battle, the two decide to join forces and get the answers that Boss Baby needs so he will just leave.

This movie was more for adults than elementary school age kids I think. It had many older jokes, nostalgic points, and well overall laughs that only adults would understand. I do feel that children will appreciate this move in general, but not fully enjoy it as I did.  Its Alec Baldwin we are talking about, so if his humor is not your style, move on. If it might be- definitely check this one out. And hey, if its not your cup of tea as they say, you’ve only wasted a 1.5 hours.