The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks

Book – The death of a mutual friend reunites former lovers Amanda and Dawson 25 years later in The Best of Me, set in the small town of Oriental, North Carolina.  As high school sweethearts, the couple persevered in their relationship and defied the realities of their very different lives.  Amanda’s family was wealthy and socially prominent.  Dawson lived on the wrong side of the tracks.  His family was well known as a bunch of low life thugs and Dawson desperately wanted to rise above that and better himself not only for Amanda, but for himself, as well.  A kindly man named Tuck took Dawson under his wing and helped the young couple shield their romance from the disapproving outside world.  Being young and naïve the couple was convinced that love would conquer all.  But life’s circumstances eventually separated them.

When they meet again so many years later, they are both filled with mixed emotions.  Evidently, the passion is still there for both of them. As they reacquaint with each other we learn about their lives for the last quarter century.  Once, again very different circumstances from each other.  Hence, the big question – Should they finally give in to their love for each other or should they fulfill their responsibilities to their current lives and part ways again?

This is classic Nicholas Sparks.   Heartfelt, bittersweet, and predictable for some, but that is the appeal of his stories.

If you enjoy this novel, you may also want to watch the The Best of Me that is based on this book and read the many other books by this author including his most recent, Two By Two.

The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville

Book – Surrealism, as it was invented, wasn’t just an art movement but a political one as well, designed to help the practitioner break out of the mindset imposed on us by the culture we live in and invent a new and better world. Given that, it was really only a matter of time before China Miéville wrote a book about a surrealist city rising up to overthrow its fascist oppressors.

It’s 1950, and Paris is still occupied – both by the Nazis and by the manifs, physical embodiments of surrealist art and poetry that sprang into existence after the S-bomb exploded in a café in the 40s. The city has been sealed off to prevent the manifs from infecting the surrounding countryside. Thibaut is the last remaining member of Main á Plume, a surrealist Resistance faction, when he’s joined by Sam, an American photographer who’s chronicling the manifs for a book she wants to produce, The Last Days of New Paris. But Sam has other goals in mind, and they have to do with the Nazi scheme to leash the manifs as weapons, which is beginning to show signs of success.

This is such a perfect China Miéville book that I really can’t give it a better recommendation than that: If you like his books, you should love this. It’s probably a little easier to follow if you’re moderately familiar with the Surrealists, but there are some helpful illustrations (and an index chronicling the sources of the manifs, if you want to look them up). If you’ve never tried Miéville before, this isn’t necessarily the place to start (unless you really love Surrealism). May I recommend The City & The City, a surrealist mystery novel that’s recently been announced for an upcoming BBC adaptation?

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Book – With the new Hulu show buzzing all over the internet (yes, it’s exactly as good, exactly as well-acted, exactly as gorgeous and exactly as wrenching as you’ve heard) and the book back on top of the bestseller lists, I thought it was high time for a re-read of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic.

The Handmaid’s Tale takes place in the Republic of Gilead, the onetime United States, in a not-so-distant future.  In response to a precipitous drop in the birth rate and following a major terrorist attack, America’s freedoms have been subtly stripped away–first the suspension of the Constitution, then the freezing of women’s bank accounts and the passing of a law against women taking work outside the home, then the declaration that second marriages and homosexuality are illegal and an oppressive and extreme form of Protestantism is the only legal religion.  By the time our heroine attempts to flee for Canada with her husband and daughter, it’s too late to get away.  The family is seized and split up.

Because the character we know as Offred (her real name is taken from her) has proven her fertility by producing a healthy child, she is a valuable natural resource.  Instead of being labeled an ‘Unwoman’ and facing certain death on a crew cleaning toxic waste, she is trained as a ‘Handmaid’–part concubine, part surrogate mother, the property of one of Gilead’s powerful Commanders and designated to bear children which will then belong to him and his wife.  Powerless to prevent her own monthly ritualized rape and subject to hatred, jealousy and violence –mostly from other women whose domination over her is the one small power they themselves have left in a world where women cannot lead, read or work outside the house–Offred finds tiny methods of rebellion, tiny ways to keep her sanity and sense of self.  Over time, she builds the tools and connections to foster a more definite resistance.

As that description suggests, The Handmaid’s Tale is anything but a simple read.  It’s dark, painful and, above all, terrifying.  But it’s also starkly beautiful, a masterpiece of linguistic efficiency with not a syllable wasted, and unforgettably powerful.  Everyone should read it at least once in their lives.

Pogue’s Basics: Money: Essential Tips and Shortcuts about Beating the System by David Pogue

Book – I love to read books about saving money. Pogue’s book focuses on ways to save that don’t require a lot of time or lifestyle changes. One chapter highlights shopping hacks, such as the timing of purchases, finding online discounts and maximizing Amazon prime, coupons and gift cards. For the home, he discusses cutting the cord (from cable) and methods of economizing heating and cooling. The book also covers cars, travel and tax tips. One chapters details things you can do to earn money and another considers your existing financial arrangements. His writing style is casual and easy to understand. A fun, quick read that just may end up saving you a few dollars. Pogue also wrote Pogue’s Basics: Life: Essential Tips and Shortcuts for Simplifying Your Day.

Ten Count Volume 1 by Rihito Takarai

51XhBns8y1L._SX349_BO1,204,203,200_Book— Corporate secretary Shirotani suffers from misophobia, an irrational fear of dirt and contamination. He manages to get by wearing gloves and avoiding situations that trigger his phobia until he crosses paths with Kurose, who immediately notices his phobia and gives him his card. Kurose turns out to be a therapist. Rather than taking Shirotani on as a client, Kurose claims to want to be Shirotani’s friend and offers to meet him weekly at a cafe for free to help him with his phobia. Kurose has Shirotani make a list of ten things that would be hard or impossible with his misophobia, which Kurose will help him confront. Shirotani begins to make quick progress, but how much of it is tied to his budding feelings for Kurose?

This manga was a fun, fast read with beautiful artwork, but would have been so much more interesting for me if it were grounded in reality. In the real world, Kurose’s behavior is grossly unprofessional for a therapist and the blurring of boundaries between professional, friendly, and romantic relationships is in no way beneficial for Shirotani’s mental health. I will be eager to see if future installments of Ten Count explore the repercussions of Kurose’s nonprofessional behavior or if the story will continue along in the la-la land of pretty men falling in love.

The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

Book – After the Sadiri homeworld was destroyed, their only hope for survival is in reaching out to the indigenous population of their newly adopted home for aid. Cygnus Beta is a world of refugees, all trying to re-create their dramatically different home cultures and governments. Grace Delarua’s job is to try to manage and integrate all this incredible variety; Sadiri Councillor Dllenakh is her point of contact with the Sadiri exiles, who are in search of a population that might be related to their own.

This is a short book, but it packs a lot into a few pages (which is my favorite kind of science fiction, really). Cygnus Beta is a fascinating world, so much variety and diversity packed up right next to each other – which really highlights how often science fiction forgets that we have just as much diversity on our own very small planet – and the overall story, about refugees trying to figure out what culture and heritage and history mean, is incredibly relevant right now. And for once, the slow-burn romance between Delarua and Dllenakh is one of my favorite parts of the story. If you like science fiction but are a little exhausted by breathless save-the-galaxy plots, give this one a try.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

Book – Best friends Miel and Sam are inseparable, and have been since Miel spilled out of a water tower when she was five, screaming that she’d lost the moon, and Sam was the only one who could comfort her. Now teenagers, Miel grows roses from her skin and assists her guardian in magic to remove people’s lovesickness while Sam paints moons of every size and color and hangs them in the trees. They’ve loved each other since they were children, but their relationship is tested when the beautiful, cruel Bonner sisters – las gringas bonitas – decide that they want Miel’s roses for themselves, and threaten to reveal all of Sam’s secrets.

When the Moon Was Ours is a beautiful combination of elegant magical realism, reminiscent of Alice Hoffman, and an emotionally wrenching story about coming to terms with your self. Sam was born female but is living as a boy, struggling toward a transgender identity but not sure of it yet; Miel lost her family at a young age and blames herself. Their struggles feel real, and its immensely gratifying to watch them both pull through them. Although published as YA, this gorgeous book is one that anyone who loves fairy tales would enjoy.

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Movie – I’ll admit I’m not the biggest fan of the whole genre of action films, but after being coerced into seeing the newest King Kong film, Kong: Skull Island, I was pleasantly surprised that it actually exceeded my expectations.

In Kong: Skull Island, we meet the eccentric Bill Randa.  Most people think he’s mad, but he manages to find funding for a crazy expedition disguised as a geological study, with  military escort in tow.  In reality, Randa is out to find something big on unexplored island where all planes, ships and people who’ve ventured there were never heard from again.  A Bermuda triangle kind of place.  However, Randa’s comrades and the military personnel are none too pleased to discover the monstrous inhabitants that lurk beneath and above the ground, especially the incredible Kong.  It’s a fight to the death for the remaining survivors.

The moral of the story? Don’t explore remote islands from where no one returns.  Don’t inflict the wrath of a giant ape beast (he’s not stupid). And please try really hard not to unearth some demon-like alien creatures that will surely kill all of your men.  Just turn back now while you can, and never look book.

I enjoyed this film.  The reason?  I often find myself bored by  intense and lengthy fight scenes that seem neverending and repetitive.  (That might also just be a me thing, though)  Luckily for me, this film came across as more creature feature, a genre that I love.  It’s an unrealistic story (Because giant apes), with a fair share of comedic elements and some pretty cool creatures.

 

The Accountant (2016)

Movie – The Accountant opens with a scene of Christian Wolff as a child getting ready to do a puzzle while his parents speak to someone about his condition. As Christian is finishing the puzzle, one piece is missing and Christian has an episode because he cannot take not finishing something. Another autistic girl finds the missing puzzle piece on the floor and gives it to Christian so he can finish his puzzle. This gives the audience a peek into the type of autism Christian may have.

As an adult, Christian is a certified public accountant. He is a high functioning autistic person. Christian lives alone, and goes through life with his routine intact. A very important aspect to Christian’s autism is that he must finish what he starts. If he does not, it can have some very dire affects we see later on in the film. Some of Christian’s clients include heads of large criminal organizations. This causes the US Treasury Department to look into Christian’s work. It also makes Christian and his associate look at a non-criminal client to try to stay off the Treasury Department’s target list. This doesn’t work well as a cover.

The movie is a good opening act for what I am sure will be a series of action movies. It leaves itself open for possible sequels. Though somewhat predictable, the movie gives a small glimpse into one type of autism. One critic from UpRoxx went as far to call Christian Wolff a superhero for autistic kids. I can see it following in the footsteps of the Bourne series and even the more recent John Wick series. Recommended for fans of Ben Affleck, numbers, and action movies. There is some blood but not as gory as other action movies.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

51323qF2glL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Book–In the port town of Malacca in Malaya in the 19th century (modern-day Malaysia), Li Lan is the daughter of a impoverished-but-genteel opium addict. Though of marriageable age, Li Lan receives no suitors but one: the prestigious Lim family wants her for their only son’s bride. There’s a catch, however. Lim Tian Ching, heir to the Lim family fortune, has recently died under mysterious circumstances and is demanding a bride from beyond the grave. Ghost marriage, an ancient but rarely practiced custom, is used to soothe an angry spirit, and guarantees the bride’s place in her groom’s house for the rest of her life.

Before Li Lan has even accepted the proposal, Lim Tian Ching begins to haunt her, and she is drawn into lifelike nightmares that sap away her energy. Li Lan is torn between the waking world and the shadowy ghost world where, if she’s not careful, she may remain forever.

The gorgeous, strange setting of turn of the century Malaya and the dreamlike ghost world draw the reader in, stealing the show from the somewhat milquetoast Li Lan and her trite love triangle between new Lim heir Tian Bai and mysterious spirit Er Lang. The Ghost Bride will appeal to those who enjoyed the movie Spirited Away, which has a similar beautiful, nightmarish, dream-logic setting and characters drawn with a light hand.