Graphic novel – Set in Chicago in the 60s, My Favorite Thing is Monsters is the semi-autobiographical story of Karen, a ten-year-old girl who pictures (and draws) herself as a werewolf. After her upstairs neighbor dies mysteriously, her death officially labeled a suicide, Karen takes it on herself to investigate, learning about her lovely neighbor’s history as a Holocaust survivor, her older brother Deeze’s many and varied relationships with women, and just exactly how far her monster mask will take her. Meanwhile, her mother is dying of cancer, Martin Luther King, Jr. has just been killed, and Karen is probably in love with her best friend.
This is an incredible story, richly layered, full of wonderful, fully-realized characters. Despite the youth of the narrator, there are a lot of heavy themes, but they are rendered with their full complexity intact. And the art is astounding – printed on paper lined like a spiral notebook, the sketchy pencil drawings are absolutely gorgeous, whether Ferris is rendering Deeze’s many weary ex-girlfriends or Karen’s favorite works from the Art Institute. The only unfortunate thing? It ends on a cliffhanger, and Book Two doesn’t come out until next year.
TV Series – Just as the name says, this show is Shameless. A story about a family that does everything they need to make ends meet. A father with a drinking problem and no job, six siblings ranging from mid-twenties to under a year, and neighbors and friends that do their best to help where and when they can.
The shows centers around the Gallaghers, a dysfunctional family with a lot of problems and a lot of heart. Frank (William H Macy) is an alcoholic determined never to work a day in his life. Ironic that he works so hard at trying not to work. Fiona (Emmy Rossum) keeps the family in line and afloat doing everything she can to make sure the bills get paid and there is food on the table. Lip and Ian are the next in line trying to stay in school and help out where they can. The younger branch of the family is Debbie, Carl and little Liam. They also do their part to help out with family responsibilities.
Shameless is very raw and depicts a lot of hard/ harsh situations. Though a comedy, Shameless has a lot of everyday drama. Using a chair to keep the washing machine door from opening because there is no money to buy a new one. Taking every odd job out their just to put food on the table. Sending your sister to school with her baby brother for show and tell because there is no babysitter and everyone has things to do. This is what I mean by every day drama. It may not be the drama you’re used to, but this is the reality for some. The Gallaghers struggle, but work together to get things done and compromise at every turn to make sure they survive to fight another day.
There is a lot of swearing, nudity, alcohol, and drug abuse. If this is not your thing, I would steer away from this one. But for people who can relate to harsh family upbringings, family resilience, and not take yourself to serious then I would check this out. The show takes place on the south side of Chicago. Shameless is ending its seventh season this December.
Book – “… that her notions about who she is and how she ought to conduct herself are far less stable than she supposes, given that a few short months are all it will take to make a killer out of her.” So begins the gripping story of The Silent Wife. Jodi and Todd have been together for 20 years. Jodi is very content working as a psychotherapist part-time and filling the rest of her time with cooking, walking the dog, taking classes, and enjoying their expensive Chicago lake front condo. She even overlooks the fact that Todd strays once in a while, as he always comes back. Jodi never confronts him about it, since she is convinced that he is drawn back to their tranquil life together and her gourmet meals. Regardless, she feels that they make a great couple. Todd begins a relationship with the daughter of one of his friends. But something happens and he doesn’t come back. His new girlfriend gives Todd an ultimatum and suddenly he is moving out with threats of divorce and the prospect of being a father. Jodi’s illusion of the perfect relationship is shattered. Initially she is broken, but a “well meaning” friend advices her as to what she should be entitled to and encourages her on a course of revenge. This is a page turning psychological thriller that would probably appeal to fans of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, and The Good Girl.
A movie based on the book is currently in production and will be starring Nicole Kidman.
Book – What do a PhD candidate and a gang leader have in common? They both have a vested interest in the life of gang members and their actions. Sudhir was a graduate student at the University of Chicago during the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s. In Gang Leader for a Day Sudhir befriends J.T., the leader of the Black Kings, a gang on the Southside of Chicago. The two have a chance encounter when Sudhir is trying to get surveys filled out by tenants at a Chicago projects high-rise. This meeting will lead them to develop an interesting relationship that will span over 10 years.
J.T. shows Sudhir what it takes to lead a gang and how the gang operates. Sudhir learns that gangs are structured and operate very similar to most corporations. The major difference being the products (drugs), and employee discipline delivered when gang members do not meet organization expectations, which comes in the form of violence.
Sudhir broke the mold for sociological studies when he performed this research. Normally sociologists use surveys to collect data on why subjects feel the way they do. Sudhir decided to immerse himself in gang culture in order to find out what gang life was like, how the community dealt with the gang, and why J.T. returned to the gang life after having attended college and a job at a downtown business. Sudhir also develops relationships with several community members and leaders allowing Sudhir to obtain a better understanding of life in the projects of Chicago’s Robert Taylor homes.
I listened to the audiobook and would like to recommend it for those trying audiobooks for the first time. The reader had a voice that made me want to listen and kept a good pace. Audiobooks can be tricky because many factors will affect the listener’s experience. Readers with interest in true crime, gang culture, and sociological studies will enjoy this book.
Book – Mia is the “good girl” in this page turning novel of psychological suspense. She is an art teacher at an alternative high school and somewhat of a disappointment to her high profile Chicago judge father, since his other daughter and Mia’s sister is an attorney and following in his footsteps. Her family connection results in Mia being kidnapped. The man who abducts her, Colin, is being paid off to lure her on the pretense of a one night stand and deliver her to another party that will demand a ransom. But for some reason Colin decides not to turn her over and hides out with Mia in a remote cabin in Minnesota. Eventually Mia is saved, but is suffering from amnesia, having blocked the incident from her mind. There is a lot going on in this story. It is told from the perspective of 4 characters: Mia, Colin, Mia’s mother – Eve, and Gabe – the detective assigned to the case. It also jumps back and forth in time chronicling events during the incident and the aftermath. But readers will not be disappointed while trying to find out what really did happen and why, which is not revealed until the very end.
This book would probably appeal to fans of Gone Girl, but is less violent and graphic.
Movie – I would like to start by confessing: I have never seen It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle of 34th Street, or White Christmas. I know many are wondering how this is possible. Sure I’ve caught bits a pieces here and there throughout my life, but I have never sat down to watch any of these three Christmas movies. That being said, I still feel there are great holiday movies other than these three classics. Some of my more recent holiday classic staples include: Elf, Love Actually, The Family Stone, and Nothing Like the Holidays. The first three are more known than the latter.
Nothing Like the Holidays is set in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood and tells the story of a normal dysfunctional family going through tough times all around. There are the parents, Anna and Edy who seem to be drifting apart; one son, Jesse who just finished a tour of military service and does not want to take over the family business; a daughter, Roxanna scared to tell her family she is not a Hollywood star; and a another son, Mauricio who is having marital issues. All of them are coming together for the holidays and bringing their problems with them to share.
As I mentioned before, the movie was filmed in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. It does a good job of showcasing some of the neighborhood and some of Chicago’s landmarks. The story is a little cheesy and at times tries too hard to convey emotion. It does a good job of keeping you entertained with the supporting characters and small family issues like the removing of a tree after drinking. Don’t try using power tools while intoxicated kids! Nothing Like the Holidays is a great movie for those looking to change up their holiday movie experience and see another side of Christmas in Chicago.
Book- Fool Moon is the second book in a sixteen book series (with an additional eight short stories based in the world.) This audio book is read by James Marsters.
Fool Moon deals with the notorious gangster ‘Gentleman’ Johnny Marcone and the repercussions of the events from the previous book, however you do not need to read it to understand what’s happening, it’s just more fun that way.
Harry is broke and hungry and so listens to someone that needs his help over a steak dinner. This slip opens up an investigation involving five different flavors of were-wolves and endangers his life over, and over, and over, and over again. Basically a normal day in the life of Chicago’s only practicing wizard. With his wits and a whole lot of anger he works his way through a case that makes him look at humanity and the creatures of the Never-Never a little differently.
I adore this series and have read it no less than four times. A heroic tale ala Don Quixote, Harry always tries to do the right thing; even if it’ll kill him. This is my first time listening to it and I love it. James Marsters does a phenomenal job giving life to the various characters.
Book – According to Macnamara, Chicago lies along a bird migratory route called the Mississippi Flyway. Insects such as butterflies and dragonflies migrate through this area as well. This beautifully printed little book succinctly introduces novices such as myself to the migration groupings one might expect to see in the Chicagoland area each season. Reading this, it felt like a treat to go behind the scenes with Macnamara and her co-authors to learn what ecological wonders local naturalists have witnessed through their work and observations. The inclusion of ancedotes from local establishments such as the Willowbrook Wildlife Center and the Field Museum bring the narrative close to home. Macnamar’s art and words even take us behind the scenes into the restricted sections of the Field Museum. Each beautifully printed illustration is accompanied by notes on the production of the artwork. These notes would be especially helpful to any fledgling wildlife artist. Because portions of the book are arranged by season, it is easy to flip to the relevant section to gain some insight into what might be traveling through my neighborhood currently.