A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

Book–Amateur comic book artist and high school student Jess Wong is painfully, unhealthily in love with her best friend Angie. Jess is content to obsess over Angie secretly until Angie enters into a relationship with Margot Adams, a beautiful student from the nearby posh boarding school. Naturally, Jess thinks Margot is no good for Angie, but is this just sour grapes on Jess’s part or is Margot really bad news? When tragedy strikes at an off-campus party and everyone is a suspect, Jess must face up to what really happened that night. Or must she?

This is a dark, twisty thriller, like Pretty Little Liars meets Gone Girl meets The L Word. The book is split in two parts: the beginning is told in first person from Jess’ POV and the end is made up of police interviews and third person limited POV following multiple characters. This allows Lo to build up the tension without giving it all away too quickly. If you enjoy A Line in the Dark, you might also like twisty young adult books like We Were Liars and Last Seen Leaving.

Get Out (2017)

Movie–I don’t really like horror movies. But, I do like good movies, and I’m always motivated to see as many Oscar-nominated movies as possible. So, that’s how I found myself checking out and somewhat begrudgingly watching Get Out, a horror movie with serious racial themes.

Chris, an African American photographer, hesitantly goes to his white girlfriend Rose’s house for the weekend to meet her family. His best friend warns him that no good will come of this. In scenes reminiscent of The Stepford Wives, Chris notices that something is “off” about the African American groundskeeper and housekeeper. Then the family’s friends come for an annual party, and things get even weirder. Chris quickly realizes he needs to leave. But, will he be able to get out?

Written and directed by Jordan Peele (of Key & Peele fame), Get Out has been getting critical acclaim since its release in early 2017, so it was really no surprise when it earned nominations for four of the big categories at the Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actor for Daniel Kaluuya). Although it was outside my comfort zone, I’m glad I watched it (well, all except for the parts that got so violent that I covered my eyes). If you are interested in a well-made horror movie that also tackles race issues and might just win an Oscar, then this is for you.

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

Book – The summer of 1976 is the hottest in recent memory, and Mrs. Creasy has disappeared from the Avenue.  Grace and Tillie, both aged ten, are determined to get to the bottom of the case, but secrets run deep in their little suburb, and the more they investigate the mystery, the further they find themselves drawn into their community’s shared and troubling past–all starting with the long-ago disappearance of a little girl.

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep is a hard book to categorize; it doesn’t really fit well into any type of mystery I know.  It doesn’t feature much actual detective work, and while we the readers learn the full story of What Happened through flashbacks, most of the characters do not.  As such, The Trouble With Goats and Sheep might better be considered as a work of literary fiction or coming-of-age story with mystery elements.

I think that my own vague feeling of letdown at the end of the book was a result of trying to force it to fit a more traditional mystery mold, but the fact that I made it to the end at all is evidence of its good points.  The author’s voice is compelling, and the novel’s themes are deep, exploring community, memory, scapegoating and the ways that fear and guilt can twist human behavior.  As a fan of ensemble stories, I enjoyed the large cast of complex and not-always-likeable characters.  As a whole, I found it a sufficiently intriguing debut novel to have hope for the author’s sophomore outing.

Imperium (2016)

Movie – Nate Foster is an FBI agent. He pays attention to the little things. This trait is something agent Angela Zamparo is looking for in a good agent. Zamparo has her interests in white hate groups. She understands Nate’s specialty is Islamic terror, but challenges Nate to look closer to home when it comes to terror suspects and upcoming events.

Nate keeps to himself, retains a lot of what he reads, but is not well respected. The other agents pick on him because his is younger. Angela is looking for in a partner with these types of attributes, however. Nate goes undercover to infiltrate a white power hate group at Angela’s request. Angela needs Nate to look for the individuals who could have access to Cesium 137, a chemical they could use to create a dirty bomb. Nate changes his name and moves to Maine to meet with an informant already in the mix. Angela instructs Nate to get close to the group leader, Vince, and meet others in the movement, Dallas Wolf. Wolf is a well-known radio host in the movement. Nate eventually catches the eye of Gerry Conway, an engineer with a family man. Gerry also catches Nate’s, and Nate begins to wonder how someone so put together like Gerry could be part of this world.

The movie takes several turns before we really find out who is who in these groups. This is not a very violent movie compared to others. There is one scene where two groups of protesters clash but not much thereafter. Most of the movie shows interactions between the major players of the different groups; as to demonstrate how they may have one common goal, but are still very different.  This is no Harry Potter; and it is refreshing seeing Daniel Radcliffe in other roles that are nothing like the childhood wizard.

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

dbd04a03f81f114a28fac1068a273e72Book—  His Bloody Project concerns the murder of a husband, wife, and child in a remote 1800s Scottish highland town. There is no question that local teenager Roderick Macrae is guilty. Framed as a series of historical documents found by the author, Macrae’s fictional descendant, the novel captivates not on the basis of who did the murders, but why he did the murders. We get views of Roderick from his neighbors, his lawyer, the newspapers, his priest, a famed criminal anthropologist of the time, and his own diary, each of them proffering viable explanations . Despite all of this testimony, I was unsure at the end what motivated Macrae and am still spinning theories to explain his reasons.

I was surprised to learn this novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. His Bloody Project has all the drive and atmosphere of a tautly written thriller and is more reminiscent of the documentary Making a Murderer than the literary fare that generally garners Man Booker prizes. If you enjoy this novel, I would recommend others with compelling, unreliable narrators in historical settings, such as The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Book – Although high schooler Fabiola Toussaint grew up in Haiti, she is an American citizen.  Her mother is not.  They’ve both been planning to come and live with family in Detroit, but when Customs and Immigration stop her mother at the airport, Fabiola finds herself flying alone to a strange city in a strange country to live with an aunt and three cousins she knows only over the phone.

It’s a rough dunking in the deep end of adulthood, and Fabiola’s three cousins, while loving and supportive in their own way, don’t always make her transition easier.  Tough and street-smart, they have a neighborhood rep as the Three Bees–Brains for the eldest, Chantal, and Beauty and Brawn respectively for twins Donna and Pri.  Nor does Aunt Jo, partially paralyzed from a stroke and often bedridden with pain, play much of a role in welcoming Fabiola to Detroit.

Bit by bit, Fabiola feels her way through assimilation to a new culture and a new family.  Her cousins’ fierceness soon translates to an equally powerful protectiveness and love.  Donna’s abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend is a blot on all their lives, but Fabiola is drawn to his sweet friend Kasim.  A police officer offers Fabiola a chance to help her mother through the immigration process, for a price.  And Fabiola can never feel too disconnected from her roots as the daughter of a Vodou mambo when Papa Legba spends his nights on the sidewalk across from her new home, singing cryptic riddles under the streetlights at the corner of American and Joy…

American Street is a powerful, original and deeply relevant first novel from a talented writer.  Anyone who objects to profanity would do best to steer clear, but for other adult and older teen readers this is a strongly recommended exploration of the present-day American experience.

A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)

A-Walk-Among-the-Tombstones-2014-movie-posterMovie –  Based on the mystery novel by Lawrence Block, Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) is an ex-cop turned unlicensed private investigator. He finds himself reluctantly finds his way working for a heroin dealer who’s wife was brutally murdered by way of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Along the way he meets a young street kid named TJ, who takes a liking to Scudder’s profession. TJ inserts himself into Scudder’s job by proving he is needed for his computer and technology skills, something Scudder is just to old to understand and use. Scudder realizes that the people he is after have committed this horrible crime before, and will continue until they are stopped. Working together Scudder and TJ follow a plan to finally put an end to this once and for all.

This movie is a winner with Liam Neeson fans. Although its a little slow to start it has his typical butt kicking, big man confidence you know and love about him. There are a few plot twists that I never considered being an option for the movie, yet somehow they work well.  I found the ending to be very thought provoking and left me wondering if there will be a sequel in the future.

If you are looking for an action mystery with a mild tug on your heartstrings kind of movie, this is the one!

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Cover Image - The Woman in Cabin 10Book – Lo Blacklock, a journalist, lands a plum assignment to travel and report on the maiden voyage of the boutique, luxury cruise liner, the Aurora. Two days before her scheduled departure for the trip around the Norwegian fjords, Lo’s apartment is robbed while she is home asleep after an evening of drinking. The event triggers her anxiety and panic attacks, for which she has been formerly diagnosed and treated. Nonetheless, she is determined to take advantage of the opportunity the cruise offers in the hopes of getting a promotion. When Lo boards the boat, she discovers their are 10 cabins and a crew devoted to the passengers’ comfort. However, as she soon finds out, the guests may not be who them seem to be and it’s hard to get help when you are out at sea. One night, after dinner and drinks, she returns to her cabin and thinks she hears a body fall into the water. She reports the incident, but no one believes her and everyone seems to be accounted for. Lo’s panic, drinking and confusion kept me guessing about the outcome of this suspenseful tale. I’m certainly not in any hurry to take a cruise on a small ship after reading this book! Ware also wrote In a Dark, Dark Wood.

 

Sicario (2015)

indexMovie – Image your world includes beheadings, bodies hanging off of overpasses, and a constant fear of knowing you could die every day. For some this is their reality. Mexico is in a war with narcotics traffickers and their armies. Sicario tries to tell a story about just one strand among many woven into everyday life on the border between the US and Mexico.

Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is a FBI agent who has just volunteered for an operation that will take her into the heart of Juarez. Along with Matt (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), they are trying to regain some control over the drug wars that are going on in Mexico and throughout Latin America. Kate is left wondering what she has signed up for after witnessing several questionable actions during an extradition of a top cartel leader from Mexico to the US. In addition Kate never gets the full story until it’s too late for her to back out.

Cinematically, the film reminds me somewhat of Interstellar. High shots of landscapes and cities, and the score chosen for the film are very similar with the score, and planet and space travel shots in Interstellar. Though not as gruesome or bloody as I thought it would be, the movie does have some parts that will make some cringe.

If you like films with one story line and minimal characters, you will like this. There is not as much action as I thought there would be but this makes the movie so much better. I feel the director is trying to give the audience a look into what everyday life may be like for those involved in this never-ending war.

Sano Ichiro series by Laura Joh Rowland

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indexBook- Set in 17th-century Edo (now called Tokyo), this mystery series follows the career of Sano Ichiro, a samurai investigator who rises from an ordinary policeman to the Shogun’s Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People. This position does not come without some attendant danger. In addition to the obvious dangers of police work, Sano must navigate the viper-pit of nobles, courtesans, and hangers-on that wield the weak-willed shogun’s power for him and who view Sano as a threat. The primary conflicts in the series derive from Sano’s strong idealized moral consciousness and samurai principles clashing with the actual degradation and corruption of the Tokugawa shogunate that he serves.

The series includes tons of fascinating historical details and personages and paints such a strong visual image that, despite the uncommon setting, it is not hard to picture Sano’s world. These novels will appeal to fans of other mystery series with a strong sense of place, such as Anne Perry’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mystery series. Sano Ichiro’s adventures are finished, clocking in at 18 volumes altogether, so there’s no agonizing wait for a sequel. Start with Shinju and see if you like it!