Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates

Book – Carthage is the story of a family in anguish in a small town in upstate New York.  The novel begins with the search for recently returned college freshman Cressida in the woods of the Nautauga Forest Preserve.  Her father Zeno leads the search.  Foul play is suspected when the young woman is not found.  Things get complicated when witnesses come forward stating that they saw her throwing herself at Brett, her sister Juliet’s fiancé. Cressida was convinced that she and Brett are destined to be together, because they are both misfits in their hometown of Carthage. Brett is afflicted by many demons, having recently come home from the war in Iraq suffering severe injuries both physically and psychologically.  He is a shell of his former self and has become prone to fits of delusion and violent outbursts. The authorities conclude that Cressida must have been murdered. During the search, Brett is found unconscious in his blood-spattered jeep. Due to pressure from the police and because Brent has no recollection of what happened, he confesses.

The story then picks up 8 years later at a maximum-security prison in Florida and focuses on a young female assistant working for an investigator who champions for social justice issues and fighting corruption. The young woman was found beaten and bruised almost 7 years ago in the Adirondack Mountains.  Her Good Samaritan brought her to Florida where the investigator hired her as an intern, even though she shares nothing about her past life.

Oates is a brilliant storyteller and in Carthage she manages to convey the complexity of family relationships, human frailty, mental illness, and the casualties of war, but above all the power of forgiveness and the will to survive.

Close Enough to Touch: A Novel by Colleen Oakley

Book – Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley is the wonderfully whimsical story of a girl who is allergic to human touch.  Young Jubilee Jenkins was an oddity in her small town, due to an allergy that seemed too ridiculous to be true.  Doctors diagnosed her with a severe allergy to physical contact to other humans.  Her body lacked something that all humans possess, an unfortunate reality that caused her to break out in hives at even the lightest touch.  As a child, a fatal event nearly takes her life, and so Jubilee becomes untouchable, living alone and hidden from the world for nine years.  When her mother passes unexpectedly, Jubilee must finally face the world on her own.  Finding solace in her very first job as a Circulation Clerk at the local library,  Jubilee slowly begins to open up after an encounter with a struggling divorced father named Eric.

There were a lot of things I liked about this book.  I thought the concept was really unique.  As soon as I opened the book jacket and read “allergic to touch,” I was hooked.  I’m also a sucker for stories involving libraries or working in libraries, so this novel was a good match for me.  The only thing that really bothered me was that I thought it ended much too soon and abruptly.

 

 

Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)

EverafterposterDVD- Danielle was raised from a very young age as a servant to her new stepmother after her loving French nobleman father dies unexpectedly. She has also inherited 2 step sisters. Jacqueline is a shy soft spoken sister with a true heart. Marguerite on the other hand is a loud, obnoxious, spoiled rat of a human being. Danielle learns to find happiness her life and takes care of her own. Unfortunately her evil stepmother sells her friend (another servant) to pay debts. Danielle decides the only way to get him back is to dress above her station and demand her “servant” be released and pay the debt owed with money she received from an impromptu run in with the future King of France, Prince Henry. The penalty for this crime of pretending she is more than she really is will be death. She must pull herself together and not let anyone know she is terrified and totally faking it. She catches the eye of Prince Henry, and soon they start dating. However he knows her as royalty, not the lowly commoner she truly is. Will he understand? Will he accept her?

This is by far my most favorite movie of all time. Yes it is a Cinderella story, but its not animated. I enjoy the story as a whole, but really appreciate the costumes and sets of this movie. I gives me a peak into the history of what life was like back in those days. I feel there is no one better suited to play Danielle than the one and only Drew Barrymore in this amazing fairy tail Ever After- A Cinderella Story.

The Babadook (2014)

babadookMovie- Young widow Amelia has struggled to raise her difficult 6-year-old son Sam alone since her husband died the day Sam was born. Sam is a very stressed out (and stressful) kid–he brings homemade weapons to school, fears imaginary monsters, acts out constantly, and generally runs roughshod over the listless, colorless Amelia. Things intensify, though, when Amelia reads him a bedtime story from a creepy storybook that has appeared on his shelf, Mister Babadook. Both Amelia and Sam are disturbed by the monster in the story, who Sam quickly becomes convinced is stalking them. The presence of the Babadook becomes slowly more pervasive throughout the movie until it finally takes over.

I was particularly struck by how quickly one’s perceptions of the characters change. I was initially annoyed by Sam but by the end of the movie felt quite protective towards him. The settings in the movie are excellent as well:  they are claustrophobic and oppressive, especially inside Amelia and Sam’s house. The Babadook will appeal to people who typically aren’t fans of horror movies. It is mercifully short on scare chords, cheap made-you-jumps, and gore, but still plenty terrifying on a psychological level and full of suspense.

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

indexBook The Light in the Ruins is a wonderful blend of historical fiction and a murder mystery.  The story starts during World War II at the Rosati Villa in Monte Volta, Italy. The Nazis have a keen interest in an Etruscan tomb on the property and coerce the family into helping them seize Italian works of art.  Unfortunately, this cooperation and the fondness between Christina Rosati and one of the German officers is seen as betrayal to some of the locals.  What they did not realize is that the Rosatis also secretly sheltered partisans on their estate.

Years later in Florence in 1955, Francesca Rosati is found murdered with her heart cut out and displayed.  It is up to Serafina, a young detective to solve the crime.  Things are further complicated when the matriarch of the family, Beatrice is murdered in the same fashion.  The detective determines that this is a vendetta against the Rosatis and wonders if the family’s activities during the war had somehow triggered these killings.  It also appears that Serafina, who is severely scarred by burns received during the war, may also have had some sort of connection to the Rosati’s.

Heartbreak abounds during the war and as a result of the homicides for the remaining family.  The Villa is no longer grand but falling into ruin, since the Rosatis cannot afford its upkeep. The suspense builds as Serafina races to catch a murderer, before another Rosati is killed.

I think this book would appeal to fans of Kristin Hannah’s Nightingale and Chris Bohjalian’s other works such as Sandcastle Girls.

Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby

196560Book – Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby brings us thirteen-year-old Joey who lost her hearing at the age of six.  She can almost remember the sound of her mother’s voice, which is still the only voice in her family she is able to follow by reading lips.  Joey’s mother just wants her daughter to blend in to the hearing world, and refuses to let Joy learn sign language, fearing it will make her an outcast.  However, this only manages to make Joey feel even more left out and lonely.  Joey struggles to communicate with people in her daily life, like her stepfather whose bushy mustache makes lip-reading impossible.

Everything changes the day Joy meets Dr. Charles Mansell and his signing chimpanzee, Sukari.  Suddenly a whole world of possibilities opens up for young Joey, as she secretly begins to learn American Sign Language.  Struggling to keep her newfound friends private from her mother, Joey is torn between wanting to head her mother’s wishes and being able to communicate with the world around her.  When tragedy strikes and Sukari’s life hangs in the balance, Joey will stop at nothing to save her friend.

Having read, and enjoyed El Deafo by Cece Bell, I was excited and hopeful Hurt Go Happy would be just as good a read.  The second half of this novel was a bit darker than I anticipated, following Joey’s fight to save the chimpanzee, Sukari, but it was a really interesting read overall.

 

 

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

17262100Book – This sweeping saga explores family dynamics, loyalty, love, and loss. It is the story of two brothers growing up in India.  Totally inseparable, yet very different.  With only 15 months between them, the older one Subhash is serious, reserved, and reliable, while Udayan is impulsive, a risk taker, and rebellious.  In college both excel academically. Subhash studies chemistry, Udayan physics.  It is the late 1960’s and India is experiencing political turbulence.  Subhash decides to go to America for his PhD, while Udayan stays and becomes increasingly involved with radical militant groups. He even defies his family by foregoing tradition and marrying, Gauri, chosen for love.  The brothers lose touch leading their separate lives.  Due to unforeseen circumstances, Gauri and Subhash form their own unique relationship, so that he can make sense of Udayan’s actions and because his parents shunned Guari as their daughter-in-law. Subhash acts with integrity and tries to do the right thing, but will he be a victim of his own goodness?  This sweeping saga spans four decades and explores family dynamics, loyalty, love, and loss.

I highly recommend this wonderful book along with Jhumpa Lahiri’s other works – Interpreter of Maladies, In Other Words, The Namesake, and Unaccustomed Earth.

Madam Secretary (2014)

madam-secretary-first-season.31873TV Series – I am hooked on political TV series such as The West Wing, House of Cards, and Scandal.  Therefore, I was thrilled when Madam Secretary came out starring Tea Leoni.  Elizabeth McCord is suddenly asked to serve as Secretary of State, when the current one is killed in a plane crash.  She has a unique relationship with the President of the United States, since he recruited her right out of college for the CIA.  Years later she left the CIA, because she morally disagreed with some of their interrogation tactics. In her new position as Secretary of State she is a fish out of water, since she is not a politician, nor does she have political aspirations and she is very sympathetic. Upon taking Office she inherits most of her own staff and needless to say, there is a big adjustment for all.  The only one she hired on her own is Blake, her office assistant, who is fiercely loyal to Elizabeth. She even butts heads with some of the White House staff, especially the President’s Chief of Staff.

Her former assignments with the CIA have given Elizabeth the national and international experience essential to the Office. Her husband, Henry, a religious scholar is not threatened by her job and power and he is able to offer insight of world politics, since many conflicts have religious roots. She also has 3 children who she involved in the decision making on whether she should take the job.

One of the creators of this show is Morgan Freeman who found it interesting that the 3 former Secretaries of State were all women, though he made it very clear that Elizabeth McCord is no Hillary Clinton. This is a very interesting show that gives viewers insight into the daily life of the Secretary of State and gives us an intelligent character that works hard to balance her job, family, and morals.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Book – Jess always tries to view all of life situations with an incredible amount of optimism, which is actually quite difficult in her circumstances, being a single mother and working two jobs – cleaning houses by day and serving at a pub at night.  She also cares for Tanzie, her math genius daughter; Nicky, her bullied teenage Goth stepson; and Norman, their 80 pound slobbering dog.

When the opportunity arises for Tanzie to compete in a math contest that could win her a scholarship into a prestigious school, Jess realizes that her only chance to travel from the England to Scotland is to enlist the help of Ed. Ed has his own problems. He is under investigation for inside training and possibly losing his company and fortune. Ed and Jess barely know each other. She occasionally cleaned his house and got him home safe when he got drunk at her pub. Unlike Jess, he is a half glass empty kind of person. But being at loose ends and feeling he owed Jess a favor after the night at the pub, Jess, her kids, and even the dog cram into the car with him.

Things get tense as the journey reveals the economic gap between Jess and Ed and dealing with all of the travelers idiosyncrasies.  The story is humorous and at the same time heartbreaking.  Readers will want to go along on this road trip and experience the stops and find out the results from the ultimate destination – if Tanzie is awarded a scholarship.

If you enjoyed this book you may like other books by Jojo Moyes: The Girl You Left Behind, Me Before You, and others.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

9781250049377Book – The demands of balancing work and two daughters, especially when you are the primary breadwinner can make you forget why you fell in love with your husband in the first place and cause you to screw up your priorities and forget what is really important in life. In Landline, Rainbow Rowell offers heartfelt insight into the life of career driven Georgie and the choices she makes during the holiday season.  When she realizes her decision may lead to the ultimate unraveling of her relationship with her family and husband Neal, who offered to be the stay-at-home dad, she feels that the only way to fix things at this point is to resolve past relationship issues.  But her husband is unreachable in the present and the only success Georgie is having in contacting him is by landline from her girlhood home and the Neal that she is talking to is the Neal that she started dating years ago and fell in love with in college.  Readers of this delightful and humorous novel, will be rewarded in knowing how the couple’s relationship began and bloomed and will be wondering if the resolutions of the past will be enough to guarantee them a future.