Version Control by Dexter Palmer

Book–Set in the near future, Palmer’s novel follows Rebecca Wright, a thirty-something recovering alcoholic, and her physicist husband Philip. Philip has been working fruitlessly for many years on a causal volatility device (in layman’s terms, a time machine), and as far as he knows, has not been having much luck. Meanwhile, Rebecca has been having a nagging sense that something is not right; the president is not the right person, her friends’ personalities aren’t quite right, her life isn’t what it should be. Palmer has an interesting take on time travel that, without spoiling anything, powers much of the narrative. For me, the attraction of this book was the depiction of the near-future society, where the president delivers personalized messages to each citizen and cars drive themselves.

While the main character is not, in my opinion, likeable, she is very real and flawed. Palmer’s views on race, gender, marriage, and technology are very much on display here and, regardless of whether you agree with them, they are certainly interesting to read about and only occasionally preachy. Version Control is a perfect sci-fi and literary fiction blend sure to appeal to fans of Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow.

Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern

Book – Sh*t My Dad Says is the hilarious, wonderful memoir detailing the quirky relationship between author Justin Halpern and his father.  As the title implies, readers will quickly discover the foul mouth of Justin’s always blunt, yet caring dad.  The memoir began online as a Twitter page titled “Sh*t My Dad Says,” which featured all the many quotes of Justin’s beloved dad.  All of Justin’s friends that his Dad’s quotes were hilarious and it soon became clear that the internet loved him too. The Twitter account quickly accrued a mass following with news stations requesting interviews with the writer and the man of the hour himself.

Justin is a very relatable narrator, chronicling life after college, moving back home, and trying to survive in the chaos of adultdom. The introduction starts with Justin’s longtime girlfriend breaking up with him, the catalyst that causes him to seek refuge at home while searching for new life prospects.  The life lessons his father instills upon him as a child, adolescent, and adult are often filled with-tough love, and are downright brutal.

Each chapter is titled with a different theme/life lesson and relevant Dad quote.
Justin traces stories of his childhood with his family and details the lessons he learned from his father.  Many of these stories are experiences that everyone shares, though of course with the special touch of Justin’s father.

The humor reminded me of author Jack Gantos, specifically his series featuring a young man named Jack Henry.  Gantos’ writing is full of crude, weird humor, very similar to Justin’s novel.

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines

Book–Fans of the hit HGTV show Fixer Upper, which focuses on quickly renovating beat-up homes in Waco, Texas to turn a profit and give families their dream home, will be no stranger to Chip and Joanna Gaines, the down-to-earth husband and wife team at the heart of the show. The Magnolia Story traces Chip and Jo’s origins from their parents’ childhoods all the way to the present at their iconic farmhouse, dwelling on their great rapport with and respect for one another along the way. The Gaines come off as truly humble and grateful for the chance to improve Waco and help their family and employees through the opportunities afforded by the show.

I’m by no means a Fixer Upper superfan myself, so I can attest that there is plenty to enjoy here even for those who have seen only a few episodes of the show. I highly recommend the audio book version narrated by Chip and Joanna, which feels like a folksy conversation between the two and showcases their different versions of their shared story. While occasionally a little repetitive and with abrupt jumps in chronology, this fun, squeaky-clean, and meandering memoir will keep you entertained (and make you wish the show was still on Netflix).

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Book – Anything Is Possible is a set of connected short stories about the people living in the small, rural town of Amgash, Illinois. Retired school janitor Tommy Guptill reflects on the lives of some of the former students as he shops for a birthday gift for his wife. The three Barton siblings attended the school and  we learn about their difficult childhood and lives as adults. Linda Peterson-Cornell relates the consequences of her husband’s voyeurism and infidelities. A war veteran searches for love and redemption. I loved seeing characters through the eyes of different townspeople, as they encountered them in their daily lives. Despite the obstacles and difficulties they faced, there were also moments of grace and hope. I have found myself reflecting on these stories and on the bonds of families and friends. Stout also wrote Olive Kitteridge, My Name is Lucy Barton, Amy and Isabelle and other popular novels.

Letting Go by Maya Banks

Book – Josslyn is widow after a tragic accident. She finally decides to move on with her personal love life 3 years later. She has a wonderful set of best girlfriends who help her grieve, but no one has been her rock more than Dash. Dash is her dead husband’s best friend. Her husband, Carson, was abused relentlessly as a child and had never been able to provide Josslyn with the one thing she craved most – dominance in the bedroom. Dash has always had a romantic interest in Joss, and Carson is well aware of this, but absolutely secure in his marriage. After many years of grief, its time for her to step up and explore that world she has always wanted/needed but knew Carson could never give her. With lots of decisions, and expectations laid out for herself she obtains a membership at The House. The House is a safe and secure place to explore all your inner sexual fantasies without any judgment. On her first night there, she is discovered by Dash himself just feet inside the door. He is furious that she is that and she has no idea what she has gotten herself into. He drags her out of the building in an instant, takes her home and they have the awkward talk about why she was there and what she is looking for. At this point it is Dash her knows he is able to fulfill her every need with his long time Dominant/Submissive lifestyle. It is Dash who introduces her to the intriguing world of BDSM.

I found this book to be truly an eye opener into the world of BDSM. I have never read Maya Banks before, but am eager to see what other series she has. This is book 1 in a series called The Surrender Trilogy. This book does have some light BDSM , but it is a character driven story.  The character development is incredible. I cried, laughed, blushed, and ohh la la ‘ed with this story. Definitely a book for adults looking for a little steam, I highly recommend this entire series. There are surprises all along the way.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

indexBook–Based on some 200 cases of ‘fasting girls’ in the US and Great Britain throughout the 19th century, The Wonder follows Lib Wright, a no-nonsense nurse who trained under Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War, who is contracted to determine the veracity of the titular Wonder, a young Irish girl named Anna O’Donnell whose family claims she, of her own volition, has not eaten since her birthday several months ago. Together with taciturn nun Sister Michael, the two women watch Anna in shifts, Lib hoping to expose the O’Donnell family as frauds and secure her own reputation back home. Lib begins to realize, though, as she gets closer to Anna, that their watch is rather cruel. If, up until their watch, Anna has been fed in some covert way and their watch has put an end to it, they are complicit in starving Anna. As Anna begins to grow weak with undernourishment, Lib must decide if she will watch Anna’s slow death, as the village seems to wish her to do, or put a stop to it.

Set just after the Great Famine, the reader can easily see how Anna and her family have made a virtue of not eating. A child who claimed to be full quickly would be a source of relief to her struggling parents. The unique setting, religious faith, and a web of irresponsible adults and family secrets conspire to keep Anna trapped in her fasting and it is difficult to read. The reader feels culpable for Anna’s abuse just as Lib does. This intense read combines the richly detailed, thoroughly researched historical fiction that Donoghue is known for with the pulse-pounding immediacy of her 2010 breakthrough hit Room.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

920x920Book–Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond immersed himself in the lives of 8 poverty-stricken Milwaukee families and constructed this book out of hours of recorded conversations. His account takes place in both a mostly white run-down trailer park and in a mostly black set of tenements; he also spoke to the two landlords that own these properties. Desmond argues that there is one common thread that destabilizes the lives of all the people he spoke to: eviction. The old well-known advice says that one should spend no more than 1/3 of one’s income on housing. However, when subsisting on government benefits and food stamps, one has no choice but to drop 80%+ of one’s meager income on housing, and, as Desmond puts it, “if you’re spending 80 percent of your income on rent, eviction is much more of an inevitability than an irresponsibility.”

For the most part, this book is a litany of sad stories, depressing outcomes, poor choices, and petty injustices. I found it to be somewhat repetitive after a while. However, the repetitiveness proves Desmond’s point. Even when these families get a lucky break, be a it a tax refund, benefits coming through, or a win at gambling, the precariousness of their situation and their predatory landlords keep them locked in a cycle of poverty where they owe their landlord more than they can pay, until they are evicted and need to start their Sisyphean journey toward stability in a new, often more squalid, place. If Evicted caught your attention, I would also recommend White Trash by Nancy Isenberg and Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

The Intern (2015)

8756Movie – In The Intern, Jules Osten (Anne Hathaway) is the CEO of About the Fit, a new women’s clothing site. She at taken the site from her kitchen table to a company of over 200 employees in over a year.  Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) is her new intern. He is a 70-year old widower who was looking to do more in his old age than sit around.

Ben is old school. He is a gentleman, loyal, and quiet person. His co-workers and fellow interns enjoy this about him. He somehow becomes the cool uncle type. Ben gives dating, attire, and living advice to some of the man-children that work at About the Fit. Ben even lets one of them move in while he finds an apartment. Cool uncle stuff!

The only one who is not to fond of Ben is Jules. It is never really addressed why Jules does not like Ben and I felt had no bearing in the film. It was an issue at one point, and then it wasn’t.  This took away from the story a bit. Jules is overworked and her marriage is becoming strained. Her job has taken a toll on her husband. Without saying too much, things happen in the marriage but then there okay. Kind of like the whole Jules not liking Ben thing. The movie is good but leaves you with a feeling of not having finished things.

If you want to see De Niro in a wholesome comedy this one is okay. There is a scene where the guys all work together to help out Jules that is pretty good. Overall it’s an okay film.

Shameless: Season 1 (2011)

indexTV 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.

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

boy-in-the-black-suit-9781442459502_lgBook–Matt’s world collapsed the day his mother lost her battle with cancer. And now he is losing his father to the bottle. Nothing is the same anymore. He suddenly feels older than all of his friends and nobody seems to understand what he is going through. When Mr. Ray offers him a job working with him at the funeral home, Matt’s first reaction is to say no. He really did not want to be surrounded by death, it would just remind him of what he lost.

But when Matt realizes that he has two options: work at the Cluck Bucket or work for Mr. Ray, he takes Mr. Ray’s offer. And he is surprised at how cathartic it was to watch another person struggle with their pain. Now, Matt cannot wait for another funeral. He even wears his black suit everyday so he is prepared for work. Then he meets Lovey, who has also dealt with pain and loss, and he begins to realize that maybe he is not actually alone in the world.

The Boy in the Black Suit is a great book about dealing with the loss of a loved one and learning to overcome your trials. It is beautifully written with diverse and funny characters. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading realistic fiction.