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.

Talk to the Paw by Melinda Metz

Book- Jamie a grade school history teacher has had many poor relationships in the past. This year, its all about her! She is determined to use the gift money her mother left her after recently succumbing to cancer to decide what she wants to do for the rest of her life.  She packs up her apartment and moves to California with her cat MacGyver (Mac). She isn’t interested in any of the nephews/dentists/grandsons etc. her nosy neighbors keep trying to set her up with. She has been trying many new things like surfing, acting classes, talking to street vendors, and photography to name a few. She is making new friends in her new community including a quirky Hollywood set designer, a baker, a TV series actor, and an cranky teenage girl.

MacGyver has other plans. He is determined to find Jamie a pack mate. Being a superior being he knows what she needs and has figured out an escape route in the new house. He travels the neighborhood taking items with strong scents (of various types) and gifts them to the people he knows needs whatever it is that particular scent is giving off.

I found this book to be a fun easy read. Its probable 70% told from Jamie’s point of view and 30% told from MacGyver’s point of view. Being a crazy cat lady myself, I thought it was a very creative way to tell a story I highly recommend this if you are looking to just sit back and simply giggle here and there through a pleasant storyline.

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

Book – Greta Helsing is a physician with a unique specialty: she treats the undead and supernatural creatures of London. Whether it’s providing anxiety medication for ghouls or treating the chronic lung infection of a gentleman who’s been a family friend for centuries, she has her work cut out for her. When a vampyre turns up with an unusual stab wound and a terrifying story of fanatical monks, her already unusual life suddenly gets a whole lot stranger.

I cannot tell you how much this book delighted me – a massively enjoyable romp through undead London, featuring ghouls, vampires, vampyres (not the same thing), and a mysterious cult of evil monks living underneath the Underground. And best of all, made families: a strong group of friends, people who learn to trust and care for one another, a central female character who is strong and competent and still gets to freak out sometimes because, well, mysterious cult of evil monks trying to kill her friends. I could have wished for more of Greta’s female friends – hopefully we’ll see more of them in future installments.

Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex

Books–Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex is a picture book that begs to be read aloud—and is perfect for sharing with elementary aged readers. The illustrations include pictures of fruit with sparsely drawn arms, legs, and facial expressions. The fruit are celebrating their fruitiness with rhymes, but Orange is feeling left out because, well, nothing rhymes with “orange.”

Orange reacts with increasing exasperation as the fruit in the celebration goes from the recognizable (apple and banana) to the rare (quince and lychee). Things definitely go in an unexpected direction when German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche shows up in the illustrations and text as a rhyme to both “peachy” and “lychee.” Shortly after, Orange declares, “This book’s sorta gone off the rails” before admitting “Oh, who am I kidding…this book is amazing.”

I agree. This book is amazing. It’s fun in unexpected ways. The amount of emotion that the illustrations convey with small amounts of ink added to the fruit is impressive. It’s fun to listen to and read aloud. It will likely introduce young readers to a new fruit or two, and there’s even a message of inclusion.

Too often, when children start to be able to read to themselves, they move into Beginning Reader and chapter books and never look back at picture books. Picture books can keep things fun and interesting and can pack a big punch in a small number of pages. With this book, the older the child the more of the jokes they will understand and the more involved they will be able to get in the fun of reading it aloud themselves.

A few other fun picture books to read with elementary students include My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis, The Book with No Pictures, and The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors.

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.

The Stray (2017)

Movie – “Pluto” appeared out of nowhere and made his home with the Davis family. Dad works way too many hours, mom is exhausted dealing with the three kids, and the kids are having a hard time fitting in with kids their own age. What can be done to fix all these problems- nothing but adopting the stray dog of course. After the youngest daughter walks away from her family- as they are too busy with other kids or work, the family decides its time to make a drastic change to their lifestyle. They move from LA to Colorado. In an effort to better fit in with kids as well as gain a new prospective on their lives, the dad takes his oldest son, and 2 other neighborhood kids on an epic camping trip. A frightful night will leave this group of guys forever altered, including the dog “Pluto.”

I found this movie to be much deeper than originally thought based on the cover and synopsis on the back. I was thinking something lighter along the lines of Homeward Bound or Milo and Otis. This movie in my opinion is so much more than just a cute tale with a fluffy dog. It also has a bit of a “churchy” vibe, which isn’t for me, but does help tie the movie together I suppose. If you are looking to unload a whole bunch of emotions in 1.5 hours – this is the movie for you.

The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang

Book – Mokoya and Akeha, twin children of the Protector, were promised to the Grand Monastery before they were born, but when Mokoya displays the skill of prophecy, their mother rescinds her promise. While Mokoya struggles with her gift, Akeha becomes aware of a growing rebellion within his mother’s realm. The Machinists are developing technology to undercut the Tensors, sorcerers under the direct control of the Protector, and give the people a shot at freedom. Akeha finds his calling with the Machinists, but how will he fight for what is right without destroying his bond with his twin sister?

The Black Tides of Heaven is so full of amazing characters, exciting plot developments, and a truly original magical world that it’s hard to believe it’s only a novella. Short though it is, this is undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read in the past year. Fortunately for all of us, there’s already a sequel – The Red Threads of Fortune – and more are expected soon.

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Book – I love author Sophie Kinsella, my favorite books by her being The Undomestic Goddess, Remember Me? and I’ve Got Your Number. They’re great romance reads with just the right amount of comedy and cute. But young adult novel Finding Audrey is definitely at the top of my list, still containing some of that romance, but centering on a young teen. Fourteen-year-old Audrey rarely leaves her house, and wears sunglasses everywhere she goes, even indoors. Since an incident occurred at her school, Audrey has become homeschooled and agoraphobic. She suffers from depression and anxiety that cause her to hide from everyone but her family. She avoids all eye contact and wears her dark sunglasses at all times. This is how Audrey lives, in fear of the next thing that will set off her nerves. That is until she meets her brother’s best friend, Linnus.

Linnus sees Audrey and he doesn’t follow the rules. He walks unknowingly into her sacred safe space that no one is allowed into. He takes Audrey by surprise but she finds herself curious to understand Linnus’ intentions. Slowly their comfortability grows, and the two become friends.  Linnus pushes Audrey to move out of her comfort zone. But finding her way in this new world of possibilities is overwhelming for Audrey. Her past has lead her to a life behind closed doors, fearful to venture into the outside world, scared of judgement and the unknown. Linnus doesn’t judge her; his friendship helps Audrey to come out of her shell and give the outside world a second chance.

This is one of my favorite young adult books. Also on my very specific booklist of agoraphobia/anxiety-related fiction is Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall.

Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Book–Oliver Ryan, famous children’s book writer, and his loyal wife Alice, who illustrates his books, have a seemingly happy life until one night, after a very good dinner, he hits her, leaves, then comes back to beat her into a coma. The rest of the book is like peeling the layers of an onion. Nugent jumps around in chronology and in viewpoint, each character giving their take on Oliver, their past with him, and why he did it. From his harsh upbringing in a Catholic boarding school, to a fateful summer in France, to his current success, the reader gets more insight into Oliver’s character and motivations with every chapter. By the end, the reader should understand why he did it. Whether you find him sympathetic or a monster is up to you.

Like many books with this structure, it can get a little repetitive. We read tellings of the same scene from so many viewpoints that the details can wear thin by the second character’s take. Also, the story is full of too-convenient coincidences that stretch belief. Nevertheless, I read it in one sitting and found myself sucked in to Unraveling Oliver the way the best domestic thrillers suck you in. While I still found him absolutely monstrous at the end, I could see a different reader coming around to find him at least pitiable, if not sympathetic. This should appeal to people who like the recent spate of compelling Girl novels (Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, etc). If you’re looking for your next read, try B. A. Paris’ Behind Closed Doors, or, in fact, any of B. A. Paris‘ domestic thriller novels.

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets (2017)

Movie – As Valerian and Lauraline are a team of special agents to help keep order and piece throughout the human territories in space. They are sent to Alpha, the city of a thousand planets, on a mission to locate and diffuse the evil plans someone or something has in store for the planet as well as the universe.

This movie takes place far in the future, and has several different species. On Alpha the species all come together to learn from each other about their cultures and knowledge to build the big amazing city. The way they all come together and work fluidly together without race being an issue is such a strong impact in this film.

I choose to watch this one based solely on the previews. I liked the colors, animation, and overall creativity of the creatures in the previews. I had no idea honestly what this one was about. I was sucked in by all the creativity, and the story was surprisingly pretty good too. I’d definitely recommend giving this one a shot!