A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman (2015)

Book & Movie- Ove is an elderly man who just wants to be reunited with his deceased wife. In the past, his rigidity and ill-temperament has kept most social interactions to a minimum, until now, when a friendly family moves in next door and tests his inflexible ways, starting with a slight U-Haul truck mishap. Between Ove’s cynical outlook on life and the humorous exchanges between him and his neighbors, A Man Called Ove can crack a smile of even the callous of people.

I was absolutely thrilled when I found out that this novel was adapted into a movie. Although dark, suicidal ideology is persistent throughout the film, it is more of a dreary storm cloud that never precipitates. Much of the film is spent recollecting Ove’s past, from growing up in his father’s shoes to life with his former wife Sonja, each memory allowing the audience to commiserate with Ove’s irritable self. I have always been one who has appreciated the book more than the movie adaptation in just about all titles, and this is no different, however I praise the director for keeping to the storyline rather than taking it in a different direction. One last note worth mentioning is that the movie is in Swedish but has English subtitles! I for one keep the subtitles on regardless of the language but personally found it taxing attempting to keep up with the dialogue when I would much rather enjoy the movie as a whole.

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

BooksWishtree is narrated by the oak tree Red. He is more than 200 years old, home to raccoons, opossums, owls and Bongo, an entertaining crow, who together form a delightful community. Red also is interested in the humans around him–in no small part because each year people come to tie their wishes on his branches.

When Samar, the little girl who lives across the street, ties a wish for a friend, Red feels compelled to intervene. He and Bongo concoct several schemes to help Samar and her next-door neighbor Stephen become friends. But everything becomes complicated when Francesca, the owner of the land Red stands on, decides to have him chopped down.

This is a fairly simple story, and I loved reading it. The personalities given to Red and the animals are amusing. The themes of friendship, inclusion, kindness, and appreciation of nature are ones many will enjoy. I highly recommend Wishtree as a family read-aloud because, even if your kids are old enough to read this by themselves–why let them have all the fun? Even if you don’t have children, you may just want to just read this sweet, little, well-written story for yourself. I certainly did.

Our collection has a number of books by Katherine Applegate, including her Newbery Award-winning The One and Only Ivan.

Melmoth by Sarah Perry

Book – Helen Franklin is not happy with her life. She’s worked hard not to be; she is atoning. An English expatriate, she works as a translator in Prague and has only a few friends. When one of them is given a mysterious package of documents by an elderly man working on his memoirs, he spirals into paranoia and fear, dragging Helen with him. Who is this person Melmoth who appears in so many historical writings? Is she a myth or a bogeyman, or is she truly the witness to all humanity’s wrongs, Helen’s included?

I first read Melmoth the Wanderer, the 19th century gothic novel that served as the inspiration for Perry’s new one, on the sunny patio outside my college library, so I was primed to love this book. This is a lovely modernized echo of the original story. In this version, Melmoth is a woman, a lonely creature who longs for someone as broken as she is to keep her company. Told in the fine gothic style of nested narratives – one character reading a story written by another character, which contains a story told to them by a third party – we meet a variety of Melmoth’s potential companions throughout history, from a sixteenth-century nobleman to a young German boy in Nazi-occupied Prague, to Helen’s own tragic history.

Although the story is all about guilt and atonement, and whether or not some things can be atoned for, it’s not as bleak as that makes it sound. There is also a great deal of compassionate humanity and people being better in spite of themselves. I’m happy to report that I loved this book exactly as much as I expected to, and I’m looking forward to whatever Sarah Perry brings us next.

All I Want For Christmas is a Cowboy by Jessica Clare

Book – A sweet romance, All I Want For Christmas is a Cowboy by Jessica Clare is a wonderfully cozy romance of two strangers who meet by chance during the holiday season.  Cassandra needs to escape her life for the holidays.  Her boss’s boyfriend has been harassing her since she met him and it seems like there’s no escape in sight.  The solution?  A Christmas in solitude spent alone at her parents’ cabin.  Driving through a snowstorm, Cassandra flies off course in an accident.

Eli is a real cowboy, living alone on his ranch tending to the cows and his dogs.  He’s content with his life the way it is, and is happy to spend the holiday in his reclusive home.  Ready for another Christmas in solitude, Eli’s plans are drastically altered when he finds an injured woman stranded in the blizzard from a car accident.  As any gentleman would do, Eli takes her to his home and tends to her wounds.  But when Cassandra awakens, she has no memory of who she is, or any reminder of her life before the accident.  As the two learn to cohabit the Christmas season together, Cassandra’s amnesia becomes less of problem, as they grow closer.  Separated from the chaos of her previous life, Cassandra thinks maybe this is her Christmas wish come true.  But life always seems to get in the way of things.

 

The Children Act (2017)

DVD- This movie is based on the book by Ian McEwan, which has an amazing cast lead by Emma Thompson. She plays a British High Court judge who makes difficult and serious judgements, that affect the life and death of people on a daily basis. Stanley Tucci plays her sexually frustrated, left behind, husband. The film revolves around the child Adam Henry, played by Fionn Whitehead (Dunkirk). Emma Thompson’s character has to decide a whether the hospital has legal standing to authorize Adam to undergo a blood transfusion which will save his life or, grant him the autonomy to trust in a faith that prevents him from accepting blood products.

I found this movie serious and intense. A few of the heavy hitting topics this movie works through include:  religion, law, middle age marriage, affairs, and an infatuated youth of a mature woman.  How courts are governed in Britain, with their customs and rules is an interesting feature, as well. Lastly, the locations depicted in the film, are beautiful.

If you are looking for an excellent, cerebral movie, this is it! If, however, you are looking for a lighthearted movie with the normally-silly Stanley Tucci and Emma Thompson, keep looking!

Grace and Fury by Tracy E. Banghart

Book – I have spent far more time thinking about Grace and Fury than it deserves, because it’s a perfect illustration of a strange truth: writers who are good at one part of their craft are not necessarily good at others, and a book can therefore be both a good book and a bad book at the same time.

A brief overview to start: Grace and Fury is a dystopian YA novel best described as a cross between The Selection Series and The Hunger Games with a topical dash of The Handmaid’s Tale. In a society where women are forbidden to read, one compliant young woman has been trained all her life for the prestigious role of “Grace,” an official mistress to the future king, while her rebellious young sister is expected to act as her servant.  Naturally, the wrong sister is chosen for Grace, landing in the middle of court politics she’s deeply unprepared for–while her elder sister is banished to a prison island where she’ll have to fight to survive.

I’ll start with the rough stuff, to get it out of the way.  The characterization in Grace and Fury is weak at best, and the plotting is downright bad.  Coincidence is allowed to drive the story far too often.  The characters are forced to change by their circumstances, but their growth usually isn’t believable or earned.  Characters are divided strictly into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’–a particularly sad vice in a dystopian story, where there’s infinite room for complicity born of fear and similar shades of gray.  Worst of all, the story is full of moments when the audience will cotton to secondary characters’ motives long before the naive heroes do, even though we’re not given any information that the heroes don’t have.

But here’s the kicker: the worldbuilding isn’t terrible, and the pacing is actually pretty excellent.  I knew early on that this wasn’t the book for me, but I kept reading it, because the author does know how to write a hook.  It’s a quick, easy read, and I mean that as a compliment–making a book that the reader is compelled to keep reading is a skill that many authors would envy.

I think that a lot of popular books–Dan Brown’s novels and the Twilight series, for a start–excite comment and controversy for existing at exactly this intersection of high readability with weaker quality in other areas.  And I don’t mean to sound like I’m knocking anybody who enjoys those books, or this one.  Different readers read for different reasons, the same reader can read for different things at different times, and everybody has their own guidelines for which literary flaws constitute their deal-breakers.

I happen to be an intensely character-driven reader, so for me, Grace and Fury was a bust.  But I bet it’ll be popular with readers anyway, because lots of people rate pacing more highly than I do in a reading experience–and I hope those readers find this book, because they deserve a read they’ll love.

The Exorcist: Season 1 (2016)

TV Series – Father Thomas Ortega is an up-and-coming young priest in Chicago, rebuilding his long-neglected parish and working with the bishop and a local fundraising committee to organize the Pope’s visit to the Windy City. His neat professional trajectory is interrupted when Angela Rance, one of his parishioners, comes to him with a request: her daughter is possessed by a demon, and she wants him to do an exorcism. Rebuffed by the bishop, Ortega turns to Father Marcus Keane, a renowned exorcist who Ortega has never heard of — until the fellow priest appeared in his dreams. Meanwhile, Angela struggles to keep her family together as the demon’s power over her daughter grows more malevolent by the day.

I’m not usually a huge fan of religious horror, and I didn’t much care for the original Exorcist – I just don’t find it all that scary. But while the TV series has just as many jump scares and gross-outs as the movie, with a whole season it has time to do some more interesting things, too. The Rance family dynamics are fascinating, even before the demon shows up, and Father Thomas and Father Marcus are polar opposites in the classic tradition of buddy-cop dramas. There’s conspiracy and ominous foreshadowing; there’s tension over what it means to be a priest; there’s discussion of Gnostic heresies and the dangerous influences of Ouija boards. Most interesting, though, is the portrayal of demonic possession from the point of view of the girl being possessed, letting you see both the power it offers her and the subtle ways it makes her suffer. I really didn’t think you could make a feminist version of The Exorcist, but I think this show has pulled it off.

As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti

Book – In As You Wish, author Chelsea Sedoti crafts a novel about the power of wishing.  In the small, boring town of Madison, the residents have a secret.  It is a secret they work hard to keep hidden from the prying eyes of the rest of the world, lest they be made a freak attraction.

In Madison, everybody gets a wish—one wish that will come true.    On your eighteenth birthday, you are led to the cave of wishes where the deed is done.  If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is.  The residents spend their youth conjuring up the perfect wish–to be the most beautiful, the best sportsman, to have the unconditional love and devotion of their chosen mate.  Many have made wishes that they will regret for the rest of their lives.  But there are no takebacksies.  No wish can be undone.

For 17 year old, Eldon, his upcoming wish is a source of stress and despair.  He fails to relate to the giddy excitement of his fellow classmates and friends as their wishing days also draw closer.  He is pressured constantly by his mother to do the right thing, to make a wish that will help his family and support those he loves.  What Eldon desires more than anything is to just ignore the whole tradition altogether and never make his wish.  Through the stories of other wishers and their mistakes, Eldon tries to understand how to make the best decision, a decision that could change his entire life for better or worse.  He’ll do anything he can to not make the same mistakes as those around him.

The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Book – I have to be honest, I’ve never been a James Paterson fan (gasp).  I’ve read a few of his books and thought they were “OK”.  However, when The President is Missing came out co-authored with Bill Clinton, I decided to find out what all the hype was about and see what kind of fictional tale our former president had to tell.  Well, it ended up being a suspenseful and thrilling page-turner.

President Duncan is facing impeachment.  He is accused of not taking action against Suliman Cindoruk the leader of a terrorist group. But Duncan truly has a noble reason that he can’t disclose. Unbeknownst to the rest of the country, the President must go undercover in a covert mission in order to disable a computer virus that Cindoruk is threatening to unleash. This cyber-attack, code word “Dark Ages” would potentially cripple the United States.  The President puts himself in personal danger to save the nation.  However, he does not act totally recklessly, since he is a war hero – a former Airborne Ranger in Desert Storm and a P.O.W and assembles a team of experts to assist him.  The tensions builds as the clock is ticking down to put a stop to the virus and an assassin stalks Duncan.  In addition, he realizes that there is a traitor in his administration.  Will the traitor be revealed?  Will the President be assassinated?  Will this act of cyberterrorism be quashed?  You can find out for yourself!

Even though there is currently a hold list for this title, we have numerous regular copies, a large print copy, an audiobook, and an eBook on Overdrive, so hopefully your wait will not be long.

 

 

 

The Brand New Testament (2017)

Movie – To give mankind the awareness of their own death may be an inapprehensible phenomenon, but Ea has done just that. The Brand New Testament is a dark yet humorous film about God, who, by the way lives in Belgium with his wife and daughter. God creates inconveniences and atrocities to all of mankind out of his own boredom. His daughter Ea is not very fond of it and has had enough. After discovering her father’s malicious intentions are being controlled through a dated computer, she rebelliously sends out the death dates to everyone on Earth. What would you do if you knew when your last breath would be? Would you leave the job you dread? Would you spend your life’s savings? Or would you not change a thing? Six very different lives answer just that in Ea’s search for additional apostles to add to the New Testament.
This French film was incredibly thought provoking and had an amusing spin on all things biblical. Although it was in French (English subtitles provided), the dialogue was light enough to truly enjoy the essence of the sheer artistry. The cinematography and plot were engaging. It’s no wonder that the film was up for numerous awards and was generally favorable among critics. If you’re looking for something different but nonetheless refreshing, this is one to see.