The Toll by Cherie Priest

Book – Titus and Melanie are on their honeymoon, driving out to a cabin in the middle of the Okefenokee Swamp where neither of them really want to be, when they cross a bridge that shouldn’t be there. When Titus wakes up, Melanie is gone, and so is the bridge. The locals in the nearby town of Staywater offer to put him up while he looks for his wife, but none of them seem to believe she’ll be found. Especially not Claire and Daisy, two little old ladies who know entirely too much about that bridge and what it demands of those who cross it.

Creepy small towns, ominous and mysterious wilderness, unknowable monsters and terrifyingly competent little old ladies – The Toll has everything you could want in a horror-adventure novel. While the atmosphere is tense and ghosts abound (both literal and metaphorical), I didn’t find this novel frightening as much as enjoyably spooky. Many of the characters are more annoying than sympathetic, but that’s all right, it means you don’t mind as much when bad things happen to them. Claire and Daisy, on the other hand, deserve a sequel of their own. If you like monster movies and Southern gothic, you’ll appreciate Cherie Priest’s newest novel.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Okinyan Braithwaite

Cover image for My sister, the serial killer : a novelBook – Author Oyinkan Braithwaite’s short and dark comedy features two sisters, Ayoola and Korede. The former can’t help but kill off boyfriends with her father’s 8-inch blade, while the latter helps clean up crime scenes and dispose of the bodies. Korede, the troubled narrator, is the head nurse at St. Peter’s Hospital, the elder and keeper of her younger, dispassionate and talented sister. Life in Lagos, Nigeria is especially difficult for women, and less so for men like the sisters’ father, who may or may not have been killed by Ayoola’s hand.

Braithwaite’s prose is unlike those of conventional whodunnits, and therefore may not appeal to mystery lovers and likely challenge those looking to lose one’s self in a book. My Sister, the Serial Killer is driven by vivid portraits of strong, female characters and brilliant storytelling. This is Braithwaite’s first novel, which readers can easily imagine crafted into a feature film.

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

BookPixar have made their fortunes by providing an easy shorthand, a brand identity built on children’s movies that adults will actually enjoy on their own merits. Children’s books that pull off the same trick can be more difficult to find. Even as adults reading YA lit has become a commonplace, it’s unusual to consider the adult appeal of books in the children’s section. Which is a shame, because the best children’s novels can be every bit as entertaining to older readers, hidden gems that are too often left on the shelf.

Three Times Lucky, the first in the four-book Mo and Dale Mysteries series and one of the most transportively atmospheric books I’ve read all year. Three Times Lucky is chock-full of charmingly eccentric characters drawn with marvelous literary efficiency, especially the narrator, eleven-year-old Moses ‘Mo’ LoBeau. A literary cousin to Scout of To Kill a Mockingbird, Mo is a believable mix of precocious and naive, scrappy but allowed to be scared in situations too big for a child, a smart-aleck and a schemer with buckets of charisma and bottomless loyalty. The mystery and adventure plots of Three Times Lucky are a little too much to be wholly believable (a decades-old bank robbery and a dark and stormy night are involved), but to mind about that would be missing the point. There’s too much to love about Mo, her adoptive family, her friends, and their tiny town of Tupelo Landing, N.C.

It may sound strange to compare a PG-rated children’s book to the dark, heavy, adult subject matter of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects–especially the excellent miniseries version–but actually, it’s surprisingly apt. In both cases, the perfectly-rendered atmosphere of a small southern town, and the outsized characters living there, make for stories that will linger in your consciousness long after their conclusions. While the perhaps more obvious comparison would be to Flavia de Luce (and any Flavia fans should absolutely seek Mo out), I would also recommend Three Times Lucky to anyone who enjoys stories driven by eccentric characters like those in Maria Semple‘s books, or who loves a book with a palpable sense of place.

Escape Plan: The Extractors (2019)

DVD –  When security expert Ray Breslin (Sylvester Stallone) is hired to retrieve a Chinese business tycoon’s daughter, unbeknownst to Breslin, his previous partner’s son is hell bent on revenge. To assure Breslin’s involvement, the villain also abducts his girlfriend. Will he make it in time to rescue both women and still come out alive?

The Escape Plan: The Extractors is the third installment of the franchise and I must admit, it was bad. The plot line is overly simplified and the music score, seemed off. The first movie, Escape Plan, however, was awesome! In The Extractors, Breslin is not even escaping OUT of a prison, using any fancy tools, or high tech gadgets. I’m not sure what the producers were thinking when deciding on Round 3 for this series, but it was a fail for me. Nevertheless, the fight scenes are outstanding, and you get to see Curtis “50 cent” Jackson for all of 5 minutes. If you are looking for a movie for background noise while doing something else and does not require much time, energy, or focus, this works. If you want a serious action adventure – keep looking.

Shout and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Book – Author Laurie Halse Anderson first gained notoriety in 1999 for her novel Speak, which won numerous awards and honors and is rightfully considered a modern classic in Young Adult literature. In Speak high school freshman Melinda deals with great personal trauma all the while being ostracized by her peers. I highly recommend reading the original novel, if you haven’t already.

In 2018, the Graphic Novel Speak illustrated by Emily Carroll received strong reviews owing to its meaningful remake for established fans and introducing new readers to the story.

20 years after the publication of Speak, Anderson releases Shout – a powerful memoir in free verse. Here, she shares deeply of her complicated relationship with her parents, personal experiences with sexual assault and sexual harassment, and the reactions shared by readers over the years. Shout comes on the heels of last year’s #metoo and #timesup movements promoting awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault. Anderson is not a new voice in this conversation. Since the publication of Speak, she has advocated for open conversations about sexual assault.

Shout is a quick and powerful read and will interest fans who want to see how Anderson’s experiences found their ways into her books and learn more about her life as an author. Those interested in delving into the issues of sexual assault and harassment, will find jumping off points for thoughts and discussions.

We carry a variety of Anderson’s other books in our physical and digital collections, in addition to the DVD Speak starring Kristen Stewart (Twilight films).

The River by Peter Heller

Book- The River is the latest from Peter Heller, author of the bestselling novels The Dog Stars and Celine. The River follows Jack and Wynn, two college friends on a canoe trip in northern Canada. Both are outdoorsmen, but different in many respects. Jack, stoic with a realistic worldview, grew up in a ranching family. Wynn, while nearly as well versed in the great outdoors, is more optimistic and romantic. Although the two young men seem more than prepared for an extended trip through the wilds of Canada, a sense of foreboding looms from the beginning. A fast-approaching forest fire rages miles behind them, and is not the only unexpected challenge the two friends face. As Jack and Wynn distance themselves from the fire and toward civilization, they encounter obstacles that test their survival skills and friendship.

Other reviews summarize the plot in greater detail, but I recommend avoiding them, to fully grasp the suspense of this novel. The River is equal parts thriller, character study, and outdoor adventure, which is tightly plotted and beautifully written. Nothing feels extraneous. Peter Heller’s extensive knowledge of the outdoors lends itself to the authenticity of the novel.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Book– New York Times’ Bestselling author Jodi Picoult does it again with another one of her remarkable novels tackling prominent, arbitrary controversies of today’s times. This novel was so captivating, that I ended up not only borrowing the printed copy from the library, but listened to eAudiobook on the Libby app at every opportunity:  in the car, making dinner, cleaning the house, etc.

Ruth is a single mother of a high school honors student and a Labor and Delivery Nurse of Mercy-West Haven Hospital of 20 years. She is a person of color.

Turk dons a Swastika tattoo, a Confederate flag arm sleeve, oversees a white power website, and is a distinguished leader in the movement. He and his wife Brittany, are white supremacists. She just gave birth to their son, Davis.

After a brief encounter checking Davis’ vitals, Turk and Brittany make a point to remove Ruth from their service. They write, “NO AFRICAN AMERICAN PERSONNEL TO CARE FOR THIS PATIENT,” on a post-it note and affix it to their child’s file. When the unit is short staffed however, Ruth has no choice but to watch over baby Davis while the other nurses handle a medical emergency. But then, baby Davis goes into cardiac distress. Unforeseeable circumstances leave Ruth with two choices: intervene and go against the charge nurse’s orders and the wishes of the parents, or do nothing and break the nurse’s oath.

Readers are challenged to question whether Ruth should disobey the orders she’s been given by the hospital, or care for the baby to try to save him. This riveting story underpins racial discrimination and freedom of choice and expression. It confronts issues of power, privilege, and race in the United State’s justice system and brings to light the realities that African-Americans face every day, which white people often take for granted.

Above all, Small Great Things invites conversation about the implicit biases we hold and how our actions or inactions can ultimately be a disservice to others. Racism is very much alive in the U.S. and this story illustrates the societal ramifications microaggressions play in the lives of underrepresented groups in our country.

This title is available in print book format, Large Print, and as an eAudiobook in Overdrive.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Image result for fingersmith coverBook – As a fan of historical fiction, I was lucky to recently discover the work of Sarah Waters whose novels include: Tipping the Velvet, Affinity, and Fingersmith, set in the Victorian era. Additionally, the notable The Night Watch (WWII) and her most recent work The Paying Guests (WWI), are set during or directly after world wars.

Fingersmith tells the story of Sue, a seventeen-year-old orphan living in Victorian London, brought up by and among, professional thieves. A frequent visitor to her home, known to her only as “Gentleman” hatches a plot to steal the fortune of young woman, Maud Lilly. Gentleman proposes Sue help him secure the fortune by posing as a lady’s maid in Maud’s home. Maud lives a secluded life on her scholarly uncle’s country estate, where she acts as his secretary, but otherwise leads a rather aimless, dull existence. Maud agrees to assist Gentleman in exchange for a cut of Maud’s fortune, which Sue hopes to use to pay back her adoptive mother, Mrs. Sucksby. An unexpected bond and attachment forms between Sue and Maud, which threatens Gentleman’s plan as well as the rather meager lives both young women have come to accept for themselves.

This is a novel full of twists, turns and unexpected developments. Fans of Victorian literature (in particular Charles Dickens) are sure to appreciate Fingersmith, not simply because of the Victorian era setting, but because the book reads in the manner of classic Dickens novels, only with a modern twist. Readers familiar with Dickens will find his writing style reflected in Waters’s style: the use of memorable, humorous names, and a talent for creating mystery and suspense. Readers will also note Dickensian themes such as, a focus on social class, a preoccupation with orphans and their misfortune, and complex portrayals of the story’s villains. Fingersmith is long, but the plot twists and character reveals make for a thoroughly engaging read.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

BookA Gentleman in Moscow is a beautifully written and magical story. Set in Moscow in 1922 and spanning four decades, we meet Count Alexander Rostov, who exudes old world elegance and aristocracy. He is sentenced by the Bolsheviks to house arrest for life at the luxurious, Metropol Hotel in Moscow and declared a “Former Person.” Despite the hotel’s grandor, the Count is imprisoned in a small attic room, which he attemptos to make cozy and familiar with a few of his favorite items. These include: two high back chairs, an oriental coffee table, a Louis XVI desk, two table lamps fashioned from elephants, and his grandmother’s set of porcelain plates. He also loves his books. “…the book had been written with winter nights in mind. Without a doubt, it was a book for when the birds had flown south, the wood was stacked by the fireplace, and the fields were white with snow; that is, for when one had no desire to venture out and one’s friends had no desire to venture in.”

Confined indoors, the Count spends his time exploring the hotel and making the acquaintance of staff and guests. His friends include Nina, a precocious young girl seeking lessons on how to become a princess, the chef and maître d of the hotel’s famed restaurant and Anna, a beautiful actress and Alexander’s lover. The author, Towles skillfully brings the world to the Count, since he cannot go out into the world. His encounters with each guest and staff member make for fascinating stories. “By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration—and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.”

A truly delightful read. Amor Towles is also the author of Rules of Civility.

The Game Plan (2007)

DVD –  The Game Plan is fun and family friendly. Joe Kingman, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is the top scoring quarterback for his professional football team. He is living the high life of a single playboy- sporting a penthouse, owning fancy cars, and enjoying fame. The morning after the biggest play of his game, 8-year-old Peyton arrives on his doorstep claiming to be his daughter, and never knew existed. Many silly things happen as their relationship evolves, from Leaving Peyton behind at a restaurant, to wearing bedazzled clothes to her ballet performance, to rushing to a medical emergency. This movie runs through the gamut of emotions, but relies heavily on the ability to garner laughter.

I found The Game Plan funny and charming. Although categorized as a comedy, the film includes serious scenes that explore family dynamics, trust, friendship, and love. If you are looking for a simple giggle for movie night, I definitely recommend this older gem.