The Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters

Books – I’ve said before that I don’t particularly care for cozy mysteries, but that’s not really true. When summer hits, when it’s too hot to think and I miss those lazy student summers when I didn’t have to do anything, when I wish for a simpler life than the one I have now, I reach for the Cadfael Chronicles.

Technically they’re mystery novels – usually someone dies, sometimes something is stolen, and Brother Cadfael, who was a Crusader before he became a monk, solves the mystery. He also gets the besotted young people together, or at least removes any impediments to their marriage; acts as godfather to his best friend’s son; trains apprentices to work in his gardens; and makes silent disparaging remarks about Brother Jerome, who desperately wants to be better than everyone else. Like modern cozies, the Cadfael series is about wish fulfillment, but instead of the dream of owning a bakery or a tea shop, it’s the dream of living a quiet, well-regulated life in a monastery.

Peters chose an interesting historical period for the series, too – the Anarchy, a civil war in England and Normandy in the mid-twelfth century resulting from a crisis of succession. It’s pretty obscure, as history goes, which puts most of us in the same position as the characters, unsure about what’s going to happen next and exactly how the war is going. But the war is a background feature, for the most part, compared to the small details of medieval life – not just in the cloister, but in the surrounding town.

 

Troubled Waters by Susan May Warren

Book- This is the fourth book in the Montana Rescue Series, and they are all amazing! It starts out with a forest fire that sends the PEAK rescue team into action. Through some unfortunate events, the chopper gets damaged and a team member needs the help of an old peak member to save her life. Back at headquarters, Sierra needs to find a way to raise money to save the chopper and ultimately her “family” of PEAK Rescue. If this group dissolves, which it will without the unique ability to fly in and rescue, she has no where to go, no one to be with. She convinces the teams old owner, billionair Ian Shaw, to allow her to run a fundraising junket on his yacht. The Montana Rose has never actually been sailed, so this is the first trip and it is built with all the luxuries one would expect on a millionaire budget.  Things are going great, Sierra is sure she will raise the money needed to save PEAK with Ians friends all pitching in, when a series of rogue waves takes the ship down and tosses everyone overboard. How will they survive? Who will survive? What will they do with this new lease on life? Will they take everything they have ever wanted and realize life can really be too short for petty issues?

Susan May Warren strikes again with a winner. I found this one a little more churchy than the others, but its still a very compelling story. I found myself chilled to the bone when the crew went overboard. She has quite the way with words that makes you feel like you are actually there experiencing every single thing the characters are. I am eagerly awaiting the next book in this series, Storm Front, due in June.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

Books–When Ms. Bixby’s cancer progresses faster than anticipated and she has to leave school before her Going Away party, three of her sixth-grade students—Topher, Brand, and Steve—hatch a plan to skip school, go to her hospital, and provide her with her Perfect Day. They face a steady stream of entertaining obstacles during their quest, but the true depth of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson is in the flashbacks that fill in how the boys became such good friends and why they each individually bonded so strongly with Ms. Bixby.

Chapters are told from the characters’ varying viewpoints. Topher is overly imaginative, Steve is extremely book smart, and Brand is the one with common sense. It’s fun to see how the boys get out of each of the sticky situations they get into during their day—What will they do when they bump into a teacher? How will they stretch their money far enough to buy all the things they want for Ms. Bixby’s Perfect Day? Who will be brave enough to use a toilet painted like a shark?

I listened to this book on Hoopla, and I highly recommend it either in audio or book format. It’s a great “boy book” for upper elementary students, but this grown up girl really enjoyed it too. Its themes of friendship, kindness, appreciation, and grief and really for everyone.
Other Juvenile Fiction books by John David Anderson include Posted, Insert Coin to Continue, The Dungeoneers, Minion, and Sidekicked.

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.