Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan

Book – Lydia is ending her evening shift at the Bright Ideas Bookstore when she discovers the body of Joey Molina hanging from a ceiling beam in the upper level. Joey had been one of the BookFrogs – lonely, lost customers who regularly frequented the shop. Lydia had been kind to Joey, but is surprised to learn that he has bequeathed his few possessions to her. When Lydia claims them, she realizes that he has left clues for her to decipher that may lead to the reason for his suicide. As Lydia learns about Joey’s brief and tragic life, she also uncovers truths about her own life and the past she tried to leave behind. I enjoyed following the clues and watching Lydia’s views shift as she examines the events of her childhood. Who can she really trust? This book was an entertaining and clever read.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin

BookGame of Thrones is off the air again (the season seven finale hasn’t aired at time of writing, so I can say without fear of spoilers that I just bet it was spectacular) and The Winds of Winter still has no release date. What’s a Song of Ice and Fire fan to do?

In my extremely informal survey of Martin fans, I’ve found that even among heavy readers who’ve enjoyed the five books of the main Song of Ice and Fire series, few have taken the relatively brief (~350 page) foray into the prequel world of the Dunk and Egg.  That’s a crying shame. Planned for an eventual series of about nine, the first three Dunk and Egg novellas, collected under the title A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, are an absolute treat of a read. That said, they are very different to the main series, featuring none of the same characters and, more importantly, a significant tonal shift. Where the main Westeros novels espouse an almost noir-ishly grim, nice-guys-finish-last-and-without-their-heads morality, the stories of lowborn Ser Duncan the Tall and his squire–the boy who will someday become King Aegon the Unlikely–have an absolutely opposite feel, old-fashioned in a good way. Here, 100 years before Game of Thrones, chivalry and innocence are still very much alive and well. Ser Duncan is far from pampered, and certainly the stories see their share of moral complexity and bad things happening to good people, but ultimately kindness, generosity, honor and compassion are allowed to win the day.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is as page-turningly compelling as A Song of Ice and Fire, but with a brisker pace, a narrower scope, and, as aforementioned, a welcome optimistic tone. For any reader–even one new to Martin’s work–who needs a charming, well-written break from death and destruction (whether on the news or HBO), it’s a fantastic choice.

Imperium (2016)

Movie – Nate Foster is an FBI agent. He pays attention to the little things. This trait is something agent Angela Zamparo is looking for in a good agent. Zamparo has her interests in white hate groups. She understands Nate’s specialty is Islamic terror, but challenges Nate to look closer to home when it comes to terror suspects and upcoming events.

Nate keeps to himself, retains a lot of what he reads, but is not well respected. The other agents pick on him because his is younger. Angela is looking for in a partner with these types of attributes, however. Nate goes undercover to infiltrate a white power hate group at Angela’s request. Angela needs Nate to look for the individuals who could have access to Cesium 137, a chemical they could use to create a dirty bomb. Nate changes his name and moves to Maine to meet with an informant already in the mix. Angela instructs Nate to get close to the group leader, Vince, and meet others in the movement, Dallas Wolf. Wolf is a well-known radio host in the movement. Nate eventually catches the eye of Gerry Conway, an engineer with a family man. Gerry also catches Nate’s, and Nate begins to wonder how someone so put together like Gerry could be part of this world.

The movie takes several turns before we really find out who is who in these groups. This is not a very violent movie compared to others. There is one scene where two groups of protesters clash but not much thereafter. Most of the movie shows interactions between the major players of the different groups; as to demonstrate how they may have one common goal, but are still very different.  This is no Harry Potter; and it is refreshing seeing Daniel Radcliffe in other roles that are nothing like the childhood wizard.

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Book–Becky Bloomwood is a reluctant financial journalist with a dirty secret:  she can’t stop spending money. Despite harassment from creditors, Becky cannot resist the siren song of shiny new things, particularly clothes, to the point where she invents a dying aunt to justify borrowing money to buy a new scarf. She tries spending less money (and fails), tries making more money (and fails), and even tries marrying rich. The fun of this novel comes from watching Becky squirm; she has a knack for getting herself into sticky, embarrassing situations reminiscent of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones and is a delightfully flawed character who with a distinctive and strong narrative voice. As long as you don’t take it too seriously, Confessions of a Shopaholic is chick lit at its light, airy, and compulsively readable best.

If you like this book because of the fashion focus, you’ll also love The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger (and its sequel), the Haley Randolph series by Dorothy Howell (start with Handbags and Homicide), and the rest of the Shopaholic series. If you’d have liked this one better if only Becky weren’t so darn shallow, try some of Rainbow Rowell’s books, like Attachments, or A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan.

 

 

Switching Places with Fido: Stories About Swapping Bodies with the Dog

Books Imagine waking up to find that your hands have become paws in the night.  You jump off the bed (on four legs!), look in the mirror and see a furry, wet-nosed face staring back at you.  But then, you turn around and see yourself, your human self, looking just as confused as you.  Somehow, you and your dog have swapped bodies!  Dog Days by Elsa Watson and The Dog in the Freezer by Harry Mazer (available through Interlibrary Loan) explore the bizarreness of  finding yourself stuck in the body of your furry best friend, making for some fun, quirky reads.

In Elsa Watson’s Dog Days, we meet struggling café owner Jessica Sheldon, who is going through a ruff time. Elsa holds the famed title of “number one dog hater” after an unfortunate incident in which she may have screamed at two unsuspecting pups.  “Woofinstock,” the towns annual dog-themed festival, is Jessica’s chance to redeem herself, and her café.  Jessica is in way over her head after volunteering for the festival, and taking in a stray dog named Zoe was never part of the plan. Things get even worse when Zoe and Jessica magically happen to swap forms.  While Zoe is ecstatic that she finally has the power to take any food she likes, Jessica is terrified imagining what her body double will do next!

The Dog in the Freezer is a compilation of three novellas, each tail showcasing the strong bound between a boy and his dog.  (Though we don’t have a copy of this novel at our library, you can request it through Interlibrary Loan).  This was one of my favorite’s growing up.  The body-swapping story is titled “My Life As a Boy,” about a hghschooler named Gregory and his genius dog Einstein.  Gregory and Einstein just wake up one day, on the day of Gregory’s very important basketball game, to find they have switched places!  Will Einstein be able to take Gregory’s place in the big game?  With tons of humor, and a touch of suspense, this book really is the fleas knees.

 

 

 

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

Book – In Since We Fell, it seemed like Rachel had it all.  A great husband and an aspiring career as a television journalist.  But everything began to unravel when she went to Haiti to cover the devastation after the 2009 earthquake. Her experiences there left her scarred and haunted. As she was reporting live she emotionally and mentally fell apart. This trauma was a major blow to her career and when she returned home she lost confidence in herself and had difficulty leaving their apartment.  Her husband, not at all sympathetic to her situation, divorced her. Rachel became obsessed with finding her birth father whom she never knew.  Her mother didn’t want to reveal who he really was.  The search brought her to Brian Delacroix a private investigator, who, not surprisingly was unsuccessful in locating her father due to lack of information.

Several years later Rachel and Brian’s paths cross again and they fall in love and marry.  Brian is loving and works with Rachel to help restore her confidence and to venture out in the world.  Rachel begins noticing that things don’t add up.  She is certain that she sees Brian in the area, when he is supposed to be out of the country and acquaintances tell her conflicting facts about his past.   What else could he be hiding? It turns out plenty and now Rachel’s life could be in danger.  There are plenty of plot twists as she learns of murder and deception and she has to force herself out of her shell to fight for her life.  Dennis Lehane does it again with another superb psychological thriller.

You may enjoy other thrillers and crime fiction written by Lehane some of which have become movies.  One of my other favorites is Shutter Island.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Book – Eleanor Oliphant is an awkward young woman who doesn’t have any friends. She works as an administrator in a design firm and spends her weekends drinking enough vodka so that she is neither drunk nor sober. Her only contact with people outside of work are shopkeepers, utility men and weekly phone conversations with her institutionalized mother. Then, Eleanor wins a set of tickets to a concert and develops a crush on one of the singers. Eleanor decides she must improve herself to win his love and changes (and hilarity) ensue. Eleanor’s observations about people’s habits and pop culture and her attitude about life are entertaining, but also also give a glimpse of what she has endured. I loved reading about Eleanor’s transformation and her eccentric new friends. If you liked The Rosie Project or Britt-Marie Was Here, you’ll enjoy this book.

The Glass House (2001)

DVD – Ruby and Rhett are teenage siblings whose parents tragically die in an automobile accident. Long time family friends, the Glasses, become their new guardians. The Glasses live in a huge house that comes across as more of an art museum in Malibu. Initially they have to share a bedroom, which is not right for a 16 year old girl and an 11 year old little brother. Ruby notes that something is not right with her new guardians and tries to rely on her parents executor of the estate who claims to be trustworthy. The Glasses somehow seem to pass all the “tests” of guardianship just in time for the state to do a “routine” inspection. As the movie develops, we learn that Mr. Glass is in deep financial trouble with bookies, and Mrs. Glass seems to have turned herself from medical doctor to drug junkie. How will the kids get out of this situation and what does their future hold?

I thought this movie was great on many levels. The actors were superb choices for the characters. There are a few small plot holes, but nothing you cant overlook and use your imagination. This is definitely a thriller movie, and not a “boo” kind of horror movie. I loved that it is an slightly older movie set back in 2000, so the trip down memory lane with VHS and *69 phone calls, and listening in on landline calls was funny to me. It was great to see how Ruby and Rhett maneuvered through this whole horrible situation and thinking about what other options I would have used.  I definitely recommend this one for a suspense horror movie night!

Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough

Book – It is 1888, a hot, murderous summer in London, and Doctor Thomas Bond is assisting the police in their investigations. Inspector Abberline leads the investigation into Jack the Ripper, cutting up prostitutes in Whitechapel, but Dr. Bond is more concerned with another killer, more fastidious, whose victims they pull out of the river in pieces. His anxiety high, Dr. Bond turns to opium to calm his mind, but in the opium dens he meets a foreign priest and a Polish madman, who convince him that the monster stalking London is not entirely human after all.

There are probably dozens of novels about Jack the Ripper being a man possessed by a demon; this is the first I’ve seen where Jack is a footnote to a different monster. (The Thames Torso Killer was real, and really was active at the same time as Jack the Ripper, but for whatever reason he never became as famous.) Dr. Bond is a terrific character, too; wracked by anxiety and drug addiction, he never entirely believes in the supernatural thing that his companions warn him about, but he’s willing to do whatever is necessary to stop the killing. Fans of Hannibal and Alex Grecian’s Scotland Yard series will love this book and its sequel, Murder.

Modern Children’s Classics to (Re)Visit Soon

Books – Revisiting childhood favorites may be the definition of comfort reading.  Some children’s books inspire a ‘what was I thinking?’ response when revisited later in life, but some have enough depth to genuinely repay a fresh, or first, look from a grown-up perspective.  The following are four children’s classics which I find myself rereading often–not just for nostalgia, but because their messages still resonate and they still make me think even as an adult.  (They’re all from the mid-20th century, because I needed some limit or this list would be five miles long).  It goes without saying that they’re still great choices for today’s kids, too!

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

Twelve-year-old Claudia Kincaid has a stiflingly samey middle-class upbringing and an indefatigable independent streak.  Accompanied by her younger brother Jamie, mostly because she needs the financial security of his scrupulously hoarded allowances, Claudia runs away from home to an astonishing destination: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The description of Claudia and Jamie’s escapades in the Museum will never fail to be delightful, but re-reading now, what sticks with me is the depth of the story’s messages about emotional resilience and how life’s challenges teach us who we are.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I think it’s a disservice to this fantastic mystery to call it a children’s book–and I say that despite thinking that children’s books are for everyone, and despite the fact that it’s a beloved Newbery winner.  The mystery at its core is deliciously twisty, but what’s striking about this story is the size and breadth of its beautifully-drawn cast.  You could cut out the mystery element entirely and still have a fascinating story about strong personalities thrown together through the simple circumstance of apartment living, not unlike Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series for adults.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I may be one of the two people in the world who loves the movie version of The Phantom Tollbooth, but I still really wish it had been better, because the book deserves the universal fame of better-adapted works like The Wizard of Oz.  All the classic portal fantasy elements are there: Milo receives a mysterious package in the mail and is drawn through it into a whimsical nonsense world that needs his help.  The Phantom Tollbooth is, sort of, a traditional good-versus-evil story, but it stands out because it’s actually less about outright wickedness and more about the perils of inaction: boredom, not heroism, sets Milo off on his adventure, and instead of moustache-twirling villains he faces enemies like the “Terrible Trivium”, the ultimate waster of time. Juster’s is a deeper, more complex, more contemporary and relevant kind of morality than usual in children’s fantasy, one that could easily be marketed as ‘fractured’ fairy tale were it not so full of genuine heart.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

If The Hunger Games is YA lit’s answer to 1984, then The Giver is its Brave New World.  I’m as much of a Katniss fan as the next Youth Services librarian, but The Giver did YA dystopia long before, and arguably better.  It’s a profoundly political story about every citizen’s complicity in government actions and the high price we pay for a life without discomfort, and it’s as touching, as painful and as thought-provoking now as ever.