Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprootedBook – Agnieszka grew up next to the dark enchanted wood, in the shadow of the Dragon’s tower. The Dragon is a wizard, not a fire-breathing lizard; he doesn’t eat the girls he takes, but he does take one every ten years or so, and she never comes home again. At least, not for very long. Everybody knows that he always takes the best, the cleverest, the most beautiful, the most talented girl, so they’re shocked when he picks Agnieszka instead.

But unlike the other girls, Agnieska’s been picked for a reason – she has the talent to become a wizard herself, and by the king’s law, she must be trained. (No matter how much she hates it.) And then, as  war threatens and the enchanted wood begins to overflow its borders, spilling monsters and poison out into the surrounding lands, she has to learn, if she wants to save her home and everyone she loves from a terrible end.

I absolutely adored this book, and I resented everything that made me put it down until I could finish it. While it has a lot in common with fairy tales, it’s also a deep, complex story full of very human people who make the wrong decisions for the right reasons (and sometimes the right decisions for the wrong reasons), and how they face the consequences of their actions. Fans of Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon series and Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor will love this, too. It also has a Hungarian flavor that would go very well with Steven Brust’s Dragaera series.

The Boy (2016)

boyMovie – Dolls, dolls, dolls!  A favorite playtime toy of many little girls and boys. But when nighttime falls, all dolls must be put away. Look away from those baby cheeks, especially the eyes, which threaten to sparkle, to twitch, or worse, to blink. Tuck them in tight.  Lock the closet doors. But don’t bother checking in on them after bedtime; they are already out to play.  And so begins the typical horror tale of a doll.

The storyline of The Boy intrigued me: A woman named Greta takes a job as the nanny for a young boy in a secluded mansion. She travels all the way from America to England for the job.  Interesting. Once there she finds out that the boy is actually a life-size doll, a doll that the parents treat as their real son. It is revealed that their son, Brahms was killed in a fire when he was eight years old, a long time ago. The parents reiterate to Greta that she must complete every task on Brahm’s list of rules and be good to him. Greta simply assumes the family is bonkers. She soon learns that bad things happen when Brahm’s rules are ignored, leading her to believe this doll is a real boy.

The lead in this film is Maggie from The Walking Dead! Obviously the doll was creepy as heck, but even more so because of its size. The story plays out in typical horror movie fashion, with jumps and scares and of course the soulless eyes of a doll. But there were a few twists and turns that I really enjoyed. Even though there were many questions left unanswered, I did enjoy this film. If you’re like me, be prepared to sleep with the lights on for awhile. But hey, that’s probably just a me thing. Happy viewing!

Maria Full of Grace (2004)

Maria_Full_of_Grace_movieMovie – The reporting on the narco-wars in Mexico in the recent years has caused the rise of interest in narcotics trafficking. Maria Full of Grace came out in 2004 and will give the viewer a story of someone who is a drug mule. Mules are people who traffic drugs for the cartels into the US.

Maria Full of Grace is set in Colombia. Maria needs a new job now that she has discovered she is pregnant. She receives an offer to traffic drugs to New York. Maria decides the risk is worth it. The film follows what happens when Maria and a group of other women trafficking the drugs by swallowing huge pills (small balloons filled with cocaine) into the US. I feel the film does not try to persuade viewers to side with any of the characters. It is merely telling a story and presenting the outcomes of decisions the characters make. The decisions Maria makes are her own. It is her actions that will ultimately decide which way her life will proceed.

The film is in Spanish with subtitles and those with interest in a more real side of narcotics trafficking should find the movie appealing. It falls in line with the film Traffic, and the series Breaking Bad, where the story becomes more real because of the minor details the directors pay attention to and include in the film. If you are looking for an action packed, guns blazing, and/or US drug agencies versus drug cartels I would suggest American Gangster and/or Sicario. Those looking for a film about the cause and effects decisions have on the life of someone involved in this world will find it eye-opening.

The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison

silent wifeBook – “… that her notions about who she is and how she ought to conduct herself are far less stable than she supposes, given that a few short months are all it will take to make a killer out of her.”  So begins the gripping story of The Silent Wife. Jodi and Todd have been together for 20 years. Jodi is very content working as a psychotherapist part-time and filling the rest of her time with cooking, walking the dog, taking classes, and enjoying their expensive Chicago lake front condo. She even overlooks the fact that Todd strays once in a while, as he always comes back. Jodi never confronts him about it, since she is convinced that he is drawn back to their tranquil life together and her gourmet meals. Regardless, she feels that they make a great couple. Todd begins a relationship with the daughter of one of his friends. But something happens and he doesn’t come back. His new girlfriend gives Todd an ultimatum and suddenly he is moving out with threats of divorce and the prospect of being a father. Jodi’s illusion of the perfect relationship is shattered. Initially she is broken, but a “well meaning” friend advices her as to what she should be entitled to and encourages her on a course of revenge. This is a page turning psychological thriller that would probably appeal to fans of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, and The Good Girl.

A movie based on the book is currently in production and will be starring Nicole Kidman.

 

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

the nestBook – Leo Plumb and his siblings – Beatrice, Jack and Melody – are due to receive a family inheritance when the youngest (Melody) turns 40. Their father had intended the inheritance as a modest supplement to their income. But, the value has soared and now the Plumbs are relying on the “Nest” to help them though various financial predicaments. Then, a few months before they are due to receive their windfalls, Leo is in an accident that upends all of their plans. As the siblings try to recoup their losses, they reconnect and rediscover the ties and secrets that bind them.

I enjoyed meeting this family. Bea is an aspiring novelist, despite a decades-long writer’s block, and mourns the loss of her former lover. Jack hides a huge betrayal from his partner. Melody anxiously tries to keep track of her teenage twin daughters and hold onto her expensive lifestyle. And then there’s Leo. Charming, smart and witty, he also has no scruples about pursuing his own wants and needs. This book captures family dynamics and how loss, need, love and support thread through our lives and relationships.

Life by Gwyneth Jones

519EMKTM55L._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_Book – Anna Senoz is, somewhat secretly, an ambitious scientist. When she was in college she wanted to change the world, but doesn’t everyone? Since then she’s gone through a lot – a miscarriage, a marriage, a child; several career dead-ends, a revolution, a discovery – and learned a lot, and she still wants to do is her piece of the work. The work, it turns out, is Transferred Y, a discovery about the evolution of human sex chromosomes that might change the world after all.

Life is a quiet, meditative story, part of that peculiar sub-genre of science fiction that is really more about people doing science than about any particular discovery. It is, as Jones has described it, “a fairytale about how change, real change in the world comes about,” through struggles and frustrations and the constant struggle of choosing to do something revolutionary or choosing to continue to feed your family.

It’s also very much a feminist story, in that Anna has to face a lot of issues her male colleagues never consider. Her friend and shadow-self, Ramone Hollyrood, becomes a famous feminist writer; Anna is never a feminist herself, but she wants to be treated as a person, which she finds is nearly impossible sometimes. She’s a tremendously real character, full of flaws and inconsistencies, but after finishing the book I find that I miss spending time with her.

Astray by Emma Donoghue

Book- This collection is comprised of fourteen stories revolving around themes of immigration, travel, and drifting throughout North America. As an immigrant herself from the UK to Canada, Donoghue has a particular emotional insight into these topics. Emma Donoghue’s short stories (and, in fact, her novels) often stem from a small historical detail, such as the 1864 murder of a slave master by his slave and mistress, which becomes a fleshed out story, as in “Last Supper at Brown’s” in this collection. Particularly strong stories in Astray include “Man and Boy,” which chronicles the relationship between a zookeeper and his elephant, “The Hunt,” where the topic of war crimes during the Revolutionary War is explored, and, my favorite, “Snowblind,” which details the harsh first winter of two gold mining partners in the 1890s.

The audiobook version of Astray is a real treat, with several different narrators throughout to suit the disparate characters, and a part at the end narrated by Donoghue herself sharing the process by which she developed each story. I found that on audiobook, the stories were a perfect length for a shorter drives so you don’t have to keep jumping in and out of the plot as you would with a novel. These stories will appeal to fans of other historical fiction with keenly observed details, such as The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich.

Day Four by Sarah Lotz

imagesBook – The first three days of the Beautiful Dreamer‘s cruise are perfectly normal. It’s a budget cruise line, so sure, there are some problems, but nothing to draw anyone’s attention. And then, on the fourth day, things start to go wrong. A usually cantankerous psychic becomes generous and welcoming, even to people who haven’t paid her fees. Security covers up the fact that they’ve found a young woman dead in her cabin; the man who’s killed her tries desperately to pretend that everything is normal. A housekeeper sees a boy who couldn’t possibly be there. A fire breaks out in the engine room, stranding the ship at sea.

And then things get weird.

I absolutely adored Lotz’s debut solo novel, The Three, so I shouldn’t have been so surprised that Day Four was so good, but I was. A good horror novel can be hard to find, but Lotz has a deft touch with atmosphere and she never lets the plot slow down. She doesn’t let you get too attached to the characters, though – which can be a good thing in a story like this, where you almost wish she’d start killing people off just to relieve the tension.

Day Four is technically a sequel to The Three, but the connections are thin; you wouldn’t miss much if you haven’t read the first one. (You should read it anyway, of course, it’s excellent.) If you’re looking for a good, disturbing, plot-driven horror novel, give Day Four a try. But if you’ve got a summer cruise planned… maybe wait until you come home.

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

1096390Book -If you meet any of the following criteria, The Uncommon Reader may be the book for you:

  • You’re a Downton Abbey fan in need of your next Britfix.
  • You’re as likely as I am to coo over pictures of Prince George and Princess Charlotte on magazine covers in the supermarket.
  • You’d enjoy a novel (a novella, really) that feels a bit like historical fiction, but isn’t.
  • Books about the act of reading are your cup of tea, especially ones bursting with wry humor.
  • You’re looking for a book the exact right length to consume in one sitting with a handy mug of something warm.

The premise of The Uncommon Reader is unusual but simple: the Queen of England (the current one, Elizabeth II) has a fortuitous encounter with the local bookmobile and, after sixty-odd years of viewing reading as more a duty than a pleasure, unexpectedly finds literature taking over her life.  It’s hard to avoid the word ‘charming’ in describing this book, but even harder not to mention ‘funny.’  The Uncommon Reader describes a life that would, for most of us, be unimaginable, yet on the page it’s perfectly imagined.  Bennett’s fictionalized portrait of the queen is psychologically astute, believable and real, foreign from everyday experience and not sugar-coated but still sympathetic.  In fact, sympathy is a central theme of the book: our growing sympathy for the character we’re reading, even as she, through her own reading, expands her sympathy for everyone else–that is to say, us.

That mirroring between character and audience is not only clever, it’s emotionally satisfying.  Reading about personal growth through the act of reading means feeling just plain good about yourself when the story is over–which is the best reason I can think of to give The Uncommon Reader a look.

 

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

41VTPDCAq5L._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Book–Mare Barrow lives in a world in which your status in life is determined by the color of blood that flows through your veins. If you have Red blood then you are poor and you are forced to fight the Silver’s battles. If you have Silver blood, it means you were born with different gifts (aka super powers) like telepathy and fire. Mare and her family are Reds and struggle everyday to survive. As all of Mare’s older brothers are sent off to fight, Mare supports her family by stealing from the wealthy.

Everything changes after she accepts a job working at the royal palace. During a major dinner, a freak accident causes Mare to revel powers she did not know she even had, after all Reds do not have powers. The royal court, in order to safe face, take her, claim her as the lost princess, and betroth her to Prince Maven. Mare is unable to do anything if she wishes to keep her family and herself safe. So she does what they ask while learning to master her powers and secretly work with the Scarlet Guard, who are preparing to take down the Silvers.

Red Queen is an amazing ride. There is romance, mystery, adventure, action, powers, and more. The sequel, Glass Sword, just came out and the last book in the series will be out next year! It is a must-read for any lover of young adult literature. You will not regret it.