The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Cover_ravenboys_300Book Series – Richard Gansy III is the scion of a privileged Virginia family, the prep school princeling golden boy with the impossible, magic dream.  Ronan Lynch is rage and sharp edges under a thin veneer of skin, sneering at the world through the window of a muscle car.  Adam Parrish is the impostor in their midst, hiding his accent and his bruises as he works three after-school jobs to pay his own tuition.  And Noah Czerney is… around, usually, if you don’t think about him too hard.

They are the Raven Boys, high school students at prestigious Aglionby Academy, and local girl Blue Sergeant–a passionate activist growing up in a house full of psychic women–hates them all on principle.  Until she meets them, anyway.  Until she gets to know them.  Until she is drawn with them into an impossibly high-stakes mythic quest that will transform them from five teenagers into an unbreakable brotherhood, wielding ancient and unimaginable powers, facing down curses and demons and kings.

I read the first book in the series, The Raven Boys, a little more than a year ago.  While I did find the characterization exceptionally well done, I was ultimately neither disappointed nor inspired.  But I’m so glad that I picked the series up again when the fourth and final book arrived in April (Book 2: The Dream Thieves; Book 3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue; Book 4: The Raven King), because book two hits the ground running and doesn’t let go.  By its later chapters, The Raven Cycle became a reminder for me of what really good fiction feels like: its magical ability to transform the world and make the reader genuinely believe and care about its characters and plot, its potential to be fresh and original and at the same time seem like a story you’ve always known.  I devoured the last book in a day, and feel both bereft and energized now that it’s done.

TL;DR: If you like fantasy fiction even a little, read these books.  And if you like audiobooks even a little, try them that way, because we offer the whole series through both Overdrive and Hoopla, and narrator Will Patton knocks it out of the park.

Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory

0345501160.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Book – I swear, Daryl Gregory writes some of the most interesting, original premises I’ve ever seen. In this, his first novel, it’s possession by entities that everybody calls demons, but are clearly cultural archetypes – the Captain is Captain America, the Truth is a Dick Tracy/noir pulp hero, the Hellion is Katzenjammer Kids meets Dennis the Menace, and the Little Angel is Shirley Temple meets the World War I “Angel of the Battlefield.” And everyone in the book is smart enough to know that; I appreciate that in a story.

There’s a wonderful cast of characters in Pandemonium, from Del himself to his older brother Lew, their mother (whom they call the Cyclops since she’s missing one eye), the Irish exorcist Mother Mariette, and the entity formerly known as the author Philip K. Dick. They’re all struggling to understand this thing that’s been destroying peoples’ lives for the past fifty-odd years, but they’re all also so wrapped up in their own damages and perceptions that it’s clearly going to take them a while.

One of my favorite parts of the book were the Demonology inserts, short chapters describing possession incidents by various demons. These bits did a wonderful job fleshing out the universe of the book as well as letting you meet some demons who weren’t tremendously important to the main narrative. They also led me, subtly but ingeniously, to the climax of the book, which struck just the right balance between explaining enough to make it satisfying and not explaining so much that it seemed like all the fun was being explained away.

The Equalizer (2014)

MV5BMTQ2MzE2NTk0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTM3NTk1MjE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,675,1000_AL_Movie – Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is your normal everyday person. He works at a hardware store. Has a small one-bedroom apartment and is reading the 100 books everyone should read before they die. This latter is an homage to his deceased wife.

The one thing that makes Mr. McCall different is he suffers from insomnia. Every night he goes down to his local diner to have a cup of tea and read. Every night his chats with a Teri/ Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz). Teri is a works in the sex industry. One night she is roughed up and ends up in the hospital. Robert decides to visit her pimp and makes him an offer for Teri’s freedom. He refuses, and this is where the movie goes sideways. It becomes fast paced after this scene and has some pretty good action sequences.

As a viewer, we all know Denzel is never just a regular person in his movies. It did take me some time to figure out who he was, however. I enjoyed how his character helped the everyday person beat back the criminals trying to take advantage. I did not like the watch. It looked as though it was going to be important to the plot, but then later it got lost to the action.

The Equalizer is very similar to another Denzel hit Man on Fire. The only difference is the girl is a grown woman and she was not kidnapped. If you like Denzel and action, this is a good choice. If you are looking for a Chloe movie, leave it. Her character may be why Denzel is doing most of this, but she plays a small role throughout.

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

indexBook – What could possibly go wrong at a bachelor party held at a respectable middle-aged investment banker’s house in the suburbs of New York?  So thought Kristin, even knowing that some naughty entertainment was scheduled. She gave her husband, Richard, her blessing to host the event for his younger brother and went off to Manhattan with their 9 year old daughter. But something happens that Richard never fathomed and his life becomes a total nightmare. The two beautiful strippers providing the entertainment stab and murder their bodyguards, take their hard earned cash, and flee the scene of the crime.

Bohjalian does an excellent job telling of how Richard and Kristin’s life and marriage start unraveling as a consequence of that night. Richard admits that he had gone into the guest room with one of the girls, but swears that nothing happened, though Kristin has her doubts. Richard is also suspended from his job, is hounded by the press, and threatened with blackmail. Meanwhile we learn of the plight of the two fugitives.  Alexandra and Sonja are not really women, but girls from Armenia and not only are they on the run from the police, but the Russian mob, as well. The girls were kidnapped as adolescents and turned into sex slaves in Russia and then brought to the United States. We find out about their sad and desperate circumstances. And now with no identification, credit cards, or knowledge of any different type of life are they really free? This story of suspense and desperation will keep the pages turning.

Bohjalian wrote this book to bring awareness that human trafficking and slavery is very prevalent and profitable to the exploiters.  To learn more, please visit The Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking.

Company Town by Madeline Ashby

indexBook – Hwa lives on an oil rig the size of a small town off the coast of Canada, where she works as a bodyguard for the United Sex Workers union. She’d hoped to get out – maybe back to Korea – by joining the army, but when her brother died in an explosion on the rig, her dreams got smaller. But the town’s just been bought by the unbelievably rich and innovative Lynch Ltd., and Hwa managed to catch the eye of their head of security. Now she’s the bodyguard for the youngest Lynch, a fourteen-year-old genius who’s heir to the entire company, and someone is after him. Oh, and just when she quit her old job, someone started killing her friends.

With corporate espionage, technological spirituality, and a serial killer (not to mention a pretty solid romance plotline) there’s a lot going on in this relatively small book, but it juggles everything pretty well. Hwa’s future is undeniably cyberpunk dystopia in the tradition of Blade Runner and Neuromancer, updated for today’s technology and the futures we can extrapolate from it: socially mandatory implants that require a subscription (which might break down and kill you if you stop paying). Visual glosses that allow you to simply not see anything that might distress you. A centralized security-monitoring system that tracks everything everyone does all day long — one that lets Hwa solve the murders of her friends at the same time that she resents the intrusion on her own privacy. I liked that best about this book. Ashby isn’t writing a cautionary tale about technology, she’s simply saying that this is what we might end up with, and we’re going to have to figure out how to deal with it.

They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine

51Jz8l7pWXLBook – About Joy Bergman: “Oh, they broke the mold when they made that one. People who loved her said it, people who did not love her said it, too, for the same reason.” I fall into the former category. Joy is in her eighties and caring for her beloved husband Aaron, who has dementia along with other serious health issues. They are New Yorkers and Joy misses their daughter, Molly, who is living in California with her wife. Their son, Daniel, still lives close by, with his wife and their two young daughters. This story is about family and the ties that bind us during good times and bad. It highlights the issues we are forced to confront as we age, both from the perspective of the parents and their children. Schine, who also wrote The Three Weissmanns of Westport, explores these themes as she relates and finds humor in the most ordinary conundrums and routines. Joy laments about her physical deterioration, defends her take-out order meals and is determined to remain independent and upbeat. Molly feels guilty about living far away and she and Daniel search for ways (with sometimes hilarious results) to reassure Joy about her importance in their lives. Joy enjoys a special bond with her grandchildren and acknowledges that although she loves being in the midst of her family, she also finds them exhausting. This book reminded me that despite the differences in our individual circumstances, there is a shared commonality in our experiences as we face life’s transitions.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling

040c0679daa5bcf596b6a726d51444341587343Book–Did you hear the Harry Potter fandom squeal with excitement and anticipation on July 31st when the new Harry Potter “book” came out? It was a big day for all Potter heads. J.K. Rowling finally gave us a glimpse of life after the Battle of Hogwarts.

The Cursed Child begins with Harry Potter, now 37 years old, dropping his children off at King’s Cross. James, the oldest, is a second year and full of mischief like his grandfather. Albus is heading off to his first year at Hogwarts and is worried that he will be sorted into Slytherin. Harry gives him the pep talk we saw the Deathly Hollow‘s epilogue and Albus heads off for his first year at Hogwarts.

Unfortunately for Albus, life at Hogwarts is not as easy for him as it was for James or even his father. This causes conflict between Albus and Harry as the two try to connect with each other but keep failing. It is not easy being the son of the man who saved the world.

While the book is titled Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, we spend most of the time focusing on Albus and his time at Hogwarts. I really liked this. From the moment I read the epilogue in Deathly Hallows, I wanted a book about Albus. His character is so interesting and different from Harry’s. Where Harry succeeded, Albus struggles and that makes for a great character.

Some fans struggled with this book, but I think that it was worthwhile and a very quick read. The script format helps with the speed of the book, but I also missed Rowling’s amazing descriptions. If you have read it, feel free to come talk to me about it! If you have not, grab a copy, read it, and then find me to discuss it. Mischief Managed.

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

indexBook The Light in the Ruins is a wonderful blend of historical fiction and a murder mystery.  The story starts during World War II at the Rosati Villa in Monte Volta, Italy. The Nazis have a keen interest in an Etruscan tomb on the property and coerce the family into helping them seize Italian works of art.  Unfortunately, this cooperation and the fondness between Christina Rosati and one of the German officers is seen as betrayal to some of the locals.  What they did not realize is that the Rosatis also secretly sheltered partisans on their estate.

Years later in Florence in 1955, Francesca Rosati is found murdered with her heart cut out and displayed.  It is up to Serafina, a young detective to solve the crime.  Things are further complicated when the matriarch of the family, Beatrice is murdered in the same fashion.  The detective determines that this is a vendetta against the Rosatis and wonders if the family’s activities during the war had somehow triggered these killings.  It also appears that Serafina, who is severely scarred by burns received during the war, may also have had some sort of connection to the Rosati’s.

Heartbreak abounds during the war and as a result of the homicides for the remaining family.  The Villa is no longer grand but falling into ruin, since the Rosatis cannot afford its upkeep. The suspense builds as Serafina races to catch a murderer, before another Rosati is killed.

I think this book would appeal to fans of Kristin Hannah’s Nightingale and Chris Bohjalian’s other works such as Sandcastle Girls.

Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt

0544526708.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_Book – Ruth and Nat are a couple of teenagers about to age out of the Love of Christ! foster home in upstate New York. Traumatized after her older sister aged out and never returned for her, Nat is the only person Ruth has left in the world. That is, until a mysterious stranger appears at the home and suggests a way out – they can exploit Nat’s purported ability to speak to the dead, and make a living for themselves.

Interwoven with this story is that of Cora, a young woman with a boring job, a new pregnancy, and a boyfriend – a married man she’s been carrying on an affair with – who wants nothing to do with a baby. Before she can decide what to do about anything, her long-lost, much-loved Aunt Ruth turns up at her house in the middle of the night, and Cora finds herself following Ruth on a shoeleather road trip, walking across the countryside to a destination Ruth won’t explain.

I picked up this book entirely based on the title – Mr. Splitfoot was the name the Fox sisters gave the spirit they claimed to be communicating with when they invented seances and Spiritualism in 1848 – and although it wasn’t the story I was expecting, I was totally blown away. Part ghost story, part mystery, partly a story about knowing who your family is and what you can rely on them for, this is going on my list of best books from 2016.

Sicario (2015)

indexMovie – Image your world includes beheadings, bodies hanging off of overpasses, and a constant fear of knowing you could die every day. For some this is their reality. Mexico is in a war with narcotics traffickers and their armies. Sicario tries to tell a story about just one strand among many woven into everyday life on the border between the US and Mexico.

Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is a FBI agent who has just volunteered for an operation that will take her into the heart of Juarez. Along with Matt (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), they are trying to regain some control over the drug wars that are going on in Mexico and throughout Latin America. Kate is left wondering what she has signed up for after witnessing several questionable actions during an extradition of a top cartel leader from Mexico to the US. In addition Kate never gets the full story until it’s too late for her to back out.

Cinematically, the film reminds me somewhat of Interstellar. High shots of landscapes and cities, and the score chosen for the film are very similar with the score, and planet and space travel shots in Interstellar. Though not as gruesome or bloody as I thought it would be, the movie does have some parts that will make some cringe.

If you like films with one story line and minimal characters, you will like this. There is not as much action as I thought there would be but this makes the movie so much better. I feel the director is trying to give the audience a look into what everyday life may be like for those involved in this never-ending war.