This Is Us (2016)

TV Series – This is a show that started airing in September 2016. After reading all the hubbub about this one, I decided it was worth watching an episode or two to see what it’s all about. I fell in LOVE with this series. Its focus is 3 same age siblings (Kevin, Kate, and Randall)  and their parents (Jack and Rebecca). It bounces back and forth from current time (2016-2017) , to segments of the past (1989-1995) showing how they grew up and became who they are today. Even as adults their stories intertwine with each other and everyone around them. With the title being This is us- I think everyone can relate to a character or situation. This series seems to hit on a lot of topics all at the same time: Weight, Fear, Race, Emotional trauma, Death, Marriage, Alcohol, Finance, Drugs.

I am not going to lie to you – this series is definitely an emotional heavy hitter, but sit down with a box of Kleenex, a chocolate bar, and some tea and enjoy the journey this family has to show you.

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

Book – The summer of 1976 is the hottest in recent memory, and Mrs. Creasy has disappeared from the Avenue.  Grace and Tillie, both aged ten, are determined to get to the bottom of the case, but secrets run deep in their little suburb, and the more they investigate the mystery, the further they find themselves drawn into their community’s shared and troubling past–all starting with the long-ago disappearance of a little girl.

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep is a hard book to categorize; it doesn’t really fit well into any type of mystery I know.  It doesn’t feature much actual detective work, and while we the readers learn the full story of What Happened through flashbacks, most of the characters do not.  As such, The Trouble With Goats and Sheep might better be considered as a work of literary fiction or coming-of-age story with mystery elements.

I think that my own vague feeling of letdown at the end of the book was a result of trying to force it to fit a more traditional mystery mold, but the fact that I made it to the end at all is evidence of its good points.  The author’s voice is compelling, and the novel’s themes are deep, exploring community, memory, scapegoating and the ways that fear and guilt can twist human behavior.  As a fan of ensemble stories, I enjoyed the large cast of complex and not-always-likeable characters.  As a whole, I found it a sufficiently intriguing debut novel to have hope for the author’s sophomore outing.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

Book – Samuel Hawley and his daughter, Loo, are always on the move. Each time they settle into a new place, Hawley sets up a shrine in their bathroom to honor to his late wife, who drowned when Loo was a baby. Finally, when Loo is a teenager, Hawley decides to try to give her a normal life at his wife’s seaside hometown in Massachusetts. When Hawley competes in the local Greasy Pole Contest, he takes off his shirt to reveal a body riddled with scars from bullet holes. As Hawley and Loo’s latest stop becomes “home,” Hawley reflects on his past and the incidents that led to his scars. Loo begins to reach out to a few of the people in the town and as she matures, she learns about the secrets that bind her and her father. This book is a unique look at family bonds, guilt, sacrifice and the impact of our decisions and how they can ripple through generations.

The Book of Life (2014)

Movie – When the rulers of the lands of the dead make a wager one can only image what will happen to the living. This sounds like the start of a gory horror movie, but it not. It is the premise for an animated-film about the Mexican holiday: Día de Los Muertos. In The Book of Life, La Muerte, the ruler of the Land of the Remembered makes a bet with Xibalba, the rules of the Land of the Forgotten. The wager involves three childhood friends and love.

Xibalba bets that Maria will end up with Joaquín, while La Muerte believes Maria and Manolo are destined to fall in love. Xibalba hedges his bet by presenting Joaquín with a pin that will protect him and makes him the town hero. With no protection, Manolo dies and Xibalba wins the bet. Manolo is transported to the Land of the Remembered where he meets all of his deceased family. He discovers Xibalba’s tricks and vows to travel to the Land of the Forgotten to tell La Muerte so he can get back to Maria.

The animation is colorful and imaginative. The characters were modeled after wooden childrens’ toys. The scenery for the Land of the Remembered depicts some of the most traditional images of Día de Los Muertos. There are colorful sugar skull shapes all over this land. The dead have faces like that of sugar skulls. In addition, there are scenes from the cemeteries where the families have set up offerings and alters with pictures, traditional flowers, candles, favorite foods, and pan de muertos (day of the dead sweet bread).

If you like colorful images, great animation, a cute storyline, and a fiercely independent lead female character, watch this. Also, if you ever wondered about this Mexican holiday, watch The Book of Life to get a small taste of what this holiday means to Mexicans. It is not about worshiping the dead. It is about understanding death is a part of life and this is how you get to celebrate the life of those who have passed on. By showing them how much you love them.

Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due

Book – Tananarive Due is the hidden secret of modern horror fiction. Sick of sparkly vampires? Bored with ghosts? Tired of the same old gothic secrets and bloody horrors and frankly offended by the level of sexual assault? You need to be reading Tananarive Due. One of the luminaries of the Afrofuturism movement (speculative fiction with a focus on Africa and the African diaspora), Due’s characters are gut-wrenchingly real, and her stories, even when horrific, are mesmerizing.

Take, for instance, “The Knowing,” the story of a ten-year-old boy and his mother who knows the date everyone she meets will die. Or “Free Jim’s Mine,” a classic deal-with-the-devil story told from the point of view of a relative, rather than the one who makes the deal, who is trying to escape via the Underground Railroad. Or the title story, “Ghost Summer,” an award-winning novella that expertly brings together backyard ghosts and the ghosts of history and family, all from the viewpoint of young ghost hunter Davie Stephens, who just wanted to be YouTube-famous and got way more than he bargained for. Even readers who aren’t big horror fans would enjoy her work, I think – it’s not graphic, but powerfully emotional, in sometimes heartbreaking but always insightful ways.

Beast by Brie Spangler

Book--Ever since the 6th grade, Dylan has been larger than other boys. Now at over 6 ft. tall, improbably hairy, and still growing, 15-year-old Dylan (called Beast by his peers) hides his face under hats and feels trapped in a body that doesn’t match his insides. When his school bans hats, Dylan walks off the edge of the school building and breaks his leg. He claims it was an accident. His orthopedist and his mother don’t agree. They send him to counseling for teenagers with self-harming tendencies, where he meets Jamie. Jamie is beautiful, smart, and funny, just the kind of girl that would impress Dylan’s friends. Because this is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, Dylan starts to shed some of his shallowness and misogyny as he falls in love with her, and begins to let go of his anger at the world. However, when Dylan learns that Jamie is transgender (a fact that she told him when they first met, had he been listening), he freaks out and pulls away from her. Will Dylan be able to get over his knee-jerk transphobia and apologize to Jamie? Will she be able to forgive him? Will they get back together?

Of course they will. But reading about how is the whole fun of it. I really enjoyed reading about Dylan’s journey from crass and callow teenage boy to sensitive young man. Despite being a fairy tale retelling, Beast stands on its own. If you enjoy this one, you may also enjoy other LBGT classic story retellings aimed at young adults (yes, this is a whole genre) such as Ash by Malinda Lo (retells Cinderella), Great by Sara Benincasa (retells The Great Gatsby), and As I Descended (retells Macbeth).

Boss Baby (2017)

Movie- DreamWorks is at it again with this movie. Alec Baldwin is voice of Boss Baby- an Armani suit wearing, briefcase carrying infant who is out to learn why most of the world’s love is going to puppies and not babies. Tim is the older brother (like 8 I think) who is absolutely not impressed with the new baby that’s living with them. He has a feeling something is up with this baby and tries desperately to get his parents to see that something is wrong. After a comical battle, the two decide to join forces and get the answers that Boss Baby needs so he will just leave.

This movie was more for adults than elementary school age kids I think. It had many older jokes, nostalgic points, and well overall laughs that only adults would understand. I do feel that children will appreciate this move in general, but not fully enjoy it as I did.  Its Alec Baldwin we are talking about, so if his humor is not your style, move on. If it might be- definitely check this one out. And hey, if its not your cup of tea as they say, you’ve only wasted a 1.5 hours.

Words in Deep Blue By Cathy Crowley

Book- Rachel and Henry have been best friends since primary school, they have done everything together. In their ninth year in high school Rachel moves away but before she moves she wants to profess her love to Henry in the only way she can. By leaving a letter in one of the books in the Letter Library of his family’s bookshop. When she leaves to go to her new town she hopes that Henry will give her some sign that he got the letter, when three years come and go with no word about it she is devastated. To make matters worse her younger brother Cal is killed suddenly by the thing he loves most. At the end of year twelve Rachel must move back to her childhood city to try and find herself again, meeting Henry again along the way. When she is forced to work at Howling Books, Henry’s family second hand bookshop she must deal with the loss of her brother and best friend all over again.  When Henry is faced with his own major life changes he must find his way back to his old friend again if he ever hopes to find himself again.

This is just the book your looking for, for a cute and classical bookshop romance. Love and loss all/will play a big part in everyone’s lives and Words in Deep Blue exemplifies what it means to truly and deeply love someone.

We Eat Our Own by Kea Wilson

Book – Colombia, 1979. Italian movie director Ugo Velluto has packed up his crew and moved them to the Amazon to shoot a new kind of horror movie entirely on location, starring young unknown actors and featuring ambitious special effects. Our nameless narrator, the male lead, is so desperate for a paying job he agrees to go straight from his screen test to the airport. In Colombia, he finds a chaotic production in progress: a crew used to working only on soundstages, actors who’ve never seen the full script, special effects being built during the filming of the scenes they’re meant to be used in, and a director who might be a little bit crazy. And outside of the production, things are worse, as drug cartels ply their trade and guerilla revolutionaries work toward the violent overthrow of a corrupt government.

We Eat Our Own is based on the true story of the film Cannibal Holocaust – trumpeted as the “most controversial movie ever made” – which was filmed in the Amazon in the late 70s under a shroud of secrecy; due to the realism of the effects and the clever marketing strategy of the film, director Ruggero Deodato was actually put on trial for the murder of his actors. Debut author Kea Wilson dives into the setting with gusto, drawing detailed portraits of individuals, a film production, and a country in the midst of becoming something new, a process that is more than a little bloody for all of them. This is a tense and atmospheric (but still frequently funny) novel that won’t be for everyone – but I loved it.

The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn

Book – After a chance meeting brought them together, Lucy and Owen fell in love.  Raised on the chaos of city life, the couple left New York City in favor of the quiet family-centered Hudson Valley, a small suburb of Beekman.  It’s a health-centered place where you know all your neighbors, and the local moms cook up hot lunch at the schools.  Over the years, the romance and attraction in Lucy and Owen’s relationship has fizzled, as they concentrate on raising their young autistic son, and dealing with the chaos of daily life.

It is on a rare drunken night with friends that the idea first hits them.  Their friends reveal they have begun an open marriage, which shocks Lucy and Owen. As the weekend passes by, however, Lucy and Owen just can’t shake this new knowledge.  Is it really as crazy as it sounds?  In the spur of the moment, they lay out the groundwork and compile a set of strict rules.  They agree on six months, no questions asked, but neither one has any idea how much their lives are about to change

The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn was not at all what I expected.  The story follows the relationship of Lucy and Owen, but it also blends in multiple other points of view, looking into a variety of marriages and relationships outside of the main couple. While one obviously expects there to be sexual content when reading about open marriages, I actually found the details to be pretty minimal, with more concentration on the changing family dynamic of Lucy, Owen and their son, as well as other relationship in the story.  I enjoyed this read because it felt very real, like something unfabricated, a glimpse into the life of someone who might actually exist.