Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

w204Book – Franny Keating falls in love with a well-known older author, Leo Posen, in her twenties. She shares the story of her turbulent childhood with him, which he publishes into a bestselling book. It stirs up the past and Franny, her siblings and stepsisters must finally face the events that led to a family tragedy many years ago. The chain of events began when Franny’s mother fell in love with a guest, Bert Cousins, who showed up with a bottle of gin at Franny’s christening. She eventually divorced Franny’s father to marry Bert, a father of four. Franny, her sister and their step-siblings were often left to their own devices over Summer vacations and holidays. Cal, the oldest of the bunch, led them on adventures and the six forged a strong bond, which endures even after the tragedy. The book traces the relationships and lives of the families over forty years and their different memories of the past. I thought this book was honest in its examination of families, their struggles and the love that prevails throughout.

The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle

indexBook – Pepper’s never been in serious trouble in his life. Sure, a couple of fights here and there, but nothing big. But now, out of nowhere, he finds himself incarcerated — not in prison, where he would have a right to a lawyer and a phone call, but in a mental hospital, where he’s told he’ll be held indefinitely, since he signed those papers they gave him after they gave him the Haldol. The food is terrible, the view nonexistent, and his roommate won’t stop pestering him for spare change. And the Devil lives at the end of hallway four.

Although this is billed as a horror novel, and it kind of is, I’d say it’s not scary so much as disturbing. LaValle does a terrific job of shining a bright light on the systems that dehumanize people, making them nameless and disposable That’s not just the way the police can have someone institutionalized when they don’t feel like processing the paperwork to arrest them, but also the way people desperate to keep their jobs learn to cut corners and avoid speaking up about problems, and the way people are put into categories that make them easier to ignore. And with his wonderful characters, Pepper and Dorrie and Coffee and Sue and all the others, he makes us see them as people again.

Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer

SpontaneousCoverBook – Imagine this: you are sitting in your pre-calc class and suddenly, without warning, your classmate a couple rows ahead of you spontaneously combusts. Blood and guts are everywhere. For a second, nobody moves, still in shock over the event. Then panic. Police are called, questions are asked. A funeral is held, everyone cries and mourns the loss of young life. Then everyone turns to moving on, healing. But then someone else blows up during a group therapy session. Then another a few weeks later. Nobody has an answer. All anyone seems to know is that it for some reason its only seniors from this small suburb of New Jersey that are spontaneously combusting.

Now you may be thinking: ‘Why in the world should I read this book? That story line sounds dark and depressing. I do not want to read about teens dying!’ I’ll tell why, cause its one of those books that you will stay up till 2 o’clock in the morning in order to finish. The narrator Mara draws you into the story of the worst year of her life. You WANT and NEED to find out what is going on with the teens. Yes, the story line is dark and kinda of depressing, but it really touches on death and living each day. Spontaneous is a book that you will soon not forget.

Before I Go by Colleen Oakley

indexBook–  Daisy is crushed when, on the anniversary of three years free of cancer, she receives a surprise stage four diagnosis, with a life expectancy of 4 months. This is especially galling for Daisy because she did everything ‘right’– ate healthy, cancer-fighting foods, got all of her scheduled follow-ups, and exercised regularly. Rather than dwelling on her own mortality, Daisy is worried about her husband Jack. Jack is a brilliant airhead who relies on Daisy to take care of him.

Oakley does a great job at characterizing both Jack and Daisy:  we get a clear picture of Daisy the type A, detail-oriented organizer and list-maker and her partnership with Jack, the big-picture, charming, dreamer type. Daisy comes to the conclusion that she should spend her last few months finding Jack a new wife/caretaker. With the help of her best friend, she frequents dog parks and coffee shops looking for her replacement, even making a dating website profile for Jack. However, once one of the prospects she’s scouted for seems to be getting too close to Jack for Daisy’s liking, and she begins to re-evaluate how she’s planned to spend the final months of her life.

This book has a definite downer ending, but that’s what you expect reading a book about terminal cancer. I especially liked that, even while near death, Oakley did not make Daisy become a  caricature of the brave cancer patient:  she retained her personality, flaws and all. This is the author’s first novel, and it will be interesting to see what she writes next.

 

The Dream-Quest of Vellit Boe by Kij Johnson

51eCqp7J8OLBook – When Vellitt Boe settled down as a professor of mathematics at the Women’s College of Ulthar, she thought that her wandering days were over. In her youth she’d traveled the Six Kingdoms of the dream world and even met dreamers from the waking world. And now she is forced into traveling again, when her student Clarie Jurat, a daughter of one of the College’s Trustees, runs off with a dreamer, putting the future of the college – and perhaps much more – at risk.

If the title sounds at all familiar, it’s because this novella is a kind of inversion of H.P. Lovecraft‘s “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” in which a dreamer from our world travels the mysterious and dangerous realms of the dreamlands – and these are the same dreamlands, from the gugs and ghouls of the under-realms to the mad and unpredictable gods. You don’t need to know that to enjoy this story, though; Vellitt Boe stands comfortably on her own two feet without the need to stand on anyone else’s shoulders.

This is a tremendous amount of questing in a very small package; if you like epic fantasy novels like those of Tad Williams, Robert Jordan, or J.R.R. Tolkien, but you don’t have time for another thousand-page tome, The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe packs a whole world’s worth of strange beauty into fewer than 200 pages.

The Gentleman by Forrest Leo

6174e2-23JL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book – Sometimes, it’s easy to know from the outset whether a book will be a good fit or not.  Such is the case with The Gentlemen, a book about a vain Victorian poet who meets the Devil at a masquerade ball, accidentally sells his wife’s soul in exchange for poetic inspiration and consequently launches an expedition (peopled by his bluff adventuring brother-in-law, his scandalous sister, a shy mad scientist and a stalwart butler) to Hell to retrieve her.  If that premise sounds as delightful to you as it did to me, you’ll love the book; if not, don’t bother.  Simple as that.

Forrest Leo’s language in The Gentleman is perfectly Victorian, his parodistic humor is spot-on for the absurd, over-the-top story he’s looking to tell, and the steampunk elements of his universe are used sparingly and well.  While reading, there was a moment when I feared I would feel cheated by the ending, but I was happily mistaken in that.  If I had to quibble, I wouldn’t have minded a little more swashbuckling action.  Overall, however, The Gentleman was a delightfully silly, light, fast-paced, fun first novel, with a great and original premise, from a clearly talented young writer.  I can’t wait to see what he writes next!

Silicon Valley: Season 1 (2014)

silicon-valley-season-1-poster-11x17_1000TV Series – In Silicon Valley, Erlich Bachman (TJ Miller) runs an incubator. This is a place where programmers can go and develop software, code, programs, and ideas into the next big thing in tech. Erlich pays all the overhead costs and provides them a place to stay and work. All Erlich wants is ten percent. At least that’s what he says.

The show centers around Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) who is developing a music application called Pied Piper. Nothing special just something people could use to help identify music. What is impressive is a compression algorithm within the coding of the app. This leads to a bidding war between two feuding tech billionaires, Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch) and Gavin Belson (Matt Ross). Gregory wins the bidding war and becomes a mentor type to Richard. Richard hires everyone in the incubator to help with Pied Piper, except his friend Big Head (Josh Brener). Big Head stays working with a parody company of Google known as Hooli. Odd thing is Google exists in this make believe Silicon Valley world. Big head “works” his way up the Hooli ladder because of his relationship with Richard and nothing more. Big Head does nothing and keeps getting promoted. As the show continues the group must compete at TechCrunch Disrupt a competition for programmers. The group lead by Richard and Erlich do not feel they will be ready in time. In addition, Hooli unveils a competitive service to rival Pied Piper. The show descends into talks of major defeat, sex acts, and anarchy, making the last couple episodes very hilarious.

The show has a great supporting case including Amanda Crew who plays Monica, and Zach Woods who plays Richards assistant Jared. It is very laid back, not as tech jargon ridden as other shows. Miller’s, character keeps the show from taking itself too serious and assists greatly in satirizing the tech sector. I would recommend it to viewers who like satire, the tech industry, comedies, and raunchiness. The show just wrapped its third season and has been picked up for a fourth.

A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)

A-Walk-Among-the-Tombstones-2014-movie-posterMovie –  Based on the mystery novel by Lawrence Block, Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) is an ex-cop turned unlicensed private investigator. He finds himself reluctantly finds his way working for a heroin dealer who’s wife was brutally murdered by way of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Along the way he meets a young street kid named TJ, who takes a liking to Scudder’s profession. TJ inserts himself into Scudder’s job by proving he is needed for his computer and technology skills, something Scudder is just to old to understand and use. Scudder realizes that the people he is after have committed this horrible crime before, and will continue until they are stopped. Working together Scudder and TJ follow a plan to finally put an end to this once and for all.

This movie is a winner with Liam Neeson fans. Although its a little slow to start it has his typical butt kicking, big man confidence you know and love about him. There are a few plot twists that I never considered being an option for the movie, yet somehow they work well.  I found the ending to be very thought provoking and left me wondering if there will be a sequel in the future.

If you are looking for an action mystery with a mild tug on your heartstrings kind of movie, this is the one!

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

BmTk6UbnC1k.movieposter_maxresMovie – The zombie apocalypse has come! Or is it an alien invasion? A terrorist attack that wiped out the US government? Either way something bad has happened to the country and civilization is descending into anarchy! Or is it?

In 10 Cloverfield Lane, Howard (John Goodman) has prepared for the worst. He has a bunker and everything he needs to survive an event of catastrophic proportions. While out Howard finds Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on the side of a road. She has been in a car accident. He takes her to his bunker to save her life. Michelle wakes up to find she is chained to a wall in a bare room and has injured her leg in the accident. Howard explains what happened and that an apocalyptic event has made the world up top uninhabitable. Michelle is unsure and does not want to believe him. Howard unchains Michelle and allows her into the common area. There she meets Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). Emmett reassures Michelle that everything Howard has told her happened. Emmett is also hurt like Michelle. As the movie progresses Michelle discovers something which points her to think Howard lying and begins to doubt his story once again.

The film has a slow pace at the beginning and viewers with little patience might give up. But if you stick with it, it picks up quickly and the ending is something worth seeing. When the film first came out many speculated whether it was a sequel to Cloverfield (2008). All I will reveal is that I don’t know if it is or not. Viewers who like movies with a short character list, a good soundtrack, and suspense will enjoy this one. Patience is a must, though.

Harrow County: Countless Haints by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook

indexGraphic Novel – Although she’s about to turn eighteen, Emmy hasn’t seen much of the world. She lives alone with her father on their farm somewhere in the South and dreams of seeing more – until the night of her birthday, when everyone in town turns on her, even her own father, and she’s forced to flee for her life before she even knows why, or what it is about her that the spirits in the forest gather to protect her…

This is a terrific little Southern Gothic ghost story, just eerie enough to be disturbing if read too late at night, but without the excess of gore that you see in so many horror comics. The art is beautiful, done in a soft watercolor that adds to both the comfortable mundanity of Emmy’s home and the otherworldly feel of the haints and spirits. Emmy is a great character, struggling not only with her newfound power but with what it means about her and her place in the world. Fans of Welcome to Night Vale and Penny Dreadful will enjoy this series.